John Staser, professor of chemical engineering at Ohio UniversityImage: Ohio University

John Staser, professor of chemical engineering at Ohio University
Image: Ohio University

ECS member and Ohio University professor, John Staser, was recently granted $1.5M from the U.S. Department of Energy for biofuels research. Staser and his team will work to develop technology to make biorefineries more efficient and profitable, thereby reducing the cost of environmentally friendly biofuels.

Biofuels are combustible fuels created from biomass. Currently, they are the only viable replacement to petroleum transportation fuels because they can be used in existing combustion engines. Biofuels are typically produced from food crops (sugar cane, corn, soybean, etc.) or materials such as wood, grass, or inedible parts of plants. Ethanol and biodiesel are prominent forms of biofuels that offer an alternative to such transportation fuels as petroleum and jet fuel.

Staser will lead an interdisciplinary team to develop ways to process a class of complex organic polymers known as lignin, which is one of the many waste products produced in the biorefining process.

“It’s not really competitive with gasoline, especially if oil is $40 a barrel,” Staser says. “Before this biofuel becomes feasible, we have to find a way to reduce the manufacturing cost. One way to do this is to come up with a secondary revenue stream for the refinery. So, if biorefineries could waste lignin to do so, biofuel would become a more financially feasible option.”

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In recent years, the focus on alternative means of transportation has almost exclusively highlighted automobiles. But ECS member Telpriore Gregory Tucker is shifting his attention in another direction: electric bikes.

Tucker was recently awarded the 2016 Arizona Legislative District 27-New Business of the Year by the Arizona House of Representatives for his sustainable business efforts with the U.S. Battery Bike Company. Now, Tucker is in full gear with his new company, Sirius E-Bikes, and is discussing the advantages of electric bikes in his recently penned article in Arizona’s Green Living magazine.

This from Green Living:

All e-bikes can legally travel at a max speed of 20 mph without pedaling, which is twice as fast as an average rider on a regular bicycle. In 2015, California passed a law allowing some e-bikes to reach 28 mph with the condition of added pedaling. Electric bicycle technology has improved specifically in the lithium-ion battery pack, the battery management system, the electric motor, and of course the integration for an overall aesthetically appealing frame.

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Two ECS members from Drexel University have recently been awarded for their exemplary work in the sciences.

Yury Gogotsi 2016Yuri Gogosti, Fellow of ECS and advisor of the Drexel ECS Student Chapter, has been awarded the 2016 Nano Energy Award. The award, presented by the journal Nano Energy, recognizes outstanding research in the field of nano energy, whose work reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the field and helps solves major energy problems facing society.

Gogostsi’s work is highly regarded in the scientific community. Among his most notable accomplishments, Gogotsi was a member of a team that discovered a novel family of two-dimensional carbides and nitrides, which have helped open the door for exceptional energy storage devices. Additionally, Gogotsi’s hand in discovering and describing new forms of carbon and the development of a “green” supercapacitor built of environmentally friendly materials has advanced the field of energy technology.

ekaterinapomerantsevajpgEkaterina Pomerantseva, ECS member and advisor of the Drexel ECS Student Chapter, has been awarded a three-year $360,000 National Science Foundation Division of Materials Research grant for her project, “Advanced Electrochemistry of Na-ion Battery Cathodes Through Chemically Controlled Materials Synthesis.”

Her work looks to address some of the current barriers prevention Na-ion batteries from competing with their Li-ion cousins. Pomerantseva believes that the grant money could help develop sustainable energy storage that is cheaper, reliable, and environmentally friendly – opening the door to next generation energy storage systems and new possibilities for grid storage.

While we may have a good understanding of battery application and potential, we still lack a great deal of knowledge about what is actually happening inside a battery cell during cycles. In an effort to build a better battery, ECS members from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have made a novel development to improve battery performance testing.

Future of energy

The team’s work focuses on the design and placement of the reference electrode (RE), which measure voltage of the individual electrodes making up a battery cell, to enhance the quality of information collected from lithium-ion battery cells during cycles. By improving our knowledge of what’s happening inside the battery, researchers will more easily be able to develop longer-lasting batteries.

