Ralph L. House
“Virtually all energy-related systems involve electrochemical interfaces,” says Héctor D. Abruña, Director of the Energy Materials Center at Cornell. Broadly defined, electrochemistry is the study of chemical reactions at the interface between a solution and an electrode. The chemical reactions are driven by an applied voltage, which places electrochemistry at the heart of many of the proposed solutions to the energy problem, whether that’s fuel cells to drive our cars, dye-sensitized solar cells to harvest the sun’s energy, or batteries for solar farms, storing energy from intermittent sources.
Gareth S. Parkinson
In establishing 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers, the U.S. Department of Energy moved to expedite the rate of scientific discovery by encouraging teamwork in a community more accustomed to relying on individual brilliance. This approach to science funding, which takes its lead from the common proverb individuals play the game, but teams beat the odds, brings together scientists with diverse backgrounds and skill sets to solve the most pertinent problems in energy research.
Efficient water splitting holds immense promise as a way to produce hydrogen for clean, sustainable energy conversion processes. Scientists working in the Center for Atomic-Level Catalyst Design, or CALCD, discovered that a form of rust, magnetite (Fe3O4), one of the most abundant materials in the Earth’s crust, performs water splitting at room temperature without the need for electricity or light to drive the reaction.
Iron, in its role as a key building material of nuclear fuel containers, must withstand both natural forces from the outside and large amounts of radiation from nuclear reactions on the inside. In the past year, after the tragic earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster that struck the Fukushima prefecture on the east coast of Japan, it has become obvious that understanding the integrity of these housing structures is absolutely essential to guaranteeing the safety of local populations.
Next-generation biofuels production uses high temperatures around 1000 °F to convert every part of a plant into molecules that are similar to those in fuels. A series of complex processes fracture large biomolecules containing millions of atoms into much smaller molecules with higher energy density and reactivity.
Supercapacitors store energy as a static charge and not through electrochemical reactions, but suffer from low energy density compared to standard lithium-ion batteries. New research is tackling this problem.
Collaboration between two Energy Frontier Research Centers has produced the first 3D photonic crystal, a material designed to control the propagation of light, incorporated into an electronically addressable device.
Researchers at the Center for Bio-Inspired Solar Fuel Production have successfully incorporated DNA-based nanocages into the pores of a transparent metal oxide material that conducts electricity while allowing sunlight to pass through it. The team is now significantly closer to constructing a transparent electrode with integrated catalysts, which is fundamental to developing a bio-inspired artificial solar fuel system.
Imagine your cell phone reliably powered by sunlight. To make this a reality, energy from the sunlight must be absorbed by a semiconducting material and separated into charges. Using a new research technique, scientists at the Charge Separation and Transfer Energy Frontier Research Center are developing a better understanding of organic polymer materials that behave like semiconductors.
The goal of Frontiers in Energy Research is to inform you about the accomplishments of the Department of Energy’s Energy Frontiers Research Centers. Articles focus on scientific achievements, with an emphasis this issue on bringing together theory and experiment. In addition, the newsletter features a feature story on Héctor Abruña, the director of the Energy Materials Center at Cornell.
This newsletter was created by an editorial board of early career scientists who work in Energy Frontier Research Centers. Some of the members are just completing their graduate degrees, while others are working in labs and lecture halls. All are dedicated, curious and committed to communicating about science. In addition, our board benefitted from the talents of several guest authors and reviewers this issue.
- Sanchita Biswas, Center for Atomic-Level Catalyst Design
- Anne-Marie Carey, Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center
- Scott Kirklin, Center for Electrical Energy Storage
- Matthew Mettler, Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation
- Jessica Morrison, Materials Science of Actinides
- Gareth Parkinson, Center for Atomic-Level Catalyst Design
- Natalie Ray, Institute for Atom-Efficient Chemical Transformations
- Bryce Sadtler, Light-Material Interactions in Energy Conversion
- Volker Presser, Fluid Interface Reactions, Structures and Transport Center
Guest Authors and Reviewers
- Ralph House, Solar Fuels and Next Generation Photovoltaics
- Maria Luckyanova, Solid-State Solar Thermal Energy Conversation Center
- Mike Salciccioli, Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation
Disclaimer: The opinions in this newsletter are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views or position of the Department of Energy.