Energy and Climate
The energy research performed at PSI focuses on processes that can be used in sustainable and safer technologies, ideally with minimal CO2 emissions. The main emphasis is on renewable energy sources. The ESI (Energy System Integration) platform enables research and industry to test solutions for integrating renewables into the existing energy supply. Another focus in this area is the safer use of nuclear energy. These activities are supplemented by analyses giving a comprehensive assessment of energy systems. PSI scientists in the Energy and Environment division study the chemical processes that take place in the atmosphere.
Find out more at: Overview Energy and Climate
PSI materials researchers have developed a method that provides crucial insights into the charging and discharging processes of lithium-sulphur batteries. And the method revealed: with quartz powder added to the battery, its available energy increases and the gradual loss of capacity is much weaker.
In oil extraction sites, gaseous methane is simply burned, even though it could actually be a useful precursor material for fuels and products of the chemical industry. One way to make methane usable is to convert it to methanol. Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and ETH Zurich have now developed a new chemical process that allows this conversion in an efficient and inexpensive way.
A new visitor’s station at PSI tells the story of a Swiss town that makes the change from a conventional energy supply to one with new renewable energy sources.
The Laboratory for Energy Systems Analysis at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI is investigating how Switzerland’s electricity supply might look, up to the year 2050, under a variety of boundary conditions. On the basis of their calculations, the lab’s researchers are able to generate insights on possible future developments of the energy sector, for example, determine how an ambitious reduction in CO2 emissions could be achieved at the lowest possible cost.
Until now, the onset of copper production in South America was still unclear. Hardly any written records or artefacts from the early high cultures in Peru, Chile, and Bolivia have been preserved. Now, however, researchers of the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI in Villigen (Switzerland) have tracked down the evidence. Through analysis of ice from the Illimani glacier in the Bolivian Andes, they found out that copper was being mined and smelted in South America since around 700 BC.
Within Switzerland’s bio-waste a huge amount of precious energy is hidden. That’s because valuable methane, the main constituent of natural gas, can be obtained from it. With a technology developed at PSI, the yield of methane from bio-waste could be increased considerably in the future. A long-term test conducted in cooperation with Energie 360° at the Werdhölzli fermentation and wastewater treatment plant is expected to advance this technology further along its path to industrial use.
Eighty percent of all products of the chemical industry are manufactured with catalytic processes. Catalysis is also indispensable in energy conversion and treatment of exhaust gases. Industry is always testing new substances and arrangements that could lead to new and better catalytic processes. Researchers of the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI in Villigen and ETH Zurich have now developed a method for improving the precision of such experiments, which may speed up the search for optimal solutions.
Atmospheric scientist Julia Schmale is starting out on a three-month research cruise around the Antarctic. There she will be searching for the cleanest air still to be found on our planet.
In most cases, electricity is generated when water is heated and transformed into vapour. Vapour bubbles in the water play a decisive role in this process. Using computer simulation, researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute have succeeded in representing the behaviour of vapour bubbles – and in making their performance more calculable.
Clouds consist of tiny droplets. These droplets form when water condenses around so-called aerosols – small particles in the atmosphere. To understand how in turn aerosols come into existence scientists have now created a comprehensive computer model simulation based on profound experimental data. This simulation revealed that in addition to sulphuric acid, two other substances are crucially involved in the formation of aerosols: organic compounds and ammonia. These results have now been published in the renowned journal Science.
At the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, a small group of scientists is using theoretical models to explore an alternative for future nuclear reactors: so-called molten salt reactors. This helps to secure Switzerland’s expertise regarding globally relevant questions in the area of nuclear energy and reactor safety, for today and tomorrow.
This fall, the time has come: The Energy System Integration Platform at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI goes into operation. Today, in the framework of the double conference Networked Energy Research Switzerland, it was presented to the media and around 150 representatives from politics, industry, and science.
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.
Researchers at the Swiss Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and ETH Zurich have developed a simple and cost-effective procedure for significantly enhancing the performance of conventional Li-ion rechargeable batteries. Whether in wristwatches, smartphones, laptops or cars, the use of rechargeable batteries will be optimized in all areas of application, considerably extending storage capacity as well as cutting down charging times.
As capacities for producing solar and wind energy increase, integrating these into the existing energy system is becoming more of a challenge. The ESI platform is testing methods for successful integration. The answer: storing surplus energy as gas.
Natural-gas vehicles are on the way, and they need catalytic converters for the exhaust too. While work is under way at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research, to optimise natural-gas engines and catalytic converters, the PSI is specialising in research methods that enable very precise observation of catalytic converters. For this work, the PSI researchers have now developed a universal measurement chamber in which catalytic converters can be studied with a variety of different analytical methods, yet always under the same conditions.
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.
Chemists at ETH Zurich and the Paul Scherrer Institute have found a new, direct way to convert gaseous methane into liquid methanol. This offers industry the interesting prospect of using the gas, rather than simply burning it off, as is currently the case.
Start of the public examination period for decommissioning of the nuclear facility Proteus at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSIThe nuclear research facility Proteus is a so-called zero-power reactor. In service, the thermal output of the reactor was limited to a maximum of 1 kW. That means this is an experimental reactor that was run at a power level so low that it did not require cooling. Proteus went into service in 1968. The PSI would like to decommission the facility. The decommissioning project is now being publicly announced in the legally prescribed, official publications.
Start of the public examination period for renewed authorization to operate the research facility hotlab at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSIThe hotlab at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI is a facility, unique in Switzerland, where researchers study highly radioactive materials in specially shielded chambers called hot cells. It serves the needs of applied materials research on highly radioactive samples from core structural components and fuel rods from nuclear power plants, research reactors, and the PSI radiation facilities. Through its operation of the hotlab, the Paul Scherrer Institute also contributes to the safety of the nuclear power plants in Switzerland. Around thirty staff members attend to the hotlab's safety technology and analysis infrastructure.