X-ray diffraction: The next step in copper’s 9,500-year-old story

Can you guess how long humans have been mining copper? Sites in North America indicate that ancient peoples were using copper as long as 9,500 years ago! They used it to create tools, weapons, and jewelry. In our own times, this metal has come to be prized for another reason: its conductivity.

Copper: Why we can’t get enough

Around the world, economies and industries are striving for sustainability – and technology is evolving alongside them. In particular, there’s rapid innovation in the technologies that power renewable energy and electric transportation. New developments in these industries have a huge potential to change how we live, get around and do business.

One thing that those new technologies tend to have in common is that they use a lot of copper. This is because of its amazing conductive properties – it’s a highly efficient material. Less energy needed to produce electricity means less CO2 emitted, for example. As electric vehicles and renewable energy scale up around the world, the demand for this red metal is hitting record highs. The world has changed a lot in 9,500 years!

New challenges need new solutions

The mining industry is turning to lower-grade ore to meet demand, as high-grade ore is becoming harder to find. However, this comes with some complications: the lower the grade, the more difficult it is to recover the valuable metal and the more impurities it has. Producers need to get the most out of their ores, so they invest increasing amounts of energy and resources into the recovery process. Over time it’s becoming less sustainable – and less profitable too.

But what might seem like a problem is really an opportunity. Any efficiency improvements to this process will have a huge impact on sustainability and profitability. The answer? Better analysis!

X-ray diffraction analysis transforms production

After copper ore has been finely ground into powder, it’s often blended before being separated into valuable metal and gangue (waste) through the flotation process. Rapid, precise process control is key at this stage to avoid inefficiency and unnecessary costs.

Fortunately, there’s no need for guesswork. X-ray diffraction analysis (XRD) is ideally suited to characterizing the mineralogical composition of materials – it detects and quantifies the minerals present at even minor concentrations.

PN10700 172 Feature

A 2021 study by Pernechele et al. published in Minerals found that XRD analysis using our automatable Aeris instrument was fast and accurate at determining the mineralogy of copper ore blends, tailing (leftover material), and concentrates.

XRD reveals mineral composition, crystalline structure and texture, and can even directly predict process parameters. Armed with this rich, accurate data, manufacturers can optimize their resources and save energy – transforming the entire production chain. And with less waste and lower energy use, the environmental impact is reduced too!

Get started with Malvern Panalytical

Analysis is the key to bringing traditional materials into the sustainable future. Malvern Panalytical’s range of XRD instruments combines expert-level data with push-button ease of use and flexibility. With specialized editions for the industries that benefit most, we offer a solution for every need – and automation options ensure your processes are as efficient as possible. So, get in touch and find out how we can help optimize your set-up today! You can also take a look at all our base metal mining solutions here.


Written by: Uwe König,, Posted by: Malvern Panalyitcal (www.materils-talks.com)

How to improve paint and coating formulations: Crystal phase analysis

In this series of five blog posts, we’re examining the analytical approaches that you can use to get a better understanding of paints and coatings at a nanostructural level. Number two is an approach that I think no coatings scientist can do without – crystal phase analysis using X-ray diffraction.

Since their discovery by Röntgen in 1895, X-rays have found many uses in physics, chemistry and materials science. In fact, I’ve already covered the use of X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to determine elemental composition in my previous blog post. But despite being based on the same process of hitting a sample with X-rays, XRF’s analytical cousin X-ray diffraction (XRD) works in a rather different way and provides completely different information.

Using XRD for crystal phase analysis

XRD operates on the principle of irradiating a crystalline material with monochromatic X-rays and then measuring the angular intensities of the same wavelength X-rays as they scatter from the material. In contrast to X-ray fluorescence for elemental analysis, (in which the individual elements in a material respond with a characteristic X-ray spectrum), in XRD, X-rays are scattered by the regular arrangement of molecules in crystalline lattices. In large enough crystals, the scattered waves interfere to produce a diffraction pattern.

Diffraction patterns give information about both the molecules in a material and the crystal structure they have in solid form – a combination called a ‘phase’. For larger crystals the diffraction patterns are strong and can tell you lots about the internal structure of the crystals, whereas for smaller crystals (such as nanocrystals) the interference is weak, and instead only a scattering pattern is analyzed. Nevertheless, a scattering pattern can still give you information about the size and shape of nanocrystals and nano-layers.
In days gone by, you’d have had to interpret these scattering and diffraction patterns manually, which required more maths than most people would be comfortable with, but the good news now is that all the analysis is automated.

