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Energy Materials

Multiple geophysical and social pressures are forcing a shift from fossil fuels to renewable and sustainable energy sources.

To effect this change, we must create the materials that will support emergent energy technologies. Solar energy is a top priority of the department, and we are devoting extensive resources to developing photovoltaic cells that are both more efficient and less costly than current technology. We also have extensive research around next-generation battery technology.


Widespread application of photovoltaic power to provide a significant fraction of the world’s energy needs will require a dramatic lowering of photovoltaic cell material cost and the use of inexpensive, abundant materials and low-cost fabrication strategies. One candidate material that has the potential to meet these requirements is Cu2ZnSnS4 (CZTS). CZTS has a favorable band gap for solar cell applications, is made entirely of abundant materials and has a high absorption coefficient to minimize the quantity of material used in devices.  

Energy storage

The frontiers of energy storage research are expanding, thanks to the burgeoning science of nanotechnology. Stanford engineer Yi Cui and his team have manufactured new energy storage devices out of paper and cloth, with a range of potential applications. Their research also has shown that using silicon nanowires to replace carbon anodes in lithium ion batteries can significantly improve their performance.

Hydrogen storage

For the transition to a hydrogen-based economy to become feasible and economically practical, many materials challenges must be addressed. Not the least of these is the engineering of a hydrogen storage material with high storage density (both gravimetric and volumetric), appropriate equilibrium pressure, favorable reaction kinetics, relative safety and low cost.  Metal hydrides represent one attractive way to store large amounts of hydrogen due to the very high potential volumetric capacity, which can even exceed that of liquid hydrogen.  So far, however, no single material has met all the requirements for a practical, reversible on-board storage material. 

We combine the flexibility and control of physical vapor deposition to fabricate thin film samples with precise chemical compositions and microstructures in order to probe metal hydride reactions in a very controlled way.  Using a variety of thin film and powder characterization techniques (from X-ray diffraction to quartz crystal microbalance measurements and gas adsorption in a Sievert's type apparatus) we monitor the thermodynamic, kinetic and structural properties of these materials to gain a more fundamental understanding about the processes limiting their practical implementations.  By applying the knowledge learned from these highly controlled systems, we can engineer materials to better meet the challenges of a hydrogen-based economy.   

Our research focuses on metal hydride materials and carbon nanotube-based materials for hydrogen storage. We collaborate with other institutions, working at Stanford as well as NASA Ames Research Center and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource.

Friday, November 9, 2012

To meet Yi Cui is to be immediately struck by two things: the extraordinary breadth of his interests, and his drive to design new materials that could change our world.

Friday, June 28, 2013

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University materials science professor William Chueh has won a $5,000 Young Scientist Award from the International Society of Solid-State Ionics (ISSI).

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

In the quest to make sun power more competitive, researchers are designing ultrathin solar cells that cut material costs. At the same time, they’re keeping these thin cells efficient by sculpting their surfaces with photovoltaic nanostructures that behave like a molecular hall of mirrors.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Vast amounts of excess heat are generated by industrial processes and by electric power plants. Researchers around the world have spent decades seeking ways to harness some of this wasted energy. Most such efforts have focused on thermoelectric devices, solid-state materials that can produce electricity from a temperature gradient, but the efficiency of such devices is limited by the availability of materials.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

William Chueh, an assistant professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department and a fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford, discusses solar fuels, which can provide long-lasting energy storage and are easy to dispatch on demand. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Solar power and other sources of renewable energy can help combat global warming, but they have a drawback: they don't produce energy as predictably as plants powered by oil, coal or natural gas. Solar panels only produce electricity when the sun is shining, and wind turbines are only productive when the wind is brisk.

Ideally, alternative energy sources would be complemented with massive systems to store and dispense power – think batteries on steroids. Reversible fuel cells have been envisioned as one such storage solution.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tucked in a small laboratory at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, a team of engineers and scientists from the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) is making and testing new types of lithium-ion batteries. Their goal: move beyond today's lithium-ion to create a battery five times better than those we use now.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Engineers across the globe have been racing to design smaller, cheaper and more efficient rechargeable batteries to meet the power storage needs of everything from handheld gadgets to electric cars.

In a paper published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, researchers at Stanford University report that they have taken a big step toward accomplishing what battery designers have been trying to do for decades – design a pure lithium anode.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A comprehensive look at how tiny particles in a lithium ion battery electrode behave shows that rapid-charging the battery and using it to do high-power, rapidly draining work may not be as damaging as researchers had thought – and that the benefits of slow draining and charging may have been overestimated.

Professor, Mechanical Engineering
Professor, Materials Science and Engineering
Senior Fellow, Precourt Institute for Energy
Affiliate, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment
(650) 723-2018


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