Turning mine waste into healthy soil

Tailings, the waste left after extracting precious and critical minerals, often contain harmful chemicals and heavy metals that can pollute soil, water, and even crops. There are over 1800 tailings storage facilities around the world, and in 2019, a tailings dam in Brazil collapsed; close to 300 people drowned in the waste, which also polluted local land and waterways.

Now a team led by researchers at the University of Queensland has developed an innovative method to turn harmful tailings into healthy soil. The scientists used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to determine the underlying mechanism of their process.

Longbin Huang, a professor with the University of Queensland, said it’s costly and environmentally risky to store tailings over the long term and that other processes for remediating mine waste are slow and extremely expensive. “We have basically taken engineering solutions into the context of natural soil formation from rocks, because tailings have some useful minerals common to natural rocks.” Their solution, he said, could save billions of dollars around the world and carry a host of environmental benefits.

“Tailings have no biologically friendly properties for growing plants. Roots and water cannot penetrate them, and soluble salts and metals in tailings can kill plants and soil microbes,” said Huang. “If you wait for nature to slowly weather the tailings and turn them into soil, it could take a couple thousand years.”

Huang and colleagues found a way to accelerate natural soil formation processes to convert tailings into healthy soil. They recently published their findings in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“We can convert these colossal volumes of biologically hostile tailings into growth media similar to natural soil by developing soil structure that will enable biological activity of microbes and plants, basically establishing a natural ecosystem,” he explained.

The process involves encouraging specific microbes to grow in tailings that have been amended with plant mulch from agricultural waste and urban green waste. These microbes “eat” the organics and minerals in tailings, transforming them into functional aggregates (or soil crumbs), the building blocks of healthy soil.  

Read more on CLS website

Battling antibiotic-resistant pathogens one door knob at a time

New antimicrobial coating could revolutionize cleaning methods

We’ve gained a new weapon in the fight against harmful and often antibiotic-resistant pathogens with the development of a unique material engineered to limit disease spread and replace current cumbersome cleaning protocols on high-touch surfaces like door knobs and hand rails.

Using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), researchers from the University of Windsor (UWindsor) have developed and tested a compound of ionic (salt-based) fluids and copper nanoparticles that can coat surfaces and provide germ-free protection that lasts far longer than conventional bleach-based cleaning. For Dr. Abhinandan (Ronnie) Banerjee, the composite material is far superior to “somebody with bleach and a rag trying to keep surfaces sanitized.”

Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, Banerjee and colleagues on the UWindsor’s Trant Team — a research group focused on synthetic bioorganic materials — set their sights on improving sanitizing protocols, which at the time often involved frequent application of compounds like bleach. “The problem with conventional sanitization techniques is it’s not a one-and-done kind of thing,” they said. “It requires a dedicated employee or automation” to keep surfaces germ free. Additionally, frequent wiping of a surface can etch the underlying material, creating even more opportunities for pathogens to gather.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: BioXAS Beamline

Credit: Canadian Light Source (CLS)

Milestone for novel atomic clock

X-ray laser shows possible route to substantially increased precision time measurement

An international research team has taken a decisive step toward a new generation of atomic clocks. At the European XFEL X-ray laser, the researchers have created a much more precise pulse generator based on the element scandium, which enables an accuracy of one second in 300 billion years – that is about a thousand times more precise than the current standard atomic clock based on caesium. The team presents its success in the journal Nature.

Atomic clocks are currently the world’s most accurate timekeepers. These clocks have used electrons in the atomic shell of chemical elements, such as caesium, as a pulse generator in order to define the time. These electrons can be raised to a higher energy level with microwaves of a known frequency. In the process, they absorb the microwave radiation. An atomic clock shines microwaves at caesium atoms and regulates the frequency of the radiation such that the absorption of the microwaves is maximised; experts call this a resonance. The quartz oscillator that generates the microwaves can be kept so stable with the help of resonance that caesium clocks will be accurate to within one second within 300 million years.

Crucial to the accuracy of an atomic clock is the width of the resonance used. Current caesium atomic clocks already use a very narrow resonance; strontium atomic clocks achieve a higher accuracy with only one second in 15 billion years. Further improvement is practically impossible to achieve with this method of electron excitation. Therefore, teams around the world have been working for several years on the concept of a “nuclear” clock, which uses transitions in the atomic nucleus as the pulse generator rather than in the atomic shell. Nuclear resonances are much more acute than the resonances of electrons in the atomic shell, but also much harder to excite.

