Discover Brookhaven

Photo of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials

Brookhaven’s new Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) provides state-of-the-art capabilities for the fabrication andstudy of nanoscale materials, with an emphasis on atomic-level tailoring to achieve desired properties and functions.The overarching scientific theme of the CFN is the development and understanding of nanoscale materials that address theNation’s challenges in energy security.

Basic Research for Energy Security

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Conversion

solar power

Brookhaven researchers are focusing on new ways to collect solar energy and convert it to more useable forms. Scientists estimate that 600 million megawatts of solar power — equivalent to theoutput of more than a half million typical coal-burning powerplants — could theoretically be captured and used on Earth.
 

A Call to Action

The challenge is clear: The scientific break-throughs that will enable paradigm-shifting advances in the energy arena require both long-term investments in basic research as well as short-term investments in applied science and technology.  The potential payoff in improved energy efficiency and security is enormous, and is key to our nation’s continued growth and success.

The areas most essential to meeting these challenges are: 

Chemistry
For the synthesis and discovery of new, higher-performance materials and systems

Physics
To understand the detailed physical mechanisms that are fundamental to energy science and the design of new materials for energy applications Computational science - for modeling the behavior of new materials and advancing the theory with numerical simulations

Facilities and tools
Such as advanced light sources and nanoscience research centers to provide the probes to reveal the nature of these new materials Only through investment in these basic sciences will the nation be prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century and ensure a secure energy future.

Basic research in the field of nanoscience also plays a key role in developing improved methods for converting energysources into various forms for use. One promising approach involves improving the efficiency of fuel cells. Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen without combustion to produce direct electrical power and water. They are attractive as a source of power for transportation applications because of their high energy efficiency, the potential for using a variety of fuel sources, and their zero emissions. Brookhaven scientists are working to improve fuel cell technology by developing less-expensive, more-efficient, and longer-lasting fuel cell catalysts. Researchers have discovered that adding gold nanoparticles to the platinum catalysts can help stabilize them and greatly reduce CO poisoning. This results in lower cost — because you don’t have to replace the expensive platinum — and higher energy yield.

Transmission

Just as important as generating energy is effectively transmitting it to end users. Our aging electrical grid faces significant capacity, reliability, quality, and efficiency challenges that can be met by basic research.  Reliability is a big issue — momentary over-voltages and dips in electrical power occur regularly, and are the leading cause of equipment and machinery failures and associated economic losses.

The distribution lines themselves could be made more efficient. Currently, nearly 10 percent of all electricity generated is lost as heat in transmission, mostly a result of natural resistance in the metals used in the lines. New classes of superconductors, materials that carry electrical current with no resistance, can help solve these challenges. One key to advances in this field being studied at Brookhaven is basic research aimed at developing a better understanding of the mechanisms of superconductivity.

Storage

Basic research can also lead to more efficient energy-storage materials and systems. Such improvements could enable renewable energy to flourish by compensating for the intermittency of energy output from the sun and other renewable sources. This research may also increase battery-powered transportation options, or even increase the lifespan of batteries used in laptop computers and other personal electronic devices.

Challenges in this area are linked to the inherent limitations of today’s batteries, which, despite recent advances in the area of rechargeables, have been around in a basically unchanged form since Thomas Edison discovered the light bulb. Scientists are now looking at various new materials to leapfrog over the limits of lithium cells. Nanoscience again plays a large role here, as batteries (chemical storage) and capacitors (physical storage) based on nanostructured materials may become the new paradigm.