February 2022
Message from the Director
Welcome to the First CESI Source Newsletter of 2022!

We anticipate an exciting year and look forward to being together around campus again. Two opportunities I'm very happy to announce for this Spring will be the return of the in-person Energy Days and an Electrified Transportation Symposium. The Symposium is a collaboration between CESI and the Atkinson Center for Sustainability that aims to identify critical research gaps that are barriers to advancing electrified  transportation. Let us know if you would be interested in participating! Watch your email for more information about both of these events soon. 

We are excited about the speakers we have lined up for the CESI Energy Seminar this spring, and encourage you to attend these seminars either in-person or on zoom. Please email us at to be added to the email list if you are not already receiving the announcements. Read on to see the list of spring seminars as well as some highlights from the fall series that featured a diverse group of speakers from academia, utilities, and climate tech startups. 

The 2022-2024 CESI Postdoctoral Fellowships have also been announced and we are looking forward to welcoming two talented researchers - David Specht and Joesene Soto Perez - to Cornell soon. More information about the CESI Postdoctoral Fellows can be found later in this newsletter. We are also happy to share the news that search for the next Croll Chair and Director of CESI is underway. Please share this exciting opportunity with your networks. 

I hope you enjoy this brief update on CESI activities and programs and look forward to connecting with you soon. 

C. Lindsay Anderson
Interim Director, Cornell Energy Systems Institute
Energy Engineering Seminar Series Spring 2022
Thursdays, 12:25 - 1:15 pm | B11 Kimball Hall

Through the weekly Energy Engineering Seminar, CESI provides a mechanism for students in and outside of Cornell to receive up-to-date knowledge about energy systems science and technology, across the full spectrum of energy areas. Seminar speakers will be practicing engineers and executives from industry and government, as well as Cornell faculty members from a variety of departments.

January 27, 2022 Professor Lindsay Anderson, Cornell University, BEE
“A Brief Introduction to the Energy Seminar; and Challenges and Trends for the Energy Systems in a Warming World”

February 3, 2022 Professor Maha Haji, Cornell University, Mechanical, Aerospace & Systems Engineering, MAE
“Design of Symbiotic Systems for Passive Seawater Mineral Extraction”

February 10, 2022 Max Zhang, Cornell University, MAE
"Energy and the Environment: Known Unknowns and Unknown Unknowns"

February 17, 2022 (Virtual, see link below) Michael Weill, Founder of Global Deepwaters (Retired)
“Energy Transition, Hot Air or a Different Future”

February 24, 2022 - TBA

March 3, 2022 Professor Buz Barstow, Cornell University, BEE

March 10, 2022 Dr. Bruce Bailey, Underwriters Laboratories; Founder, AWS Truepower Distinguished Speaker
“How Weather Science Shapes Renewable Energy Development, Policy & Grid Integration”

March 17, 2022 Professor Amy Marschilok, Stony Brook University
“Electrochemistry-based and electrochemistry-coupled characterization of energy storage materials”
March 24, 2022 Mr. David Nanus, LS Power Equity Advisors, LLC
“Investing in the Energy Transition”

March 31, 2022 Sir Steven C. Cowley, Director of NREL and President of the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, Distinguished Speaker

April 14, 2022 Dr. Alexa Schmitz, Cornell University, BEE

April 21, 2022 Dr. Martin Keller, Director of NREL

April 28, 2022 Mr. Jatin Khanna, Department of Energy

May 5, 2022 Professor Jim Braun, Purdue University
“Research in the Pursuit of High-Performance Buildings”

Meeting ID: 965 6171 7639
Passcode: 822760

To receive our weekly seminar announcements please email Polly Marion.
The first Cornell Energy Day was held in person in April of 2019 and, after a hiatus in 2020, saw a return in the online format in April 2021. Having had experience with both in-person and online events, the CESC EBoard is approaching 2022 Energy Days accommodating a hybrid schedule of events to allow for engagement with students and alumni both on and off-campus. Inspired by the discussions we have been hosting that have people come together to discuss topics related to energy as well as sustainability in general, we have approached the choosing of topics for Energy Days this year with the idea of trying to incorporate interdisciplinary speakers. To this end the topics we have chosen are broadly Energy Justice and Smart Society. At present we are ecstatic to have confirmed NREL Director Martin Keller as the keynote speaker for Smart Society Day on the 21st. We are still in the process of confirming speakers for the other events and welcome any suggestions or inquiries to the present Club President, Henry Harwood,

