Energy Exploration

JEOL integrates sub-nanometer resolution SEM and TEM imaging and analysis with several unique capabilities and sample preparation tools, advancing research and exploration beyond all imagination. High-resolution field-emission scanning electron microscopes (FEG-SEMs) have proven to be very powerful tools for energy-related research.

Developments in such areas as solar thin films, oil shale, catalysis, and fuel cells require subnanometer resolution SEMs with a versatile set of detectors. They also require advanced sample preparation and handling techniques, such as argon ion polishing and FIB (focused ion beam).

Oil shale, a fine-grained sedimentary rock, contains significant amounts of kerogen, which, when heated can release hydrocarbons, or fossil fuel. Researchers look at shale porosity at both the macro and nano scale to determine the potential of shale deposits to produce economically viable sources of oil and natural gas.

Shale is notoriously difficult to prepare for SEM by widely accepted mechanical means because it crumbles and smears, obscuring the features of the sample.

Sample Preparation – To study porosity, a well-prepared, flat sample is imperative. The JEOL cross section polisher prepares pristine cross sections without deformation of the shale sample. Many energy companies have selected the JEOL CP for its unmatched ability to produce a flat surface with no smearing or crumbling, allowing easy imaging in the SEM.

SEM Imaging and Compositional Analysis – The JEOL JSM-7600F SEM produces detailed images of the nanopores. Using the SEM’s LABe (low angle backscatter) detector allows unprecedented contrast that clearly differentiates between kerogen, pyrite crystals, and deposits of clay, carbonates and quartz.

FIB Manipulation – The polished sample can be accurately sectioned and subsequently reconstructed in 3D to show the pore network structure using the JEOL JIB-4500 or JIB-4600F SEM/Focused Ion Beam system.


New! Click here to learn more about cross sectioning of shale and solar thin films.

Demand is high for sustainable, alternative energy resources, and the future points to exponential growth in the field of photovoltaics.

Producing low cost, highly efficient solar cells is imperative for both the industry and the ultimate consumer. Film growth direction, grain orientation, layer thickness and porosity impact the ultimate performance and efficiency of solar thin films.

Improving thin film growth, incorporation of smaller and cheaper crystals (CuInGaSe), and investigation of defect structures in Si are key to producing high quality, low cost solar thin films.

Sample Preparation – The JEOL Cross Section Polisher uses an Argon beam to prepare pristine cross sections of thin films for analysis in the SEM. A technique using the beam to polish the top surface of the film in a grazing incidence configuration allows investigation of not only crystal orientation, but also the porosity and grain packing of the film.

SEM Imaging – The JEOL FEG-SEM combines low kV high resolution
backscatter imaging of film cross sections with electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) analysis to clearly view film layer thickness and grain structure.


New! Click here to learn more about cross sectioning of shale and solar thin films.

Nano catalysts accelerate chemical reactions in the development of new fuels.

The quality of the nanoparticles in the catalyst and overall performance degrade with time, and researching this problem requires imaging catalysts at high magnifications, typically done with TEM and dedicated STEM analysis.

Recent advances in JEOL’s Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope technology allows 1 million X magnification providing clear SEM images of the nanoparticles that make up the catalytic materials. The JEOL JSM-7600F thermal FE SEM employs in-lens detectors that enable imaging of features that measure in the nanometer and sub-nanometer range.

This state-of-the-art FE SEM offers a variety of detectors for imaging of catalytic materials. In-lens detectors include energy filtering capability via r-filter, allowing high-resolution imaging of both catalyst support surfaces as well as active metal nanoparticles. A low angle BE detector (LABe) allows imaging of nanometer-sized catalyst particles with high spatial resolution. With the application of specimen bias (Gentle Beam mode) surface morphology of the catalysts can be clearly resolved using ultra-low kV imaging and any of the above detectors. A STEM-in-SEM detector provides both bright field and dark field images of electron thin catalytic materials with sub 1 nm resolution and allows structural investigation of zeolitic and other materials.


In this dynamic field of alternative energy exploration, new materials and chemicals are opening the doors to optimizing fuel cell performance.

Many samples of materials used in fuel cell research are chemically reactive due to their small size and high surface area. They cannot be exposed to ambient conditions.

JEOL designed a special airlock chamber for the SEM, making it possible to easily transfer atmospherically-isolated samples for SEM imaging.

JEOL works closely with customers to customize SEMs for radiological applications. From fully remote operation, shielded SEMs that are housed in hot cells and used to observe and analyze hot fuel rods, to transfer vessels that carry mildly hot samples from glove boxes to the SEM chamber, JEOL has developed solutions for nuclear energy applications.

Today’s energy concerns have led to a resurgence of interest in nuclear energy as a viable alternative to oil and coal. To make nuclear power plants safer, greener and more efficient, research is booming in the materials field. Researchers seeking steels for containment vessels that resist extended exposure to radiation and harsh corrosive fluids are turning to traditional materials analysis tools such as SEMs and Microprobes. JEOL has established itself as a valued partner in designing and manufacturing custom solutions to problems encountered with handling these new materials.

JEOL has placed SEMs in hot cells with all electronics removed to the outside control room to avoid deterioration of the solid state components. These instruments can be operated and maintained through the use of telemanipulators and through alpha-shield glove walls. JEOL has built special tungsten shielding for detector preamps and for x-ray analyzers (ED and WD spectrometers) that can operate with samples up to 3 Curies of activity.

For less radioactive samples, JEOL has designed and manufactured transfer vessels to transport samples from a glove box to the SEM load lock protecting the user and preventing sample exposure to air. In one case an SEM chamber was actually attached to the back side of a glove box so the sample never left the protective atmosphere. Additionally we provide “consumable” table top SEMs for prescreening in an unforgiving environment.

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Wherever energy exploration takes us, JEOL instrumentation is there, allowing deeper investigation into geological resources, further development of renewable resources such as solar energy, and advancement of new technologies such as alternative fueled vehicles.