At the European XFEL the team could now excite a promising transition in the nucleus of the element scandium, which is readily available as a high-purity metal foil or as the compound scandium dioxide This resonance requires X-rays with an energy of 12.4 kiloelectronvolts (keV, which is about 10,000 times the energy of visible light) and has a width of only 1.4 femtoelectronvolts (feV). This is 1.4 quadrillionths of an electronvolt, which is only about one tenth of a trillionth of the excitation energy (10-19). This makes an accuracy of 1:10,000,000,000,000 possible. “This corresponds to one second in 300 billion years,” says DESY researcher Ralf Röhlsberger, who works at the Helmholtz Institute Jena, a joint facility of the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), and DESY.

Read more on the DESY website

Image: An artist’s rendition of the scandium nuclear clock: scientists used the X-ray pulses of the European XFEL to excite in the atomic nucleus of scandium the sort of processes that can generate a clock signal – at an unprecedented precision of one second in 300 billion years.

Credit: European XFEL/Helmholtz Institute Jena, Tobias Wüstefeld/Ralf Röhlsberger

Lake source cooling brings sustainability, precision to synchrotron

The science of flinging around X-rays, electrons and positron beams to study the secret life of matter requires a tremendous amount of energy. It also requires a constant supply of cool water to keep the technology functioning consistently and prevent it from overheating.

For decades, the Wilson Laboratory, which houses the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS), has relied on four immense cooling towers that evaporate 10,000 gallons of water daily to reduce the temperature of the nearly 650 electromagnets – some roughly twice the size of a human being – that line a half-mile-long ring buried 40 feet below a scenic swath of east campus.

Those towers are now obsolete because the lab has tapped into the university’s Lake Source Cooling (LSC) system, which draws cold water from the depths of Cayuga Lake to remove heat from the district chilled water loop that cools the majority of Cornell facilities. For Wilson Lab, this approach is not only more efficient and sustainable – it will bring greater precision to its experiments. LSC will also, for the first time, enable CHESS to operate year-round.

Read more on the CHESS website

Image: Leila Aboharb, mechanical systems engineer at Wilson Lab, says Lake Source Cooling is a much more reliable system than the four cooling towers that were installed in 1989.

Credit: Noël Heaney/Cornell University

25 years of BESSY II light source for the good of society

Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) is celebrating the 25 years of existence of BESSY II together with the international scientific community. More about the highlights from 25 years of research at BESSY II, the plans for the future, and the people who reliably operate the machine are to be found in the special anniversary magazine here.

When BESSY II in Berlin Adlershof went into operation in September 1998, it was a milestone for the reunified Berlin and in some ways a starting point for the success story of Adlershof. After only four years’ construction time, the successor to the first Berliner synchrotron radiation source that was previously in West Berlin (BESSY I) now stood in the eastern part of the city.

Today, BESSY II is a magnet for scientific exchange. Every year, the research facility receives more than 2700 visits from guest researchers from all over the world, who use the special X-ray light for their research. BESSY II has delivered results that have led to breakthroughs in many research fields. Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) is therefore celebrating the 25 years of existence of BESSY II together with the international scientific community. More about the highlights from 25 years of research at BESSY II, the plans for the future, and the people who reliably operate the machine are to be found in the special anniversary magazine here.

BESSY II is a material discovery machine

The most important experiments today are those for developing the materials we need for an environmentally friendly energy supply of the future.

Be it solar cells, catalysts for green hydrogen, batteries, or quantum materials – the special X-ray light (aka synchrotron light) from BESSY II can be used to look inside everything. HZB and its partners have expanded these experimental possibilities considerably in the recent years. In-situ and in-operando measurements allow researchers to “watch live” how a battery gets charged or discharged, for example, or how a catalyst works. That helps experts to further optimise the materials they are made of so that they work even more efficiently.

Plans for the future

25 years of BESSY II are incentive for Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin to continue operating the light source at the highest level, and to allow societally important research to continue into the future. Accordingly, the work for a comprehensive upgrade to BESSY II+ has been underway in the recent months. Many components of the accelerator and several experimental stations (beamlines) are being renovated and modified in order to offer even more attractive research possibilities for science and industry. HZB experts have also developed a concept for a successor source in Berlin Adlershof, which will allow this important research to continue further still for decades to come. After all, a powerful light source that delivers soft X-ray light is essential for Germany as a science and technology location, and secures jobs in the long term.

Read more on HZB website

LCLS-II ushers in a new era of science

SLAC fires up the world’s most powerful X-ray laser

With up to a million X-ray flashes per second, 8,000 times more than its predecessor, it transforms the ability of scientists to explore atomic-scale, ultrafast phenomena that are key to a broad range of applications, from quantum materials to clean energy technologies and medicine.

The newly upgraded Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory successfully produced its first X-rays, and researchers around the world are already lined up to kick off an ambitious science program. 

The upgrade, called LCLS-II, creates unparalleled capabilities that will usher in a new era in research with X-rays. Scientists will be able to examine the details of quantum materials with unprecedented resolution to drive new forms of computing and communications; reveal unpredictable and fleeting chemical events to teach us how to create more sustainable industries and clean energy technologies; study how biological molecules carry out life’s functions to develop new types of pharmaceuticals; and study the world on the fastest timescales to open up entirely new fields of scientific investigation. 

“This achievement marks the culmination of over a decade of work,” said LCLS-II Project Director Greg Hays. “It shows that all the different elements of LCLS-II are working in harmony to produce X-ray laser light in an entirely new mode of operation.”  

Reaching “first light” is the result of a series of key milestones that started in 2010 with the vision of upgrading the original LCLS and blossomed into a multi-year ($1.1 billion) upgrade project involving thousands of scientists, engineers, and technicians across DOE, as well as numerous institutional partners. 

“For more than 60 years, SLAC has built and operated powerful tools that help scientists answer fundamental questions about the world around us. This milestone ensures our leadership in the field of X-ray science and propels us forward to future innovations,” said Stephen Streiffer, SLAC’s interim laboratory director. “It’s all thanks to the amazing efforts of all parts of our laboratory in collaboration with the wider project team.”

Read more on the SLAC website

Image: The newly upgraded Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory successfully produced its first X-rays. The upgrade, called LCLS-II, creates unparalleled capabilities that will usher in a new era in research with X-rays.

Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Polarization shaping of ultrashort extreme-ultraviolet light pulses

Conventional lasers produce light with a well-defined, time-independent polarization. Two common examples are linear polarization, where the electric field oscillates in a certain direction in the plane perpendicular to the direction of light propagation, and circular polarization, where the electric field rotates clockwise (right circular) or counter-clockwise (left circular) about the propagation direction. Recently, however, the generation of pulsed laser light whose polarization is varying on a femtosecond timescale, has attracted significant attention. Such polarization-shaped pulses have been used in a number of applications ranging from manipulation of electron wave packets to improving the sensitivity of advanced spectroscopic techniques.

In the visible, a time-dependent polarization is accomplished using a pulse shaper. On the other hand, lack of efficient optical elements and greater difficulties in controlling the propagation of light at short wavelengths significantly restrain pulse shaping in the extreme ultraviolet (XUV) and x-ray spectral regions. We show here that the externally seeded free-electron laser (FEL) FERMI provides a solution to the problem of tailoring the polarization profile of short and intense XUV pulses.

Read more on the Elettra website

Image: Figure 1 (c & d – click link above to view full figure): The scheme for generating an XUV FEL pulse with time-dependent polarization by combining two counter-rotating FEL sub-pulses. (b) Schematic output of the setup shown in (a) for a separation between the sub-pulse envelopes equal to their FWHM durations (60 fs) and a relative phase (set by PS before R2 in (a)) equal to π/4. Top: components of the total electric field and total intensity. The FEL wavelength is exaggerated to visualize oscillations of the fields. Bottom: temporal profiles of the intensity-normalized Stokes parameters. (c) VMI images obtained from photoionization of helium atoms for a zero delay between the sub-pulse envelopes as a function of the relative phase: the polarization varies from almost pure horizontal (phase = 0, left), to diagonal (phase = π /2, middle), to almost pure vertical (phase = π, right). (d) Intensity-normalized, time-integrated Stokes parameter S1 as a function of the relative phase for zero (left) and 30 fs (right) delay between the sub-pulse envelopes.

In memory of professor Per-Olof Nilsson

Professor Per-Olof Nilsson, a colleague and friend to us at MAX IV, passed away at age 84. As a PhD and later professor at Chalmers with a great interest in synchrotron-based research, Per-Olof Nilsson played a major role as initiator and facilitator of MAX-lab, which became MAX IV, as a national facility. He sent in the first application for a synchrotron radiation facility, together with former synchrotron radiation research coordinator and subsequently University Chancellor Anders Flodström in 1978, and the application for funding the first beamline. Per-Olof Nilsson founded the users association, FASM and organised the first MAX-lab summer schools to enhance students’ knowledge of science with synchrotrons. He worked until his demise as a professor emeritus at Chalmers, where he, among other assignments, had a great engagement in science outreach and established a workshop with over 300 teaching experiments.

“P.O. was a leading researcher in a generation of scientists who deepened the understanding of the new materials that form the basis of our development towards a better and sustainable society. As a pioneer, P.O. understood the opportunities offered by accelerator research in Lund. Many heroes have worked along the journey towards MAX IV. Still, the pioneer was P.O. We, and future synchrotron light researchers will always remember P.O. for his sharp intellect, empathy, and understanding of the role of research in a constantly changing world,” says prof. Anders Flodström.

Read more on MAX IV website

Image: P.O. Nilsson

Credit: J-O Yxell, Chalmers

Understanding sensitive soils to improve quality of surrounding water

Researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala are investigating the impact of phosphorous – both that which exists naturally in soil and that which has been added as manure or fertilizer – on sensitive soils and local aquatic systems.

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for crops and a component of many fertilizers, including animal manure. While it’s critical for plant growth, too much can damage the quality of water bodies near farms. Phosphorus runoff increases the nutrients within aquatic systems that feed algal blooms, which can lead to a decrease in oxygenated water and a reduction of biological diversity in lakes. Algal blooms can impact human health and wildlife as well as the economies of affected communities reliant on fishing and tourism.

“The transfer of phosphorus from land to aquatic recipients is not equally distributed, meaning some parts of the landscape are more vulnerable,” says Faruk Djodjic, Associate Professor at the Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment. “By identifying those vulnerable soil profiles and targeting them with mitigation measures, we can improve water and soil quality.”

With the help of the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), Djodjic and his colleagues were able to analyze samples to better understand the composition of sensitive soils.

The beamline data from SXRMB helped the researchers identify important compounds that govern phosphorus absorption or release.

Read more on CLS website

Helium droplets for studies of nanostructures

Using a conical nozzle, an international research team has generated vortex-free droplets of superfluid helium that are larger than any created before. The droplets are big enough to be resolved in X-ray diffraction images, making them ideal for studying the self-assembly of a wide range of nanostructures forming inside a superfluid environment.  

A superfluid, such as very cold liquefied helium, flows without any internal friction. Droplets of superfluid helium therefore provide a perfect environment for researchers to investigate the formation of self-organized nanostructures made from various dopant materials, i.e. atoms and molecules specifically inserted into the droplets. However, the occurrence of vortices inside the droplets can hinder the assembly of such nanostructures, as many dopants are easily attracted to them. Now, a team of scientists led by researchers from TU Berlin has used a special nozzle at the European XFEL’s SQS instrument to create swirl-free helium nanodroplets and explore the size range in which they can be produced.

“Our conical nozzle enabled us to generate vortex-free droplets from the condensation of expanding helium gas that contain up to a thousand times more helium atoms than possible with previous methods,” explains Rico Tanyag, previously at TU Berlin in Germany and now at Aarhus University in Denmark, one of the principal investigators of the experiment. “This large size allows us to image both the droplets and the dopant nanostructures inside them using the ultrashort pulses of X-ray free-electron lasers such as the European XFEL,” adds Daniela Rupp from ETH Zürich in Switzerland, the other main proposer of the study. “Our experiment thus paves the way for exploring in atomic detail how such nanostructures form.”

Using a technique called X-ray coherent diffractive imaging on helium droplets doped with xenon atoms, the scientists found that single compact xenon structures, which are associated with vortex-free formation, prevailed up to a droplet size of a hundred million helium atoms—a thousand times more than previously feasible. Larger droplets, on the other hand, contained xenon filaments, indicating the presence of vortices that disturbed the structure formation. 

Read more on XFEL website

Image: The SQS instrument at European XFEL.

