2021 Scialog Collaborative Innovation Award

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Professor Chong Liu and collaborators receive a $55K 2021 Scialog Collaborative Innovation Award.

Professor Chong Liu and collaborators Professor Andrea Hicks, Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Wisconsin – Madison and Professor Haotian Wang, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University, received the award for their project titled “CO2 Conversion to Bioplastics via Electrochemical-Bio Synthesis”.

This Scialog project aims to integrate electrochemical CO2 reduction with microbial catalysis for a synthesis of bioplastics from CO2 powered by renewable electricity. Taking advantage of the chemical catalysis with the versatile biocatalytic reaction, this project will demonstrate the synergy between abiotic and biotic steps, as well as its potential of practical application through the life-cycle analysis. 

An assistant professor of inorganic chemistry since 2017, Liu holds the Jeffrey and Helo Zink Career Development Chair. His research group studies electrochemical systems for energy, biology, and environments and aims to address some of the challenging questions in catalysis, energy conversion, CO2/N2 fixation, and microbiota. 

This is the second year that Liu has won a Scialog award. Last year, Liu and UCLA postdoc alum Professor Nanette Boyle (CO School of Mines) received a $55K 2020 Scialog Collaborative Innovation Award for their project titled “Solar-Augmented Direct Air Capture of Methane Using Methanotrophic Bacteria”.

Professor Carlos Morales-Guio, UCLA Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, also received a 2021 Scialog award.

From the Research Corporation for Science Advancement announcement:

Over $1.2M Awarded to 8 Scialog: Negative Emissions Science Teams NES 2021 Photo Collage

Eight cross-disciplinary teams working to advance fundamental science in the removal of greenhouse gases from Earth’s atmosphere and oceans will receive awards totaling $1,210,000 in the second year of the Scialog: Negative Emissions Science initiative, sponsored by Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, with additional support from the Climate Pathfinders Foundation.

The 22 individual awards of $55,000 will go to 20 researchers from a variety of institutions in the United States and Canada.

Adam Falk, President of the Sloan Foundation, said moderately sized funders have to find creative ways to make a difference, and working together through Scialog is a great example. Building a scientific community of young investigators from a diverse array of institutions and backgrounds is a “visionary way to both support science and change the way science is done,” he said.

By coincidence, the second meeting of this initiative was held November 4-5, 2021, as world leaders convened at the United Nations’ COP26 climate change summit in Scotland.

“While leaders are meeting on how to reduce CO2 emissions from a governmental or regulatory approach, we’re asking you to give them new tools to help manage the problem we have generated ourselves since the Industrial Revolution,” RCSA President & CEO Daniel Linzer told Scialog participants at the meeting. “It’s on you to figure out how we can do this in new and creative ways.”

Scialog is short for “science + dialog.” Created in 2010 by RCSA, the Scialog format supports research by stimulating intensive interdisciplinary conversation and community building around a scientific theme of global importance.  Teams of two or three Fellows who have not previously collaborated compete for seed funding for high-risk, high-reward projects based on the innovative ideas that emerge at the conference.

Participants are encouraged to write proposals that depart from their current work to test out a new idea, try a new collaboration with someone whose approach is different, and push the boundaries of knowledge.

The following Negative Emissions Science teams will receive 2021 Scialog Collaborative Innovation Awards:

Matthew Green, Chemical Engineering, Arizona State University

Gary Moore, School of Molecular Sciences, Arizona State University

Emily Ryan, Mechanical Engineering, Boston University

Electrocatalytic Activation and Cycling of Moisture-Swing Direct Air Capture Materials

Zhou Lin, Chemistry, University of Massachusetts Amherst *
Yayuan Liu, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Johns Hopkins University *
Sen Zhang, Chemistry, University of Virginia *
Carbon Dioxide-Methane Coupling with Electric-Field-Polarized Microelectrodes

Marta Hatzell, Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
Kathryn Knowles, Chemistry, University of Rochester
Jose Mendoza, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Michigan State University
Photochemical Amine Production from N2 and CO2

David Kwabi, Mechanical Engineering, University of Michigan
Michael Nippe, Chemistry, Texas A&M University, College Station
Carbon Dioxide Removal from Seawater Driven by a Visible Light-Induced pH Gradient

Matthew Green, Chemical Engineering, Arizona State University *
Katherine Hornbostel, Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, University of Pittsburgh *
Jenny Yang, Chemistry, University of California Irvine *
Novel Membrane Design for Hybrid Ocean Capture and Desalination

Charles McCrory, Chemistry, University of Michigan
Carlos Morales-Guio, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles
Electrified Low-Temperature Process for CO2 Capture and Conversion (e-LT-C3)

Andrea Hicks, Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Wisconsin – Madison *
Chong Liu, Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, Los Angeles *
Haotian Wang, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University *
CO2 Conversion to Bioplastics via Electrochemical-Bio Synthesis

Adam Holewinski, Chemical & Biological Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder *
Katherine Hornbostel, Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, University of Pittsburgh
Yuanyue Liu, Mechanical Engineering, University of Texas at Austin *
Electric-Swing Solid State Sorbents for Direct Air Capture of CO2

* Funded by RCSA
† Funded by Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

The virtual meeting brought together 60 early career researchers from chemistry, engineering, environmental science and related fields to discuss challenges and gaps in current knowledge, build community around visionary goals, and form teams to write proposals.

Keynote speaker Jennifer Wilcox, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, U.S. Department of Energy, was attending the U.N. climate summit and delivered a recorded address on “The Role of Carbon Management in Helping to Achieve Net-Zero by Mid-Century.”

She said the initiative was not just timely but urgent. “We’re really running out of time in terms of achieving our climate goals,” she said.

She outlined the current Administration’s major climate goals, which include 50% emissions reduction by 2030, 100% clean electricity by 2035, and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“We need to be scaling up carbon dioxide removal today, but it shouldn’t be business as usual.” she said. “It’s cheaper and easier to avoid CO2 in the first place.”

Thoughtful strategies are needed to help create an equitable and just transition to a net-zero carbon economy, she said.

“Whether affected communities’ concerns are associated with air pollution, access to clean and affordable energy, or preservation or creation of jobs, these are things we do need to consider when we think about demonstration and deployment of the technologies we’re investing in,” she said. “It’s important not just to make investments but to truly understand what the benefits are.”

Facilitator Emily Carter led a lively discussion following the keynote. Participants identified several major challenges they wanted to discuss during the meeting, including concerns about the relative cost, practicality and feasibility of new technologies and the massive energy requirements needed to engage in large-scale direct air capture efforts. Others voiced a desire to find better ways to analyze the lifecycle of technologies to assess their net impact.

A series of facilitated breakout sessions followed on such topics as mechanisms of electrochemical CO2 reduction, materials for separations and storage in negative emissions, methane capture, sorbents, and modeling across scales.

Participants coalesced into teams around emerging ideas, considering what their collaborations might look like, what novel problems they might tackle together, and what additional skills they might need on their teams. Proposals were submitted a week following the conference and reviewed by a panel of subject matter experts.

The third annual Negative Emissions Science meeting is scheduled for Nov. 9-12, 2022, in Tucson, Arizona.


Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.