Energy Seminars explore energy-related topics of emerging, contemporary and historical interest. An abbreviated list of subjects explored in the seminars includes global energy resources, energy generation technologies (present and future), energy storage options, environmental impacts including climate change, energy policy, and energy delivery economics and systems.This past semester we heard from a variety of distinguished practicing engineers and executives from industry and government, as well as faculty members from several departments at Cornell and other academic institutions. For a full list of topics and titles, see the events section at A few highlights shared by the students are included below.
"Engineering Our Way to a Climate Friendly Economy"
by SaLisa Berrien, COI Energy

Kexin Wang '22, M.Eng Structural Mechanics and Materials summarizes:
"SaLisa Berrien was inspired to take the lead and build COI Energy because her personal credo is to allow herself to inhabit a better place than the one she was given. The climate problem has always been her most powerful motivator, allowing her to put her abilities, excitement, and commitment to work to leave a better planet than she found for her children's children. COI Energy provide a full-service digital energy platform that monetizes the energy underlying all types of electrical energy to increase grid efficiency and optimization. Their platform can save up to 30% on expenses by utilizing AI/ML to identify and reduce energy waste in advance, as well as pay for customer efficiency and flexibility.” 
"The Greening of the Grid"
by John Swanson, National Academy of Engineering

Monona Khare '23, BS, CBE summarizes:
“It was an incredible opportunity to hear someone as accomplished as Dr. Swanson speak about renewable energy. Furthermore, I am on the project team “Engineers for a Sustainable World” and Dr. Swanson is a major donor for our project team; I had heard a lot about him, and it was very interesting to see the person who has helped my project team so much. I learned a lot through Dr. Swanson’s seminar, and he presented the information in a way which made it seem approachable rather than overwhelming, especially for people such as myself who did not know very much about net-metering. It was also interesting to see the intersection between renewable energy and economics; many of the presentations given during this energy seminar series have shown me that economic considerations and analysis are crucial to the feasible and successful implementation of renewable energy sources.”
"Harnessing the Power of Wind: Enabling a sustainable and Green Future"
by Jo Kim, GE Renewables

Kalyani Gopal Kanpillewar '22, M. Eng, Chemical Engineering, says:
Listening to the Global fleet Solutions leader at GE Renewable Energy, and an alumnus of Cornell Engineering, Jo Kim, was exhilarating. A perfect example of women in renewable energy, paving the way in harnessing the power of wind, for a sustainable and greener tomorrow. Having progressed in her career from being one of the candidates in the renewable energy development program at GE to being a Global fleet solutions leader (onshore wind turbines), the professional journey of this energy maven is undoubtedly inspiring. “
Decarbonizing California: An Achievable Strategy for Carbon Neutrality
by Adam Umanoff, Edison International

Agustin Carrizo '22 MBA shared: "Mr. Umanoff’s talk opens my eyes towards the necessary steps towards a sustainable future and the technological advancement required to align with those ambitious goals. Substantial vehicles being electrified, utility program reformations to reduce rates over long term, electrifying water and space heating, utilizing low carbon fuels for non-electrifiable processes, and technological advancement are all steps towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2045. Additionally, as we move towards an electricity dependent economy, policy is an integral part that should support the achievement of those goals.”
The CESI Postdoctoral Fellowships are high-profile fellowships designed to attract the best and brightest young researchers in energy science, engineering, and materials to Cornell. The goal is to create a cohort of independent scholars pursuing frontier research in energy. Fellows will work in partnership with Cornell faculty sponsors on projects consistent with the CESI mission. The CESI fellowships are two-year appointments and provide up to 50% of the cost associated with sponsoring a postdoctoral scientist at Cornell, with the faculty advisors providing the other 50%.

