|Solar tower concentrates light reflected from surrounding panels. (Source: Paul Langrock/Zenit/Laif/Redux)|
Functional Surface Technology (or: making the surfaces of materials perform in new/different/improved ways). This includes:
- Catalysts with high selectivity and conversion efficiency. When catalysts aren't efficient, energy is wasted.
- Smart coating / lubricant systems for lightweight alloys. Lighter alloys such as aluminum and magnesium tend to wear down relatively quickly.
- Coatings to inhibit galvanic corrosion. Corroded materials' performance rapidly degrades.
- Solar photovoltaic materials utilizing a broader spectrum of light. Current solar panels only collect a fraction of the light energy available.
- Treatment processes to rebuild or enhance surfaces. Materials' recycle-ability, re-use, and service life can all extended.
- High flux membranes for selective separation of atmospheric gases. Capture of carbon dioxide emissions, for example, can be made more efficient and scalable to industrial levels.
Higher-Performance Materials for Extreme Environments. This includes:
- High-temperature, phase-stable alloys. Long-term properties degrade in industrial systems which operate using high-temperature and chemically-aggressive conditions.
- Thermoelectric materials with high conversion efficiency. Thermoelectric materials convert waste heat into electricity, and can help recapture lost energy.
- Lightweight, high-strength ductile materials. Trade-offs typically exist: strength at the expense of ductility; light weight at the expense of strength; and so on.
- Irradiation-resistant structural alloys for nuclear applications. Nuclear irradiation degrades the mechanical properties of many materials.
- High-pressure hydrogen-resistant materials. Storage and handling of hydrogen is not an easy task.
- Collaborative, comprehensive materials database. Materials development can be sped and cost reduced.
- Predictive materials performance code. Computer modeling of materials' mechanical properties will enable rapid, inexpensive, and iterative development.
Multi-Materials Integration in Energy Systems (or: composites to provide what the individual components can't). This includes:
- Low-cost carbon fibers and composites manufacturing processes. Carbon fiber products are too expensive to manufacture for widespread use.
- Joining process for assembling multi-material structures. Some material pairs are incompatible (i.e. structurally or chemically) and can not form suitable joints or be brought into contact.
- High energy density, low-cost battery cathodes. Improved battery longevity, storage, and discharge will enable new alternative energy technologies.
- Low-cost fuel cell catalyst. A current benchmark catalyst, Platinum, rare and expensive, is not ideal.
- Integrated computational materials engineering modeling package. Initial composite design and proof-of-concept can be performed first through computation, saving development time and costs.
Sustainable Manufacturing of Materials. This includes:
- Net-shape processing of structural metals. Scrap and waste (e.g. from machining a block of steel into its final shape) can be reduced.
- Additive manufacturing of components and systems. Energy-intensive production methods and industrial systems as a whole can be made more efficient.
- Low-cost processing and energy reduction technology for metals. Lightweight metals such as aluminum, titanium, and magnesium can benefit greatly from improved processing methods.
- Separation of materials for recycling. Major efficiency barriers surround the screening and sorting of mixed materials. Carbon fiber recycling is also expensive.
- Real-time sensor technology for gases and molten metals. Enhanced detection methods are needed for identifying damage during processing of high-performance and energy-intensive products.
This report covers a lot of ground regarding sustainability of materials science and engineering in energy and related fields. But it also presents a good overview of the diversity and breadth of the meaning or interpretation of sustainability - an important point that should be considered alongside the sustainability design itself.
 Linking Transformational Materials and Processing for an Energy-Efficient and Low-Carbon Economy: Creating the Vision and Accelerating Realization - Opportunity Analysis for Materials Science and Engineering. The Mining, Metals, and Materials Society (2011). (Available On-Line.)
 L. Robinson. Opportunity analysis for MSE - Report defines pathway to a more sustainable energy future. JOM, Vol. 63 (Issue 2) (2011), pp. 30-33.