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Functional Materials for Energy


The concept of functional materials for energy occupies a very prominent position in ORNL’s research and more broadly the scientific research sponsored by DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences. These materials facilitate the capture and transformation of energy, the storage of energy or the efficient release and utilization of stored energy. A different kind of functionality is seen in advanced membrane materials that save energy by enhancing the efficiency of existing energy-intensive processes or offer entirely new routes for, e.g., separation processes, carbon dioxide capture or environmental remediation. A third type of functionality is seen in energy-responsive materials, which exhibit a chemical, mechanical, structural or electronic response to some form of energy stimulus that can be utilized for, e.g., sensing, actuation or signaling.

ORNL has extensive research programs into functional materials for energy ranging from basic science through to applied programs. Major areas of activity include (i) porous membranes for separation and environmental cleanup; (ii) electrolyte materials for selective ionic transport in batteries; (iii) organic and polymeric materials for electronic and photovoltaic applications; (iv) superconducting materials; (v) ferroelectric materials; (vi) thermoelectric materials and (vii) new low-energy synthetic routes to technologically important materials. A particular area of strength is in the synthesis and processing of new functional forms of carbon: from the amazing variety of nanostructured carbon materials to “foam” carbon insulators to carbon fiber for lightweight structural materials. It also offers capabilities in these research areas to facilitate science of external users from academia or industry through its user facilities in high performance computing, neutron science and nanoscience.

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Review Finds Ionization Can Heal or Harm Materials
— An invited review on latest advances in ion beam modification of materials provides conclusive evidence that energy loss by energetic ions to electrons (ionization) can lead to either self-healing of radiation damage created by atomic collisions or contribute to radiation damage.

Iodine-coordinated sulfide leads to an exceptionally stable ceramic electrolyte
— Coordination of iodine atoms within the Li3PS4 (LPS) electrolyte results in a new ceramic electrolyte with the formulation Li7P2S8I, a coordinated material between LPS and LiI. This new formulation takes advantage of the chemical stability of LiI to render an electrolyte with excellent compatability with Li anode.

Thin magnetic crystals are path to ferromagnetic graphene
— Chromium triiodide (CrI3) crystals were identified as a promising platform for studying how magnetism can enhance electronic behaviors in materials that are only a few atoms thick. Development of such ultra-thin magnetic materials may be crucial for continued advancement in miniaturization and performance enhancement of electronic devices.

Synergy of Ionization with Defects Creates Amorphous Track
— A colossal synergy, orders of magnitude larger than anything previously reported, has been discovered to occur between electronic energy loss by ions and pre-existing atomic defects created by elastic energy loss in single-crystal strontium titanate (SrTiO3). This synergy results in the formation of nanometer-sized amorphous tracks, but only in the region with pre-existing defects.

Single Supported Atoms Participate in Catalytic Processes
— Researchers recently predicted and demonstrated that single supported Pt atoms are highly active for NO oxidation. This work will impact determining the optimum loading of noble metals on emissions-treatment catalysts and design of low-temperature catalysts.

 
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