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New Materials for Energy Storage

The decisive criterion for the functioning of modern technologies and applications, for example in the field of energy supply or computer science, is the materials used in these technologies. Some applications only become possible by means of tailor-made materials displaying special properties.

Jülich scientists investigate elements and material components on an atomic level in order to optimize existing technologies and lay the foundation for new ones. The aim is to understand the behaviour of materials on the nanoscale and to exploit their properties for specific applications by means of selective design.

Basic research at Jülich makes use of various methods and instruments to penetrate into the innermost structures of matter and to explore the mechanisms at work there. This may open up unexpected fields of application. For example, the investigation of porous titanium in the field of fuel cell research led to the development of spinal implants for patients with damaged intervertebral discs.

Research with Neutrons for Energy Storage

Neutron research makes use of the behaviour of neutrons in interaction with the material samples to be investigated. Neutrons are the electrically neutral building blocks of atomic nuclei. They are generated by nuclear fission or by spallation which involves bombarding a heavy metal with protons fired by a particle accelerator. The neutrons released in this way are guided in special instruments onto the samples to be studied. These neutron beams "bounce" off the atoms and molecules of the samples and in doing so they may change their direction and speed. The nature and pattern of this "scattering" provides information on the arrangement and motion of the atoms in the sample.

One of the instruments operated by the Jülich Centre for Neutron Science (JCNS) and made available to teams of scientists from around the world is the backscattering spectrometer, SPHERES. The team headed by Dr. Aline Leon from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) uses this instrument to investigate materials which release hydrogen when heated and could thus be suitable for storing energy by means of hydrogen. This element is interesting as an alternative, clean energy carrier and also for the application of fuel cells. The research team concentrates on studying hydrogen motion on the molecular level. With SPHERES, researchers exploit the fact that neutrons change their speed as a result of their interaction with the atoms in the material samples. They record these tiny changes and use them to calculate the dynamics of the atoms in the sample to draw conclusions about the laws governing the transport of hydrogen out of the material. A precise understanding of these processes is necessary to develop appropriate applications.

Electron Microscopy

Microscopy has been an indispensable scientific tool ever since the 17th century. Electron microscopy makes it possible to overcome the limitations of light microscopy and explore ever smaller dimensions. The Ernst Ruska-Centre (ER-C) is equipped with some of the best instruments of our time. Scientists use them to gather important insights in the search for new high-performance materials for the future energy supply.

Electron MicroscopyA profound understanding of the atomic origins of macroscopic material properties will provide the basis to tailor materials to the specific problems of modern technologies.
Source: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Measurements with atomic precision reveal the reasons for the different performance of the materials studied. This is ultimately determined by the arrangement of the atoms, which is visualized by the electron microscope. Electron microscope analysis at ER-C helped researchers to discover new approaches in order to refine membrane materials for separating harmful greenhouse gases from the flue gases of power plants. The development of novel solar cells consisting of several layers of extremely thin films also benefits from precise measurements of the individual layers since the thickness of these layers is decisive for the absorption capacity of the whole cell.

Further information

more about neutron research
Jülich Centre for Neutron Science (JCNS)
more about electron microscopy
Ernst Ruska Centre for Microscopy and Spectroscopy with Electrons (er-c)
Peter Grünberg Institute - Microstructure Research (PGI-5)
Environmentally friendly power plants
Materials research for energy supply