Energy generation and energy storage related applications require some of today’s most complex materials development initiatives to meet efficiency and reliability targets.
Many of our electronic devices, from laptops to smartphones, are powered by rechargeable lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, and they could soon extend into many other areas as well. This includes transport, through the ongoing development and adoption of electric vehicles. New materials are continuously being developed that transform the ways we capture, transmit, and store energy.
Evan Wenbo Zhao, an assistant professor of the magnetic resonance research center, co-pioneered the operando NMR methods for studying redox flow batteries, during his postdoc time with Clare Grey from the University of Cambridge.
Zhao and his research team in Nijmegen are developing long-lasting and energy-dense redox flow batteries for stationary applications. Towards this goal, the operando NMR methods will play a crucial role for understanding degradation of new active molecules and materials. Zhao is collaborating with chemometricians to develop machine-learning algorithm for optimizing redox flow battery performance based on the large amount of NMR data. In order to increase the accessibility of operando NMR techniques, his team has demonstrated the feasibility of applying a benchtop NMR for operando studies. Beyond redox flow battery research, Zhao is broadening the application scope of operando NMR for studying other environmentally relevant electrochemical reactions including ammonia synthesis and carbon dioxide reduction, hoping to contribute to the electrification of the chemical industry in the near future.
British chemist, Clare Grey, of the University of Cambridge pioneered the optimization of batteries using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and sees her research as an important contribution to achieving the European Union’s stated goal of climate neutrality by 2050.
Her current research investigates cost-effective and durable storage systems for electricity from renewable sources. Current batteries, such as those in mobile devices like smartphones, typically have a short life span. Even modern electric vehicles have a seven-to-ten-year lifespan. Grey’s research looks at advancing new battery technology using renewable energy and increasing their lifespan.
Grey and her team are working on the development of a new battery – the lithium air battery which uses oxygen from the air as a reagent with lithium to increase the battery’s energy density tenfold. The lithium air battery is a game changer in terms of creating a sustainable, climate-friendly energy supply.
The research group of Gillian Goward at Mc Master University in Ontario, Canada aims to apply advanced solid-state NMR techniques, in combination with electrochemical characterization, to the study of materials of interest as chemical power sources. Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEM-FC) and secondary lithium ion batteries provide environmentally friendly energy alternatives. As yet under-exploited is the unique advantage of solid-state NMR for investigating the protons in PEM-FCs, and the lithium ions in Li-ion rechargeable batteries, which can be thought of as the “work horses” of these two systems. Solid-state NMR is well known for its ability to provide site-specific information on structure and dynamics. Processes and interactions such as hydrogen-bonding, ionic conductivity, and polymer chain ordering or mobility can be effectively probed. In recent years, the field of solid-state NMR has experienced rapid technological and methodological growth, allowing a broader range of materials questions to be addressed.
Dr. Dominik Kubicki is an assistant professor at the School of Chemistry in the University of Birmingham, UK. His research focuses on new solar cell materials using solid state NMR technology. In this interview we will highlight his work and how solid-state NMR has been key in his research. Dr. Kubicki's research involves the development of new types of solar cells, and solid-state NMR plays a critical role in understanding how these materials behave.