Towards greener chemical processes with a new catalyst for ethylene hydroformylation

A research led by ITQ (UPV-CSIC) has demonstrated the possibility to replace molecular catalysts in solution for all-solid catalysts based on isolated metal atoms for selective gas-phase ethylene hydroformylation, an important industrial chemical reaction. The discovery paves the way for greener chemical processes, with greater energy efficiency and lower carbon footprint, for the valorization of unconventional raw materials, alternative to crude oil. To test the designed catalyst, synchrotron light techniques have been used, among others, at the ALBA Synchrotron.

The hydroformylation of ethylene is a chemical process of remarkable industrial significance. In particular, this chemical reaction entails the net addition of a formyl group (-CHO carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) and a hydrogen atom to the ethylene carbon-carbon double bond. This process enables valorizing raw materials such as refinery off-gases as well as unconventional feedstocks such as shale-gas (a kind of natural gas) into oxygenated platform chemicals. Moreover, hydroformylation is also considered a reactive separation alternative to current cryogenic distillations, which are applied to recover ethylene, a valuable commodity chemical, from mixtures with less valuable gases such as ethane. Such cryogenic distillation separations count among the most energy demanding operations in the chemical industry and are therefore associated to high carbon footprints.

Catalysts are materials that are central to steering essentially all chemical transformations of the current chemical industry. A major class of industrially applied catalysts consists of molecular organometallic compounds that operate in a liquid solvent. These catalysts have proven to be highly active and exceedingly selective for a wide range of important transformations. However, they also face significant challenges. First, their limited thermal and chemical stability, which shortens their functional lifetime. On the other hand, the technical complexity associated with their recovery from liquid mixtures with products and solvents of the process, to prevent losses of the precious metals these catalysts are typically made of.

Now, scientists from the Instituto de Tecnología Química (ITQ, UPV-CSIC), the ALBA Synchrotron, the Institute for Nanoscience & Materials of Aragón (INMA, CSIC-UZ) and the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology have designed a new catalyst for selective gas-phase ethylene hydroformylation. Their research shows that a material bearing isolated atoms of rhodium (Rh) stabilized within the surface of stannic oxide (SnO2) is an all-inorganic solid catalyst which delivers an exceptional performance for the gas-phase hydroformylation of ethylene, in par with those thus far exclusive for conventional molecular catalysts in liquid media.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: From left to right: Giovanni Agostini (former beamline responsible at NOTOS, ALBA), Gonzalo Prieto (ITQ), Juan José Cortés (ITQ), Wilson Henao (ITQ), Carlos Escudero (beamline scientist at NOTOS, ALBA) and Carlo Marini (beamline responsible of NOTOS, ALBA).

Magnetotactic microorganisms studied through materials science and advanced imaging

 Researchers from the Bioscience and Biotechnology Institute of Aix-Marseille (BIAM) have recently published a new work in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The study reveals a singular association between magnetotactic bacteria and their host, a unicellular eukaryote (protist).

Magnetoreception is a function unique in the world of the living. Microorganisms are capable of perceiving and reacting to fluctuations in their environment: temperature, light, pressure, gravity, etc. The Earth’s magnetic field is also perceived by certain microorganisms: magnetotactic bacteria, whose mobility is guided by geomagnetic field lines. Magnetoreception guides their movement in aquatic sediments while locating more easily specific depths of the surface. In the microbial world, magnetoreception is based on the synthesis of intracellular chains of magnetic nanocrystals. It is currently the only form of geolocation to have been characterized by scientists.

All the microorganisms sensitive to the magnetic field described so far associate magnetoreception with sensory systems dedicated to certain physicochemical signals, thanks to which they can navigate towards or away from specific substances. This navigation behavior is called magnetotaxis and was, until recently, only observed in magnetotactic bacteria present in areas with strong chemical gradients such as aquatic sediments. By guiding their movement along vertical lines rather than in three-dimensions, their magnetism allows them to more easily find the zone where conditions are optimal for their growth. However, findings by researchers at the BIAM, revealed in 2019 that protists had also acquired this ability through a singular strategy. Some flagellated protists acquired magnetotaxis by associating with magnetotactic bacteria attached to their surface, becoming indispensable symbionts during evolution. This discovery, “revealed that magnetotaxis was performed collectively, with the eukaryotic host enabling swimming and perception of the chemical environment on one hand and the bacterial symbionts producing the nano-sized magnetic needles on the other. However, we did not yet uncover how these partners interacted from a physical point of view and how the magnetic properties are formed,” says Christopher Lefèvre, co-coordinator of the study.

