Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels increases the demand for energy storage. Lithium-ion batteries have transformed portable electronics and will continue to be important but cannot deliver the step change in energy density required in the longer term in markets such as electric vehicles and the storage of electricity from renewables. There are a few alternatives. Here we describe two: Li-air and Li-sulfur batteries. We compare the energy densities of Li-ion, Li-air, and Li-S and discuss their differences and the challenges facing Li-air and Li-S, many of which are materials related.
Lithium-air batteries have received extraordinary attention recently owing to their theoretical gravimetric energies being considerably higher than those of Li-ion batteries. There are, however, significant challenges to practical implementation, including low energy efficiency, cycle life, and power capability. These are due primarily to the lack of fundamental understanding of oxygen reduction and evolution reaction kinetics and parasitic reactions between oxygen redox intermediate species and nominally inactive battery components such as carbon in the oxygen electrode and electrolytes. In this article, we discuss recent advances in the mechanistic understanding of oxygen redox reactions in nonaqueous electrolytes and the search for electrolytes and electrode materials that are chemically stable in the oxygen electrode. In addition, methods to protect lithium metal against corrosion by water and dendrite formation in aqueous lithium-air batteries are discussed. Further materials innovations lie at the heart of research and development efforts that are needed to enable the development of lithium-oxygen batteries with enhanced round-trip efficiency and cycle life.
Considering the need for designing better batteries to meet the rapidly growing demand for large-scale energy storage applications, an aspect of primary importance for battery materials is elemental abundance. To achieve sustainable energy development, we must reconsider the feasibility of a sustainable lithium supply, which is essential for lithium(-ion) batteries. Lithium is widely distributed in the Earth, but is not regarded as an abundant element. Therefore, widespread use of large-scale lithium batteries would be inevitably restricted. Sodium (-ion) batteries are thus promising candidates for large-scale applications because sodium is the most advantageous next to lithium considering its atomic weight, standard potential, and natural abundance. Rechargeable sodium-ion batteries consist of two different sodium insertion materials similar to Li-ion batteries. Sodium insertion materials, especially layered oxides, have been studied since the early 1980s, but not extensively for energy storage devices due to the expanded interest in lithium insertion materials in the 1990s. In recent years, materials researchers have again been extensively exploring new sodium insertion materials to enhance battery performance. This article reviews recent advancements and trends in layered sodium transition metal oxides as positive electrode materials for Na-ion batteries.
"Smaller is stronger." Nanostructured materials such as thin films, nanowires, nanoparticles, bulk nanocomposites, and atomic sheets can withstand non-hydrostatic (e.g., tensile or shear) stresses up to a significant fraction of their ideal strength without inelastic relaxation by plasticity or fracture. Large elastic strains, up to similar to 10%, can be generated by epitaxy or by external loading on small-volume or bulk-scale nanomaterials and can be spatially homogeneous or inhomogeneous. This leads to new possibilities for tuning the physical and chemical properties of a material, such as electronic, optical, magnetic, phononic, and catalytic properties, by varying the six-dimensional elastic strain as continuous variables. By controlling the elastic strain field statically or dynamically, a much larger parameter space opens up for optimizing the functional properties of materials, which gives new meaning to Richard Feynman's 1959 statement, "there's plenty of room at the bottom."
Cellulose is one of the most abundant organic materials on earth, and cellulose paper is ubiquitous in our daily life. Re-engineering cellulose fibers at the nanoscale will allow this renewable material to be applied to advanced energy storage systems and optoelectronic devices. In this article, we examine the recent development of nanofibrillated cellulose and discuss how the integration of other nanomaterials leads to a wide range of applications. The unique properties of nanofibrillated cellulose enable multi-scale structuring of the functional composites, which can be tailored to develop new concepts of energy and electronic devices. Tapping into the nanostructured materials offered by nature can offer many opportunities that will take nanotechnology research to a new level.
Microfluidic paper-based analytical devices (mu PADs) use the passive capillary-driven flow of aqueous solutions through patterned paper channels to transport a sample fluid into distinct detection zones that contain the reagents for a chemical assay. These devices are simple, affordable, portable, and disposable; they are, thus, well suited for diagnostic applications in resource-limited environments. Adding screen-printed electrodes to the detection zones of a mu PAD yields a device capable of performing electrochemical assays (an E mu PAD). Electrochemical detection has the advantage over colorimetric detection that it is not affected by interference from the color of the sample and can be quantified with simple electronics. The accessibility of E mu PADs, however, is limited by the requirement for an external potentiostat to power and interpret the electrochemical measurement. New developments in paper-based electronics may help loosen this requirement. This review discusses the current capabilities and limitations of E mu PADs and paper-based electronics, and sketches the ways in which these technologies can be combined to provide new devices for diagnostic testing.
