Argonne National Laboratory – New coating could have big implications for lithium batteries


Argonne scientists have developed a new coating (shown in blue) for battery cathodes that can improve the electronic and ionic conductivity of a battery while improving its safety and cycling performance. Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

Building a better lithium-ion battery involves addressing a myriad of factors simultaneously, from keeping the battery’s cathode electrically and ionically conductive to making sure that the battery stays safe after many cycles.

In a new discovery, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new   by using an oxidative chemical vapor deposition technique that can help solve these and several other potential issues with  all in one stroke.

“The coating we’ve discovered really hits five or six birds with one stone.” Khalil Amine, Argonne distinguished fellow and  scientist.

In the research, Amine and his fellow researchers took particles of Argonne’s pioneering nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) cathode material and encapsulated them with a sulfur-containing polymer called PEDOT. This polymer provides the cathode a layer of protection from the battery’s electrolyte as the battery charges and discharges.

Unlike conventional coatings, which only protect the exterior surface of the micron-sized cathode particles and leave the interior vulnerable to cracking, the PEDOT coating had the ability to penetrate to the cathode particle’s interior, adding an additional layer of shielding.

In addition, although PEDOT prevents the chemical interaction between the battery and the electrolyte, it does allow for the necessary transport of lithium ions and electrons that the battery requires in order to function.

“This coating is essentially friendly to all of the processes and chemistry that makes the battery work and unfriendly to all of the potential reactions that would cause the battery to degrade or malfunction,” said Argonne chemist Guiliang Xu, the first author of the research.

The coating also largely prevents another reaction that causes the battery’s cathode to deactivate. In this reaction, the  converts to another form called spinel. “The combination of almost no spinel formation with its other properties makes this coating a very exciting material,” Amine said.

The PEDOT material also demonstrated the ability to prevent oxygen release, a major factor for the degradation of NMC cathode materials at . “This PEDOT coating was also found to be able to suppress oxygen release during charging, which leads to better  and also improves safety,” Amine said.

Amine indicated that battery scientists could likely scale up the coating for use in nickel-rich NMC-containing batteries. “This polymer has been around for a while, but we were still surprised to see that it has all of the encouraging effects that it does,” he said.

With the coating applied, the researchers believe that the NMC-containing batteries could either run at higher voltages—thus increasing their —or have longer lifetimes, or both.

To perform the research, the scientists relied on two DOE Office of Science User Facilities located at Argonne: the Advanced Photon Source (APS) and the Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM). In situ high-energy X-ray diffraction measurements were taken at beamline 11-ID-C of the APS, and focused ion beam lithography and  were performed at the CNM.

A paper based on the study, “Building ultra-conformal protective layers on both secondary and primary particles of layered lithium transition metal oxide cathodes,” appeared in the May 13 online edition of Nature Energy.

More information: Gui-Liang Xu et al, Building ultraconformal protective layers on both secondary and primary particles of layered lithium transition metal oxide cathodes, Nature Energy(2019).  DOI: 10.1038/s41560-019-0387-1

Journal information: Nature Energy

Provided by Argonne National Laboratory

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Argonne National Laboratory – A New Membrane Discovery Makes Hydrogen Fuel from Water and Sunlight


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Two membrane-bound protein complexes that work together with a synthetic catalyst to produce hydrogen from water. Credit: Olivia Johnson and Lisa Utschig

A chemical reaction pathway central to plant biology have been adapted to form the backbone of a new process that converts water into hydrogen fuel using energy from the sun.

argonne nlIn a recent study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, scientists have combined two -bound protein complexes to perform a complete conversion of water molecules to  and oxygen.

The work builds on an earlier study that examined one of these protein complexes, called Photosystem I, a membrane protein that can use energy from light to feed electrons to an inorganic  that makes hydrogen. This part of the reaction, however, represents only half of the overall process needed for hydrogen generation.

By using a second  that uses energy from light to split water and take electrons from it, called Photosystem II, Argonne chemist Lisa Utschig and her colleagues were able to take electrons from water and feed them to Photosystem I.

“The beauty of this design is in its simplicity—you can self-assemble the catalyst with the natural membrane to do the chemistry you want”—Lisa Utschig, Argonne chemist

In an earlier experiment, the researchers provided Photosystem I with electrons from a sacrificial electron donor. “The trick was how to get two electrons to the catalyst in fast succession,” Utschig said.

The two protein complexes are embedded in , like those found inside the oxygen-creating chloroplasts in higher plants. “The membrane, which we have taken directly from nature, is essential for pairing the two photosystems,” Utschig said. “It structurally supports both of them simultaneously and provides a direct pathway for inter- electron transfer, but doesn’t impede catalyst binding to Photosystem I.”

According to Utschig, the Z-scheme—which is the technical name for the light-triggered electron transport chain of natural photosynthesis that occurs in the thylakoid membrane—and the synthetic catalyst come together quite elegantly. “The beauty of this design is in its simplicity—you can self-assemble the catalyst with the natural membrane to do the chemistry you want,” she said.

One additional improvement involved the substitution of cobalt or nickel-containing catalysts for the expensive platinum catalyst that had been used in the earlier study. The new cobalt or nickel catalysts could dramatically reduce potential costs.

The next step for the research, according to Utschig, involves incorporating the membrane-bound Z-scheme into a living system. “Once we have an in vivo system—one in which the process is happening in a living organism—we will really be able to see the rubber hitting the road in terms of hydrogen production,” she said.

 Explore further: New research sheds light on photosynthesis and creation of solar fuel

More information: Lisa M. Utschig et al, Z-scheme solar water splitting via self-assembly of photosystem I-catalyst hybrids in thylakoid membranes, Chemical Science (2018). DOI: 10.1039/c8sc02841a

 

New Discovery by DOE and Argonne National Laboratory is BIG on nanoscale – Predictability at the ‘small scale’


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This shows the size-induced transition to metallicity that takes place in a universal manner for all metallic elements, as gauged by the polarizability-based characteristic called degree of metallicity. As the clusters grow in size, they gradually become metallic and expel an external electric field from their interior (the Faraday cage effect in metals). Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

Imagine if you could look at a small amount of an unidentified chemical element – less than 100 atoms in size – and know what type of material the element would become in large quantities before you actually saw the larger accumulation.

