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

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.