The APS prepares for its renewal

The facility’s ultrabright X-ray beams will turn off for a year to enable a comprehensive upgrade, one that will light the way to new breakthroughs

With the start of the construction period, the Advanced Photon Source is now only a year away from re-emerging as a world-leading X-ray light source. Its brighter beams will lead to new discoveries in energy storage, materials science, medicine and more.

Today, a year-long effort to renew the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, officially begins.

After years of planning and preparation, the team behind the APS Upgrade project will now spend the next 12 months removing the old electron storage ring at the heart of the facility, replacing it with a brand new, state-of-the-art storage ring and testing the new ring once it is in place. The team will also build seven new experiment stations, construct the needed infrastructure for two more and update nearly every existing experiment station around the APS ring.

This is an extensive project, representing an $815 million investment from DOE. When complete, the APS will re-emerge as a world leader in global hard X-ray synchrotron science, enabling unimaginable new discoveries. Science conducted at the APS will lead to longer-lasting, faster-charging batteries, more durable airplane engines and better treatments for infectious diseases, among many other discoveries.

“The APS Upgrade is not only an investment in the facility’s future, but in the next 25 years of advancements that will change the way we power our vehicles, harness renewable energy and learn more about the fundamental science that underpins our future technologies.” — Linda Horton, associate director of science for Basic Energy Sciences, U.S. Department of Energy.

“This is a significant day for Argonne,” said Argonne Director Paul Kearns. ​“The APS Upgrade will transform the future of science for America and the world. Once we safely complete construction, the APS will shed new light on how the brain works, develop materials to decarbonize our economy, refine quantum technologies that can power the internet of the future and answer many other questions in numerous other disciplines.”

Read more on the Argonne National Laboratory website

Image: The Advanced Photon Source is undergoing a comprehensive upgrade that will result in X-ray beams that are up to 500 times brighter than the current facility can create. After a year-long shutdown, the upgraded APS will open the door to discoveries we can barely imagine today

Credit: Argonne National Laboratory/JJ Starr

How a record-breaking copper catalyst converts CO2 into liquid fuels

Researchers at Berkeley Lab, collaborating with CHESS scientists at the PIPOXS beamline, have made the first real-time movies of copper nanoparticles as they evolve to convert carbon dioxide and water into renewable fuels and chemicals. Their new insights could help advance the next generation of solar fuels.

Since the 1970s, scientists have known that copper has a special ability to recycle carbon dioxide into valuable chemicals and fuels. But for many years, scientists have struggled to understand how this common metal works as an electrocatalyst, a mechanism that uses energy from electrons to chemically transform molecules into different products.

Now, a research team led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has gained new insight by capturing the world’s first real-time movies of copper nanoparticles (copper particles engineered at the scale of a billionth of a meter) as they convert CO2 and water into renewable fuels and chemicals: ethylene, ethanol, and propanol, among others. The work was reported in the journal Nature.

“This is very exciting. After decades of work, we’re finally able to show – with undeniable proof – how copper electrocatalysts excel in CO2 reduction,” said Peidong Yang, a senior faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences and Chemical Sciences Divisions who led the study. Yang is also a professor of chemistry and materials science and engineering at UC Berkeley. “Knowing why copper is such an excellent electrocatalyst brings us steps closer to turning CO2 into new, renewable solar fuels through artificial photosynthesis.”

Read more on the CHESS website

Image: Artist’s rendering of a copper nanoparticle as it evolves during CO2 electrolysis: Copper nanoparticles (left) combine into larger metallic copper “nanograins” (right) within seconds of the electrochemical reaction, reducing CO2 into new multicarbon products.

Credit: Yao Yang/Berkeley Lab

Electrocatalysis – Iron and Cobalt Oxyhydroxides examined

A team led by Dr. Prashanth W. Menezes (HZB/TU-Berlin) has now gained insights into the chemistry of one of the most active anode catalysts for green hydrogen production. They examined a series of Cobalt-Iron Oxyhydroxides at BESSY II and were able to determine the oxidation states of the active elements in different configurations as well as to unveil the geometrical structure of the active sites. Their results might contribute to the knowledge based design of new highly efficient and low cost catalytical active materials.

Very soon, we need to become fossil free, not only in the energy sector, but as well in industry. Hydrocarbons or other raw chemicals can be produced in principle using renewable energy and abundant molecules such as water and carbon dioxide with the help of electrocatalytically active materials. But at the moment, those catalyst materials either consist of expensive and rare materials or lack efficiency.

