Researchers discover reliable quality test for energy storage “wonder materials”

Happy Thursday, readers. Today we begin with research on teeny-tiny materials that hold potential to transform the energy sector, including solar cells, novel semiconductors, sensors, and energy storage.

Researchers at Ames Laboratory in Iowa studied graphene and other single-atom-thick substances that they call “wonder materials” and discovered a method to reliably test their quality. They confirmed the diagnostic, called the Bell Shaped Component, is able to identify uniformly patterned, or “perfect,” graphene.

New experiments confirm that the Bell Shaped Component is a reliable diagnostic of the quality of graphene growth. Image via Ames Laboratory.
  • The Ames researchers discovered through low-energy electron diffraction that broad diffraction patterns indicate high-quality graphene material. This feature hadn’t been mentioned in previous research because it is the opposite of what most diffraction studies conclude.
  • “This discovery challenges conventional wisdom, but the correlation between this strange phenomenon and high quality graphene is unmistakable,” Michael C. Tringides, a senior scientist at Ames Laboratory and professor of physics at Iowa State University, said in a news release. “[W]e’re forcing atoms to assemble in ways they normally would not. One of the major challenges of the field is to reliably produce high quality graphene and other materials like it.”
  • This finding has implications for ensuring quality control while manufacturing graphene and other 2D materials.
  • Graphene materials already are used with increasing frequency to improve batteries. For example, Chicago startup Volexion (previously in Centered) is developing a proprietary graphene material that increases lithium-ion battery power by 10 times and improves the battery life cycle. Another Chicago startup, NanoGraf (previously in Centered), is creating a graphene-wrapped silicon anode battery material to boost lithium-ion battery runtime by 50-100%.

Today’s headlines:

🔋 BATTERIES: Chicago battery life cycle management software company Renewance is partnering with utility-scale energy storage and renewable energy project company GlidePath Power Solutions on battery recycling and repurposing efforts for the energy storage industry.


  • Illinois utility Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) is installing underground power lines north of Chicago that are covered with supercooled, insulated jackets and carry 10 times the power of regular cables, reports E&E News. The lines are a way to make the region’s power grid more resilient, and they are expected to go live next year.
  • Wisconsin-based Alliant Energy plans to retire a coal plant in Lansing, Iowa, and move more toward renewable energy, reports The Gazette. An Iowa energy company’s president touts the combination of solar and battery storage technologies as “a big piece of our future.”


  • Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz attended a groundbreaking ceremony in Crookston for the new Ag Innovation Campusreports the Crookston Times. The site will incubate agricultural technologies, especially related to the use of soybeans for new products such as biodiesel.
  • Agtech startup Benson Hill, located in St. Louis, raised $150 million in a Series D funding round. It will use the funding to continue its work on advancing innovations for developing more sustainable, healthier food.

🌊 WATER: Scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago are leading a team that received a $1.25 million grant to create a device that detects COVID-19 in Chicago’s wastewater, reports Chicago Inno. The technology could warn health officials of emerging virus hotspots up to a week before they would be detected through traditional patient testing.

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