Energy Thrust


All space missions are constrained by energy resources, requiring efficient, durable, lightweight, and compact devices for energy conversion and storage as well as reduction of wasted energy. The Energy Thrust at MACES addresses these needs through synthesis, functionalization, and characterization of nanobuilding blocks synergized with hierarchical assembly and innovative device concepts., coupled with theoretical calculations.

Integrated Lightweight Photovoltaic Devices

Space exploration requires photovoltaics power systems that are compact, robust, lightweight, and efficient. Perovskites have unusual photoelectronic properties that include a direct bandgap, long-range carrier transport, ease of bandgap tuning, and long carrier-recombination times. We seek to achieve significantly enhanced conversion efficiency and power per mass using a perovskite tandem cell that is molecularly designed to fully utilize the solar spectrum.
Investigators: Tung, Ghosh, Zhang

Computational Design of Highly Efficient Tandem Perovskite-Based Solar Cells

We are developing and systematically applying a novel computational framework for highly efficient and stable tandem and composite perovskite-based solar cells via ab initio atomistic calculations and multi-physics device simulations.
Investigators: Ilan, Strubbe

Versatile Electrode Platforms for Oxygen Reduction Reaction Catalysts

The oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) is at the heart of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells, energy conversion devices as well as the metal-air battery technology. We are therefore creating a new mechanically stable, standing- free electrodes for ORR electrocatalysis, and establishing the correlation among the platform, catalyst structure, and corresponding ORR activity.
Investigators: Chen, Lee, Li, Lu

Low-Energy-Triggered Switch

We recently demonstrated that a very low energy stimulus can induce geometric changes of polymers that contain a small number of sub-molecular conformational switch units. We are now synthesizing a new series of model compounds and corresponding polymer systems to maximize thermal mechanoresponse, with the ultimate goal of fabricating strain energy converters (turning thermal fluctuations into electricity) and solar energy absorbers for heliotropism.
Investigators: Lu, Baxter

Low-Temperature Energy-Storage Devices

Supercapacitors have the potential to revolutionize the way electronic devices are charged by drastically reducing charge time. Researchers at MACES are developing free-standing, lightweight, 3D hierarchical porous carbon electrodes with ultrafast charging as well as new electrolytes that allow these electrodes to operate at the temperatures lower than -60 °C that exist in space and on Mars.
Investigators: Li, Lu

Photocatalytic Water Splitting

The byproducts of solar water splitting, H2 and O2, can be recombined to release electricity or used as fuel for internal combustion. Leveraging our expertise in morphology-controlled nanosynthesis, we are focusing on zinc oxide nanowires and hematite nanorods decorated with gold and silver metallic nanoparticles as electrodes. Our overarching goal is to unveil the interplay between semiconducting and plasmonic nanoparticles and to establish design rules to effectively harvest solar energy and convert it to H2 fuel.
Investigators: Ghosh, Lu, Li

Novel Bearing Materials for Space Applications

Space vehicles and other components deployed in space typically have moving parts where the movement is enabled by bearings. Space bearings are subject to an extremely strict set of requirements which mean that materials used for terrestrial bearings are often insufficient. To address this issue, NASA has been investigating Nitinol 60, a corrosion resistant material with very high hardness and sufficient elasticity to withstand space launch-induced vibration. We focus on studying tribological behavior of Nitinol 60 and understanding that behavior through nanoscale material characterization.
Investigators: Martini