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Frontiers in
Energy Research
Frontiers in Energy Research: September 2011
  • Natalie Ray

    Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. The 3R’s. This mantra defines the conservation movement around the world. The first Earth Day in 1970 catapulted conservation and the 3R’s into the spotlight. Americans rallied for clean air and water, which drove government policies.

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Feature Articles
  • Peptoids are used to grow calcium carbonate crystals, shown here. The peptoids can accelerate the growth rate of these carbon-containing structures.

    Natalie Ray

    Reducing carbon dioxide, CO2, emissions has led EFRC scientists to investigate creative ways to trap and utilize the pollutant before it enters the atmosphere. Fossil fuel processing plants and other energy production sites are responsible for major CO2 emissions.

  • Thomas van der Poll

    Recycling is one of the world’s ways of being more conscientious when it comes to consuming resources. However, one resource that is easily overlooked is heat.

  • Paul J. Dauenhauer

    Biofuels processes have a simple objective: reuse waste carbon dioxide, aka CO2, by converting it to biofuels as efficiently and economically as possible. However, this seemingly simple task requires sequential chemical steps that must be independently improved and collectively optimized.

Research Highlights
  • Bryce Sadtler

    Scientists at the Non-equilibrium Energy Research Center, NERC, are challenging the conventional view of how static electricity exchanges between materials when brought into contact. They show that polymer surfaces possess a mosaic of static charge domains with positive and negative regions as opposed to a uniform surface of just one charge type. The work, led by Bartosz Grzybowski at Northwestern University and director of the NERC, was published in Science.

  • Jenny Yang

    Electrocatalysts that are efficient, fast and affordable at generating chemical fuels are a critical element for a renewable energy economy. Scientists at the Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis have reported an important discovery towards this goal, a molecular nickel-based catalyst that produces hydrogen at over 100,000 times a second.

  • Peter Adams

    In the quest to harness solar energy for fuel, the Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center studies the highly efficient process of photosynthesis, aiming to create next-generation energy-harvesting devices. PARC researchers showed that altering one small protein completely rearranges the hundreds of other proteins that comprise the light-harvesting network. These studies provide the first clues about the role of protein organization in trapping of solar energy.

  • Gene Nolis

    Imagine reducing time to model materials systems by a factor of 1000 or more. Remarkably, researchers with the Center on Nanostructuring for Efficient Energy Conversion did just that by developing a novel analytical method. The team used this method to compare solar cell energy conversion efficiencies for various material structures.

  • Jessica Morrison

    The uranium-based nuclear fuel cycle has a strong legacy in the United States — we first learned about controlling chain reactions during the Manhattan Project, and uranium has since become the prime choice for fuel in nuclear reactors. With concerns of proliferation and long-term storage ever-present, scientists in the Materials Science of Actinides Energy Frontier Research Center are looking in another direction: thorium-based fuels.

  • Ralph L. House

    A new method for preparing titanium dioxide thin-film electrodes yields efficient solar cells and greatly reduces the number of fabrication steps. The films are highly transparent, making them ideal for use in dye-sensitized solar cells where maximum light penetration to the photosensitive dye is critical. When coupled with the popular ruthenium-based molecular dye, N719, the electrodes produce high photocurrent densities (17.7 mA cm-2) and have a light-to-electrical energy conversion efficiency of 9.6%, about 1.4 times greater than photoelectrodes prepared using commercial titanium dioxide particles.

  • Catalyst researchers can determine the relative preference of chemical reactions that convert biomass molecules to biofuels. The figure shows the relative energy of molecules present in the conversion of biomass, where lines higher up in the figure represent less stable intermediates and lower lines represent more stable compounds. This figure shows that by using a Ni/Pt(111) catalyst rather than Pt(111), a more favorable and lower energy path can be found to produce biofuels.

    Matthew Mettler

    The catalytic chemistry of biomass has for decades been a black box from which biofuels and chemicals emerge. Now, researchers from the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation have developed a combined experimental and computational method that can determine the fundamental reaction steps involved in producing biofuels. This research is the first step toward designing custom catalysts for biofuel production.

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.