Over the next few years, European research in materials will make a quantum leap, as Sweden builds two large research facilities in Lund - European Spallation Source (ESS) and the synchrotron MAX IV. The facilities will enable 3D characterization of structures and dynamics of materials at the nano level using neutron and X-rays.
The newly appointed professor at DTU Energy, Poul Norby, is one of the leading Danish researchers on batteries. A key task for him will be to further Danish research on batteries by taking advantage of the large facilities in Lund. This will be done through the new DTU Imaging Center.
"I am a chemist and I have for many years researched in interface phenomena in batteries using in-situ studies, meaning that I follow the chemical processes that occur inside the battery, as they happen. It's an incredibly exciting work", says Professor Poul Norby.
"It (batteries: red.) is an exciting area to be in, because you cannot anticipate what will be the next game changer. The Tesla batteries were not based on new materials, just a new way of thinking, and that’s often all it takes"
Professor Poul Norby, DTU Energy
He did his PhD in intermetallic connections at the University of Aarhus combined with research stays at the University of Oslo, Norway. The Norwegians had activities on zeolites, a kind of microporous materials very usable for catalysts, and Poul Norby was particularly interested in hydrothermal synthesis for preparing such materials. A lecture by Bjerne Clausen from Haldor Topsoe on in-situ studies of catalysts sparked what Poul Norby himself call his in-situ-adventure, which led to Poul Norby becoming an internationally recognized expert in batteries.
In-situ studies of chemical processes are carried out while a reaction proceeds, providing invaluable and very detailed information about the chemical reactions. This enables the researchers to identify potential bottlenecks of the reactions. One of the best and most reliable methods for in-situ studies is using very intense X-rays generated in huge ring-shaped accelerators called synchrotrons, where electrons are made to emit X-rays by being accelerated to near-light speeds.
A visit at National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) near New York, USA, where he continued his in-situ studies of crystallization within hydrothermal synthesis, gave his career a new direction.
Poul and the batteries
“I got a position as visiting scientist at NSLS's chemistry department. It was a very rewarding and dynamic environment in which to do research, and I did research on capillary cells for hydrothermal synthesis, but also on phase transitions, catalysts, ion exchange and adsorption. I spent almost four years at NSLS where I met many researchers, created good networks and made a lot of good research. Hydrothermal synthesis has many applications within, e.g., batteries", he says.
Armed with his new knowledge, Poul Norby returned to Oslo University, where he stayed for ten years and got his first title of Professor.
"It was nice to be in Norway, but we longed for Denmark, and then I found an exciting job opening within materials research at Risø DTU, which is now DTU Energy."
Back in the early 1990s Denmark had a leading position in battery research, but the research had stalled. In 2012, DTU decided to restart battery research and the task was given to Tejs Vegge, who together with Poul Norby created a strong team of battery researchers.
"Batteries are everywhere, from iPads over electric cars to computers, so we had both political and financial support to start researching in rechargeable lithium batteries," says Poul Norby.
Five years of research on batteries at DTU Energy has once again placed Denmark at the international research map.
"I have always been fascinated with fundamental research that has a practical application, and batteries fit very nicely into that category. It is an exciting area to be in, because you cannot anticipate what will be the next game changer. The Tesla batteries were not based on new materials, just a new way of thinking, and that’s often all it takes", says Poul Norby. He was appointed professor in materials research at DTU Energy on 1 December 2016.
Poul Norby gives his inaugural speech as professor on March 31 at DTU Lyngby Campus.