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DOE Energy Frontiers Research on Molecularly Engineered Energy Materials

A new multimillion-dollar Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC), funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, has been started at UCLA, led by MSE faculty Professor Vidvuds Ozolins.

We are pleased to announce that our Department has become home to a new multimillion-dollar Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The Center, which the DOE plans to fund at $11.5 million over five years, is headed by Professor Vidvuds Ozolins and involves researchers from Materials Science, Chemistry, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Chemical Engineering, as well as scientists and faculty at the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Eastern Washington University, the University of Kansas and the University of California, Berkeley UCLA's center is one of 46 new EFRCs across the country. It will focus on the creation of inherently inexpensive nanoscale materials (such as polymers, oxides, metal-organic frameworks) for use in polymer solar cells, electrochemical supercapacitors, and carbon capture.

So-called “shuttlecock” molecules, based on the heterofullerene C59N with phenyl “feathers”, are optimized for one-dimensional self- assembly into wires. They represent one of the material classes that will be explored for enhancing the efficiency of polymer solar cells.

Center researchers will design and synthesize novel molecules and nanoscale architectures (e.g., see Fig. 1) that can achieve or surpass 10% efficiency goal for organic solar cells. A major goal of their research is to understand how the nanometer-scale structure of conjugated polymer blends controls charge separation, carrier transport, carrier recombination and carrier extraction at the electrodes in working solar cells from both experimental and theoretical perspectives. Control of the nanometer-scale structure of conjugated polymers and polymer blends using self-assembly techniques is another major research topic that will be studied in the Center.

In the area of electrochemical supercapacitors, the EFRC team will focus on determining why capacitive storage from metal oxides is much less than theoretical estimates; initial hypothesis is that inefficient charge transport in bulk insulating materials is a crucial bottleneck. Center will explore hierarchically structured electrode materials that integrate electronic and ionic conduction with pseudocapacitive charge storage, as well as search for new inexpensive materials that combine metallic conductivity with ability for capacitive charge storage. Efficiency of capacitive charge storage in nanoporous materials will be studied using both theoretical and experimental approaches.

Finally, a coordinated computational and experimental effort is proposed for high-throughput synthesis, charac- terization and modeling of zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs). The struc- tures of ZIFs consist of imidazole groups connected by organic linkers (see Fig. 2) and feature high surface area (2000 m2/g), high thermal stability (500 °C),and unusually high chemical stability. They have been shown to selectively absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. EFRC research will elucidate the correlation between the structure of a ZIF and its performance, identify the adsorptive sites within the pores of ZIFs, and develop strategies for optimizing the performance of ZIFs to affect highly selective carbon separation.

ZIF Formation
Schematic representation of ZIF formation (ZIF-8, right). ZnN 4 tetrahedra are blue, C, and N atoms are black and green spheres. H atoms are omitted for clarity. The yellow sphere represents the largest sphere that occupies the cavity without contacting the interior van der Waals surface. These materials have been shown to selectively absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

"A center for energy research is something we've been trying to estab- lish for a long time," said Vidvuds Ozolins, UCLA professor of materials science and engineering and the new center's director. "We want the center to provide revolutionary breakthroughs, game-changing solutions, and we want to carry the research into real life. By bringing together several faculty across campus who have already done signifi- cant work in energy production, energy storage and carbon capture, we’ll be able to hit the ground running."

"Being awarded this new multimillion-dollar energy research center is a testament that UCLA Engineering faculty continue to be at the forefront of research," said Vijay K. Dhir, dean of UCLA Engineering. "Global energy demands will only continue to grow, and the center's work will be essential in helping to make alternative and renewable energy a viable resource for the 21st century."

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