Princeton Innovation Fund supports two new environmental research collaborations with industry

Monday, Jul 26, 2021
by Jonathan Garaffa, adapted from original story by Catherine Zandonella

Nine exploratory research projects have been selected to receive support from the Dean for Research Innovation Fund, including two environmental research projects that establish new collaborations with industry partners. These research projects are in the early stages of investigation — a time when research funding can be difficult to secure. The collaborations receiving funding are a wastewater treatment project led by Peter Jaffé in partnership with The Chemours Company, and an energy conservation project led by Minjie Chen in partnership with EnaChip Inc. The projects will receive the aid of the New Industrial Collaborations Fund, a part of the Innovation Fund that has special requirements.

Jaffé, the William L. Knapp ’47 Professor of Civil Engineering, will collaborate with The Chemours Company in the exploration of a promising mechanism for breaking down long-lived contaminants in wastewater treatment plants. Jaffé’s team has recently shown that a species of bacterium can biodegrade per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are commonly found in biosolids from domestic and industrial wastewater treatment plants, and removing PFAS from these biosolids would benefit the environment. Jaffé will research the conditions in which bacteria can break down these PFAs in biosolids.

Chen, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, will lead an initiative with EnaChip Inc. to shrink the size and improve the energy efficiency of telecommunications, computing and power electronics systems. Chen has developed an approach to reduce the size of the electronics delivering power to integrated circuits and microprocessors. This approach will greatly reduce energy loss, enabling more compact and energy efficient systems, especially in the wake of new technologies with high-energy demands like 5G cellular communications. Furthermore, Chen will collaborate with EnaChip to evaluate a new system involving the company’s unique silicon integrated magnetic components and packaging techniques. The project will garner input on how to deploy this new technology from industry partners including Google, Intel, and pSemi Corporation.

To recognize the role industry plays in identifying society’s most pressing challenges, the New Industrial Collaborations Fund supports collaborations between companies and Princeton scientists. It requires a pledge from an industry partner company to match the University’s funding of the project in the second year of the program. Tenured and tenure-track faculty members in engineering and the natural sciences apply to the fund by submitting a proposal, a budget, and a letter of intent from the company to provide this matching funding in the second year. The Office of Corporate Engagement and Foundation Relations manages the application process for the Innovation Fund for New Industrial Collaborations. For more information, contact Coleen Burrus, director of corporate engagement and foundation relations.

“Bold ideas can sometimes need a champion, someone who is willing to take a chance on funding ideas that have never been tried before, or are new in some way,” said Dean for Research Pablo G. Debenedetti in this year’s Innovation Fund announcement. “This funding program gives faculty members and their teams that chance.”

Learn more about Dean for Research Innovation Funds and all nine projects funded this year at the Dean for Research website and the University homepage.