This means that you queue your sample for automated acquisition and data analysis, and find out a large amount of information about your sample – including the materials present, the distribution of phases, the characteristics of crystallites, thin films and nanoparticles, as well as details of strain, preferred orientation, layer thickness, and much more.

In terms of the amount of information that can be gained using a single technique, that’s pretty impressive. But what is XRD actually useful for in the field of paints and coatings?

What is XRD used for in the paint industry?

Checking chemical purity

You’ll hardly need me to tell you that the performance of paints and coatings depends crucially on the quality of the components that go into the formulation. So it’s little wonder that one of the most widespread uses of XRD in the paints and coatings industry is to check the purity of incoming material.

Top of the list for inspection is titanium dioxide or TiO2, which is used as a pigment in many coatings because of its opacity and white color. However, it comes in two polymorphs, anatase and rutile, with the latter being preferred because of its higher refractive index. Fortunately, determining the ratio of these two is an easy task for XRD, allowing manufacturers to make sure that their supplies don’t deviate from what’s needed (the use of XRD for this task is even the subject of a standard method, ASTM D3720).

Fine-tuning color performance

In addition to simply checking supplies, XRD has a role to play in more advanced formulation science, by looking more closely at the color performance of a particular component.

For example, the various phases of iron oxide used in formulations provide gradations of color that are important for achieving the right balance of tinting strength and hue. Built upon many years or artistic endeavor, there are plenty of other pigments where understanding the exact nature and purity of an inorganic or organic compound – or mixtures of them – is critical to achieving a reproducible and enduring color specification.

There is also a large new world of extenders, which can be mineral or organic particles that are more cost-effective than the main color pigments and which can contribute positively to the final color performance. But their mineral purity is important, and phase analysis is frequently used to identify and screen any mineral inconsistencies.

(By the way, color will be a big focus of the next blog post in this series, when we’ll be talking about the effect of particle size and shape).

Investigating smart coatings

Last but certainly not least in this short review of the applications of XRD are so-called ‘smart’ coatings. These are coatings that respond in some way to an external influence – such as varying their refractive index in response to temperature or electric field. In many of them the ‘smart’ function is contained within crystalline pigment particles, which require the same analytical considerations as mentioned above for ‘color’ pigments.

But whatever exciting properties they may have, smart coatings are still fundamentally coatings, and so can be investigated using the same techniques. Once again, XRD is of particular value, because it is unsurpassed in its ability to provide nano-scale information on surfaces and polycrystalline thin films. For example, XRD experiments dedicated to surface thin films can tell you about residual stresses, preferred orientation, film thickness and other aspects of surface microstructure – all of which are essential in order to know how your final coating is performing and whether it’s going to remain ‘smart’.

Anti-reflective glass with an optical interference coating

XRD – In-depth crystal phase analysis

All the above examples show the growing importance of XRD in the world of paint formulation and application. This is especially true given the growing pressure on quality of supplies, and as the accelerating need for higher-performing coatings piles pressure on manufacturers to understand what’s happening in coatings at the nanoscale.

In conclusion, as someone who’s spent much of my career using XRD, it might come as no surprise to hear me say this – but if you allowed me just one analytical technique to use in the paints and coatings sector, it would have to be XRD!


Written by: Patricia Kidd, Posted by: Matvern Panalytical (www.materials-talks.com)

How is Alumina Produced?

Alumina is the common name for the chemical compound aluminum oxide (Al2O3). Naturally occurring Al2O3 is called corundum, and it is the foundational component of both rubies and sapphires (color variations arise from the impurities that are found in the crystals). Alumina for industrial use is refined from bauxite ore, which is a mixture of the hydrated aluminum oxide minerals; gibbsite, diaspore, and boehmite along with other compounds such as silicon dioxide, iron oxides, and titanium oxide. Bauxite is often mined from topsoil in tropical and sub-tropical regions. The Bauxite is then treated using the Bayer Process, which separates the bauxite into red mud and Al2O3 using a combination of heat/pressure and sodium hydroxide. Aluminum hydroxide, in the form of fine-grained crystals, is added to facilitate precipitation of aluminum hydroxide crystals. The hydroxide mixture is then heated to drive off the water, producing several grades of alumina; calcined alumina, smelter grade alumina and activated alumina.


