Frontiers in Energy Research: May 2011

May 2011

Breaking Through Traditional Limits

Maria Luckyanova thumb

Scientists have traditionally strived to create ways to achieve theoretical operational limits through conventional applications of scientific and engineering principles. Recently, however, a new breed of scientist is striving for something more ambitious: breaking these traditional limits altogether with unorthodox approaches to traditional problems. To promote such healthy rule-breaking, the Department of Energy began the Energy Frontier Research Centers in 2009 to accelerate such transformative technology. In this inaugural issue of the EFRC newsletter, we report on the progress occurring in a variety of the EFRCs, and feature groundbreaking work occurring in the pursuit of unique energy solutions.

Research Highlights

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    Improving Solar Cell Performance: One More Solvent

    The performance of organic or carbon-based solar cells can be greatly improved by using a second solvent, or additive, during the processing of the organic materials, according to scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara working in the Center for Energy Efficient Materials. The team gained insight into what that additive does using highly specialized imaging techniques. Their research was published in Advanced Energy Materials.
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    Light Trapping with Nanosphere Arrays

    A novel light-trapping scheme based on nanosphere coatings can boost the efficiency of thin-film solar cells, according to a research group at the Light-Material Interactions in Energy Conversion, an Energy Frontier Research Center. The work from the Atwater group at Caltech, which graced the cover of Advanced Materials, analyzes how incident light is concentrated in these beads and states under which conditions this light can be coupled into the active layer where it will be absorbed.
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    Nano Fuel Tanks Driving Electric Vehicle Technology

    For the first time, atomic layer deposition was used to synthesize nanoparticle catalysts that contain two metals: ruthenium and platinum. ALD has already been commercialized by the semiconductor industry and is easily transferable to the energy production industry as a way to fabricate catalysts.
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    Batteries Go Viral

    Viruses are typically associated with death and disease; so how are they advantageous for use in battery electrode materials? Researchers at the Nanostructures for Electrical Energy Storage, an Energy Frontier Research Center, were able to directly fabricate virus-based nickel current collectors. In this study, nanoporous silicon was deposited onto virus-based nickel current collectors for...
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    Watching Water Splitting in Real Time

    A 12-fold increase in the rate of water splitting was achieved using a transparent nanocrystalline electrode made of indium oxide doped with tin (ITO), instead of a conventional planar electrode. Catalysis was sustained for at least 8 hours, equivalent to ~800 turnovers, at a rate of ~0.027 s-1 and an impressive 95% oxygen yield. This work, conducted by the Solar Fuels and Next Generation Photovoltaics Energy Frontier Research Center in conjunction with the Center for Catalytic Hydrocarbon Functionalization...
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    Engineering Exciton Dynamics

    Through careful theoretical research, scientists at the Center for Excitonics have harnessed decoherence, which bridges quantum mechanics and classical physics approaches to describing the world. This work demonstrates controlled transfer of excitons, tiny mobile concentrations of energy. This breakthrough has far-reaching applications, including artificial photosynthesis, a hot topic in the realm of renewable 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.