Engineering professors receive Air Force grant to develop new energy materials

Monday, January 11, 2016

Seong Kim (left) Zoubeida Ounaies (right)Two Penn State engineering professors, Seong Kim, professor of chemical engineering and materials science and engineering, and Zoubeida Ounaies, Dorothy Quiggle Career Development Professor of Mechanical Engineering, have been awarded a $695,000 grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) to develop a new class of low-density energy materials.

The grant will support the investigation of nanocellulose, a crystalline solid substance obtained from plant matter, and its ability to produce electric energy when subjected to mechanical stress.

The goal of the study is to gain physical insights that will enable researchers to develop a new class of energy materials with the capacity to enhance energy sensing, actuation and storage across a number of applications that include personal health monitoring devices, critical infrastructure observation, and mobile power supply, among others. 

“The hypothesis that cellulose is piezoelectric was first recognized in the 1950s but has not yet been measured properly or fully understood,” said Kim. “This is because most natural and artificially produced composite materials are arranged in anti-parallel or random orientations.

Cellulose is a naturally abundant crystalline nanomaterial produced and deposited in the cell walls of plants. It can be isolated from wood and other vegetation in the form of nanocrystals and, due to its huge dipole movements, is expected to produce an electric charge in response to applied mechanical stress — a term referred to as piezoelectricity.