Story Tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, January 2015

While researchers in ORNL's buildings group focus on increasing energy efficiency using new foam insulation panels, the nanophase materials sector experiments with catalyst performance, revealing an oxidation discovery that could help reduce vehicle emissions. Additionally, ORNL researchers aim to reduce the size, weight and power for some particle accelerators with development of a new voltage supply. And by using water and nano-sized particles isolated from trees and plants, scientists explore low-cost and nontoxic metal oxides.

Zinc Oxide Materials Tapped for Tiny Energy Harvesting Devices

Today, we're surrounded by a variety of electronic devices that are moving increasingly closer to us - we can attach and wear them, or even implant electronics inside our bodies. Many types of smart devices are readily available and convenient to use. The goal now is to make wearable electronics that are flexible, sustainable and powered by ambient renewable energy.

Solar Cell Polymers with Multiplied Electrical Output

A team from Brookhaven Lab and Columbia University has paired up photovoltaic polymers that produce two units of electricity per unit of light instead of the usual one on a single molecular polymer chain. Having the two charges on the same molecule means the light-absorbing, energy-producing materials work efficiently when dissolved in liquids, which opens the way for a wide range of industrial scale manufacturing processes, including "printing" solar-energy-producing material like ink.

Mapping of Silver Matrix Formation in Batteries Will Enhance Efficiency

Scientists at Stony Brook University and the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory are using pioneering x-ray techniques to map internal atomic transformations of the highly conductive silver matrix formation within lithium-based batteries that may lead to the design of more efficient batteries. Their findings are published online today in the journal Science.

Compact Batteries Enhanced By Spontaneous Silver Matrix Formations

A conductive silver matrix forming inside an otherwise poorly performing battery enhances its efficiency and potential applications. X-rays revealed where, when, and how these nanoscale "bridges" emerge.

Emissions-Free Cars Get Closer

Hydrogen fuel cells -- possibly the best option for emission-free vehicles -- require costly platinum. Nickel and other metals work but aren't nearly as efficient. Findings published in Nature Communications this week help pin down the basic mechanisms of the fuel-cell reaction on platinum, which will help researchers create alternative electrocatalysts.

Hot Showers, Lower Power Bills with Heat Pump Water Heaters

Heat pump water heaters are an energy-efficient alternative to conventional electric resistance water heaters. Now research shows heat pump water heaters can also reduce an entire home's energy use - if they're connected to the appropriate ducting.

Microscopy Reveals how Atom-High Steps Impede Oxidation of Metal Surfaces

A new study reveals that certain features of metal surfaces can stop the process of oxidation in its tracks. The findings could be relevant to understanding and perhaps controlling oxidation in a wide range of materials--from catalysts to the superalloys used in jet engine turbines and the oxides in microelectronics.

Breakthrough in Predictions of Pressure-Dependent Combustion Chemical Reactions

Researchers at Sandia and Argonne national laboratories have demonstrated, for the first time, a method to successfully predict pressure-dependent chemical reaction rates. It's an important breakthrough in combustion and atmospheric chemistry that is expected to benefit auto and engine manufacturers, oil and gas utilities and other industries that employ combustion models.

Piezoelectricity in a 2D Semiconductor

A door has been opened to low-power off/on switches in micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) and nanoelectronic devices, as well as ultrasensitive bio-sensors, with the first observation of piezoelectricity in a free standing two-dimensional semiconductor by a team of researchers with Berkeley Lab.

First Direct Evidence that a Mysterious Phase of Matter Competes with High-Temperature Superconductivity

Scientists have found the first direct evidence that a mysterious phase of matter known as the "pseudogap" competes with high-temperature superconductivity, robbing it of electrons that otherwise might pair up to carry current through a material with 100 percent efficiency.

Stunning Zinc Fireworks When Egg Meets Sperm

First images of molecular fireworks that pinpoint the origin of the zinc sparks. Zinc flux plays a central role in regulating the biochemical processes that ensure a healthy egg-to-embryo transition, and this new unprecedented quantitative information should be useful in improving in vitro fertilization methods.

