UMass Boston

Chemistry PhD Student Receives Research Award from Department of Energy

06/08/2022| Danielle Bilotta

Chemistry PhD student Genevieve Asselin has received a research award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR). The SCGSR award is given to outstanding U.S. graduate students to pursue part of their graduate thesis research at a Department of Energy laboratory/facility in the areas that address scientific challenges central to the Office of Science mission.

“ I’m looking forward to being able to learn from some of the best in battery chemistry. ”

Asselin will conduct her research at the Advanced Photon Source facility within the Argonne National Lab in Lemont, Illinois. She will be researching the potential-dependent solution structure of magnesium electrolytes using high energy X-rays to gather information about local atom-atom coordination in the liquid phase to ultimately build a better understanding of how magnesium electrolytes work.

“I feel very lucky and grateful for the opportunities that I have been afforded and the support from my PI [principal investigator] Assistant Professor of Chemistry Niya Sa, and the beamline scientist, Wenqian Xu, who I will be working with at Argonne,” Asselin said. “Most people don’t get the chance to use the beamlines at the Advanced Photon Source, but I’m glad I will be one of them.”

According to Asselin, Magnesium-ion Batteries (MIBs) are a promising avenue to replace Lithium-ion Batteries (LIBs) because they are cheaper, more abundant, stable, and environmentally friendly. Even though MIBs also have the potential to deliver just about double the energy output of LIBs, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of how they work and why they are not yet comparable to the LIBs that are currently on the market.

The goal of this research is to delve deeper into the processes and mechanisms that are happening during charge transfers, Asselin said. When you use a battery and current begins to flow, the way that ions and solvents in solutions arrange themselves changes, which has huge implications for kinetics, intermediate formation, and reversibility since rechargeable batteries must be able to undergo reversible electron transfers.

“All of these things drive the practicality of using a given electrolyte in a rechargeable battery,” Asselin said. “I hope that researchers will be able to use my research to be able to understand the mechanistic properties of magnesium ions in solution and apply my findings to intentionally design new magnesium electrolytes that circumvent current limitations.”

Although there is a lot of missing information regarding MIBs, Asselin said it’s a system worth exploring. Batteries are the essential steppingstones to transition off fossil fuels and rely on renewable sources of energy instead.

“Our world revolves around the need for energy, but LIBs alone will not be able to meet the long-term demands,” she said. “Magnesium-ion batteries are a realistic and promising replacement for LIBs down the line.”

Asselin’s doctoral research explores charge transfer of multivalent electrolytes at an electrode interface and the intermediates that form during the charge transfer process and her research through the SCGSR program is integral to her thesis topic. Asselin said there is no other way to conduct this type of research except at a facility like the Advanced Photon Source and that the program has given her the opportunity to work with knowledgeable scientists using advanced research techniques.

“I’m looking forward to being able to learn from some of the best in battery chemistry,” she said. “I think this research is going to produce very interesting and illuminating results and I can’t wait to see what we find.”