Duke Engineers Join National Center on Emerging Energy Materials

August 21, 2018

Three Duke faculty members will work to develop new hybrid organic-inorganic semiconductors for novel energy applications

From Left to Right - Volker Blum, David Mitzi, Adrienne Stiff-Roberts

From Left to Right - Volker Blum, David Mitzi, Adrienne Stiff-Roberts

Three Duke University engineers have been tapped to join a new U.S. Department of Energy research center aimed at exploring novel uses and properties of an exciting emerging class of materials known as hybrid organic-inorganic semiconductors (HOIS).

One specific class of HOIS called perovskites are materials that—with the right combination of elements—have a crystalline structure that makes them particularly well-suited for light-based applications. Their ability to absorb light and transfer its energy efficiently makes them a common target for researchers developing new types of solar cells, for example.

But those most familiar with perovskites believe that they—and the much broader category of HOIS—may be useful for a much wider range of applications. Backed by the Department of Energy (DOE), 16 of these researchers are banding together into the new Center for Hybrid Organic-Inorganic Semiconductors for Energy (CHOISE). Their goal is to better understand and control the emergent phenomena of spin, charge, and light/matter interactions in HOIS, potentially unlocking new energy technologies.

“NREL is the country’s flagship laboratory for renewable energy research. Not only will the research be incredibly interesting, this center will also provide opportunities for Duke faculty and students alike to connect with this valuable resource for energy research.”

Led by researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, the new center will be backed by $11.75 million over the next four years through the DOE’s Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRC) program. The EFRC program is designed to bring together researchers from multiple disciplines and institutions and combine them into highly productive teams. CHOISE’s researchers come from a range of institutions—Duke University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Utah, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, the University of Toledo, San Diego State University and the University of Chicago.

“Perovskites have already shown success in the solar energy sector, and this center is a clear statement of their promise to change the paradigm for applications beyond that,” said David Mitzi, the Simon Family Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University.  “For example, ‘spintronic’ devices, light-emitting devices and optical switching.”

The new center will have four thrust areas—one for each of three focus areas (controlling spin degrees of freedom, controlling light-matter interaction and harnessing charge carrier degrees of freedom—and another dedicated to crystalline HOIS design and synthesis, which underpins each of the other three. With almost three decades’ worth of experience working with hybrid perovskites, Mitzi will serve as a lead for the latter. Joining him from Duke are Adrienne Stiff-Roberts, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Volker Blum, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science.

Stiff-Roberts has spent the past decade developing a technique called RIR-MAPLE capable of producing thin-film perovskites with delicate organic components that other approaches destroy. Blum heads the "Ab initio materials simulations" group at Duke focusing on building computational molecular models from first principles.

“NREL is the country’s flagship laboratory for renewable energy research,” said Mitzi. “Not only will the research be incredibly interesting, this center will also provide opportunities for Duke faculty and students alike to connect with this valuable resource for energy research.”