WASHINGTON, D.C. - On Wednesday, May 25, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu will welcome nearly 1,000 of America's top energy researchers to Washington, D.C. for the inaugural Science for the Nation's Energy Future: The Energy Frontier Research Centers Summit and Forum. The three-day public conference will showcase early successes of DOE's Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRC). It will also bring together scientists and energy policy leaders to explore the challenges and opportunities in applying America's extraordinary scientific and technical resources to helping shape our clean energy future.
"In just two years, these research centers have inspired a new generation of talented young Americans to dedicate their careers to meeting our nation's energy challenges," said Secretary Chu. "They are mobilizing the enormous talents and skills of our nation's scientific workforce in pursuit of the breakthroughs that are essential to expand the use of clean and renewable energy."
In 2009, DOE established 46 EFRCs at universities, national laboratories, and other institutions around the country to organize teams of researchers to tackle the toughest scientific hurdles to building a new 21st-century clean energy economy. Nearly two years into their initial five-year funding period, the researchers are reporting multiple breakthroughs in areas ranging from advanced battery technology and solar energy to solid-state lighting and nuclear power. Some areas in which EFRCs have made significant progress are described below. A full listing of the EFRCs, with detailed technical descriptions, is available online on the Energy Frontier website (pdf - 4 MB).
Microscopic Battery Charging
Lead Institution: University of Maryland
Lithium-ion batteries are the battery of choice for today's cell phones, laptops, and hybrid electric cars. This research team has built the world's smallest lithium battery inside an advanced microscope, and for the first time has been able to watch how its structure changes while it's being charged. Understanding these changes may enable new design and production of batteries that perform better and last longer.
Safer Materials for Nuclear Reactors
Lead Institution: Los Alamos National Laboratory
Using a combination of modeling tools, the research team is looking at improving the safety of our nuclear reactors and has discovered possible "self-healing" mechanisms for nuclear reactor materials. Understanding the behavior of materials subject to extreme radiation doses and mechanical stress at the atomic level could lead to the development of new materials that can tolerate such conditions, making reactor designs more resilient and safer.
Controlling How Light Interacts with Materials
Lead Institution: California Institute of Technology
Using computer simulation, the research team found that small glass spheres could affect the absorption of sunlight by solar cells by helping to collect and retain light. The small glass spheres could enable efficient coupling of sunlight to ultrathin semiconductor layers, significantly increasing solar cell efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Improved LED's for Homes and Businesses
Lead Institution: University of California, Santa Barbara
The research team is looking at ways to discover and develop materials that control the interactions between light, electricity, and heat at the nanoscale for improved solar energy conversion, solid-state lighting, and conversion of heat into electricity. A new understanding of the mysterious drop-off in efficiency when LEDs are subjected to strong electric current could eventually help remove barriers to widespread use of low-energy solid-state lighting for homes and industry, greatly reducing power usage.
To register for the 2011 Science for Our Nation's Energy Future: EFRC Summit & Forum, please visit: EnergyFrontier.us, where detailed information is available. The EFRC program is administered by the Department's Office of Science.