Leading-Edge Research and Development

Skip Navigation LinksLeading-Edge Research and Development > CNSE Research Centers and Programs > Center for Sustainable Ecosystem Nanotechnologies (CSEN) > Research Thrusts
Research Thrusts
  • The study of microscopic to macroscopic ecosystems
  • Eco-logical systems thinking and system dynamics
  • Nanoscale fabrication and processes
  • Nanoscale biomimicry for technology applications
  • Catalysis, materials, structures and transport processes at the nanoscale
The Center for Sustainable Ecosystem Nanotechnologies is investigating the application of nanotechnology for sustainable solutions to environmental challenges. Ecosystems may range from the microscopic - single cells in a single drop of water - to the macroscopic - the entire globe. Ecosystems may encompass natural ecosystems such as ponds and rain forests and "human" ecosystems like buildings, industries, and nations.

Our research takes two directions in order to develop successful, commercially viable technology. The first is the search for natural solutions to existing and emerging ecosystem problems. By understanding and applying successful ecosystem principles, we mimic how nature, through eco-design, functions in a natural and sustainable manner. We call this Eco-Logical Design. Through material manipulation at the nanoscale we can research, apply, test and manufacture these eco-logical designs. The use of DNA molecules as sensors for impurities in water is one example of the transformative power of biomimicry.

The second research direction is the development of synthetic nanoscale materials and processes derived from the human imagination. In this approach, we rely on the application of past human achievements to derive solutions at the nanoscale. Structuring electrodes and catalysts at the nanoscale in order to achieve higher catalyst utilization and to improve the operation of fuel cells, solar cells and batteries is one example of this approach.

Our approach to the application of nanotechnology to achieve sustainable ecosystems is illustrated in the diagram above. Our work is based on a thorough understanding of ecosystem principles. This understanding is translated into Eco-Logical designs derived from systems thinking and systems analysis. Designs are then achieved through nanoscale fabrication and processes. At the nanoscale, atomic manipulation can achieve global transformation.

Our current research interests are centered on catalysis, materials, structures and transport processes at the nanoscale. By examining electrochemical, electromechanical, and biological processes at the nanoscale, we are developing new solutions to energy generation and storage technologies such as fuel cells, photovoltaics and batteries. Improving the performance of these technologies through Eco-Logical design, the human ecosystem can become more like that of our natural environment. Truly sustainable.

Current Research Initiatives:

1. Batteries

  • Fabrication of model nanostructured electrodes to enable in-situ measurements of charge transfer
  • Hybrid batteries with mixed chemistries for optimal performance
  • Focus on performance at the boundaries... overcharging and undercharging.
  • Modeling/simulation of the performance of Li-ion and Zinc-Air batteries
2. Fuel Cells
  • Nanostructured Electrodes
  • ORR Improvement/Control
  • Stable non-carbon supports
  • High temperature membrane performance Improvement
3. Solar Photovoltaics
  • Nanostructured Electrodes
  • Feasibility Study for Fortune 500 Company (CIGS, Organic, Photoelectrochemcial)
  • Miniaturized biomimetic photosynthesis system for the production of hydrogen from water using solar energy
  • Generation of fuels from thermal solar (new faculty)