Developing synthetic materials for energy-saving applications

A scientist working at the University of Texas at Arlington is developing novel synthetic materials that can enhance inorganic metal oxides for utilisation in a range of energy-saving applications.

Robin Macaluso, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, recently obtained a two-year, $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Materials Research to fund the research. Macaluso is the principal investigator of the project, titled: ‘New Oxysulfide Perovskites for Photocatalytic and Photovoltaic Applications.’

Solar energy technology

The objective of the research is to create novel materials that are capable of making a positive impact in solar energy technology, and consequently can be utilised to meet the ever-growing necessity for dependable sources of alternative and greener energy.

The study will be centred around establishing a new technique for developing synthetic versions of sulphide and oxysulphide perovskites. (Perovskites are a group of materials that share an unusual crystalline structure and chemical formula.) This material would then behave as a semiconductor that transfers the electric charge that it has generated when light hits it.

Oxide perovskites are the most prominent and ubiquitous perovskites due to the fact they are stable and typically comprised of extremely plentiful elements. However, they are not usually semiconductors. The predominant difficultly with this method is being able to control semiconducting behaviour whilst preserving the stability and utilisation of abundant, non-toxic elements, Macaluso explained.

Energy-saving applications

“This project is interesting because we’re trying to combine oxygen and sulphur with the metal and make new materials called metal oxysulphides,” Macaluso added. “One major limitation of some conventional perovskites is that they cannot efficiently absorb and store solar energy. The motivation for synthesising sulphide and oxysulphide perovskites is to establish stable inorganic materials with improved efficiency. Hopefully, we can use these to make new semiconducting materials that are stable so we can utilise them in more applications or make them so they can be exposed to more humidity or warmer or colder temperatures.”

This is a fairly new and growing area of research, Macaluso said. Scientists do not have a set protocol for how these materials are to be made, and there are very few mixed anion materials.

Improvements in semiconducting

Fred MacDonnell, professor and chair of the UTA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said Macaluso’s NSF-funded project has the potential to provide substantial improvements in the semiconductor field.

“One of the challenges we face as scientists is finding ways to make energy sources more efficient and cost-effective,” MacDonnell concluded. “The research Dr Macaluso and her students conduct in this project could bring about much-improved stability and energy storage capability in the compounds with which they’re working.”

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