Research News

Toyota institute awards UB $2.4 million to hunt for new materials


Published March 31, 2017 This content is archived.

portrait of Krishna Rajan outside on a spring day.
“...We are committed to finding innovative and cost-effective solutions that transform how society addresses climate change, national security and other pressing issues. ”
Krishna Rajan, Erich Bloch Endowed Chair
Department of Materials Design and Innovation

Toyota Research Institute (TRI) has awarded UB $2.4 million for materials science research that aims to make next generation vehicles carbon-neutral.

Krishna Rajan, ScD, Erich Bloch Endowed Chair of the Department of Materials Design and Innovation (MDI) at UB, is the grant’s principal investigator.

The award — part of a $35 million investment involving several universities and a materials research company — funds projects that use artificial intelligence to help accelerate the design and discovery of new materials.

The materials will help create technology for batteries and fuel cell catalysts designed to power future zero-emission and carbon-neutral vehicles.

“Toyota recognizes that artificial intelligence is a vital basic technology that can be leveraged across a range of industries, and we are proud to use it to expand the boundaries of materials science,” said TRI Chief Science Officer Eric Krotkov. “Accelerating the pace of materials discovery will help lay the groundwork for the future of clean energy and bring us even closer to achieving Toyota’s vision of reducing global average new-vehicle CO2 emissions by 90 percent by 2050.”

In addition to UB, TRI also funded research projects with Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, the University of Connecticut, and the United Kingdom-based materials science company Ilika. TRI is in ongoing discussions with additional research partners.

At UB, the TRI award will provide critical support for MDI, which is a program of UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and its College of Arts and Sciences. It also will complement other major projects such as the Materials Data Engineering Laboratory at UB (MaDE @UB), which was created last fall after researchers received a $2.9 million National Science Foundation grant.

The MaDE@UB lab aims to speed up and reduce the cost of discovering, manufacturing and commercializing new materials. It uses machine intelligence (tools such as machine learning, pattern recognition, materials informatics and modeling, and high-performance computing) to transform data libraries into a lab that not only stores and searches for information but also predicts and processes information.

“At the University at Buffalo, we are committed to finding innovative and cost-effective solutions that transform how society addresses climate change, national security and other pressing issues,” said Rajan. “The partnership we are forming with Toyota Research Institute will help us achieve these goals, while furthering their mission to spur advanced materials research that powers future clean-tech vehicles.”

The $35 million in projects will merge advanced computational materials modeling, new sources of experimental data, machine learning and artificial intelligence in an effort to reduce the time scale for new materials development from a period that has historically been measured in decades.

Research programs will follow parallel paths, working to identify new materials for use in future energy systems as well as to develop tools and processes that can accelerate the design and development of new materials more broadly.

In support of these goals, TRI will partner on projects focused on areas including:

  • The development of new models and materials for batteries and fuel cells;
  • Broader programs to pursue novel uses of machine learning, artificial intelligence and materials informatics approaches for the design and development new materials; and,
  • New automated materials discovery systems that integrate simulation, machine learning, artificial intelligence and/or robotics.

Accelerating materials science discovery represents one of four core focus areas for TRI, which was launched in 2015 with mandates to also enhance auto safety with automated technologies, increase access to mobility for those who otherwise cannot drive and help translate outdoor mobility technology into products for indoor mobility.