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STFC's Neutron beam line contributes to renewable energy breakthrough

Target Station 1, where ISIS instrument TOSCA is located
(Credit: STFC)

4th April 2016 – For the first time, scientists have overcome the challenge of breaking down raw biomass without the need for chemical pre-treatment, and have produced record amounts of liquid hydrocarbon fuel as a result. This work was successfully carried out thanks to the involvement of STFC’s ISIS Neutron and Muon source.

A team of scientists from The University of Manchester led by Dr Sihai Yang and from East China University of Science and Technology used the ISIS Neutron and Muon source - often described as a ‘super-microscope’ - to study the biomass and catalyst at the molecular level. Using an ISIS instrument called TOSCA, Dr Yang and ISIS scientist Dr Stewart Parker used neutrons to see how a model of lignocellulose interacted with the surface of the catalyst to produce useful fuel.

“By using neutrons we can see more of the features that help us understand what is happening in the conversion of lignocellulose to useful chemicals,” said Dr Stewart Parker from the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source.

This new research finding brings us one step closer to lessening our dependence on fossil fuels, and is an important development in our shift towards renewable energy.

Read more about the research


ISIS Scientist, Dr Stewart Parker next to the instrument, TOSCA
(Credit: STFC)


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About ISIS

ISIS is a world-leading centre for research in physical and life sciences operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Didcot, Oxfordshire, UK. ISIS produces beams of neutrons and muons that allow scientists to study materials at the atomic level using a suite of instruments, often described as a set of ‘super-microscopes’. ISIS supports an international community of over 2000 scientists who use neutrons and muons for research in physics, chemistry, materials science, geology, engineering and biology. It is the most productive research centre of its type in the world.


TOSCA is an indirect geometry spectrometer optimised for the study of molecular vibrations in the solid state. It is based in Target Station 1 at STFC’s ISIS neutron and muon beam line facility.

TOSCA's simple operation and the similarity of the spectra to the optical analogues of infrared and Raman spectroscopy make it one of the most approachable instruments for first-time users. Science on Tosca includes studies of catalysts, hydrogen storage materials, hydrogen bonded systems, advanced materials, biological samples and organic compounds such as drugs.


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