Supercapacitors are nowadays considered to be one of the most important electrochemical storage devices. These devices display high power and extraordinary cycle life, and they are currently used in an increasing number of applications. However, in order to further increase the applications of supercapacitors, an increase in their energy capacity appears to be necessary. Moreover, the development of safe and environmentally friendly supercapacitors is also required. In this article, we illustrate the contributions ionic liquids (ILs) might play in the development of high energy and safe supercapacitors. First, the use of ILs as electrolytes in supercapacitors is considered, and the advantages as well as challenges related to the use of this kind of electrolyte are analyzed. Next, the interaction between ILs and electrode materials is taken into account, with particular attention paid to inactive components of supercapacitor electrodes. The introduction of natural cellulose as a binder is used as an example of the contribution ILs might provide to the development of environmentally friendly supercapacitors.
The mainstream commercialization of colloidal quantum dots (QDs) for light-emitting applications has begun: Sony televisions emitting QD-enhanced colors are now on sale. The bright and uniquely size-tunable colors of solution-processable semiconducting QDs highlight the potential of electroluminescent QD light-emitting devices (QLEDs) for use in energy-efficient, high-color-quality thin-film display and solid-state lighting applications. Indeed, this year's report of record-efficiency electrically driven QLEDs rivaling the most efficient molecular organic LEDs, together with the emergence of full-color QLED displays, foreshadow QD technologies that will transcend the optically excited QD-enhanced products already available. In this article, we discuss the key advantages of using QDs as luminophores in LEDs and outline the 19-year evolution of four types of QLEDs that have seen efficiencies rise from less than 0.01% to 18%. With an emphasis on the latest advances, we identify the key scientific and technological challenges facing the commercialization of QLEDs. A quantitative analysis, based on published small-scale synthetic procedures, allows us to estimate the material costs of QDs typical in light-emitting applications when produced in large quantities and to assess their commercial viability.
Universal access to abundant scientific data, and the software to analyze the data at scale, could fundamentally transform the field of materials science. Today, the materials community faces serious challenges to bringing about this data-accelerated research paradigm, including diversity of research areas within materials, lack of data standards, and missing incentives for sharing, among others. Nonetheless, the landscape is rapidly changing in ways that should benefit the entire materials research enterprise. We provide an overview of the current state of the materials data and informatics landscape, highlighting a few selected efforts that make more data freely available and useful to materials researchers.
Although photovoltaic cells have great potential for supplying carbon-free energy, they suffer from the lack of an efficient and cost-effective energy storage process that can supply energy for transportation and nighttime use. A direct way to convert solar energy into chemical fuels would solve this problem. Of several possible schemes, the photon-driven electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen and oxygen has been studied most. Photoelectrolysis of water can be achieved with either self-supported catalysts or with photoelectrochemical cells. This article will introduce the basic principles of solar water splitting and highlight recent developments with semiconductor light absorbers and co-catalysts. The role of combinatorial approaches in identifying new metal oxide visible light-absorbing semiconductors will be briefly described, and the potential of using nanomaterials for more efficient devices will be discussed. Separate articles in this special issue will focus on recent developments in water-splitting concepts.
Three-dimensional (3D) battery architectures have emerged as a new direction for powering microelectromechanical systems and other small autonomous devices. Although there are few examples to date of fully functioning 3D batteries, these power sources have the potential to achieve high power density and high energy density in a small footprint. This overview highlights the various architectures proposed for 3D batteries, the advances made in the fabrication of components designed for these devices, and the remaining technical challenges. Efforts directed at establishing design rules for 3D architectures and modeling are providing insight concerning the energy density and current uniformity achievable with these architectures. The significant progress made on the fabrication of electrodes and electrolytes designed for 3D batteries is an indication that a number of these battery architectures will be successfully demonstrated within the next few years.
This article reviews the physical and chemical constraints of environments on biofilm formation. We provide a perspective on how materials science and engineering can address fundamental questions and unmet technological challenges in this area of microbiology, such as biofilm prevention. Specifically, we discuss three factors that impact the development and organization of bacterial communities. (1) Physical properties of surfaces regulate cell attachment and physiology and affect early stages of biofilm formation. (2) Chemical properties influence the adhesion of cells to surfaces and their development into biofilms and communities. (3) Chemical communication between cells attenuates growth and influences the organization of communities. Mechanisms of spatial and temporal confinement control the dimensions of communities and the diffusion path length for chemical communication between biofilms, which, in turn, influences biofilm phenotypes. Armed with a detailed understanding of biofilm formation, researchers are applying the tools and techniques of materials science and engineering to revolutionize the study and control of bacterial communities growing at interfaces.
Thin-film electrocaloric and pyroelectric sources for electrothermal energy interconversion have recently emerged as viable means for primary and auxiliary solid-state cooling and power generation. Two significant advances have facilitated this development: (1) the formation of high-quality polymeric and ceramic thin films with figures of merit that project system-level performance as a large percentage of Carnot efficiency and (2) the ability of these newer materials to support larger electric fields, thereby permitting operation at higher voltages. This makes the power electronic architectures more favorable for thermal to electric energy interconversion. Current research targets to adequately address commercial device needs including reduction of parasitic losses, increases in mechanical robustness, and the ability to form nearly freestanding elements with thicknesses in the range of 1-10 mu m. This article describes the current state-of-the-art materials, thermodynamic cycles, and device losses and points toward potential lines of research that would lead to substantially better figures of merit for electrothermal energy interconversion.
