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  Focus

The primary focus of our research is the design and development of low cost, more efficient materials that can facilitate widespread commercialization of clean energy technologies such as fuel cells, solar cells, high energy density batteries, and supercapacitors to address the world's energy and environmental challenges. Our research encompasses a broad range of activities including design of new materials based on basic chemistry and physics concepts, novel chemical synthesis and processing, advanced materials characterization, physical and chemical property measurements, fabrication and evaluation of prototype devices, and a fundamental understanding of the structure-property-performance relationships of 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.

Lithium-Ion 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 hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) applications. However, high cost, safety concerns, and limited energy and power densities of currently used materials demand the development of alternative materials.

 
battery

Our group is engaged in developing (1) low-cost, high-energy, high power cathode materials and (2) nanostructured, safe anode materials for portable and transportation applications, while elucidating a basic understanding of their structure-property-performance relationships. Stabilized spinel, nano olivines, and complex layered-oxide cathodes as well as nanocomposite alloy anodes are being pursued to enable the next generation lithium-ion battery technology. In addition, novel synthesis approaches are investigated with an aim to lower the manufacturing cost and enhance the performance factors.

 
cycle

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 polymeric membrane and electrocatalysts for proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) and direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC), as well as new low thermal expansion electroctalysts for solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC). 

 
fuel cell

PEMFC and DMFC:
The PEMFC and DMFC technologies are confronted with the high cost of platinum-based electrocatalysts and Nafion membrane electrolyte, limited operating temperatures dictated by the Nafion membrane, methanol permeability through the Nafion membrane from the anode to the cathode, membrane and catalyst durability problems, and performance losses. Our group is involved in developing (1) new low cost proton conducting polymeric blend membranes based on acid-base interactions that can operate at higher temperatures or with suppressed methanol permeability, (2) low cost platinum-free electrocatalysts for the oxygen reduction reaction with high tolerance to methanol, and (3) less expensine electrocatalysts for methanol oxidation.

 
polymer membrane
SOFC:
The SOFC technology offers the important advantages of using hydrocarbon fuels directly and less expensive metal oxide or oxide-metal composite electrocatalysts, but it is confronted with slow oxygen reduction kinetics and poor hydrocarbon fuel oxidation kinetics at the intermediate operating temperatures of 500 - 800 oC. Also, the presence of trace amounts of sulfur impurities in the fuel leads to a poisoning of the conventional anode materials. Our group is engaged in the development of more efficient cathode materials based on perovskite-related intergrowth oxides with lower thermal expansion coefficients as well as sulfur tolerant anode materials for intermediate temperature SOFC.
 
electrocatalysts

Electrochemical Supercapacitors

Electrochemical capacitors (double layer and redox capacitors) offer the important advantages of superior cyclability and high power capability compared to batteries. However, the limited capacitance of carbon materials and the high cost of ruthenium oxide that exhibits the highest capacitance values remain an obstacle for their commercialization. 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

Solar energy is the most abundant, and the amount of energy received from the sun every hour exceeds the annual global energy requirements. The major hurdle to widespread adoption of solar cells is that existing solar energy harvesting technologies are extremely expensive and cannot compete with fossil fuels. Increasing solar cell performance combined with decreasing raw material and manufacturing expenses are the primary ways to realize a widespread commercialization. Organic or polymer solar cells offer tremendous possibility to obtain these objectives. However, these ‘alternative’ solar cells are confronted with numerous materials challenges associated with stability, power conversion efficiency, and special handling and storage requirements, that seriously hamper their commercialization prospects. Our research is focused on new materials and processing techniques that can lead to air-stable hybrid polymer solar cells that are cost-effective and suitable for large scale deployment. The activities include (1) design and synthesis of low-cost organic-inorganic nanostructured materials that efficiently utilize the solar spectrum, (2) tuning the properties of the materials via novel processing approaches, and (3) integrating solar cells with batteries to develop convenient and efficient clean energy modules.

 

  Solar image
titania

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.  
nano olivine

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