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Sustainability a Strategic Research Focus at Northwestern

Trienens Institute playing catalytic role in harnessing University’s multidisciplinary excellence

October 20, 2023
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Northwestern research is bold and innovative, bringing unique interdisciplinary strengths to engage with global challenges and opportunities. As vice president for research, I am honored to lead the Office for Research, which supports the work of Northwestern’s world-class research community.

The Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy is one of our interdisciplinary gems. As one of our 35 University Research Institutes and Centers, the Trienens Institute leads our efforts to address challenges pertaining to climate, energy transition, and resilient communities – generating fundamental knowledge and delivering practical solutions.

We are grateful for the recent $25 million grant from the Howard and Paula Trienens Fund that is allowing the Trienens Institute to match its resource base to the scale and scope of its mission. More than $1.7 million has already been awarded to faculty teams across Northwestern, enabling significant new research in engineering and in the physical and social sciences, and advancing demonstration projects and commercialization activities that directly bring Northwestern knowledge to society. For example, our faculty are now seeking solutions for natural and electrochemical CO2 capture, biosynthesis of valuable products from mixed plastic derivatives, and development of next-generation battery materials; they are also exploring the impact of climate change on education outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa. These research streams initiated by the Trienens Institute grant are poised to benefit from a recent acceleration in federal funding for sustainability and energy research, starting a process that will undoubtedly have a long lasting, positive impact on our society. 

We are proud of the work we have done so far. Recently published research from Trienens Institute faculty affiliates has unveiled the anticipated health benefits of electric vehicle adoption in Chicago, a more sustainable method to produce crop fertilizer, and the development of a recycling method to provide longer life to a common form of plastic. Looking forward, Northwestern’s Jennifer Dunn, professor of chemical and biological engineering, will serve as chief decarbonization officer of the Midwest Hydrogen Hub (MachH2), one of seven regional hydrogen hubs announced by the Biden administration just last week. This hub will pursue decarbonization through strategic hydrogen uses in steel and glass production, refining, and sustainable aviation fuel.  

Because of our thought leadership, Northwestern is called upon now to do more. Looking ahead, we will play a critical role in advancing global solutions for renewable energy, decarbonization, and sustainability while also educating the next generation of climate leaders.  Such work will continue to draw on the Trienens Institute’s excellence in collaborative scholarship, including multi-institutional sponsored research and corporate agreements, pre-competitive research networks, and global non-profit collaborations.  For example, on October 26 and 27, the Institute’s Center for Molecular Quantum Transduction (CMQT), a U.S. DOE Energy Frontier Research Center, will convene experts from across the country on our Evanston campus for the Third Annual CMQT Symposium, which is open to the Northwestern community.  

This month marks 10 years since my colleague Michael R. Wasielewski, director of both the Center for Molecular Quantum Transduction (CMQT) and the Initiative for Quantum Information Research and Engineering (INQUIRE), was named the executive director of the Trienens Institute. His leadership has proven remarkable. I congratulate him on this milestone and thank him for his service. I would also like to welcome new leadership into the Institute, as Mike joins forces with co-executive director Ted Sargent, the Lynn Hopton Davis and Greg Davis Professor of Chemistry, for the coming academic year. 

Whether at COP28, our Global Engineering Trek programs, the newly launched Toronto-Northwestern Decarbonization Alliance, or other initiatives, we have much to look forward to as the Trienens Institute continues to broaden the Northwestern’s global impact in energy and sustainability.

Eric J. Perreault

Eric J. Perreault

Vice President for Research
Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation