Frontiers in Energy Research: October 2012

October 2012

A Science Passport: Crossing Disciplines to Solve New Problems

Timothy D. Courtney thumb

Satiating the demand for energy is one of the world's defining scientific challenges, but the solutions are increasingly complex and beyond the capabilities available to a single researcher. Solving these challenges requires a wide selection of research tools and a broad understanding of the underlying systems at work. These resources can best be realized by bringing together researchers from different fields.

Composing the Future with a Symphony of Materials

Samson Lai thumb

In college, students are oft-advised to be well-rounded so as to become interesting and multi-talented individuals, but few people embody that idea as much as Ken Reifsnider, Director of the Heterogeneous Functional Materials Center.

Nanosolutions for Grand Challenges

Jaroslaw Syzdek thumb

One of the grand challenges for the world is decreasing carbon dioxide emissions. Nanoporous materials can help with carbon dioxide sequestration and improve efficiency of countless chemical processes by opening new frontiers in gas separation. A leader in gas separation, Berend Smit is the Director of the Center for Gas Separations Relevant to Clean Energy Technologies.

Research Highlights

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    A Forest of Semiconductor Tree Trunks

    Efficient solar cells require materials that absorb as much light as possible. One approach is to cover a surface in tiny wires -- dramatically increasing the surface area, but this material must be accessed quickly and affordably.
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    Now Is the Time to Design a Novel Dye in Solar Cells

    Reducing the nation’s imported oil requirements could be done using solar cells that act like green leaves, capturing sunlight and creating energy. Instead of using chlorophyll, certain low-cost solar cells use a synthetic dye, but these cells produce less electricity than desired.
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    Copying Nature's Radical Fuel Production

    Every moment, Mother Nature turns sunlight and water into energy without using extreme temperatures, high pressures, or rare metals. Researchers would like to build molecular factories that mimic these processes.
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    Better Safe than Sorry

    The safety aspects of lithium-ion batteries – will my laptop, car, or iPhone catch fire? – are worthy to ponder in this day of lithium-ion battery popularity. Although thin separators inside the batteries melt when the internal temperature reaches a certain point, successful shutdown is not guaranteed.
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    The Difference One Extra Selenium Makes

    Creating mass-market devices that turn wasted heat into needed electricity could lower the nation’s need for imported oil. Increased efficiency demands designer materials that transmit electrons, but not heat.
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    How Does Hydrogen Hide in Metals?

    A fossil-fuel-free way to produce electricity is with fuel cells powered by hydrogen. The challenge to using these cells more widely is creating a material that can store and release hydrogen when needed.
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    Artificial Evolution Helps Catalyst Discovery

    From the gasoline in your car’s tank to the plastic fork in your takeout dinner, catalysts  are widely used in the chemical and petroleum industries. Improving catalyzed processes requires understanding what happens inside a catalyst and borrowing from the burgeoning field of evolutionary biology.
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    From Femtoseconds to Seconds and Beyond

    Whether inside a nuclear reactor or outside a space satellite, materials in a highly radioactive environment continually change as the atoms shift, form defects, and heal in response to the radiation. To understand and control these defects, scientists need simulations to study the defects’ response to different scenarios.
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    Burning Butanol in a Better Engine

    Fueling cars and jets with domestically produced butanol, a biofuel with more energy per gallon than ethanol, requires engines that can best harness that released energy. Building such engines requires understanding the thousands of reactions that occur when butanol combusts.
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.