Credit: European XFEL/Axel Heimken

Groundbreaking advancements in net-zero technology

A transnational collaborative research team, comprising Jeng-Lung Chen, Assistant Scientist, Yu-Chun Chuang, Associate Scientist, and Chung-Kai Chang, Research Assistant from the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center (NSRRC) under the purview of the National Science and Technology Council, in partnership with Dr. Lu-Ning Chen, Professor Gabor A. Somorjai, and Dr. Ji Su from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, USA, has dedicated three years to pioneering global advancements in the field of green hydrogen production. Their groundbreaking work centers around the development of a methane pyrolysis catalyst, known as the “nickel-molybdenum-bismuth liquid alloy (NiMo-Bi),” which exhibits high hydrogen production efficiency, excellent stability, and low energy consumption. This study explored the electrostatic charge distribution on the active nickel sites in the molten state, demonstrating the NiMo-Bi liquid alloy’s capability to effectively mitigate the cage effect caused by bismuth. This mitigation facilitates the effective flow of methane to active nickel sites, resulting in efficient hydrogen generation. This outstanding discovery was published in the respected international journal Science on August 25, 2023, emerging as a pivotal driving force for advancing the transition to a net-zero future.  

The U.S. research team initially integrated molybdenum into the nickel-bismuth catalyst, resulting in the creation of an innovative catalyst known as NiMo-Bi liquid alloy. Meanwhile, NSRRC scientists engineered an experimental setup tailored for in-situ high-temperature gas-phase reactions. Harnessing the capabilities of the “Quick X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy Beamline” and the “High Resolution Powder X-ray Diffraction Beamline” at the Taiwan Photon Source (TPS), the team validated the catalyst’s efficacy by significantly lowering methane pyrolysis temperatures to values as low as 450 °C. They also showed that at an elevated temperature of 800 °C, the selectivity of converting methane into hydrogen reached 100%, maintaining this optimal level for a stable period of 120 hours. This achievement marks a nearly 37-fold improvement in hydrogen production efficiency compared to previous methods. Concurrently, the optimal pyrolysis temperature was significantly reduced from 1065 degrees Celsius to 800 degrees Celsius, resulting in a significant reduction in the energy requirements of the conversion process.

Read more on the NSRRC website

Image: Quick X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy Beamline

Funding for Diamond-II approved

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology together with Wellcome, one of the world’s largest biomedical charities, today (Wednesday 6th September) announced approval for the innovative update and expansion programme to the UK’s national synchrotron, Diamond Light Source, at a total project cost of £519.4M. The investment will see 86% come from the UK Government and 14% from Wellcome, the same proportion that has funded Diamond from its beginning.

The full approval of the upgrade, Diamond-II, is part of a major investment drive in cutting-edge facilities to keep UK researchers and innovators at the forefront of discovery and help address global challenges.  

Sir Adrian Smith, Chair of the Board of Diamond Light Source and President of the Royal Society comments:

We are delighted that the government and the Wellcome Trust have agreed this substantial investment in science infrastructure which will ensure the UK is at the forefront of world class science.  This investment in Diamond-II will strengthen the UK’s global scientific leadership and confirms the UK’s commitment to building on the success Diamond has achieved so far.

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, the Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP, said:

Our national synchrotron may fly under the radar as we go about our daily lives, but it has been crucial to some of the most defining discoveries in recent history – from kickstarting Covid drug development that allowed us to protect millions of Britons to advancing treatment for HIV.

Our investment will ensure one of the most pioneering scientific facilities in the world continues to advance discoveries that transform our health and prosperity, while creating jobs, growing the UK economy and ensuring our country remains a scientific powerhouse.

The overall transformational Diamond-II upgrade will take several years of planning and implementation. This will include a “dark period” of 18 months during which there will be no synchrotron light for the user community, followed by a period to fully launch the new facility with three new flagship beamlines and major upgrades to many other beamlines.

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: Touring Diamond’s experimental hall during celebrations to mark the funding announcement for Diamond-II.
L to R: Dr Richard Walker, Technical Director and Senior Responsible Owner for Diamond-II, Beth Thompson MBE Chief Strategy Officer at Wellcome, Dr Adrian Mancuso, Diamond’s Physical Science Director, Prof Sir Dave Stuart, Diamond’s Life Sciences Director,  Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, the Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP, Sir Adrian Smith, Chair of the Board of Diamond, and Executive Chair of STFC Professor Mark Thomson.

Credit: Diamond Light Source

Thank You SLS

Since 2001, the Swiss Light Source SLS has been a catalyst for ground-breaking discoveries in physics, materials science, biology, and chemistry. The extremely bright X-ray light provided by the SLS has enabled researchers to take giant leaps in their understanding of the world around us.