The purified aluminum oxide has many uses, with perhaps the best-known being the end-use in foundries which turn it into aluminum metal, which in–turn is used in a variety of applications. The powdered alumina is also used in several industries, including as fillers in plastic, an abrasive in grinding applications, ceramics, and even to produce reflective effects in metallic paints for automobiles! One of the largest industrial applications for Al2O3 is as a catalyst in refineries, to convert hydrogen sulfide waste gases into elemental sulfur.

As a reference material producer, LGC understands how critical quality-checks are within each stage of the production process. Screening is needed from the raw bauxite coming out of the ground, to the red mud by-products, as well as purity screening of the refined alumina. Once the alumina is turned into solid aluminum metal and Al alloys (to be discussed in a future blog), even more checkpoints are added to the process. LGC Industrial currently provides numerous 17034 aluminum metal standards typically used with either spark OES or XRF, and we will soon be releasing our own line of powdered bauxite and alumina standards.

View our range of aluminum alloy and other metal reference materials by downloading our catalog.  Download Metals Catalog


Written by: Kim Halkioti, Posted by: LGC Industial (www.armi.com)

From grey to green cement: Why is analytical data so important in the upcoming building materials revolution?

It’s predicted that 2 billion people will move into cities over the next 30 years. That’s a lot of people – and all those people will need a lot of new infrastructure to be built for them! Much of this growth is likely to rely on cement and concrete, and so the challenge is to build a truly sustainable future for our cement and concrete industry.

On average, 850 kg of CO2 is currently produced per ton of clinker during cement production. This makes the industry responsible for around 7-8% of total CO2 emissions worldwide, and means that sustainability – moving to ‘green cement’ – is an urgent priority.

Innovation paves the way

This challenge will have many different solutions, including saving natural resources and considering efficiencies at all stages of the value chain. We need to create a whole new cement ecosystem involving all stakeholders, from manufacturers to construction companies.

The good news? It’s already happening.

From clinker and cement production through to construction and building design, innovation is finding new ways of working. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight – but by working to make each individual stage better, we’ll be able to step back and see the huge achievements we’ve made together.

So, how can you get involved with all this innovation?

Cement solutions now

In the short- to medium-term, the first step is to work with the conventional methods we have – and that means addressing clinker. Better production efficiency, digitalization, and alternative fuels or renewable materials can greatly reduce the CO2 released during clinker production.

Materials analysis leads naturally to more efficient processes further down the line – for example, your kiln works more efficiently, and you need less correction of your feed composition. X-ray diffraction, such as with the Aeris Cement, lets you monitor mineral phases and control additions to clinker. Particle size distribution analysis, using a laser diffraction instrument like the Mastersizer 3000, can ensure proper raw grinding.

Cement of the future : Green Cement

The second step is to explore green cement products, such as novel or blended cements, and low-carbon concretes. Clinker substitutes such as calcined clay, pozzolans, fly ash and slag produce blended cement with a lower carbon footprint. Exciting new processes allow concrete to sequester carbon from other industries – potentially mitigating 2 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions (that’s a ton for each of those future people moving to the city!). Geopolymer cements also offer another alternative path towards sustainability by using industrial byproducts and less processed materials.

Data lights the path

The cement production process is complex, and every variable can affect the cement’s final performance and strength. Innovation needs to be done carefully to avoid higher costs and waste. The key to success? Precise monitoring and analytic data – not only to control these complex processes and ensure high quality, but also to comply with industry standards and regulations.

Monitoring brings great benefits, too. Being able to control elemental composition and particle size more precisely than ever before allows you to use alternative materials or fuels. In the short term this can help to cut costs and mitigate supply chain instability – and in the long term, can enable efficient, green cement processes across your entire production flow.

Comprehensive process control

Malvern Panalytical offers complete process control solutions that meet the evolving needs of the modern green cement industry. Our comprehensive solution packages are now the standard for most process industries, including more than 400 cement plants worldwide. From fully automated laboratories to instruments for manual sampling or on-line analytical monitoring, our solutions can be implemented at every stage of production to improve efficiency, cut costs, and power innovation.


