Sofronis expands Illinois partnership with Kyushu University


The Grainger College of Engineering

On April 1, 2010 two of the world’s leaders in energy research, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Kyushu University in Japan, formed the International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER, pronounced ICE-ner). Through funding from Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), the two universities have spearheaded a global effort to advance low-carbon emissions and cost-effective energy systems and the improvement of energy efficiency.

With the 10-year agreement set to expire on March 31, 2020, the universities have decided to take the framework of the agreement and expand it to other colleges and initiatives through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). 

“The expanding collaboration between the University of Illinois and Kyushu University provides an excellent opportunity to build on the 10-year relationship our universities established through IC2NER, to capitalize on our mutual strengths as we broaden our engagement and explore innovative solutions to pressing global problems,” said Reitumetse Obakeng Mabokela, Illinois' Vice Provost for International Affairs and Global Strategies.

“By establishing a strategic partnership with the University of Illinois, Kyushu University hopes to be able to link research and education in a wider range of academic and human resource development fields in addition to existing strong cooperation in the energy field,” said Masato Wakayama, Executive Vice President of Kyushu University. “Through this ambitious and unprecedented collaboration with the University of Illinois, Kyushu University strongly hopes to promote activities that contribute to academic progress and the sustainable development of mankind.” 

“When it comes to research in the area of hydrogen materials interactions, Illinois has been a world leader for the past 50 years,” said Petros Sofronis, the Director of I2CNR and the James W. Bayne Professor of Mechanical Science and Engineering at Illinois. “Kyushu, at the same time, is internationally recognized for its outstanding research program underlying all aspects of hydrogen technology and has some of the world’s best hydrogen research facilities. Having such highly respected universities leading the charge is why I2CNER has been so successful. For instance, we have been the catalyst for fuel cell cars, which could reduce the carbon emissions in Japan by 0.42%, equivalent to taking seven million gasoline-powered vehicles off the road by 2050. Also, we are working toward effective, efficient methods of turning CO2 into useful products which provides the opportunity to contribute to solving the climate crisis.”

Over the course of the last decade, students and faculty have benefitted from the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Partnerships in International Research and Education (PIRE) Center, where undergraduate and graduate students from Illinois participate in a 10-week summer exchange program in Japan and Kyushu and Illinois faculty collaborate within each other’s campuses. This program builds on education diplomacy and will expand as well with this new agreement. 

Potential future areas of collaboration include developing the next generation of smart grid energy systems and partnering in the areas of food microbiology/fermentation, nutrition and cognition, environmental economics, and medical education for the future as well as continue the successful relationship focusing on hydrogen and low-carbon energy.

“Both universities have seen this as a successful partnership,” Sofronis said. “Through I2CNER, Kyushu has seen ripple effects. Specifically, in the opportunity to expand this identity and culture throughout the university. Illinois has seen that partnering with Kyushu will further increase its internationalization especially with such a technologically advanced country as Japan.”

Photo at top: Kyushu University and Illinois renewed their academic exchange agreement and established a new strategic partnership. Dignitaries on hand for the MOU signing included (left to right): Rashid Bashir, Dean of The Grainger College of Engineering; Illinois Provost Andreas Cangellaris, Illinois Vice Provost Reitumetse Obakeng Mabokela, Illinois Chancellor Robert J. Jones, Kyushu President Chiharu Kubo, Kyushu Executive Vice President Masato Wakayama, and MechSE professor Petros Sofronis, Director of I2CNER.