Countless scientists in Switzerland and worldwide have collaborated at this remarkable facility, pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge and unlocking new possibilities. As we approach the temporary shutdown for the SLS 2.0 upgrade, our beamline scientists look back on 22 years of brilliant science and achievements made possible by the SLS.

Read more on the PSI website

Image: Aerial veiw of the Swiss Light Source

Credit: PSI

Improved treatment for patients with kidney failure

USask researchers have developed a better membrane for dialysis machines that could lead to safer treatment, improved quality of life for patients with kidney failure.

Over two million people worldwide depend on dialysis or a kidney transplant, according to the National Kidney Foundation. In Canada, the number of individuals facing kidney failure has climbed 35 per cent since 2009 and nearly half (46 per cent) of new kidney disease patients are under age 65, according to The Kidney Foundation of Canada.

Using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), researchers have developed a better membrane for dialysis machines that could lead to safer treatment and improved quality of life for patients with kidney failure.

A dialysis machine is used to filter toxins, waste products, salts, and excess fluid from a patient’s blood when their kidneys can no longer perform this function well. However, negative reactions between dialysis membranes and the patient’s blood can lead to serious complications like blood clots, heart conditions, anemia, blood poisoning, infections, and more.

Dr. Amira Abdelrasoul, an associate professor with USask’s College of Engineering, is an expert on membranes and is determined to help patients on dialysis. “I lost a close family member due to dialysis,” she said. “I saw all the complications he experienced and how he suffered. So, I put all my efforts, knowledge, and background into this research area because I would like to support patients and avoid anyone having to lose a loved one from this treatment.”

The new dialysis membrane developed by her team is a significant improvement over those used in hospitals today, according to Abdelrasoul. Some of the commercial membranes currently in use contain heparin, a medicine that reduces blood clots; however, they also have an intense negative charge on their surface that causes serious side effects.

Read more on the CLS website

Towards greener chemical processes with a new catalyst for ethylene hydroformylation

A research led by ITQ (UPV-CSIC) has demonstrated the possibility to replace molecular catalysts in solution for all-solid catalysts based on isolated metal atoms for selective gas-phase ethylene hydroformylation, an important industrial chemical reaction. The discovery paves the way for greener chemical processes, with greater energy efficiency and lower carbon footprint, for the valorization of unconventional raw materials, alternative to crude oil. To test the designed catalyst, synchrotron light techniques have been used, among others, at the ALBA Synchrotron.

The hydroformylation of ethylene is a chemical process of remarkable industrial significance. In particular, this chemical reaction entails the net addition of a formyl group (-CHO carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) and a hydrogen atom to the ethylene carbon-carbon double bond. This process enables valorizing raw materials such as refinery off-gases as well as unconventional feedstocks such as shale-gas (a kind of natural gas) into oxygenated platform chemicals. Moreover, hydroformylation is also considered a reactive separation alternative to current cryogenic distillations, which are applied to recover ethylene, a valuable commodity chemical, from mixtures with less valuable gases such as ethane. Such cryogenic distillation separations count among the most energy demanding operations in the chemical industry and are therefore associated to high carbon footprints.

Catalysts are materials that are central to steering essentially all chemical transformations of the current chemical industry. A major class of industrially applied catalysts consists of molecular organometallic compounds that operate in a liquid solvent. These catalysts have proven to be highly active and exceedingly selective for a wide range of important transformations. However, they also face significant challenges. First, their limited thermal and chemical stability, which shortens their functional lifetime. On the other hand, the technical complexity associated with their recovery from liquid mixtures with products and solvents of the process, to prevent losses of the precious metals these catalysts are typically made of.

Now, scientists from the Instituto de Tecnología Química (ITQ, UPV-CSIC), the ALBA Synchrotron, the Institute for Nanoscience & Materials of Aragón (INMA, CSIC-UZ) and the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology have designed a new catalyst for selective gas-phase ethylene hydroformylation. Their research shows that a material bearing isolated atoms of rhodium (Rh) stabilized within the surface of stannic oxide (SnO2) is an all-inorganic solid catalyst which delivers an exceptional performance for the gas-phase hydroformylation of ethylene, in par with those thus far exclusive for conventional molecular catalysts in liquid media.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: From left to right: Giovanni Agostini (former beamline responsible at NOTOS, ALBA), Gonzalo Prieto (ITQ), Juan José Cortés (ITQ), Wilson Henao (ITQ), Carlos Escudero (beamline scientist at NOTOS, ALBA) and Carlo Marini (beamline responsible of NOTOS, ALBA).