32.5 Million SEK for New Materials Research Infrastructure
The Wallenberg Initiative Materials Science for Sustainability, WISE, has awarded SEK 32.5 million to the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Tandem Laboratory for the new infrastructure platform LigHt.
To reduce CO2 emissions and replace fossil fuels in energy storage, transport and production, alternative solutions must be found. Examples include Li-ion batteries powering cars, or hydrogen used for energy storage or as a process gas, for example in steel production.
To find new materials and applications necessary for the energy transition, scientists need more information on the distribution and concentration of elements in different materials, as well as on their structure and how they interact with other substances. Of particular interest is research on lithium and hydrogen, which are however difficult and complex to measure.
The new infrastructure LigHt is a platform for materials science, specifically for materials characterisation with the goal to find out how light elements behave. LigHt will combine several techniques and instruments to gain more knowledge about lithium and hydrogen and how they affect materials depending on, for example, pressure, temperature, electromagnetic or electrochemical changes. Researchers can study the behaviour of surfaces and interfaces between materials even under external influences. One example is how a solar cell works at high temperature compared to at room temperature.
It is particularly interesting to investigate how the materials composition can help to achieve a desired function or property. An example of such a desired function is energy storage that is stable over long periods of time even at varying temperatures, thus mimicking the behaviour of a battery during normal operation.
The LigHt project is a collaboration between researchers from Materials Physics, X-ray photon science, Ion Physics (Applied Nuclear Physics), Structural Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry and the Tandem Laboratory.
“The broad expertise within the LigHt project creates an interdisciplinary environment that facilitates collaboration and exchange of ideas,”'says Andreas Lindblad, who together with Daniel Primetzhofer is the main applicant for the project.
LigHt will bring together existing expertise in X-ray diffraction, X-ray based electron spectroscopy, as well as ion beam analysis and ion beam modification. Three techniques: SIMS, EP-HAXPES and XRD will be integrated into the existing infrastructure linked to the MeV Pelletron accelerator at the Tandem Laboratory. The combination of these experimental methods will allow scientists to measure concentrations of different elements with high accuracy as well as changes to materials in terms of both chemical composition and structure – all within the same facility.
SIMS (Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry) is considered the most sensitive method available for measuring element concentrations near the surface of a material. Hydrogen and lithium can be detected down to concentrations of parts per million or even parts per billion. The method can also be used to create 3D maps of elemental distribution in a material.
EP-HAXPES (Extended pressure hard X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy) can measure chemical bonds, interactions and changes in materials. The technique does not require ultra-high vacuum, which means that measurements can be performed under more realistic conditions. As an example, materials can be investigated in air or in a hydrogen atmosphere. Therefore, the method can be used to study corrosion or catalytic processes as well.
XRD (X-ray diffraction) provides information on the structure of a material as well as its changes at the atomic level. The technique is very flexible and works equally well in vacuum and in different atmospheres. Besides the order of the material’s atoms, XRD can also reveal stresses in a material that, for example, occur under hydrogen absorption.
The Tandem Laboratory is a national research infrastructure at Ångström Laboratory providing world-leading ion beam-based materials characterisation and modification. Techniques that are particularly sensitive to light elements, such as NRA (Nuclear reaction analysis) and ERDA (Elastic recoil detection analysis), are already accessible at the laboratory and will be combined with the new techniques to provide complementary information.
To keep the studied material systems under controlled conditions from start to finish and minimise external influences, it is important to be able to grow and modify samples in the same system as the measurements are made. This means that changes to the samples from, for example, transport between different experiments can be eliminated.
“The integration of the new platform into the existing infrastructure of the Tandem Laboratory's national research infrastructure will also benefit many other applications within materials research,” says Daniel Primetzhofer, director of the Tandem Laboratory.
The research within X-ray based electron spectroscopy at LigHt is also part of a coordination project within NAP-XPS (Near-ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy), which is a larger collaboration with Linköping University and Chalmers University of Technology.
Together, NAP-XPS and LigHt will create a unique research environment for materials characterisation. The combination of the best analytical methods within one system makes it possible to connect maximum sensitivity with realistic conditions.
“Information on structure, chemistry and composition of materials at the atomic level can be linked to properties at the macroscopic level, allowing us to study the entire life cycle of materials from synthesis through application to recycling,” concludes Daniel Primetzhofer.
Svenja Lohmann and Camilla Thulin