Key reaction in water splitting

A team led by Dr. Prashanth W. Menezes (HZB/TU-Berlin) has now gained insights into the chemistry of one of the most active catalysts for the anodic oxygen evolution reaction (OER), which is a key reaction to supply electrons for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) in water splitting. The hydrogen can then be processed into further chemical compounds, e.g., hydrocarbons. Additionally, in the direct electrocatalytic carbon dioxide reduction to alcohols or hydrocarbons, the OER also plays a central role.

Read more on the HZB website

Image: LiFex-1Cox Borophosphates have been used as inexpensive anodes for the production of green hydrogen. Their dynamic restructuring during OER as well as their catalytically active structure, have been elucidated via  X-ray absorption spectroscopy.

Credit: © P. Menezes / HZB /TU Berlin

Success from widening access to basic science research tools and synchrotron expertise in Africa

A focus of UNESCO’s International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development is ‘enhancing inclusive participation in science’. Diamond Light Source was a key partner in START, a collaborative project that sought to foster the development of Synchrotron Techniques for African Research and Technology (START), which ran from 2018 to 2021 with a £3.7 M grant from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) provided by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Today on World Science Day for Peace and Development, we are highlighting health and energy research enabled by START.

Diamond played a pivotal role in the project, providing African scientists with crucial access to world class synchrotron techniques, beamtime, training and mentoring. Research focused on structural biology and energy materials to address key United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for health (SDG 3), energy (SDG 7), climate (SDG 13), and life-long learning (SDG 4).

Addressing worldwide energy challenges

Catalysis is essential for the development of a sustainable world and was a focus of the energy materials arm of the grant, along with solar energy, which is a well-recognised sustainable energy solution. These are just two areas in the physical sciences that were investigated as part of START.

Working towards better renewable energy solutions

Catalysis has many applications in renewable energy, where waste biomass is converted to liquid biofuels, or waste CO2 is converted to high value chemicals that can be used in our daily life, or as an alternative to fossil fuels. These applications rely on catalysts but to make this process more sustainable and efficient, advanced techniques are required to understand how the catalysts work under operating conditions. A group of START collaborators used Diamond to understand more about catalyst materials. They were investigating furfural, a bio-derived molecule that can be converted to many useful products that can be used for renewable energy. However, bio-derived compounds are highly functionalised – many parts of the molecular structure can undergo chemical change. Palladium (Pd) nanoparticles are widely used as an active component in furfural hydrogenation – a specific type of reaction that involves the addition of hydrogen to a compound – however, selectivity to specific products is a big challenge. Using X-ray absorption spectroscopy at Diamond, the team demonstrated that a Pd/NiO catalyst can hydrogenate furfural using a dual site process. This work has significant implications for the upgrading of bioderived feedstocks, suggesting alternative ways for promoting selective transformations and reducing the reliance on precious metals.

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: START logo

SESAME fully powered by renewable energy

SESAME becomes the world’s first large accelerator complex to be fully powered by renewable energy.

Today (26 February 2019), a ceremony was held to mark the official inauguration of the solar power plant of SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East).
Constructed on grounds next to JAEC (Jordan Atomic Energy Commission) that is located some 30kms from SESAME, electricity from the solar power plant will be supplied by an on-grid photovoltaic system having a total power capacity of 6.48 MW, which will amply satisfy SESAME’s needs for several years.
Thanks to this power plant SESAME is now not only the first synchrotron light facility in the region, but also the world’s first large accelerator complex to be fully powered by renewable energy. “As in the case of all accelerators, SESAME is  in dire need of energy, and as the number of its users increases so will its electricity bill” said the Director of SESAME, Khaled Toukan. “Given the very high cost of electricity in Jordan, with this solar power plant the Centre becomes sustainable” he continued to say.
The power plant, which uses monocrystalline solar panels, was built by the Jordanian company Kawar Energy under the supervision of the consultancy firm Consolidated Consultants Group representing the owner, SESAME. Power from the solar power plant will be transmitted to the grid through the wheeling mechanism by JEPCO (Jordan Electric Power Company). The power that the solar power plant sends to the grid will be accounted for to the credit of SESAME.

>Read more on the SESAME website

Image: SESAME’s solar power plant.
Credit: SESAME.

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.

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.

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