Energy

Synchrotrons are a vital tool in helping to meet global energy challenges, offering scientists a vast portfolio of the latest R&D techniques and innovations to tackle a wide range of energy research. With our reserves of fossil fuels in decline, we must learn how to use them more efficiently and effectively in industry, domestic applications and transport systems. Additional challenges include producing cleaner, safer and more affordable energy from renewable alternatives such as biofuels, solar and nuclear power, and developing novel materials and technologies for carbon-capture and fuel-gas storage systems. Meeting these challenges is vital both to help us achieve a low-carbon energy economy and to conserve our natural resources and protect our environment.

Watching Solar Cells Grow

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BESSY II, Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin (HZB), Germany

For the first time, a team of researchers at the HZB has managed to observe growth of high-efficiency chalcopyrite thin film solar cells in real time and to study the formation and degradation of defects that compromise efficiency. To this end, the scientists set up a novel measuring chamber at the Berlin electron storage ring BESSY II, which allows them to combine several different kinds of measuring techniques. Their results show during which process stages the growth can be accelerated and when additional time is required to reduce defects. Their work has now been published online in Advanced Energy Materials.

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Making more efficient fuel cells

Miniaturized fuel cells are probed with high brilliance X-rays at the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
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Miniaturized fuel cells are probed with high brilliance X-rays at the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and the Advanced Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, California, USA

Using high-brilliance X-rays, researchers track the process that fuel cells use to produce electricity, knowledge that will help make large-scale alternative energy power systems more practical and reliable.

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Scientists discover how to build cheaper, more efficient fuel cells

Canadian Light Source, Saskatoon, Canada

Using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron, researchers have discovered a way to create cheaper fuel cells by dividing normally expensive platinum metal into nanoparticles (or even single atoms) for use in everything from automobiles to computers.

A team led by Western University, and in collaboration with McMaster University, the CLS synchrotron, and Ballard Power Systems Inc., has developed a method of utilizing atomic layer deposition (ALD). This surface science technique is used for depositing chemical compounds, to create single atom catalysts. This is a major boon for the three-headed battle against global energy demands, depletion of fossil fuel reserves, and environmental pollution problems.

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Postcards from the Photosynthetic Edge

Photosytem II utilizes a water-splitting manganese-calcium enzyme that when energized by sunlight catalyzes a four photon-step cycle of oxidation states (S0-to-S3). When S3 absorbs a photon, molecular oxygen (O2) is released and S0 is generated. S4 is a transient state on the way to S0.
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Photosytem II utilizes a water-splitting manganese-calcium enzyme that when energized by sunlight catalyzes a four photon-step cycle of oxidation states (S0-to-S3). When S3 absorbs a photon, molecular oxygen (O2) is released and S0 is generated. S4 is a transient state on the way to S0.

Linac Coherent Light Source, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, California, USA

A crucial piece of the puzzle behind nature's ability to split the water molecule during photosynthesis that could help advance the development of artificial photosynthesis for clean, green and renewable energy has been provided by an international collaboration of scientists. Working at SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), the world's most powerful x-ray laser, the researchers were able to take detailed "snapshots" of the four photon-step cycle for water oxidation in photosystem II, a large protein complex in green plants. Photosystem II is the only known biological system able to harness sunlight for the oxidation of water into molecular oxygen.

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Solar cell degradation observed directly for the first time

Schematic representation of the active layer of the polymer solar cell: The orange dots represent the active domains where light is converted into charge carriers.
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Schematic representation of the active layer of the polymer solar cell: The orange dots represent the active domains where light is converted into charge carriers.

PETRA III, DESY, Hamburg, Germany

Researchers of Technische Universität München have, for the first time, watched organic solar cells degrade in real time. This work could open new approaches to increasing the stability of this highly promising type of solar cell.

Organic solar cells, especially those based on polymers are inexpensive to produce on a large scale. Thanks to their physical flexibility, they can open up new applications of photovoltaics not possible today. Moreover, they can convert light into electricity at an efficiency of more than ten per cent and could contribute significantly to a large-scale power supply based on renewable sources. However, the efficiency of organic solar cells still rapidly declines and they have a shorter service life than conventional silicon cells.

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