Illustration of nanocrystals forming into superlattices at SLAC's SSRL
Explore our frontier research

Energy sciences

One of the most urgent challenges of our time is discovering how to generate the energy and products we need sustainably – in a way that doesn’t compromise the well-being of future generations by depleting limited resources or accelerating climate change, for instance. SLAC pursues this goal on many levels, from fundamental research on improved materials and chemical approaches for batteries to inventing better ways to generate clean, sustainable energy and stabilize the electric grid.

 

Studies of atomic-level processes that drain battery life and efficiency help improve battery performance.

Materials for energy

Understanding materials at their most fundamental level is the first step in creating cleaner, cheaper sustainable energy technologies. We use X-rays and electron beams to probe and improve energy-related materials and to watch batteries at work.

Materials science news

Better batteries

We capture atomic details of transformations that take place inside batteries as they charge and discharge, a critical step in engineering better batteries for electric vehicles, consumer electronics and the grid.

Adding polymers and fireproofing to a battery’s current collectors makes it lighter, safer and about 20% more efficient.

Conceptual illustration of advantages of redesigned current collector.

The latest advance from a research collaboration with industry could dramatically accelerate the development of sturdier batteries for fast-charging electric vehicles.

Studies of electrode nanoparticles for batteries.
Past Event · Public lecture

Improving Batteries from the Atoms Up

In batteries, energy is stored in tiny particles within the electrodes that individually breathe in and out and chemically evolve as the battery is charged and discharged.  Improving the efficiency and lifetime of batteries will require a better understanding of...
Public Lecture | Improving Batteries from the Atoms Up presented by Yijin Liu

 


Materials science

We develop materials to improve the performance of batteries, fuel cells and other energy technologies and set the stage for technologies of the future.

Future materials and technology

SIMES

The Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences studies complex, novel materials that could transform the energy landscape by making computing much more efficient or transmitting power over long distances with no loss, for instance.

Electrode structure for lithium ion battery.

A promising lead halide perovskite is great at converting sunlight to electricity, but it breaks down at room temperature. Now scientists have discovered how to stabilize it with pressure from a diamond anvil cell.

Lead halide material being squeezed in a diamond anvil cell.

These fleeting disruptions, seen for the first time in lead hybrid perovskites, may help explain why these materials are exceptionally good at turning sunlight into electrical current in solar cells.

An illustration shows polarons as bubbles of distortion in a perovskite lattice
Perovskites’ unusual response to light could explain the high efficiency of these next-generation solar cell materials.

Modernizing the grid

The grid of the future will have to seamlessly absorb power fluctuations and quickly respond to major storms and other disruptions. We’re developing tools and control systems to make that a reality, including artificial intelligence to prevent or minimize electric grid failures. These innovations are already benefiting utilities and communities in California and across the nation.

Electric grid news

Research group

GISMo

The Grid Integration, Systems & Mobility lab works with universities, state agencies, utilities and industry to develop technology solutions for the next-generation electric grid.

It's the first to employ AI to help the grid manage power fluctuations, resist damage and recover faster from storms, solar eclipses, cyberattacks and other disruptions.

Electric grid components.
When light drives electron transfer in a molecular complex, the surrounding solvent molecules also rapidly move.

Sustainable chemistry

Understanding every step of a chemical reaction is key to making industrial processes greener and more efficient. We use our X-ray laser and electron camera to unravel those steps, which take place in millionths of a billionth of a second. One major focus of this research is finding ways to transform carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, into chemicals, fuels and other products, from plastics to detergents and synthetic natural gas, using clean, renewable energy.

Sustainability news

Ultrafast science

SLAC’s X-ray, laser and electron beams reveal atoms and molecules moving in millionths of a billionth of a second. Soon we’ll be able to watch even speedier electron movements that underlie all of chemistry, technology and life.

Stanford-SLAC joint institute

Stanford PULSE Institute

Scientists at Stanford PULSE (Photon Ultrafast Laser Science and Engineering) Institute watch particle motions and chemical reactions to get a deeper understanding of matter in all its forms.

High harmonic generation in a topological insulator.

Hitting molecules with two photons of light at once set off unexpected processes that were captured in detail with SLAC’s X-ray laser. Scientists say this new approach should work for bigger and more complicated molecules, too, allowing new insights into...

Closeup image of molecular movie frames

 


Precision chemistry

Catalysts are the unsung heroes of chemistry, accelerating reactions used to make fertilizers, fuels and consumer products. Our work aims to make catalysts more efficient and reduce the use of fossil fuels.

SUNCAT researchers discover a way to improve a key step in these conversions, and explore what it would take to turn the climate-changing gas into valuable products on an industrial scale.

Diagram of scheme for turning CO2 from smokestacks into products

Replacing today’s expensive catalysts could bring down the cost of producing the gas for fuel, fertilizer and clean energy storage.

Grad student McKenzie Hubert watches electrolyzer at work

At SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, the focus is on improving catalysts for making chemicals and fuels with renewable energy.

Catalyst nanoparticle and car with exhaust emissions.
3D printing the next generation of particle accelerators

Advanced manufacturing

Understanding the manufacturing process at a very small scale is crucial for improving things like 3D printing of metals, production of thin films, precision manufacturing of semiconductor chips, and novel heat engines that use waste heat to generate electricity and drive chemical processes used in industry.

Manufacturing news

3D printing

The ability to 3D print flawless metal parts will have a big impact in the aerospace, aircraft, automotive and health care industries.

The goal of these X-ray studies is to find ways to improve manufacturing of specialized metal parts for the aerospace, aircraft, automotive and healthcare industries.

A metal 3-D printed sample.
Past Event · Public Lectures

3D Printing for Perfect Metal Parts

Throughout human history, improvements in the structure of metals have been essential to the sharpness of swords and the strength of steel girders.  Now we’d like to produce turbine blades and propellers with optimal shapes and long useable lifetimes through...
X-ray laser pulses probe water droplets like these to discover water’s hidden (and sometimes bizarre) properties.

Water desalination

X-ray synchrotrons like the one we have at SLAC are great tools for studying and improving materials used to purify salty and contaminated water – a challenge that becomes more pressing by the day, as the world seeks safe and reliable water supplies for a growing population.

Environmental news

Understanding reverse osmosis

SLAC has a research program aimed at exploring the physical and chemical processes involved in reverse osmosis, with an eye to making it cheaper and more efficient.

In a new perspective, SLAC and University of Paderborn scientists argue that research at synchrotrons could help improve water-purifying materials in ways that might not otherwise be possible.

Cracked, dry earth landscape.