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Energy Frontier Research Center

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Frontiers in
Energy Research
Frontiers in Energy Research: September 2013
  • Kara Manke

    As scientific methods to characterize and fabricate nanostructures mature, many of the processes that were previously in the domain of living systems are now within our grasp. The U.S. Department of Energy's Fourth Grand Challenge calls for scientists to use these abilities to create new technologies that rival or exceed those of living things.

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    Using a technique that combines bioinformatics with molecular dynamics simulations, researchers at the Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation have created a 3D model of the intracellular region of plant cellulose synthase. Here, the growing cellulose molecule (in green) is shown emerging from the active site of the cellulose synthase. Illustration courtesy of Dr. Yaroslava Yingling, NC State University.

Feature Articles
  • As critically acclaimed reporter Diane Sawyer once put it, "Fun is getting paid to learn things." That's just what Molly O'Hagan and Mike Mock are doing.

    Samantha Horvath

    How does a particle that's one million-millionth the size of a marble change how we treat an English garden? A Ferrari? Well at first glance, probably very little. But looking deeper, the key to making both free of fossil fuels is how protons, tiny positively charged particles, are used. A garden often needs fertilizer, which is produced from ammonia, which itself is derived from fossil fuels. A car needs gasoline, and the hope is to, one day, replace the common combustion engine with renewable fuels. These ideas and others are the lofty goals of the Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis.

  • The overall winner (top) guides the reader through the conversion of solar energy into the formation of wood and the center's work to understand the wood's molecular structure so that it can be broken down and used as fuel.

    Tyler Josephson & Ralph House

    Could you describe cutting-edge research in nanotechnology, solar power, or biofuels processing using only the simplest, most common words? This was the task set before the Energy Frontier Research Centers, or EFRCs, in the Ten Hundred and One Word Challenge, where posters were submitted by 31 teams and presented at the 2013 Principal Investigators' Meeting in Washington, D.C. Each team's poster describes their center's research using any pictures, photos, or cartoons they wanted, but they were limited to the 1000 most common English words plus one: energy.

  • The poster sessions provided an important opportunity to discuss research one on one.

    Adam Wise

    For two intense days, hundreds of scientists descended on the Energy Frontier Research Centers Principal Investigators' Meeting to discuss, late into the night, their work pushing the frontiers of energy research. The schedule was packed with presentations and posters that allowed the attendees to quickly make connections between their work and others.

Research Highlights
  • Dennis M. Callahan

    Light-emitting diodes, commonly called LEDs, are potentially more energy efficient than traditional lighting sources, such as incandescent bulbs, that waste about 90% of the input energy as heat...

  • Brian Doyle

    Could you imagine a day when you print out an extra paper battery before heading on a road trip? Researchers at the Nanostructures for Electrical Energy Storage (NEES) have used paper to create a template for a device that combines the properties of a battery...

  • Paul Giokas

    From cell phones to automobiles, batteries are crucial to everyday life. Emerging technologies require batteries or fuel cells that are compact, yet efficient. To be effective at reasonable temperatures, these systems require catalysts that enable reactions to proceed quickly...

  • Kjell Schroder

    Everyone is on the hunt for a bargain, and scientists and engineers are no different. Catalysts are the chemist's way of getting more product while paying less energy. Chemicals, referred to as reactants, are adsorbed from a gas or liquid onto an active catalyst that is coated on a support structure...

  • Laila Jaber-Ansari

    When materials are constrained to nanoscale dimensions, they exhibit interesting properties that are different from their bulk counterparts. The reason for this difference is known as the nano-size effect. For example, gold nanocrystals with an average size of 30 nanometers, about 200 times smaller than a typical red blood cell, are 60 percent stiffer than bulk gold...

  • Vladan Stevanović

    Browsing the standard databases of known inorganic solids shows that a relatively large number of chemically reasonable compounds are missing. In the case of compounds composed of three or more chemical elements, this number can exceed 50 percent...

Affordable energy. To meet the massive challenge in this simple phrase, scientists are determining how to control the behavior of materials at the nanoscale. Researchers at the nation’s Energy Frontier Research Centers are learning how the choices of atoms and molecules can be used to build innovative technologies that will generate energy and drive industry. In Emulating Biology on the Nanoscale, you’ll learn about how scientists are using biological systems to push the frontiers in both solar energy and gas separation. Other nanosecrets addressed include the reason LED lights and palladium catalysts, such as the ones used by automotive catalytic converters, fail.

This issue features interviews with rising stars Mike Mock and Molly O’Hagan. Both with the Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis, they explain their approaches to understanding the role of proton relays, a critical hand-off in catalysts. O’Hagan uses spectroscopy to examine catalysts that drive the reactions for hydrogen fuel cells. Mock is working on the exchanges involved in ammonia production, an energy- intense reaction used in creating fertilizer.

If that’s not enough, learn how scientists are making batteries from paper or seeing in real time with high- energy X-rays, or how 31 centers took up the quest to describe their work with only images and the most common of terms in the Ten Hundred and One Word Challenge.

This newsletter was developed by early career scientists who are tackling the grand challenges in their 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 two guest writers this issue.

Kristin Manke, Editor-in- Chief


Editorial Board

  • Dennis M. Callahan, Light-Materials Interactions in Energy Conversion
  • Brian Doyle, HeteroFoaM Center
  • Samantha Horvath, Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis
  • Laila Jaber-Ansari, Center for Electrical Energy Storage
  • Tyler Josephson, Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation
  • Kara Manke, Solid-State Solar-Thermal Energy Conversion Center
  • Kjell Schroder, EFRC:CST for Understanding Charge Separation and Transfer at Interfaces in Energy Materials
  • Vladan Stevanović, Center for Inverse Design
  • Adam Wise, Polymer-Based Materials for Harvesting Solar Energy

Guest Authors

  • Paul Giokas, Center for Solar Fuels
  • Ralph House, Center for Solar Fuels
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.