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WVU researchers utilize DOE grant to design and create promising nanoionics materials in energy technology

Person with black hair in grey suit jacket standing in a laboratory surrounded by equipment

Xueyan Song and her team are developing nanoionic materials that remain stable at high temperatures to be used for green energy applications like hydrogen production (WVU Photo/J. Paige Nesbit).

Researchers at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University have been awarded a $500,000 grant from the US Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Energy Science, to develop nanoionic materials with applications for green hydrogen production, clean electricity generation, biofuel production and wastewater treatment.

Story by Kaley LaQuea, Communications Specialist
Photo by Paige Nesbit, Communications Director


Nanoionics is a brand-new research field. It focuses on manipulating electrically charged particles on a subatomic scale and encompasses the study of solid-state ionics – materials made from inorganic crystalline and polycrystalline solids, ceramics, glasses, etc. Lithium batteries and fuel cells use solid-state ionics. 

Commonly used oxide ceramics, which contain metallic elements, are similar in composition to materials like clay bricks, cement, pottery and porcelain. They have excellent stability in high heat and are resistant to corrosion, making them an ideal material for various applications, including high-temperature energy conversion. 

The project aims to enable the design of thermally stable surface nanoionics and synthesize surface nanoionics using oxides, including electronic conductors, ionic conductors, and electrocatalysts. The goal is to synthesize new materials that perform better than current bulk ceramics and can handle higher conductivity. That’s where nanotechnology comes in.   

“Nanoionics represents one of the most promising approaches for overcoming the composition limits of ionic conductors and increasing conductivity,” said Xueyan Song, mechanical, materials, and aerospace department professor and George B. Berry Chair of Engineering. “However, nanoionic materials are generally less stable at elevated temperatures like 400 degrees Celsius. Their instability at high temperatures has been a challenge that has limited the incorporation of nanoionics into energy technologies and the energy sector.”    

For example, green hydrogen production involves heating water to between 700 and 950 degrees Celsius. To cope with that level of heat, Song is designing thin layers of nanoionic materials that remain stable at 750 degrees Celsius and higher for extended periods.   

“Solving this problem can help us produce technologies indispensable to electrochemical energy conversion, including rechargeable batteries for energy storage and solid oxide cells for electricity generation and hydrogen production,” Song said. “Nanoionics, which could provide ionic conductivity magnitudes higher than current solutions, can play a key role in increasing the energy efficiency of devices for clean energy conversion, reducing capital cost and the carbon footprint.”  



Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit

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Phone: 304-293-4135