Advanced Functional Materials Spectroscopy: Lab-based X-ray Absorption

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Chemistry


Technology based on fundamental research into functional materials has transformed the world in which live, and it will continue to do so. Energy materials are critical components in fuel cells and batteries (the rapidly growing global market for Li-ion batteries alone is anticipated to be worth £84 bn by 2025). New, cleaner, more efficient catalysts are essential for greening existing processes as well as new ones for non-fossil-fuel based routes to essential chemicals (the catalyst market is worth around £19.5 bn/yr and growing at 4.5% pa). The equipment proposed will increase productivity in strategic UK research areas such as Energy Storage and Catalysis that require understanding of these materials' chemical and structural properties.

X-ray absorption spectroscopy is a technique used to measure the oxidation state (chemical information) and local co-ordination environment (structural information) properties of a material. X-ray techniques are especially valuable in probing the working state of materials because they can penetrate deep into working samples/devices.

This technique has typically been performed at synchrotron x-ray sources, such as Diamond Light Source in the UK. Recent advances in the hardware available (x-ray sources, optics and detectors) have been exploited to develop laboratory x-ray absorption spectrometers (including one that is commercially available), which now have sufficient x-ray power to enable many experiments to be performed in the laboratory. Such spectrometers are ideal for experiments that do not need high time or spatial resolution (available only at heavily oversubscribed synchrotron sources), especially operando measurements on a working battery or catalyst, where the time is determined by the process and not the x-ray source. Such equipment, while available in Germany or the USA, isn't currently available in the UK and would complement the facilities already available at Diamond. Through this project to procure, commission and operate a laboratory-source x-ray absorption spectrometer (and complementary equipment), we will meet a key need of the UK functional materials research community for wider availability of XAS to support research in strategic areas.

The new facility will be housed in the Chemistry Department at Durham University, which has a strong track-record in x-ray science and interactions with industry. The EasyXAFS300 would complement other x-ray facilities in Durham, as well as recent investments in catalysis (£1.1m DU Integrated Chemical Reaction Facility) and materials (£0.75m DU COAST Nanolab). The investigator team span a wide range of disciplines (e.g. solid state chemistry, batteries, catalysis, condensed matter physics, nano-scale engineering) and so will act as advocates and representatives within diverse UK science communities - as demonstrated by the range of letters of support provided. Both Durham and external users in other universities and companies have already indicated interest in using the instrument for a wide range of applications - some examples include:

i) Metal nanoparticle catalysts for biomass conversion.
ii) Zeolite catalysts for methane activation.
iii) Single atom / cluster catalysts for fine chemicals production.
iv) C-H bond activation in Mn(I) catalysts.
v) Cs co-ordination environment in supported commercial catalysts.
vi) Ni based catalysts for dry and steam reforming.
vii) Characterisation of carbide, nitride and carbonitride transition metal catalysts.
viii) Structure and oxidation state of ceria catalysts for environmental applications
ix) Oxide ion conductors in solid oxide fuel cells.
x) Electrode materials for Na-ion batteries.
xi) Skyrmion chiral magnets for next generation data storage media.
xii) 3D-Graphene foams (synthesized with metal salts) for filtration and pollution control.
xiii) Fe, Mn and Cu in stain removal and malodour control.
xiv) PtCu nanowires in gas sensing arrays.


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Description Chemostrat 
Organisation Chemostrat Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution XANES analysis on companies samples
Collaborator Contribution Provision of materials / science questions
Impact Insight provided to collaborating company about a material's structure relevant to processing.
Start Year 2022
Description Glasgow / Emma Gibson 
Organisation University of Glasgow
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Investigation of catalyst materials
Collaborator Contribution Provision of samples and input on sample handling capabilities needed and analysis of capillary samples.
Impact In progress, but data / capability proving results shared with partner.
Start Year 2023
Description Johnson Matthey 
Organisation Johnson Matthey
Department Johnson Matthey Technology Centre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Analysis of samples/data and sharing of ideas about cell design / construction to address specific problems
Collaborator Contribution Sharing of experience and cell design ideas (~ 5 days input), research visits and feedback on capabilities to target. Sample provision.
Impact Ongoing. (Note an agreement is in final stages but not signed off, so formal agreement question below likely to change in near future).
Start Year 2022
Description Industry engagement talk with multinational catalysts company 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation of facility to industrial project partner in DU - Company bilateral event resulting in multiple points of interest for using the facility within company and initial samples being sent.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Newcastle - CONEXS workshop / annual meeting - overview of labXAS 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited to share early stage work on using labXAS with EPSRC funded UK CONEXS (COllaborborate NEtwork for X-ray Spectroscopy) and details about facility setup - around 50 people, including internationally recognized practitioners in field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022