Matthew McDowell joined Georgia Tech in the fall of 2015 as an assistant professor with a joint appointment in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering. Prior to this appointment, he was a postdoctoral scholar in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology, where his research was focused on improving the stability and efficiency of photoelectrochemical devices for the production of solar fuels. Dr. McDowell earned his Ph.D. in 2013 from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford University.
Describe some recent focuses of your lab.
My group focuses on developing better materials for electrochemical energy devices, such as Li-ion batteries for storing electricity and water splitting devices for producing hydrogen fuel. The materials in these devices are complex and often undergo dynamic transformations or changes during device operation. We are particularly interested in developing methods to understand the complex behavior of these materials, and then using this knowledge to make improved materials.
What role do efficient and reliable electrical energy storage methods play in addressing global concerns about energy supply and environmental impact?
Energy storage capabilities on the electrical grid are essential for the integration of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar energy. This is because most renewable energy sources don’t produce energy all the time – for instance, the sun only shines during the day. We’ll need to store energy so we can use it on demand. Batteries for grid energy storage are being extensively researched, and new materials and chemistries are currently being developed.
Promising materials breakthroughs that could help address energy storage cost and performance challenges?
There’s a lot of exciting work going on in the area of energy storage. Totally new battery chemistries that could potentially store a large amount of energy are being worked on in labs around the world. In addition, nanotechnology is making a big impact in battery technology – nanoscale materials with carefully engineered structure can, in some cases, exhibit improved performance when used in batteries.
Applications that could greatly benefit from the addition of energy storage technologies?
Low-cost, long-range electric vehicles powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells would make a huge impact on the energy and economic landscape in the U.S.
If you weren’t teaching or conducting research, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be working in a company developing early-stage energy technologies.