We are proud to introduce you our 2022-2024 fellowship winners who took time to share a bit about their experiences with us.

Congratulations to David and Joesene!

David received his PhD in Applied Physics in 2021. As an undergraduate, he majored in physics and minored in environmental science and policy, with the intent of pursuing a research career developing technologies that would reduce our footprint on the environment. His interest in the intersections between physics and biology led to his subsequent PhD work, here at Cornell with the Lambert Lab, where he studied the physics of CRISPR, a biological system that enables human-programmable interaction with DNA. He used next generation sequencing to study the sequence-specific determinants of binding of the CRISPR protein Cas12a, and how the binding of these proteins can be used to control gene expression via synthetic gene circuits. Through his PhD research, he came to appreciate how powerful synthetic biology - our new ability to engineer organisms at a high level - can be.
Joesene J. Soto Perez

Joesene J. Soto Perez is a final year Ph.D. candidate (Analytical Chemistry) in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus. He is currently a visiting scientist in the Surface Electrochemistry and Electrocatalysis group from the Chemistry Department of Brookhaven National Laboratory. Joesene has focused his graduate work on understanding the chemistry of emerging nanomaterials as low loading Platinum group metals (PGM) combined with first-row transition metals for energy conversion reactions. He highlights the use of in situ and operando XAS experiments combined with electrochemistry to study these materials in alkaline and acidic mediums. As a CESI postdoctoral fellow, Joesene Soto will be working with non-precious metal electrocatalysts for energy conversion reactions (ORR, OER, HER and HOR). His research project is entitled, Identifying activity-stability relationships in non-precious-metal fuel cell catalysts. He will specifically focus on 3D perovskites oxides and metal carbides/nitrides. In situ and operando electrochemical XAS experiments will provide valuable information regarding the electrocatalysts' leaching behavior, eventually translating into performance and durability insights under real conditions.
Cornell’s Rare Earth Bio-mining Project
Buz Barstow (BEE), Alexa Schmitz (CESI Postdoctoral Fellow) and Members of the Cornell Bio-mining Team (Esteban Gazel, Mingming Wu, Megan Holycross, Brian Balta, Sean Medin, Sabrina Marecos)
The race to decarbonize the global energy system means a race to electrify everything that can be electrified. This means the demand for both common metals and precious metals is poised to skyrocket for decades to come if only the demand can be met. In an effort to save the Earth from climate change, we risk strip mining it. Surely, there’s got to be a way to be a better way? 
Rare earth elements are a group of metals that are essential for sustainable energy technologies. Magnets are key for turning electricity into motion, and motion to electricity. Small amounts of rare earths doped into a magnet can dramatically increase its strength. This means that the magnet can keep the same strength but be made much, much lighter (incredibly useful in electric vehicles), or keep the same size but be much stronger (incredibly useful in wind turbines). Likewise, rare earths are important ingredients in high energy density battery anodes, and some room temperature superconductor designs. The demand for rare earths is projected to increase by ≈ 50% to 300,000 tonnes of metal oxide per year by 2025. 
Mining and refining rare earths pose formidable challenges. The name rare earths is a bit of a misnomer: they aren’t all that rare. For every 100 billion atoms of aluminum in the Earth's crust, there are only 10 atoms of platinum and about one atom of iridium (the rarest metal). But, for every 100 billion aluminum atoms, there are about a million atoms of cerium (the most common rare earth, about the same as copper and zinc) and about 10 thousand atoms of lutetium (the rarest rare earth, about the same as antimony and bromine). But, unlike most other metals, there are no seams or veins of rare earths. Rare earths are rarely found at concentrations above a few hundred parts per million. Getting just a few hundred grams of rare earths means crushing more than a tonne of ore, and dissolving the remnants in sulfuric acid. Making a 1 megawatt wind turbine needs a few hundred kilograms of neodymium (one of the lighter, more abundant rare earths), and it will take a few million of these turbines to power the USA.
Biology could offer a better way to mine rare earths. Today, about 15% of the world's copper supply is provided by a process where a microbe called Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans extracts copper from low grade ore. But, A. ferrooxidans is one of the few microbes that exactly fit the bill for any application in sustainable energy (in fact, the only one we can think of): there isn't an analogous microbe that can do the same trick for rare earth bio-mining. The closest thing is an acid-producing microbe called Gluconobacter oxydans, but this doesn't dissolve ore aggressively enough to make a commercially viable process. This means that we’ll have to find a way to engineer G. oxydans
Building microbes for sustainable energy remains a challenge right at the interface of basic science and engineering. We’re fortunate that today there are lots of technologies for writing and editing genomes (think DNA, synthesis, Gibson assembly, CRISPR), and next generation sequencing (the PacBio sequencer was a Cornell spin-out company). These tools let us increase the expression of some enzymes, and decrease the expression of others, with the end result of increasing the amount of a chemical that the microbe makes. 
But, the technology for figuring out where to edit and what to write in a genome has barely improved at all over the last 20 years. When we started to work on synthetic biology and energy, we quickly realized just how big a problem this is, particularly for the most exotic organisms that offer the most capability for sustainable energy. Most of the work in molecular biology over the last few decades has gone into understanding a handful of bio-medically relevant model organisms like brewer’s yeast and E. coli, and very few non-model organisms. To solve this problem, we developed a method called Knockout Sudoku that lets us knock out all of the genes in a microbe's genome faster and cheaper than any other technology. This lets us figure out all of the genes involved in lots of behaviors (say making acids that can dissolve rocks). 
We've used Knockout Sudoku to figure out the genes that G. oxydans uses to produce acids. Alexa Schmitz built a collection that contains a gene knockout mutant for almost all of G. oxydans 3,000 genes (at least the ones that aren’t essential for it to live). By screening the collection with pH indicating dyes, Alexa was able to figure out 300 or so genes that control acid-production. 
Alexa found two major systems that control acid-production. The first one, PQQ synthesis, makes an essential compound (PQQ) used by the enzyme (mGDH) that drives the final step of acid production. Increasing production of PQQ synthesis genes, along with the mGDH accelerates acid production. The second system, pst, senses when G. oxydans has sufficient phosphate, an essential nutrient. When phosphate is low, the bacteria access more by secreting acid into the environment. When phosphate is sufficient, the pst system puts the brakes on acid production. Knocking out pst removes the brakes, exactly what we want. Alexa's best mutant increases acid production by 18%. 
Since November, Alexa has been working on even more elaborate mutations to G. oxydans that have increased bioleaching by almost 40%. We think we can double it within the next few months. 
What else can you expect from this project? We’ve also been looking into rare earth separations as well. Some microbes can adsorb rare earths onto their surfaces. A few years ago, a group at Harvard found that not all rare earths are adsorbed equally, and this selective adsorption can vary between species. This tells us that if we could figure out the genetics of biosorption we could make biosorption even more selective, and use it to separate neighboring rare earths. As a turn of good luck we’d already built a knockout collection for one of the organisms known to biosorb rare earths (the electraoctive bug Shewanella oneidensis). 
When we made the collection we had no idea about rare earth biosorption - we were looking for genes that allow the bug to eat electricity. (Likely you will hear more about this project soon, as it was recently supported by a CESI postdoctoral fellowship.) Graduate student Sean Medin is characterizing the genome of S. oneidensis to figure out which genes control biosorption. 
Finally, Alexa and Sean have already started a company called REEgen to commercialize extraction and separations technologies. We hope to tell you more next year! 


Club Mission:
The Cornell Energy Systems Club (CESC) was founded in 2018 with the aim of increasing collaboration between Cornell faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students in the energy field. The club membership and leadership therefore consist of a combination of PhD, Masters, and undergraduate students, all working together to create events to serve and bring the community together. The primary manifestation of this goal is CESC’s flagship event Cornell Energy Day. With the growth in both size and experience of the club, this has become Cornell Energy Days.

