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

Converting CO2 into usable energy

Scientists show that single nickel atoms are an efficient, cost-effective catalyst for converting carbon dioxide into useful chemicals.

Imagine if carbon dioxide (CO2) could easily be converted into usable energy. Every time you breathe or drive a motor vehicle, you would produce a key ingredient for generating fuels. Like photosynthesis in plants, we could turn CO2 into molecules that are essential for day-to-day life. Now, scientists are one step closer.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory are part of a scientific collaboration that has identified a new electrocatalyst that efficiently converts CO2 to carbon monoxide (CO), a highly energetic molecule. Their findings were published on Feb. 1 in Energy & Environmental Science.

“There are many ways to use CO,” said Eli Stavitski, a scientist at Brookhaven and an author on the paper. “You can react it with water to produce energy-rich hydrogen gas, or with hydrogen to produce useful chemicals, such as hydrocarbons or alcohols. If there were a sustainable, cost-efficient route to transform CO2 to CO, it would benefit society greatly.”

>Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: Brookhaven scientists are pictured at NSLS-II beamline 8-ID, where they used ultra-bright x-ray light to “see” the chemical complexity of a new catalytic material. Pictured from left to right are Klaus Attenkofer, Dong Su, Sooyeon Hwang, and Eli Stavitski.

 

Scientists confirm speculation on the chemistry of a high-performance battery

X-ray experiments at Berkeley Lab reveal what’s at work in an unconventional electrode.

Scientists have discovered a novel chemical state of the element manganese. This chemical state, first proposed about 90 years ago, enables a high-performance, low-cost sodium-ion battery that could quickly and efficiently store and distribute energy produced by solar panels and wind turbines across the electrical grid.

This direct proof of a previously unconfirmed charge state in a manganese-containing battery component could inspire new avenues of exploration for battery innovations.

X-ray experiments at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) were key in the discovery. The study results were published Feb. 28 in the journal Nature Communications.

Scientists at Berkeley Lab and New York University participated in the study, which was led by researchers at Natron Energy, formerly Alveo Energy, a Santa Clara, California-based battery technology company.

The battery that Natron Energy supplied for the study features an unconventional design for an anode, which is one of its two electrodes. Compared with the relatively mature designs of anodes used in lithium-ion batteries, anodes for sodium-ion batteries remain an active focus of R&D.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Photo: An array of solar panels and windmills.
Credit: PxHere

The future of energy storage with novel metal-oxide magnesium battery

Move over, lithium-ion; now, there’s a better battery on the horizon.

A multi-institution team of scientists led by Texas A&M University chemist Sarbajit Banerjee has discovered an exceptional metal-oxide magnesium battery cathode material, moving researchers one step closer to delivering batteries that promise higher density of energy storage on top of transformative advances in safety, cost and performance in comparison to their ubiquitous lithium-ion (Li-ion) counterparts.

“The worldwide push to advance renewable energy is limited by the availability of energy storage vectors,” says Banerjee in the team’s paper, published Feb. 1 in the journal Chem, a new chemistry-focused journal by Cell Press. “Currently, lithium-ion technology dominates; however, the safety and long-term supply of lithium remain serious concerns. By contrast, magnesium is much more abundant than lithium, has a higher melting point, forms smooth surfaces when recharging, and has the potential to deliver more than a five-fold increase in energy density if an appropriate cathode can be identified.”

Ironically, the team’s futuristic solution hinges on a redesigned form of an old Li-ion cathode material, vanadium pentoxide, which they proved is capable of reversibly inserting magnesium ions.

“We’ve essentially reconfigured the atoms to provide a different pathway for magnesium ions to travel along, thereby obtaining a viable cathode material in which they can readily be inserted and extracted during discharging and charging of the battery,” Banerjee says.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

 

A path to a game-changing battery electrode

If you add more lithium to the positive electrode of a lithium-ion battery, it can store much more charge in the same amount of space, theoretically powering an electric car 30 to 50 percent farther between charges. But these lithium-rich cathodes quickly lose voltage, and years of research have not been able to pin down why—until now.

>Read more on the Advance Light Source website

Image: Electric car makers are intensely interested in lithium-rich battery cathodes made of layers of lithium sandwiched between layers of transition-metal oxides. Such cathodes could significantly increase driving range.
Credit: Stanford University/3Dgraphic

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.

 

 

2017’s Top-10 Discoveries and Scientific Achievements

Each year we compile a list of the biggest advances made by scientists, engineers, and those who support their work at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. From unraveling new details of the particle soup that filled the early universe to designing improvements for batteries, x-ray imaging, and even glass, this year’s selections span a spectrum of size scales and fields of science. Read on for a recap of what our passion for discovery has uncovered this year.  (…)

4. Low-Temperature Hydrogen Catalyst

Brookhaven chemists conducted essential studies to decipher the details of a new low-temperature catalyst for producing high-purity hydrogen gas. Developed by collaborators at Peking University, the catalyst operates at low temperature and pressure, and could be particularly useful in fuel-cell-powered cars. The Brookhaven team analyzed the catalyst as it was operating under industrial conditions using x-ray diffraction at the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS). These operando experiments revealed how the configuration of atoms changed under different operating conditions, including at different temperatures. The team then used those structural details to develop models and a theoretical framework to explain why the catalyst works so well, using computational resources at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN).

