BatteryA novel compound called 3Q conducts electricity and retains energy better than other organic materials currently used in batteries, researchers report.

“Our study provides evidence that 3Q, and organic molecules of similar structures, in combination with graphene, are promising candidates for the development of eco-friendly, high capacity rechargeable batteries with long life cycles,” says Loh Kian Ping, professor in the chemistry department at NUS Faculty of Science.

Rechargeable batteries are the key energy storage component in many large-scale battery systems like electric vehicles and smart renewable energy grids. With the growing demand of these battery systems, researchers are turning to more sustainable, environmentally friendly methods of producing them. One option is to use organic materials as an electrode in the rechargeable battery.

Organic electrodes leave lower environment footprints during production and disposal which offers a more eco-friendly alternative to inorganic metal oxide electrodes commonly used in rechargeable batteries.

The structures of organic electrodes can also be engineered to support high energy storage capabilities. The challenge, however, is the poor electrical conductivity and stability of organic compounds when used in batteries. Organic materials currently used as electrodes in rechargeable batteries—such as conductive polymers and organosulfer compounds—also face rapid loss in energy after multiple charges.

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By: Joshua M. Pearce, Michigan Technology University

SolarAs the U.S. military increases its use of drones in surveillance and combat overseas, the danger posed by a threat back at home grows. Many drone flights are piloted by soldiers located in the U.S., even when the drones are flying over Yemen or Iraq or Syria. Those pilots and their control systems depend on the American electricity grid – large, complex, interconnected and very vulnerable to attack.

Without electricity from civilian power plants, the most advanced military in world history could be crippled. The U.S. Department of Energy has begged for new authority to defend against weaknesses in the grid in a nearly 500-page comprehensive study issued in January 2017 warning that it’s only a matter of time before the grid fails, due to disaster or attack. A new study by a team I led reveals the three ways American military bases’ electrical power sources are threatened, and shows how the U.S. military could take advantage of solar power to significantly improve national security.

A triple threat

The first threat to the electricity grid comes from nature. Severe weather disasters resulting in power outages cause between US$25 billion and $70 billion in the U.S. each year – and that’s average years, not those including increasingly frequent major storms, like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The second type of threat is from traditional acts of crime or terrorism, such as bombing or sabotage. For example, a 2013 sniper attack on a Pacific Gas and Electric substation in California disabled 17 transformers supplying power to Silicon Valley. In what the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission called “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred,” the attacker – who may have been an insider – fired about 100 rounds of .30-caliber rifle ammunition into the radiators of 17 electricity transformers over the course of 19 minutes. The electronics overheated and shut down. Fortunately, power company engineers managed to keep the lights on in Silicon Valley by routing power from other sources.

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From Wastewater to Fertilizer

The National Science Foundation is spearheading a $2.4 million research initiative to develop new methods to create commercial fertilizer out of wastewater nutrients. Among the researchers working on this project, ECS member and chair of the Society’s Energy Technology Divison, Andrew Herring, is leading an electrochemical engineering team in electrode design, water chemistry, electrochemical operations, and developing a bench-scale electrochemical reactor design.

The goal of this project is to take the nitrogen and phosphorus that exists in wastewater and transform it into fertilizer struvite, which is made up of magnesium, ammonium, and phosphate.

“Basically, you’d have a hog barn and you’d collect the liquid effluent from the farm and run it through a reactor and you’d get a solid fertilizer out of the back and, hopefully, energy,” Herring, Colorado School of Mines professor, says in a statement. “At the end of the day, we hope to optimize this thing so it makes energy, saves water, and produces fertilizer for food production.”

This work is is a collaborative effort with ECS members Lauren Greenlee, lead princial investigator and Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas; and Julie Renner, Assistant Professor at Case Western Reserve University.

This isn’t Herring’s first foray into water and energy research. During the PRiME 2016 meeting, Herring co-organized the Energy/Water Nexus: Power from Saline Solutions symposium.

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ARPA-EIn a recent post by Bill Gates, the business magnate identified the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, more commonly known as ARPA-E, as his favorite obscure government agency.

Gates cited the agency as a key in solving pressing energy issues, referencing his faith in ARPA-E as demonstrated through his involvement in the $1 billion investment funding created in 2016 through Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV).

BEV was developed as an initiative to provide affordable, clean energy to people across the globe. In order to make that energy future possible, Gates and his partners at BEV knew they would have to depend on public, government funded research.

Since its establishment in 2009 under then U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, ARPA-E has acted as an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy that can help deliver the highly innovative technology that ventures like BEV depend on. From the agency’s REFUEL program, which promotes the development of carbon-neutral fuels to BEEST, funding research in energy storage for transportation, ARPA-E funds high-risk, high-reward endeavors capable of transforming energy landscapes.

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Safer Batteries with Nanodiamonds

BatterySafety concerns regarding lithium-ion batteries have been making headlines in light of smartphone fires and hoverboard explosions. In order to combat safety issues, at team of researchers from Drexel University, led by ECS member Yury Gogotsi, has developed a way to transform a battery’s electrolyte solution into a safeguard against the chemical process that leads to battery fires.

Dendrites – or battery buildups caused by the chemical reactions inside the battery – have been cited as one of the main causes of lithium-ion battery malfunction. As more dendrites compile over time, they can breach the battery’s separator, resulting in malfunction.