When microbiology meets materials science and advanced imaging techniques

The study of living systems interactions at the microscopic scale would still be inaccessible without interdisciplinarity of scientists equipped with advanced scientific techniques. “Studying such an environmental biological system is difficult due to their size, low abundance and lack of models in culture, pushing technological limits,”comments Daniel Chevrier, CNRS researcher at BIAM, first author and also co-coordinator of the studyResearchers had to deploy “an arsenal of approaches and technologies”, including synchrotron-based X-ray microscopy at MISTRAL beamline of the ALBA Synchrotron.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: Magnetotactic holobiont – the host is a unicellular eukaryote with magnetotactic bacteria on its surface

Synthesised a new catalyst with key properties to solve environmental issues

A research led by the ITQ-CSIC-UPV has discovered a new catalyst enabling hydrogenation of carbon dioxide to methane with advantages not seen until now. This new catalyst, whose structure and mechanism have been understood by synergistically exploiting different ALBA Synchrotron techniques, can be used for methane (natural syngas) production, that is considered as a promising energy carrier for hydrogen storage.

Linear economy has proven to be unsustainable in the long run due to its ineffective use of natural resources that leads to a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions and waste generation. An alternative model, the so-called circular economy is based on an efficient production cycle that focuses on minimising waste and better recycling and seems to be key to find solutions for the climate crisis. One process that can be essential in this challenge is carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration and usage, that is, transform atmospheric or produced carbon dioxide into energy carriers or platform molecules of the chemical industry.

An international collaboration between the Instituto de Tecnología Química – a join research center between Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas and Universitat Politècnica de València (ITQ-CSIC-UPV), SOLEIL SynchrotronUniversidad de Cádiz, and ALBA Synchrotron permitted to synthesize a new catalyst able to hydrogenate carbon dioxide to methane with significant improvements in comparison to existing analogues. Its main advantage is that it possesses a much higher activity and so the reaction temperature can be lowered from usual 270-400ºC to only 180ºC, with an excellent long-term stability. Furthermore, this catalyst is able to operate under intermittent power supply conditions, which couples very well with electricity production systems based on renewable energies. Moreover, its synthetic procedure itself is ecofriendly, making it an even greater option in environmental issues.

This new catalyst can be used for methane (natural syngas) production, that is considered as a promising energy carrier for hydrogen storage.

The new solid catalyst was designed and synthesized in the ITQ (CSIC-UPV) by a mild, green hydrothermal synthesis procedure resulting in a material that contains interstitial carbon atoms doped in the ruthenium (Ru) oxide crystal lattice, enabling the stabilization of Ru cations in a low oxidation state with the formation of a none yet reported ruthenium oxy-carbonate phase.

Read more on ALBA website

ALBA helps unveil the secret of ancient Maya masons

A research group from the University of Granada has discovered the secret of the ancient Maya masons, who produced lime mortars and stuccoes of extraordinary durability: plasters with plant extracts.

Scientists analyzed the materials used to build the Maya site of Copán, in Honduras. The ruins of this Maya city built between the 4th and 9th centuries were declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.

Despite the multiple studies carried out on these construction materials, “until now it was not known why the monuments built by the Mayans, in many cases, currently present an excellent state of conservation, in spite of having been exposed for more than a thousand years to a very aggressive tropical climate”, explains the main author of this work and professor of the Department of Mineralogy and Petrology at the UGR, Carlos Rodríguez Navarro.

Now, these materials have been analyzed with high resolution analysis techniques such as transmission electron microscopy and X-rays diffraction, at the MSPD beamline of ALBA. Synchrotron X-rays enabled to know exactly the chemical composition and structure of the materials. It has been discovered that ancient lime mortars and stuccoes include organic compounds and have a calcite crystals cement (CaCO3) with meso-to-nanostructural features matching those of calcite biominerals (for example, shells). That fact allowed the Maya masons from Copán to obtain materials with such high performance.

