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.

Funding research crucial to Africa: Energy and healthcare

The 27th March 2019 saw the official launch of START (Synchrotron Techniques for African Research and Technology), a £3.7M grant awarded to a consortium of researchers led by Diamond Light Source by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to work with African scientists on START.

Africa does not yet have a synchrotron light source, but African researchers are keen to apply synchrotron techniques to their research problems. The START project will fund research posts in Africa and the UK with a focus on two key areas crucial to development in Africa – energy and healthcare . The scientific results that come out of the project will be valuable in themselves, and may also lead to commercial applications, but START will also promote the development of research capabilities within Africa, and international research collaborations.

For Diamond Principal Investigator, Prof. Chris Nicklin, this will be the most important result: It is an exciting prospect to work together on these challenging problems and this funding will enable us to form very strong links at all levels, in particular helping to train the next generation of researchers in nations that have not had the chance to access and exploit synchrotron based techniques in their research. The work will focus around the development needs of African countries, driven by the Africa-based investigators and the non-government organisations (NGOs) that we have on board.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Watching molecules in a light-triggered catalyst ring ‘like an ensemble of bells’

A better understanding of these systems will aid in developing next-generation energy technologies.

Photocatalysts ­– materials that trigger chemical reactions when hit by light – are important in a number of natural and industrial processes, from producing hydrogen for fuel to enabling photosynthesis.
Now an international team has used an X-ray laser at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to get an incredibly detailed look at what happens to the structure of a model photocatalyst when it absorbs light.
The researchers used extremely fast laser pulses to watch the structure change and see the molecules vibrating, ringing “like an ensemble of bells,” says lead author Kristoffer Haldrup, a senior scientist at Technical University of Denmark (DTU). This study paves the way for deeper investigation into these processes, which could help in the design of better catalysts for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen for next-generation energy technologies.
“If we can understand such processes, then we can apply that understanding to developing molecular systems that do tricks like that with very high efficiency,” Haldrup says.

>Read more on the Linac Coherent Light Source at SLAC website

Image: When photocatalyst molecules absorb light, they start vibrating in a coordinated way, like an ensemble of bells. Capturing this response is a critical step towards understanding how to design molecules for the efficient transformation of light energy to high-value chemicals.
Credit: Gregory Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

2 for the price of 1: how double ionization becomes an efficient process

Double ionization is a unique mechanism where two electrons are simultaneously emitted from an atom or molecule. Typically, it’s a very weak process occurring only a few percent of the time compared to single ionization where only one electron is emitted. This is due to double ionization requiring the correlated action of two electrons hit by an energetic photon or particle. However, in a recent experiment, is has been shown that double ionization doesn’t necessarily need to be a minor effect and can even be the primary ionization mechanism.
The enhancement is likely due to double ionization proceeding through a new type of energy transfer process termed double intermolecular Coulombic decay, or dICD, for short. To experimentally observe this mechanism, dimers consisting of two alkali metal atoms were attached to the surface of helium nanodroplets. The dICD process, schematically shown in Fig. 1, occurs through an electronically excited helium atom (red), produced by synchrotron radiation, interacting with the neighboring alkali dimer (blue and white) resulting in energy transfer and double ionization. To distinguish dICD from other processes, the kinetic energies of the emitted electrons were measured in coincidence with their alkali ion counterparts.

>Read more on the Elettra website

Image: schematic view of double Intermolecular Coulombic decay (dICd).

Progress on low energy electronics

Soft X-ray experiments used to characterise new thin film topological Dirac Semimetal

A large international collaboration including scientists from Monash University, the ARC Centre for Future Low Energy Electronics (FLEET), the Monash Centre for Anatomically Thin Materials and the Australian Synchrotron reported today in Nature on the development of an advanced material that is able to switch between an electrically conductive state to an insulating state, simply by applying an electric field.
The work represents a step towards the development of a new generation of ultra-low energy electronics at room temperature. 
Co-author Dr Anton Tadich, a beamline scientist at the Soft X-ray beamline and Partner Investigator with FLEET, collaborated with investigators from Monash University, Singapore and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab on the use of photoemission techniques at the Australian Synchrotron X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) and the Advanced Light Source in the US Angle Resolved Photoelectron Spectroscopy, (ARPES).
The chemical composition and growth mechanisms of thin films of the topological Dirac semi-metal sodium bismuthide Na3Bi on a silicon substrate was investigated using XPS at the Australian Synchrotron’s Soft X-ray beamline.

