Cornell University Member Spotlight

Cornell University is the federal land-grant institution of New York State, a private endowed university, a member of the Ivy League, and a partner of the State University of New York.  Cornell comprises 14 colleges and schools:
seven undergraduate units and four graduate and professional units in Ithaca, two medical graduate and professional units in New York City, and one in Doha, Qatar.   As a leading research institution, Cornell’s involvement in renewable energy and energy storage technology is extensive and significant.

The global expansion in renewable energy, electrified transportation, and improved resiliency of the electric grid is driving the need for improved understanding of energy storage and energy conversion systems, and for the development of new materials to overcome the limitations of current technologies.  Cornell University boasts scores of researchers working in these sectors, many working within one of several research centers at Cornell, which help focus and magnify contributions of individual researchers to these fields.   Cornell’s programs deliberately look outward, seeking external partners especially in the private sector. 

There are four centers at Cornell working on energy storage topics: the Energy Materials Center at Cornell (emc2), the Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR), the KAUST-Cornell Center for Energy and Sustainability (KAUST-CU), and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (ACSF).

Emc2 is one of the 46 US DOE Office of Science supported Energy Frontier Research Centers focused on electrical energy storage (especially batteries and supercapacitors) and conversion (especially fuel cells.)   The focus of the center is on advancing the science of energy conversion and storage by understanding and exploiting fundamental properties of active materials and their interfaces.

The CCMR is supported by the NSF’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC) program, which enables interdisciplinary materials research and education of the highest quality while addressing fundamental problems in science and engineering that are important to society.  The CCMR works to advance, explore and exploit the science and engineering of advanced materials, particularly those purposefully structured at the nanoscale (near-atomic dimensions).  The Center plays a leading role in fostering the long tradition of interdepartmental, interdisciplinary cooperation and collaboration at Cornell.  

The KAUST-Cornell Center for Energy and Sustainability investigates organic-inorganic hybrid nanomaterials for applications in carbon capture and sequestration, photovoltaics and energy storage, water desalination, and oil and gas production.  The research focuses on a novel class of hybrid nanomaterials discovered at Cornell. Termed nanoparticle ionic materials (NIMs), these organic-inorganic hybrids offer exciting opportunities for basic research and technological innovations at the forefront of materials science and engineering.

The Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future was created in 2008 by the Office of the Provost, following a multiyear, cross-campus dialogue on energy and sustainability.  The center advances multidisciplinary research and cultivates innovative collaborations within and beyond Cornell aimed at fostering a sustainable future for all.   The underlying premise of the Center is that the science and engineering needed to develop clean technologies cannot be separated from the ecological study of Earth's integrated human and natural systems or from the social science of human behavior and well-being.  ACSF therefore supports problem-oriented research and external partnerships to achieve important discoveries with tangible, real-world impact.

A common theme in all these activities is that private industry will be the vehicle that will affect real and positive change to our energy systems.  Change will come through market-matched products and services, supported by new materials and related research.  An example of how Cornell’s centers support the evolution of private industry in energy storage is their association with Ithaca-based Primet Precision Materials.

Primet moved to Ithaca in 2004 from out of state to work with Cornell and its energy centers.  At the time, they were looking to apply their proprietary material processing technology to both fuel cells and battery products.  They have since focused on batteries, and are now at the forefront of bringing New York back into a competitive position within the global battery industry. 

Cornell played key roles in establishing Primet in Ithaca: the company used facilities in CCMR to understand their process and it used field experts in emc2 and KAUST-CU to understand the markets, the value proposition, and the science behind the activity of their active materials compared to others.  This long-term collaborative relationship is now continuing with work at emc2 to characterize the materials in Primet’s working batteries.

“Primet’s relationship with Cornell exemplifies the philosophy here of working with industry,” says Dr. Paul Mutolo, Director of External Partnerships for emc2.  “As their team is commercializing  their process and materials, they benefit from access to Cornell facilities, expertise, and some sector-specific business connections.  Cornell researchers benefit by the ability to work on real-world challenges that can produce a near-term measureable impact to our energy systems.  We seek to develop such mutual benefits in all of our partnerships.”

Working with Cornell, Primet is able to characterize the individual nanomaterials they are developing, as well as observe, in operando, just how they behave in working battery cells.  They are working with battery manufacturers worldwide to sell their materials and advance battery technology, especially in key segments of electric transportation.  Working with Cornell has accelerated their entry into this market, and their advancement within it nearly to the position of key supplier of active materials.

As one of the leading universities in world and one with a diverse and far-ranging set of capabilities and expertise, it is no surprise that Cornell is at the forefront of multiple areas of research in energy storage technologies.

For additional information of Cornell’s centers in energy storage research, please visit: