Chen Liao

Chen Liao
Assistant Chemist

Science hooked me the day I saw the brilliant white light from the burning magnesium demo in high school chemistry. Working with numbers and retaining information always came easy to me. Pair that knowledge with my enthusiasm for math and science, and it was clear to me that my end goal was to become a scientist.

My aptitude and rigorous studies placed me in one of the top universities in Shanghai for polymer chemistry. From there, I sought out opportunities at a number of United States graduate schools, where United States graduate programs are held in high regard internationally. I have always been interested in polymer and organic chemical syntheses, and my goal was to pursue both in graduate school. During my master’s studies at University of Wyoming, I was given the opportunity to develop several new energy-efficient dyes that help absorb solar energy. This work led me to a postdoc position at University of Florida, where I started to work on the development of organometallic dyes, such as iridium and platinum orthometallated with conjugated chromophores. These chromophores are essential for absorption materials, and even can be applied in organic photovoltaics.

My second postdoc position at Oak Ridge National Laboratory exposed me to the field of battery research. I applied my knowledge of organic physical chemistry and experience in creating ionic liquid electrolytes/additives to energy storage. This work was noticed by individuals at the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) at Argonne National Laboratory. And now I am an organic chemist working on electrolyte development within JCESR. My wide variety of experience, knowledge, and tools help me in my work everyday at Argonne. The work of my colleagues and learning from other scientists at conferences inspires and motivates me to continue my work in batteries.

A piece of wisdom I have gained from all my experiences is to focus on and appreciate the small things.

Day-to-day Work At Argonne

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Why Battery Science Matters

Energy storage is an important science and is one of the key components for decreasing our country’s dependence on fossil fuel-based energies. As a country, we rely heavily on fossil fuel-based energies. Unfortunately, they are a limited and finite resource with pollution concerns. This realization has our country exploring more reliable options within renewable resources, such as wind, solar, hydropower, and biofuels. There is a lot of potential in renewable resources, such as wind, solar and hydropower, if we can find a solution for being able to store the energy from these sources. Many of the renewable energy sources provide energy intermittently throughout the day or during a non-peak use time. For example, high demand time for energy consumption is from 5pm – 8pm, which is not the ideal time of the day for capturing energy from the sun. A solution to this issue is to develop the capacity to store energy from the sun for individuals to use at a later time. Developing energy storage solutions is key to moving the country away from relaying heavily on energy from fossil fuels and opens up many possibilities within alternative energies.

Developing a solution for energy storage can also affect the transportation industry. Imagine a time when you are driving across country and don’t ever have to fill up the tank. Your car is an electric vehicle that operates off a battery. Today’s combustion engine vehicles average 20-40 miles per gallon, whereas a plug-in electric vehicle averages 60 miles per gallon. This stark contrast between mileage efficiency presents an exciting and challenging opportunity for battery scientists to try and increase the capacity to store more energy across various environmental conditions.

As an organic chemist, I see many opportunities in energy storage in the near future. We not only need to explore the capacity of new material combinations for the anode and cathode components of a battery, there is also a need for electrolyte development. The success of new battery development will depend upon the research done around electrolytes. With more and more intensive research in this area, there will be increasing work opportunities in all facets related to batteries.

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