The Energy Sciences Institute (ESI) at Yale University: Researching Power Sources for the Future


Nine years ago, according to Yale News, the university acquired the West Campus from Bayer. Researchers and Yale officials considered the best way to use the space and there was one recurring theme: energy. Research on the West Campus will focus on renewable energy, in particular, solar energy and its storage.

Solar and wind energy have great potential but one of their great challenges has been storage on a really large scale and this is something that the Energy Sciences Institute (ESI) is trying to solve by having different research teams look into different ways of separating hydrogen from oxygen.

Yale is slowly building up a great team of researchers on the West Campus, hiring one full-time faculty per year. It is also investing in state-of-the-art equipment, like the new Materials Characterization Core that will be housed in the West Campus facility and used by different research teams throughout Yale.

ESI's first faculty is Judy Cha who came in on 2013. Ms. Cha is the Melamed Professor of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science and her team is focused on researching chalcogenides as a catalyst for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Ms. Cha and her team are looking into materials that can help boost hydrogen evolution reaction or how well a material can produce hydrogen by way of water electrolysis. The materials they have considered are molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) and tungsten telluride.

The Institute's second full-time faculty hire is Hailiang Wang, assistant professor of chemistry came to Yale in 2014. The third hire came earlier this year from CalTech, Prof. Shu Hu and a fourth full-time faculty, Prof. Owen Miller, assistant professor of applied physics joined in July 2016.

ESI's Prof. Hu's research is focused on mimicking photosynthesis and his team have built an "artificial leaf", a hand-held photoelectrochemical (PEC) device capable of producing oxygen, protons and electrons from water and then combining the protons and electrons to create hydrogen.

The discovery is promising and its stability could mean having a year's worth of sunlight cycles.

Apart from the discoveries that ESI's researchers are making, the community it's building helps the Institute achieve more. The open layout of the facility fosters a collaborative environment between the 4 teams. Often, post doc researchers who frequently hang out during lunch breaks come up with projects that their teams could work on.

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