In light of future challenges for products and services for the transport of people and goods on road networks which provide improved safety, energy-efficiency, environmental compatibility and affordability, the automotive industry is investing heavily in research and development. The industry needs to consider sustainable development while committing to the creation of cost-effective approaches that ensure true sustainability and preserve economic well-being.
The use of energy and other limited resources, and the protection of the environment, form the cornerstone of all automotive research. Forecasts predict that 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas in the future and as a result the focus of vehicle development, which has previously concentrated on regulating exhaust emissions and their impact on air quality, is now shifting towards the combined targets of further reduced CO2 emissions, higher energy efficiency and noise reduction. Moreover, the supply of energy carriers in sufficient quantity that meet the requirements of future powertrains (the mechanism that transmits the drive from the engine of a vehicle to its axle) and contributes to reduce CO2 levels is of great importance. The creation of a clean, safe and sustainable transport system that combines efficient vehicles, secure and continuous energy supply and a clean environment in an optimal way is the end goal.
Located in south Oxfordshire, Diamond is a synchrotron; a huge scientific machine, half a kilometre in circumference, designed to produce very intense beams of X-rays, infrared and ultraviolet light. For centuries, scientists have used microscopes to study things that are too small to see with the naked eye. However, microscopes are limited by the visible light that they use. Optical microscopes can be used to study objects that are a few microns (0.001mm) in size, about the size of cells. However, to study smaller objects like molecules and atoms, scientists need to use the extra bright light generated by the synchrotron.
Synchrotron light can be 10 billion times brighter than the sun. Particles called electrons are generated in an electron gun, very like the cathode ray tubes found in old television sets. They are then fired out into the machine, where they are accelerated up to very high speeds through a series of three particle accelerators that work together to accelerate the electrons so that they are travelling at nearly the speed of light.
The electrons are now moving so fast that they could travel around the entire world 7.5 times in a single second and it is at this point that they enter the storage ring. The storage ring is just over half a kilometer in circumferance and is what gives Diamond its iconic doughnut shape. It is made up of 48 straight sections angled together with 48 bending magnets, and it is this magnetism that is used to steer the electrons around the ring.
When the path of the electron beam is bent by Diamond’s powerful magnets, the electrons lose energy in the form of light. This light can then be channelled out of the storage ring and into the experimental stations, called beamlines and it is here that scientists carry out their research.
Automotive research is central to the experiments carried out at Diamond and the breadth of the applications of synchrotron light span far and wide. Recent studies that have taken place here include research into lithium sulfur batteries for electric vehicles, studying the effects of freezing on diesel fuel, the characterisation of automotive exhaust catalysts, detailed micro-structural assessment of thermal spray coatings used in the manufacturing of steel, in fact the research potential for our industrial clients is vast. We are proud to count Johnson Matthey, Infineum, Rolls Royce and BP amongst our clients.
Some of the many techniques on offer at Diamond that can be applied to automotive research include:
X-ray Diffraction - Diffraction patterns provide the atomic structure of molecules such as powders, small molecules or larger ordered molecules like protein crystals. X-ray diffraction can be used to measure strains in materials under load, by monitoring changes in the spacing of atomic planes but is most applicable in the structural characterisation of materials;
X-ray powder diffraction - Powder diffraction is an important technique for characterising the crystallographic structure of materials. The technique allows systems with single or multiple crystalline phases to be studied and can be used to identify the constituent phases within a material, follow phase transitions and perform full crystallographic structural determination of unknown materials. Powder diffraction is a popular and powerful tool for studying a great variety of systems, determining the strain within engineering components and for gathering residual stress measurements where complex geometries can be investigated in three dimensions;
X-ray imaging - X-ray imaging visualises samples, frequently the internal or hidden components of a sample and is applicable to nearly all fields of science. It can probe the interior structure of materials for high speed visualisation or retrieval of 3-dimensional information. Hard X-ray imaging allows detailed information to be gathered from below the surface of a material through either full-field imaging, where the whole sample is illuminated, or through scanning, where the beam is focused to a small spot which is scanned across the sample. The high intensity and energy of synchrotron X-rays makes it possible to image a much larger range of materials and sample thicknesses than conventional X-ray sources, and the brilliance of the synchrotron source produces very high resolution images. The high intensity X-rays also permit very fast measurements for high speed imaging experiments. A technique called X-ray computed tomography can create three dimensional reconstructions of the internal sample volume. This makes it possible to view any cross-section of the virtual image at any angle.
X-ray absorption spectroscopy - to investigate the local electronic and geometric information around a particular element in your sample or, when combined with other complementary techniques, to provide powerful analytical strategies for investigating the relationship between chemical structure and reactivity; X-ray spectroscopy is a powerful tool for the determination of local atomic structure in materials that are not necessarily characterised by crystalline order. Spectroscopy can therefore be applied to materials whose constituents, such as atoms, molecules or ions, are not arranged in a highly ordered microscopic structure and do not form a crystal lattice that extends in all directions, creating a very powerful direct probe of chemical environments.
Atoms and molecules have unique spectra. These spectra can be used to detect, identify and quantify information about the atoms and molecules in a sample; in particular elemental composition, chemical state and physical properties of both inorganic material and biological systems. By sweeping through a range of photon energies and measuring the response, the absorption, reflectivity or fluorescence of the sample is measured. Spectroscopy allows researchers to gain valuable information about the internal consituents of a sample and how they may change over varying conditions such as time, temperature or pressure.
SAXS - an extremely powerful analytical technique for the characterisation of a wide range of soft matter. SAXS can be applied to systems that are either difficult or impossible to crystallise, may be complex or composite systems or materials with large scale self-organisation. Due to the wide range of sample types, SAXS has been employed in a wide range of applications from formulations to phase behaviour, catalysis, advanced materials development and engineering.
Below are some automotive case studies that will give you an idea of the types and variety of research that can be carried out using synchrotron light.
Due to the flexible nature in which we work here in the Industrial Liaison Team, the possibilities are endless. We are a group of professional, experienced scientists with a diverse range of expertise, dedicated to helping scientists and researchers from industry access the facilities at Diamond. We’re all specialists in different techniques and have a diverse range of backgrounds so we’re able to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to solving your research problems.
We offer services ranging from full service; a bespoke experimental design, data collection, data analysis and reporting service, right through to providing facilities for you to conduct your own experiments. We’re always happy to discuss any enquiries or talk about ways in which access to Diamond’s facilities may be beneficial to your business so please do give us a call on 01235 778797 or send us an e-mail. You can keep in touch with the latest development by following us on Twitter @DiamondILO or LinkedIn
The significant theoretical advantages of lithium-sulfur batteries over lithium-ion technology have generated a lot of interest in the system, but the development of practical prototypes, which could be successfully incorporated into BEVs, remains slow, with issues such as safety and deactivation. One of the main barriers to achieving such breakthroughs is the lack of fundamental understanding of the mechanism behind the operation of Li-S batteries. In particular, it is not yet clear what the charge and discharge mechanisms are, if the formed polysulfide species are reversible or not, and how all these processes depend on type and amount of electrolyte and the amount of active material. Consequently, there is a pressing need for performing operando characterisation of Li-S batteries under a variety of conditions to identify fundamental aspects of the charging, discharging and deactivation processes.
Soot-related wear in engines can be improved by the use of specially designed copolymeric additives in engine oil formulations. Such copolymers disperse the soot in the form of nanoparticles within the oil and hence minimise wear. However, designing a suitable additive is technically challenging, as genuine diesel soot is expensive to generate. In view of this problem, carbon black is commonly used to mimic the behaviour of diesel soot in order to optimise formulations. A wide range of sophisticated analytical techniques is required to understand whether carbon black is actually a suitable mimic for genuine diesel soot in such formulation studies.
Metal-organic frameworks for hydrogen storage
with the University of Nottingham and General Motors
A major programme of research into MOFs as materials for hydrogen and fuel gas storage is underway. The new materials allow hydrogen to be stored at relatively low pressures leading to cost and weight savings in storage tanks. Accurate structural characterisation is key to the new metal-organic frameworks they have developed. However, the crystals produced by the synthesis routes tend to be very small and weakly diffracting, precluding the use of laboratory based methods for structure determination.
The high intensity X-rays produced at Diamond allowed for structure determination from previously intractable samples which will contribute to the future design of the next generation of MOFs.
Controlling crystallisation in fuels and biofuels
Conventional fuel additives, aimed at preventing crystallisation problems in such conventional fuel + biofuel mixtures, often have difficulty in treating all fuel types. As pioneers in this industry, scientists at Infineum are constantly seeking to develop new fuel additives to prevent diesel engines from failing during cold temperatures. The additives are aimed at affecting both nucleation and the control of crystal growth of the conventional and biofuel components. The combination of techniques available to Infineum at Diamond has allowed them to gain a deep understanding of the processes occurring on different length- and time-scales during the crystallisation of the waxes and by using a combination of methods, the results can be used to direct Infineum’s present and future additive modifier design.
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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