Club Members:
  • President - Henry Harwood,
  • Vice President - Zoe Pollard,
  • Secretary - Jen Yi, and Firehiwot Gurara,
  • Treasurer - Yue Deng,
  • Energy Seminar Liason - Jeff Sward,
  • Social Media Coordinator - Ezra Brody,
  • Undergraduate Coordinator - Erik Anderson,

For more information, please contact the Energy Systems Club President Henry Harwood

Meet the New Members:
Henry Harwood is from Larchmont, NY and is presently pursuing an M.Eng in Materials Science and Engineering following his undergrad in the same department. As part of the Yu Optolectronics Group in CHEME, Henry is doing research on perovskite quantum dot solar cells with a particular focus on stabilizing tin-based chemistries. Henry’s interest in solar technology is encompassed by his more general interest in utilizing the development of renewable energy technologies to realize an equitable deployment of renewable energy resources around the world.
Firehiwot Gurara is a third year PhD student working with professor Afridi in High Frequency Power Electronics Group. Her research focuses on the application of power electronics for designing high power density and high frequency power converters for thermoelectric generation and renewable energy harvesting. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, taking short walks, and writing Amharic poems.

Erik Anderson is pursuing a Major in Environmental Engineering. He has always been interested in renewable energy and is excited to see what its future will look like. In his free time, he enjoys running, skiing, and spending time outdoors.

Ezra Brody is a first-year PhD student working with Max Zhang's group in Mechanical Engineering.
CHEME 6660, Analysis of Sustainable Energy Systems
Instructor: Jeff Tester (

Assessment of current and potential future energy systems, covering resources, extraction, conversion, and end-use, with emphasis on meeting regional and global energy needs in the 21st century in a sustainable manner. Quantitative engineering methods for performance analysis of renewable and conventional technologies are utilized. Methods will include thermodynamics, financial analysis of performance, life cycle cost calculation, transport and reaction engineering considerations for energy capture, extraction and conversion described within a system framework that aids in evaluation and analysis of sustainable energy technology options in the context of political, social, economic, and environmental goals. Open to graduate students and upper-class undergraduates. Quantitative engineering analysis methods applied assuming previous exposure to thermodynamics, physics, and calculus. (2 credits for CHEME 6660; 1 credit for project in CHEME 6681)
CHEME 6670, Fossil Fuels
Lead instructor: Michael Weill with Jeff Tester (

This module will present an overview of fossil fuels in the overall energy supply. Particular emphasis will be on the exploration and production sector of oil and gas. Oil and gas after transportation and refining is a major contributor to the transportation, industrial, and residential sectors of the economy. The module will highlight where oil and gas fit in the energy picture and then take the student through the overall life cycle of E&P with particular emphasis on the risk and economic components involved, in addition to some technical components. Although coal is a fossil fuel and significant contributor to US electrical supply, it will not be covered in detail. (1 credit)
CHEME 6663, Geothermal Energy
Lead instructors: Adam Hawkins (
and Jeff Tester (

The vision behind geothermal energy’s potential role in meeting national and regional decarbonization and renewable energy deployment goals is described. Topics include: (1) regional and local geothermal resource assessment using temperature gradients and heat flow to estimate the stored thermal energy in the crust, (2) subsurface science and engineering including reservoir structure and design and thermal-hydraulic performance modeling, drilling, and stimulation methods, (3) engineering design and infrastructure technology involved with using geothermal energy for generating electricity, direct use in district heating systems and heating and cooling using geothermal heat pumps, (4) economic requirements, and (5) environmental issues. The final topic is a case study addressing how district heating at Cornell will be achieved utilizing an integrated energy system approach using Earth Source Heat (ESH) technology, bioenergy from waste biomass, thermal energy storage, and centralized heat pumps (1 credit)
CHEME 6662, Solar Energy
Lead instructor: Tobias Hanrath ( with Jeff Tester (

This module provides a comprehensive overview of solar energy conversion technologies. Major themes range from fundamental (nuts and bolts) solid-state concepts and operating principles of photovoltaics to manufacturing of cells and modules, balance of system aspects, life-cycle assessment and perspectives on second- and third-generation photovoltaic technologies. Beyond technoeconomic aspects, we also discuss societal and legal aspects of solar energy deployment. The module also summarizes solar thermal power technologies including passive and active solar heating, concentrated solar power plants. (1 credit)


A warm welcome to Semida Silveira, Professor of practice in Systems Engineering Program at Cornell University. 

