Energy & the Environment Research

a student holds up a sample

Biorenewable Conversion Research in the Davis Group

The US faces significant challenges to alleviate its growing demand for petroleum and petroleum-derived products.  It is now well-recognized that world-wide production of petroleum will peak in this century, most likely within the next 10-25 years.  Moreover, the scientific consensus is that use of fossil fuels over the past century has significantly increased the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which may accelerate global climate change. One strategy that has the potential of diminishing our reliance on oil while decreasing the environmental impact of fossil fuel processing involves the creation of integrated biorefineries that produce both fuels and chemicals.  A major challenge is to efficiently convert alternative biorenewable feedstocks to useful materials.  A biorefinery will likely use a combination of biocatalysis for raw material conversion to various building blocks followed by heterogeneous catalysis for secondary transformation of those building blocks to high value fuels and chemicals.  Experimental studies on the catalytic conversion of biorenewable molecules to useful products are major components of our research group.

Polymer Membranes for Water and Energy in the Geise Group

We study the influence of polymer chemistry, structure, and processing on transport of small molecules, such as ions and water, through polymer membranes that could be applied in a variety of technologies to address critical worldwide water purification and energy generation/storage needs. We are particularly interested in studying polymer membranes for desalination, forward osmosis, osmotic power, and battery applications.

Bioremediation Research in the Ford Group

We study the application of bioremediation technology for the removal of residual contamination within natural groundwater aquifers. Pictured is chemotactic bacteria migrating toward and environmental pollutant (TCE) contained within the polymer beads. This system is used to study the application of bioremediation technology for the removal of residual contamination within natural groundwater aquifers. Polymer beads were made in collaboration with Prof. Green.

Solar Energy Research in the Choi Group

Realization of economically viable solar electricity is critical for securing long term economic growth and national security of the United States. We aim to develop novel materials that can be manufactured into low-cost and high-performance solar cells through solution processing. To this end, we are focused on studying colloidal quantum dots and metal-organic perovskites. These hybrid organic-inorganic materials combine the solution processability of organic materials and superior optoelectronic properties and stability of inorganic semiconductors. Both material systems exhibit intriguing optoelectronic properties tunable by design while looking set to revolutionize the field of solution processable solar cells.

Energy Storage Research in the Koenig Group

While high energy density battery chemistries including lithium-ion have been widely adopted in smaller scale applications such as powering consumer electronics, future larger scale applications including battery electric vehicles and grid level energy storage need new materials to reach widely accepted performance and price targets. We are designing new particles and particle assemblies for use in battery electrodes for high energy density battery chemistries. The particles shown in the image are examples of morphologies of metal oxide cathode battery particles we are currently investigating.