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Energy Materials

Prateek Dongare: mechanistic analysis of energy materials.

Benjamin Martindale: electrocatalysis and electrochemical devices.

Adam Weingarten: (photo/electro)-catalytic energy conversion.

Yaoqing Zhang: solid state ionics and electrochemical energy storage.

Welcome to the Nature Communications Editors’ Highlights webpage on energy materials. Each month our editors select a small number of Articles recently published in Nature Communications that they believe are particularly interesting or important.

The aim is to provide a snapshot of some of the most exciting work published in the area of energy materials at Nature Communications.

Make sure to check the Editors' Highlights page each month for new featured articles.

Prateek Dongare

Direct observation of the atomic and electronic structure of a single-atom catalyst is essential. Here, the authors report an oxyhydroxide stabilized iridium catalyst with superior oxygen evolution catalytic activity and identify the isolated iridium sites which promote the H2O attack and O–O coupling.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The 3D microstructure of the electrode predominantly determines the electrochemical performance of Li-ion batteries. Here, the authors show that the microstructural heterogeneities lead to non-uniform Li insertion and current distribution while graded-microstructures improve the performance.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Species migration across interfacial boundaries can affect the function of bimetallic catalysts. Here the authors report that palladium oxide drives the reduction of silver oxide by facilitating molecular hydrogen dissociation and migration of hydrogen atoms across the Pd–Ag interface with concurrent surface restructuring.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

CO2 to methanol synthesis is a promising approach for renewable fuel production. Here, the authors show that UV and visible light dual activation promotes photothermal methanol production at the copper-zinc oxide interfacial perimeter by accelerating formate conversion and hydrogen molecule activation.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Oxidative degradation impedes practical applications of highly active but fragile catalysts. Here the authors show that combining a protection matrix for O2 reduction and hydrogen peroxide decomposition stabilizes highly O2-sensitive hydrogenase in the harsh oxidative conditions of operating fuel cells.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The industrial synthesis of ammonia using iron-based Haber-Bosch catalyst requires harsh reaction conditions. Here the authors show co-existence of dynamic and steady-state single atom active sites over Co-N-C catalyst to facilitate nitrogen activation for ammonia synthesis under mild conditions.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Benjamin Martindale

Electrochemical CO2 reduction to liquid fuels is limited by low product concentrations and formation of mixtures with traditional liquid electrolytes. Here the authors report an all-solid-state system for a continuous generation of high-purity and high-concentration formic acid vapors and solutions.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The undesirable geological release of methane at remote locations can be lessened through an efficient methane conversion process. Here, the authors report selective ambient functionalization of methane by a vanadium (V)-oxo electrocatalyst with a low activation energy and a high turnover frequency.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Redox-active organic compounds that reversibly bind and release CO2 are promising candidates for carbon capture but are limited by the use of flammable, toxic aprotic electrolytes. Here the authors use salt-concentrated aqueous electrolytes in continuous CO2 separation with good performance metrics.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Electrocatalysts which deliver high selectivity for two-electron oxygen reduction to hydrogen peroxide in acidic media are sought to replace the conventional anthraquinone process. Here, the authors develop partially oxidised palladium clusters on carbon nanotubes with near 100% selectivity.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The driving force for charge transfer in photoelectrochemical systems is typically derived from band bending at a surface-electrolyte interface. In this work, battery-type lithiation of TiO2 generates a built-in electric field in the bulk material, giving a 750% enhancement in photocurrent density.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Poor mechanical properties of reduced graphene oxide sheets hinder development of flexible energy storage systems. MXene functionalised graphene oxide with Ti-O-C bonding and additional crosslinking is here reported to dramatically increase toughness for flexible supercapacitors.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Adam Weingarten

While typical catalysts involve oxide-supported metals, inverse catalysts of oxides on metal supports offer an attractive alternative. Here, authors prepare FeOx-coated Rh nanoparticles via galvanic replacement and dissolution-precipitation to form effective CO2 reduction catalysts.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

NiFe and CoFe layered double hydroxides are among the most active electrocatalysts for the alkaline oxygen evolution reaction. Here, by combining operando experiments and rigorous DFT calculations, the authors unravel their active phase, the reaction center and the catalytic mechanism.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

A better understanding of processes responsible for photocurrent generation in semiconductors and nanocomposites is essential in many applications. Here, authors use a ZnO-based hybrid material to demonstrate an unusual photocurrent switching effect induced by varying irradiation intensities.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Yaoqing Zhang

Beyond-Li+-ion batteries are promising energy storage systems but suffer from lack of suitable electrode materials. Here the authors report a new type of zero-strain cathodes for Na+, K+, Zn2+, and Al3+ ion batteries through strain engineering of a 2D multilayered VOPO4-graphene heterostructure.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Environmentally triggered degradation at the cathode–air interface is dictated by Li-ion de-intercalation caused by Li+-water interactions. Here, thin disordered rocksalt surface layers are reported to suppress chemical delithiation, facilitating development of high energy and stability cathodes.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Understanding the solid–electrolyte interphase (SEI) is key to developing safe dendrite-free lithium batteries. Here, by exploiting the electrons in lithium metal to selectively hyperpolarise the NMR signals, the authors reveal the chemistry and spatial distribution of species at the metal–SEI interface.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Self-charging power systems integrating energy generation and storage are receiving consideration attention. Here the authors report an aqueous Zn-ion battery that can be self-recharged by the spontaneous redox reaction between cathode and oxygen from ambient environment without external power supply.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The 3D microstructure of the electrode predominantly determines the electrochemical performance of Li-ion batteries. Here, the authors show that the microstructural heterogeneities lead to non-uniform Li insertion and current distribution while graded-microstructures improve the performance.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Na-ion batteries offer multiple advantages, but there is a critical need for improved materials and understanding of sodiation mechanisms. Here the authors deploy operando 23Na magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy to observe sodium battery chemistry and dendrite formation, enabling new insight.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Interest in rechargeable Zn-air batteries has been renewed in recent years, however, their oxygen electrocatalysts remain not fully understood. Here the authors reveal the presence of a current-driven oxyhydroxide shell in a so-called dynamic eletrocatalyst that enables optimized battery performance.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

High ionic conductivity in solid electrolytes is dependent on the existence of features that interrupt the periodic nature of host materials. Here, the authors enrich the defect chemistry in a typical Li-ion conductor, reporting atom-thick planar defects that form closed loops and trap mobile species.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to a trio of pioneers of the modern lithium-ion battery. Here, Professor Arumugam Manthiram looks back at the evolution of cathode chemistry, discussing the three major categories of oxide cathode materials with an emphasis on the fundamental solid-state chemistry that has enabled these advances.

Review Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The ionic conductivity of an aqueous electrolyte has a great impact on the performance of devices such as batteries. Here, the authors advance our understanding by showing that a high macroscopic conductivity originates from the large-amplitude sub-picosecond motions of ions on a molecular scale.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications