Frontiers in Energy Research: Spring 2016

Spring 2016


From Fundamentals to Functional Products

Robert Call and Kimberly Lundberg

Twenty countries recently agreed to spur advances in clean energy. While the EFRCs aren’t actively at the forefront of developing commercial products, the centers provide essential knowledge on the mechanisms that drive clean energy. Work at centers across the country has led to startup companies. The centers have also led to more than 300 U.S. patent applications and major contributions to pre-existing technologies.

Learn how...

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    Giving Sunlight a Boost

    Nate Thomas

    Solar cells can only absorb light with energy above a particular threshold. Any light with energy below this threshold is lost. Researchers at two EFRCs have been developing new approaches to overcome this problem and to push solar cell efficiencies...

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    Five Cents About Nickel Catalysts

    Timothy Plett and Varinia Bernales

    Platinum is a good catalyst, but it costs ~$950 an ounce. Nickel, whose market price of less than $4 a pound, is an attractive option, but it doesn’t pack the same punch. Two EFRCs are helping nickel muscle its way to center stage of fuel production...

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    The Story Behind the Scientist: One Who Beat the Odds

    Rhesa Ledbetter
    Seven elementary schools, a ninth-grade education, and lack of self-confidence: the odds were stacked against Jacquelyn Miller from an early age. Learn how she overcame the odds, with the help of some dedicated mentors, to earn her Ph.D. and work at the Center for Biological Electron Transfer and Catalysis...

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Research Highlights

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    Fine Tuning Heat Transport at the Nanoscale

    Eric Guiltinan
    Heat is either the hero or the villain in today’s electronics. It can serve as a source of power, but it can also cause electronics to fail. Scientists may have found a way help heat be the hero. They built a thin...
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    Light Reflection for Efficient Collection

    Michelle Harris
    A new solar concentrator uses luminophores that absorb indirect light as well as direct light, meaning the cell can take in the light that is bounced around at crazy angles by the atmosphere. They also designed a special filter that prevents…
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    New Path to Enhance Radiation Tolerance

    Ke Jin
    While simplifying life helped Thoreau deal with stress, for materials, complexity might be just the ticket to survive the extreme conditions inside a nuclear reactor or outside a space satellite. Scientists uncovered how the chemical disorders induced from the combination of two to five metal elements slows the heat spread...

Editor's Note


Two unlikely souls with familiar names are the toast of the nation’s capital: a pair of bald eagles named Mr. President and the First Lady nestled in a tulip poplar tree at the U.S. National Arboretum. Two cameras offer a front-row seat to their successes and frustrations as they raise their eaglets. I find myself checking in on them during rainstorms and cold spells as well as on our balmier days; I want to see them thrive. That sense of curiosity and hope are the recurring themes in this issue of Frontiers in Energy Research.

This issue answers tough questions: How do the Paris Accords affect research? How will research affect the limits of solar cells and nuclear power? Can we reinvent how we deal with one of the oldest forms of energy: heat? Can we make fuel cells use abundant metals rather than rare ones? In addition, this issue shows how people can overcome long strings of challenges. Read Jacquelyn Miller’s story of becoming a scientist after leaving school in the ninth grade. Join us to see what curiosity and hope have achieved in the nation’s Energy Frontier Research Centers.

Image © 2016 American Eagle Foundation

Editorial Board and Writers

Editorial Board

Varinia Bernales, Inorganometallic Catalyst Design Center and Material Science of Actinides
Robert Call, Center for Solar Fuels
Corinne Dorais, Material Science of Actinides
Eric Guiltinan, Center for Frontiers of Subsurface Energy Security
Michelle Harris, Argonne-Northwestern University Solar Energy Research Center
Rhesa Ledbetter, Center for Biological Electron Transfer and Catalysis
Kimberly Lundberg, Center for Electrochemical Energy Science
Tim Plett, Nanostructures for Electrical Energy Storage Energy Frontier Research Center
Nate Thomas, Light-Materials Interactions Energy Frontier Research Center

Kristin Manke, Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis, Editor-in-Chief

Guest Writer

Ke Jin, Energy Dissipation to Defect Evolution

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.