DOE News
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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.
    • 2018-09-10 08:30:31
    • Article ID: 700232

    Researchers Discover How Caged Molecules 'Rattle and Sing'

    Breakthrough discovery could improve production of fuels and chemicals

    • Credit: Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation

      Hexane, a molecule with six carbon atoms, will tumble, spin and vibrate less in a nanoporous cage, but it can still move in two dimensions.

    MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (09/10/2018) — A team of energy researchers from the University of Minnesota and University of Massachusetts Amherst has discovered that molecular motion can be predicted with high accuracy when confining molecules in small nanocages. Their theoretical method is suitable for screening millions of possible nanomaterials and could improve production of fuels and chemicals.

    The research is published online in ACS Central Science, a leading open-access journal of the American Chemical Society. 

    Molecules in the air are free to move, vibrate and tumble, but confine them in small nanotubes or cavities and they lose a lot of motion. The total loss in motion has big implications for the ability to capture CO2 from the air, convert biomass molecules into biofuels, or to separate natural gas, all of which use nanomaterials with small tubes and pores.

    Researchers from the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation headquartered at the University of Delaware arrived at their breakthrough when thinking about squeezing molecules into tight spaces. In the air, molecules can move up, down, and into space (three dimensions), but in a nanotube it was not clear if molecules can only move in one direction (through the tube) or two directions (on the surface of the tube). Similarly, molecules can rotate and spin in three ways, but the tube edges can prevent some or all of this motion. The amount of lost rotation was the unknown quantity. 

    “Our approach was to separate out molecular tumbling and rotating from movement in position,” said Omar Abdelrahman, a co-author of the study who is a University of Massachusetts Amherst chemical engineering assistant professor and Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation researcher. “We discovered that all molecules when put into nano-cages lose the same amount of movement in position, but the amount of rotating and spinning depended highly on the structure of the nano-cage”.

    The team connected molecular motion to the quantity of entropy, which combines all aspects of molecular motion into a single number. Molecules lose different amounts of entropy when they access the inside of nanoporous spaces, but it has not been clear how the structure of those nanospaces impacted the change in motion and loss in entropy.

    “It might sound esoteric, but the entropy changes of molecules due to limitations of rotation and movement in position within nanopores decides whether nanomaterials will work for thousands of energy and separation technologies,” said Paul Dauenhauer, a co-author of the study who is a University of Minnesota chemical engineering and materials science associate professor and Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation researcher. 

    “If we can predict molecular motion and entropy of molecules, then we can quickly determine whether advanced nanomaterials will solve our most pressing energy challenges,” Dauenhauer added. 

    The ability to predict entropy and molecular motion is connected to the recent nanotechnology boom. In the past decade, research in nanomaterials has developed millions of new technologies that can grab, separate and react hydrocarbons from natural gas and biomass. However, each of these thousands of nanomaterials has a different size and shape, and it has been too expensive and time consuming to test these advanced nanomaterials one by one.

    “This discovery really opens up the door to predicting which nanomaterials will be the breakthrough of the future,” said Dionisios Vlachos, the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation director and University of Delaware professor. “We have invented more materials on the computer than we can ever test, and now we can rapidly determine on the computer if these will work for our energy and separation needs.”

    The focus on predicting molecular motion in nanomaterials builds on the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation’s focus on design of catalysts for converting biomass-derived hydrocarbons into biofuels and biochemicals. The team recently discovered a new class of nanomaterials called “SPP” or “self-pillared pentasils,” which are zeolite nanomaterials for reacting and separating hydrocarbons. SPP and other nanostructures have also been the key materials in discovering chemical processes to make renewable plastic for soda bottles and renewable rubber for automobile tires.

    The discovery of an equation for predicting molecular motion in nanomaterials is part of a larger mission of the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation, a U.S. Department of Energy–Energy Frontier Research Center, led by the University of Delaware. Initiated in 2009, the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation has focused on transformational catalytic technology to produce renewable chemicals and biofuels from lignocellulosic (non-food) biomass. 

    This research was funded by the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation as part of the U.S. Department of Energy–Energy Frontiers Research Program. The Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation is led by University of Delaware Professor Dionisios Vlachos and co-directed by University of Minnesota Associate Professor Paul Dauenhauer.

    To read the full research study entitled “A Universal Descriptor for the Entropy of Adsorbed Molecules in Confined Spaces,” visit the ACS Central Science website.

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    Researchers switch material from one state to another with a single flash of light

    Scientists from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have demonstrated a surprisingly simple way of flipping a material from one state into another, and then back again, with single flashes of laser light.

    The Stories Behind the Science: How Does the Ocean's Saltiness Affect Tropical Storms?

    Two researchers with personal experience of hurricanes set out to investigate the role of an underestimated factor in storm's strength - salinity. They found that salinity plays a larger role than anyone thought, including them.

    Surprise finding: Discovering a previously unknown role for a source of magnetic fields

    Feature describes unexpected discovery of a role the process that seeds magnetic fields plays in mediating a phenomenon that occurs throughout the universe and can disrupt cell phone service and knock out power grids on Earth.

    Genetic behavior reveals cause of death in poplars essential to ecosystems, industry

    Scientists studying a valuable, but vulnerable, species of poplar have identified the genetic mechanism responsible for the species' inability to resist a pervasive and deadly disease. Their finding could lead to more successful hybrid poplar varieties for increased biofuels and forestry production and protect native trees against infection.

    Pushing the (Extra Cold) Frontiers of Superconducting Science

    Ames Laboratory has developed a method to measure magnetic properties of superconducting and magnetic materials that exhibit unusual quantum behavior at very low temperatures in high magnetic fields.

    Scientists Find Unusual Behavior in Topological Material

    Argonne scientists have identified a new class of topological materials made by inserting transition metal atoms into the atomic lattice of a well-known two-dimensional material.

    Wind Farms and Reducing Hurricane Precipitation

    New research reveals an unexpected benefit of large-scale offshore wind farms: the ability to lessen precipitation from hurricanes.

    New simulations confirm efficiency of waste-removal process in plasma device

    PPPL scientists have found evidence suggesting that a process could remove the unwanted ash produced during fusion reactions and make the fusion processes more efficient within a type of fusion facility known as a field-reversed configuration device.

    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.

    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.


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    Engineering professor receives Department of Energy grant

    New Mexico State University Department of Civil Engineering Assistant Professor Ehsan Dehghan Niri has received a United States Department of Energy grant. This is a three-year award for $400,000 and is a collaboration with Arizona State University.

    AVS and AIP Publishing Expand Partnership to Launch AVS Quantum Science

    AIP Publishing and AVS: Science and Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing (AVS) today announced an agreement to publish AVS Quantum Science, a new online interdisciplinary journal. The announcement coincides with the AVS 65th International Symposium & Exhibition in Long Beach, California, from October 21-26, 2018.

    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.


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    Cryocooler Cools an Accelerator Cavity

    Researchers demonstrated cryogen-free operation of a superconducting radio-frequency cavity that might ease barriers to its use in societal applications.

    Shining Light on the Separation of Rare Earth Metals

    New studies identify key molecular characteristics to potentially separate rare earth metals cleanly and efficiently with light.

    Placing Atoms for Optimum Catalysts

    Precise positioning of oxygens could help engineer faster, more efficient energy-relevant chemical transformations.

    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.


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