DOE-MIT Search Engine Will Speed Materials Research
November 9, 2011
Researchers from DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) jointly launched on November 3 a new online tool called the Materials Project. It operates like a "Google" of material properties, enabling scientists and engineers from universities, national laboratories, and private industry to accelerate the development of new materials, including critical materials.
Discovering new materials and strengthening the properties of existing materials are key to improving just about everything humans use. For example, advances in a group of materials called "critical materials" are more important to U.S. competitiveness than ever before, particularly in the clean energy field. Wind turbines, solar panels, and a variety of military technologies depend on these roughly 14 elements (including nine "rare earth" elements). With about 90% of these materials currently coming from China, there are concerns about potential supply shortages and disruptions.
With the Materials Project, researchers can use supercomputers to characterize properties of inorganic compounds, including their stability, voltage, capacity, and oxidation state, which had previously not been possible. The results are then organized into a database that gives all researchers at DOE’s national labs free access. The database currently contains the properties of more than 15,000 inorganic compounds, and hundreds compounds are added every day. Already, scientists are using the tool to work with several companies interested in making stronger, corrosion-resistant lightweight aluminum alloys, which could make it possible to produce lighter-weight vehicles and airplanes. Scientists have also already successfully applied the tool for prediction and discovery of materials used for clean energy technologies, including lithium-ion batteries, hydrogen storage, thermoelectrics, electrodes for fuel cells, and photovoltaics.