Scientists design organic cathode for high performance batteries

The new, sulfur-based material is more energy-dense, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly than traditional cathodes in lithium batteries.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have designed a new, organic cathode material for lithium batteries. With sulfur at its core, the material is more energy-dense, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly than traditional cathode materials in lithium batteries. The research was published in Advanced Energy Materials on April 10, 2019.

Optimizing cathode materials

From smartphones to electric vehicles, the technologies that have become central to everyday life run on lithium batteries. And as the demand for these products continues to rise, scientists are investigating how to optimize cathode materials to improve the overall performance of lithium battery systems.
“Commercialized lithium-ion batteries are used in small electronic devices; however, to accommodate long driving ranges for electric vehicles, their energy density needs to be higher,” said Zulipiya Shadike, a research associate in Brookhaven’s Chemistry Division and the lead author of the research. “We are trying to develop new battery systems with a high energy density and stable performance.”

>Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: Lead author Zulipiya Shadike (right) is pictured at NSLS-II’s XPD beamline with lead beamline scientist and co-author Sanjit Ghose (left).

Nanoscale sculpturing leads to unusual packing of nanocubes

Cube-shaped nanoparticles with thick shells of DNA assemble into a never-before-seen 3-D “zigzag” pattern that breaks orientational symmetry; understanding such nanoscale behavior is key to engineering new materials with desired organizations and properties.

From the ancient pyramids to modern buildings, various three-dimensional (3-D) structures have been formed by packing shaped objects together. At the macroscale, the shape of objects is fixed and thus dictates how they can be arranged. For example, bricks attached by mortar retain their elongated rectangular shape. But at the nanoscale, the shape of objects can be modified to some extent when they are coated with organic molecules, such as polymers, surfactants (surface-active agents), and DNA. These molecules essentially create a “soft” shell around otherwise “hard,” or rigid, nano-objects. When the nano-objects pack together, their original shape may not be entirely preserved because the shell is flexible—a kind of nanoscale sculpturing.

Now, a team of scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Columbia Engineering has shown that cube-shaped nanoparticles, or nanocubes, coated with single-stranded DNA chains assemble into an unusual “zigzag” arrangement that has never been observed before at the nanoscale or macroscale. Their discovery is reported in the May 17 online issue of Science Advances.

>Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: Brookhaven Lab scientists Fang Lu (sitting), (left to right, standing) Oleg Gang, Kevin Yager, and Yugang Zhang in an electron microscopy lab at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials. The scientists used electron microscopes to visualize the structure of nanocubes coated with DNA.

New approach for solving protein structures from tiny crystals

Technique opens door for studies of countless hard-to-crystallize proteins involved in health and disease

Using x-rays to reveal the atomic-scale 3-D structures of proteins has led to countless advances in understanding how these molecules work in bacteria, viruses, plants, and humans—and has guided the development of precision drugs to combat diseases such as cancer and AIDS. But many proteins can’t be grown into crystals large enough for their atomic arrangements to be deciphered. To tackle this challenge, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and colleagues at Columbia University have developed a new approach for solving protein structures from tiny crystals.

The method relies on unique sample-handling, signal-extraction, and data-assembly approaches, and a beamline capable of focusing intense x-rays at Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—a DOE Office of Science user facility—to a millionth-of-a-meter spot, about one-fiftieth the width of a human hair.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven Lab website

Image: Wuxian Shi, Martin Fuchs, Sean McSweeney, Babak Andi, and Qun Liu at the FMX beamline at Brookhaven Lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source II, which was used to determine a protein structure from thousands of tiny crystals.

New lens system for brighter, sharper diffraction images

Researchers from Brookhaven Lab designed, implemented, and applied a new and improved focusing system for electron diffraction measurements.

To design and improve energy storage materials, smart devices, and many more technologies, researchers need to understand their hidden structure and chemistry. Advanced research techniques, such as ultra-fast electron diffraction imaging can reveal that information. Now, a group of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a new and improved version of electron diffraction at Brookhaven’s Accelerator Test Facility (ATF)—a DOE Office of Science User Facility that offers advanced and unique experimental instrumentation for studying particle acceleration to researchers from all around the world. The researchers published their findings in Scientific Reports, an open-access journal by Nature Research.
Advancing a research technique such as ultra-fast electron diffraction will help future generations of materials scientists to investigate materials and chemical reactions with new precision. Many interesting changes in materials happen extremely quickly and in small spaces, so improved research techniques are necessary to study them for future applications. This new and improved version of electron diffraction offers a stepping stone for improving various electron beam-related research techniques and existing instrumentation.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven Lab website

Image: Mikhail Fedurin, Timur Shaftan, Victor Smalyuk, Xi Yang, Junjie Li, Lewis Doom, Lihua Yu, and Yimei Zhu are the Brookhaven team of scientists that realized and demonstrated the new lens system for as ultra-fast electron diffraction imaging.