That thought has long animated the work of Julius Jellinek, senior scientist emeritus in the Chemical Sciences and Engineering division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. His recent discovery with longtime collaborator Koblar Jackson, a professor in the Department of Physics at Central Michigan University, has the potential to dramatically impact the discipline of nanoscale science.

According to Jellinek, the classification of elements and  in bulk quantities into different types – metals, semiconductors and insulators – is well established and understood. But the identification of types of materials on the nanoscale is not so straightforward. In fact, even though the term “nanomaterials” is broadly used, nanoscale materials science has yet to be fully developed.

“Elements and compounds in very small quantities, or nano-quantities, behave very differently from their bulk counterparts,” Jellinek explained. For example, small atomic clusters of elements that are metals in bulk quantities only take on metallic characteristics as they grow in size.

This phenomenon is known as size-induced transition to metallicity, and it prompted Jellinek and Jackson to ask: Is it possible to predict what type of material an unidentified will be in bulk quantities solely based on the properties it exhibits over a limited range of the sub-nano to nano size régime?

The answer turned out to be an emphatic, and somewhat surprising, “yes.”

In their paper, “Universality in size-driven evolution towards bulk polarizability of metals” published as a Communication in the October 7, 2018, issue of Nanoscale, Jellinek and Jackson showed that by using their previously developed atomic-level analysis of polarizability, they could predict whether an unidentified element would be a metal or non-metal in bulk quantities by looking at the polarizability properties of its small clusters. (Polarizability describes how systems and materials respond to an external electric field.)

Moreover, if an unidentified element will be a  in bulk, using the same small-size polarizability data one can establish its exact chemical identity.

Another striking discovery reported in the paper is that clusters of all metallic elements evolve to the bulk metallic state in a universal manner, as gauged by a polarizability-based characteristic Jellinek and Jackson call the “degree of metallicity.” Said Jellinek: “We introduced a new universal constant and new universal scaling equations into the physics of metals.”

The new scaling equations make it easy and straightforward for scientists to determine the polarizability of any size cluster of any metallic element based on the element’s corresponding bulk polarizability. In the past, this would have required lengthy – and costly – calculations for each individual case. “What would have taken days, weeks or even months to cover a range of sizes now takes a fraction of a second using these universal equations,” Jellinek said.

Perhaps most significantly, the study represents a major step in building-up the foundations of nanoscale materials science; it makes a fundamental contribution to the understanding of size evolution toward the bulk metallic state. (Jellinek said the study includes a provision for possible exceptions – what he calls “exotic metals” – should they be found in the future.)

For Jellinek personally, after more than 31 years at Argonne and having recently assumed an emeritus position, the discovery was particularly satisfying – and surprising, because originally he and Jackson were expecting to find something else.

“At first we were hoping to establish commonality on a smaller scale within different groups of metallic elements, and we were disappointed the results were not fulfilling that expectation,” he said. “But then we saw that the different groups were behaving in a universal way. In science, when something emerges differently than what you expect that often turns out to be new and interesting. However, it is very rare to discover something that is universal.”

Jellinek called the result one of the finest things he has done in his long and distinguished career, adding: “This is why it’s fun to be a scientist. When you get something fundamental and truly new, it’s a reward that nothing else can replace. The next task is to try to uncover possible commonalities, maybe even universality, in size-evolution to the bulk state for elements that are not metals.”

 Explore further: Research predicts size-induced transition to nanoscale half-metallicity

More information: Julius Jellinek et al. Universality in size-driven evolution towards bulk polarizability of metals, Nanoscale (2018). DOI: 10.1039/C8NR06307A

Why Do Most Science Startups Fail? Here’s Why …


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“We need to get a lot better at bridging that gap between discovery and commercialization”

G. Satell – Inc. Magazine

It seems like every day we see or hear about a breakthrough new discovery that will change everything. Some, like perovskites in solar cells and CRISPR are improvements on existing technologies. Others, like quantum computing and graphene promise to open up new horizons encompassing many applications. Still others promise breakthroughs in Exciting Battery Technology Breakthrough News — Is Any Of It Real? or Beyond lithium — the search for a better battery

Nevertheless, we are still waiting for a true market impact. Quantum computing and graphene have been around for decades and still haven’t hit on their “killer app.” Perovskite solar cells and CRISPR are newer, but haven’t really impacted their industries yet. And those are just the most prominent examples.

bright_idea_1_400x400The problem isn’t necessarily with the discoveries themselves, many of which are truly path-breaking, but that there’s a fundamental difference between discovering an important new phenomenon in the lab and creating value in the marketplace.

“We need to get a lot better at bridging that gap. To do so, we need to create a new innovation ecosystem for commercializing science.”

The Valley Of Death And The Human Problem

The gap between discovery and commercialization is so notorious and fraught with danger that it’s been unaffectionately called the “Valley of Death.” Part of the problem is that you can’t really commercialize a discovery, you can only commercialize a product and those are two very different things.

The truth is that innovation is never a single event, but a process of discovery, engineering and transformation. After something like graphene is discovered in the lab, it needs to be engineered into a useful product and then it has to gain adoption by winning customers in the marketplace. Those three things almost never happen in the same place.

So to bring an important discovery to market, you first need to identify a real world problem it can solve and connect to engineers who can transform it into a viable product or service. Then you need to find customers who are willing to drop whatever else they’ve been doing and adopt it on a large scale. That takes time, usually about 30 years.

The reason it takes so long is that there is a long list of problems to solve. To create a successful business based on a scientific discovery, you need to get scientists to collaborate effectively with engineers and a host of specialists in other areas, such as manufacturing, distribution and marketing. Those aren’t just technology problems, those are human problems. Being able to collaborate effectively is often the most important competitive advantage.

Wrong Industry, Wrong Application

One of the most effective programs for helping to bring discoveries out of the lab is I-Corps. First established by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help recipients of SBIR grants identify business models for scientific discoveries, it has been such an extraordinary success that the US Congress has mandated its expansion across the federal government.

