Member Spotlight: Alfred University

Alfred University, founded in 1836 and located in Alfred, NY, is a small (2000 undergraduates) institution dedicated to excellence in both the arts and sciences.  The Kazuo Inamori School of Engineering makes up about 20% of the student population.   Despite its size, Alfred University is internationally recognized for expertise in the engineering of ceramics and glass.  The engineering program conducts research at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and more than half of its sponsored research portfolio is dedicated to materials for energy-related applications (i.e., energy generation, utilization, and storage).
The Center for Advanced Ceramic Technology (CACT) at Alfred University is one of 15 Centers for Advanced Technology (CAT) programs managed by NYSTAR, a division of Empire State Development.  The role of the CACT is to facilitate collaboration between industry and academia with the goal of creating economic impact for the CACT's industrial partners.  The CACT leverages the internationally recognized expertise of Alfred University's faculty in advanced technical ceramics and glass in a number of fields, including applications in energy, the environment, health care, defense, and much more.
In the energy sector, CACT works on projects in energy generation, conversion and storage.  CACT is working on a variety of materials-related issues (primarily cathode, anode, electrolyte, and sealants) in solid oxide fuel cells, high-temperature thermoelectric oxides for harvesting waste heat, thin-film battery technologies, and sodium metal halide batteries as part of the NYSERDA-funded consortium being led by GE.  With regards to the GE project, CACT has specifically been tasked to work on aspects of the solid electrolyte and the glass sealant.
Another energy storage project at Alfred is the research conducted by Dr. Dawei Liu’s group that is focused on fabrication of lithium ion battery and supercapacitor electrodes for enhanced energy storage at room and elevated temperatures. The materials being studied include binary and ternary oxides as cathodes for lithium ion batteries and highly porous carbon cryogel and redox oxide composites as supercapacitor electrodes. The projects involve designing electrodes with appropriate micro and nanostructures and modifying electrode surface chemistry for improved energy density, power density and cyclic stability.
Matthew Hall, the Director of CACTcomments,"Alfred University is proud to be a founding member of NY-BEST.  The organization is a great example of how to effectively bring together representatives from academia, industry, and government to advance battery and energy storage technologies.  We look forward to continuing to work with NY-BEST on several fronts, including board-level activities via our representative, Mr. Barry Watkins (Deputy Director of Business Development at the CACT), and the organization of a regional conference to discuss current technology needs and the latest R&D results."
Each university-based CAT has an annual budget of approximately $920,000 to conduct activities focused on generating economic impact for NY State companies. The CACT interacts with companies in a variety of ways depending upon the needs of the client.  For example, it can provide short-term analytical testing services or engage in multi-year sponsored research contracts.  The personnel deployed on these projects can include a mix of undergraduate students, graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, technical specialists, and faculty.A portion of the CACT's funding can be used for cost sharing on projects at Alfred University that are sponsored by NY State companies.
The CACT is a lean organization consisting of only four permanent staff members and, in fact, does not have its own laboratories or research staff.  Instead, it represents the research capabilities and interests of the faculty within the Kazuo Inamori School of Engineering.  In some cases, this involves actively seeking out new industrial clients whose technology needs align well with the faculty.  In other cases, companies contact CACT first and the organization works to match them up with appropriate faculty.
The metrics for success in CACT’s mission of generating economic impact for its clients can be recognized across a variety of categories, including: 1) increased revenues, 2) cost savings, 3) capital expenditures, 4) jobs created/retained, and 5) new funds acquired for external sources (e.g., federal funding). For the period dating from FY06 to FY10 (the last 5-year period for which fully audited data is available), the CACT generated a ROI of 45:1 -- i.e., $45 of economic impact was generated for every $1 of NY state taxpayer dollars invested.
While the primary stated mission of the CACT is to generate economic impact for NY State, its activities also fulfill the academic mission of Alfred University -- i.e., its research activities enable the education of undergraduate and graduate students that fill the talent pipeline.  In addition, CACT’s collaboration with industry helps keep Alfred’s faculty abreast of new technology needs and developments.  It is truly a win-win situation for New York in which its companies gain valuable knowledge, its workforce gains talented new resources, and its academic strengths are effectively employed in creating its economic success.