>Read more on the Australian Synchrotron at ANSTO website

Improving lithium-ion battery capacity

Toward cost-effective solutions for next-generation consumer electronics, electric vehicles and power grids.

The search for a better lithium-ion battery—one that could keep a cell phone working for days, increase the range of electric cars and maximize energy storage on a grid—is an ongoing quest, but a recent study done by Canadian Light Source (CLS) scientists with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) showed that the answer can be found in chemistry.
“People have tried everything at an engineering level to improve batteries,” said Dr. Yaser Abu-Lebdeh, a senior research officer at the NRC, “but to improve their capacity, you have to play with the chemistry of the materials.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: The decomposition of a polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) binder in a high energy battery.
Credit: Jigang Zhou

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.

Empowering multicomponent cathode materials for sodium ion batteries

…by exploring three-dimensional compositional heterogeneities

Energy storage devices have revolutionized the modern electronics industry by enabling the widespread application of portable electronic devices. Moreover, these storage devices also have the potential to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels by implementing electric vehicles in the market. To date, lithium ion batteries have dominated the market because of the high energy density delivered by them. However, one should look into the sustenance of such devices because Li is not one of the most abundant metals on Earth’s crust. Thus, developing an alternative to lithium ion batteries has become one of the key issues to ensure the sustainable future of energy storage devices. Sodium ion batteries provide one such alternative. Out of all the components of a battery, cathode materials play one of the key roles in determining the overall performance of such batteries. Unfortunately, sodium-ion batteries have been lagging behind their lithium ion counterpart in terms of performance. Thus, new design strategies must be undertaken in order to improve the performance of cathode materials for sodium ion batteries.

>Read more on the SSRL at SLAC website

Image (extract): Three-dimensional elemental associations of pristine Na0.9Cu0.2Fe0.28Mn0.52O2 studied through transmission x-ray tomography. a) Visualizing the surface elemental associations at different angles with different colors corresponding to different association, and b) 2D cross-sectional association maps showing the bulk elemental associations. [Energy Environ. Sci., DOI: 10.1039/C8EE00309B (2018)] See entire figure here.

Understanding reaction pathways leading to MnO2 polymorph formation

Computational driven design of materials has provided guidelines for designing novel materials with desired properties, especially for metastable materials, which may have superior functionalities than its stable counterparts [1]. However, the synthesis of these metastable materials is usually challenging. The current computational approaches are not able to predict reaction pathways passing through intermediate or metastable phases. As a consequence, the synthesis of many compounds still remains Edisonian, meaning that repeated iteration is usually required to find the reaction conditions needed for synthesizing targeted materials with desired properties. To reduce the amount of cost and effort during this discovery process, a predictive theory for directing the synthesis of materials is necessary.

In the recent article “Understanding Crystallization Pathways Leading to Manganese Oxide Polymorph Formation [2]”, researchers from SLAC, LBNL, MIT, Colorado School of Mines, and NREL combined theory and experimental approaches to develop and demonstrate a theoretical framework that guides the synthesis of intermediate/metastable phases. This ab initio-computation based framework calculates the influence of particle size and solution composition on the stability of polymorph (substances having the same composition but different crystallographic structures), and predicts the phases that will appear along the different reaction pathways.

>Read more on the SSRL at SLAC website

Image (extract): (a) Size-dependent phase diagram of MnO2 polymorphs. The three arrows mark the reaction progression from nano-size to bulk at different potassium concentrations. (b-d) The evolution of x-ray scattering pattern with time along [K+] = 0 M (b), 0.2 M (c), and 0.33M (d). The identities and the fractions of the phases are marked in the subfigure to the right. (e-f) Electron beam diffraction patterns of the δ” phase and δ’ phase harvested from [K+] = 0 M and 0.2 M, respectively. See all figures here.

