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The atomic force microscope was created back in 1986 by the Nobel Prize Winner Gerd Binnig, Calvin Quate, and Christoph Gerber. The microscope was revolutionary as it gave scientists the ability to see resolutions of fractions of a nanometer. This type of high-resolution scanning probe microscope uses a cantilever with a sharp probe to scan the specimen’s surface, gaining the high-resolution image.
Since its conception, atomic force microscopy has offered numerous benefits to the scientific studies that it has facilitated. The technique is known for having advantages over the electron microscope, as it can provide three-dimensional surface profile over two-dimensional images. Also, no special treatments to the samples are required that may cause damage or irreversible change. Further to this, AFM has often been favored because it can function well in ambient air or even a liquid environment, which the electron microscope cannot.
For these reasons, AFM has been increasingly relied on by many areas of scientific research, and now, in recent years clean energy has also sought its benefits. Below, we discuss how AFM is used in this sector, and how it benefits research and development of applications.
A major focus of research in clean technology that is conducting studies with AFM is that of energy storage. Batteries are being looked to as a way to store the surplus of energy produced by natural sources (such as solar and wind) when input is high.
However, there is a need to develop batteries with greater capacities for storing energy, as well as a need to extend the storage lifetime. To do this, scientists are using AFM to characterize the effect of nanostructure on both battery performance and reliability, as well as to investigate local ionic transport and reactivity. They looking closely at the aging mechanisms in lithium-ion batteries, as AFM gives a way to understand factors such as surface film formation, morphological changes, and changes in surface properties. This will enable researchers to create batteries that work better and for longer.
Solar fuel production is another key area of clean technology which is benefiting greatly from AFM in using it to understand the chemical, mechanical, and electrical properties necessary for the creation of practical solar fuel devices. One key line of enquiry that AFM is being used for is to characterize the material surfaces and interfaces.
Scientists are striving to transduce solar energy into chemical energy by reducing protons into hydrogen, carbon dioxide or into organic compounds. However, a practical and reliable method for achieving this has yet to be developed. AFM is now being used in labs around the world to help to understand how to support this multi-electron transfer processes to take place efficiently.
Atomic force microscopy is proving beneficial to the clean technology sector due to its ability to provide ultra high-resolution imagery in three dimensions, without damaging the sample, the ability to work in ambient air and liquid environments. This has allowed scientists to take a much closer look at the electrochemical processes, reaction mechanisms and degradation of materials used in batteries, helping scientists to develop new-generation batteries with greater storage capacities and longevity.
It has also allowed research to uncover how solar energy may be able to be converted into a synthetic chemical fuel, in order to store it and use solar energy in a form that is more reliable and dependable than the intermittent nature of solar power generate directly from the sun. In summary, AFM is helping to encourage major shifts in clean technology, making it more reliable and helping to to be a viable option for taking the place of fossil fuels.
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