Examining Collaboration and Change in the Research Networks of DOE EFRCs

The 2012 class of IGERT fellows joined together to study the implementation of Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE).  IGERT fellows Alexander M. Smith, Samson Yuxiu Lai, Jonah Bea-Taylor, Rebecca B. M. Hill, and Nabil Kleinhenz examined the change in coauthorships and research quality before and during center participation for a sample of five EFRCs.  The fellows found that after the formation of the center, EFRC members increased their research quality and their coauthorship relationships with center members, even though the EFRCs lacked strong formal mechanisms for coordinating research.  Through an analysis of individual researcher outcomes, the fellows also found that stronger preexisting networks increased coauthorship among EFRC members.  The fellows hypothesized that the importance of preexisting networks in the formation of strong EFRC networks may be due to research coordination mechanisms that EFRC members discovered or established for themselves prior to becoming members of the research center.  This finding may be important for policies for the formation of new research centers and suggests that leveraging members’ previously developed research coordination mechanisms may be important for center success.

View the article here.

Energy Policies for the Commercial Sector

 The research of IGERT Fellow Matt Cox emphasized energy policies for the commercial sector. Work on energy benchmarking as a policy option for the commercial sector was made possible by the IGERT. This research modified a key input in the model used by the Federal government for energy analysis. The Energy Information Administration is aware of this research and may consider incorporating it into future versions of the National Energy Modeling System. This work also highlighted the potential efficacy of an information program in addressing energy use on site, an issue that will be more important as the smart grid gains in prominence. Time was also spent on analyzing the impact of a carbon tax on the commercial sector, studying specific changes in technology choice and behavior as a result of the tax, as well as identifying tipping points from different tax schedules. Collaborations regarding the impacts of climate change and climate policy for the US economy are anticipated.

Implications of a Nano-Energy World: Assessment of the Health Risks of Carbon Nanotubes

Caroline Golin, in collaboration with other NSF IGERT fellows, carried out a research project on the particulate health impacts of nanomaterials: Implications of a Nano-Energy World: Assessment of the Health Risks of Carbon Nanotubes. Tom Bougher, Caroline Golin, Anne Mallow, Saujon Sivaram; May 2012. This work was developed as a poster for presentation at the NSF IGERT workshop in Washington DC, which Golin will present, and also was developed as a research paper for the class Energy Technology and Policy.

The research project was based on the observation that use of nanomaterials in energy applications is expected to become substantial, but that little is known about long term exposure to nanomaterials or probability of inhalation. The group undertook laboratory tests in the Southwest Research Institute Nanoparticle Laboratory, using carbon nanotubes as the test material. Studies have suggested that the inhalation of carbon nanotubes may pose a health risk. Many studies have likened the health effects, such as inflammation and lung lesions, to that of asbestos. To assess the potential health effects associated with carbon nanomaterials they conducted a series of experiments to characterize common exposure mechanisms in terms of airborne nanotubes. They measured exposure levels in terms of number concentration and mass concentration for vertically aligned carbon nanotubes and dispersed single and multi-walled carbon nanotubes. They concluded that carbon nanotubes may pose an inhalation risk to people in a manufacturing or laboratory setting. They also concluded that more work needs to be done to understand the risk and develop test processes that can be used to understand any nanomaterial inhalation risk. Additionally they suggest that new exposure levels need to be set for nanomaterials to secure a safe working environment.

As part of this project, Golin and the other NSF IGERT students identified policy barriers to constructing effective regulation of nanomaterials, including the complexity of classifying nanomaterials separate from their base chemicals, an inadequate assessment process in terms of risk and life cycle analysis, insufficient public awareness, and insufficient industry cooperation.

This research is particularly notable in that it involved policy students in actually carrying out laboratory experiments with nanomaterials, and involved engineering students in evaluating policy options and in understanding the challenges of policy development to ensure safe management of nanomaterials.

To enhance the economic and energy security of the United States, to maintain a lead in developing advanced energy technologies and to promote diversity in this critical research field, we are developing an integrated approach to enhance the multi-disciplinary graduate education of future engineers, scientists and policy makers in Energy Storage, Conversion, and Policy. Implementation of new materials into energy technologies will depend on broader influences, such as energy policy, social and environmental concerns, as well as the economics of the solution. Thus, it is critical to train our students in these important areas, which are often not considered in their PhD studies. In order to enhance the impact of the energy research, This NSF IGERT program is supporting the integrations of public policy and commercialization topics into the educational programs of our NSF IGERT trainees, in addition to other interested students at Georgia Tech. This end-to-end educational process will be unique and provide our students with a broad set of skills and a global vision, providing a strong foundation for their future leadership roles.

The research achievement associated with assessing the health risks of carbon nanotubes is a student driven project and direct outgrowth of a multidisciplinary course in Public Policy that was developed uhder the auspices of the NSF program. Not only is Public Policy represented in the research team, but Mechanical and Chemical Engineering IGERT Fellows also play an equal role in this research demonstrating that carbon nanotubes may pose an inhalation risk to people in a manufacturing or laboratory setting. The team also concluded that more work needs to be done to understand the risk and develop test processes that can be used to understand any nanomaterial inhalation risk. Additionally they suggest that new exposure levels need to be set for nanomaterials to secure a safe working environment.

Methods to Suspend Graphite Nanoplatelets in Phase Change Materials 

Phase change materials such as paraffin waxes and plant derived oils are of interest as thermal energy storage materials, especially for low temperature waste heat recovery. An issue in the implementation of these materials is their low thermal conductivity, resulting in long time scales to charge and discharge thermal energy. To address this issue, attempts have been made to increase the thermal conductivity of the waxes and oils by adding high thermal conductivity particles. However, the stability of the suspended particles remains a challenge, as settling of the particles results in degradation in thermal conductivity and performance over time. In this work, IGERT Fellow Anne Mallow and Prof Graham are developing methods to suspend graphite nanoplatelets in paraffin wax as well as commercial plant derived phase change materials. State of the art measurements demonstrated graphite particles remain suspended in paraffin for up to 1wk, demonstrating the challenge of this approach.

Study of the Synthesis of Group IV Nanowires

The IGERT fellowship has allowed Saujan Sivaram to study the synthesis of group IV (e.g. Si and Ge) nanowires in real-time with in-situ infrared spectroscopy. His recent data indicate that nanowire surface chemistry undergoes remarkable changes when transitioning between Si and Ge segments during growth, a finding that has important implications for the fabrication of nanowire heterostructures

COPE Research Video Contest

Congratulations to the teams that competed in the 2013 Georgia Tech  COPE Research Video Contest! Videos were evaluated on their research content as well as the teams ability to
present their information. Scores in the categories of research content and presentation were so close that all teams in this year’s contest will share equally in the remaining prizes. The other teams receiving prizes are: 

About the COPE Research Video Contest
The COPE Research Video Contest gives students involved in the field of organic photonics and electronics at Georgia Tech an opportunity to present their research and compete with other students.

Trainees Develop Nanomaterials

Graham and Mallow are developing nanomaterials to enhance the thermal energy charging rates of phase change materials used for thermal energy storage. They developed a hierarchical structure which resulted in the enhancement of thermal charging rates of paraffin wax by suspending exfoliated graphite nanoplatelets in paraffin with improved stability. This composite mixture was then impregnated into a highly conductive foam to further increase the heat transfer rate into the paraffin. Both aluminum metal foams and compressed expanded natural graphite foam sponges were utilized showing superior performance to simply infiltrating with pure paraffin wax. These materials are currently being modeled and prepared for scale up for use in heat exchanger designs for improving the efficiency of appliances. Talks with two companies are underway and transfer of the technology to Oak Ridge National Laboratories has begun. A paper is in preparation and an invention disclosure will be filed.

Materials for Energy Systems and Energy Policy course

Materials for Energy Systems and Energy Policy (ME 8833) is part of the GT NESAC IGERT core curriculum, first offered in 2012 by Samuel Graham (ME) and Marilyn Brown (PP). Course objectives are to introduce students to energy technologies under development internationally along with enabling material innovations, provide understanding of measures of efficiency and where material challenges lie, and provide understanding of global Science and Technology, and environmental policies that helped establish specific global regions as leaders in a given technology. Several technologies related to energy efficiency, production, and storage were examined and the impact of materials, including current critical materials challenges were highlighted. Case studies of the energy and environmental, and science and technology policies in the US and abroad that have been key to energy technology development were presented.