Solar- and nuclear-energy technology advancements from Los
Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) could help the nation in its quest to
capture viable sources of alternative energy, thanks to funding from the U.S.
Department of Energy's Office of Science.
Los Alamos will be home to two new Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs)-each
designed to advance scientific research in alternative and renewable energy-through
a five-year funding commitment by DOE. Forty-six such centers will be established
nationwide at national laboratories, universities, nonprofit organizations,
and private firms. The two LANL centers each will receive $3.8 million a year
in funding ($19 million each total over the five-year term).
One center, led by Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellow Victor Klimov, will
focus on exploiting the physical properties of nanomaterials (compilations of
structures so tiny they can't be seen by the human eye) to more efficiently
convert solar energy into electric power, or develop materials such as highly
efficient solar collectors that could be painted onto a surface to generate
electricity. At the center of this research are quantum dots, extremely tiny
semi-conducting materials with the ability to generate more than one electrical-energy
unit (electron) per single light unit (photon)-an improvement over today's
"Engineered nanostructures such as quantum dots have the ability to harvest
light more efficiently than silicon," Klimov said. "Quantum dots
and similar nanomaterials show tremendous potential in numerous applications
that could make solar energy a more viable alternative energy source."
The other center, led by Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellow Michael Nastasi,
will focus on developing robust materials that will be able to withstand extreme
conditions such as constant bombardment by radiation or around-the-clock mechanical
beatings. To develop these materials, Nastasi and his research team will develop
technology to design and engineer bulk materials at the molecular level using
"The goal of this research is to create materials that will withstand
the rigors of next-generation nuclear of reactors to allow them to function
reliably and safely for long periods of time with reduced maintenance,"
Nastasi said. "We will identify inherent characteristics of materials
at the atomic level that allow these materials to withstand extreme environments
or lead to failure within them. We would then hope to be able to selectively
design and create structures at the nanoscale to exploit strengths or eliminate
weaknesses to make these materials particularly suited to surviving in extreme
In addition to leading two centers, LANL will participate in five others nationwide.
Funding for the two centers does not come from the 2009 American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act. More information about the EFRCs can be found at http://www.sc.doe.gov/bes/EFRC.html.