(MORE: Read more research by Gogotsi in the ECS Digital Library.)

As part of their solution to this problem, the research team is using nanodiamonds to curtail the electrochemical deposition that leads to the short-circuiting of lithium-ion batteries. To put it in perspective, nanodiamond particles are roughly 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a single hair.

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Renewable grideThe U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released a report Wednesday night on electricity markets and grid reliability, stating that the decline in coal and nuclear production has not impacted grid reliability, instead the rise in a diverse energy portfolio has increased the grid’s stability.

The study, commissioned by Energy Secretary Rick Perry in April, also states that coal plant closures across the country have been due to market pressure and competition from low-priced natural gas plants, not policy changes that support renewables such as wind and solar.

(MORE: Listen to our interview with former U.S. Energy Secretary and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu.)

“America is also fortunate to have a variety of fuel sources. We need to consider how to use each effectively while recognizing our differences and unique state and regional circumstances,” Perry says in the report’s cover letter. “We must utilize the most effective combination of energy sources with an ‘all of the above’ approach to achieve long-term, reliable American energy security.”

While the report does not state that there is a current concern with grid reliability, it does warn that future problems could arise if coal and nuclear plants continue to close at the current rate. Many environmental advocates cite this as a last-ditch effort for these companies to remain relevant in the energy landscape. However, the report does go on to highlight the role of renewables in developing a diverse energy infrastructure.

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BiofuelResearchers have created a new method to more efficiently convert potato waste into ethanol. The findings may lead to reduced production costs for biofuel in the future and add extra value for chip makers.

Using potato mash made from the peelings and potato residuals from a Pennsylvania food-processing company, researchers triggered simultaneous saccharification—the process of breaking down the complex carbohydrate starch into simple sugars—and fermentation—the process in which sugars are converted to ethanol by yeasts or other microorganisms in bioreactors.

The simultaneous nature of the process was innovative, according to researcher Ali Demirci, professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Penn State. The addition to the bioreactor of mold and yeast—Aspergillus niger and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, respectively—catalyzed the conversion of potato waste to bioethanol.

The bioreactor had plastic composite supports to encourage and enhance biofilm formation and to increase the microbial population. Biofilms are a natural way of immobilizing microbial cells on a solid support material. In a biofilm environment, microbial cells are abundant and more resistant to environmental stress causing higher productivities.

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Juan Pablo EsquivelIn its first Science for Solving Society’s Problems Challenge, ECS partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to leverage the brainpower of electrochemists and solid state scientists, working to find innovative research solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues in water and sanitation. A total of seven projects were selected, resulting in a grand total of $360,000 in funding.

The researchers behind one of those projects recently published an open access paper in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society discussing their results in pursuing a single-use, biodegradable and sustainable battery that minimizes waste. The paper, “Evaluation of Redox Chemistries for Single-Use Biodegradable Capillary Flow Batteries,” was published August 18 and authored by Omar Ibrahim, Perla Alday, Neus Sabaté, Juan Pablo Esquivel (pictured with prototype at right), and Erik Kjeang.

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Carbon dioxideWhile pursing work on the highly desirable but technically challenging lithium-air battery, researchers unexpectedly discovered a new way to capture and store carbon dioxide. Upon creating a design for a lithium-CO2 battery, the research team found a way to isolate solid carbon dust from gaseous carbon dioxide, all while being able to separate oxygen.

As global industry, technology, and transportation grows, the consumption of fossil fuels has increased. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the burning of petroleum-based products has resulted in 6,587 million of metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the environment in 2015. The emission of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide trap heat in the atmosphere, which researches have linked the global warming. Because of this, capturing and converting carbon emissions has become a highly researched area.

“The problem with most physical and chemical pathways for CO2 fixation is that their products are gases and liquids that need to be further liquefied or compressed, and that inevitably leads to additional energy consumption and even more CO2 emissions,” says Haoshen Zhou, senior author of the recently published research. “Instead, we are demonstrating an electrochemical strategy for CO2 fixation that yields solid carbon products, as well as a lithium-CO2 battery that can provide the energy necessary for that process.”

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By: Timothy H. Dixon, University of South Florida

Climate marchThis summer I worked on the Greenland ice sheet, part of a scientific experiment to study surface melting and its contribution to Greenland’s accelerating ice losses. By virtue of its size, elevation and currently frozen state, Greenland has the potential to cause large and rapid increases to sea level as it melts.

When I returned, a nonscientist friend asked me what the research showed about future sea level rise. He was disappointed that I couldn’t say anything definite, since it will take several years to analyze the data. This kind of time lag is common in science, but it can make communicating the issues difficult. That’s especially true for climate change, where decades of data collection may be required to see trends.

A recent draft report on climate change by federal scientists exploits data captured over many decades to assess recent changes, and warns of a dire future if we don’t change our ways. Yet few countries are aggressively reducing their emissions in a way scientists say are needed to avoid the dangers of climate change.

While this lack of progress dismays people, it’s actually understandable. Human beings have evolved to focus on immediate threats. We have a tough time dealing with risks that have time lags of decades or even centuries. As a geoscientist, I’m used to thinking on much longer time scales, but I recognize that most people are not. I see several kinds of time lags associated with climate change debates. It’s important to understand these time lags and how they interact if we hope to make progress.

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