Published: April 30, 2009

MSU to host federal Energy Frontier Research Center focused on electric/heat physics

Contact(s): Mark Fellows Media Communications office: (517) 884-0166, Donald Morelli Chemical Engineering and Materials Science office: (517) 432-5453

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The U.S. Department of Energy has tapped Michigan State University to lead a new $12.5 million Energy Frontier Research Center, one of 46 to be established nationwide.


“MSU’s EFRC is a large, concerted effort to advance our fundamental scientific understanding of the thermoelectric energy conversion process, and thus could lead to more efficient utilization of our energy resources,” said principal investigator Donald Morelli, MSU professor of chemical engineering and materials science, and adjunct professor in physics and astronomy.


“Thermoelectric solid state energy conversion offers a means of increasing the efficiency of the utilization of these energy sources by converting some of the energy lost as heat into electricity,”  Morelli said. “In some sense, the energy we generate but lose as heat is our greatest untapped source of ‘new’ energy.”


Other  MSU researchers involved are Eldon Case, professor of chemical engineering and materials science; Jeff Sakamoto, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science; Tim Hogan, associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science, and of electrical and computer engineering; Harold Schock, professor of mechanical engineering; and Subhendra D. Mahanti, professor of physics and astronomy.


“MSU’s thermoelectric power generation research group is one of the most advanced in the world,” said Satish Udpa, dean of MSU’s College of Engineering. “It is fitting that these first-rate engineers and scientists would be selected to help address the critical energy-related issues facing our world today.” 


“This new energy initiative is particularly exciting for us as researchers, because it supports basic science,” said Ian Gray, MSU’s vice president for research and graduate studies. “This is an opportunity to explore better solutions to known problems, build the theoretical foundation for new discoveries and, ultimately, change the way we approach energy utilization. MSU is proud to join with our colleagues in these other institutions in leading the way.”


"The fundamental science involved in solving real-world problems continues to become more complex and requires collaboration between researchers from many disciplines," said R. James Kirkpatrick, dean of the College of Natural Science. "This initiative builds on the intersection where physics, chemistry, engineering and mathematics all converge, and the researchers in this project understand the power and excitement of collaboration to help address the energy issues of this century."


 The five-year initiative will involve six MSU scientists as well as researchers from Northwestern University, the Ohio State University, UCLA, the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


The program’s funding announcement was made by the White House in conjunction with a speech delivered by President Obama at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. 


“As global energy demand grows during this century, there is an urgent need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil and curtail greenhouse gas emissions,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.  “Meeting this challenge will require significant scientific advances.  These centers will mobilize the enormous talents and skills of our nation’s scientific work force in pursuit of the breakthroughs that are essential to make alternative and renewable energy truly viable as large-scale replacements for fossil fuels.”


Go here to view a complete list of the EFRCs. For more details about the program, visit this Web site 




Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.

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