Inorganic semiconductors such as silicon, gallium arsenide, and gallium nitride provide, by far, the most well-established routes to high performance electronics/optoelectronics. Although these materials are intrinsically rigid and brittle, when exploited in strategic geometrical designs guided by mechanics modeling, they can be combined with elastomeric supports to yield integrated devices that offer linear elastic responses to large strain (similar to 100%) deformations. The result is an electronics/optoelectronics technology that offers the performance of conventional wafer-based systems, but with the mechanics of a rubberband. This article summarizes the key enabling concepts in materials, mechanics, and assembly and illustrates them through representative applications, ranging from electronic "eyeball" cameras to advanced surgical devices and "epidermal" electronic monitoring systems.
Organic optoelectronics is an emerging field that exploits the unique properties of conjugated organic materials to develop new applications that require a combination of performance, low cost, light weight, and processability. For instance, disposable or wearable electronics, light-emitting diodes, smart tags, sensors, and solar cells all fall into this active area of research. Single crystals of conjugated organic molecules are, undoubtedly, the materials with the highest degree of order and purity among the variety of different forms of organic semiconductors. Electronic devices comprising these materials, such as single-crystal transistors and photoconductors developed during the last decade, are by far the best performers in terms of the fundamental parameters such as charge-carrier mobility, exciton diffusivity, concentration of defects, and operational stability. Extremely low density of defects and the resultant remarkable electrical characteristics of some of the organic single-crystal devices allow experimental access to the intrinsic charge transport properties not dominated by charge scattering and trapping. This enables basic studies of the physics of organic semiconductors, including examining the intrinsic structure-property relationship, thus providing a test bed for charge and energy transport theories. The goal of this issue of MRS Bulletin is to provide a broad overview of the state of the art of the field of organic semiconductor single-crystal materials, devices, and theory.
Advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology critically depend on the development of nanostructures whose properties are controlled during synthesis. We focus on this critical concept using semiconductor nanowires, which provide the capability through design and rational synthesis to realize unprecedented structural and functional complexity in building blocks as a platform material. First, a brief review of the synthesis of complex modulated nanowires in which rational design and synthesis can be used to precisely control composition, structure, and, most recently, structural topology is discussed. Second, the unique functional characteristics emerging from our exquisite control of nanowire materials are illustrated using several selected examples from nanoelectronics and nano-enabled energy. Finally, the remarkable power of nanowire building blocks is further highlighted through their capability to create unprecedented, active electronic interfaces with biological systems. Recent work pushing the limits of both multiplexed extracellular recording at the single-cell level and the first examples of intracellular recording is described, as well as the prospects for truly blurring the distinction between nonliving nanoelectronic and living biological systems.
The capabilities of metal additive manufacturing (AM) are evolving rapidly thanks to both increasing industry demand and improved scientific understanding of the process. This article provides an overview of AM of the Ti-6Al-4V alloy, which has essentially been used as a yardstick to gauge the capability of each metal AM process developed to date. It begins by summarizing the metal AM processes existing today. This is followed by a discussion of the macro-and microstructural characteristics, defects, and tensile and fatigue properties of AM Ti-6Al-4V by selective laser melting, laser metal deposition (both powder and wire), and selective electron-beam melting compared to non-AM Ti-6Al-4V. The tensile and fatigue properties of as-built AM Ti-6Al-4V (with machined or polished surfaces) can be made comparable, or even superior, to those of Ti-6Al-4V in the most commonly used millannealed condition. However, these properties can exhibit a large degree of scatter and are often anisotropic, affected by AM build orientations. Post-AM surface treatments or both the post-AM surface and heat treatments are necessary to ensure the minimum required properties and performance consistency. Future directions to further unlock the potential of AM of Ti-6Al-4V for superior and consistent mechanical properties are also discussed.
Major challenges have emerged as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) move to smaller size and increased integration density, while requiring fast response and large motions. Continued scaling to nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) requires revolutionary advances in actuators, sensors, and transducers. MEMS and NEMS utilizing piezoelectric thin films provide the required large linear forces with fast actuation at small drive voltages. This, in turn, provides accurate displacements at high integration densities, reduces the voltage burden on the integrated control electronics, and decreases NEMS complexity. These advances are enabled by the rapidly growing field of thin-film piezoelectric MEMS, from the development of AlN films for resonator and filter applications, to their implementation in adaptive radio front ends, to the demonstration of large piezoelectricity in epitaxial Pb(Zr,Ti)O-3 and PbMg1/3Nb2/3O3-PbTiO3 thin films. Applications of low voltage MEMS/NEMS include transducers for ultrasound medical imaging, robotic insects, inkjet printing, mechanically based logic, and energy harvesting. As described in this article, advances in the field are being driven by and are prompting advances in heterostructure design and theoretical investigations.