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NEWS
New Research May Aid Cleaner Energy Technologies
February 19, 2020

New research led by faculty at Binghamton University, State University of New York, could aid cleaner energy technologies.


Guangwen Zhou is a professor of mechanical engineering at Binghamton University, State University of New York. Credit: Binghamton University, State University of New York.

The atomic reaction between gases and oxides is a key piece for many technological puzzles. It can lead to benefits such as better catalysts to enable cleaner energy technologies, or to problems like corrosion.

Understanding those interactions isn’t always easy, though, and often doesn’t go beyond the surface — quite literally.

According to information, a team from Binghamton University, the Brookhaven National Laboratory and the National Institute of Standards and Technology — led by Professor Guangwen Zhou from the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science‘s Department of Mechanical Engineering — has a new way to look deeper into how gas molecules affect the atoms beneath the surface of a material.

The material studied is cupric oxide, a copper oxide that many researchers are interested in because it is more abundant and affordable than noble metals such as silver, gold and platinum, and it is used for numerous processes such as methanol production.

For the paper “Surface-reaction induced structural oscillations in the subsurface,” published recently in Nature Communications, Prof. Zhou and his fellow researchers examined the reaction between hydrogen and copper oxide using atomic-scale transmission electron microscopy.

The technique allowed them to see the surface and subsurface simultaneously and in real time, showing that structural oscillations are induced in the subsurface by loss of oxygen from the oxide surface.

“This study shows how the reaction from the surface propagates to deeper atomic layers. We look at it from a cross-section so we can see atoms both in the top layer and subsurface layers more clearly,” said Prof. Zhou, who teaches as part of the Materials Science and Engineering Program and also is the associate director of Binghamton’s Institute for Materials Research.

This new study is funded by the Department of Energy, in the hope that the results can lead to better catalysts, improved batteries, longer-lasting vehicles and other higher-quality products.


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