Based on Steve Blank’s lean startup methodology, the program aims to transform scientists into entrepreneurs. It begins with a presentation session, in which each team explains the nature of their discovery and its commercial potential. It’s exciting stuff, pathbreaking science with real potential to truly change the world.

The thing is, they invariably get it wrong. Despite their years of work to discover something of significance and their further efforts to apply and receive commercialization grants from the federal government, they fail to come up with a viable application in an industry that wants what they have to offer. professor-with-a-bright-idea-vector-937691

Ironically, much of the success of the I-Corps program is due to these early sessions. Once they realize that they are on the wrong track, they embark on a crash course of customer discovery, interviewing dozens — and sometimes hundreds — of customers in search of a business model that actually has a chance of succeeding.

What’s startling about the program is that, without it, scientists with important discoveries often wasted years trying to make a business work that never really had a chance in the first place.

The Silicon Valley Myth

Much of the success of Silicon Valley has been based on venture-funded entrepreneurship. Startups with an idea to change the world create an early stage version of the product they want to launch, show it to investors and get funding to bring it to market. Just about every significant tech company was started this way.

Yet most of the success of Silicon Valley has been based on companies that sell either software or consumer gadgets, which are relatively cheap and easy to rapidly prototype. Many scientific startups, however, do not fit into this category. Often, they need millions of dollars to build a prototype and then have to sell to industrial companies with long lead times.

start up imagesThe myth of Silicon Valley is that venture-funded entrepreneurship is a generalizable model that can be applied to every type of business. It is not. In fact, it is a specific model that was conceived in a specific place at a specific time to fund mature technologies for specific markets. It’s not a solution that fits every problem.

The truth is that venture funds are very adept with assessing market risk, but not so good at taking on technology risk, especially in hard sciences. That simply isn’t what they were set up to do.

We Need A New Innovation Ecosystem For Science Entrepreneurship

In 1945, Vannevar Bush delivered a report, Science, The Endless Frontier, to President Truman, in which he made the persuasive argument that expanding the nation’s scientific capacity will expand its economic capacity and well being. His call led, ultimately, to building America’s scientific infrastructure, including programs like the NSF and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

It was Bush’s vision that made America a technological superpower. Grants from federal agencies to scientists enabled them to discover new knowledge. Then established businesses and, later, venture backed entrepreneurs would then take those discoveries to bring new products and services to market.

Look at any industry today and its most important technologies were largely shaped by investment from the federal government. Today, however, the challenges are evolving. We’re entering a new era of innovation in which technologies like genomics, nanotechnology and robotics are going to reshape traditional industries like energy, healthcare and manufacturing.

That’s exciting, but also poses new challenges, because these technologies are ill-suited to the Silicon Valley model of venture-funded entrepreneurship and need help to them get past the Valley of Death. So we need to build a new innovation ecosystem on top of the scientific architecture Bush created for the post-war world.

There have been encouraging signs. New programs like I-Corps, the Manufacturing InstitutesCyclotron Road and Chain Reaction are beginning to help fill the gap.

Still much more needs to be done, especially at the state and local level to help build regional hubs for specific industries, if we are going to be nearly as successful in the 21st century as were were in the 20th.

Cape-Starman

America’s National Laboratories – 75 Breakthroughs We’ve Made that You May Not have Read About


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America’s National Laboratories have been changing and improving the lives of millions of people for more than 75 years. Born at a time when the world faced a dire threat, the laboratories came together to advance science, safeguard the nation and protect our freedoms for generations to come. This network of Department of Energy Laboratories has grown into 17 facilities, working together as engines of prosperity and invention. As this list of breakthroughs attests, Laboratory discoveries have spawned industries, saved lives, generated new products, fired the imagination and helped to reveal the secrets of the universe. Rooted in the need to serve the public good and support the global community, the National Laboratories have put an American stamp on the last century of science. With equal ingenuity and tenacity, they are now engaged in innovating the future.

National Labs Map downloadDownload and read 75 Breakthroughs by America’s National Laboratories.

75 Breakthroughs

At America’s National Laboratories, we’ve …

Advanced supercomputing

The National Labs operate some of the most significant high performance computing resources available, including 32 of the 500 fastest supercomputers in the world. These systems, working at quadrillions of operations per second, model and simulate complex, dynamic systems – such as the nuclear deterrent – that would be too expensive, impractical or impossible to physically demonstrate. Supercomputers are changing the way scientists explore the evolution of our universe, climate change, biological systems, weather forecasting and even renewable energy.

Decoded DNA 

In 1990, the National Labs joined with the National Institutes of Health and other laboratories to kick off the Human Genome Project, an international collaboration to identify and map all of the genes of the human genome.

Brought the web to the United States 

National Lab scientists, seeking to share particle physics information, were first to install a web server in North America, kick-starting the development of the worldwide web as we know it.

Put eyes in the sky 

Vela satellites, first launched in 1963 to detect potential nuclear detonations, transformed the nascent U.S. space program. The satellites featured optical sensors and data processing, logic and power subsystems designed and created by National Labs.

Revolutionized medical diagnostics and treatment 

Researchers at the National Labs helped to develop the field of nuclear medicine, producing radioisotopes to diagnose and treat disease, designing imaging technology to detect cancer and developing software to target tumors while sparing healthy tissue.

Powered NASA spacecraft 

The National Labs built the enclosure for the radioisotope thermoelectric generators that fuel crafts such as Cassini and have begun producing plutonium-238 for future NASA missions.

Harnessed the power of the atom 

National Lab scientists and engineers have led the world in developing safe, efficient and emissions-free nuclear power. Starting with the first nuclear reactor to generate electricity, National Labs have been the innovation engine behind the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Today’s labs are supporting the next generation of nuclear power that will be available for the nation and world.

Brought safe water to millions 

Removing arsenic from drinking water is a global priority. A long-lasting particle engineered at a National Lab can now do exactly that, making contaminated water safe to drink. Another technology developed at a National Lab uses ultraviolet light to kill water-borne bacteria that cause dysentery, thus reducing child mortality in the developing world.

Filled the Protein Data Bank 

National Lab X-ray facilities have contributed a large portion of more than 100,000 protein structures in the Protein Data Bank. A protein’s structure reveals how it functions, helping scientists understand how living things work and develop treatments for disease. Almost all new medications that hit the market start with these data bank structures.

