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Energy Sources

Researchers in the IExE Energy Sources cluster take a holistic view of the portfolio of large-scale energy production technologies that will advance the Nation’s energy supply in the most responsible manner possible.

Unconventional natural gas plays a growing role in the world's energy portfolio.  The reduction in CO2, NOx, and SOx from natural gas fired stationary power when compared to coal are compelling reasons to convert our power production to natural gas.  However, this change comes with concerns.  For example, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas making fugitive emissions a concern for our environment and for their impact on climate change.  The production of natural gas from shale requires significant amounts of water and chemicals which are returned to the earth’s surface after injection; this wastewater is toxic and presents a challenge to remediate.  Thus, the development of new approaches to manage water at the source of production are critical.  IExE researchers are working on these and other challenges as we adapt to reliance on natural gas produced from shale plays.

Globally there is a demand for safe, clean, and efficient nuclear power plants.  IExE teams are: combining advanced characterization and multi-scale modeling techniques to improve the performance and reliability of materials used in fission reactors; guiding the design of reactor materials processing by predicting behavior dependent on material structure and environmental influences; identifying, developing and testing new radiation-tolerant materials for nuclear reactor cladding and fuel component design, characterization and manufacturability.

Solar energy supplies less than 0.2% of U.S. energy needs today.  Prospects for much wider adoption of solar energy rely on disruptive innovations that enable adoption without subsidy. IExE teams are investigating fundamentally new strategies and associated manufacturing-scale technologies for low-cost, high-efficiency photovoltaic (PV) solar energy conversion. For example, studying: novel nanostructured materials, assemblies and interfaces for cheaper and more efficient light absorption, carrier generation, separation, transport and collection; new third-generation environmentally-friendly materials and device concepts that can overcome conventional power conversion efficiency limits; concentrated PV technologies that use land more efficiently; hybrid PV technologies that harness excess heat; new approaches to reducing balance-of-systems costs; and, eco-friendly manufacturing-scale processing for PV technologies.

Transportation fuels are dominated by liquid hydrocarbons today.  Historically the sources of these fuels have been imported in a highly volatile market.  New oil reserves in the US have the potential to dominate the production of traditional gasoline/diesel in the future, however, it may be possible to transform our transportation fuels to sources that produce less CO2 and/or have lower impacts on air quality and health.  These include conversion to natural gas, propane, biofuels, and batteries. IExE researchers are engaging in projects that span the transportation fuel life cycle, including the conversion of bio-oils into biodiesel, using biological processes to remediate waste and produce fuels such as algae bioreactors, and life-cycle assessment of non-food based biomass conversion to fuels. 

Finally, our capabilities in combustion research, atmospheric chemistry and public health, are poised to examine the heath improvements of moving to non-traditional transportation fuels.