Catalyst renders nerve agents harmless

Scientists used a multimodal approach to understand how a catalyst decomposes nerve agents in real-life environments

A team of scientists including researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory has studied a catalyst that decomposes nerve agents, eliminating their harmful and lethal effects. The research was published Friday, April 19, in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

“Our work is part of an ongoing, multiagency effort to protect soldiers and civilians from chemical warfare agents (CWAs),” said Anatoly Frenkel, a physicist with a joint appointment at Brookhaven Lab and Stony Brook University and the lead author on the paper. “The research requires us to understand molecular interactions on a very small scale, and to develop special characterization methods that are capable of observing those interactions. It is a very complex set of problems that also has a very immediate societal impact.”

>Read more on the National Synchrotron Light Source-II website

Image: Lead author Anatoly Frenkel is shown at NSLS-II’s X-ray Powder Diffraction beamline, where part of the research was conducted.

Illuminating Water Filtration

Researchers using ultrabright x-rays reveal the molecular structure of membranes used to purify seawater into drinking water.

For the first time, a team of researchers from Stony Brook University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have revealed the molecular structure of membranes used in reverse osmosis. The research is reported in a recently published paper in ACS Macro Letters, a journal of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Reverse osmosis is the leading method of converting brackish water or seawater into potable or drinking water, and it is used to make about 25,000 million gallons of fresh water a day globally according to the International Water Association.
“Most of the earth’s water is in the oceans and only three percent is fresh water, so water purification is an essential tool to satisfy the increasing demand for drinking water,” said Brookhaven Lab senior scientist Benjamin Ocko. “Reverse osmosis is not a new technology; however, the molecular structure of many of the very thin polymer films that serve as the barrier layer in reverse osmosis membranes, despite its importance, was not previously known.”

>Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: Qinyi Fu, Francisco J. Medellin-Rodriguez, Nisha Verma, and Benjamin Ocko (from left to right) prepare to mount the membrane samples that mimic the membranes used in reverse osmosis for the measurements in the Complex Materials Scattering (CMS) beamline at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II).

Cause of cathode degradation identified for nickel-rich materials

Combination of research methods reveals causes of capacity fading, giving scientists better insight to design advanced batteries for electric vehicles

A team of scientists including researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have identified the causes of degradation in a cathode material for lithium-ion batteries, as well as possible remedies. Their findings, published on Mar. 7 in Advanced Functional Materials, could lead to the development of more affordable and better performing batteries for electric vehicles.

Searching for high-performance cathode materials
For electric vehicles to deliver the same reliability as gas vehicles they need lightweight yet powerful batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are the most common type of battery found in electric vehicles today, but their high cost and limited lifetimes are limitations to the widespread deployment of electric vehicles. To overcome these challenges, scientists at many of DOE’s national labs are researching ways to improve the traditional lithium-ion battery.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven Lab website

Image: Members of the Brookhaven team are shown at NSLS-II’s ISS beamline, where part of the research was conducted. Pictured from front to back are Eli Stavitski, Xiao-Qing Yang, Xuelong Wang, and Enyuan Hu.

Mapping terrestrial analogs for martian samples

Internships at Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source II helped turn her love for rocks into serious study.

Catherine Trewhella, a recent graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and current intern at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, is taking a microscopic look at rocks at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a DOE Office of Science user facility. Her research will help prepare scientists for analyzing samples brought back from outer space, specifically Mars.
Trewhella is currently interning as a part of Brookhaven Lab’s Office of Educational Programs’ Supplemental Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). Over the course of the fall, she has been using NSLS-II’s Submicron Resolution X-ray Spectroscopy (SRX) beamline to map out the chemical make-up of terrestrial analogs for Martian samples.
“They’re terrestrial rocks,” she said. “But what makes them worth the closer look is researchers believe they’re similar to rock formations expected on Mars.” These x-ray fluorescence images (XRF) will therefore help scientists better understand what they are seeing when studying Martian samples.

>Read more on the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) website

Image: Catherine Trewhella at the Submicron Resolution X-ray Spectroscopy (SRX) beamline at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at Brookhaven Lab.

Illuminating nanoparticle growth with X-rays

Ultrabright x-rays at NSLS-II reveal key details of catalyst growth for more efficient hydrogen fuel cells

Hydrogen fuel cells are a promising technology for producing clean and renewable energy, but the cost and activity of their cathode materials is a major challenge for commercialization. Many fuel cells require expensive platinum-based catalysts—substances that initiate and speed up chemical reactions—to help convert renewable fuels into electrical energy. To make hydrogen fuel cells commercially viable, scientists are searching for more affordable catalysts that provide the same efficiency as pure platinum.