Researchers wanted to prove that organic compounds in lime mortars could play a hardening role similar to that of (bio)macromolecules in calcite biominerals (which have much higher mechanical strength than purely inorganic calcite), following the advice of current local masons from Copán that have inherited the construction tradition of the ancient Maya civilization from which they descend.

“To do this, we prepared replicas of lime mortars dosed with extracts rich in polysaccharides from the bark of common trees in that Maya area, such as chukum (Havardia albicans) and jiote (Bursera simaruba) -explains Rodríguez Navarro-. Our analytical results demonstrate that the replicas have similar features to those of ancient Maya mortars and stuccoes containing organic compounds. In addition, we have shown that, as in biominerals, both the historical Maya mortars and the replicas present a calcite cement that includes intercrystalline and intracrystalline organic compounds (polysaccharides) that impart to the mortar matrix a marked plastic behavior and a greater toughness and resistance to breakage, while increasing its resistance to chemical alteration, since they reduce its dissolution rate”.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: Maya site of Copán (Honduras). The ruins where the “Rosalila” structure is located, the best example of a complete classical temple in the Mayan area, is decorated with pink lime plaster and stucco masks.

Researchers observe topological magnetic monopoles and dipoles in a ferromagnetic material

A scientific collaboration between scientists from Universidad de Oviedo and ALBA Synchrotron has achieved a detailed description of magnetic singularities and their interactions from the analysis of data acquired at MISTRAL beamline with the magnetic vector tomography technique. The results of the study, fully experimental not involving simulations and published at Communications Physics, provide a solid ground to understand fundamental knowledge about these singularities, what may have future applications on the design of magnetic devices.

Cerdanyola del Vallès, 31st March 2023 A non-saturated ferromagnetic material exhibits a non-uniform magnetization, forming a mosaic of magnetic domains with different magnetizations. The separation between these domains, domain walls, often intersect which results in exotic magnetization distributions called magnetic singularities. A particular type of magnetic singularities, Bloch points, are the focus of the study performed by researchers from Oviedo University and ALBA Synchrotron, and can be visualized in figure panels b and c.

The work, published at Communications Physics, described how the magnetization behaves around these Bloch points. At their location, the magnetization vectors cancel one another since they point oppositely (-> <- or <- ->), but around them they form complex patterns as the ones shown in figure at panels b and c, with vortex distribution.

A further description of the Bloch singularities is based on analogies with classical electrostatics. The converging and diverging magnetizations remind the electric fields of negative and positive point charges and lead to the concept of emergent magnetic field that, in complete analogy to electric field and electrical charge, allows to define a magnetic charge Q. Within this vision, Bloch points are described as magnetic monopoles of topological magnetic charges Q that create the emergent field Be.

Read more on the ALBA webiste

Image: Scientist at work on the MISTRAL beamline

New electron microscope centre to advance research into structural biology and new materials

  • This cutting-edge facility will house two high-end electron microscopes: one to determine the structure of large protein complexes and another to study materials at atomic level.
  • Created thanks to the joint effort of several research institutes, the centre is located at the ALBA Synchrotron and will be open to the entire scientific community.
  • Catalan Research and Universities Minister Joaquim Nadal inaugurated the centre, which has received funding from the Catalan Government’s ERDF programme, on 24 February.

The Joint Electron Microscopy Center at ALBA (JEMCA) was created thanks to the collaboration of different research entities to launch a new centre within the ALBA Synchrotron building offering electron microscope services to the scientific community. In specific, eight different partners will be using this centre: the Institute for Molecular Biology of Barcelona (IBMB-CSIC), the Catalan Institute for Nanoscienc and Nanotechnology (ICN2), the Institute for Biomedical Research (IRB Barcelona), the Centre for Genome Regulation (CRG), the Institute for Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC), the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), and the ALBA Synchrotron. The project definition phase also included the fundamental support of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST).

This is the only facility in all of Spain that allows working with tools that are complementary to the synchrotron light source with the aim of gathering more information in the field of structural biology and materials science.

The centre currently houses two microscopes: the Cryo-TEM, coordinated by the Institute for Molecular Biology of Barcelona (IBMB-CSIC), and the METCAM, coordinated by the Catalan Institute for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2).