“Such information is critical, especially when developing batteries for larger-scale applications, such as electric vehicles, that have far greater energy density and longevity requirements than typical batteries in cell phones and laptop computers,” said Daniel Abraham, ECS member and co-author of the newly published study in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society. “This kind of detailed information provides insight into a battery cell’s health; it’s the type of information that researchers need to evaluate battery materials at all stages of their development.”

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Edward Goodrich Acheson (1856-1931), one of the charter members of ECS, is best known for having invented and commercialized carborundum, an artificial graphite.

BiographyEdward G. Acheson

Acheson was born in southwestern Pennsylvania and raised its coal fields. At the age of 16, after his father died, he left school to help support his family. Nevertheless, Acheson devoted his nights to the scientific endeavors, especially electrical experiments.

In 1880, Acheson attempted to sell a battery of his own invention to Thomas Edison, who ended up hiring him to assist with his research. He experimented with creating a conducting carbon that Edison could use in his electric light bulbs.

After working for Edison for four years, Acheson left his employ to become an independent inventor. In 1891, Acheson acquired access to an electric
generating plant and attempted to use electric heat to impregnate clay with carbon. What resulted from this experiment was his discovery of a crystalline substance that had value as an abrasive, which Acheson named “carborundum” (also known as silicon carbide).

In 1894, he established the Carborundum Company in Monongahela City, Pennsylvania, which created grinding wheels, whet stones, knife sharpeners, and powdered abrasives. Later, Acheson used his electric furnace to produce artificial graphite, which  he commercialized, discovering that various organic substances allowed colloidal suspension of particles of graphite mixed in oil or water.

Acheson received 70 patents related to abrasives, graphite products, reduction of oxides, and refractories. ECS awarded him the first Acheson Award, named in his honor, in 1931.

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Image: Assianir

Image: Assianir

A recent pistachio recall is bringing Salmonella and other foodborne illnesses back into the national spotlight. The popularity of the in-shell pistachio brands recalled paired with the long shelf-life of the nut has health experts concerned for the potential of the foodborne illness to spread rapidly. Many are again asking: how can we better control food safety?

Shin Horikawa and his team at Auburn University believe their novel biosensor technology could resolve many of the current issues surrounding the spread of foodborne illnesses. As the principal scientist for a concept hand-picked for the FDA’s Food Safety Challenge, Horikawa is looking to make pathogen detection faster, more specific, and cheaper.

Faster, cheaper, smarter

“The current technology to detect Salmonella takes a really long time, from a few days to weeks. Our first priority is to shorten this detection time. That’s why we came up with a biosensor-based detection method,” Horikawa, Postdoctoral researcher at Auburn University and member of ECS, says.

Horikawa and his team’s concept revolves around the placement of a tiny biosensor—a sensor so small that it’s nearly invisible to the human eye—on the surface of fresh fruits and vegetables to detect the presence of pathogenic organisms such as Salmonella. This on-site, robust detection method utilizes magnetoelastic (ME) materials that can change their shape when a magnetic field is applied. The materials respond differently to each magnetic field, changing their shapes accordingly. This allows the researchers to detect if a specific pathogen—such as Salmonella—has attached to the biosensor.

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Efficiency of water electrolysis

Together with his team, ECS member Wolfgang Schuhmann develops new electrodes, for the production of hydrogen.
Image: Ruhr Universitaet Bochum

New research out of Ruhr Universitaet Bochum is showing big gains for water electrolysis, with new efficiency levels double that of previous efforts.

By applying a layer of copper atoms in conventional platinum electrodes, researchers were able to desorption easier for the catalyst surface. This system then generated twice the amount of hydrogen than a platinum electrode without a copper layer.

This breakthrough could help water electrolysis gain a better reputation as a method for hydrogen production. Prior to this breakthrough, too much energy was lost in the process to prove it efficient. Now, the efficiency level has been doubled.

This from Ruhr Universitaet Bochum:

The researchers modified the properties of the platinum catalyst surface by applying a layer of copper atoms. With this additional layer, the system generated twice the amount of hydrogen than with a pure platinum electrode. But only if the researchers applied the copper layer directly under the top layer of the platinum atoms. The group observed another useful side effect: the copper layer extended the service life of the electrodes, for example by rendering them more corrosion-resistant.