“Like a battery, hydrogen fuel cells convert stored chemical energy into electricity. The difference is that you’re using a replenishable fuel so, in principle, that ‘battery’ would last forever,” said Adrian Hunt, a scientist at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. “Finding a cheap and effective catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells is basically the holy grail for making this technology more feasible.”

>Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: Brookhaven Lab scientists Mingyuan Ge, Iradwikanari Waluyo, and Adrian Hunt are pictured left to right at the IOS beamline, where they studied the growth pathway of an efficient catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells.

Construction starts on new Cryo-EM center

Called the Laboratory of BioMolecular Structure, the new cryo-electron microscope center will offer world-leading imaging capabilities for life sciences research.

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory broke ground on the Laboratory of BioMolecular Structure (LBMS), a state-of-the-art research center for life science imaging. At the heart of the center will be two new NY-State-funded cryo-electron microscopes (cryo-EM) specialized for studying biomaterials, such as complex protein structures.

“Cryo-electron microscopy is a rapidly-advancing imaging technique that is posting impressive results on a weekly basis,” said LBMS Director Sean McSweeney. “The mission of LBMS is to advance the scientific understanding of key biological processes and fundamental molecular structures.”

“Throughout my career, I have worked hard to make our region of the State a high-tech hub, bringing together the talents and expertise of scientists and facilities across Long Island.  I am pleased to have played a part in the creation of the new cryo-EM center, which will add to the incredible facilities at Brookhaven National Lab and enable our scientific community to lead the way in world-class imaging research and discovery,” said NY State Senator Ken LaValle.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at BNL website

Image: New York State Senator Ken LaValle joined leaders of Empire State Development and Brookhaven Lab for the LBMS groundbreaking ceremony. Pictured from left to right are Jim Misewich (Associate Laboratory Director for Energy and Photon Sciences, Brookhaven Lab), Erik Johnson (NSLS-II Deputy for Construction), Sean McSweeney (LBMS Director and NSLS-II Structural Biology Program Manager), Robert Gordon (DOE-Brookhaven Site Office Manager), Ken LaValle, Cara Longworth (Regional Director, Empire State Development), Danah Alexander (Senior Project Manager, Empire State Development), and John Hill (NSLS-II Director).

Light-activated, single- ion catalyst breaks down carbon dioxide

X-ray studies reveal structural details that may point the way to designing better catalysts for converting pollutant gas into useful products

A team of scientists has discovered a single-site, visible-light-activated catalyst that converts carbon dioxide (CO2) into “building block” molecules that could be used for creating useful chemicals. The discovery opens the possibility of using sunlight to turn a greenhouse gas into hydrocarbon fuels.

The scientists used the National Synchrotron Light Source II, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory, to uncover details of the efficient reaction, which used a single ion of cobalt to help lower the energy barrier for breaking down CO2. The team describes this single-site catalyst in a paper just published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Converting CO2 into simpler parts—carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen—has valuable real-world applications. “By breaking CO2, we can kill two birds with one stone—remove CO2 from the atmosphere and make building blocks for making fuel,” said Anatoly Frenkel, a chemist with a joint appointment at Brookhaven Lab and Stony Brook University. Frenkel led the effort to understand the activity of the catalyst, which was made by Gonghu Li, a physical chemist at the University of New Hampshire.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) QAS beamline scientist Steven Ehrlich, Stony Brook University (SBU) graduate student Jiahao Huang, and Brookhaven Lab-SBU joint appointee Anatoly Frenkel at the QAS beamline at NSLS-II.

Scientists produce 3-D chemical maps of single bacteria

Researchers at NSLS-II used ultrabright x-rays to generate 3-D nanoscale maps of a single bacteria’s chemical composition with unparalleled spatial resolution.

Scientists at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory—have used ultrabright x-rays to image single bacteria with higher spatial resolution than ever before. Their work, published in Scientific Reports, demonstrates an x-ray imaging technique, called x-ray fluorescence microscopy (XRF), as an effective approach to produce 3-D images of small biological samples.

“For the very first time, we used nanoscale XRF to image bacteria down to the resolution of a cell membrane,” said Lisa Miller, a scientist at NSLS-II and a co-author of the paper. “Imaging cells at the level of the membrane is critical for understanding the cell’s role in various diseases and developing advanced medical treatments.”
The record-breaking resolution of the x-ray images was made possible by the advanced capabilities of the Hard X-ray Nanoprobe (HXN) beamline, an experimental station at NSLS-II with novel nanofocusing optics and exceptional stability.
“HXN is the first XRF beamline to generate a 3-D image with this kind of resolution,” Miller said.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: NSLS-II scientist Tiffany Victor is shown at the Hard X-ray Nanoprobe, where her team produced 3-D chemical maps of single bacteria with nanoscale resolution.

Unlocking the secrets of metal-insulator transitions

X-ray photon correlation spectroscopy at NSLS-II’s CSX beamline used to understand electrical conductivity transitions in magnetite.

By using an x-ray technique available at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), scientists found that the metal-insulator transition in the correlated material magnetite is a two-step process. The researchers from the University of California Davis published their paper in the journal Physical Review Letters. NSLS-II, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility located at Brookhaven National Laboratory, has unique features that allow the technique to be applied with stability and control over long periods of time.
“Correlated materials have interesting electronic, magnetic, and structural properties, and we try to understand how those properties change when their temperature is changed or under the application of light pulses, or an electric field” said Roopali Kukreja, a UC Davis professor and the lead author of the paper. One such property is electrical conductivity, which determines whether a material is metallic or an insulator.

If a material is a good conductor of electricity, it is usually metallic, and if it is not, it is then known as an insulator. In the case of magnetite, temperature can change whether the material is a conductor or insulator. For the published study, the researchers’ goal was to see how the magnetite changed from insulator to metallic at the atomic level as it got hotter.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: Professor Roopali Kukreja from the University of California in Davis and the CSX team Wen Hu, Claudio Mazzoli, and Andi Barbour prepare the beamline for the next set of experiments.

New NSLS-II beamline illuminates electronic structures

MIT scientists conduct the first experiment at NSLS-II’s Soft Inelastic X-ray Scattering beamline.

On July 15, 2018, the Soft Inelastic X-ray Scattering (SIX) beamline at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory—welcomed its first visiting researchers. SIX is an experimental station designed to measure the electronic properties of solid materials using ultrabright x-rays. The materials can be as small as a few microns—one millionth of a meter.
The first researchers to take advantage of the world-class capabilities at SIX were Jonathan Pelliciari and Zhihai Zhu, two scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The pair used SIX to study a chromate sample, a fascinating material with novel applications in magnetism, batteries, and catalysis. Little was known about the electronic structure of the chromate sample the MIT team studied at SIX, and their research is aimed at unlocking the properties of this material. To do so, they needed the atomic sensitivity and energy resolution of the SIX beamline.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratoy website

Picture: The sample chamber of the Soft Inelastic X-ray Scattering (SIX) beamline at NSLS-II allows scientists to mount their materials on a special holder that can be turned and moved into the beam of bright x-rays.

Single atoms break carbon’s strongest bond

Scientists discovered that single atoms of platinum can break the bond between carbon and fluorine, one of the strongest known chemical bonds.

An international team of scientists including researchers at Yale University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a new catalyst for breaking carbon-fluorine bonds, one of the strongest chemical bonds known. The discovery, published on Sept. 10 in ACS Catalysis, is a breakthrough for efforts in environmental remediation and chemical synthesis.

“We aimed to develop a technology that could degrade polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), one of the most challenging pollutant remediation problems of the present day,” said Jaehong Kim, a professor in the department of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University. “PFAS are widely detected all over the world, from Arctic biota to the human body, and concentrations in contaminated groundwater significantly exceed the regulatory limit in many areas. Currently, there are no energy-efficient methods to destroy these contaminants. Our collaboration with Brookhaven Lab aims to solve this problem by taking advantage of the unique properties of single atom catalysts.”

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: Brookhaven scientist Eli Stavitski is shown at NSLS-II’s Inner Shell Spectroscopy beamline, where researchers imaged the physical and chemical complexity of a single-atom catalyst that breaks carbon-fluorine bonds.

Plant roots police toxic pollutants

X-ray studies reveal details of how P. juliflora shrub roots scavenge and immobilize arsenic from toxic mine tailings.

Working in collaboration with scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, researchers at the University of Arizona have identified details of how certain plants scavenge and accumulate pollutants in contaminated soil. Their work revealed that plant roots effectively “lock up” toxic arsenic found loose in mine tailings—piles of crushed rock, fluid, and soil left behind after the extraction of minerals and metals. The research shows that this strategy of using plants to stabilize pollutants, called phytostabilization, could even be used in arid areas where plants require more watering, because the plant root activity alters the pollutants to forms that are unlikely to leach into groundwater.

The Arizona based researchers were particularly concerned with exploring phytostabilization strategies for mining regions in the southwestern U.S., where tailings can contain high levels of arsenic, a contaminant that has toxic effects on humans and animals. In the arid environment with low levels of vegetation, wind and water erosion can carry arsenic and other metal pollutants to neighboring communities.

>Read more on the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) website

Image: Scientists from the University of Arizona collect plant samples from the mine tailings at the Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter Superfund site in central Arizona. X-ray studies at Brookhaven Lab helped reveal how these plants’ roots lock up toxic forms of arsenic in the soil.
Credit: Jon Chorover