254414 Interfacial Synergy Between Energy and Nanomaterials

Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Hall B (Convention Center )
Randy L. Vander Wal, John and Willie Leone Family Dept. of Energy and Mineral Engineering & The EMS Energy Institute, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA


Energy and Nanomaterials are intimately related.  Most energy processes occur at the interface.  Nanomaterials, when used as interfacial modifiers have the potential to significantly alter the energy landscape.  Although carbon nanomaterials have been explored for a suite of energy applications, to-date the approach has been based on replacing bulk materials, not as interfacial modifiers.  The work presented here will highlight this latter approach by showing results for a suite of energy applications from the author's own work.


Experimental details will be presented at the presentation with regards to the synthesis and utilization of the nanomaterials.  Our applications include energy conversion, generation, storage, efficiency, conservation and control.

 Results and Discussion

Nanoscale materials are redefining the relation between material composition, size and properties.  Chemical properties (e.g. reactivity) and physical properties (e.g. surface area) become a strong function of size at the nanoscale.  Applications illustrated include the following selected examples from the author's work: catalysis, composite materials, energy storage, sensors, thermal management, and tribology.  The key concept is that the nanomaterials serve as interfacial modifiers.  Since most energy related processes are dominated by interfacial reactions, nanomaterials have the potential to dramatically affect energy conversion rates and magnitudes.  Examples follow.

Catalysis is central to particulate and NOx after-treatment systems.  A prime example of reducing materials to nanoscale and realizing new properties is catalysis by nanoscale gold.  Au nanoparticles supported on oxides such as CeO2, TiO2 and Fe2O3 offer ambient temperature oxidation of CO, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and potentially exhaust hydrocarbons.  Examples will be presented.

Lightweight materials will reduce weight significantly yielding substantial benefits in fuel efficiency with reduced emissions.  Composites with substantial gains in Young's modulus, tensile strength, and EM shielding may be realized in polymeric composites using carbon nanotubes as an interfacial modifier rather than bulk filler [1].  As will be described, the interfacial modification of a metal foil using carbon nanotubes directly grown upon the foil.  The purpose of the foils is to serve as a gas impermeable barrier layer within the polymer composite.

Advances in energy storage include batteries, ultra-capacitors.  These can support lighting, appliances, a starter, cooling fans, transmission and hydraulic systems, fuel and air handling systems and ultimately enable hybrid systems.  Towards these goals, substantial gains in Li ion battery cathode and anode materials have been realized using carbon nanofibers, coating processes and including elements such as tin and silicon.  Modifications of the CNT surfaces increases the Li ion capacity beyond the theoretical limit of normal graphite.  As an illustration, CNTs were directly fabricated for this end-application use upon ultra-fine SS mesh.  Significantly no harvesting, purification or processing (using binders) was required.  The CNTs could be used directly as synthesized.  TEM and SEM images will be presented of the CNTs upon the SS mesh and discharge (de-intercalation) curves [2].

With regards to overall system integration and control, sensors will play a prominent role [3].  With ultrahigh surface exposure relative to bulk material, nanoscale materials are exceedingly sensitive to gas adsorption.  Exploitation of nanoscale properties will lead to new NOx sensors and in-cylinder oxygen sensors.  Examples include catalyst coated metal oxide semiconductors capable of ambient temperature operation, as will be illustrated in the talk.

Thermal management will benefit from nanofluids.  Nanofluids can increase thermal conductivity and reduce radiator and heat exchanger size.  Carbon-based nanofluids using nano-onions and carbon nanotubes have increased water conductivity by ~ 20% [4].  Examples as shown by HRTEM images of such nanocarbon additives will be compared during the presentation.

Lubrication is critical to many engine components and powertrain systems.  Nanolubricants can bridge the gap between fluid and solid materials [5].  As additives with liquids or greases, synergistic properties may be realized, particularly in boundary-phase lubrication.  Improved coating formulations and properties can reduce or eliminate fretting and pitting.  Results with nanocarbons show superior performance relative to graphite, diamond like carbon (DLC) and even Teflon, as will be detailed.


Nanoscale materials are redefining the relation between material composition, size and properties.  Their applications to energy processes include selected examples from the author's work.  Selected technologies include catalysis, composite materials, energy storage, sensors, thermal management, and tribology.  Interfacial modification serves to affect changes in energy conversion rates, and transfer magnitudes.  This appears to be a rather universal concept and suggests R&D directions for nano-engineering of interfaces.


Funding through The Penn State Institutes for Energy and the Environment (PSIEE) and the Pennsylvania Keystone Innovation Starter Kit (KISK) is gratefully acknowledged.


 (1)     Vander Wal, R. L., and Hall, L. J., Advanced Engineering Materials 2004, 6, 48-52.

(2)      Luo, Y., Vander Wal, R. L., and Scherson, D. A., Electrochemical and Solid State Letters 2003, 6, A56-A58.Vander Wal, R. L., Mozes, S. D., and Pushkarev, Nanotechnology 2009, 20, 105702-10.

(3)      Hunter, G. W., Vander Wal, R. L., Liu, C. C., Xu, J. C., and Berger, G. M., Sensor and Actuators B 2009, 138, 113-119.

(4)      Vander Wal, R. L., Mozes, S. D., and Pushkarev, Nanotechnology 2009, 20, 105702-10.

(5)      Street, K. W., Miyoshi, K., and Vander Wal, R. L., "Application of Carbon Based Nano-particles to Aeronautics and Space Lubrication", in Superlubricity, Chapter 19, pp 311-340.  Edited by Drs. Jean-Michel Martin and Ali Erdemir, Elsevier, Amsterdam (2007).  (also NASA/TM-2007-214473).

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