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Anne Marie Esposito

Forensic chemist pursues analytical chemistry through energy storage fellowship

When Anne Marie Esposito was learning chemistry in high school, her interests in forensic chemistry as a career path developed through the influence of television shows about forensic investigation such as “CSI.”

Anne Marie Esposito

Anne Marie Esposito spent 10 weeks this past summer modeling the deposition rate of carbon in a thermophotovoltaic system within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Energy Storage Program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

While earning her bachelor’s degree in forensic chemistry from Ohio University, Esposito was encouraged by her instructors to apply to graduate school and the climate crisis inspired her to pursue a doctoral degree in analytical chemistry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Today, Esposito has forged a new path for her career during 10 weeks at both Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and Antora Energy within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) Energy Storage Research Participation Program administered through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE).

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Energy Storage Internship Program offers hands-on, practical internships researching and developing projects focused on energy storage at U.S. national laboratories.

“I applied to the energy storage internship with EERE because I am interested in working for national laboratories in the future and expanding my knowledge of different types of energy research,” Esposito said.

Under the mentorship of Dustin Nizamian, thermal systems engineer at Antora Energy, and Dr. Sean Lubner, research scientist and Seaborg Fellow at LBNL, Esposito participated in a research project aimed at understanding and modeling the rate of deposition of carbon in a thermophotovoltaic (TPV) energy storage system.

“In a TPV-based energy storage system, a carbon block is used to store energy as heat and a TPV cell can convert that heat back to usable energy,” Esposito said.

“The temperature of the carbon block is such that sublimation and redeposition of the carbon onto the TPV cell is an issue,” she explained. “Our goal was to create a model that takes inputs from the real system such as temperature, pressure and gas composition and calculate the deposition rate on the cold TPV cell.”

Esposito’s project was implemented using Matlab®, a proprietary multi-paradigm programming language and numerical computing environment developed by MathWorks®, to calculate the carbon evaporation, determine carbon gas-phase reaction products and calculate carbon deposition.

 “The model enabled us to change the TPV system as well as the temperature, pressure and gas composition and see the effect on the carbon deposition rate,” she said. “Broadly, high inert gas pressures and low percentage reactive gas pressures (H2) will lead to lower deposition rates of carbon.”

The goal of Esposito’s research was to develop a model to determine the rate of carbon deposition on a cold surface.

“In a TPV system, carbon deposition on the cold TPV cell will significantly decrease the transmission of light, and therefore the energetic efficiency,” Esposito said.

“The model will help predict the experimental conditions that are best for reducing this deposition and will be able to take all of those parameters to determine the deposition rate of carbon,” she said. “From there, we can pair the deposition of carbon over time with the loss of light transmission through the TPV cell.”

Esposito added, “Because TPV systems store energy in the form of heat and can then convert that heat back to usable electricity, the development of these systems is important to make them more efficient.”

Esposito’s fellowship with EERE availed her opportunities to refine her skills involving coding and modeling in a collaborative learning environment while further solidifying her future career goals as a scientist. 

“I had a great experience learning about new energy technologies, new skills in coding and modeling and how what I have learned so far in my Ph.D. program will translate to a future career,” she said.

“I would especially advocate for graduate students to take time during their Ph.D. program to do an internship; it provided many benefits, a break from my graduate research, a chance to network, learn new skills and participate with different types of groups,” Esposito said. “For instance, in my case LBNL was collaborating with a start-up energy company, Antora Energy, and I got to learn what that kind of cooperation can look like and how the research benefits both parties.” 

“I would absolutely recommend this program to others!” Esposito said. “My favorite part of the experience was tweaking the code for the model I designed once I worked out the kinks of getting the code to run well.”

Upon completion of her Ph.D. program, Esposito hopes to a position at a national laboratory working with energy technologies and their transition to wide public use.

The EERE Energy Storage program is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and administered through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.