Invented new materials 

National Labs provide the theory, tools and techniques that offer industry revolutionary materials such as strong, lighter-weight metals and alloys that save fuel and maintenance costs and enable cleaner, more efficient engines.

Found life’s mystery messenger 

National Lab scientists discovered how genetic instructions are carried to the cell’s protein manufacturing center, where all of life’s processes begin. Subsequent light source research on the genetic courier, called messenger RNA, has revealed how the information is transcribed and how mistakes can cause cancer and birth defects.

Mapped the universe — and the dark side of the moon

Credit for producing 3D maps of the sky — and 400 million celestial objects — goes to National Lab scientists, who also developed a camera that mapped the entire surface of the moon.

Shed light on photosynthesis 

Ever wonder how plants turn sunlight into energy? National Lab scientists determined the path of carbon through photosynthesis, and today use X-ray laser technology to reveal how each step in the process is triggered by a single particle of light. This work helps scientists explore new ways to get sustainable energy from the sun.

Solved cultural mysteries 

The works of ancient mathematician Archimedes — written over by medieval monks and lost for millennia — were revealed to modern eyes thanks to the X-ray vision and light-source technology at National Labs. These studies also have revealed secrets of masterpiece paintings, ancient Greek vases and other priceless cultural artifacts.

Revolutionized accelerators 

A National Lab built and operated the first large-scale accelerator based on superconducting radio frequency technology. This more efficient technology now powers research machines for exploring the heart of matter, examining the properties of materials and providing unique information about the building blocks of life.

Los Alamos 1200px-Los_Alamos_aerial_viewRevealed the secrets of matter 

Protons and neutrons were once thought to be indivisible. National Lab scientists discovered that protons and neutrons were made of even smaller parts, called quarks. Over time, experimenters identified six kinds of quarks, three types of neutrinos and the Higgs particle, changing our view of how the material world works.

Confirmed the Big Bang and discovered dark energy

National Lab detectors aboard a NASA satellite revealed the birth of galaxies in the echoes of the Big Bang. Dark energy — the mysterious something that makes up three-quarters of the universe and causes it to expand at an accelerating rate — also was discovered by National Lab cosmologists.

Discovered 22 elements 

The periodic table would be smaller without the National Labs. To date the National Labs have discovered: technetium, promethium, astatine, neptunium, plutonium, americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, fermium, mendelevium, nobelium, lawrencium, rutherfordium, dubnium, seaborgium, flerovium, moscovium, livermorium, tennessine and oganesson.

Made refrigerators cool 

Next-generation refrigerators will likely put the freeze on harmful chemical coolants in favor of an environmentally friendly alloy, thanks to National Lab scientists.

Got the lead out 

Removing hazardous lead-based solders from the environment is a reality thanks to a lead-free alloy of tin-silver-copper developed at a National Lab. The lead-free solder has been licensed by more than 60 companies worldwide.

Invented a magic sponge to clean up oil spills

National Lab scientists used a nano technique to invent a new sponge that can absorb 90 times its own weight in oil from water. It can be wrung out to collect the oil and reused hundreds of times — and it can collect oil that has sunk below the surface, something previous technology couldn’t do.

Added the punch to additive manufacturing 

High-pressure gas atomization processing pioneered at a National Lab made possible the production of titanium and other metal-alloy powders used in additive manufacturing and powder metallurgy.

 

Created inexpensive catalysts 

Low-cost catalysts are key to efficient biomass refining. National Lab scientists created catalysts that are inexpensive and stable for biomass conversion. ANL_H_White

Created high-tech coatings to reduce friction 

National Lab scientists created ways to reduce wear and tear in machines from table fans to car engines all the way up to giant wind turbines, such as a diamond-like film that rebuilds itself as soon as it begins to break down — so that engines last longer and need fewer oil additives.

Put the jolt in the Volt 

Chevy’s Volt would not be able to cruise on battery power were it not for the advanced cathode technology that emerged from a National Lab. The same technology is sparking a revival of America’s battery manufacturing industry.

Cemented a new material 

National Lab scientists have developed a novel and versatile material that blends properties of ceramic and concrete to form a non-porous product that can do everything from seal oil w ells to insulate walls with extra fire protection. It even sets in cold weather.

Pioneered efficient power lines 

New kinds of power lines made from superconductors can carry electric current with no energy loss. Now deployed by National Lab scientists, these prototypes could usher in a new era of ultra-efficient power transmission.

Made early universe quark soup 

National Lab scientists used a particle collider to recreate the primordial soup of subatomic building blocks that last existed shortly after the Big Bang. The research is expanding scientists’ understanding of matter at extreme temperatures and densities.

Oak Ridge NL DWKcxYZXkAEY9NVLevitated trains with magnets 

Say goodbye to traffic jams. National Lab scientists developed a technology that uses the attractive and repulsive forces of magnets to levitate and propel trains. Maglev trains now ferry commuters in Japan and China and will be operational in other countries soon.

Developed efficient burners 

National Lab researchers developed cleaner-combusting oil burners, saving consumers more than $25 billion in fuel costs and keeping more than 160 megatons of carbon dioxide out of Earth’s atmosphere.

Improved automotive steel

A company with National Lab roots is pioneering a metal that weighs significantly less than regular steel, retains steel’s strength and malleability and can be fabricated without major modifications to the automotive manufacturing infrastructure.

Looked inside weapons

National Lab researchers created a device that could identify the contents of suspicious chemical and explosive munitions and containers, while minimizing risk to the people involved. The technology, which quickly identifies the chemical makeup of weapons, has been used to verify treaties around the world.

Pioneered nuclear safety modeling 

National Lab scientists began developing the Reactor Excursion and Leak Analysis Program (RELAP) to model nuclear reactor coolant and core behavior. Today, RELAP is used throughout the world and has been licensed for both nuclear and non-nuclear applications, including modeling of jet aircraft engines and fossil-fuel power plant components.

Identified good and bad cholesterol 

The battle against heart disease received a boost in the 1960s when National Lab research unveiled the good and bad sides of cholesterol. Today, diagnostic tests that detect both types of cholesterol save lives.