Written by: Murielle Goubard, Posted by: Malvern Panalytical (www,materials-talks.com)

Electric Vehicles: Making Them Lighter, Safer and More Efficient with Aluminum Alloys

Signed in 2016, The Paris Climate Agreement aims to usher in a carbon-neutral society by 2050. Greenhouse gas emissions released from vehicles play a significant role in achieving the overarching goal of the agreement.

As it stands, cars contribute 12% CO2 emissions to the total EU emissions. The global challenge requires strict guidelines on vehicle CO2 emissions. From 2021 onwards, the new average target emission will be reduced from 130 g CO2/km to 95 g CO2/km across the entire EU.

Leading economies, including the UK, intend to ban all polluting vehicles by 2035, and Germany aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 95% by 2050.

The Age of Electric Vehicles

Electric cars offer much promise in helping meet such targets because, in comparison to traditional cars powered by internal combustion engines, electric vehicles have a considerably lower carbon footprint.

This has kick-started the electric vehicle revolution as an increasing number of road users begin to shift towards purchasing electric cars in line with the government’s climate-friendly measures. The leading auto manufacturers are making significant progress in the electrification of vehicles.

The annual sales of electric cars have soared to over two million per annum from just a few thousand in 2010, with a projected sales figure of 31 million by 2030.

However, a recent study by Deloitte reports that there are still concerns amongst consumers regarding battery-powered electric vehicles: questions that mostly revolve around the price, drive-range per charge and charging time.

Electric cars tend to carry expensive batteries, which means a lack of general affordability resulting in the continued dominance of petrol and diesel-powered in the global market. Additionally, the large batteries found in electric cars tend to require prolonged charging times.

Performance studies have shown that electric cars with heavy batteries and high capacities also have greater energy consumption per km (Berjoza, D. et al, Agronomy Research, 15(S1) 952-963, 2017).

Additionally, the driving range is directly proportional to the battery capacity/vehicle weight (kWh/kg). Therefore, for a better drive range, today’s electric vehicles contain large battery packs, which makes them heavy.

Simulation studies performed at the German Aerospace Centre demonstrate that a reduction in an electric vehicle’s weight by 100 kg improves efficiency by around 3.6%. Therefore, to compensate for heavy batteries, manufacturing lightweight vehicles is an excellent alternative that can enhance energy efficiency.

An investigation led by the European Aluminum Association shows that an electric VW Golf constructed with aluminum is up to 187 kg than steel, while also generating an overall cost saving of 635 euros as a smaller battery pack can be installed (Jung, H. et al, World Electric Vehicle Journal, 9(46), 2018).

Aluminum – Making Electric Cars Safer and Efficient

Due to the fact aluminum is three times less dense than steel, high performance aluminum alloys are a good alternative to heavy steel parts. However, replacing parts with aluminum requires the thickness of the aluminum to be 50% greater than that of steel.

Aluminum has been used in the manufacture of modern cars since the early seventies. Today, there is on average 150 kg of aluminum in each vehicle made in Europe, with aluminum alloys frequently used in the manufacturing of the body-in-white, chassis, suspension and wheels.

Tesla uses a skateboard design for the extruded aluminum frame of its battery pack in order to enhance the robustness of its vehicles.

Influenced by Tesla’s aluminum extrusion-intensive skateboard design, major OEMs, including Audi, BMW, Nissan and Porsche, are now making the switch from steel to aluminum in the design of lightweight battery enclosures for electric cars.

How Safe are Aluminum Cars?

The braking distance of electric cars is reduced when making them lighter, which in turn lighter improves passenger safety and enhances the ease of handling. Aluminum has twice the capacity of steel when absorbing energy in a collision.

In comparison to steel components, the 50% extra thickness of aluminum components means an increase in material stiffness and, therefore, the overall rigidity of the vehicle.

According to a life cycle analysis that compares full-steel to full-aluminum electric vehicles, the carbon emissions of the aluminum vehicle are 1.5 tons lower than the steel-based car across its lifetime.

Aluminum also has the benefit of not having to reduce the vehicle size to attain a lightweight structure. It is vital from a safety perspective since the interior of a smaller vehicle has less survival and crush space during an accident.

These advantages outline the urgency necessary to develop lightweight, robust aluminum alloys for electric vehicles. The chemical composition and homogeneity of alloys directly impact their microstructure.

A careful selection of an aluminum alloy, specific to the application, with the just-right chemical composition is necessary to ensure that it has the required characteristics, such as optimum stiffness, ease of formability, thermodynamic and mechanical properties.

