The premiere inventions of the 20th century—such as the internal combustion engine, the light bulb, and the microprocessor—required careful and thorough optimization and assembly of well-designed, small-scale components at multiple stages. However, natural systems, from cells 10 times smaller than a human hair to massive African termite mounds, take advantage of spontaneous ordering that arises from pervasive small-scale local interactions.
The wait was over. After a year of preparing and months of anticipation, the Argonne National Laboratory-led team was awarded the coveted Batteries and Energy Storage Hub, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences. On November 30, 2012, this fact was broadcast to the press from the University of Chicago. U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel, Governor of Illinois Pat Quinn and Director of Argonne Eric Isaacs had all convened to formally introduce the winning team, the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR—pronounced jay-see-zer), and charge it up for the road ahead.
A conversation with Peter Green will undoubtedly leave you inspired about the future of energy research. As director of the Department of Energy-funded Center for Solar and Thermal Energy Conversion, Green relies on his extensive science background to help develop innovative solutions to solar and thermal energy conversion technologies.
Only 8 percent of the light from your smart phone or tablet reaches your eyes. Recycling the wasted light into electricity could extend the battery life on these and other devices with liquid crystal displays. The challenge is efficiently capturing that light.
Conventional batteries cannot store solar energy and provide it when needed. New energy storage devices mean new materials with open, uniform and interconnected pores that enhance specific energy storage reactions.
In plants, bacteria and other living things, complex molecules known as enzymes increase the speed of life-sustaining reactions, such as photosynthesis. Synthetic catalysts are rarely as efficient, but adding natural features could improve their performance.
The performance of electronic devices, including laptop computers and cell phones, is often degraded because of the inefficient management of heat and energy. Squeezing more efficiency from these devices in the future will include better control of the flow of heat through them.
Adding an oxygen atom at just the right spot to change a simple hydrogen-and-carbon-packed molecule into an alcohol that can act as a fuel is a difficult proposition. The steps in between the start and finish can waste time and resources.
Green photosynthetic bacteria can absorb a much broader range or spectrum of light than plants, which may help bacteria function when sunlight is not available. The bacteria absorb light using tiny structures known as chlorosomes.
Nanomaterials behave differently than the same material on a larger scale. Nanomaterial behaviors make them appealing as the nation works to revolutionize solar panels, fuel cells and other technologies. The challenge is making them uniform. To meet this challenge, scientists built a tool to follow the growth of individual grains.
Sifting through a mixture so that only select molecules react is challenging, especially when the mixture involves biofuels. Most catalyst sieves, as such materials are called, are designed with pores that are simply too small.
Moving your rook along a straight path across the chess board is a simple action, but these moves add up to an amazing variety that makes the game continually challenging. In innovative energy science, the challenge is understanding and then leveraging these simple, single actions to create remarkable materials and processes to solve national challenges. In this issue, we examine the challenge and our successes in creating outstanding matter in Engineering Emergent Behavior to Tackle the Third Grand Challenge.
Meeting this challenge, of course, requires a depth of scientific knowledge in a single field and the ability to reach out to others to collaborate, as is highlighted in our article on the new DOE Energy Storage Hub and its relation to the EFRCs. Further, meeting this challenge requires focus and physical stamina, as you'll learn about our feature article on Peter Green, Director of the Center for Solar and Thermal Energy Conversion.
To give you a glimpse of the science being done across the centers, read our highlights. For example, you'll learn how scientists are creating materials that capture the wasted light from your monitor and channel it into energy. You'll also see how an elegant technique led to a material capable of sifting out other molecules to get bio-molecules of just the right size, and you'll see how scientists are solving the problems necessary to turn simple materials into fuels, faster than Mother Nature can.
In all of these articles, you'll see how asking "why?" and other simple actions have remarkable results.
Kristin Manke, Editor-in-Chief
- Khuram Ashraf, Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center
- Dennis Callahan, Light-Materials Interactions in Energy Conversion
- Enoch Dames, Combustion Energy Frontier Research Center
- Brian Doyle, Heterogeneous Functional Materials Center
- Tyler Josephson, Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation
- Gyu Leem, Center for Solar Fuels
- Kara Manke, Center for Solid State Solar Thermal Energy Conversion
- Brandon O'Neill, Institute of Atom Efficient Chemical Transformations
- Ioannis (Yannis) Petousis, Center on Nanostructuring for Efficient Energy Conversion
- Jaroslaw Syzdek, Northeastern Center for Chemical Energy Storage
- Lynn Trahey, Center for Electrical Energy Storage
- Adam Wise, Polymer-Based Materials for Harvesting Solar Energy
- Ralph House, Center for Solar Fuels
- Paul Giokas, Center for Solar Fuels
Special Friends of the Editor
- Lawrence Friedman, Polymer-Based Materials for Harvesting Solar Energy
- Paul Lahti, Polymer-Based Materials for Harvesting Solar Energy
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.