Ultrafast Imaging of Complex Systems in 3-D at Near Atomic Resolution Becoming Increasingly Possible

It is becoming possible to image complex systems in 3-D with near-atomic resolution on ultrafast timescales using extremely intense X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) pulses. One important step toward ultrafast imaging of samples with a single X-ray shot is understanding the interaction of extremely brilliant and intense X-ray pulses with the sample, including ionization rates.

Getting Bot Responders Into Shape

Sandia National Laboratories is tackling one of the biggest barriers to the use of robots in emergency response: energy efficiency. Through a project supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Sandia is developing technology that will dramatically improve the endurance of legged robots, helping them operate for long periods while performing the types of locomotion most relevant to disaster response scenarios.

Switching to Spintronics

Berkeley Lab researchers used an electric field to reverse the magnetization direction in a multiferroic spintronic device at room temperature, a demonstration that points a new way towards spintronics and smaller, faster and cheaper methods of storing and processing data.

Study Finds California's Cap-and-Trade Program Will Cause Ten Cent/Gallon Increase at the Gas Pumps After Jan 1

Analysis of cap-and-trade finds that a change in the cost of selling gasoline, up or down, is quickly and fully passed through to consumers.

Earth's Most Abundant Mineral Finally Has a Name

An ancient meteorite and high-energy X-rays have helped scientists conclude a half century of effort to find, identify and characterize a mineral that makes up 38 percent of the Earth.

Storing Hydrogen Underground Could Boost Transportation, Energy Security

Large-scale storage of low-pressure, gaseous hydrogen in salt caverns and other underground sites for transportation fuel and grid-scale energy applications offers several advantages over above-ground storage, says a recent Sandia National Laboratories study sponsored by the Department of Energy's Fuel Cell Technologies Office.

X-Ray Laser Reveals How Bacterial Protein Morphs in Response to Light

Researchers have captured the highest-resolution snapshots ever taken with an X-ray laser that show changes in a protein's structure over time, revealing how a key protein in a photosynthetic bacterium changes shape when hit by light. They achieved a resolution of 1.6 angstroms, equivalent to the radius of a single tin atom.

Rattled Atoms Mimic High-Temperature Superconductivity

An experiment at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory provided the first fleeting glimpse of the atomic structure of a material as it entered a state resembling room-temperature superconductivity - a long-sought phenomenon in which materials might conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency under everyday conditions.

Powerful New Technique Simultaneously Determines Nanomaterials' Chemical Makeup, Topography

A team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and Ohio University have devised a powerful technique that simultaneously resolves the chemical characterization and topography of nanoscale materials down to the height of a single atom.

Lengthening the Life of High Capacity Silicon Electrodes in Rechargeable Lithium Batteries

A new study will help researchers create longer-lasting, higher-capacity lithium rechargeable batteries, which are commonly used in consumer electronics. In a study published in the journal ACS Nano, researchers showed how a coating that makes high capacity silicon electrodes more durable could lead to a replacement for lower-capacity graphite electrodes.

A Better Look at the Chemistry of Interfaces

SWAPPS - Standing Wave Ambient Pressure Photoelectron Spectroscopy - is a new X-ray technique developed at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source that provides sub-nanometer resolution of every chemical element to be found at heterogeneous interfaces, such as those in batteries, fuel cells and other devices.

Shaping the Future of Energy Storage with Conductive Clay

Materials scientists from Drexel University's College of Engineering invented the clay, which is both highly conductive and can easily be molded into a variety of shapes and sizes. It represents a turn away from the rather complicated and costly processing--currently used to make materials for lithium-ion batteries and supercapacitors--and toward one that looks a bit like rolling out cookie dough with results that are even sweeter from an energy storage standpoint.

Process Converts Human Waste Into Rocket Fuel

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Buck Rogers surely couldn't have seen this one coming, but at NASA's request, University of Florida researchers have figured out how to turn human waste - yes, that kind -- into rocket fuel.