Energy and Environment
Read more at: Research on energy and the environment at the PSI
What attacks on oil pipelines have in common with epidemics
How susceptible is the global energy infrastructure to attacks by non-state actors? Has the number of attacks on this infrastructure actually increased of late? Which regions of the world are especially vulnerable? And which tactics do the attackers use? Scientists are looking to find the answers to these and other related questions with the aid of a database developed by researchers from the Center of Security Studies at ETH Zurich in collaboration with the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI.
Hydrogen: a Trojan horse in fuel-rod cladding tubes
In nuclear reactors, water is dissociated at the surface of the hot fuel elements, thereby producing hydrogen. This hydrogen can penetrate the fuel cladding surrounding the actual fuel and weaken it mechanically. Researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) have been using neutrons and synchrotron radiation to study how the hydrogen gets into the cladding tube and what impact it can have once inside.
A dark state sheds light
The molecule dicarbon (C2) is present in all flames where a carbon-containing fuel is combusted. C2 burns visibly, is behind the blue colour inside a candle flame and could also play a key role in the formation of soot. Now, for the first time, scientists from the Paul Scherrer Institute have rendered a previously invisible C2 energy state, a so-called dark state, visible. Not only is its discovery interesting for combustion researchers; it also solves a century-old puzzle in the spectrum of this omnipresent molecule.
Ice in fuel cells imaged directly for the first time
Researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) have succeeded in imaging the distribution of frozen and liquid water in a hydrogen fuel cell directly for the first time. They applied a new imaging technique that uses successively two beams with different neutron energies to distinguish between areas with liquid water and those with ice extremely reliably. The method therefore opens up the prospect of studying one of the main problems of using fuel cells to power vehicles: ice can clog the pores in the fuel cells and affect their performance. The PSI scientists’ results will be published in the journal Physical Review Letters on 16 June 2014.
From amateur firework-maker to battery researcher
Portrait of PSI doctoral student Patrick LanzPatrick Lanz already discovered a fascination with the world of science and technology during his school days. As an electrical engineer, his father had a decent selection of electronics sets for him to tinker with. However, the young Patrick did not merely content himself with remote-controlled cars. He set about systematically disassembling his toys in a quest to find out how they worked. Later, Lanz also began opening small batteries because he wanted to understand what went on inside à probably the first step on the path to his present role as a battery researcher.
Cloud formation takes ingredients from the forest
Scientists know that clouds have a net cooling effect on our planet but the exact magnitude of that cooling effect is not exactly known. A new study by the CLOUD experiment (Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets) at CERN sheds light on the very first step of cloud formation, thereby contributing to a better understanding of the cloud-climate connection. The study was led by scientists at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and was published on 16 May 2014 in the journal Science
Unassuming rampant polluters on two wheels
In some towns small mopeds cause more air pollution than carsNot cars or trucks, but mopeds with their two-stroke engines are the main source of fine particles and other air contaminants in many towns in Asia, Africa and southern Europe. This is revealed by the study of an international research team headed up by researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI. The reasons for the high emissions are the combustion properties in two-stroke engines and the overly lenient emission requirements for small two-wheelers. The study findings are to be published on 13 May 2014 in the journal Nature Communications.
Which aromatic will it be today?
A sort of bio-oil can be extracted from lignin, one of the main components of plants, by thermal decomposition for instance. This pyrolysis oil would be a good fuel if it weren’t corrosive as this makes it difficult to store and transport. However, if the acrid oxygen is removed from the oil, valuable organic materials are left behind, aromatics. PSI researchers have looked at how lignin can be directly produced in a targeted manner from lignin with the help of a wide range of catalysts.
Diesel particle filter and nitric oxide catalyst all rolled into one
Filtering soot and reducing nitric oxide in the same place à engineers have been working on combining these two important tasks of exhaust gas after-treatment in vehicles for a number of years. As researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute now reveal, this is not unrealistic. At any rate, it shouldn’t fail because of soot.