The Cryo-TEM microscope is key to being able to solve rapidly and with high resolution the protein structures that cannot be analysed with other techniques. This microscope is already being put to use in experiments with an elevated social return. For example, IBMB-CSIC researchers Núria Verdaguer and Pablo Guerra, in collaboration with IRB Barcelona researchers Manuel Palacín and David Aparicio and the spin-off Ona Therapeutics, are analysing a protein involved in metastatic lung cancer as well as the protein’s complex with an antibody of interest for a therapy that targets metastases. The Cryo-TEM is the second microscope of its kind in Spain and represents a great advance for the user community in this field.

Read more on the ALBA website

Understanding how nanoparticles interact is key to improve metal nanocatalysts

Nanocatalysts are key for the future of sustainable chemistry, yet, they typically suffer from rapid deactivation caused by a process called sintering. In a recent study led by the ALBA Synchrotron and Ghent University, researchers have developed an integrated approach where they complement the use of several characterization techniques to study platinum nanoparticle sintering at the micro-, meso- and macroscale. The demonstrated approach shows that mesoscale heterogeneities in the nanoparticle population drive sintering. This work will help broaden the fundamental understanding of nanoparticle sintering and thus design better strategies for catalyst fabrication.

Metal nanoparticle catalysts are the workhorses in a broad range of industrially important chemical processes such as producing clean fuels, chemicals and pharmaceuticals or cleaning exhaust from automobiles. These nanocatalysts are key for the future of sustainable chemistry, yet they typically suffer from rapid deactivation caused by a process called sintering. Due to sintering, the average nanoparticle size increases since this is energetically more efficient for the nanoparticles. However, this decreases their catalytic power.

To date, sintering phenomena are analyzed either at the macroscale, to examine averaged nanoparticle properties, or at the microscale, studying individual nanoparticles. However there is a knowledge gap on the nanocatalysts behavior at the mesoscale, the intermediate length scale between the macro and the micro worlds. At the mesoscale, large ensembles with thousands of nanoparticles can be studied as a “population” in which nanoparticles “communicate” – interact – with each other. In this context, nanoparticle sintering can be considered as a dynamic population of interacting nanoparticles, each of them trading and exchanging atoms to gain stability within the nanoparticle hierarchy.

In a recent study led by the ALBA Synchrotron and Ghent University, researchers have developed an integrated approach where they complement the use of several characterization techniques to study platinum nanoparticle sintering at the micro-, meso- and macroscale. More specifically, they used different analytical techniques and X-ray scattering characterization at the NCD-SWEET beamline in ALBA to show that mesoscale heterogeneities in the nanoparticle population drive sintering. Thus, deleting these heterogeneities would help to avoid sintering.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: Researchers inside the experimental hutch of the NCD-SWEET beamline at the ALBA Synchrotron. From left to right: Zhiwei Zhang (Ghent University), Matthias Minjauw (Ghent University), Matthias Filez (Ghent University – KU Leuven) and Juan Santo Domingo Peñaranda (Ghent University).

Nanoparticles made from marine polymers for cutaneous drug delivery applications

A research led by the University of Porto in collaboration with the ALBA Synchrotron has studied for the first time the interaction of nanoparticles with the skin, using synchrotron light at the MIRAS beamline. The findings unveil the role of the different skin components and the mechanism of the permeation enhancement conferred with nanoparticles, made from marine polymers. A nano delivery system application in the skin will reduce the dosage needed due to controlled drug delivery and allow newer and better-targeting therapeutic strategies towards cutaneous administration.

Cutaneous drug delivery allows the administration of therapeutic and cosmetic agents through the skin. Advantages of this administration route include high patient compliance, avoidance of high concentration levels of the drug when reaching systemic circulation, and far fewer side effects compared to other administration routes.

Still, the peculiar skin structure assures protection to the human organism and hampers drug delivery. To overcome this issue, skin permeation enhancers, such as nanoparticles, can be used. They are pharmacologically inactive molecules that can increase skin permeability by interacting with the stratum corneum, the first layer of the epidermis, which is the outermost layer of the skin. However, the mechanisms of nanoparticles’ interaction with the skin structure are still unknown.

A research project led by the University of Porto (Portugal) in collaboration with the ALBA Synchrotron has studied for the first time the interaction of polymeric nanoparticles with the skin, using synchrotron light.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: Nanoparticles made visible on human skin – 3D Rendering

Credit: Adobe Stock

A light-induced spin switching device with promising applications in spintronics

A research work led by the University of Valencia (Spain) has reported the fabrication of a novel device that allows the robust electrical detection of a fast and effective light-induced and thermally induced spin transition with an outstanding performance. It represents a tool with promising potential for generating new systems with applications in spintronics and straintronics. Experiments carried out at the BOREAS beamline have been crucial in this study.

