Energy Research Opportunities Workshop

Sunday, March 2, 2014
8:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Denver Convention Center

Cost: Free

Overview and Goals

This was a one-day workshop for graduate students and postdocs that highlighted the contributions physics-related research can make towards meeting the nation's energy needs in environmentally friendly ways. The workshop was aimed at young physicists who are concerned about the environment and who would like to find ways to use their scientific and quantitative skills to help meet the challenges that the world faces.

The workshop featured plenary talks by leaders in the field of energy research. After an overview talk, there were talks on different cutting-edge research areas. Each talk was aimed at the level of physics graduate students who are not experts in energy research. The goal of the workshop was to provide information to physics graduate students and postdocs on how they can contribute to energy and environmental solutions while doing exciting scientific research.

The overall theme for the 2014 Energy Workshop was focused on Transportation with one session looking at Challenges for Vehicles, and a second session discussing Alternative Transportation Fuels.

U.S. Department of Energy WordmarkFunding
A limited amount of travel expense assistance was available, made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).  There was also an informal reception following the workshop for meeting participants sponsored by the Journal on Renewable and Sustainable Energy. format_pdf

Energy Workshop 2014

The Energy Workshop was a pre-meeting event at the March Meeting 2014.  Registration for the 2014 March Meeting was not required.
Gray arrow APS Annual March Meeting

Attendance for this workshop was by application and acceptance by a review committee.   Participants were selected based on their answers to three questions on the registration form and their one-page CV's. Space was limited to 80 participants who had not attended previous workshops.

Application Deadline:
January 15, 2014

Energy Workshop Talks


Speaker: George Crabtree, Argonne National Laboratory
Workshop Overview format_pdf

Energy is undergoing an historic transition, from predominantly fossil to more diverse and sustainable sources including wind, solar, biofuels and nuclear and serving a variety of uses interchangably including transportation, lighting, refrigeration, heating, entertainment, communication and industry.  Science and technology lead the energy transition through discovery of new phenomena and development of new technologies for production, storage and use.  The next fifty years of energy transition and innovation will be examined from the point of view of societal needs, international relationships, and promising science directions.  The roles of electricity, chemical fuels and photons as sustainable and fungible energy carriers will be emphasized.

Speaker: Alan Taub, University of Michigan, formerly Vice President of Global Research and Development at General Motors
Materials Challenges for a Sustainable Automotive Industry

Despite an impressive array of technology advances, the basic operation of the automobile has not changed much over the past 120 years.  Vehicles continue to be largely energized by petroleum, powered by internal combustion engines, and controlled via mechanical linkages.  However, given society's concerns related to energy, environment, safety, congestion, and affordability, one must question whether the continued evolution of traditional automotive technologies will enable sustainable personal mobility.  Fortunately, new and more revolutionary automotive technologies are at hand, which will allow the industry to address the issues currently associated with automobiles.  These developments include energy source diversification, electrification of the propulsion system, lightweight and advanced materials, advanced electronics and vehicle controls, new mobility internet capabilities, and energy-efficient, environmentally friendly manufacturing processes.

As the auto industry works to develop and deploy these new technologies, it has become increasingly apparent that many of the major challenges to their implementation are materials related.  Dr. Taub's talk will highlight the most promising technology options and approaches and discuss the key materials opportunities in each technology arena.


Chris Gearhart, Center Director, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Alternative Energy Vehicles:  Challenges and Opportunities

To mitigate the worst effects of climate change, the Green House Gas Emissions (GHGE) associated with the transportation sector have to be reduced dramatically.  A generally accepted GHGE reduction goal is 20% of the 2005 levels by 2050.  In an environment of increasing vehicle miles driven, the GHGE emission targets have to be even more aggressive.  In the long run we must target transportation technologies that have the potential for zero net GHGE.  There are three energy carriers that have the potential to meet this challenge:  electricity, hydrogen, and non-fossil hydrocarbons.  Each of these energy carriers brings with it specific power train challenges.  This presentation will address the challenges and opportunities associated with these options, as well as opportunities to improve overall vehicle efficiencies independent of power train options.


Lynn Trahey, Argonne National Laboratories
Characterization of Research-Scale Li-ion and Li-air batteries

This talk will introduce the audience to the fabrication and characterization of Li-ion and Li-air cells made in research laboratories.  Characterization from the standard (electrochemical cycling) to the advanced (synchrotron capabilities) will be introduced and the challenges that lie ahead for Li-ion and Li-air will be discussed.


Ryan O'Hayre, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, Colorado School of Mines
A Fuel Cell Future? format_pdf

Imagine a laptop computer that runs for 30 hours on a single charge.  Imagine a world where you plug your house into your car and powerlines are a distant memory.  While some dreams (like powering your home with your fuel cell car) may be distant, others (like a 30-hour fuel cell laptop) may be closer than you think.  If you are curious about fuel cells - how they work, when you might start seeing them in your daily life - this talk is for you.


Jihui Yang, Kyocera Associate Professor, Materials Science and Engineering, University of Washington

Thermoelectrics for Vehicle Applications format_pdf

The first portion of the lecture will relate global energy challenges, trends in personal transportation, and thermoelectric waste heat recovery and thermal management technologies.  Great progress has been made in recent years relative to vehicle thermoelectric applications, as exemplified by the seat climate technology already in the market.  Primary concerns associated with automotive thermoelectric applications are associated with performance over a wide dynamic range, durability, and cost.  Despite these concerns, it is well recognized that thermoelectric applications could potentially lead to significant fuel economy improvement.  Hence, it is critically important to understand fundamental phenomena governing the performance of thermoelectric systems for automotive applications.  I will focus the technical part of this talk on the latest thermoelectric materials development, which may bring about performance, durability and cost improvement.


