Realizing a complete changeover from our unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels to harvesting renewable energy sources will require practical methods of storing this energy, since these sources are disperse and intermittent. Using electrochemical conversion methods, which generate carbon-free, highly reversible chemical fuels, is an adaptive and workable solution. Electrochemical energy storage has been highly developed for small-scale applications like lithium ion batteries (LIBs) for personal electronics, but the efficiency and capacity of these cells will need to be improved for their potential eventual scale-up to household and automotive application. Another solve-all pathway is hydrogen, which can be directly converted from harvested energy electrolyzing water and then expended on command in a fuel cell. Both of these approaches will require significant innovation to the materials involved in the conversion processes in order to make their widespread implementation viable.
My research can be divided into two roadmaps for electrochemical energy storage: one pertaining to the innovation of Li-based batteries, and the other to H2 photo-electrolysis devices. Functional polymers, such as electrically and ionically conductive polymers, will be used to generate new materials that form conductive pathways for electricity and ions to be transported efficiently throughout the battery components, as well as make for flexible, all-polymer battery electrodes and are multimodal and eliminate wasteful mass (and hence, increased specific capacity). Other charged polymers and small materials can be used to tune the properties, such as gas blockage, of highly functional membranes used to convert sunlight into hydrogen without the use of an external circuit, making recovery and storage as efficient as possible and without interfering with the transport mechanisms.
Email: mmcdon @ mit.edu