Brookhaven National Laboratory is a multi-disciplinary scientific research laboratory located on Long Island in Upton, New York that is owned and primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Its mission is to conduct both basic and applications-driven research to discover the solutions that power and secure America’s future and improve our quality of life. To accomplish this mission, Brookhaven hosts world-leading experts and builds and operates large, complex scientific tools – like particle accelerators and light sources for exploring fundamental properties and functions of matter – large scale instruments that typically cannot be built and maintained by industry or academia.
One of the Lab’s primary research focus areas is to tackle challenges related to energy production, storage, transmission, and end use – from developing the next-generation electric infrastructure to finding green fuels made from green processes and designing new battery chemistries. Brookhaven has a long and well-deserved reputation as a basic physics research lab, but has developed a growing and major focus on sustainable energy research and technologies – along with a drive to move those technologies into the marketplace.
"Managing fluctuating demand for energy and enhancing the reliability of renewable sources requires breakthroughs in storage at the transmission and distribution levels, " said Esther Takeuchi, chief scientist for Brookhaven's Global and Regional Solutions Directorate and joint appointee in Stony Brook University's Department of Materials Science and Engineering. "Research at Brookhaven is focused on developing a variety of storage technologies, from advanced battery materials to superconducting magnet energy storage systems. The Lab’s connections with the NY-BEST Consortium provide a solid and active link to the changing needs of local and regional communities."
The electrification of the vehicle fleet is a key goal of DOE’s Quadrennial Technology Review, and in order to achieve it, progress in storage technologies for vehicles – both batteries and fuel cells – is essential. With respect to the grid, Brookhaven’s focus on energy storage at the transmission and particularly at the distribution level is based on enabling more effective management of peak demand, integration of renewable sources of energy, and enhanced reliability. The Lab’s research is focused on developing a variety of storage technologies, including advanced battery materials and superconducting magnet energy storage systems. In fuel cell technology, Brookhaven is developing catalysts that contain much smaller amounts of platinum than typical catalysts, reducing the amount of precious metals needed to manufacture fuel cells for electric cars and significantly lowering production costs. The Lab’s connections to NY-BEST and the New York State Smart Grid Consortium (NYSSCG) provide a solid connection to local and regional utility needs.
Beyond the light sources, other facilities at Brookhaven also enable key contributions. Brookhaven researchers are studying new materials that can overcome the limitations of today’s portable batteries. Research at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials plays a large role because batteries (chemical storage) and capacitors (physical storage) based on nanostructured materials have great promise for enhanced performance. Brookhaven’s own microgrid and solar array will serve as a testing ground to perfect these new technologies. The Northeast Solar Energy Research Center, the Lab’s on-site solar research array, will enable the use of a portion of the Lab’s campus as a test bed for smart grid technologies, such as smart grid sensors. This on-site microgrid will be open for use by researchers, utilities, and industry seeking to develop and test new transmission, storage, sensing, and integration technologies.
Brookhaven conducts leading-edge research into lithium-based batteries — the most widespread commercially available battery technology, particularly for transportation applications — to improve the affordability and safety of these vehicles, with a special focus on increasing battery lifetimes. Brookhaven researchers and their collaborators have developed methods of examining lithium-ion reactions in real-time with nanoscale precision in order to study lifetime issues and mechanisms for material degradation during use. In the past decade, Brookhaven scientists have developed new electrolytes and electrolyte additives, and pioneered new x-ray absorption and diffraction techniques for battery material studies using such unique facilities as its National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) and Center for Functional Nanomaterials. Beginning in 2015, the next-generation National Synchrotron Light Source II, one of the world’s brightest light sources, will push Brookhaven into new experimental territory.
Although lithium ion-based batteries are currently in widespread use, they may not necessarily be able to meet the needs of all vehicle and grid applications. Therefore, Brookhaven has launched a program to develop and test alternative battery chemistries and storage architectures, including flow batteries, which are particularly attractive to utilities for storing very large amounts of energy on the grid. In addition, NSLS was crucial in helping GE to develop its Durathon batteries, which offer three times the energy density and charging power of competing batteries along with a long lifetime. The light source enabled researchers to understand in detail the internal chemistry of an actual commercial battery while it was charging and discharging in real time, ultimately contributing to a new GE battery factory opening in New York.
Brookhaven National Laboratory is one of 10 DOE Office of Science laboratories in the U.S. and is the only one in the Northeast. The Lab employs about 3,000 scientists and support staff and hosts another 4,000 or so visiting scientists each year. Brookhaven is managed by Brookhaven Science Associates, a partnership between Stony Brook University and Battelle Memorial Institute of Ohio. The Lab is a unique and incredibly valuable resource to the state and the nation that serves as a key fuel for the engine of innovation.