X-Ray Experiment confirms theoretical model for making new materials

By observing changes in materials as they’re being synthesized, scientists hope to learn how they form and come up with recipes for making the materials they need for next-gen energy technologies.

Over the last decade, scientists have used supercomputers and advanced simulation software to predict hundreds of new materials with exciting properties for next-generation energy technologies.

Now they need to figure out how to make them.

To predict the best recipe for making a material, they first need a better understanding of how it forms, including all the intermediate phases it goes through along the way – some of which may be useful in their own right.

Now experiments at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have confirmed the predictive power of a new computational approach to materials synthesis. Researchers say that this approach, developed at the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, could streamline the creation of novel materials for solar cells, batteries and other sustainable technologies.

>Read more on the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource at SLAC website

Image: In an experiment at SLAC, scientists loaded ingredients for making a material into a thin glass tube and used X-rays (top left) to observe the phases it went through as it was forming (shown in bubbles). The experiment verified theoretical predictions made by scientists at Berkeley Lab with the help of supercomputers (right).
Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Brookhaven Lab scientist receives Early Career Research Program Funding

Valentina Bisogni, an associate physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant research funding as part of DOE’s Early Career Research Program.

The effort, now in its ninth year, is designed to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work. Bisogni is among a total of 84 recipients selected this year after a competitive review of proposals. Thirty winners come from DOE national laboratories and 54 from U.S. universities.

“Supporting talented researchers early in their career is key to building and maintaining a skilled and effective scientific workforce for the nation. By investing in the next generation of scientific researchers, we are supporting lifelong discovery science to fuel the nation’s innovation system,” said Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “We are proud of the accomplishments these young scientists have already made, and look forward to following their achievements in years to come.”

Each researcher will receive a grant of up to $2.5 million over five years to cover their salary and research expenses. A list of the 84 awardees, their institutions, and titles of their research projects is available on DOE’s Early Career Research Program webpage.

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

Image: Valentina Bisogni is shown preparing samples at NSLS-II’s Soft Inelastic X-ray Scattering beamline, where she will conduct her research funded through DOE’s Early Career Research Program.

Tripling the energy storage of lithium-ion batteries

Scientists have synthesized a new cathode material from iron fluoride that surpasses the capacity limits of traditional lithium-ion batteries.

As the demand for smartphones, electric vehicles, and renewable energy continues to rise, scientists are searching for ways to improve lithium-ion batteries—the most common type of battery found in home electronics and a promising solution for grid-scale energy storage. Increasing the energy density of lithium-ion batteries could facilitate the development of advanced technologies with long-lasting batteries, as well as the widespread use of wind and solar energy. Now, researchers have made significant progress toward achieving that goal.

A collaboration led by scientists at the University of Maryland (UMD), the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the U.S. Army Research Lab have developed and studied a new cathode material that could triple the energy density of lithium-ion battery electrodes. Their research was published on June 13 in Nature Communications.

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

Image: Brookhaven scientists are shown at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials. Pictured from left to right are: (top row) Jianming Bai, Seongmin Bak, and Sooyeon Hwang; (bottom row) Dong Su and Enyuan Hu.

New class of single atoms catalysts for carbon nanotubes

They exhibit outstanding electrochemical reduction of CO2 to CO.

Experiments using X-rays on two beamlines at the Australian Synchrotron have helped characterise a new class of single atom catalysts (SACs) supported on carbon nanotubes that exhibit outstanding electrochemical reduction of CO2 to CO. A weight loading of 20 wt% for the new class, nickel single atom nitrogen doped carbon nanotubes (NiSA-N-CNTs), is believed to be the highest metal loading for SACs reported to date.

Single atoms of nickel, cobalt and iron were supported on nitrogen doped carbon nanotubes via a one-pot pyrolysis method and compared in the study.

A large international collaboration, led by Prof San Ping Jiang, Deputy Director of the Fuels and Energy Technology Institute at the Curtin University of Technology and associates from the Department of Chemical Engineering, have developed a new synthesis and development process for nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes with a nickel ligand that demonstrate high catalytic activity.

The study was published in Advanced Materials and featured on the inside cover of the publication.

