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Physcial Sciences Division
Research Highlights

October 2008

Tiny Structures Take on Tremendous Problems

Researchers work on nanostructures featured on journal's cover

Chemistry and Sustainability
Liu, J, G Cao, Z Yang, D Wang, D DuBois, X Zhou, GL Graff, LR Pederson, and JG Zhang: ChemSusChem. 2008. 1. 676-697. Copyright Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA. Reproduced with permission. Enlarged View

Fossil fuel use is rising, as are concerns about the financial and environmental costs. But, many alternative energy technologies are limited by the properties of current materials. For example, solar panels absorb only a tiny portion of sunlight's energy. And, the panels are inefficient at moving the energy from the supply to the source.

So, researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory as part of the Transformational Materials Science Initiative are studying nanostructures. The structures can be a hundred thousand times smaller than the diameter of a single strand of hair. When working at this scale, materials properties can change drastically.

In a review article published in ChemSusChem, September 2008, the team discussed the materials challenges for energy storage and conversion, and why nanostructured materials are attractive for such applications. The article discussed the following:

  • Methods to synthesize controlled nanomaterials, including inexpensive solution growth and self-assembly approaches.
  • How different materials can be used for photovoltaics, batteries, supercapacitors, etc.
  • Fundamental scientific challenges in nanomaterials for energy applications, i.e., improving the generation and transport of electrons and ions, and how self-assembled, oriented high surface area materials could help solve this challenge.
  • Challenges in integrating nano-sized architectures to get the desired performance.

Reference: Liu, Jun, Guozhong Cao, Zhenguo Yang, Donghai Wang, Dan Dubois, Xiaodong Zhou, Gordon L. Graff, Larry R. Pederson, and Ji-Guang Zhang. 2008. "Oriented Nanostructures for Energy Conversion and Storage." ChemSusChem 1(8-9):661.

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