Blake Simmons, Biomass Program Lead, Sandia National Laboratories
Driving the Future:  The Co-Evolution of Next-Generation Fuels and Engines

Advanced "drop-in" renewable fuels, derived from sustainable non-food biomass, are different from ethanol in terms of energy density and are compatible with the existing petroleum infrastructure.  Several conversion approaches can be used to produce biomass-based hydrocarbons and advanced biofuels as "drop-in" replacements and/or suitable blendstocks for gasoline, diesel and aviation fuels that would be capable of full integration into the existing fuel infrastructure.  Moreover, these advanced renewable fuels must be suitable for their targeted applications at all levels of performance in order to reach the desired production and consumption levels.  An exciting opportunity clearly emerges from the multiple biofuel targets that can be produced by metabolic engineering and synthetic biology - the co-evolution of biofuels and advanced engines that are designed to run efficiently on them to maximize reductions in carbon emissions.  For researchers in the field of synthetic biology, it is rarely a question of what can be produced biologically, but rather what type of collaboration between the biofuels and combustion science communities, for example that between DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and Sandia's Combustion Research Facility (CRF).  This collaboration involved the analysis and testing of a JBEI biofuel target, isopentanol, in a Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCI) engine.  This work demonstrates the importance of establishing a link between the biofuels and engines scientific communities to maximize the carbon and cost benefits of improvements in engine efficiency and renewable fuels.


Timothy Donohue, University of Wisconsin and Director of the Great Lakes BioEnergy Research Center
Developing Products for Transportation Biorefineries format_pdf

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), through the Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER), funded three Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs).  Their mission, broadly stated, was to advance science, engineering and technology to support conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to liquid transportation fuels.  In funding these 3 centers, BER reocognized the integrative nature of the disciplines needed to address the complex issues facing biomass conversion to fuels.  Consequently, it chose to fund centers in place of individual grants as a forward-thinking approach to supporting this integration.  Each BRC represents a multidisciplinary partnership involving experts from many areas of science and engineering, as well as economics, government and industry.  Advances resulting from the BRCs are already providing crucial knowledge needed to develop new bio-based products, methods, and tools that the emerging cellulosic biofuel industry can use.  Dr. Donohue, as director of Great Lakes Bionergy - one of the3 BRCs - will describe how the BRC program supports a portfolio of diverse yet complementary biological and physical science strategies to address the challenges of biomass conversion to fuel on a scale far greater than any effort to date.


Nathan Lewis, CalTech, Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Beckman Institute and Kavli Nanoscience Institute
Sunlight-Driven Hydrogen Formation by Membrane-Supported Photoelectrochemical Water Splitting

We are developing an artificial photosynthetic system that will only utilize sunlight and water as the inputs and will produce hydrogen and oxygen as the outputs.  We are taking a modular, parallel development approach in which the three distinct primary components - the photoanode, the photocathode, and the product-separating but ion-conducting membrane - are fabricated and optimized separately before assembly into a complete water-splitting system.  The design principles incorporate two separate, photosensitive semiconductor/liquid junctions that will collectively generate the 1.7 - 1.9 V at open circuit necessary to support both the oxidation of H2O (or OH-) and the reduction of H+ (or H2O).  The photoanode and photocathode will consist of rod-like semiconductor components, with attached heterogeneous multi-electron transfer catalysts, which are needed to drive the oxidation or reduction reactions at low over-potentials.  The high aspect-ratio semiconductor rod electrode architecture allows for the use of low cost, earth abundant materials without sacrificing energy conversion efficiency due to the orthogonalization of light absorption and charge-carrier collection.  Additionally, the high surface-area design of the rod-based semiconductor array electrode inherently lowers the flux of charge carriers over the rod array surface relative to the projected geometric surface of the photoelectrode, thus lowering the photocurrent density at the solid/liquid junction and thereby relaxing the demands on the activity (and cost) of any electrocatalysts.  A flexible composite polymer film will allow for electron and ion conduction between the photoanode and photocathode while simultaneously preventing mixing of the gaseous products.  Separate polymeric materials will be used to make electrical contact between the anode and cathode, and also provide structural support.  Interspersed patches of an ion conducting polymer will maintain charge balance between the two half-cells.  The modularity of the system design approach allows each piece to be independently modified, tested, and improved, as future advances in semiconductor, polymeric, and catalytic materials are made.  Hence, this work will demonstrate a feasible and functional prototype and blueprint for an artificial photosynthetic system, composed of only inexpensive, earth-abundant materials, that is simultaneously efficient, durable, manufacturably scalable, and readily upgradeable.

PANEL DISCUSSION:  Government & Public Policy Career Paths in Science

Moderator: David Ginley, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

2014 Energy Workshop - Lunch with Experts

2014 Energy Workshop - Panel discussion

Focus of Discussion

1. Why did you decide to move into government/policy?
2. How does one enter this field or find opportunities?
3. How do government policies affect career opportunities in energy?  How can/should scientists and engineers engage in dialogue with policy makers?
4. What is the most surprising thing you have learned in your position?

Susan Huang
DOE, SETA, and SunShot Initiative

Katie Richardson
Field Representative, Office of U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich(NM)

Laura Berzak Hopkins
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Meredith Drosback
White House Office of Science & Technology Policy

Program Committee

Reuben Collins (Chair)
Colorado School of Mines

Julia Phillips
Sandia National Laboratories

Jim McGuire
Tulane University

Ken Cole
APS Staff/Workshop Coordinator

Dave Ginley

Sue Carter
Univ. of California, Santa Cruz


Contact Ken Cole, (301) 209-3288, for more information about the workshop.