Great Lakes Energy Institute 2014 Annual Brief

The vision of the Great Lakes Energy Institute (GLEI) at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) is to empower our faculty, students and partners to catalyze breakthroughs in energy sustainability that address the most pressing problems facing our world. Through coordinated research, development, and education, GLEI works with faculty in future grid, wind, solar, storage, and polymers for oil & gas to prioritize, connect, and empower them to be nationally recognized in energy research. GLEI positions these university researchers with partner institutions and companies to put Northeast Ohio at the center of key scientific and engineering issues in energy and energy sustainability.

GLEI is an important priority of Case Western Reserve University and is uniquely positioned to elevate Northeast Ohio as a leader in energy. Specifically, GLEI provides critical resources to capitalize on strengths and develop paths to sustaining energy funding to pursue our vision. The overall successes of GLEI are being measured against many qualitative and quantitative metrics which aim to guide the organizational growth of the Institute. These include: global and national relevance, awards/funding in energy, establishment of centers, faculty member engagement, external partnerships, patent issuance, and commercialization activities.

GLEI has worked diligently to motivate existing faculty and attract new faculty to build Northeast Ohio’s credibility in energy. GLEI has attracted over 100 Case Western Reserve faculty members from across the university to participate individually and collaboratively in energy research. In the past few years, over 15 faculty have been hired to new positions that have a strong energy focus in their research. To enhance these efforts, GLEI connects with more than 100 industrial, philanthropic, government, and other academic institutions to match expertise with opportunities. GLEI has developed a strategic plan for 2015-2020 with the metric to increase energy funding at CWRU to $30 million per year by 2020 (it is currently at $10-$12 million/year). We have a clear vision for reaching this over-arching goal, encompassing plans to increase funding from federal grants; grow support through additional industry partnerships; and enhance the affiliates program.

This annual brief for 2014 highlights select recent achievements, including:


  • To date, GLEI has helped secure over $66 million dollars in funding from private and public sources. GLEI has observed a 40% win rate in energy related proposals to date, and achieved a greater than 50% win rate for proposals with high levels of GLEI support.
  • CWRU continues to be recognized and funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) funded ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) and is one of the top universities in the country leading ARPA-E awards. CWRU President, Barbara Snyder, was an invited speaker at the 2014 ARPA-E Summit. Ongoing ARPA-E projects in 2014 totaled $3.7 million of expenditures to support:
    • A team led by Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering Rohan Akolkar to test a new method for extracting titanium that is more efficient and could cut the cost of the precious metal by up to 60 percent.
    • Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering David Matthiesen and his team who are working on a cheaper, more eco-friendly material to make magnets for use in green energy technology.
    • Chemical Engineering professors Robert Savinell and Jesse Wainwright to fine-tune their “rustbelt” flow battery—an iron-and-water version of the technology that could accelerate the addition of renewable energy sources to the power grid.
  • CWRU is a partner in the University of Michigan led $70 million manufacturing hub focused in lightweight materials (with specific applicability to energy applications).
  • The Solar Lifetime and Degradation center (SDLE) continues to grow. The SDLE has garnered the university national recognition for its use of data from solar farm and lab facility installations across the world to inform the longevity and durability of solar materials and find ways to improve lifespan. Collectively the platform now includes a team more than a dozen faculty and more than 30 students.
  • Timothy Peshek, PhD, Research Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering was recently funded by Google and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Power Electronics Society (IEEE-PELS) as part of the Little Box Challenge award program. He is now competing for a $1 million prize.
  • CWRU continues to be a lead partner in support to LEEDCo who in 2014 received a $3 million award from DOE. Through the leadership of Professor David Zeng, CWRU will develop foundation designs for wind turbines suitable for the shallower waters of Lake Erie.
  • In 2014, GLEI added the platform of polymers for Oil & Gas to focus the polymers expertise of CWRU toward the environmental challenges facing shale exploration in areas such as downhole cement, fracking, and drilling fluids, and proppant sand gels and coatings. Faculty lead Rigoberto Advincula, Professor, Macromolecular Science and Engineering, is exploring potential partnerships with the plastics industry of Ohio and the oil & gas industry of this region as well as the Texas region.
  • Marija Prica, PhD, was recruited to join the EECS faculty and GLEI’s Future Grid team in July. She received her Ph.D. Degree at Carnegie Mellon University in 2010 and brings five years of engineering experience in the power system industry. The Future Grid team continues to build collaborations with industry, CWRU Facilities, and MCCo who owns and operates our 55 MW campus microgrid to develop a “living laboratory” on campus to test new future grid solutions. A new initiative of the team focuses on development of a virtual energy audit tool that builds from our data analytics capabilities.
  • Philip Feng, Assistant Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, received $750,000 in funding from the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) program within the Department of Energy to develop low-cost, maintenance-free sensors to enhance building controls for energy-efficient operation.
  • FirstEnergy has been supporting efforts to leverage the work at CWRU. They have provided initial funding for the demonstration of a storage device attached to the wind turbine on the CWRU campus and funded the development of an electricity market simulation tool.

Education and Students

  • CWRU student team, Sprav, won the state level Clean Energy competition and was awarded $10,000.
  • With the support of a two-year grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), faculty from the Case School of Engineering (Alexis Abramson) and Weatherhead School of Management (Michael Goldberg) co-taught an interdisciplinary graduate-level course on energy and entrepreneurship.
  • The $3.8 million international energy award NSF PIRE (Partnerships for International Research and Education), led by CWRU with five international universities continues. It now includes a plan for an international study abroad course and an outreach project through the Cleveland Public Library to give hands-on experience and knowledge about renewable energy topics to children.
  • The GLEI Speaker Series brought in five highly influential speakers in 2014 to engage with the broader CWRU community on topics related to energy. With 60-100 attendees at each event, we are specifically providing opportunities to connect our community with a variety of leaders in the energy field.