The search for more efficient data transport and storage methodologies has helped the development of new research areas, such as molecular spintronics. This novel discipline uses molecular compounds as functional materials in a new generation of devices in which the information tool used is not only the charge (electrons) transport but also the spin. The spin is an intrinsic property of electrons (as mass or electric charge). By adding this new variable of information transport, it is possible to create more efficient electronic devices with a larger capacity for data processing.

There is an increasing demand for discovering new compounds that are functional for spintronics and allow for industrial scalability in its processing. Sublimable spin-crossover (SCO) molecules are compounds of great interest in this matter. These materials can switch between two states called low-spin and high-spin, depending on a variety of external stimuli such as light or temperature. More specifically, compounds based on iron (II) present opposite magnetic properties between both states; paramagnetic in high-spin and diamagnetic in low-spin.

In a novel study published in the journal Advanced Materials, researchers from the Molecular Science Institut (ICMol) from the University of Valencia (UV) in Spain, in collaboration with members from the BOREAS beamline at the ALBA Synchrotron, have developed spin-crossover/graphene hybrid devices by incorporating films of an iron (II) based material, with the properties aforementioned, in its metastable crystallographic phase. Previously thought to be inert regarding spin-crossover, the work developed at the BOREAS beamline has allowed the discovery of interesting thermal and light-induced spin transition capabilities that this crystallographic phase does show when appropriately isolated.

Read more on the ALBA website

Improving the production of batteries for electric vehicles

A research lead by the company BASF has characterized a new methodology to produce nickel-rich cathode materials used in lithium-ion batteries that optimizes the conventional production process. The proposed model leads to an increase in throughput by a factor of three, representing a considerable increase in the efficiency of future cathode active materials production for battery electric vehicles. The contributions of the MSPD beamline at ALBA have been key in these findings.

Batteries of electric vehicles still have not reached full cost competitiveness with respect to cars powered by combustion engines. This is mainly due to the increase in the cost of the raw materials used to produce the cathode of the batteries. In the search for low-cost materials for cathodes, the research on efficient manufacturing is of utmost importance.

A research led by the company BASF, in collaboration with different German universities and research centers, has studied how to optimize the conventional production process of nickel-rich cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries. This process is a thermal treatment called calcination. More specifically, researchers wanted to obtain a deeper understanding of the lithiation mechanism itself. And also, whether a two-stage calcination process, including a partial-lithiation step, can be used to synthesize cathode active materials with similar properties to those of a conventional one-stage calcination protocol.

The proposed calcination concept leads to an increase in throughput by a factor of three, increasing the efficiency of future cathode active materials production without modifying their physico-chemical properties and electrochemical behavior. Moreover, further advantages of the partial-lithiation process regarding homogeneity of the composition and crystallite size of the cathode active materials are believed to come into view as soon as large-scale sample amounts are investigated, which will be part of future work.

To further characterize the samples after the partial-lithiation step, synchrotron X-ray powder diffraction (XRD) measurements were performed at the MSPD beamline of the ALBA Synchrotron. This is the first report on the composition of the lithium-containing residual needles, which are indicative of an incomplete reaction. By combination of XRD, and other characterization techniques, the presence of Lithium hydroxide was confirmed in the samples prepared with the conventional method but not on the samples obtained with the novel two-stage methodology.

Read more on the ALBA website

Gene therapy proved against muscular dystrophy with the ALBA synchrotron

A study by the Sant Joan de Déu Research Institute, ICFO, CIBERER and the ALBA Synchrotron has helped demonstrate that gene therapy can reverse the effects of the mutation that causes the symptoms of congenital muscular dystrophy in patient cells. The mutation, which leads to a disorder in the body’s collagen, has been silenced through a genetic editing technique based on the CRISPR/Cas9 system. Experiments at the MISTRAL beamline in ALBA have revealed previously unknown cell damage. Congenital muscular dystrophy is a rare minority disease that mainly affects children and has no treatment.

