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Andlinger Center’s scientists and research featured in latest ‘Princeton Alumni Weekly’

December 1, 2015

When Hurricane Sandy pummeled New Jersey in 2012, Princeton escaped with far less damage than many other communities: mainly, 50 felled trees, blocked roads, and a loss of power from the local utility. The University managed to power the campus with its cogeneration plant. But instead of using power from its solar-panel field, Princeton shut it down. That might seem paradoxical, but there was an important reason for the decision: Solar power can come and go with the clouds, varying quickly from no power to full power. The variation had the potential to trip Princeton’s generator — and that was not a risk campus energy experts wanted to take. Had there been some way to store solar energy from sunny days for later use — like a giant battery — things might have been different.

A decade ago, these kinds of issues — enormous batteries, judicious use of electricity — were research topics at Princeton, to be sure, but they didn’t have a central home on campus. That changed with the 2008 founding of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, made possible by a $100 million gift from international business executive Gerhard R. Andlinger ’52. This fall, center researchers are moving into their home: a new building at the corner of Olden Street and Prospect Avenue. The question of how to build a giant battery is exactly the kind of multidisciplinary problem this center was made to tackle — in fact, a group of young faculty members is on the case. Their goal: to someday construct batteries into a building’s very walls.