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    • 2018-12-26 07:30:17
    • Article ID: 705826

    Illuminating Nanoparticle Growth with X-rays

    Ultrabright x-rays at NSLS-II reveal key details of catalyst growth for more efficient hydrogen fuel cells

    • Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

      Brookhaven Lab scientists Mingyuan Ge, Iradwikanari Waluyo, and Adrian Hunt are pictured left to right at the IOS beamline, where they studied the growth pathway of an efficient catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells.

    Hydrogen fuel cells are a promising technology for producing clean and renewable energy, but the cost and activity of their cathode materials is a major challenge for commercialization. Many fuel cells require expensive platinum-based catalysts—substances that initiate and speed up chemical reactions—to help convert renewable fuels into electrical energy. To make hydrogen fuel cells commercially viable, scientists are searching for more affordable catalysts that provide the same efficiency as pure platinum. 

    “Like a battery, hydrogen fuel cells convert stored chemical energy into electricity. The difference is that you’re using a replenishable fuel so, in principle, that ‘battery’ would last forever,” said Adrian Hunt, a scientist at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. “Finding a cheap and effective catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells is basically the holy grail for making this technology more feasible.”

    Taking part in this worldwide search for fuel cell cathode materials, researchers at the University of Akron developed a new method of synthesizing catalysts from a combination of metals—platinum and nickel—that form octahedral (eight-sided) shaped nanoparticles. While scientists have identified this catalyst as one of the most efficient replacements for pure platinum, they have not fully understood why it grows in an octahedral shape. To better understand the growth process, the researchers at the University of Akron collaborated with multiple institutions, including Brookhaven and its NSLS-II.

    “Understanding how the faceted catalyst is formed plays a key role in establishing its structure-property correlation and designing a better catalyst,” said Zhenmeng Peng, principal investigator of the catalysis lab at the University of Akron. “The growth process case for the platinum-nickel system is quite sophisticated, so we collaborated with several experienced groups to address the challenges. The cutting-edge techniques at Brookhaven National Lab were of great help to study this research topic.”

    Using the ultrabright x-rays at NSLS-II and the advanced capabilities of NSLS-II’s In situ and Operando Soft X-ray Spectroscopy (IOS) beamline, the researchers revealed the chemical characterization of the catalyst’s growth pathway in real time. Their findings are published in Nature Communications.

    “We used a research technique called ambient-pressure x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (AP-XPS) to study the surface composition and chemical state of the metals in the nanoparticles during the growth reaction,” said Iradwikanari Waluyo, lead scientist at IOS and a co-corresponding author of the research paper. “In this technique, we direct x-rays at a sample, which causes electrons to be released. By analyzing the energy of these electrons, we are able to distinguish the chemical elements in the sample, as well as their chemical and oxidation states.”

    Hunt, who is also an author on the paper, added, “It is similar to the way sunlight interacts with our clothing. Sunlight is roughly yellow, but once it hits a person’s shirt, you can tell whether the shirt is blue, red, or green.”

    Rather than colors, the scientists were identifying chemical information on the surface of the catalyst and comparing it to its interior. They discovered that, during the growth reaction, metallic platinum forms first and becomes the core of the nanoparticles. Then, when the reaction reaches a slightly higher temperature, platinum helps form metallic nickel, which later segregates to the surface of the nanoparticle. In the final stages of growth, the surface becomes roughly an equal mixture of the two metals. This interesting synergistic effect between platinum and nickel plays a significant role in the development of the nanoparticle’s octahedral shape, as well as its reactivity.

    “The nice thing about these findings is that nickel is a cheap material, whereas platinum is expensive,” Hunt said. “So, if the nickel on the surface of the nanoparticle is catalyzing the reaction, and these nanoparticles are still more active than platinum by itself, then hopefully, with more research, we can figure out the minimum amount of platinum to add and still get the high activity, creating a more cost-effective catalyst.”

    The findings depended on the advanced capabilities of IOS, where the researchers were able to run the experiments at gas pressures higher than what is usually possible in conventional XPS experiments.

    “At IOS, we were able to follow changes in the composition and chemical state of the nanoparticles in real time during the real growth conditions,” said Waluyo.

    Additional x-ray and electron imaging studies completed at the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory—another DOE Office of Science User Facility—and University of California-Irvine, respectively, complemented the work at NSLS-II.

    “This fundamental work highlights the significant role of segregated nickel in forming the octahedral-shaped catalyst. We have achieved more insight into shape control of catalyst nanoparticles,” Peng said. “Our next step is to study catalytic properties of the faceted nanoparticles to understand the structure-property correlation.”

    This study was supported by the National Science Foundation and Brookhaven’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development program. Operations at NSLS-II and APS are supported by DOE’s Office of Science.

    Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The 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, please visit science.energy.gov.