Unmasked a dinosaur killer 

Natural history’s greatest whodunit was solved in 1980 when a team of National Lab scientists pinned the dinosaurs’ abrupt extinction on an asteroid collision with Earth. Case closed.

Pitted cool roofs against carbon dioxide 

National Lab researchers and policy experts led the way in analyzing and implementing cool roofing materials, which reflect sunlight, lower surface temperature and slash cooling costs.

Squeezed fuel from microbes 

In a milestone that brings advanced biofuels one step closer to America’s gas tanks, National Lab scientists helped develop a microbe that can produce fuel directly from biomass.

Tamed hydrogen with nanoparticles 

To replace gasoline, hydrogen must be safely stored and easy to use, which has proven elusive. National Lab researchers have now designed a new pliable material using nanoparticles that can rapidly absorb and release hydrogen without ill effects, a major step in making fuel-cell powered cars a commercial reality.

Exposed the risk 

You can sleep easier thanks to National Lab research that quantified the health risk posed by radon gas in parts of the country. Subsequent EPA standards, coupled with radon detection and mitigation measures pioneered by a National Lab research team, prevent the naturally occurring gas from seeping into basements, saving thousands of lives every year.

Created a pocket-sized DNA sampler 

A tool that identifies the microbes in air, water and soil samples is fast becoming a workhorse in public health, medical and environmental cleanup projects. Developed by National Lab scientists, the credit-card-sized device pinpoints diseases that kill coral reefs and catalogs airborne bacteria over U.S. cities. It also was used to quickly categorize the oil-eating bacteria in the plumes of the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Fabricated the smallest machines

The world’s smallest synthetic motors — as well as radios, scales and switches that are 100,000 times finer than a human hair — were engineered at a National Lab. These and other forays into nanotechnology could lead to life-saving pharmaceuticals and more powerful computers.

Preserved the sounds of yesteryear 

National Lab scientists engineered a high-tech way to digitally reconstruct aging

sound recordings that are too fragile to play, such as Edison wax cylinders from the late 1800s. Archivists estimate that many of the millions of recordings in the world’s sound archives, including the U.S. Library of Congress, could benefit from the technology.

Exposed explosives 

A credit-card sized detector developed by National Lab scientists can screen for more than 30 kinds of explosives in just minutes. The detector, called ELITE, requires no po wer and is widely used by the military, law enforcement and security personnel.

Toughened airplanes 

A National Lab and industry technique for strengthening metal by bombarding it with laser pulses has saved the aircraft industry hundreds of millions of dollars in engine and aircraft maintenance expenses.

Simulated reality 

Trains, planes and automobiles — and thousands of other objects — are safer, stronger and better-designed thanks to computer simulation software, DYNA 3D, developed by National Lab researchers.

Detected the neutrino 

Starting with the Nobel-Prize winning discovery of the neutrino in 1956 by Fred Reines and Clyde Cowan Jr., National Lab researchers have made numerous contributions to neutrino physics and astrophysics.

Discovered gamma ray bursts

Sensors developed at the National Labs and placed aboard Vela satellites were used in the discovery of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) in 1973. GRBs are extremely energetic explosions from distant galaxies. Scientists believe that most of these bursts consist of a narrow beam of intense radiation released when a rapidly rotating, high-mass star collapses to form a neutron star, a quark star or a black hole.

Created the first 100-Tesla magnetic field 

National Lab scientists achieved a 100.75-Tesla magnetic pulse in March 2012, setting a world record. The pulse was nearly 2 million times more powerful than Earth’s magnetic field. The 100-Tesla multi-shot magnet can be used over and over again without being destroyed by the force of the field it creates, and produces the most powerful non-destructive magnetic field in the world.

Froze smoke for hot uses 

National Labs researchers perfected aerogels, known as frozen smoke. They are one of the lightest solids ever made and have the highest heat resistance of any material tested. They also are fireproof and extraordinarily strong — able to support more than a thousand times their own weight. As a result of their heat resistance, aerogels are outstanding candidates for insulation in buildings, vehicles, filters and appliances.

Invented the cell sorter 

During the 1960s, a National Lab physicist invented a “cell sorter” — a novel device that works much like an ink jet printer, guiding a tiny flow of cell-containing droplets so cells of interest can be deflected for counting and study. Cell sorters are a vital tool for studying the biochemistry behind many diseases, including cancer and AIDS.

Ushered a domestic energy renaissance 

National Lab research jump-started the shale gas revolution by pointing the way to key technologies and methodologies for cost efficient extraction. An estimated $220 million in research and development expenditures on unconventional gas R&D from 1976 to 1992 have resulted in an estimated $100 billion in annual economic activity from shale gas production alone.

Enabled space exploration 

National Labs invented Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS), the backbone of the device that allowed the Curiosity Rover to analyze material from Mars. Lab researchers also found the right combination of materials to make high-efficiency solar cells for spacecraft.

Sharply curtailed power plant air emissions 

National Lab scientists introduced some 20 innovative technologies — such as low nitrogen oxide (NOx) burners, flue gas desulfurization (scrubbers) and fluidized bed combustion — through the Clean Coal Technology Development Program that have deeply penetrated the marketplace, substantially controlled harmful power plant emissions and benefited energy production and air quality.

Made wind power mainstream 

Increasing wind turbine efficiency with high efficiency airfoils has reduced the cost of wind power by more than 80 percent over the last 30 years. Now deployed in wind farms nationwide, these turbines owe their existence to National Lab research.

Engineered smart windows 

National Lab scientists have created highly insulated windows that change color to modulate interior temperatures and lighting. If broadly installed, they could save about 5 percent of the nation’s total energy budget.

Delivered troops safely 

National Lab researchers have developed computer models that effectively manage the complex logistical tasks of deploying troops and equipment to distant destinations.

Channeled chips and hips 

Integrated circuits and artificial hips owe their success to a National Lab discovery that revealed how to change a material by injecting it with charged atoms, called ions. Ion channeling is now standard practice in industry and science.

Made 3D printing bigger and better 

A large-scale additive manufacturing platform developed by a National Lab and an industry partner printed 3D components 10 times larger and 200 times faster than previous processes. So far, the system has produced a 3D-printed sports car, SUV, house, excavator and aviation components.

