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Frontiers in
Energy Research
Frontiers in Energy Research: October 2012
  • Timothy D. Courtney

    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.

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Feature Articles
  • Samson Lai

    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.

  • Jaroslaw Syzdek

    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
  • Emily Pentzer

    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.

  • Gyu Leem

    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.

  • Khuram Umar Ashraf

    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.

  • Lynn Trahey

    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.

  • Wenbo Yan

    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.

  • Aleksandr Chernatynskiy

    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.

  • Gonzalo Prieto

    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.

  • Haixuan Xu

    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.

  • Bryan Weber & Bret Windom & Enoch Dames

    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.

Advancing energy frontiers is not a simple, linear challenge. It requires the synergy created by bringing together different ideas, different approaches, and different tools. In "A Science Passport," we discuss the need and benefits of this traveling approach.

This issue features interviews with two center directors. Ken Reifsnider talks about how his interest in music and mathematics has aided him in directing the Heterogeneous Functional Materials Center.  In a special second article, Berend Smit talks about teamwork, commitment, and prioritization and their value in nanomaterials research. Smit is the Director of the Center for Gas Separations Relevant to Clean Energy Technologies.

You’ll also get a glimpse into new research that’s being done at different Centers and how it is changing the frontiers of energy. For example, you'll learn about new materials that could prevent certain battery fires and how researchers applied artificial evolution to help discover new catalysts.

This newsletter was developed by early career scientists who work in the EFRCs. Some of the members of our editorial board are just completing their graduate degrees, while others are working in labs and lecture halls. All are dedicated, curious and committed to communicating about science. In addition, our board benefitted from several guest writers this issue.

Kristin Manke


Editorial Board

  • Khuram Ashraf, Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center
  • Alex Chernatynskiy, Center for Materials Science of Nuclear Fuels
  • Timothy Courtney, Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation
  • Enoch Dames, Combustion Energy Frontier Research Center
  • Samson Lai, Heterogeneous Functional Materials Center (HeteroFoaM)
  • Gyu Leem, Center for Solar Fuels
  • Brandon O'Neill, Institute of Atom Efficient Chemical Transformations
  • Emily Pentzer, Polymer-based materials for Harvesting Solar Energy (PHaSE) 
  • Gonzalo Prieto, Center for Atomic Level Catalysis Design
  • Jaroslaw Syzdek, Northeastern Center for Chemical Energy Storage
  • Lynn Trahey, Center for Electrical Energy Storage
  • Haixuan Xu, Center of Defect Physics
  • Wenbo Yan, Center for Nanostructures for Electrical Energy Storage
  • Andriy Zakutayev, Center for Inverse Design

Guest Authors

  • Bryan Weber and Bret Windom, Combustion Energy Frontier Research Center
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.