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Energy Frontier Research Centers at Argonne

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science awarded Argonne two Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs). With these awards comes the possibility for important discoveries in advanced transportation technology. The Centers, each funded at $19 million over five years, work with partnering universities to advance basic science in electrochemical energy storage and in catalysis. DOE established the EFRCs as a means to enlist the talents and skills of the very best American scientists and engineers to address current fundamental scientific roadblocks to U.S. energy security.

Institute for Atom-Efficient Chemical Transformations

The Institute for Atom-Efficient Chemical Transformations (IACT) addresess key catalytic conversions that could improve the efficiency of fuel production from coal and biomass, the two main chemical energy resources in the United States.

The U.S. could grow and convert enough biomass to replace nearly a third of the nation’s current gasoline use. However, a technology for economically converting biomass into widely usable fuels does not exist; the fundamental science needed to develop such a technology is still in its infancy. The challenge is to understand the chemistry involved in converting cellulose- and lignin-derived molecules to fuels and to use that knowledge to identify the needed catalysts.

To obtain energy densities similar to those of currently used fuels, the products of biomass conversion must have oxygen contents lower than that of biomass. Oxygen must be removed by using hydrogen to minimize the yield of carbon dioxide as a byproduct. This important chemistry is a unifying theme of IACT’s research.

Catalysts found in nature demonstrate how amazingly efficient and selective catalysts can be," said Argonne chemist Christopher Marshall, principal investigator and IACT director. "The Institute's aim is to achieve the type of control and efficiency of chemical conversions that are found in nature.” New catalytic materials will be needed and a major emphasis of IACT is to synthesize new, complex, multisite, multifunctional catalytic materials that offer new models for catalysis. Using advanced computation and modeling to interpret, understand, and optimize experimental results is also a critical part of advancing catalytic science. Advanced characterization techniques and catalytic experimentation are employed, as well.

Argonne’s partners in IACT are Northwestern University, Purdue University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. IACT Director Marshall is assisted by Deputy Director Peter Stair, who has a joint appointment with Northwestern University and Argonne.

Center for Electrical Energy Storage

The Center for Electrical Energy Storage (CEES) explores the challenges that have limited the advancement and use of electrochemical energy storage (EES) technologies, including batteries and supercapacitors, for transportation, residential, and commercial use. Although EES devices have been available for many decades, there are fundamental gaps in understanding the atomic- and molecular-level processes that govern their operation, performance limitations, and failure. With a full understanding of these processes, new concepts can be formulated for addressing present EES technology gaps and meeting future energy storage requirements.

Under the leadership of Argonne’s Michael Thackeray, the CEES brings together 17 scientists from Argonne, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Northwestern University. "CEES' main goal," Thackeray said, "is to gain a fundamental understanding of the interfacial phenomena that control electrochemical processes in electrical energy storage devices. This understanding is laying the foundation for the synthesis and design of electrode and electrolyte architectures that will lead to the discovery of future generations of energy storage materials and enable the development of batteries with enhanced capacity, power, safety and longevity.”

The Center's focuses on lithium batteries since they provide the best opportunity for greater-than-incremental advances.

Scientists for IACT and CEES use the research facilities of each partnering organization, including Argonne's Advanced Photon Source, Center for Nanoscale Materials, and the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility. The CEES also uses the resources of Argonne’s Applied Battery Research and Development Program.

For more information on Argonne’s EFRC awards, please visit


November 2012

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About Energy Frontier Research Centers

The Institute for Atom-Efficient Chemical Transformations is one of two Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) centered at Argonne. The other, the Center for Electrical Energy Storage, investigates electrical-energy storage technologies for alternative renewable energy sources, transportation, medicine, defense, aerospace, telecommunications, and consumer applications. Argonne also plays a prominent role in 10 other EFRCs.

The EFRCs, which pursue advanced scientific research on energy, were established by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science at universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations and private firms across the nation. The 46 Centers were selected from a pool of some 260 applicants. Selection was based on a rigorous merit review process using outside panels of scientific experts. Each center is funded at $2–5 million per year for a planned initial five-year period.

The EFRCs are a means to enlist the talents and skills of the very best American scientists and engineers to address current fundamental scientific roadblocks to U.S. energy security. Researchers at the EFRCs take advantage of new capabilities in nanotechnology, high-intensity light sources, neutron scattering sources, supercomputing, and other advanced instrumentation—much of it developed and supported by the DOE Office of Science—in an effort to lay the scientific groundwork for fundamental advances in solar energy, biofuels, transportation, energy efficiency, electricity storage and transmission, clean coal and carbon capture and sequestration, and nuclear energy.

EFRC Brochure
(PDF 1.7MB)

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