Member Spotlight: Rensselaer – RPI Center for Future Energy Systems (CFES)



Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was established in Troy, NY in 1824 by Stephen Van Rensselaer and was the “first school of science and civil engineering which has continuous existence in the English speaking world” according to Palmer Ricketts, College President from 1901-1934. Today, RPI has 5550 undergraduates and 1250 graduate students enrolled in 145 programs and supported by 500 full- and part-time Faculty.

An area of major emphasis at RPI is addressing future energy challenges using science, engineering, and technology.  Rensselaer’s researchers in energy, environment, and smart systems are exploring the development and integration of renewable technologies to enable our coexistence with the planet’s biodiversity; RPI biotechnology and life sciences researchers are looking at photosynthetic processes for bio-energy; researchers in nanotechnology and advanced materials are enabling the development of new materials that support a safer, more cost-effective, and sustainable environment. Through computational science and engineering, Rensselaer researchers are deepening our comprehension of a multi-faceted world.

Rensselaer President, Dr. Shirley Jackson calls the need for an adequate supply of affordable, accessible, sustainable energy ”the overarching issue if the 21st Century”.  The hub of energy research at RPI is at the NYSTAR-funded Center for Future Energy Systems (CFES), where world-leading science and engineering researchers from all fields gather to collaborate on advancing energy technologies for the benefit and promotion of economic growth in New York.  First designated in 2005 as the “Energy CAT”, the NYSTAR CAT program is designed to spur technology-based applied research and economic development in New York; encourage applied research collaboration and innovation with industry; promote workforce development; better leverage state funds with investments from the federal government, industry, foundations, and not-for-profit economic development organizations; and increase the competitiveness of New York energy companies. CFES Director Jian Sun says “our success requires close ties and collaboration with industry, particularly New York State companies.”

CFES has supported NYS energy initiatives and the energy industry for more than 10 years through applied research, technology transfer, education, and outreach. CFES envisions a future energy system that is sustainable, resilient, and economical, enabled by new technologies such as renewables, energy storage, energy efficiency, and advanced grid control. CFES research is dedicated to supporting the energy industry and has involved more than 70 NYS companies in close to 90 projects during the past 10 years. CFES research is centered at the intersections of applied research needs of the industry, emerging technology opportunities, and Center core expertise. Given the historical transformation mandated by REV as well as the opportunities and challenges REV presents to New York’s energy industry, CFES will focus its future research in three areas that are critical to REV: 1) Distributed Energy Resources (DER), 2) Distributed System Platforms (DSP), and 3) Energy Efficiency.

The CFES Energy Material and Device Lab (EMDL) is equipped for energy storage research including coin and pouch cell fabrication, cyclic voltammetry, impedance spectroscopy and charge/discharge cycle testing. The lab also contains a PV test bench (QE and I-V) and nanomaterial surface analysis for micro and meso-porous structures. Another key facility of the center is the Distributed Energy Resources Systems Integration Laboratory (DERSIL) test bed, which can emulate future distribution networks with renewable sources and storage connected to it.  Both these facilities at RPI have been utilized by NY-BEST clients to advance energy storage and grid integration science.

RPI has significant ongoing programs in multiple areas related to energy.  Lighting and advanced building systems are a major area of interest for RPI researchers. Industry partnerships can develop and integrate systems to harness the power of smart lighting. The effort is being spearheaded by Bob Karlicek, the Director of the Smart Lighting ERC, and Nadarajah Narendran, Director of Research at the Lighting Research Center.

Scientists and architects at the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE), another important CFES partner, are working on advanced building materials and designs. One such technology is the Integrated Concentrated Solar Facade (ICSF). This solar tracking system concentrates sunlight on a high-efficiency solar cell capturing the resource in the form of both electric and thermal energy.  These can then be redistributed for lighting in large buildings, and heating and cooling in a variety of building types including offices, factories, and apartment complexes, according to Anna Dyson, CASE Director and Professor of Architecture. “The Integrated Concentrated Solar Facade will lower lighting costs, cooling costs, and heating costs, both initially and throughout the building life cycle,” she says.

Another important CFES partnership in the power grid area is with the newly-funded NSF Engineering Research Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Network (CURENT). The Rensselaer campus leader is Joe Chow, Professor of electrical, computer and systems engineering and expert on power systems operation and control. CFES clients have access to the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Lab under the direction of Professor Dan Lewis, which is capable of synthesizing and testing new materials in fuel cells and stacks and performing in-situ electrochemical testing. This laboratory also has unique capabilities to handle materials characterization and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy testing of battery systems. The Center for Automation Technologies and Systems (CATS) -- another RPI CAT -- has specific experience in fuel cell assembly and the science and technology of advanced manufacturing, controls and optimization.

The Flow Control and Research Lab wind tunnel has been used to assist small and large wind turbine manufacturers in aerodynamic flow control and design optimization for VWAT and HAWT. Under the direction of Professor Miki Amitay, they are also studying flow control in building HVAC and transportation. In cooperation with the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI), RPI has the capability to run very complex computational fluid dynamic modeling for wind farms and urban building environments.

RPI has a broad range of capabilities and expertise representing a tremendous resource for New York State companies as well as being the training ground for the State’s future technology leaders.  Potential clients and partners who wish to learn more about RPI CFES capabilities should contact Marty Byrne, Director Business Development at 518-276-6953 or by email: byrnem2@rpi.edu.