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Posted: June 16, 2009
FEI Electron Microscopy at the Frontiers of Energy Research
(Nanowerk News) The world's attention is becoming increasingly focused on complex, interconnected global issues such as energy, transport, the environment, health and security. Of these, energy is perhaps the most pervasive, since the conversion, storage, transportation, efficiency and use of energy impacts heavily on the rest. As scientists and technologists work toward developing and discovering clean, sustainable sources of energy, as well as more efficient processing, handling and consumption, how can electron microscopy contribute to these vitally important efforts? How are the tools and techniques advancing to meet the challenges of such global issues? The requirements go hand-in-hand as we strive to better understand, control and optimize the relevant materials and processes, taking us from the macro-scale world into the realms of nano-networks, quantum wells and individual atoms.
For the study of devices and materials such as energy-efficient light emitting diodes and fuel cells, and processes such as artificial photosynthesis, aberration-corrected (scanning) transmission electron microscopy (S/TEM) allows individual atoms to be observed and chemically identified. Highly accurate observations of interfaces, grain boundaries, edges and steps can be made without the limitations associated with standard electron optics. This is a tremendously important step forward and is set to have a great impact on many areas of scientific endeavour.
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Polymer networks in solar cell materials and nano-particles or pores in catalyst systems can be visualized in three dimensions, directly revealing 3D nanostructure-property relationships. Advanced electron tomography and focused ion beam techniques are breathing new life into the way we look at both hard and soft materials.
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Catalysts important in the production or function of biofuels and hydrogen storage and conversion or the growth of nanotubes and nanowires, can be observed in situ using specific 'environmental' thermal and gaseous conditions inside the microscope, giving new, dynamic insights into the nano- and atomic-scale chemical processes and mechanisms involved.
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Photonic arrays and nanoprototype structures and devices of interest in the energy arena can be fabricated within the microscope, using electrons or ions, making the microscope more than just a characterization tool.
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Oil and gas recovery, CO2 sequestration, clean fossil fuels and nuclear waste management are all systems that can be analyzed across multiple lengthscales using specialized microscopes, accessories and automated software.
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Composite materials for energy-efficient, lightweight or durable materials, biomass, viruses and bacteria involved in biofuel production, along with traditional or emerging materials for new semi-conductor devices all benefit from characterization using the latest developments in scanning electron microscopy (SEM), such as monochromated SEM for extreme high resolution imaging and low vacuum, ultra-high resolution imaging of non-conductive materials.