Claire Corkhill (university of Sheffield) on I11, the long duration beamline
Have you ever experienced the supreme frustration of having an old phone or laptop that can’t hold a charge? Lithium ion batteries are commonly used in consumer tech, but over time the cathodes that help to generate a current become degraded. This causes our gadgets to lose precious charge, triggering that most modern of all problems: the dodgy battery.
On the LDE, scientists from University College London are exploring the atomic processes behind the degradation of cathodes within these batteries over time. If we can study the tiny changes that gradually occur, we may be able to work out how this process is happening and how to prevent it: hello longer-lasting tech.
Batteries are a well-established element of the energy mix, but we’re also seeing other new innovations coming forward that could help us to meet energy needs in a greener way.
Scientists are looking at all sorts of ways of trapping toxic gases. One approach is to use an artificially-constructed sub-microscopic structure called a ‘metal organic framework’. Known as MOFs, these frameworks are made up of molecules that together form a cage-like shape.
MOFs can be thought of as chemical sponges: they absorb certain gasses and keep them locked away inside. If we can learn how to fully exploit their potential, MOFs could help us to remove some of the toxic gasses currently released into the atmosphere.
But before we start fitting MOFs to the inside of cooling towers and cars we need to know more about how they behave over time. There’s no point in locking away all of the toxic gas if it’s just going to be released again as the structure degrades.
And so scientists from the University of Manchester are studying the behaviour of MOFs using the LDE. They want to explore how the molecular framework alters over months and years, and whether this impacts on the structural integrity of the MOF and its ability to contain gasses.
We want MOFs that work for thousands of years, but some processes need to be understood over even longer timescales.
A small percentage of the UK’s nuclear waste needs to be carefully stored until it decays and is no longer radioactive. But there’s a problem: this can take hundreds of thousands of years.
The UK government plans to bury this waste deep underground in a carefully constructed facility. But before we start building, it’s important to be sure that the structure is indeed capable of outlasting the radioactive waste.
That’s why University of Sheffield scientists are exploring the interactions between cement and water over time. All manmade structures are affected by their environment. So we need to anticipate how cement used in the facility could interact with surrounding groundwater over thousands of years – that way we can be sure that we create a structure that is truly built to last. As our ability to study long-term atomic and molecular processes improves, we can expect to learn even more about crucial reactions taking place over extended timescales.
From medicines to environment, from space science to energy – the power of the LDE just goes to show: not all of what matters can be measured in seconds.