Exciting results from inside batteries

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 12.55.23 PMWe just had a paper published in The Journal of Materials Chemistry A about some research done at Brookhaven National Lab. It’s cool and new because it uses extremely high-power X-rays that can penetrate thick materials, even metals. The technique was developed to find points of strain inside high-performance materials like turbine blades. We use it to do the same thing, but inside batteries. And not just small batteries, but very thick ones, like D-cell batteries, which are an inch or two across.

Inside the battery, the X-rays bounce off crystal faces of the materials, and because of that you can know things about how far apart the atoms are. A D-cell has zinc at its center (anode) and manganese dioxide around its outside (cathode). The lines in the image above are like fingerprints of these materials. (And the numbers like (002) refer to the crystal faces themselves.)

Another cool thing about this technique is that it is very fast. You can scan the battery in a few minutes. This means that as it’s charging and discharging you can watch the materials changing in real time, inside the sealed battery. Basically this is what we do in the paper, shown below, seeing some things no one has ever been able to see before (except by cracking a battery open after cycling it, which can sometimes be effective, but not always). Brookhaven (on Long Island, in New York) is one of the only places in the world you can do this.

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The CUNY Energy Institute


CUNY EI in Harlem

There’s a new profile of the CUNY Energy Institute up on the NY-BEST website. It features my favorite cell phone picture of our building next to Alexander Hamilton’s house. We’re located in Hamilton Heights, which is part of Harlem, New York City. This is the view you get if you’re walking up from St. Nick Avenue.

I’ve been at the Energy Institute about four years, almost since it was founded. Now we’re pretty well established, and it feels a lot different than it did back in the early days when we were trying to get going. They asked me for a quote for the article, so here it is:

According to Dr. Joshua Gallaway, a research scientist at the CUNY Energy Institute: “The guiding goal of the Institute is the energy independence of the United States. Our thrust in grid-scale batteries and energy storage originates here, but has an even deeper implication for the entire world. This is because getting our energy from greater proportions of renewable sources like solar power depends on cost effective ways to store energy on a global scale. With the help of NY-BEST, we believe our home — New York State, New York City, and Harlem — is indispensable in providing the intellectual resources for achieving these goals. The best place to start anything is with brilliant young people and a can-do attitude.”