Semida Silveira is Professor of Practice in the Systems Engineering Program. Professor Silveira wants to contribute to science-based societal transformation through transdisciplinary research, education, and project implementation. She sees energy systems transformation as an entry-point for achieving multiple goals including climate change mitigation, industrial innovation, and sustainable development at large. Professor Silveira considers the Systems Engineering Program at Cornell University a great platform to promote the sustainable energy transition in collaboration with multiple stakeholders and achieve impact. 
Before coming to Cornell University, Silveira was a Full Professor in energy systems planning at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, where she established and led the Energy and Climate Unit of the Energy Technology Department for twelve years. She has developed and managed projects in collaboration with academics, multi-lateral organizations, government, and the private sector in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. She did research at MIT, IIASA, University of Tübingen and University of Stockholm. Professor Silveira has a PhD in regional planning from KTH and an engineer-architect degree from UFMG Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil.  


SYSEN 5170 – Energy Policies for Systems Transition
Professor Semida Silveira,
How are policies defined and implemented? What role do policies play in the systems transition? Where and how to seize opportunities and foster sustainable solutions? How do technology developers, markets, companies and households respond to policy incentives? This course provides an understanding about the strategic role of policies, strategies and planning processes in international and national contexts with a strong focus on the world-critical topic of energy as the course’s primary application area.Students will explore synergies between various sectors and learn how energy policies can help address broader environmental and socio-economic agendas. The course provides a solid basis for professionals from different backgrounds to understand energy policy either as planners, analysts or implementers of energy strategies with different stakeholder perspectives.

PADM 4717 – Energy Transition: Policy, Financial, and Business Interactions
Professor Drew Riedl,
The course utilizes discussions, presentations, research papers, and simulations to explore the policy, financial, and business implications, opportunities, and risks, of climate change, specifically the energy transition to a low-carbon economy. We will explore potential public policies in the context of their business impacts, effectiveness, and political viability. How does different policy design encourage distinct long-term pathways within a highly capital-intensive industry? What industries are most impacted by a transition to a lower carbon economy? How do incentives and structures influence business actors toward a smoother transition, or toward wasted capital expenditures, and stranded assets? Are financial markets pricing in an energy transition? What is the role of financial and market regulators in ensuring long-term "beneficial" capital allocation? With an industry in decline, what are the business strategy options for management of a fossil fuel producer? What are the policy, financial, and business implications for clean energy firms, electric vehicle manufacturers, and the metals and mining industry? Additional readings, research, and presentations are required of Master's students.
Gail Phillips,
Project Associate
Gail Phillips joined CESI in March 2021 directly supporting Director Lindsay Anderson and the activities across the institute. Gail also works with the Strategic Partnerships team at the Atkinson Center for Sustainability.
Polly Marion, Administrative Assistant
Polly Marion is an Administrative Assistant in CBE for Professor Jeff Tester. In May 2021, Polly took on the role of providing administrative support for the Energy Engineering Seminar Series.
Debbie Higgins
Debbie Higgins is an Administrative Assistant in BEE. She began providing support for CESI in December 2021, and will continue to manage the communications and marketing for CESI.
Thank you Jiefu Yin!
Jiefu Yin, PhD, joined CESI as the Laboratory Manager in 2018. Since then, he simultaneously worked as a Postdoctoral Associate with Professor Lynden Archer.

On behalf of the CESI community, we would like to thank Jiefu for the past four years of tireless work and support to the Lab.

We wish you the best on your new role as a radiation specialist at Cornell Environmental Health and Safety
We are currently looking for a new Lab Manager.
Check our career opportunities and help us to spread the word
The CESI Source is an internal newsletter brought to you by the Cornell Energy Systems Institute.