This is an exciting — but challenging — time for electrochemistry.
Electrochemistry is the study of chemical reactions that generate, or are driven by, external electrical currents. Batteries, for example, store chemical energy and convert it to electrical energy. Electrochemistry is playing an increasingly critical role in meeting U.S. goals to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Electrochemists are making advances in renewable energy, battery research, energy storage for the grid and hydrogen fuel cells. That progress is aiding our society’s transition away from the fossil fuels that emit the carbon dioxide that drives climate change. Electric cars, for example, are powered by electrochemical reactions in batteries.
“There is an incredible boom in areas like research on energy storage and building batteries. Electrochemistry is becoming a lynchpin in advancing those and other clean energy technologies.” Venkat Srinivasan, director of ACCESS and director of JCESR
Because the field is expanding so significantly — and quickly — there is a growing need to attract scientists to careers in electrochemical science and technology.
“There is an incredible boom in areas like research on energy storage and building of batteries. Electrochemistry is becoming a lynchpin in advancing those and other clean energy technologies,” said Venkat Srinivasan from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. Srinivasan is director of the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science (ACCESS) and the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), which is headquartered at Argonne. “This boom presents a workforce challenge in attracting and training the next generation of electrochemists.”
This year, Argonne is co-hosting the Next Generation Electrochemistry (NGenE) workshop with the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC). The NGenE workshop has been at the forefront of advancing electrochemical science since its launch by UIC in 2016. It brings together postdoctoral and graduate students and world-renowned lecturers for a week-long workshop to study advanced topics in electrochemistry. This year’s workshop, “Electrify All the Things,” is set for June 5-9.
“We are excited to elevate our role in the NGenE workshop this year,” Srinivansan said. “Argonne has always been a strong supporter of NGenE and has provided lecturers and tours of the laboratory. But this year we hope to provide a learning experience that interlaces the unique capabilities of a national laboratory with the rigorous learning experiences UIC has been leading for years.”
Students will tour Argonne’s world-class facilities, including JCESR and DOE user facilities including the Advanced Photon Source and Center for Nanoscale Materials.
A pioneer in electrochemistry, Argonne is a natural fit for the workshop, which offers unique, fertile ground for the best and brightest minds in the field, said Jordi Cabana, a group leader in the Materials Science Division with a joint appointment at UIC.
“First and foremost, the close partnership with Argonne will allow us to draw from the expertise and creativity of its scientists to better articulate the most cutting-edge themes for our program,” Cabana said. “Argonne also endows the program with access to an extensive portfolio of educational activities that could lead to synergies between programs.”
Pietro Papa Lopes, a materials electrochemist in Argonne’s Materials Science division, is part of the next generation of scientists excited to work in a field poised to make a significant contribution to fighting climate change.
Papa Lopes attended the first NGenE event in 2016 and returned as an Argonne lecturer in 2022. His Argonne research focuses on electrochemical conversion, materials stability for fuel cells, electrolyzers and batteries.
During the workshop, participants work in teams to develop projects that are exercises in creative, out-of-the-box thinking.
“I learned so much being part of a team of researchers with different backgrounds who share an interest in electrochemistry,” said Papa Lopes. “The one-week workshop forces you to think quickly on your own and as part of a team. It really helped shape the direction of my career.”
Because the workshop is focused on new frontiers in electrochemistry, students are challenged to identify the most important unsolved issues facing the field and strategize solutions. Students also study the critical connection between electrochemistry and other fields.
“While students give presentations, the main product is generating ideas students are free to pursue,” Cabana said. “Electrochemistry is much more than just their highly focused doctoral or postdoctoral research. Students have come out of the program with new research projects through NGenE faculty. They have also found new mentors or contacts for recommendations and employment.”
Electrochemistry is evolving quickly and the fight against climate change is urgent. Reaching students early in their careers is important, Srinivasan said.
“We hope the workshop will get students excited at a time when their entire career lies ahead of them,” Srinivasan said.
The free program accepts approximately 40 students each year. Cabana is the lead author of the paper, “NGenE 2022: Electrochemistry for Decarbonization,” in the journal ACS Energy Letters.
The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), a DOE Energy Innovation Hub, is a major partnership that integrates researchers from many disciplines to overcome critical scientific and technical barriers and create new breakthrough energy storage technology. Led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, partners include national leaders in science and engineering from academia, the private sector, and national laboratories. Their combined expertise spans the full range of the technology-development pipeline from basic research to prototype development to product engineering to market delivery.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.