Lutkenhaus receives AFOSR Young Investigator Award

Photo of Dr. Jodie LutkenhausThe design of objects requiring a battery is often limited because batteries are usually flat or cylindrical in shape. But what if the power supply could be any shape, or be part of the object’s structure, or better yet, be the object itself.

Thanks to a recent grant awarded to Assistant Professor Jodie Lutkenhaus of the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University, that technology might soon be reality.

As part of the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Research Program, Lutkenhaus received a $350,000 grant to develop organic electrodes for structural energy and power, or in simple terms, “bullet-proof” batteries.

Lutkenhaus said, “While conventional batteries, such as lithium-ion, produce plenty of power relative to their size, they lack the mechanical properties required for structural applications. As both ground and aerial vehicles increase in complexity, multifunctional materials become ever more critical to reduce the size and mass of system components. One such example is the integration of energy storage and power systems with structural or armor elements. For such a concept to be viable, the proposed system must store and deliver electrochemical energy as well as bear a structural load and dissipate mechanical stress.”

Lutkenhaus said she believes this is possible due to the unique properties of graphene. “Because of several groundbreaking advances, the future for structural electrodes is very promising," she said. "Researchers have observed excellent mechanical properties in graphene and reduced graphene oxide, in addition to its electrochemical energy storage.”

Graphene is made of pure carbon and is similar to the graphite found in pencil lead. But graphene differs in that it is a sheet of carbon atoms only one atom thick, making it extremely conductive, very light, and very strong. Because of these properties, Lutkenhaus thinks it can be castable, moldable, and sprayable; allowing a graphene power supply to fit anywhere in the equipment or be part of the structure for which it’s supplying power.

One practical military application could be in the power supply for UAV drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles. This would allow for less material in the building process, reducing the drone’s weight, allowing it to stay in flight longer and increasing its operational range.

Lutkenhaus is one of only 40 scientists who received this prestigious award. The grant will last for three years and will support one graduate student and one undergraduate student.

Dr. Nazmul Karim, head of the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M, said, “Dr. Lutkenhaus receiving the AFOSR grant is just an affirmation of what I already believe, that we have the best faculty here at Texas A&M University. I am extremely proud of Dr. Lutkenhaus for receiving this level of recognition for her research."

This award will support Lutkenhaus’ larger research efforts in developing flexible, organic energy storage. She received her B.S. in chemical engineering in 2002 from the University of Texas at Austin and her Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 2007 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Following graduate school, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

In 2008, she joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at Yale University and moved to Texas A&M University in 2010. She won an NSF CAREER and the ACS PRF Doctoral New Investigator award in 2011. Her current research areas include organic thin films, electrochemical energy conversion, and thermal analysis.