For example, the heat exchangers and battery enclosures must offer high thermal conductivity to maintain a cool temperature in electric cars.

Making Cars More Environmentally Friendly with Aluminum

Since aluminum is 95% recyclable, a considerable amount of aluminum from a used car can be recycled to make a new car: a feature that significantly reduces the indirect lifetime CO2 emissions. Consequently, recycling 1 kg of aluminum saves 17 kg of CO2 emissions in the vehicle’s life-cycle when compared to steel.

Considering the sales figures of electric vehicles are projected at around 30 million electric vehicles by 2030, the environmental impact would be massive. This would be equal to a reduction of 70 million tons per year in CO2 emissions from vehicle production.

The fewer batteries needed to power a lighter car would also yield a lower industrial carbon footprint associated with battery manufacturing.

Leading aluminum producers such as Hydro have even begun incorporating renewable energy sources to manufacture low carbon aluminum for automotive applications.

The Need for Certified Reference Materials

CRMs are utilized for instrument and method calibration, benchmarking analytical measurements and homogeneity of alloys, and quality assurance. ARMI’s CRMs offer a precise reference point for the 6000- and 7000-series, the most commonly used aluminum alloys in electric vehicles.

The extruded crash management systems based on these alloys must demonstrate exceptional crash deformation behavior, i.e., they must withstand extreme deformations before cracks begin to form.

CRMs facilitate appropriate benchmarking, including mechanical properties such as creep and impact toughness, where the latter is a key factor in establishing a certain degree of passenger safety in the event of a crash.

ARMI makes sure that analysis can be relied upon for complex, multicomponent aluminum alloys, utilizing a direct-chill continuous casting process that offers exceptional homogeneity.

Each sample is analyzed utilizing two varying, state-of-the-art analytical techniques such as colorimetry, fluorimetry, X-ray fluorescence and optical emission spectrometry.

The resulting values are cross-referenced against the results from external laboratories. This absolute validation framework guarantees results that can be trusted while ensuring consumer safety.

Written and posted by: LGC Standards

From solubility to efficacy: how X-ray powder diffraction is improving drug bioavailability

In this four-part blog series, we explore how one type of solid form analysis – X-ray powder diffraction (XRPD) – is helping drug developers optimize the solubility and performance of drugs. We begin in this blog with a focus on how applying XRPD helps achieve the quality target product profiles (QTPPs) required to demonstrate that a drug ‘ticks all the boxes’.

The challenges of poor drug solubility in drug development

For a small molecule drug to have the correct bioavailability, ensuring the desired solubility of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) is crucial. However, drug solubility is a major challenge in drug development: around 75% of drugs in development are poorly soluble, which can severely impact the desired efficacy of new life-changing therapies.

In efforts to improve the efficacy of these products, researchers are working to optimize API solubility. This involves carrying out solid form analysis to identify and characterize the various crystalline, amorphous, salts and solvate forms of compounds. Solid form analysis helps provide a clear understanding of an API and all its forms, thus enabling its optimization and control for processability and bioavailability. In the bigger picture, this can improve the efficacy and safety of the drug product and improve its chances of regulatory approval and clinical success.

One of the leading ways to perform solid form analysis is with the use of X-ray powder diffraction (XRPD). Here, we discuss how XRPD helps develop and improve pharmaceutical formulations, with particular emphasis on achieving drug quality criteria.

What is XRPD?

XRPD is a rapid analytical technique primarily used for phase identification of crystalline materials. It detects the X-ray diffraction patterns of analytes, providing information about unit dimensions and proportions. XRPD can assess the amorphous or crystalline nature of the API, helping to evaluate properties like the physical stability and manufacturability of a drug, as well as its solubility in a biological system.

Hitting Quality Target Product Profiles (QTPPs) with XRPD

XRPD can provide a detailed fingerprint of the crystalline size and microstructure of APIs in a dosage form. The technique enables researchers to assess an API’s solid form, providing information about how this might affect its solubility and stability in different dosage forms. Detailed information about different polymorphs of an API, for example, can support predictions about the safety, performance or efficacy of the drug product. XRPD can be used to measure some of the Critical Material Attributes (CMAs) needed to demonstrate that the drug product meets its QTPP. The QTPP considers the route of administration, dosage form, bioavailability, etc., as it relates to quality, safety and efficacy.

