I2CNER team bridges borders for success
Administering a research center is a complex task with a number of moving parts that must run smoothly to ensure success. This job is even more complex when the center’s operations span international borders.
That is the pressure that the I2CNER Satellite staff is under. The center at Illinois is the Satellite Institute of the International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research at Kyushu University in Japan.
Led by Director and James W. Bayne Professor Petros Sofronis, the I2CNER mission is to contribute to the creation of a sustainable society through research focused on low-carbon emission, cost-effective energy systems, and the improvement of energy efficiency.
Sofronis is assisted on campus by a small, but hard working, group of people.
Jessica Dalhaus, Program Coordinator, is what Sofronis calls the “command and control” of I2CNER’s operations in Illinois. Maintaining contact with associates in Japan, drafting and editing progress reports, writing presentations, and approving publications that are drafted in Japan are just the tip of the iceberg of what she does.
“She is my right hand. That’s how I would describe Jessica,” Sofronis said.
Dalhaus travels to Japan several times a year to work directly with the I2CNER staff there. Her success in this setting comes from her superior communication skills.
“She can synthesize things and gather pieces of information from here and there. For instance, what the Japanese faculty are saying, what the American faculty are saying, what German faculty are saying,” Sofronis said.
This ability translates to her positive reputation among I2CNER and other Illinois faculty.
“All of our faculty here love her,” Sofronis said. “They say, ‘Petros, a significant amount of the success here is because of Jessica.’ Because she knows how to receive requests from the faculty. She knows when to say yes and when to say no; she knows how to say yes, she knows how to say no. In the end we all come out with the optimal result.”
The administrative support that Sofronis gets from Dalhaus is mirrored by the research support he gets from Mohsen Dadfarnia, a research scientist who administers the structural materials aspects of the center here in the U.S. and maintains relationships with the international community.
One of the projects Dadfarnia is working on is an evaluation of the Southern California Gas Company’s pipeline system that will determine if they have the ability to put hydrogen in their natural gas system - one new strategy for storing renewable energy.
“In southern California, they have a lot of sunlight, so they could use a lot of hydrogen. They don’t want to waste the sunlight when they don’t need it, so they are turning it into hydrogen, which is distributed through southern California through the natural gas pipeline,” Sofronis said. “Mohsen is essentially the scientist who will execute this assessment.”
Although Dadfarnia is separated from his Japanese colleagues by an ocean, this fact is not reflected in the strength of the relationship he maintains with the researchers in Japan. This relationship is especially synergistic, given that the KU researchers have access to some more advanced equipment than the center here, and that Dadfarnia is able to inform their experiments with his unique expertise.
“He reaches out and gets involved with interactions and collaborations with Kyushu University and he offers his expertise,” Sofronis said.
Another stateside member of the team is Yvonne Shaw in MechSE’s Grants and Contracts office, who works to make sure that the accounting practices between Kyushu and Illinois are strong. This involves making sure that the international agreements satisfy both parties, and that the evolving accounting standards of both Illinois and Kyushu University are maintained each year, which is no easy task.
“Our university and our department are great because we have all of these capable people,” Sofronis said.