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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2018-03-07 07:05:41
    • Article ID: 690323

    Catalysts: High Performance Lies on the Edge

    Iron may be more valuable than platinum. Sometimes.

    • Credit: Image courtesy of David Cullen, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

      Scanning transmission electron microscopy shows a dispersion of single iron atoms (bright dots) supported on nanostructured carbon (dark purple). The catalytically active nitrogen-coordinated iron atoms are predominantly associated with the edges, or steps, on graphite surface planes (light purple).

    The Science

    Platinum is not an abundant element, but it is a popular catalyst. Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory synthesized a catalyst made from iron, nickel, and carbon. No platinum. The catalyst had the highest activity to date for a platinum group metal (PGM)-free material used in fuel cells. Experiments showed that the iron-nitrogen reactive sites were predominantly located at the surface-exposed edges, or steps, of the carbon. The reactive sites were not inside the carbon as previously predicted.

    The Impact

    Atomic-level microscopy offers insight into the success of a PGM-free alternative. It’s based on cheap, abundant elements—iron, nitrogen, and carbon. The insights are guiding future research and development of high-performance PGM-free catalysts.

    Summary

    In fuel cells, promotion of the reaction of oxygen and hydrogenat the cathode (the oxygen reduction reaction) currently requires the use of expensive PGM catalysts. The slow reaction of oxygen and hydrogen at the cathode limits the performance of current fuel cells with catalysts based on rare, expensive PGMs. To reduce costs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory developed a new PGM-free catalyst by heating carbon- and nitrogen-containing precursors—polyaniline (PANI) and cyanamide (CM)—with iron to synthesize a novel catalyst. To understand why the new catalyst performed so well, the researchers relied on the novel electron microscopy resources and expertise at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where a low-voltage aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscope equipped with electron energy loss spectroscopy identified the locations and bonding of the individual atomic elements comprising the catalyst. Previous studies predicted iron coordinated by four nitrogen atoms embedded in graphene would be the optimal active site. However, microscopy showed that the iron-nitrogen sites were in fact predominantly associated with exposed basal plane edges, or steps, of the nanocrystalline carbon support (known as edge-hosted sites) rather than being embedded within graphene (bulk-hosted sites), as predicted by previous theoretical work. The use of two precursors, PANI and CM, during catalyst synthesis also resulted in a wide range of pore sizes that increased the exposed surface area of the carbonaceous support and increased access to the active sites—explaining the remarkable activity approaching that of PGM-based catalysts.

    Funding

    This work was supported by the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Fuel Cell Technologies Office. Microscopy was performed as part of a user project supported by the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, a DOE Office of Science user facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Computational resources were provided by the Institutional Computing program at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    Publication

    H.T. Chung, D.A. Cullen, D. Higgins, B.T. Sneed, E.F. Holby, K.L. More, and P. Zelenay, “Direct atomic-level insight into the active sites of a high-performance PGM-free ORR catalyst.” Science 357 (6350), 479 (2017). [DOI: 10.1126/science.aan2255]

    Read more highlights from the Office of Science at https://science.energy.gov/news/highlights/

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    Missing gamma-ray blobs shed new light on dark matter, cosmic magnetism

    Scientists, including researchers from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, have compiled the most detailed catalog of such blobs using eight years of data collected with the Large Area Telescope (LAT) on NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope. The blobs, including 19 gamma-ray sources that weren't known to be extended before, provide crucial information on how stars are born, how they die, and how galaxies spew out matter trillions of miles into space.

    Applying Auto Industry's Fuel-Efficiency Standards to Agriculture Could Net Billions in Corn Sector, Researchers Conclude

    Adopting benchmarks similar to the fuel-efficiency standards used by the auto industry in the production of fertilizer could yield $5-8 billion in economic benefits for the U.S. corn sector alone, researchers have concluded in a new analysis.

    How Animals Use Their Tails to Swish and Swat Away Insects

    A new study shows how animals use their tails to keep mosquitoes at bay by combining a swish that blows away most of the biting bugs and a swat that kills the ones that get through.

    Research on Light-Matter Interaction Could Lead to Improved Electronic and Optoelectronic Devices

    A paper published in Nature Communications by Sufei Shi, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer, increases our understanding of how light interacts with atomically thin semiconductors and creates unique excitonic complex particles, multiple electrons, and holes strongly bound together.

    Next-Gen Ultrafast Optical Fiber-Based Electron Gun to Reveal Atomic Motions During Transition State

    A new method enables researchers to directly observe and capture atomic motions at surfaces and interfaces in real time.

    Intense Microwave Pulse Ionizes Its Own Channel Through Plasma

    Researchers experimentally observed the ionization-induced channeling of an intense microwave beam propagating through a neutral gas (>103 Pa).

