Transforming the energy production landscape
While coal and natural gas power plants produce the majority of electricity in the United States, the health hazards associated with these forms of energy make them somewhat undesirable. The United States is transitioning away from fossil fuels and moving toward renewable technologies. However, renewable electricity is more expensive.
With an interest in alternative energy, Jeffrey Christians, Ph.D., applied to the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Postdoctoral Research Awards, a program designed to support researchers as they pursue breakthrough technologies related to renewable energy production.
“While completing my graduate chemical and biomolecular engineering research at the University of Notre Dame, I became inspired to pursue the challenges of harvesting and harnessing the sun’s energy by my research adviser, Prashant Kamat, Ph.D.,” Christians said. “He taught me the vast potential for this technology to transform the way we use and generate energy, and the interesting scientific challenges that stand in the way of fully utilizing solar energy.”
Alongside Joseph Luther, Ph.D., at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Christians is developing a better understanding of halide perovskite materials in the hope of reducing the cost of electricity generation from photovoltaic (PV) systems, also known as solar power systems.
“Since their discovery in the 19th century, oxide perovskites have found use in fuel cells and as superconductors, as well as in a wide range of other applications,” Christians explained. “Recently, halide perovskites have emerged onto the scientific scene because of their potential use in photovoltaics and light emitting diodes.”
While PV systems have expanded their electricity generation in the United States, they remain an expensive method of energy production. The inclusion of halide perovskite materials could lead to better performance, reduced production costs and overall lower usage costs.
“If we can realize the full potential of these materials, I think we can dramatically transform the energy production landscape of the United States,” Christians said.
Much of Christians’ time is spent making and testing materials and solar cell devices. He performs different analyses to determine materials properties, failure modes and performance. He collaborates with scientists at NREL and other institutions to ensure his research remains relevant in this quickly advancing field.
“Perhaps the biggest benefit I have experienced from working as an EERE postdoctoral fellow is the collaborations that I have fostered,” Christians said. “This fellowship gives me the freedom to interact with a wide group of collaborators, and it gives me funds to go to conferences and meet with researchers from around the world. These scientific relationships will definitely help me after my fellowship ends because I look to start my own research group.” After completing his research program, Christians hopes to become a full-time professor at a college or university to share his love of science with future students.
The EERE Postdoctoral Research Award program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy.