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TN-SCORE Research

Tennessee is one of only three states that enjoy a large and fast-growing clean energy economy (The Clean Energy Economy, Pew Charitable Trusts, June 2009). This growth stems from recent research and development and business recruitment successes by the state. TN-SCORE represents a major step forward as it leverages these successes to craft high quality energy R&D within and between Tennessee’s private and public institutions of higher education, federal laboratories, and the business sector. TN-SCORE will create sustainable collaborations by addressing the historical barriers that have prevented such relationships, yielding the momentum necessary to produce the innovative energy research essential for the state’s goal of being a national leader in the field of alternative energy. 

The overall theme of Alternative Energy Technologies has been broken down into three main scientific thrust areas: 

Thrust 1: Advanced Solar Conversion and Innovation

Thrust 2: Components and Devices for Energy Storage and Conversion 

Thrust 3: Nanostructures for Enhancing Energy Efficiency

Each thrust contributes to the technology innovation base being developed in Tennessee to add value to the overall research enterprise within our state. Each includes an aggressive outreach and workforce development approach with the added value of creating Teams (described below) designed to:

1. Enhance the research capacity while creating a culture of collaboration across the state

2. Use the laboratory as a classroom to educate the next generation of scientists and

3. Provide opportunities for students and/or faculty that otherwise might not be available


Tennessee created Teams to cement partnerships, capitalize on resources, and enhance diversity, mentoring, and outreach (Figure 1). Each Team is includes a Lead Institution Mentor (LIM) that provides access to a pre-existing institute or center (described below) paired with a Partnering University Faculty (PUF) from another institution. Each Team will also include a graduate and undergraduate student who will work together. Using this approach, we identified the involvement of more than 50 faculty from 10 public and private institutions across Tennessee, with the opportunity to expand this reach with the recruitment of additional Teams in Thrust 2 and aggressive outreach and workforce development plans. 

Inter-Thrust Collaboration

TN-SCORE represents an opportunity to expand collaborations in many directions. Because of the complementary nature of the Thrusts, collaborative activities between Thrusts could lead in interesting and promising directions. To this end, overlapping topic areas have been identified that will begin to foster the best use of resources and most extensive collaborations across the project. 

a. Polymer Composite Electrodes: To take advantage of the capability of producing graphene samples available at VINSE (Thrust 3) and in Dadmun’s group (Thrust 1), Pintauro (Thrust 2) could lead a team in carrying our electrospinning of graphene/Polymer composites for electrode applications.

b. Polymer Composite Electrodes 2: A second group could take advantage of an ongoing collaboration between Mays and Dadmun to develop solubilized graphene by grafting polymers onto active sites on the graphene sheets. By fluorosulonic acid grafting with deposition of nanoparticles of Pt or Pt alloys (Zawodzinski group), unique precursors for fuel cell electrodes would be developed. These would be implemented in fuel cells in Zawodzinski’s lab. This will also be supported by access to VINSE’s graphene and nanoparticle as well as advanced characterization methods. 

c. Bio-Batteries: An additional project that will be developed between Thrusts 1 and 2 is the development of ‘close coupled’ hydrogen production and fuel cell operation to create a ‘bio-battery’ or a ‘solar-battery.’ This would be an excellent demonstration device for visits to various schools and public speaking engagements.

d. Nanostructured Light harvesting for applied photosynthesis: Using both nanostructured quantum dots and plasmonic particles (Thrust 3) can be used to enhance the spectral range of photosynthesis for both photovoltaic and hydrogen production.

e. Use of nanowires to couple electron transport between PSI and hydrogenases: Novel electronic conductors can be designed with bioengineering to enable efficient and relatively long distance transfer of electrons between these macromolecular complexes.

f. Organic PVs using Advanced Nano-structures: Advances in the development of highly nano-structured TiO2 will connect some of the methodologies being developed in Thrust 3 with the highly controlled diblock copolymer morphologies described in Thrust 1. The combination of these approaches may enhance the performance of OPVs.

g. Advanced Characterization: Much of the characterization of thin films that is performed at CATS at ORNL in Thrust 3 will be made available to the participants in Thrust 1. This will allow them to carefully characterize the thin film multi-crystalline material and their associated interfaces to help explore the structure/property relationship as a crucial feedback to improved synthesis as well as a starting point for advanced computational simulations.