Energy Storage and Conversion

With rising instability of energy prices and sources, there is an ever-increasing need to develop the next generation of energy storage/conversion devices and energy efficiency technologies that are environmentally friendly and cost-effective compared to existing fossil fuel-based technologies. Research in this thrust will focus on the following areas: 

Fuel Cells and Batteries

Developing a fundamental understanding, via a combination of experimental and computational approaches, of how the nature, structure, and dynamics of nanostructured interfaces affect energy conversion and storage. Improving the performance of fuel cells and batteries through discovery of new materials, rational design of material architectures, as well as innovation in material processing.


Understanding the science of interfaces in photovoltaic (PV) devices based on organic and inorganic nanostructured, hybrid materials.

Physics-based Energy Conversion

Discover and characterize new materials that control the interactions between light, electricity, and heat at the nanoscale, and to apply them to achieve higher efficiencies in photovoltaic solar cells, solid-state lighting, energy storage and thermoelectric conversion of heat into electricity.

Materials/Coatings for Extreme Environments

Transformative materials/coatings with unique properties in extremely harsh environments for energy efficiency of advanced gas turbine engines, ultra-supercritical power plants, nuclear reactors, etc.

Wind Turbines, CHP and Heat Recovery

Devices and design considerations for efficient and reliable conversion of mechanical and thermodynamic processes into energy.

Biomass-based fuels and chemicals production

Recent government regulations require large fractions of the Nation’s fuels must be from lignocellulosic sources by 2022. Efficient conversion technologies must be sought to meet these demands.


  • Jiahong Zhu


  • Indranil Bhattacharya, Batteries and Solar cells
  • Joseph J. Biernacki, Biomass-based fuels
  • Glenn T. Cunningham, Fossil fuels
  • Ahmed ElSawy, Biomass based fuels
  • Satish Mahajan, Solar cells
  • Cynthia Rice, Fuel cells
  • Kwun Lon Ting, Wind turbines
  • Ying Zhang, Material Coatings for Extreme Environment
  • Jiehong Zhu, Physics-based Energy Conversion

Associated Research Center of Excellence:

  • Center for Manufacturing Research (CMR)
  • Current and Potential Partners:
  • GE Aerospace
  • UT-K
  • AFCC
  • Simon Fraser
  • ORNL
  • Schneider Electric
  • PNNL
  • MUST
  • Protonex
  • Vanderbilt and International Technology Center

Grand Challenges:

  • How can we master energy and information on the nanoscale to create new technologies with capabilities rivaling those of living things?
  • How do remarkable properties of matter emerge from the complex correlations of atomic or electronic constituents and how can we control these properties?
  • How do we characterize and control matter away—especially very far away—from equilibrium?
  • How do we control materials processes at different length scales?
  • How do we design and perfect energy-efficient syntheses of revolutionary new forms of matter with tailored properties?


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