An electrifying view on catalysis

The future of chemistry is ‘electrifying’: With increasing availability of cheap electrical energy from renewables, it will soon become possible to drive many chemical processes by electrical power. In this way, chemical products and fuels can be produced via sustainable routes, replacing current processes which are based on fossil fuels.

In most cases, such electrically driven reactions make use of so-called electrocatalysts, complex materials which are assembled from a large number of chemical componentAs. The electrocatalyst plays an essential role: It helps to run the chemical reaction while keeping the loss of energy minimal, thereby saving as much renewable energy as possible. In most cases, electrocatalysts are developed empirically and the chemical reactions at their interfaces are poorly understood. A better understanding of these processes is essential, however, for fast development of new electrocatalysts and for a directed improvement of their lifetime, one of the most important factors that currently limit their applicability.

>Read more on the Elettra website

Figure:  Introducing well-defined model electrocatalysts into the field of electrochemistry.

Perovskites, the rising star for energy harvesting

Perovskites are promising candidates for photovoltaic cells, having reached an energy harvesting of more than 20% while it took silicon three decades to reach an equivalent. Scientists from all over the world are exploring these materials at the ESRF.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels exist in our society since several years now. The photovoltaic market is currently dominated by wafer-based photovoltaics or first generation PVs, namely the traditional crystalline silicon cells, which take a 90% of the market share.

Although silicon (Si) is an abundant material and the price of Si-PV has dropped in the past years, their manufacturing require costly facilities. In addition, their fabrication typically takes place in countries that rely on carbon-intensive forms of electricity generation (high carbon footprint).

But there is room for hope. There is a third generation of PV: those based on thin-film cells. These absorb light more efficiently and they currently take 10% of the market share.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: The CEA-CNRS team on ID01. From left to right: Peter Reiss, from CEA-Grenoble/INAC, Tobias Schulli from ID01, Tao Zhou from ID01, Asma Aicha Medjahed, Stephanie Pouget (both from CEA-Grenoble/INAC) and David Djurado, from the CNRS. 
Credits: C. Argoud.

The power supplies giving Diamond a boost

The electrons that produce Diamond’s ultra-bright light whizz round the storage ring fast enough to travel around the entire world 7.5 times in a single second. But they don’t start out life super speedy, and they need a huge energy boost to get them ready for work!

Diamond’s electrons are generated in the injection system, where they are produced by a glowing filament (just like a dim light bulb) and accelerated to ninety thousand electron volts (90 keV). From there, a linear accelerator (linac) takes over, accelerating the electrons to a hundred million electron volts (100 MeV, or 0.1 GeV).

That’s not fast enough though, so the electrons from the linac are fed into the booster ring, where they’re are accelerated to 3 GeV by passing through an RF cavity millions of times. It’s like microwaving the electrons to get them to accelerate, which is not an easy task. The electrons want to travel in a straight line, and have to be forced to bend around the ring by dipole bending magnets. As the energy of the electrons increases, it gets harder to keep them moving around the booster ring, and the bending magnets need more power.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: Members of the Power Supply team working in the Booster Supply Hall.

Scientists discover material ideal for smart photovoltaic windows

Berkeley Lab researchers make thermochromic windows with perovskite solar cell

Smart windows that are transparent when it’s dark or cool but automatically darken when the sun is too bright are increasingly popular energy-saving devices. But imagine that when the window is darkened, it simultaneously produces electricity. Such a material – a photovoltaic glass that is also reversibly thermochromic – is a green technology researchers have long worked toward, and now, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have demonstrated a way to make it work.

Researchers at Berkeley Lab, a Department of Energy (DOE) national lab, discovered that a form of perovskite, one of the hottest materials in solar research currently due to its high conversion efficiency, works surprisingly well as a stable and photoactive semiconductor material that can be reversibly switched between a transparent state and a non-transparent state, without degrading its electronic properties.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image Credit: iStock

 

Surprising Discovery Could Lead to Better Batteries

Scientists have observed how lithium moves inside individual nanoparticles that make up batteries. The finding could help companies develop batteries that charge faster and last longer

UPTON, NY – A collaboration led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory has observed an unexpected phenomenon in lithium-ion batteries—the most common type of battery used to power cell phones and electric cars. As a model battery generated electric current, the scientists witnessed the concentration of lithium inside individual nanoparticles reverse at a certain point, instead of constantly increasing. This discovery, which was published on January 12 in the journal Science Advances, is a major step toward improving the battery life of consumer electronics.

“If you have a cell phone, you likely need to charge its battery every day, due to the limited capacity of the battery’s electrodes,” said Esther Takeuchi, a SUNY distinguished professor at Stony Brook University and a chief scientist in the Energy Sciences Directorate at Brookhaven Lab. “The findings in this study could help develop batteries that charge faster and last longer.”

 

>Read more on the NSLS-II website

Picture: Brookhaven scientists are shown at the Condensed Matter Physics and Materials Science Department’s TEM facility, where part of the study was conducted. Pictured from left to right are Jianming Bai, Feng Wang, Wei Zhang, Yimei Zhu, and Lijun Wu.

 

 

Electrical hiding of magnetic information

Results have been published in Sientific Reports.

Researchers have proved the ability of peculiar magnetic materials to hide magnetic information and reveal it under certain conditions and at room temperature.

Since the 1950’s, magnetic materials have been used to store all kinds of information. Magnetically stored information is convenient because it is easily accessible using very well-known magnetic data reading procedures. However, sensitive information must be carefully stored to ensure confidentiality; thus easy access becomes a bad instead of a good feature. The optimal way to prevent unauthorised information access is to make it invisible.

>Read more on the ALBA website

Bing-Joe Hwang received National Chair Professorship from Ministry of Education

Exceptional award for this NSRRC User

The Ministry of Education recently announced the recipients of the 21st National Chair Professorships and the 61st Academic Awards. Prof. Bing-Joe Hwang, a long-term user of NSRRC, was given the National Chair Professorship in the category of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Prof. Hwang is a Chair Professor in Chemical Engineering at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology. He is also an adjunct scientist of NSRRC. His research interests include electrochemistry, nanomaterials, nanoscience, fuel cells, lithium ion batteries, solar cells, sensors, and interfacial phenomena.

 

Fuel cell X-Ray study details effects of temperature and moisture on performance

Experiments at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source help scientists shed light on fuel-cell physics

Like a well-tended greenhouse garden, a specialized type of hydrogen fuel cell – which shows promise as a clean, renewable next-generation power source for vehicles and other uses – requires precise temperature and moisture controls to be at its best. If the internal conditions are too dry or too wet, the fuel cell won’t function well.

But seeing inside a working fuel cell at the tiny scales relevant to a fuel cell’s chemistry and physics is challenging, so scientists used X-ray-based imaging techniques at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Argonne National Laboratory to study the inner workings of fuel-cell components subjected to a range of temperature and moisture conditions.

The research team, led by Iryna Zenyuk, a former Berkeley Lab postdoctoral researcher now at Tufts University, included scientists from Berkeley Lab’s Energy Storage and Distributed Resources Division and the Advanced Light Source (ALS), an X-ray source known as a synchrotron.

>Read More on the ALS website

Image: This animated 3-D rendering (view larger size), generated by an X-ray-based imaging technique at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source, shows tiny pockets of water (blue) in a fibrous sample. The X-ray experiments showed how moisture and temperature can affect hydrogen fuel-cell performance.
Credit: Berkeley Lab

Solar hydrogen production by artificial leafs

Scientists analysed how a special treatment improves cheap metal oxide photoelectrodes

Metal oxides are promising candidates for cheap and stable photoelectrodes for solar water splitting, producing hydrogen with sunlight. Unfortunately, metal oxides are not highly efficient in this job. A known remedy is a treatment with heat and hydrogen. An international collaboration has now discovered why this treatment works so well, paving the way to more efficient and cheap devices for solar hydrogen production.

The fossil fuel age is bound to end, for several strong reasons. As an alternative to fossil fuels, hydrogen seems very attractive. The gas has a huge energy density, it can be stored or processed further, e. g. to methane, or directly provide clean electricity via a fuel cell. If it is produced using sunlight alone, hydrogen is completely renewable with zero carbon emissions.

>Read More