The latest XRPD solid form analysis techniques provide valuable evidence for Critical Quality Attribute (CQA) definition in support of the QTPP, by enabling researchers to:

  • Select more soluble forms of an API
  • Choose stable forms with enhanced manufacturability and storage profiles
  • Identify and exclude polymorphs that may compromise a drug’s efficacy or safety
  • Investigate solid form alternatives (polymorphs, salts, co-crystals, etc.)
  • Ensure that all relevant polymorphs are identified and described in related patents

Gathering such physicochemical data is vital at multiple steps of the drug development process. Solubility and stability of the drug substance must be maintained as the API moves from the early development phase into the clinic and towards the goal of approval, and XRPD is a helpful technique to monitor this.

XRPD is a powerful tool to help establish, confirm or optimize pharmaceutical CMAs. Its ability to detect and give predictions on changes to the solubility and stability of a drug provides researchers with critical information during drug development, from concept to manufacturing. In the next blog of this series, we will discuss how understanding the presence of polymorphic forms in drug substances can protect your patients and patents.

Download the full guide here to find out more about how XRPD can help your drug development projects


Written by: Robert Taylor, Posted by: Malvern Panalytical (www.materials-talks.com)

Augment your battery research with non-ambient in-operando XRD

Can you name three materials currently being researched that have the potential to revolutionize battery technology? How about four? If that question was too easy for you, our upcoming PlugVolt webinar on non-ambient XRD analysis will be right up your street.

There’s never been a more exciting time to be in battery research – that much is clear. Traditional applications are sharing the limelight with new possibilities, from sustainable energy storage to electric transportation. In all applications, traditional and new, innovation has the power to reshape the entire field. But in times of rapid innovation, it can be hard to plan for the future. When the possibilities seem endless, the only thing you know for certain is that you’ll need reliable, precise data to guide you.

Why in-operando XRD?

Every researcher knows that even the most exciting initial results can end up as ‘learning experiences’ when later tests don’t turn out the way you hoped. Annoying? Certainly – but it’s all part of the process, and when working with technology that keeps the world working, like batteries, it’s vital to ensure the safety of your materials. Even the smallest inconsistency might be critical later on.

This is where X-ray diffractometers (XRD) analysis comes in, giving you a non-destructive way to see what’s going on inside your sample. In-operando tests are very useful to be able to watch as your product actually functions, to make sure that everything is going to plan. However, this only tells you how your sample works in normal conditions inside an XRD instrument! What happens if the battery is used in unusual conditions, such as extreme temperatures? How will the components hold up? Will it still be safe to use?

Completing the picture: A non-ambient solution

To answer these questions, non-ambient in-operando tests are key. They can give you reliable answers, and allow you to test your materials in a variety of conditions for a full overview of their safety and reliability.

We’ve created two new specialized battery research stages for our popular Empyrean XRD platform, allowing for these non-ambient in-operando measurements. With heating and cooling features allowing temperature ranges between -10°C and 70°C, results are comprehensive and the vast majority of use-cases can be tested.

The first new addition is VTEC, an electrochemical cell including a beryllium window for reflection studies. The second is VTEC-trans, which provides a pouch cell stage for transmission studies. Both are available for the current Empyrean system and work with HighScore Plus, our XRD analysis package with fully automated batch analysis, plus powerful data visualization tools specifically made for in-operando experiments.

Learn more with us

So now for the fun part – how to use them! If you’d like to know the best way to set up your non-ambient experiments, or how to get started with this new upgrade for your Empyrean instrument, join us at our webinar on 17th August 2022.

Our expert speaker, Zhaohui Bao, will be sharing all the tips and tricks you need to know to maximize your measurements and interpret your results. We’ll also be talking about why non-ambient XRD matters, some finer details of how the system works and much more.


Written by: Umaish Tiwari, Posted by: Malvern Panalytical (www.materials-talks.com)

Are you ready to embrace the green fuels of the future?

