University of Massachusetts Boston chemistry Ph.D. student Genevieve Asselin has received a research award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE's) Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program. The SCGSR award is given to outstanding U.S. graduate students to pursue part of their graduate thesis research at a Department of Energy laboratory/facility in the areas that address scientific challenges central to the Office of Science mission.
Asselin will conduct her research at the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a DOE Office of Science user facility at Argonne National Laboratory. She will be researching the potential-dependent solution structure of magnesium electrolytes using high-energy x-rays to gather information about local atom-atom coordination in the liquid phase to ultimately build a better understanding of how magnesium electrolytes work.
“I feel very lucky and grateful for the opportunities that I have been afforded and the support from my PI [principal investigator] Assistant Professor of Chemistry Niya Sa, and the beamline scientist, Wenqian Xu [with the X-ray Science Division Structural Science Group], who I will be working with at the Argonne APS,” Asselin said. “Most people [in the world] don’t get the chance to use the beamlines at the Advanced Photon Source, but I’m glad I will be one of them [who will].”
According to Asselin, magnesium-ion batteries (MIBs) are a promising avenue to replace lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) because they are cheaper, more abundant, stable, and environmentally friendly. Even though MIBs also have the potential to deliver just about double the energy output of LIBs, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of how they work and why they are not yet comparable to the LIBs that are currently on the market.
The goal of this research is to delve deeper into the processes and mechanisms that are happening during charge transfers, Asselin said. When you use a battery and current begins to flow, the way that ions and solvents in solutions arrange themselves changes, which has huge implications for kinetics, intermediate formation, and reversibility since rechargeable batteries must be able to undergo reversible electron transfers.
“All of these things drive the practicality of using a given electrolyte in a rechargeable battery,” Asselin said. “I hope that researchers will be able to use my research to be able to understand the mechanistic properties of magnesium ions in solution and apply my findings to intentionally design new magnesium electrolytes that circumvent current limitations.”
Although there is a lot of missing information regarding MIBs, Asselin said it’s a system worth exploring. Batteries are the essential steppingstones to transition off fossil fuels and rely on renewable sources of energy instead.
“Our world revolves around the need for energy, but LIBs alone will not be able to meet the long-term demands,” she said. “Magnesium-ion batteries are a realistic and promising replacement for LIBs down the line.”
Asselin’s doctoral research explores charge transfer of multivalent electrolytes at an electrode interface and the intermediates that form during the charge transfer process and her research through the SCGSR program is integral to her thesis topic. Asselin said there is no other way to conduct this type of research except at a facility like the Advanced Photon Source and that the program has given her the opportunity to work with knowledgeable scientists using advanced research techniques.
“I’m looking forward to being able to learn from some of the best in battery chemistry,” she said. “I think this research is going to produce very interesting and illuminating results and I can’t wait to see what we find.”
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The Advanced Photon Source is a DOE Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Argonne National Laboratory under Contract No. DE-AC02-06CH11357
The U.S. Department of Energy's APS at Argonne National Laboratory is one of the world’s most productive x-ray light source facilities. Each year, the APS provides high-brightness x-ray beams to a diverse community of more than 5,000 researchers in materials science, chemistry, condensed matter physics, the life and environmental sciences, and applied research. Researchers using the APS produce over 2,000 publications each year detailing impactful discoveries, and solve more vital biological protein structures than users of any other x-ray light source research facility. APS x-rays are ideally suited for explorations of materials and biological structures; elemental distribution; chemical, magnetic, electronic states; and a wide range of technologically important engineering systems from batteries to fuel injector sprays, all of which are the foundations of our nation’s economic, technological, and physical well-being.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC, for the U.S. DOE Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.