    Ancient Pigment Can Boost Energy Efficiency

    Egyptian blue, derived from calcium copper silicate, was routinely used on ancient depictions of gods and royalty. Previous studies have shown that when Egyptian blue absorbs visible light, it then emits light in the near-infrared range. Now a team led by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has confirmed the pigment's fluorescence can be 10 times stronger than previously thought.

    Expanding Fungal Diversity, One Cell at a Time

    Reported October 8, 2018, in Nature Microbiology, a team led by U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute researchers developed a pipeline to generate genomes from single cells of uncultivated fungi. The approach was tested on several uncultivated species representing early diverging fungi.

    Columbia Engineers Build Smallest Integrated Kerr Frequency Comb Generator

    Optical frequency combs can enable ultrafast processes in physics, biology, and chemistry, as well as improve communication and navigation, medical testing, and security. Columbia Engineers have built a Kerr frequency comb generator that, for the first time, integrates the laser with the microresonator, significantly shrinking the system's size and power requirements. They no longer need to connect separate devices using fiber--they can now integrate it all on compact and energy efficient photonic chips.

    Scientists Present New Clues to Cut Through the Mystery of Titan's Atmospheric Haze

    Experiments at Berkeley Lab helped scientists zero in on a low-temperature chemical mechanism that may help to explain the complex molecular compounds that make up the nitrogen-rich haze layer surrounding Titan, Saturn's largest moon.


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    Prototype Solar Energy, Battery Systems to Fuel Commercialization

    Designing, building and testing prototype systems that show how renewable energy can power devices, such as a weather and soil sensor station, can help bridge the gap between basic science research and commercialization.

    Argonne to Advance High Performance Computing in Manufacturing

    Argonne awarded funding to partner with Industry to advance the use of high performance computing in manufacturing.

    "Invisible Glass" Wins 2018 Create the Future Design Contest Grand Prize

    Scientists from the Center for Functional Nanomaterials developed a technique for making nonreflecting glass, silicon, and plastic surfaces.

    Missouri S&T researchers win multimillion dollar grant to build fast-charging stations for electric cars

    Researchers from Missouri S&T and three private companies will combine their expertise to create charging stations for electric vehicles that could charge a car in less than 10 minutes - matching the time it takes to fill up a conventional vehicle with gasoline."The big problem with electric vehicles is range, and it's not so much range as range anxiety.

    Making batteries store more energy, last longer

    A new solid polymer electrolyte may help make cell phone batteries store more energy and last longer.

    Three Brookhaven Lab Scientists Named Fellows of American Physical Society

    The American Physical Society (APS), the world's largest physics organization, has elected three scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory as 2018 APS fellows.

    Southern Research first to win accreditation under ISO 14034

    Southern Research has become the first organization in the United States to earn accreditation under ISO 14034, a new international standard for evaluating and verifying environmental technologies that was recently adopted by the American National Standards Institute.

    Kawtar Hafidi to head Physical Sciences and Engineering directorate at Argonne

    Physicist Kawtar Hafidi has been appointed Associate Laboratory Director, Physical Sciences and Engineering at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.

    Argonne researchers honored by Energy Secretary's awards program

    A select group of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory was recently recognized for their contributions to infrastructure security and nuclear nonproliferation at the Secretary's Honor Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on August 29.

    PPPL's Sam Cohen earns award at meeting of U.S. government-funded laboratories hosted by PPPL

    PPPL physicist Sam Cohen and a local company win a Federal Laboratory Consortium award for a rocket propulsion technology.


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    How to Make Soot and Stardust

    Scientists unlock mystery that could help reduce emissions of fine particles from combustion engines and other sources.

    Breaking the Symmetry Between Fundamental Forces

    Scientists improve our understanding of the relationship between fundamental forces by re-creating the earliest moments of the universe.

    Water Plays Unexpected Role in Forming Minerals

    Water molecules line up tiny particles to attach and form minerals; understanding how this happens impacts energy extraction and storage along with waste disposal.

    Heavy Particles Get Caught Up in the Flow

    First direct measurement show how heavy particles containing a charm quark get caught up in the flow of early universe particle soup.

    Seeing Between the Atoms

    New detector enables electron microscope imaging at record-breaking resolution.

    Scaling Up Single-Crystal Graphene

    New method can make films of atomically thin carbon that are over a foot long.

    Discovered: Optimal Magnetic Fields Suppress Instabilities in Tokamak Plasmas

    U.S. and Korean scientists show how to find and use beneficial 3-D field perturbations to stabilize dangerous edge-localized modes in plasma.

    New Electron Glasses Sharpen Our View of Atomic-Scale Features

    A new approach to atom probe tomography promises more precise and accurate measurements vital to semiconductors used in computers, lasers, detectors, and more.

    Getting an Up-Close, 3-D View of Gold Nanostars

    Scientists can now measure 3-D structures of tiny particles with properties that hold promise for advanced sensors and diagnostics.

    Small, Short-Lived Drops of Early Universe Matter

    Particle flow patterns suggest even small-scale collisions create drops of early universe quark-gluon plasma.


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