Congenital muscular dystrophy is a group of rare neuromuscular diseases. In particular, type VI collagen deficiency-related dystrophy affects less than 1 in 100,000 people, has varying degrees of severity, and has no cure.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: Three-dimensional reconstruction of whole-cell volumes of control- (“healthy cell”), and patient-derived fibroblasts and CRISPR-treated fibroblasts. The different organelles present in the cells can be seen: nucleus in yellow, mitochondria in light blue, endo/lysosomal-like vesicles in violet, and multivesicular bodies in pink.

High pressure synthesis in gallium sulphide chalcogenide

Researchers from Universitat Politècnica de València, Universidad de La Laguna, Universidad de Cantabria and the ALBA Synchrotron have published a new work on high pressure chemistry in gallium (III) sulphide chalcogenide. In this work, relevant fingerprints (vibrational and structural) of a pressure-induced paralectric to ferroelectric phase transition are shown. This is the first time when a tetradymite-like (R3m) phase has been synthesized and observed experimentally in gallium-based sequichalcogenides. High pressure X-ray diffraction measurements were carried out at MSPD beamline of ALBA.

Gallium (III) sulphide (Ga2S3) is a compound of sulphur and gallium, that is a semiconductor that has a wide variety of applications in electronics and photonics: nano optoelectronics, photonic chips, electro-catalysis, energy conversion and storage, solar energy devices, gas sensors, laser-radiation detection, second harmonic generation, phase change memories or photocatalytic water splitting systems.

In this work published in Chemistry of Materials,scientists have shown relevant vibrational and structural fingerprints of a pressure-induced paraelectric to ferroelectric R-3m-to-R3m (β’-to-φ) phase transition under decompression on Ga2S3 chalcogenide.

This transition was theoretically predicted in several III−VI B2X3 compounds at high temperature (where B can be aluminium, gallium or indium and X, sulphur, selenium or tellurium). The novelty of this research stems from the synthesis of both phases: β-(R-3m) and α-In2Se3 (R3m)-like structures on Ga2S3 and tuning them via decreasing pressure. Within the III−VI B2X3 compounds, this R-3m-to-R3m (β’-to-φ-Ga2S3) phase transition had been observed experimentally only in the indium (III) selenide (In2Se3)compound, under varying temperature or pressure, to date.

This finding leads the way for designing cheap, nontoxic, nonrare-earth, and abundant element-based devices for second harmonic generation, photocatalytic splitting, ferroelectric, pyroelectric, and piezoelectric applications based on Ga2S3.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: Samuel Gallego and Catalin Popescu at the MSPD beamline of ALBA.

A magnetic nano-elevator for spintronic devices

Researchers propose and demonstrate for the first time a new concept for the transfer of magnetic data in three dimensions based on geometrical effects for the interconnection of functional spintronic planes. The device is based on a magnetic nanostructure and promotes the spontaneous motion of bits without the need to apply any external stimuli. This work has promising applications in spintronics. Experiments at the CIRCE beamline in ALBA were key to characterize the magnetic structures and confirm their functioning.

Information technologies will be responsible for about 20% of electricity consumption worldwide by 2025, which urgently requires the development of new types of greener nanoelectronic devices. Spintronics, making use of not only the charge of electrons but also of its intrinsic angular momentum (its spin) is an emerging technology that can overcome some of these challenges, thanks to its non-volatility character, full compatibility with CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor), low and fast write/reading processes, and high endurance.

However, as nanoelectronic devices move towards denser forms exploiting three dimensions, new mechanisms to efficiently interconnect functional planes become necessary. The shift to 3D devices should enable ultra-highly dense storage and memory devices, but their realization brings huge challenges, from their fabrication to their interconnection or effective heat dissipation.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: PEEM magnetic nano-elevator

Carbon nanospheres for improved sodium-sulfur batteries

Sodium-sulfur batteries are promising electrical energy storage technologies that can serve as a key solution to intermittency problems and can be integrated with renewable forms of energy generation. An international research team has reported the synthesis of micro-mesoporous carbon nanospheres with continuous pore distribution as an efficient sulfur host for sodium-sulfur batteries. The work sheds new light on the progress of the sulfur cathode in sodium-sulfur batteries and provides a promising strategy for the viable design of other metal–sulfur batteries. Experiments at the CLAESS beamline in ALBA allowed determining the sulfur species during charge/discharge processes.

