UMaine professors receive Department of Energy grant to design novel energy-storage materials

Two University of Maine researchers will use artificial intelligence-aided design to develop new materials for improved batteries and supercapacitors.

The research initiative led by Liping Yu, assistant professor of physics, and Yingchao Yang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, “Artificial-Intelligence Aided Design and Synthesis of Novel Layered 2D Multi-Principal Element Materials for Energy Storage,” is one of 31 projects that were awarded a total of $21 million from the Department of Energy (DOE) through the federal Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

“Existing energy storage devices experience limitations such as inadequate power, capacity, efficiency, lifespan and cost effectiveness,” says Yu, principal investigator of the project that was awarded $750,000 in DOE funding. “To overcome such limits, new electrode materials are critically needed.”

Yingchao Yang
Yingchao Yang

The goal of their research is to predict, synthesize and characterize a new class of 2D materials for active electrodes in batteries and supercapacitors. These 2D materials will comprise four or more chemical elements in nearly equal concentrations; distinct from both traditional 2D materials, which consist only of two or three elements, and conventional alloys, which contain relatively small amounts of secondary elements added to a primary element.

“The new materials, if successfully predicted and experimentally validated, will have the capability to accommodate significant lattice strains and the potential to yield a huge improvement in electrode performance,” says Yang, co-investigator of this project. “Such materials could also be interesting for many other important applications including catalysts, hydrogen storage, sensors, quantum information and flexible electronics.”

Yu’s research focuses on the theoretical and computational prediction of new materials with properties suitable for sustainable clean energy and electronic applications, such as solar cells, supercapacitors and catalysts. His research methods include high-throughput computations, quantum mechanical electronic structure theory, and materials informatics such as machine learning.

“Traditionally, materials are discovered by serendipity or trial-and-error methods. From discovery to application, it takes about 20 years on average,” Yu says. “The research in my group aims to significantly accelerate the pace of new materials discovery using high-performance computers.”

Yang’s research encompasses fabrication-property-application of novel materials, which includes synthesizing 1D and 2D nanomaterials through chemical vapor deposition, hydrothermal thermal reaction, and other means; mechanics of nanomaterials in situ and ex situ investigated with micromechanical devices; and application of nanomaterials in energy harvest, energy storage and water treatment.

“With the guidance of theoretical prediction, we are able to precisely control the growth parameters to get crystals and films with various sizes and targeted performance” Yang says. “The mission of my research group is to conceive new materials, unveil their fundamental characteristics, and achieve promising applications to serve us.”

The DOE-funded research project will support one postdoctoral scientist and one graduate student at UMaine, who along with Yu and Yang will partner with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to collaboratively design new materials for energy storage applications. “They will have the opportunity to visit ORNL several times a year, and work in close contact with research staff taking advantage of advanced computing resources and state-of-the-art experimental resources at ORNL,” Yu says.

Both Yu and Yang are associate members of the Frontier Institute for Research in Sensor Technologies (FIRST) at UMaine. FIRST is providing support for an additional graduate student to work on the project. A closed interactive feedback loop between theory and experiment is being established that leverages both the DOE-user facilities at ORNL and materials synthesis and characterization capabilities within FIRST and other laboratories at UMaine.

Contact: Marcus Wolf,