Read the full article.

“To date, hydrogen has been mainly obtained from fossil fuels, with large CO2 volumes being released in the process,” said Wolfgang Schuhmann, ECS member and lead author of the study. “If we succeeded in obtaining hydrogen by using electrolysis instead, it would be a huge step towards climate-friendly energy conversion. For this purpose, we could utilize surplus electricity, for example generated by wind power.”

Measuring the pH level of a solution is usually a relatively simple process. However, that process begins to get more complicated as things get smaller.

Examining changes in acidity or alkalinity at the nanoscale, for example, has been a nearly impossible feat for researchers. Now, a team from the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, including 11 year ECS member Gunter Wittstock, has developed a novel method of pH measurement at the nanoscale.

The group has developed a nanosensor with the ability to continuously monitor changes in pH levels.

This from the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw:

Used as a scanning electrochemical microscope probe, it allows for the precise measurement of changes in acidity/alkalinity occurring over very small fragments of the surface of a sample immersed in a solution. The spatial resolution here is just 50 nm, and in the future, it can be reduced even further.

Read the full article.

“The ability to monitor changes in the acidity or alkalinity of solutions at the nanoscale, and thus over areas whose dimensions can be counted in billionths of a meter, is an important step toward better understanding of many chemical processes. The most obvious examples here are various kinds of catalytic reactions or pitting corrosion, which begins on very small fragments of a surface,” said Marcin Opallo, lead author in the study.

The team hopes that this new method could lead to monitoring of pH changes taking place in the vicinity of individual chemical molecules.

An interdisciplinary team, including 32 year ECS member Stuart Licht and ECS student member Matthew Lefler, has developed a way to make electric vehicles that are not only carbon neutral, but carbon negative – capable of reducing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide as they operate by transforming the greenhouse gas.

By replacing the graphite electrodes that are currently being used in the development of lithium-ion batteries for electric cars with carbon materials recovered from the atmosphere, the researchers have been able to develop a recipe for converting collected carbon dioxide into batteries.

This from Vanderbilt University:

The team adapted a solar-powered process that converts carbon dioxide into carbon so that it produces carbon nanotubes and demonstrated that the nanotubes can be incorporated into both lithium-ion batteries like those used in electric vehicles and electronic devices and low-cost sodium-ion batteries under development for large-scale applications, such as the electric grid.

Read the full article.

The research is not the first time scientists have shown progress in collecting and converting harmful greenhouse gases from the environment.

Typically, carbon dioxide conversion revolves around transforming the gas into low-value fuels such as methanol. These conversions often do not justify the costs.

(MORE: Read “Carbon Nanotubes Produced from Ambient Carbon Dioxide for Environmentally Sustainable Lithium-Ion and Sodium-Ion Battery Anodes.“)

However, the new process produces better batteries that are not only expected to be efficient, but also cost effective.

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Sustainable Battery

The new carbon-based material for sodium-ion batteries can be extracted from apples.
Image: KIT

The saying goes: an apple a day keeps the doctor away; but in this case, an apple may be the answer to the next generation of energy storage technology.

ECS member Stefano Passerini of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is leading a study to extract carbon-based materials for sodium-ion batteries from organic apple waste.

Developing batteries from waste

This new development could help reduce the costs of future energy storage systems by applying a cheap material with excellent electrochemical properties to the already promising field of sodium-ion batteries.

(MORE: Read more research by Passerini.)

Many researchers are currently looking to sodium-ion batteries as the next generation of energy storage, with the ability to outpace the conventional lithium-ion battery.

The future of sodium-ion batteries

Interest in sodium-ion batteries dates back to the 1980s, but discoveries haven’t taken off until recently. Researchers are now finding way to combat low energy densities and short life cycles through using novel materials such as apples.

(MORE: Read the full paper in ChemElectroChem.)

Sodium-ion batteries could prove to be the next big thing in large scale energy storage due to the high abundance of materials used in development and the relatively low costs involved.

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