Purified vaccines

National Lab researchers adapted nuclear separations technology to develop a zonal centrifuge used to purify vaccines, which reduces or eliminates unwanted side effects. Commercial centrifuges based on the invention produce vaccines for millions of people.

Built a better building 

A National Lab has built one of the world’s most energy efficient office buildings. The facility, operating as a living laboratory at a lab site, uses 50 percent less energy than required by commercial codes and only consumes energy produced by renewable power on or near the building.

Improved airport security 

Weapons, explosives, plastic devices and other concealed tools of terrorists are easier to detect thanks to technology developed at a National Lab and now installed in airports worldwide.

Improved grid resiliency 

A National Lab created an advanced battery that can store large amounts of energy from intermittent renewable sources — such as wind and solar — onto the power grid, while also smoothing over temporary disruptions to the grid. Several companies have licensed the technology and offer it as a commercial product.

Solved a diesel dilemma 

A National Lab insight into how catalysts behave paved the way for a new, “lean-burn” diesel engine that met emissions standards and improved fuel efficiency by 25 percent over conventional engines.

Harvested energy from air 

A miniature device — commercialized by private industry after a National Lab breakthrough — generates enough power from small temperature changes to power wireless sensors or radio frequency transmitters at remote sites, such as dams, bridges and pipelines.

Gone grid friendly 

Regulating the energy use of household appliances — especially at peak times — could slash energy demand and avoid blackouts. A National Lab appliance-control device senses grid stress and responds instantly to turn off machines and reduce end-use demand, balancing the system so that the power stays on.

Put the digital in DVDs 

The optical digital recording technology behind music, video and data storage originated at a National Lab nearly 40 years ago.

Locked nuclear waste in glass 

Disposal of U.S. Cold War waste is safer thanks to National Lab scientists who developed and deployed a process to lock it into glass to keep it from leaching into the environment.

Cleaned up anthrax 

Scientists at a National Lab developed a non-toxic foam that neutralizes chemical and biological agents. This foam was used to clean up congressional office buildings and mail rooms exposed to anthrax in 2001.

Removed radiation from Fukushima seawater 

After a tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011, massive amounts of seawater cooled the reactor. A molecular sieve engineered by National Lab scientists was used to extract radioactive cesium from tens of millions of gallons of seawater.11

Sped up Ebola detection 

In 2014, researchers from a National Lab modeled the Liberian blood sample transport system and made recommendations to diagnose patients quicker. This minimized the amount of time people were waiting together, reducing the spread of Ebola.

Prevented unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon 

In 1960, National Lab scientists invented coded electromechanical locks for all U.S. nuclear weapons. The switch blocks the arming signal until it receives the proper presidential authorization code.

Launched the LED lighting revolution 

In the 1990s, scientists at a National Lab saw the need for energy-efficient solid-state lighting and worked with industry to develop white LEDs. Today, white LEDs are about 30 percent efficient, with the potential to reach 70 percent to 80 percent efficiency. Fluorescent lighting is about 20 percent efficient and incandescent bulbs are 5 percent.

Mastered the art of artificial photosynthesis 

National Lab scientists engineered and synthesized multi-layer semiconductor structures in devices that directly convert sunlight to chemical energy in hydrogen by splitting water at efficiencies greater than 15 percent. This direct conversion of sunlight to fuels paves the way for use of solar energy in applications beyond the electrical grid.

Advanced fusion technology

From the first fusion test reactor to briefly produce power at the megawatt scale, and the world’s largest and most energetic laser creating extreme conditions mimicking the Big Bang, the interiors of planets and stars and thermonuclear weapons, to the international experiment to generate industrial levels of fusion energy from burning plasmas, fusion science and applications are advancing because of the National Labs.

Made the first molecular movie 

National Lab scientists have used ultrafast X-rays to capture the first molecular movies in quadrillionths-of-a-second frames. These movies detail the intricate structural dances of molecules as they undergo chemical reactions.

DOE imagesThe National Laboratory System: Protecting America Through Science and Technology

For more than 75 years, the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories have solved important problems in science, energy and national security. This expertise keeps our nation at the forefront of science and technology in a rapidly changing world. Partnering with industry and academia, the laboratories also drive innovation to advance economic competitiveness and     ensure our nation’s future prosperity.

Electrons in the water – Understanding the properties of water in reduction/oxidation reactions in aqueous solutions – widespread applications in chemistry and biology – Argonne National Laboratory


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It’s a popular tradition to throw coins into fountains in the hopes of having wishes granted. But what would happen if you could “throw” electrons into the water instead? That is, what happens shortly after an electron is injected into water?

This decades-old question now has an answer, thanks to an articlepublished in Nature Communications on January 16. The study is the result of collaboration among researchers at the University of Chicago, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, and the University of California — San Diego.

“Knowing the electron affinity of liquid water is crucial to understanding and modeling processes involving electron transfer between solids and the liquid, … ” — Alex Gaiduk, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago.

Until now, scientists faced technical challenges when they wanted to experimentally measure the electron affinity of water, said Professor Giulia Galli, Liew Family Professor at the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago and senior scientist at Argonne.

“Most of the results quoted in the literature as experimental numbers are actually values obtained by combining some measured quantities with crude theoretical estimates,” she said.

Accurate theoretical measurements, on the other hand, have been out of reach for some time due to the difficulty and high computational cost of simulating the interactions directly, said University of California-San Diego professor Francesco Paesani, a co-author of the study who has spent years developing an accurate potential for the modeling of liquid water.

The interaction potential between water molecules developed by Paesani was used to model the structure of both liquid water and the water’s surface. Once the structure was obtained, highly accurate theoretical methods and software to study excited states of matter, developed by Galli’s team, were used to understand what happens when an electron is injected into water.

Fundamentally, the researchers sought to understand whether the electron resides in the liquid and eventually participates in chemical reactions. The central question was, “Does the liquid bond with the electron right away?”

The researchers found that the electron binds with the water; however, its binding energy is much smaller than previously thought. This prompted the researchers to revisit a number of well-accepted data and models for the electron affinity of water.

