Applying academic research to help accelerate low-carbon innovation, Princeton’s ZERO lab has created a new coalition, bringing together corporations and researchers focused on scalable clean energy technologies. The consortium, aligned with the corporate membership program Princeton E-ffiliates Partnership, includes founding members Google, GE, and ClearPath.
Jesse Jenkins, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment and principal investigator of the ZERO lab, helped design and launch the new consortium with the goal of helping organizations transform their businesses, and, in turn, make key energy technologies more commercially viable and quicker to be deployed.
“We want to provide practical insights and roadmaps that can support decision-making, guide investment, and accelerate innovation,” said Jenkins.
The consortium aims to help leaders from diverse parts of the energy sector accelerate the improvement and deployment of novel clean energy technologies. Jenkins provided a rationale for why he recruited these first members.
Google was the first global corporation to pledge to match the energy demand from its data centers and offices around the world with local carbon-free power on an hour-by-hour basis, referred to as 24/7 carbon-free electricity procurement. The company also has a longstanding track record of investing in clean technology startups and using its purchasing power to transform markets for clean electricity. GE is an equipment manufacturer with a broad portfolio of energy technologies, including on and offshore wind turbines, gas turbines, and advanced nuclear power. Through this technology, the company helps generate one-third of the world’s electricity. The company is also developing new technologies, such as hydrogen-fueled gas turbines, carbon capture solutions, offshore wind superconducting generators, and advanced nuclear with small modular reactors. ClearPath develops and advocates for clean energy policy, with a focus on breakthrough innovations in the energy and industrial sectors.
Jenkins said the consortium will support two research areas in his group – developing models and methods to help inform decision-making and evaluating technologies for economic, environmental, and other impacts. Researchers at the ZERO Lab are conducting ongoing research on long-duration energy storage, flexible geothermal energy systems, carbon capture and sequestration, commercial fusion power plants as part of its technology evaluation pillar.
One of the consortium’s goals, Jenkins said, was to pool funding and maximize the research that could be done in this area when supported by organizations with similar interests. The structure of the program and the flexible funding allow researchers to quickly pivot to tackle the most important and interesting research questions, without having to wait for specific funding cycles or proposal calls from grantmaking agencies. It also creates an opportunity for big players grappling with a clean energy future to connect, he said. Jenkins hopes in the future to recruit other members to round out the group, such as a private venture capital group focused on clean energy or the investment arm of a utility.
The new members, GE, Google and ClearPath, also join Princeton E-ffiliates Partnership, the corporate membership program administered by the Andlinger Center. This will allow the organizations to build collaborations with many faculty members across a range of topics, including optimizing power architecture in data centers, securing the power grid, and transforming waste streams into carbon-rich resources.
“The consortium provides an exemplar of the value of collaboration between our E-ffiliates members to maximize the impact of Andlinger Center research. The different perspectives that these consortium members offer improves the quality of the research and enhances the impact of the research for their individual organizations and for the broader national decarbonization effort,” said Chris Greig, acting associate director for external partnerships at the Andlinger Center. “This has been a key objective of the Andlinger Center and E-ffiliates since their founding,” said Greig, who is also the Theodora D. ’78 & William H. Walton III ’74 Senior Research Scientist at the Andlinger Center.
The collaboration builds on work Jenkins has done with Google, which quantified the electricity system benefits of 24/7 carbon-free electricity procurement. The research found that using carbon-free, local power can prevent significantly more carbon pollution than purchasing enough renewable energy to meet annual needs, though it comes at a cost premium. The strategy also accelerates deployment of advanced energy technologies, providing a critical niche market to scale up and drive down their cost over time, which encourages full-scale transformation of electric grids.