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UofL physics research explores phosphorene for renewable energy applications

Scientists at the University of Louisville have been funded by the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Basic Energy Science to study the material physics of phosphorene and its potential use in renewable energy technologies such as energy storage and solar energy conversion devices.

Phosphorene is a form of the chemical element phosphorus known as an allotrope. These are different physical forms of the same element, like graphite, charcoal, and diamond are to carbon. While phosphorus burns readily in air, resulting in its previous use in matches and napalm, it is most commonly used now in agricultural fertilizer as phosphoric acid. Phosphorene, its two-dimensional allotrope, is produced by heating phosphorus under high pressures, which results in a flaky material resembling graphite that is highly conductive.

DOE funding of the UofL team focuses on the effects of creating this material under high pressure when combined with other metals. By changing pressures and metal types, phosphorene’s material and electrical properties can be tuned to become ideal for its use in solar cells and batteries. This research tests a material that is inexpensive, abundant, and sustainable, making it an attractive alternative to existing, higher cost materials.

Dr. Gamini Sumanasekera, (left), Professor of Physics and theme leader for energy storage, and Dr. Jacek Jasinski, (right), theme leader for materials characterization at Conn Center.

The partnership is led by Conn Center materials scientist and theme leader Jacek Jasinski, an expert in nanoscale materials characterization, Physics professor Gamini Sumanasekera, an expert in the synthesis of phosphorene, and associate professor of Physics Ming Yu, an expert in computational modeling to design nanostructures. Funding of $489,200 over 3 years will support their fundamental study to understand phosphorene allotropes as well as their application in renewable energy devices.

“Layered phosphorene is highly efficient as a solar cell material, for instance,” states Jasinski, adding, “but the method for synthesizing it at commercial scale is a significant challenge. Our study will determine the first steps of achieving ideal properties at the atomic level. This work will pave the way for feasibility in next generation electronic devices that control light energy.”

Jasinski and Sumanasekera are also co-authors of a recent publication on phosphorene in Nature’s new journal, 2D Materials and Applications, found here.

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