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  Focus

The primary focus of our research is the design and development of low-cost, efficient, long-life materials that can facilitate widespread commercialization of clean energy technologies such as rechargeable batteries, supercapacitors, fuel cells, and solar cells to address the world’s energy and environmental challenges. Our research encompasses a broad range of activities:  

  • Design of new materials based on basic chemistry and physics concepts
  • Novel chemical synthesis and processing approaches
  • Nanomaterials and nanocomposites
  • Advanced structural, chemical, and surface characterization
  • Chemical, physical, and electrochemical property measurements
  • Fabrication and evaluation of prototype devices
  • Fundamental understanding of the structure-composition-performance relationships of materials
  • Utilization of the basic understanding gained to design new materials

Some of the current research activities are briefly outlined below. For more details on any of these research activities, see the list of publications.

Rechargeable Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries have become the power source of choice for portable electronic devices as they offer higher energy density compared to other rechargeable battery systems. They are also intensely pursued for electric vehicles and stationary storage of electricity produced by renewable sources like solar and wind. Cost, cycle life, safety, energy, and power are the major parameters/issues to be considered with these applications. Our research is focused on addressing these issues with both traditional lithium-ion battery chemistries as well as beyond lithium-ion battery chemistries.

Lithium-ion Batteries: With traditional lithium-ion batteries, our group is focused on high-capacity layered oxide, high-voltage spinel, and polyanion cathodes as well as nanocomposite alloy anodes based on antimony, tin, and silicon. The major focus is increasing the cell energy density beyond the current levels while realizing good safety and long cycle life by compositional, morphological, and surface controls through novel, low-cost synthesis approaches.

 
battery

Beyond Lithium-ion Batteries: With beyond lithium-ion battery chemistries, our research focuses on lithium-sulfur, ambient-temperature sodium-sulfur, hybrid lithium-air, and sodium-ion batteries. With lithium-sulfur and sodium-sulfur batteries, both advanced cathode structures and novel cell configurations to enhance the electrochemical utilization of insulating sulfur and suppress polysulfide migration from cathode to anode are pursued. In addition, stabilization/protection of lithium-metal and sodium-metal anode in a polysulfide environment is explored. With hybrid lithium-air batteries in which the lithium-metal anode in a nonaqueous electrolyte is separated from the air cathode in an aqueous catholyte by a solid lithium-ion conducting electrolyte membrane, catholyte compositions to protect the solid electrolyte from corrosion as well as low-cost, efficient nanocatalysts for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) and oxygen evolution reaction (OER) are pursued. With sodium-ion batteries, new cathodes and nanocomposite alloy anodes are pursued.

 

Fuel Cells

Fuel cells are appealing for a variety of energy needs including portable, transportation, and stationary applications since they offer clean energy with high efficiencies. However, a widespread commercialization of fuel cell technologies is hampered by high cost, durability, and operability problems, which are linked to severe materials challenges. Our research is focused on the design and development of new membrane and electrocatalysts for proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC), direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC), and for solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC). 

 
fuel cell

With PEMFC and DMFC, our group is focused on new, low-cost, proton-conducting, polymeric-blend membranes based on acid-base interactions and less expensive electrocatalysts for oxygen reduction reaction and methanol oxidation reaction. With SOFC, our research is focused on new cathode catalysts with low thermal expansion coefficients matching with that of the electrolytes and new anode catalysts that can work efficiently with hydrocarbon fuels like natural gas without carbon deposition (coking) at intermediate temperatures (500 - 800 oC).

 
electrocatalysts

Electrochemical Supercapacitors

Electrochemical capacitors (double layer and redox capacitors) offer the important advantages of superior cyclability and high power capability compared to batteries. Our group is engaged in developing low-cost, high-capacitance electrode materials for supercapacitors by employing innovative solution-based chemical synthesis approaches.

 
supercapacitor

Solar Cells

Cost, efficiency, and durability are the major issues with the solar cells. To address these issues, our group is focused on low-cost inorganic materials for solar cells as well as organic or polymer solar cells.

 

 
Solar image

Nanomaterials

Nanomaterials are intensely pursued for a variety of technological applications. Chemical synthesis and processing play a critical role in accessing nanomaterials with desired morphology, microstructure, and properties. Our group is engaged in developing novel solution-based synthesis procedures to produce metal alloys, metal oxides, nanocomposites, and organic-inorganic nanohybrids with unique nanomorphologies such as nanospheres, nanorods, and nanosheets. The nanomaterials synthesized are explored for electrochemical energy conversion and storage (batteries, fuel cells, and supercapacitors) and solar cell applications.  

Solid State Chemistry

Intuitive design and development of new materials have played a critical role in much of modern technology. Solid state chemistry has been at the forefront of such discoveries. Our group is involved both in acquiring a fundamental understanding of the structure-property relationships of transition-metal oxides and in synthesizing new materials by conventional ceramic and innovative solution-based procedures. The crystal chemistry, electrical and ionic transport, magnetic properties, and electrochemical behaviors of metal oxides are being investigated.  
microwave synthesis

 

Funding

 

 
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© 2008 Arumugam Manthiram, The University of Texas at Austin