Finnish Russian partnership in energy materials research

 
Major transition is going on in power production since almost emission free sun and wind based energy technologies are becoming the mainstream thanks to continuous decline of their prize [OECD/IEA 2017]. This positive transition, in regard to air pollution and our health & wellbeing [WHO 2014], requires, however, adoption of new practices and technologies as these new power sources are intermittent in nature. Securing energy delivery in our society, to our industry as well to us consumers, under all circumstances, including the cold wintery moments in Finland when the sun is not shining and wind is not bowing, is of utmost importance. This necessitates renewing our energy control practices and considerations, but also development of essential energy storage technologies. Particularly technologies enabling storage of large amounts of energy in compact form, combined with the ability to response changes in the power production and demand in a sufficient time scale, are needed.

One excellent solution is to use conventional hydropower but other techniques are needed as well. This is particularly important in regions with no appropriate water resources or having weaker grid connections. Hence, versatile electrochemical energy storage has recently risen renewed interest, as these technologies are perfectly suitable for many locations thanks to low maintenance needs. Consequently, novel solutions are frequently introduced, and the existing alternatives improved to meet the new needs set by the renewable energy technologies. In these devices, electrical energy is converted into the form of bonding energy of chemical compounds, as one can deduce form the term electrochemistry.  Following the increasing need for energy storage, the utilized chemical compounds and structures used for storing them must now be critically re-evaluated: To avoid the need for massive equipment and to minimize safety and financial risks, energy should be stored in compact form and safe manner. On the other hand, more attention must also be paid to the availability and sustainability of the materials used and the processes from cradle to grave.  Prof. Tanja Kallio’s group from Aalto University Department of Chemistry and Materials Science is collaborating with a newish organization, Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (SkolTech), located in the Moscow region. Similar to Aalto University, SkolTech supports scientific investigations and commercialization of the science based innovation and encourages, for example, establishment of startup companies. Another common factor is the young age: SkolTech was established in the year 2010, which is the same year when the fused Aalto University was officially established. Hence, our common discussions and interests do not only cover science & innovations but also comparing the development of the two Universities.

I have been a visiting professor at Prof. Albert Nasibulin’s Laboratory of Nanomaterials and visited Moscow region regularly during the past some two years. Observing the development and growth of the laboratory at Skoltech has been interesting and delightful to follow, as the young University invests strongly in hiring scientist and acquiring new equipment. Mutual learning curve on energy material development has been pointing upwards and, fortunately, continues to do so. As a result, one supercapacitor related scientific article has already been published, based on a jointly supervised Doctoral Thesis at SkolTech, and a brand new Master’s thesis on the topic has come out. Moreover, scientific publications on sustainable hybrid catalyst materials are under preparation, new experiments have been planned in both groups, and even a new device for material synthesis has been constructed in Otaniemi by a joint effort. If you are interested in more details about our results on development of energy materials, I encourage you to follow the homepages of our research groups in addition to the excellent CloseLoop pages.

Using English as the working language at SkolTech has greatly boosted the collaboration, tough recognizing Cyrillic alphabets is beneficial for encounters in Moscow downtown. I have enjoyed great hospitality from my Russian partners. Great thanks for that! Mostly everything goes smoothly tough, every now and then, the bureaucracy needed for getting thigs done can be amazing. Furthermore, traffic jams during the rush hours in the large city, reminiscent to Finnish traffic around national holidays, make collaboration with other Russian organizations challenging. Everything has to be planned beforehand carefully, but still flexibility and readiness to change the plans is needed, as always is the case in scientific investigations, too.

Tanja Kallio

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