How Malvern Panalytical’s solutions can help revolutionize the production of PEM electrolyzer and fuel cells

Grey, blue, turquoise, green, yellow, pink… no, we’re not trying to name all the colors of the rainbow – we’re just listing the many colors of hydrogen! While this abundant, efficient, and extremely useful gas has no color, we use these colorful terms to indicate how hydrogen is produced, and what impact it has on our climate. And in this kaleidoscope of hydrogen colors, it’s green hydrogen that has fired the most conversations in recent years. That’s because this renewable gas has huge potential for helping industries meet the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

Green hydrogen is produced by the electrolysis of water, using renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. To perform this electrolysis most efficiently, electrolyzers based on polymer electrolyte member (PEM) technology are widely used by hydrogen producers. And now things get even more interesting! By inverting this process, it’s possible to make PEM fuel cells (PEMFCs), which can be used to generate electricity using hydrogen as fuel and oxygen as an oxidizing agent. These cells, which operate at relatively low temperatures and are capable of quickly varying their output to meet shifting power demands, are an ideal solution for a range of industries – including the transport and energy sectors. With this innovative technology, a fossil-free future for some of our most important industrial industries might finally be within reach…

Facing the challenges of PEMFC production

But we’re not there yet! To produce PEMFCs on a large scale – and to ensure industries can embrace this revolutionary technology – it’s essential that their cost and quality are optimized. As the catalytic material used to produce PEMFC electrodes is the component that determines both the performance and cost of these cells, this is a good place to start. The catalytic ink used in PEMFCs is usually composed of a mixture of catalytic active material, an ionomer, and a dispersion solvent. And, within the ink, the catalyst is usually a composite of platinum (Pt) metal nanoparticles deposited on activated carbon. The activity and stability of these catalysts are critical factors in PEMFCs’ ultimate performance.

So, how do you control the catalytic activity? Well, the catalytic activity is determined by a range of parameters, including size, dispersion, and morphology of the Pt metal group nanoparticles. And equally important are the structural, textural, and surface chemistry properties of the catalytic ink. In addition, by optimizing the structure of the activated carbon, you can significantly reduce the amount of Pt needed, reducing the cost and improving the efficiency of the whole operation. Plus, this optimization can also maximize the energy efficiency of the final fuel cells. However, with so many analytical processes to consider in making the best and most viable PEMFCs, where do you actually start?

Putting our analytical solutions to the test

That’s the question we set out to answer in our latest application note! Through an array of careful studies, we tested a range of analytical techniques, to see how each method performed in the PEMFCs’ production process. From XRD to XRF, laser diffraction to automated image analysis, we explored how precise and effective each of these methods really is in everything from particle morphological and elemental composition analysis to the particle size analysis at various levels, from Pt particles to carbon support matrix. If you want to know how our XRF solutions can be used to deliver up to 0.1% precision in Pt loading, how quick and simple the comparison of particle shape is using our morphological image tool, or how versatile our XRD instruments are in determining Pt particle size, simply take a look at the note here!

For those looking to optimize the cost and performance of PEM technology, maximize catalyst efficiency, reduce the amount of Pt needed in the PEMFCs’ production, or develop Pt-based alloy nanoparticles, look no further than this application note. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is not how effective each of these tools are in isolation, but how powerful they are when used together. Well, we’ll leave that to you to experiment it yourself! One thing’s for sure – a bright future for the green hydrogen lies ahead. Are you ready to embrace it by developing the novel electrocatalysts that can accelerate this transition?


Written by: Umesh Tiwari Posted by: Malvern Panalytical (www,materials-talks.com)

Discover a more sustainable future for steel

How modern XRD techniques in DRI process control can help the steel industry to reach net-zero

Do you remember what the last disaster movie you watched was about? Perhaps the world was faced with a zombie apocalypse, a fast-approaching meteor or an extreme global weather event. Whatever the plotline, it almost certainly wasn’t about the sudden and mysterious disappearance of steel from our world. And yet, without this essential metal, civilization as we know it would come crashing down – literally!

Steel is more fundamental to our lives than most of us realize. Thanks to its versatility, high strength, and relatively low production costs, we rely on it for global infrastructure, transport, and technology. But there’s a catch. For all its benefits, steel is also highly energy-intensive to manufacture. In fact, the steelmaking industry accounts for almost 8% of global CO2 emissions. To bring this important sector in line with the 2050 net-zero emissions target set out by the Paris agreement, the steel industry will have to make some big changes – and fast!

