Energy and Environment Research Division
Research at PSI comprises all aspects of human energy use, with the ultimate goal of promoting development towards a sustainable energy supply system. Technologies are being advanced for the utilization of renewable energy sources, low-loss energy storage, efficient conversion, and low emission energy use. Experimental and model-based assessment of these emissions forms the basis of a comprehensive assessment of economic, environmental and social consequences, for both present and future energy supply systems.
Division Head: Prof. Dr. Thomas Justus Schmidt
Energy Briefing Event 2022
On June 28th, 2022, the Energy Divisions (ENE and NES) at PSI hosted their first Energy Briefing Event at the Kursaal in Bern. Knowledgeable voices from industry, research and government shared insights in a dialogue on the feasibility of the Net Zero goal and what next steps are required to achieve this collectively.
A big thank you to Daniela Decurtins (GazEnergy), Particia Sandmeier (Hitachi Energy), Martin Naef (ABB), Pascal Previdoli (BFE), Thomas Schmidt (PSI), Christian Verhoeven (GE), Peter Richner (Empa), Andreas Pautz (PSI) and our Moderator Stephan Lendi for their valuable contributions and insights!
Highlights & News
Labile peroxides in secondary organic aerosol
Aerosols, suspended fine liquid or solid particles in the air we breathe, play a central role in many environmental processes through their influence on climate, the hydrological cycle, and their adverse effects on human health. While the mechanisms by which aerosol particles affect our health remain uncertain, the atmospheric oxidation of organic vapors has been shown to be related to the formation of oxygenated organic matter with high oxidative potential, the so-called reactive oxygen species (ROS).
Despite its great potential, solar energy still faces one big problem: the sun doesn’t always shine and its energy is hard to store. Now, researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and the ETH Zurich have unveiled a chemical process that uses the sun’s thermal energy to convert carbon dioxide and water directly into high-energy fuels: a procedure developed on the basis of a ground-breaking material combination of cerium oxide and rhodium.
Present-day measurements yield insights into clouds of the past
Researchers have shown how fine particles are formed from natural substances in the atmosphere. These findings will improve our knowledge about clouds in the pre-industrial era and thus will contribute to a more accurate understanding of both the past and future evolution of our climate.
Organic Nitrate Contribution to New Particle Formation and Growth in Secondary Organic Aerosols from α-Pinene Ozonolysis
The chemical kinetics of organic nitrate production during new particle formation and growth of secondary organic aerosols (SOA) were investigated using the short-lived radioactive tracer 13N in flow-reactor studies of α-pinene oxidation with ozone. Direct and quantitative measurements of the nitrogen content indicate that organic nitrates accounted for ∼40% of SOA mass during initial particle formation, decreasing to ∼15% upon particle growth to the accumulation-mode size range (>100 nm). Experiments with OH scavengers and kinetic model results suggest that organic peroxy radicals formed by α-pinene reacting with secondary OH from ozonolysis are key intermediates in the organic nitrate formation process
Pb pollution from leaded gasoline in South America in the context of a 2000-year metallurgical history
Exploitation of the extensive polymetallic deposits of the Andean Altiplano in South America since precolonial times has caused substantial emissions of neurotoxic lead (Pb) into the atmosphere; however, its historical significance compared to recent Pb pollution from leaded gasoline is not yet resolved. We present a comprehensive Pb emission history for the last two millennia for South America, based on a continuous, high-resolution, ice core record from Illimani glacier. Illimani is the highest mountain of the eastern Bolivian Andes and is located at the northeastern margin of the Andean Altiplano.
Polychlorinated biphenyls in glaciers
We present a highly time-resolved historical record of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from an Alpine ice core (Fiescherhorn glacier, Switzerland). Introduced in the 1940s, PCBs were widely used industrial chemicals. Because of their persistence they are still found in the environment, long after their production phase-out. The Fiescherhorn ice core record covers the entire time period of industrial use of PCBs, that is, 1940?2002. The total concentration of six PCBs varies from 0.5 to 5 ng/L and reveals a temporal trend, with an 8-fold increase from the early 1940s to the peak value in the 1970s.
Ice-core based assessment of historical anthropogenic heavy metal (Cd, Cu, Sb, Zn) emissions in the Soviet Union
The development of strategies and policies aiming at the reduction of environmental exposure to air pollution requires the assessment of historical emissions. Although anthropogenic emissions from the extended territory of the Soviet Union (SU) considerably influenced concentrations of heavy metals in the Northern Hemisphere, Pb is the only metal with long-term historical emission estimates for this region available, whereas for selected other metals only single values exist.
Experiments in the clouds – how soot influences the climate
PSI-researcher Martin Gysel receives prestigious European funding (ERC Consolidator Grant) for his studies on the role of soot in cloud formation and global warming.
Particle formation in the atmosphere – further aspect unveiled via the CLOUD experiment at CERN
Clouds consist of cloud droplets that are formed from tiny particles floating in the atmosphere. How these particles develop, however, largely remains a mystery. The formation of particles from amines and sulphuric acid has now been described for the first time à a milestone in atmospheric research.