This post is part of a series on the Ralph O’Connor Sustainable Energy Institute (ROSEI) website that will feature Q&A’s with our affiliated researchers. Next up is Jeff Maranchi, a research program area manager for the Applied Physics Lab (APL), who also serves on ROSEI’s leadership council.

How did you first get involved with or learn about sustainability?

Jeff Maranchi

Jeff Maranchi (JM): For me it was a bit later. I went to the University of Pittsburgh for my undergraduate degree and pursued a discipline called Engineering Physics, which was a combination of physics, material science, and electrical engineering. Since it was such a diverse discipline, I didn’t have a strong final career path mapped out. As I started looking into graduate studies, I kept thinking “What area do I want to focus on as a career?” It all boiled down to what I thought would be fulfilling from an impact perspective as well as the availability of jobs.

I applied to Carnegie Mellon for graduate school and there was a faculty member there who was interested in accepting me, and he was studying battery materials. I started thinking more about energy at that point, and not from the perspective of batteries per se, but more about fossil fuels and nonrenewable energy. I remembered as a child growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s and hearing about how we’ll run out of fossil fuels eventually. I had always kept that in the back of my mind, and then when the opportunity came about when I was trying to figure out a career direction, I did research on renewable energy resources and realized that energy storage was a big part of that equation. That was the moment, towards the end of my undergraduate school experience that I started looking into renewable energy sources and all the technologies that supported them.

Why are you passionate about sustainability/renewable energy?

JM: Here’s what makes me excited that I didn’t know about 20 years ago: Back then, I didn’t think about all of the different ways we use energy. It’s not just in our personal every-day lives, but in every step of the way we manufacture something, even as simple as a coffee cup, all the way through its lifecycle. It is critical to think about every milliwatt of power that is used. When you integrate all of that, it’s really the energy footprint that we are talking about. As consumers, we don’t think about that all the time, but that is what excites me: attacking the sustainability problem from the material science and manufacturing perspective as well as storage and renewable energy perspectives.

Solving the challenge of making those energy transformations more efficient so that we save as much energy as possible is critical. Another aspect that excites me is the new technology that we always dreamed of that is becoming a reality, such as fusion energy. Within just the last six months, we have made tremendous strides in that area. This potential for inventing the future through cutting-edge breakthroughs makes me excited for the future and empowers me focus on innovation in this area.

How does your commitment to sustainability play out in your everyday life?

JM: A colleague of mine recently wore a t-shirt on that reminded me of a good way to live: It said “Every Day is Earth Day.” We must be role models, and I have two young almost teenagers and teaching them all the aspects of sustainability is something I really try to do. That being said, they also teach me about some things because the education of today is much better than it was 30 years ago when I was in school.

Personally, I really try to live the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra as a highly-vested participant of the Earth. I am constantly tinkering at home, trying to fix and reuse things. Whether it is for arts and crafts for my kids, or the lawnmower I have had for a long time, I do a lot of those types of things in my spare time.

Tell us about your research, and what aspects currently or in the future tie into sustainable energy efforts?

JM: I work with some amazing colleagues at APL. Our research in more efficient and high-density batteries that are uniquely suited for storage of renewable energy sources directly impacts the future of sustainable energy. Our advanced thermoelectric energy conversion technology has great potential to enable new paradigms in sustainability. And finally, some of our biomaterials research is looking into novel ways to make advanced functional materials that are high strength but very lightweight that can rival materials such as Kevlar. We will continue to make transformative innovations in all of these areas.

Is there an article, book, or podcast that people can check out to help better understand the area you work in or your specific work?

JM: Here are a few articles and one book chapter:

  1. ‘UV-cured gel polymer electrolytes with improved stability for advanced aqueous Li-ion batteries’, Chem. Commun., 2019, 55, 13085-13088. DOI: 10.1039/C9CC06207F.
  2. Nanoscale systems-top-down assembly’, Systems Engineering for Microscale and Nanoscale Technologies, p. 197-235, 2016.
  3. ‘Fibre-reinforced hydrogels with high optical transparency’, International Materials Reviews, v. 59, n. 5, p. 264-296, 2014.
  4. ‘Synthesis of cellulose hydrogels with high strength and transparency for use as an ocular bandage’, Carbohydrate Polymers, (2012).
  5. ‘Interfacial properties of the a-Si/Cu: active-inactive thin-film anode system for lithium-ion batteries’, Journal of the Electrochemical Society, 153(6) A1246 (2006).
  6. ‘High Capacity, Reversible Silicon Thin-Film Anodes for Lithium-Ion Batteries’, Electrochemical and Solid-State Letters, 6(9) Al98 (2003).
What advice or suggestions do you have for students who want to pursue careers in sustainable energy?

JM: Don’t limit yourself and talk to experts in the field. That is the best advice I can give to students: Seek out the expert in an area that you care about and you will derive opportunities from just doing that. In my experience, you’ll be amazed at how positively and overwhelmingly people respond. I’ve given this guidance to my children, and my son reached out to the Olympic bobsledding team and got insight into the aerodynamics of bobsled racing for a fourth-grade project. Similarly, my other son contacted the head of the FDA for information about genetically modified organisms and guess what? He got a phone interview with him, even though my son is only 10 years old. There is no limit to what we can do as people or researchers, so I would encourage students who are interested in the field to reach out to experts and start a dialogue with them.

How has the creation of ROSEI affected sustainable energy efforts at Hopkins?

JM: I would say that this is the first time that I see the potential for enduring partnerships across different parts of the Hopkins family. What I mean by that is I have had interactions with folks in material science and several faculty members on specific projects for years, but there hasn’t been a sustainable relationship – pun intended – built out of those. ROSEI has catalyzed a movement at Hopkins. It’s still early, but the movement is headed in the forward direction and a lot of people are committed to it. It’ll take time to form those relationships across organizations, but with serious commitment you can surmount that and then you can eventually reap the benefits. That’s what I am seeing and what my colleagues at APL have noticed. This is the first time we are seeing a large intersection of likeminded people, and it happens to be in sustainability, which is exciting because all of us care greatly about it.