Resnick Institute

2016 Resonate Award Winner

Xiaolin Zheng

Resonate Award recipient for developing new, scalable and low cost methods to fabricate materials for clean energy technologies

Xiaolin Zheng

The Challenge

Metal oxide based nanomaterials are key enabling materials for a number of emerging renewable energy technologies, including thin film solar cells, fuel cells, thermoelectrics, batteries and other electrochemical devices. Researchers can make these nanostructures using a variety of methods and can do so often with very precise control over the size and composition. However, many methods used in the laboratory setting are slow, expensive processes that can only make small amounts of material. In order for these promising technologies to have an impact outside the lab, we need to develop low cost, scalable processes that still provide high quality materials.

The Response

Zheng and her research group have taken an existing industrial synthesis technique and updated it to give more precise control over the composition and shape of nanostructured metal oxide materials. Flame synthesis is currently used to make metal oxides and carbon nanoparticles with an annual production of over $10 Billion. She uses modeling and fundamental studies of flame properties as well as the material properties to adapt this technique, and can grow a wide range of complex materials and structures with unique properties. She has also combined flame with chemical synthesis techniques to modify the electrical, optical and chemical properties of conventional materials, including developing some of the most promising current materials for solar driven water-splitting devices.

The Future

Through continued application of her fundamental understanding of flame driven synthesis of materials, there is the potential to create tailored nanostructures with precise optical, electronic or electrochemical properties through a low cost, scalable manufacturing process. This work could contribute to the development of scalable energy technologies that can displace fossil fuels in the long term.