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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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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.

Pulsed Laser Deposition of Photoresponsive Two-Dimensional GaSe Nanosheet Networks
— Researchers demonstrated a pulsed laser deposition (PLD) approach to synthesize networks of interconnected metal chalcogenide (GaSe) nanosheets that exhibit high photoresponsivity.

Cooperative Growth of Large Single-Crystal Graphene Islands
— Researchers showed that it is possible to grow large, single-crystal graphene islands by controlling the nucleation density, which determines the growth mechanism.

Atom Substitution Gives Stable Performance of Solid Electrolytes
— The substitution of Ge for As in Li3AsS4 results in an exceptionally stable ionic conductivity versus temperature, and enhances the ionic conductivity by two orders of magnitude. The performance of solid state batteries is dramatically sensitive to temperature due to the energy barrier associated with Li ion motion.

 
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