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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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Stable Separator Identified for High-Energy Batteries
— State-of-the-art scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) unveiled the structural stability of lithium lanthanum zirconium oxide (LLZO) garnet in aqueous media.

Digital Transfer Growth of Patterned 2D Metal Chalcogenides by Confined Nanoparticle Evaporation
— Researchers demonstrated a novel growth technique for the controlled synthesis of monolayer or few-layer 2D metal chalcogenide crystals that should prove useful for their scaled production for optoelectronic and energy applications.

A High-Energy Solid State Battery with an Extremely Long Cycle Life
— A high-voltage (5V) solid state battery has been demonstrated to have an extremely long cycle life of over 10,000 cycles. For a given size of battery, the energy stored in a battery is proportional to its voltage. Conventional lithium-ion batteries use organic liquid electrolytes that have a maximum operating voltage of 4.3 V.

Thermopower Enhancement in Designer Oxide Superlattices
— A layer-by-layer design of 2D oxide superlattices with precisely controlled interface compositions has improved the thermopower of oxide thermoelectrics by 300% compared to that of bulk counterparts. Controlling the 2D carrier density through a new materials design strategy is critical for developing highly efficient thermoelectrics.

Structure-dependent Properties Guide Catalyst Design for Oxygenates Conversion
— The catalytic transformation of oxygenates (i.e. aldehydes, alcohols, ketones) on metal oxides to generate value added products such as fuels and additives is of great importance industrially, yet is not well-understood. ORNL researchers have provided new insights into how oxygenates react on metal oxide particles with well-defined structures.

 
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