 >Read more on the NSLS-II website

 

New Catalyst Gives Artificial Photosynthesis a Big Boost

Inspired by plants: Inorganic catalyst converts electrical energy to chemical energy at 64% efficiency

Researchers have created a new catalyst that brings them one step closer to artificial photosynthesis — a system that would use renewable energy to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into stored chemical energy.

As in plants, their system consists of two linked chemical reactions: one that splits water (H2O) into protons and oxygen gas, and another that converts CO2 into carbon monoxide (CO). The CO can then be converted into hydrocarbon fuels through an established industrial process. The system would allow both the capture of carbon emissions and the storage of energy from solar or wind power.

Yufeng Liang and David Prendergast – scientists at the Molecular Foundry, a nanoscale research facility at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) – performed theoretical modeling work used to interpret X-ray spectroscopy measurements made in the study, published Nov. 20 in Nature Chemistry. This work was done in support of a project originally proposed by the University of Toronto team to the Molecular Foundry, a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

 

>Read more on the ALS website

Image: Phil De Luna of University of Toronto is one of the lead authors of a new study that reports a low-cost, highly efficient catalyst for chemical conversion of water into oxygen. The catalyst is part of an artificial photosynthesis system in development at the University of Toronto.
Credit: Tyler Irving/University of Toronto

Antiferromagnetic dysprosium reveals magnetic switching with less energy

HZB scientists have identified a mechanism with which it may be possible to develop a form of magnetic storage that is faster and more energy-efficient.

They compared how different forms of magnetic ordering in the rare-earth metal named dysprosium react to a short laser pulse. They discovered that the magnetic orientation can be altered much faster and with considerably less energy if the magnetic moments of the individual atoms do not all point in the same direction (ferromagnetism), but instead point are rotated against each other (anti-ferromagnetism). The study was published in Physical Review letters on 6. November 2017 and on the cover of the print edition.

Dysprosium is not only the atomic element with the strongest magnetic moments, but it also possesses another interesting property: its magnetic moments point either all the same direction (ferromagnetism) or are tilted against each other, depending on the temperature. This makes it possible to investigate in the very same sample how differently oriented magnetic moments behave when they are excited by an external energy pulse.

>Read More on the Bessy II (HZB) website

Image: A short laser pulse pertubates magnetic order in dysprosium. This happens much faster if the sample had a antiferromagnetic order (left) compared to ferromagnetic order (right). Credit: HZB

Approved! The EU INFINITE-CELL project

A large EU-sponsored research project on tandem solar cells in which HZB is participating begins in November 2017.

The goal is to combine thin-film semiconductors made of silicon and kesterites into especially cost-effective tandem cells having efficiencies of over 20 per cent. Several large research institutions from Europe, Morocco, the Republic of South Africa, and Belarus will be working on the project, as well as two partners from industry.

“We not only have detailed experience with kesterite thin films, but also a wide spectrum of analytical methods at our disposal to characterise absorber materials very thoroughly”, explains Prof. Susan Schorr. The FUNDACIO INSTITUT DE RECERCA DE L’ENERGIA DE CATALUNYA (IREC), Spain – a long-term collaborating partner of the HZB, is coordinating the entire project. The project begins with a kick-off workshop in Brussels in November 2017.

HZB launches the HI-SCORE international research school in collaboration with Israel

The Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin is establishing the Helmholtz International Research School HI-SCORE, which will be oriented towards solar energy research.

To accomplish this, HZB is collaborating with the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, the Israeli Institute of Technology (Technion) in Haifa, and three Israeli universities as well as universities in Berlin and Potsdam. The project is being funded by the Helmholtz Association.

The name “HI-SCORE” stands for “Hybrid Integrated Systems for Conversion of Solar Energy”. The research themes extend from novel solar cells based on metal-organic perovskites, to tandem solar cells, to complex systems of materials for generating solar fuels. These complex materials systems can convert the energy of sunlight to chemical energy so it can be easily stored in the form of fuel.

Joining forces to advance perovskite solar cells

Great Interest in the HySPRINT Industry Day

No fewer than 70 participants attended the first Industry Day of the Helmholtz Innovation Lab HySPRINT devoted to the topic of perovskite solar cells at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) on 13 October 2017. This far exceeded the expectations of the event hosts. The knowledge shared on Industry Day will serve as the basis for deepening the collaboration even further with strategically important companies in the scope of HySPRINT.

“Seeing the industry partners’ active participation was very gratifying. We could feel in the lively discussions how there is great interest on both sides to collaborate even more closely on technology transfer,” says Dr. Stefan Gall, project manager of the Helmholtz Innovation Lab HySPRINT (“Hybrid Silicon Perovskite Research, Integration & Novel Technologies”). On the Industry Day, eight companies presented those topics that especially interest them. “From this, certain problems emerged that we are now going to work on targetedly with our industrial partners.”