Solar and wind power are useful resources for energy generation but they are intermittent (at night or on cloudy days solar panels do not work, for example). Electrical energy storage technologies serve as a key solution to these intermittency problems and can be integrated with renewable forms of energy generation. Among these technologies, room-temperature sodium-sulfur (Na–S) batteries are deemed to be one of the most promising candidates, owing to their high theoretical energy density – the amount of energy they can store – and low cost. Nonetheless, this battery system suffers from a slow reaction rate at room temperature, which radically limits battery performance and makes difficult its practical commercialization.

An efficient strategy to deal with this challenge is the use of porous carbon material as a host to encapsulate molecular sulfur, significantly enhancing its conductivity. This system acts as the cathode of the battery, which is the electrode where reduction occurs. To make the battery work, sodium ions have to migrate from the anode to the cathode. However, in these systems, it is a challenge to provide fully accessible sodium ions that do not obstruct the sub-nanosized pores of the carbon host.

In a publication in the Advanced Materials journal, an international research team made up of Australian and Chinese institutions in collaboration with the ALBA Synchrotron has reported the synthesis of micro-mesoporous carbon nanospheres (MMPCS) with continuous pore distribution as an efficient sulfur host for sodium-sulfur batteries. This unique feature creates continuous channels that allow the movement of sodium ions without channels being obstructed. This enables a high conductivity, leading to fast sulfur reduction-oxidation reaction during the charge/discharge processes.

Read more on the ALBA website

Ramon Pascual’s #My1stLight on International Day of Light!

Memory of synchrotron light

The first time I learnt about synchrotron light was around 1968 at a seminar by Manuel Cardona at the University of Madrid about an experiment he developed at DESY. As a particle physicist theoretician, at that time I did not had any idea that many years later I would be involved in a synchrotron light source as ALBA.

At the beginning of the ‘90s, with the idea of constructing a particle accelerator in Spain I realized the interest and the importance of a third-generation light source and I proposed to the Catalan Government the construction of a light source in Spain. After a bit more of a decade of efforts of several people, ALBA was finally approved and their beam lines have been operating for users since 2012.

The success of these ten years of reliable operation is that, ALBA is now preparing its upgrade to a fourth-generation source, ALBA II.

Ramon Pascual

Honorary president of ALBA

Find out more about ALBA here

Image: Aerial view of ALBA

Credit: ALBA

Synchrotron light proves effectiveness of several drugs in virus infections like SARS-CoV2

Microtubules are intracellular structures that function as true cellular highways for the transport of substances, vesicles, organelles and even viruses, in the case that a cell gets infected. In most viral infections, they are the transport routes to generate the viral factories, regions close to the nucleus where virus production is concentrated.

The idea is to design drugs that, by binding to microtubules, prevent viruses from using them during the infection process. In general, drugs that target microtubules are called MTAs (microtubule targeting agents). There are two types: stabilizers (MSA) and destabilizers (MDA). Both are widely available and most of these drugs are in the WHO Essential Medicines List, and hence, they are therapeutic alternatives that are affordable and available worldwide.

Researchers from CIB Margarita Salas selected 16 commercially available MTA (including 15 in clinical use) to analyse their capacity to inhibit the viral replication against 5 different virus: the human common cold coronavirus (HCoV), the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, the vesicular stomatitis virus, the poxvirus vaccinia and African swine fever virus.

Scientist confirmed that the MTA tested had an effect on virus replication and spreading and that this effect varies according to the virus dependency on the microtubular network. “The inhibitory effect obtained varied depending on the specific functions that viruses have developed throughout evolution to exploit cellular transport machinery”, explains Dra. Marian Oliva, researcher at CIB Margarita Salas-CSIC.

In particular, the most complex use of microtubules filaments might correspond to coronavirus (CoVs), such as the one responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic. Microtubules are necessary both for virus internalization and later at several levels of the formation of the viral replication site. In fact, S and M coronavirus proteins (located on the virus surface) interact with tubulin (protein that forms microtubules) during the infection, although their specific function is currently unknown. Various projects involving the use of the ALBA Synchrotron are under way to study deeper these aspects.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: Image obtained at the XALOC beamline of ALBA. Drug mebendazole (MBZ) bounds to the protein that forms the microtubules: tubulin (T2RT and T1D).