Mission Possible is a Postdoc Journal feature highlighting the vibrant diversity of mission-driven science across the laboratory.
Postdocs at Argonne perform world-class research that seeks to address the grand challenges of energy, the environment, technology and national security. One striking revelation to anyone who visits or is new to the laboratory is just how diverse, skilled and comprehensive our research efforts are. As a laboratory of scientific excellence we have postdoctoral scientists, engineers and researchers from every discipline and reach of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields across four laboratory directorates and 14 research divisions.
This quarter, three postdocs from the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) talk about their research as it relates to the grand challenges of creating efficient and reliable energy storage systems. The JCESR’s mantra is 5-5-5, or delivering battery technology with 5 times the energy density at one fifth the cost of current technology in five years.
Argonne is a leader in fundamental and applied energy conversion and storage research and development. By being a part of this results-oriented team, JCESR postdocs are helping us meet our strategic missions of advancing clean energy and technology.
Damla Eroglu (CSE) is a postdoctoral researcher whose role at JCESR is the Systems Analysis and Translation thrust. Her research focuses on the techno-economic modeling and material-to-system analysis of beyond lithium-ion batteries for transportation applications. “Basically, we design a battery on the computer to estimate the system level properties,” says Damla. Techno-economic modeling is critical for JCESR since it ties the system level goals to the battery chemistry. It is essential in directing the research to the most promising candidates and understanding the main challenges and barriers in the systems-level.
“I love doing research,” says Damla, “especially on areas that are applicable to today’s life.” Energy is a major concern and driving force in society. It is a political-charged topic that affects all aspects of human life. Energy-related science carries a vital role in overcoming many of the challenges society faces and exploring new solutions.
“I believe battery research is one of the most promising, yet challenging areas for electrochemical engineers,” says Damla. Damla became interested in batteries and battery research while earning her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Columbia University. She decided to work at Argonne because the laboratory and JCESR provided her the opportunity to not only gain experience on energy storage systems, but to collaborate and work closely with scientists that are at the top of the battery field.
Zhenxing Feng (CSE) performs research in the development of new energy storage systems at JCESR, particularly multivalent (MV) batteries that go beyond traditional lithium-ion batteries. He synthesizes magnesium and aluminum based cathode materials using various growth methods and characterizes them by several synchrotron X-ray techniques, such as surface X-ray diffraction and X-ray spectroscopy, to better understand how MV batteries function.
The MV battery is one solution that can take batteries to new levels, however knowledge of MV battery systems is rudimentary and in the very early stages. “My research work will provide insights of how MV batteries function and fail,” says Zhenxing. “The results will be passed on to other JCESR teams to engineer new prototype batteries.”
Zhenxing received his B.S. from Peking University in China and his M.S. from McGill University in Canada. He earned his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Northwestern University, where he started to work on catalysts used in chemical reactions. It was at this time that he became interested in energy-related problems. Zhenxing seeks to preserve and improve the environment through use of renewable energy forms such as wind and solar as well. He believes there is a need to move consumption of nonrenewable fuels to electricity for transportation needs. In this scope, developing efficient and revolutionary batteries with high capacity is a world-demanding need. He is driven and motivated by research that shows fossil fuels are not a long term solution to the world’s energy needs. “I have become more and more interested in finding solutions to tackle today’s energy problems,” says Zhenxing.
He decided to come to Argonne because of the world-class scientific research performed. Argonne is also the headquarters for JCESR. As a newly funded research effort Zhenxing was hoping to join JCESR in the development of revolutionary energy storage systems that could solve the world’s energy needs. “Working in this field could greatly advance the current technology and dramatically change our everyday life,” says Zhenxing. “It is the right time to devote resources to energy-related research.”
Jinhua Huang (CSE) focuses his research at JCESR on the development of organic redox active molecule for non-aqueous redox flow (NRF) batteries. He seeks to zero in on the total synthesis of bio-active natural products for their potential biomedical application.
Jinhua graduated from Texas A&M University with a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry. He also holds experience in organometallic chemistry and photochemistry.
With this solid foundation as an experienced organic chemist, Jinhua hopes to synthesize and tune the properties of organic redox molecules to improve their redox potential, solubility and molecule stability while evaluating their electrochemical properties as well.
NRF redox flow is based on reversibly changing the charge state of ions held in solution in large storage tanks. The very high capacity of this approach is well-suited to the needs of the current electric grid. Organic redox active molecules are one of the key components for non-aqueous flow battery. The curiosity to better understand how NRF redox flow works and apply this approach motivates Jinhua to improve this new technology.
Jinhua chose Argonne because of its reputation for having an excellent research atmosphere, conductive for collaboration and scientific breakthroughs. “There are superior world-class researchers at Argonne,” says Jinhua. “Argonne is a great place to perform interesting research.” He also chose Argonne for the plentiful benefits the laboratory provides for postdoctoral researchers.
“I am really excited to secure this opportunity to address the challenges in clean energy,” says Jinhua.