Dr Bernt Johannessen, instrument scientist on the X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) beamline at the Australian Synchrotron was a co-author on the paper, which also included lead investigators from Curtin University of Technology and collaborators at the University of Western Australia, Institute of Metal Research (China), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (US), University of the Sunshine Coast, University of Queensland, Tsinghua University (China) and King Abdulaziz University (Saudi Arabia). Technical support and advice on the soft X-ray spectroscopy experiments was provided by Australian Synchrotron instrument scientist Dr Bruce Cowie.

>Read more on the Australian Synchrotron website

Image: extract of the cover of Advanced Materials.

Monovalent Manganese for High-Performance Batteries

The discovery enables the design of a high-performance, low-cost battery that, according to its developers, outperforms Department of Energy goals on cost and cycle life for grid-scale energy storage.

The widespread deployment of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power destabilizes the electric grid because conventional power-generation systems cannot ramp quickly enough to balance the power variations from these intermittent sources. Storing energy in batteries could help to even things out, but the cost of most existing technologies—including lithium-ion batteries—is significant, hindering grid-scale applications.

Emerging storage technologies such as aqueous sodium (Na) systems offer low costs for long-duration storage, but they do not have the charge/discharge rates needed to balance volatile power generation. In particular, it remains a critical challenge to develop a stable negative electrode (anode) for high-rate Na-ion battery systems.

A battery breakthrough

Compared with the relatively mature designs of anodes used in Li-ion batteries, anodes for Na-ion batteries remain an active focus of research and development. Natron Energy (formerly Alveo Energy), a battery-technology company based in Santa Clara, California, developed an unconventional anode design using a blend of elements chemically similar to the paint pigment known as Prussian blue.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: Atomic structure of an electrode material, manganese hexacyanomanganate (MnHCMn), that achieved high performance in a sodium-ion battery. The open framework contains large interstices and channels that allow sodium (Na) ions to move in and out with near-zero strain. Manganese (Mn) ions form the corners of the cage: Mn(N) has six nitrogen nearest neighbors and Mn(C) has six carbon nearest neighbors.

Secretary of Energy visits Berkeley Lab

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry visited Berkeley Lab on March 27, stopping at the Advanced Light Source, Molecular Foundry, NERSC, and ESnet.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry visited the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) today, getting a firsthand view of how Berkeley Lab combines team science with world-class facilities to develop solutions for the scientific, energy, and technological challenges facing the nation.

As the top official at the Department of Energy, Perry oversees Berkeley Lab and the 16 other DOE national laboratories that form the backbone of the nation’s scientific infrastructure.

His visit began with a welcome and brief introduction to Berkeley Lab, followed by tours of several of the Lab’s DOE Office of Science user facilities, which provide state-of-the-art resources for scientists across the nation and around the world. After the tour, Perry addressed the Berkeley Lab community in a town hall meeting that was livestreamed to Lab staff.

“One of the things that I enjoy as much about this job as anything, is going and telling the uninitiated about what’s happening at the national labs in this country. Your engagement in the future of the sciences, in innovation and knowledge, is invaluable,” said Secretary Perry at the town hall.

> Read more on the Berkeley Lab website
>Discover more about the Advanced Light Source in Berkeley

Image: The Advanced Light Source, synchrotron facility the Secretary of Energy Rick Perry visited on March 274th 2018.

Cleaner diesel emissions

More effective control of diesel nitrogen oxides through dosed addition of ammonia

In diesel engines, the burning of the fuel releases nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are harmful to human health. The automobile industry therefore developed a technique that reduces these emissions: Gaseous ammonia is added to the exhaust and, prompted by a catalyst, reacts with the nitrogen oxides to produce harmless nitrogen and water. At low temperatures, however, this process does not yet work optimally. Now, for the first time, scientists at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI have found a remedy which is based on observations at the molecular level: The precise amount of added ammonia needs to be varied depending on the temperature. With this knowledge, manufacturers can improve the effectiveness of their catalytic converters for diesel vehicles. The researchers have now published their findings in the journal Nature Catalysis.

>Read more on the Paul Scherrer Institute website

Image: At the X-ray beam line: Davide Ferri (left) and Maarten Nachtegaal at the SLS experimental station where they studied diesel catalysis.
Photo: Paul Scherrer Institute/Markus Fischer