Newly Discovered Volcanic Mineral Could Lead To More Efficient Batteries

For more than 40 years, Stanislav Filatov, Professor at St Petersburg University, together with colleagues from other research institutions in Russia, has been studying the mineralogy of Kamchatka. The peninsula sits atop the tectonic border between the Russian continental plate and the oceanic plate of the Pacific. Blobs of magma rising upwards along the border feed a chain of volcanoes, including Tolbachik Volcano, which experienced two major eruptions in 1975-1976 and 2012-2013. In recent years, researchers have discovered dozens of new minerals here.

In a recent paper, the Russian mineralogists described another new mineral from this volcano, displaying a unique crystal structure. Petrovite occurs as blue globular aggregates of small tabular crystals near active fumaroles, emitting hot volcanic gases and steam. The mineral is named in honor of Dr. Tomas Georgievich Petrov for his contributions to mineralogy and crystallography and, in particular, for the development of technology for the industrial fabrication of jewelry malachite.

The mineral consists of oxygen, sulfur and copper atoms, which form a porous framework. Smaller atoms, like sodium, can move freely through the crystalline structure using the voids and channels in the framework as passages. This unique property could be used as a template for creating more efficient batteries.

Modern sodium-ion batteries (NIB), a type of rechargeable battery, use sodium ions (Na+) as the charge carriers. As the sodium atoms moving through the battery provide the electrical charge, engineers are interested in using materials with a low resistance to build more efficient batteries. As petrovite contains traces of copper, it can’t be used in batteries in its natural state. However, according to Filatov, synthetic materials copying the crystalline structure of petrovite and replacing the copper with other elements could lead to the development of more efficient batteries.

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Modified drones help scientists better predict volcanic eruptions

Mount St. Helens, Vesuvius, Krakatoa: history is full of volcanic eruptions that took humans by surprise and caused devastating damage. But with the help of drones, an international team of scientists from the US and seven other countries say they’ve developed a system for better predicting when an active volcano will erupt.

In May 2019, the Above Project traveled to Papua New Guinea to visit the island’s Manam volcano. They brought drones like the DJI Phantom with them, modifying them with components like miniature gas sensors and spectrometers. From a safe distance of nearly 4 miles away, the Above team piloted the drones near active vents on the surface of the volcano, collecting samples and measurements along the way.

That data allowed the team to calculate the ratio of sulfur and carbon dioxide the volcano was venting, which they say is critical to determining how likely an eruption is to occur since it helps volcanologists determine the source of a volcano’s magma. Moreover, the Above team says the data they gathered will also help scientists better understand how volcanoes contribute to the global carbon cycle, which will further our understanding of climate change.

Above Project drone
Above Project drone

The Above team published their findings in the Frontiers in Robotics and AI journal. Professor Alessandro Aiuppa, one of the co-authors of the report, described the work the Above team did as “a real advance in our field,” adding, “ten years ago you could have only stared and guessed what Manam’s CO2 emissions were.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen scientists tout the potential of drones as a kind of early warning system. At the start of 2020, a different team of researchers developed a communication system that could allow a network of drones to deliver early warnings for natural disasters.

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ALMA shows volcanic impact on Io’s atmosphere

ALMA shows volcanic impact on Io's atmosphere
Composite image showing Jupiter’s moon Io in radio (ALMA), and optical light (Voyager 1 and Galileo). The ALMA images of Io show for the first time plumes of sulfur dioxide (in yellow) rise up from its volcanoes. Jupiter is visible in the background (Hubble). Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), I. de Pater et al.; NRAO/AUI NSF, S. Dagnello; NASA/ESA

New radio images from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) show for the first time the direct effect of volcanic activity on the atmosphere of Jupiter’s moon Io.

Io is the most volcanically active moon in our solar system. It hosts more than 400 active volcanoes, spewing out sulfur gases that give Io its yellow-white-orange-red colors when they freeze out on its surface.

Although it is extremely thin—about a billion times thinner than Earth’s atmosphere—Io has an atmosphere that can teach us about Io’s volcanic activity and provide us a window into the exotic moon’s interior and what is happening below its colorful crust.

Previous research has shown that Io’s atmosphere is dominated by sulfur dioxide gas, ultimately sourced from volcanic activity. “However, it is not known which process drives the dynamics in Io’s atmosphere,” said Imke de Pater of the University of California, Berkeley. “Is it volcanic activity, or gas that has sublimated (transitioned from solid to gaseous state) from the icy surface when Io is in sunlight?”

To distinguish between the different processes that give rise to Io’s atmosphere, a team of astronomers used ALMA to make snapshots of the moon when it passed in and out of Jupiter’s shadow (they call this an “eclipse”).

This video shows images of Jupiter’s moon Io in radio (made with ALMA), and optical light (made with Voyager 1 and Galileo missions). The ALMA images were taken when Io passed into Jupiter’s shadow in March 2018 (eclipse), and from Jupiter’s shadow into sunlight in September 2018. These radio images for the first time show plumes of sulfur dioxide (in yellow) rise up from the volcanoes on Io. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), I. de Pater et al.; NRAO/AUI NSF, S. Dagnello; NASA

“When Io passes into Jupiter’s shadow, and is out of direct sunlight, it is too cold for sulfur dioxide gas, and it condenses onto Io’s surface. During that time we can only see volcanically-sourced sulfur dioxide. We can therefore see exactly how much of the atmosphere is impacted by volcanic activity,” explained Statia Luszcz-Cook from Columbia University, New York.

Thanks to ALMA’s exquisite resolution and sensitivity, the astronomers could, for the first time, clearly see the plumes of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and sulfur monoxide (SO) rise up from the volcanoes. Based on the snapshots, they calculated that active volcanoes directly produce 30-50 percent of Io’s atmosphere.

The ALMA images also showed a third gas coming out of volcanoes: potassium chloride (KCl). “We see KCl in volcanic regions where we do not see SO2 or SO,” said Luszcz-Cook. “This is strong evidence that the magma reservoirs are different under different volcanoes.”

Io is volcanically active due

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