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Renewable Energy

Applied and Engineering Physics faculty play an active role in the leadership and implementation of renewable energy research on campus, both through individual research programs, the collaborative centers on campus, and at partnering national laboratories. The department’s interests in the physics of renewable energy range from world-leading fundamental studies intended to understand the underlying mechanisms and ultimate limits of new technologies to applied research that ensures their practical and efficient implementation.

For example, semiconductor nanocrystals offer significant potential for efficient, solution-processed (i.e., low cost) photovoltaic devices. The optical properties of nanocrystals can be engineered through their size via quantum confinement effects. They can be tailored to absorb the solar spectrum optimally, for example, and the absorption of a single photon of light may create more than one pair of charge carriers in a nanocrystal. In collaboration with Prof. Tobias Hanrath of Chemical Engineering, Frank Wise is investigating the fundamentals of charge transfer from nanocrystals. The Hanrath-Wise team has demonstrated nanocrystal-based solar cells with among the highest efficiencies reported.

Cornell's Energy Materials Center (EMC2), funded by the Department of Energy, focuses on understanding and controlling the nature, structure, and dynamics of reactions at electrodes in fuel cells, batteries, supercapacitors, solar photovoltaics, and catalysts. Joel Brock and David Muller lead the thrust on “Atomically-engineered materials for energy generation, conversion, and storage via complex oxides.” The thrust seeks to design, fabricate and characterize, atom-by-atom, new artificial materials that have no bulk counterparts and whose properties can be tailored to meet the competing demands of energy applications. Craig Fennie’s group uses quantum-mechanical theory and computation to invent and predict the properties of new materials system that can be grown by the group. The thrust is also developing and applying novel experimental tools for probing the dynamics and kinetics of structure and chemistry at interfaces, in films and in working devices. An ultimate goal is to establish opportunities for – and fundamental limitations of – energy generation, conversion and storage technologies.


Joel Brock
Professor, Applied and Engineering Physics, AEP
in-situ x-ray studies of renewable energy materials
Harold Craighead
Charles W. Lake, Jr., Professor of Engineering, AEP
Craig Fennie
Assistant Professor, School of Applied and Engineering Physics, AEP
theoretical prediction and design of new materials and states for energy conversion
David Muller
Professor, Applied and Engineering Physics, AEP
atomic-scale physics, characterization and design of fuel cells, batteries and renewable energy materials
Frank Wise
Samuel B. Eckert Professor of Engineering, Director of Graduate Studies, Director of Graduate Studies, AEP
quantum dot solar cells
Lena Fitting Kourkoutis
Assistant Professor and Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow, AEP
Francis DiSalvo
Professor, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Director of the Atkinson Center for Sustainability
fuel cells, batteries
Emmanuel Giannelis
Walter R. Reed Professor of Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Director of the KAUST Center for Energy and Sustainability
nanomembranes ionic liquids for fuel cells, batteries, water purification
Tobias Hanrath
Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
batteries and quantum dot photovoltaics
Richard Robinson
Assistant Professor, Materials Science and Engineering
nanoscale thermoelectrics