By Elizabeth Egan
Published December 22, 2023
The Collaborative for a Regenerative Economy (CoRE), a project led by the University at Buffalo Department of Materials Design and Innovation, in collaboration with Clean Production Action and Niagara Share, has received a third phase of funding from the JPB Foundation that will allow their research into renewable energy production to continue for the next three years.
“In this phase of our funding cycle, we seek to accelerate and scale up safer material innovations in clean energy technologies by building on our earlier work,” said Krishna Rajan, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Erich Bloch Chair of the Department of Materials Design and Innovation. “By leveraging new advancements in science and expanding engagement with frontline communities, NGOs and industry, we will place environmental justice, health of all people and the planet at the front end of investments in the renewable energy economy."
With the three-year extension to the project, CoRE aims to continue establishing advanced solutions for safer renewable energy with a long-term goal of enabling the renewable energy economy and its domestic supply chains to reduce its chemical footprint by 50-100% before 2030.
“We are at a critical inflection point. We cannot solve the climate crisis or biodiversity loss without a paradigm shift in the design and discovery of materials for manufacturing and products,” said Alexandra McPherson, Niagara Share principal. “Our collective success in moving to a healthy, circular and low carbon economy is contingent on a materials economy that is inherently safer for people and the planet.”
CoRE was started in 2017 with the goal of bringing together scientists, manufacturers and community partners to produce materials needed for renewable energy that not only perform better than existing materials but that would also be safer for the environment and community at every stage of production. Rajan, also a SUNY Empire Innovation Professor, said the project has been harnessing data science and AI to unravel complex information about material chemistries in the development of renewable energy technologies, opening significant new avenues to rapidly guide the design of new materials that will meet the dual objectives of performance and safety.
“In this phase, CoRE will address longstanding challenges faced by solar and battery industries in identifying new materials and chemicals for advanced functionalities, while minimizing negative impacts associated with the full lifecycle of these technologies,” said Rajan. “We want to help usher in the next-generation solar devices and batteries that are based on materials and chemicals that simultaneously meet technical, economic, environmental, political and social criteria across the lifecycle.”
“Through this innovative collaboration, we are working to ensure that the transition to a renewable energy economy uses chemicals that are safer and healthier for people and the planet,” said Mark Rossi, executive director of Clean Production Action. "CoRE's work to identify and certify safer solvents used in manufacturing operations will lessen exposure of workers to chemicals that cause cancer and reproductive harm."
Over the past six years, CoRE has worked on identifying the harmful chemicals that can be used in the development of renewable technology and finding non-harmful alternatives.
“CoRE’s ‘tagline’ is ‘From molecules to neighborhoods,’” said Rajan. “We work on quantum chemistry in the lab and also look to generate scalable, safer materials innovation that can be adopted by various stakeholders including scientists, industries, NGOs and government agencies.”
How do you translate complex science in a way that can be harnessed to guide a community? CoRE has worked to answer this question by sharing the science with advocacy groups in the environmental and public health policy areas, studying local communities' embrace of solar power, and speaking with companies like Apple and Tesla at UB’s annual Erich Bloch Symposium about safer alternatives for chemicals of concern in the climate sector.
The Department of Materials Design and Innovation is a collaboration between UB’s College of Arts and Sciences and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.