DRI: Reducing carbon emissions in steel manufacture

And the transition has already started. Direct reduced iron (DRI), also known as sponge iron, is a manufacturing method that enables significant CO2 emission reductions in steelmaking. It is produced from the direct reduction of iron ore using a reducing gas (such as hydrogen or carbon monoxide) from either natural gas or coal. This is great news for the long-term sustainability of the steel industry. But the hard work isn’t over yet! To achieve maximum efficiency in the DRI production process, several parameters need to be monitored, including metallic iron content, metallization, total carbon content, and mineralogical phase content.

Delivering the tools to drive sustainable change

And guess what? Modern X-ray diffraction (XRD) techniques make this process control possible! In comparison to traditional analysis techniques such as wet chemistry, which are time-consuming and labor-intensive, XRD enables fast and reliable mineralogical analysis. And beyond its quick analysis of mineralogical phase composition, XRD also provides information about the efficiency of the reduction process. This means that the raw material mixture can be optimized – saving steel manufacturers time, money and energy!

The Metals edition of our Aeris technology is a benchtop X-ray diffractometer that combines all these functions and more. By bringing together state-of-the-art XRD technology, full automation and high sample throughput in just one tool, Aeris provides an all-in-one solution for efficient DRI process control. Plus, thanks to its straightforward user interface, this compact tool makes XRD accessible to everyone, going from sample loading to results in one simple click. It’s the perfect partner at every stage of the production process – from raw material to final product.

Smart solutions from Malvern Panalytical

At Malvern Panalytical, we offer a range of analytical solutions to help enable a more sustainable future for the mining industry. From X-ray fluorescence (XRF) tools, which can be used to monitor impurities or limit waste composition, to XRD solutions to make mineralogical monitoring more efficient, we provide support throughout the mining process. It’s time to stop imagining what the future will be for the steel industry – and start creating it!


Written by: Uwe Konig, Posted by: Malvern Panalytical (www.materials-talks.com)

Elemental and structural analysis

In many production or R&D settings, X-rays can be used to characterize materials and samples. X-ray analysis is exceptionally suitable to analyze structures and elements at the atomic level. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and X-ray diffraction (XRD) are two out of a few main techniques how X-rays can be used to help characterize your sample.

What do you analyze with X-ray fluorescence?

With the help of XRF, we analyze the elements that are present in materials. Take as an example iron. Nowadays, there are hundreds of different types of steel. Normal iron will get rusty in time but, when you add 18% chrome, and 8% nickel, you will get stainless steel. But how can you determine the right composition of steel -18% chrome, 8% nickel- and ensure consistency when it is liquid hot steel in a steelworks?

Easy, you pick a sample, let it cool down, and send it to an XRF analyzer which can easily measure the composition. When this composition matches the specification, the liquid steel can be poured, and unnecessary heating is avoided. Saving costs on power consumption makes the production process more cost-effective and spares the environment. You can use XRF not only for the analysis of steel but also for many other materials like:

  • air filters
  • plastics,
  • petrochemicals,
  • building materials,
  • chips in electronics,
  • minerals,
  • metals

and many, many more.

Why do we analyze materials using X-ray diffraction?

XRD enables us to detect the three-dimensional arrangement of the atoms in a solid crystal. Take for example carbon. Both diamonds and graphite are entirely made of carbon but they have very different properties. Graphite is rather soft, can be used as a lubricant, and conducts electricity. Diamond, on the contrary, is the hardest material on earth and does not conduct electricity. How can these different properties be explained? Analysis by X-ray diffraction gives the answer. If we put the sample in an X-ray diffractometer and irradiate it with X-rays, we can detect the reflected radiation. Dedicated software can reveal the three-dimensional arrangement of the atoms in both materials. Carbon atoms in the soft graphite form layers with only weak bonds to the neighboring layers. Carbon atoms in diamonds, however, form strong bonds to four neighboring atoms and are closely packed in all three dimensions. XRD can be used for the structural analysis of many different materials like:

  • Batteries: how does the structure of anode and cathode change during a charge/discharge cycle?
  • Metal organic frameworks: has my target MOF has been synthesized correctly?
  • 3D printing: what are the characteristics of my raw material affecting the hardness, strength and fatigue life of my final component?
  • Pharmaceuticals: does my medication contain the prescribed substance?
  • Building materials: for example, does the cement consist of the specified compounds?
  • Minerals: what minerals are mined?
  • Metals: is the metal stress free or is there a chance of a fracture by fatigue?

and many, many more.


Posted by: Malvern Panalytical – www,materials-talks.com