Fuel cell know-how from the Paul Scherrer Institute at the core of the SBB minibar
On 4 April 2014 SBB is to launch a new minibar model in its Intercity trains. A fuel cell system including know-how of the Paul Scherrer Institute will also be on board. It will ensure that despite the limited space the minibar will have enough power to brew capuccinos and latte macchiatos, too.
Method for producing energy from wet biomass gets the green light
On 28 March 2014 the topping-out ceremony for a new test facility to study energy production from wet biomass was celebrated at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). The facility housed in a ship container is supposed to produce synthetic biogas from liquid manure, sewage sludge or algae.
Clay remains clay: how radionuclides sorb to the host rock in repositories
Researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences joined forces within an EU project to investigate the basic properties of argillaceous rocks in a repository for high-level radioactive waste. As the results reveal, the insights gained so far for Opalinus Clay can be transferred also to the Boda Clay found in Hungary.
Measuring the ecological footprint
With ecoinvent, the Paul Scherrer Institute and its partners at ETH Zurich, ETH Lausanne, Empa and Agroscope have been running the world’s leading database for life cycle inventories for over ten years. The latest ecoinvent version 3 collects new data in areas such as electricity generation, agriculture, transport, mining and chemicals. In the power sector, which is significant for life cycle assessments, the database now covers over 80 per cent of the global production. And technology that has not been considered thus far such as enhanced geothermal systems is to be included in ecoinvent from now on. The result is more accurate ecological assessments of products and services
Producing pure recycling zinc with concentrated solar energy
Researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) have showcased a solar-thermal method for extracting zinc oxide, a technologically important reusable material, from zink recycling products under laboratory conditions. The solar product’s purity level exceeds that obtained via the industrially established route
Physics on the lattice: Understanding flow processes at small scales
The Lattice-Boltzmann Method was developed in the early 1990s as a calculation approach to solve the Boltzmann equation numerically, i.e. with the aid of computers. Researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI have now extended the Lattice-Boltzmann Method’s field of application with a new model that is able to describe more complex processes.Their work opens a window to more realistic computer simulations of many complex technical processes. Applications are expected in the microporous structures of most technical catalysts, diesel particle filters, combustion microreactors or fuel cells
Aerosol measurements: PSI researchers help to close regional gaps around the globe
Aerosols are small particles in the atmosphere. They can influence the global climate by way of direct absorption or scattering of solar radiation, or by acting as nuclei for cloud formation. Efforts by scientists to exactly quantify these effects and then improve climate models are impeded by the lack of a global network of aerosol measurement stations. To remedy this situation, researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute to facilitate continuous aerosol measurements at sites where the paucity of data is the greatest.
How rock pores in deep repositories close over
Chemical reactions will change the nature of the deep repository and the surrounding rock (clay rock); that much is certain. But to what extent and with what impact on safety? Researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute are looking to answer this question with the aid of a combination of experiments and computer simulations.
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.
The Paul Scherrer Institute runs two of the energy competence centres of the Swiss government
As part of the Energy Strategy 2050 the Swiss government and parliament have decided to increase support for energy research in Switzerland. This includes the setting up of seven interuniversity networked Swiss Competence Centres in Energy Research (SCCERs). In the SCCERs ETH Domain institutions, the universities and the universities of the applied sciences are to join forces with industrial partners to develop new competencies and solutions in the decisive action areas of the shift in energy policy. The Paul Scherrer Institute PSI will act as the leading house in two of the SCCERs à storage and biomass à that have already been given the green light. They will begin their work in 2014.
Fuel cell membrane from the Paul Scherrer Institute better than its commercial counterparts
A novel polymer electrolyte membrane from the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI has demonstrated longer durability in a laboratory test than the best commercially available counterparts. The breakthrough was achieved by modifying a reasonably priced plastic film through radiation activation and subsequent attachment of functional constituents via a grafting reaction. The modified polymer is not only durable à it could also reduce the membrane production costs by 50 to 80 percent. The membrane could be used in applications such as hydrogen fuel cells or electrolysers for hydrogen production from water.