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Honors and Awards

Jeffrey Lopez Receives Prestigious NSF CAREER Award

Award backs work to design and evaluate new fluorine-free electrolytes

Northwestern Engineering’s Jeffrey Lopez has received a Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the foundation’s most prestigious honor for junior faculty members.

Lopez, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and faculty affiliate of the Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy, will receive $623,708 over five years from NSF’s Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems. 

Jeffrey Lopez

The award supports early career development of individuals who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research.

Lopez and his research group are working to improve the performance of energy storage devices and to make battery manufacturing and recycling processes more sustainable. Their goal is to identify and understand molecular phenomena that can be utilized to design and develop materials that address challenges related to enabling next-generation battery chemistries. Using advanced electrochemical and spectroscopic characterization techniques, they aim to answer questions regarding the solvation structure of ions in electrolytes as well as the kinetics and mechanisms of electrochemical reactions at electrode interfaces.

As the transition to electric vehicles and an increase in grid scale storage drives a dramatic increase in the utilization of energy storage devices, Lopez and his colleagues are specifically interested in creating new materials that can support these clean energy goals with lower cost, improved safety, and a reduced impact on our environment. They are also interested in developing new materials to stabilize reactive lithium metal anodes and nickel-rich metal oxide cathodes, new electrolytes for fast and selective ion transport, and polymer binders to enable conversion cathode chemistries and new electrode manufacturing approaches. 

With his CAREER award, titled “Identifying Reaction Mechanisms for the Formation of Stable Interphases in Lithium Metal Batteries,” Lopez will work to clarify the electrolyte reaction mechanisms that underpin solid electrolyte interphase (SEI) formation on lithium metal electrodes in high coulombic efficiency electrolytes and use this fundamental understanding to design and evaluate new fluorine-free electrolytes. To better understand SEI formation reactions, this project will use newly developed spectroscopy approaches to identify the structure and role of radical intermediates and organic electrolyte decomposition products. The understanding developed through these studies will enable the design of new fluorine-free electrolytes that will help contribute to reducing the global use of PFAS compounds, which are commonly used in state-of-the-art battery electrolytes.

Lopez’s work will be paired with educational and outreach activities to address the issues of underrepresentation in STEM education through longitudinal mentoring relationships. This project will design and implement a Sustainability Ambassadors program, a cohort-based program for one-on-one mentoring with Northwestern University undergraduate students and Chicago Public School high school students.

"It's an honor to receive this long-term support from the NSF,” Lopez said. “This award will enable us to take a careful look at an underexplored fundamental area in battery research and work towards applying what we learn to make new materials that will improve battery performance and are also better for the environment.”