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    A Challenging Future for Tropical Forests

    Mortality rates of moist tropical forests are on the rise due to environmental drivers and related mechanisms.

    Stronger, lighter, greener

    A new award-winning magnet technology invented at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory could help drive the nation's transition from gas-powered vehicles to electric and hybrid power more rapidly, at lower cost, and in a more environmentally friendly way.

    Science Up-Close: Developing a Cookbook for Efficient Fusion Energy

    To develop a future fusion reactor, scientists need to understand how and why plasma in fusion experiments moves into a "high-confinement mode" where particles and heat can't escape. Scientists at the Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory simulated the transition into that mode starting from the most basic physics principles.

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    New insights into molecular-level processes could help prevent corrosion and improve catalytic conversion.

    Neutron science publications reach new highs at ORNL's flagship facilities

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    Feature describes first direct sighting of a trigger for bursts of heat that can disrupt fusion reactions.

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    Found: A precise method for determining how waves and particles affect fusion reactions

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


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    Argonne scientist elected as SAE Fellow

    Scientist Michael Wang from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory was recently inducted as a Fellow of the professional engineering organization SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). The organization reserves this prestigious grade of membership for thosewho have made significant contributions to mobility technology and have demonstrated leadership in their field.

    Top 10 Discoveries of 2018

    Every year, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory compiles a list of the biggest advances made by the Lab's staff scientists, engineers, and visiting researchers. From uncovering mysteries of the universe to building better batteries, here, in no particular order, are our picks for the top 10 discoveries of 2018.

    U.S. Department of Energy Announces $33 Million for Small Business Research and Development Grants

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    DOE to Provide $16 Million for New Research into Atmospheric and Terrestrial Processes

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a plan to provide $16 million for new observational research aimed at improving the accuracy of today's climate and earth system models.

    Machine learning award powers Argonne leadership in engine design

    When attempting to design engines to be more fuel-efficient and emissions-free, automotive manufacturers have to take into account all the complexity inherent in the combustion process.

    ORNL partners with industry to address multiple nuclear technology challenges

    The Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory is collaborating with industry on six new projects focused on advancing commercial nuclear energy technologies that offer potential improvements to current nuclear reactors and move new reactor designs closer to deployment.

    Lithium earns honors for three physicists working to bring the energy that powers the sun to Earth

    Feature describes research of three PPPL physicists who have won the laboratory's 2018 outstanding research awards

    DOE approves technical plan and cost estimate to upgrade Argonne facility; Project will create X-rays that illuminate the atomic scale, in 3D

    The U.S. Department of Energy has approved the technical scope, cost estimate and plan of work for an upgrade of the Advanced Photon Source, a major storage-ring X-ray source at Argonne.

    Costas Soukoulis elected to National Academy of Inventors

    Costas Soukoulis, Ames Laboratory senior scientist and Iowa State University Frances M. Craig Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor, has been named as a 2018 National Academy of Inventors (NAI) Fellow.

    Biophysicist F. William Studier Elected Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors

    F. William Studier, a Senior Biophysicist Emeritus at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry at Stony Brook University, has been elected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). He is among 148 renowned academic inventors being recognized by NAI for 2018.


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    Observing Clouds in Four Dimensions

    Six cameras are revolutionizing observations of shallow cumulus clouds.

    A Challenging Future for Tropical Forests

    Mortality rates of moist tropical forests are on the rise due to environmental drivers and related mechanisms.

    Rapid Lake Draining on Ice Sheets Changes How Water Moves in Unexpected Ways

    Widespread fracturing during lake drainage triggers vertical shafts to form that affect the Greenland Ice Sheet.

    New Historical Emissions Trends Estimated with the Community Emissions Data System

    The data system will allow for more detailed, consistent, and up-to-date global emissions trends that will aid in understanding aerosol effects.

    Peering into the Mist: How Water Vapor Changes Metal at the Atomic Level

    New insights into molecular-level processes could help prevent corrosion and improve catalytic conversion.

    Microbial Types May Prove Key to Gas Releases from Thawing Permafrost

    Scientists discover key types of microbes that degrade organic matter and release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

    New Method Knocks Out Yeast Genes with Single-Point Precision

    Researchers can precisely study how different genes affect key properties in a yeast used industrially to produce fuel and chemicals.

    How Plants Regulate Sugar Deposition in Cell Walls

    Identified genes involved in plant cell wall polysaccharide production and restructuring could aid in engineering bioenergy crops.

    Scientists Identify Gene Cluster in Budding Yeasts with Major Implications for Renewable Energy

    How yeast partition carbon into a metabolite may offer insights into boosting production for biofuels.

    More Designer Peptides, More Possibilities

    A combined experimental and modeling approach contributes to understanding small proteins with potential use in industrial, therapeutic applications.


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