Seed Grant Program

Seed grants are awarded with funding provided by the Binghamton University Road Map through the Provost's Office and the Division of Research.

The goal of these seed grants is to encourage faculty to develop collaborative projects that stimulate the advancement of new ideas that can build Binghamton University's expertise toward a national reputation in the broad area of smart energy. This competitive, peer-reviewed program is providing initial support for proposed long-term programs of collaborative research that have strong potential to attract external funding.

Information on how to apply for seed grant funding for the 2023–2024 academic year can be found on the TAE landing page. Deadline for a Letter of Intent is Dec. 5, 2022, and deadline for proposal submission is Feb. 15, 2023. LOIs are required for proposals with a large budget and strongly recommended for all proposals.

For the 2022-2023 academic year, the following seed grant was awarded:

A Reusable and Energy-Efficient Sensor to Detect “Forever Chemicals” Produced During

Huiyan Guo, chemistry; Manuel Smeu, physics and materials science and engineering;  and Ana Laura Elias, physics

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of emerging environmental contaminants that are often called “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment. They are widely used in the manufacture of industrial and consumer products, including Li-ion batteries. With strong chemical bonds (C-F), they are highly persistent in the environment and living organisms, including human bodies. They are of high environmental safety concern due to a variety of adverse health outcomes after exposure. Monitoring their environmental level is key to preventing environmental contamination and human exposure. However, current methods that rely on bench-top instruments are expensive and energy-inefficient. We propose to develop a reusable, energy-efficient and portable sensor to detect PFAS. This sensor will be made of two-dimensional transition metal dichalcogenides decorated with metal atoms, and integrated with a surface-enhanced Raman spectrometer (SERS). To our knowledge, this is the first time that a portable, reusable and sensitive sensor is developed to monitor PFAS in the environment. Our bold and truly innovative strategy will revolutionize the traditional ways to monitor PFAS, allowing us to observe trace levels of targets in seconds in the field with less cost of materials and energy.

For the 2020–2021 academic year, the following seed grants were awarded:

Machine-Learning-Driven Battery Energy Storage Operations Control

Soongeol Kwon, systems science and industrial engineering; and Ziang Zhang, electrical and computer engineering

Along with the modernization of power grids and the expansion of renewable energy, battery storage is expected to play a key role for the efficient and sustainable operations of electric power systems. In particular, battery storage has been regarded as a promising solution to stabilize the intermittent renewable energy generation and fluctuated electricity demand load. Hence, there is an urgent need for introducing a systematic approach designed to find proper controls for the better use of battery storage. Meanwhile, machine learning has been recently revitalized and actively studied coupled with increasing interests and popularity of artificial intelligence; and there have been considerable studies on the application of machine learning to a wide range of domains with noticeable outcomes. Given this context, the main objective of this research proposal is to develop a machine-learning-driven optimal control policy uniquely designed to control battery storage operations. In particular, the PIs intend to leverage the capability of recurrent neural networks to find underlying patterns existing in optimal battery storage operations to predict a sequence of charging and discharging controls. The outcome will, in turn, be a strong preliminary study used to validate the idea of the proposed approach for seeking external funding.

Guided Tour through the Operation of a Li-Ion Battery

Louis Piper, materials science and engineering; and Gökhan Ersan, art and design

We propose to develop a novel education module that links hands-on experimental training on cutting-edge battery research to graphical design and Virtual Reality (VR) learning to showcase Binghamton University’s achievements in the rechargeable battery field. Dr. Piper will develop the hands-on component using rhenium oxide as an easily accessible model system that was only recently demonstrated to be viable for rechargeable lithium batteries in 2018. In tandem with the hands-on component, Dr. Ersan will develop graphic elements that will be incorporated into a guided tour through an operating battery in a virtual reality framework. We propose to work towards implementing the module into the Freshman Research Immersion: Smart Energy stream by Spring, 2021 as an initial test of this innovative educational approach. In addition, the graphical design elements and VR framework developed by Drs. Piper and Ersan will be incorporated into published research and press releases as well as highlights for Binghamton University’s Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) program.

in prior years, the following seed grants were awarded:

Two-electron redox with earth-abundant silicates for next-generation batteries

Hao Liu, chemistry; and Manuel Smeu, physics

The increasing demand for high-energy density batteries calls for the development of novel charge storage mechanisms that promise a higher capacity using cheap, earth-abundant materials. Our project will focus on the study of a sodium transition metal silicate, which consists of earth-abundant elements, as a promising cathode material for rechargeable batteries. The appeal of this material derives from its potential to electrochemically store two sodium ions per transition metal, which doubles the charge storage capacity of the current lithium-ion battery technology. However, early experimental studies of this material have shown underachieved performance with little mechanistic understanding of the charge/discharge process, hence impeding further development. We will use an integrated experimental and computational approach to decipher the charge/discharge process of this material and develop strategies to improve its performance.

Electricity Generation from Gut Pathogens 

Choi, Seokheun Choi, electrical and computer engineering; and Laura Cook, biological sciences

There is a growing appreciation of the role of the gut microbiota in all aspects of human health and disease including metabolism, immunity, and brain functions. Ingestible electronics are fast emerging as a critical technology that can revolutionize gut microbiome research, enabling real-time in-vivo monitoring from within the body. However, even the latest ingestible bacteria-electronic systems for monitoring gastrointestinal health suffer from finite energy budgets available from batteries, hampering long-term operational capabilities. The overall goal of this project is to provide an in-depth understanding of gut microbial electrogenic potential for energy harvesting and its capability for a real-time electrical biosensing platform. The electrogenic potential of gut microbiota will be harnessed to act as a biocatalyst in a microbial fuel cell (MFC) and produce a sufficient electrical current for practical applications. The ability of multi-species bacterial biofilms to generate electricity will be explored. Furthermore, we will establish the conditions in which the bacterial electrogenicity can be maximized to be used in a novel biosensor.