Galli and her co-workers developed the methods for excited states used in this study over the years, in collaborations with T. A. Pham, from Lawrence Livermore, and Marco Govoni, from Argonne, both of whom are co-authors of this study.

“Using the software developed to study excited state phenomena in realistic systems (named Without Empty STates, or WEST) and the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF), we were finally able to generate data for samples both large enough and on sufficiently long timescales to study the electron affinity of liquid water,” Govoni said.

“We found large differences between the affinity at the surface and in the bulk liquid. We also found values that were different from those accepted in the literature, which prompted us to revisit the full energy diagram of an electron in water,” Pham added.

This finding has important consequences, both for scientists who seek to fundamentally understand the properties of water and for those who want to describe reduction/oxidation reactions in aqueous solutions, which are widespread in chemistry and biology.

In particular, scientists often use information about the energy levels of water when they screen materials for photo-electrochemical cells. A reliable estimate of the water electron affinity (which the researchers of the study provided for both bulk water and its surface) will help scientists establish computational protocols that are more robust and more reliable, and improve computational screening of materials.

Funding for the work by Gaiduk and co-workers was provided by the DOE Office of Science through the Midwest Integrated Center for Computational Materials. Additional support was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the National Science Foundation and the Lawrence Fellowship. The researchers used the ALCF, a DOE Office of Science User Facility, for the study. Computer time was provided by the Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE), Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Grand Challenge programs.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.

Argonne National Laboratory-led projects among $39.8 million in first-round “Exascale” Computing Project awards -Enabled Precision Medicine for Cancer


doe-iii-doeThe U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Exascale Computing Project (ECP) today announced its first round of funding with the selection of 15 application development proposals for full funding and seven proposals for seed funding, representing teams from 45 research and academic organizations.

Exascale refers to high-performance computing systems capable of at least a billion billion calculations per second, or a factor of 50 to 100 times faster than the nation’s most powerful supercomputers in use today.

The 15 awards being announced total $39.8 million, targeting advanced modeling and simulation solutions to specific challenges supporting key DOE missions in science, clean energy and national security, as well as collaborations such as the Precision Medicine Initiative with the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute.

Of the proposals announced that are receiving full funding, two are being led by principal investigators at the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory:

  1. Computing the Sky at Extreme Scales equips cosmologists with the ability to design foundational simulations to create “virtual universes” on demand at the extreme fidelities demanded by future multi-wavelength sky surveys. The new discoveries that will emerge from the combination of sky surveys and advanced simulation provided by the ECP will shed more light on three key ingredients of our universe: dark energy, dark matter and inflation. All three of these concepts reach beyond the known boundaries of the Standard Model of particle physics.Salman Habib, Principal Investigator, Argonne National Laboratory, with Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.argone-ii-nl-mira_-_blue_gene_q_at_argonne_national_laboratory
  1. Exascale Deep Learning and Simulation Enabled Precision Medicine for Cancer focuses on building a scalable deep neural network code called the CANcer Distributed Learning Environment (CANDLE) that addresses three top challenges of the National Cancer Institute: understanding the molecular basis of key protein interactions, developing predictive models for drug response and automating the analysis and extraction of information from millions of cancer patient records to determine optimal cancer treatment strategies.Rick Stevens, Principal Investigator, Argonne National Laboratory, with Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Cancer Institute.

Additionally, a third project led by Argonne will be receiving seed funding:

  1. Multiscale Coupled Urban Systems will create an integrated modeling framework comprising data curation, analytics, modeling and simulation components that will equip city designers, planners and managers to scientifically develop and evaluate solutions to issues that affect cities now and in the future. The framework will focus first on integrating urban atmosphere and infrastructure heat exchange and air flow; building energy demand at district or city-scale, generation and use; urban dynamics and socioeconomic models; population mobility and transportation; and hooks to expand to include energy systems (biofuels, electricity and natural gas) and water resources.Charlie Catlett, Principal Investigator, Argonne National Laboratory, with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The application efforts will help guide DOE’s development of a U.S. exascale ecosystem as part of President Obama’s National Strategic Computing Initiative. DOE, the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation have been designated as lead agencies, and ECP is the primary DOE contribution to the initiative.

The ECP’s multiyear mission is to maximize the benefits of high-performance computing for U.S. economic competitiveness, national security and scientific discovery. In addition to applications, the DOE project addresses hardware, software, platforms and workforce development needs critical to the effective development and deployment of future exascale systems.

argone-nl-090115-114727Leadership of the ECP comes from six DOE national laboratories: the Office of Science’s Oak Ridge, Argonne and Lawrence Berkeley national labs and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia national labs.

The Exascale Computing Project is a collaborative effort of two DOE organizations — the Office of Science and the NNSA. As part of President Obama’s National Strategic Computing initiative, ECP was established to develop a capable exascale ecosystem, encompassing applications, system software, hardware technologies and architectures, and workforce development to meet the scientific and national security mission needs of DOE in the mid-2020s timeframe.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within DOE responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing; works to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the United States and abroad.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.

Janus-like ‘Self-Assembling’ nanoparticle membranes for Molecular Separation and Chemical Sensing


  
Posted: Apr 14, 2016

Nanoparticles are known to self-assemble at the air-water interface into large two-dimensional (2D) sheets. 

Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago and the University of Missouri recently discovered that an organic coating on the nanoparticles differs slightly between the two sides of the membrane. 

There is a tiny sub-nanometer molecular thickness difference that can guide the folding of the sheets into more complex 3D structures (“Subnanometre ligand-shell asymmetry leads to Janus-like nanoparticle membranes”).

MD simulation shows membranes with an asymmetric molecular distribution of about 0.6 nm; yellow = gold; red = organo-thiol ligand molecules

MD simulation shows membranes with an asymmetric molecular distribution of about 0.6 nm; yellow = gold; red = organo-thiol ligand molecules. Background: simulated grazing incidence small angle synchrotron x-ray scattering pattern that is used to compare with experimental measurements.

Understanding the molecular origin of the Janus-like nanoparticle membrane behavior offers new design principles for creating complex artificial superstructures through nanoparticle self-assembly, with opportunities for tuning their electrical, magnetic, and mechanical properties for targeted applications in areas such as molecular separations and chemical sensing.

Membranes made from nanoparticles offer versatility because both the inorganic core and the organic ligand shell composition can be tuned independently.

Recent studies reveal a specific and surprising physical property of these membranes. Because nanoparticle membranes are formed at an air-water interface, the organic shell molecules on the nanoparticle surface can develop an asymmetric distribution. Qualitative evidence that this asymmetry exists comes from two experimental observations. When the membranes detach from the edge, they tend to roll into tubes upon exposure to electron beams, but always towards the water-facing side of the membrane.

Furthermore, surface-enhanced Raman scattering measurements have dramatically different values between the two sides of the membrane. Quantitative measurements of the molecular asymmetry were carried out using grazing incidence small angle synchrotron x-ray scattering. These measurements show a molecular thickness difference of just 6 Å between the two sides of the membrane.

Theoretical molecular dynamics simulations further elucidate the role and interplay of the organic ligand coverage and mobility in producing and maintaining this asymmetry.

Understanding this Janus-like membrane based solely on ligand distribution asymmetry opens up new avenues for designing nanoparticle superstructures.

Source: Department of Energy, Office of Science

In the Race to Improve Batteries, Nanotechnology Provides Hope


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In the global race to create more efficient and long-lasting batteries, some are betting on nanotechnology — the use of minuscule parts — as the most likely to yield a breakthrough.

Improving batteries’ performance is key to the development and success of many much-hyped technologies, from solar and wind energy to electric cars. They need to hold more energy, last longer, be cheaper and safer.

Research into how to achieve that has followed several avenues, from using different materials than the existing lithium-ion batteries to changing the internal structure of batteries using nanoparticles — parts so small they are invisible to the naked eye.

Nanotechnology can increase the size and surface of batteries electrodes, the rods inside the batteries that absorb the energy. It does so by effectively making the electrodes sponge-like, so that they can absorb more energy during charging and ultimately increasing the energy storage capacity.

Prague-based company HE3DA has developed such a technology by using the nanotechnology to move from the current flat electrodes to make them three dimensional. With prototypes undergoing successful testing, it hopes to have the battery on the market at the end of this year.

“In the future, this will be the mainstream,” said Jan Prochazka, the president. He said it would be targeted at high-intensity industries like automobiles and the energy sector, rather than mobile phones, because that is where it can make the biggest difference through its use of his bigger electrodes.

In combination with an internal cooling system the batteries, which are being tested now, should be safe from overheating or exploding, a major concern with existing technologies.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and MIT have likewise focused on nanotechnology to improve the existing lithium-ion technology.

Others have sought to use different materials. One of the most promising is lithium oxygen, which theoretically could store five to 10 times the energy of a lithium ion battery, but there have been a number of technical problems that made it inefficient. Batteries based on sodium-ion, aluminium-air and aluminium-graphite are also being explored. There’s even research on a battery powered by urine.

Tesla Motors has been building a $5 billion “gigafactory” to produce lithium-ion batteries for use in its electric cars and potentially to store electricity for homes. It is not using any new technologies, however, just producing very large battery units and marketing them for new purposes.

More efficient batteries are crucial if cars are to increase their driving range, which is currently limited compared with what fossil fuels can provide. In renewable energy, powerful batteries are needed to store the energy created by solar panels or wind farms, which gets dispersed when it is sent for long distances.

George Crabtree, a Distinguished Fellow at the Argonne National Laboratory in the United States and director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, called the nanotechnology model “a very interesting battery.”

“There’s no doubt that increasing the size of the electrodes that is making them 3D instead of 2D would be a big step forward. That is actually a very right target for advancing lithium ion batteries,” he said. “The energy is stored in the electrode, so if you can make the electrodes bigger, say 10 times bigger, then you can have 10 times the amount of energy stored on one charge.”

Prochazka’s battery company is among a group of Czech nanotechnology companies that are gaining international interest. A production facility of HE3DA will be financed by a Chinese investor with an initial investment of almost 1.5 billion koruna ($62 million) that is forecast to double.

Research from DOE & Argonne National Laboratory: Stable ‘superoxide’ could Provide New Class of Lithium Batteries


textWhile lithium-ion batteries have transformed our everyday lives, researchers are currently trying to find new chemistries that could offer even better energy possibilities. One of these chemistries, lithium-air, could promise greater energy density but has certain drawbacks as well.
Now, thanks to research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Argonne National Laboratory, one of those drawbacks may have been overcome (Nature, “A lithium–oxygen battery based on lithium superoxide”).

 

text
The lattice match between LiO2 and Ir3Li may be responsible for the LiO2 discharge product found for the Ir-rGO cathode material.

 

All previous work on lithium-air batteries showed the same phenomenon: the formation of lithium peroxide (Li2O2), a solid precipitate that clogged the pores of the electrode.
In a recent experiment, however, Argonne battery scientists Jun Lu, Larry Curtiss and Khalil Amine, along with American and Korean collaborators, were able to produce stable crystallized lithium superoxide (LiO2) instead of lithium peroxide during battery discharging. Unlike lithium peroxide, lithium superoxide can easily dissociate into lithium and oxygen, leading to high efficiency and good cycle life.
“This discovery really opens a pathway for the potential development of a new kind of battery,” Curtiss said. “Although a lot more research is needed, the cycle life of the battery is what we were looking for.”
The major advantage of a battery based on lithium superoxide, Curtiss and Amine explained, is that it allows, at least in theory, for the creation of a lithium-air battery that consists of what chemists call a “closed system.” Open systems require the consistent intake of extra oxygen from the environment, while closed systems do not — making them safer and more efficient.
“The stabilization of the superoxide phase could lead to developing a new closed battery system based on lithium superoxide, which has the potential of offering truly five times the energy density of lithium ion,” Amine said.
Curtiss and Lu attributed the growth of the lithium superoxide to the spacing of iridium atoms in the electrode used in the experiment. “It looks like iridium will serve as a good template for the growth of superoxide,” Curtiss said.
“However, this is just an intermediate step,” Lu added. “We have to learn how to design catalysts to understand exactly what’s involved in lithium-air batteries.”
Source: Argonne National Laboratory