BatteryNew research from Sandia National Laboratory is moving toward advancing solid state lithium-ion battery performance in small electronics by identifying major obstacles in how lithium ions flow across battery interfaces.

The team of researchers, including ECS member Forrest Gittleson, looked at the nanoscale chemistry of solid state batteries, focusing on the area where the electrodes and electrolytes make contact.

“The underlying goal of the work is to make solid-state batteries more efficient and to improve the interfaces between different materials,” says Farid El Gabaly, coauthor of the recently published work. “In this project, all of the materials are solid; we don’t have a liquid-solid interface like in traditional lithium-ion batteries.”

According to El Gabaly, the faster the lithium can travel from one electrode to the other, the more efficient the batteries could be.

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Transforming Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxideCarbon dioxide accounts for over 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. For many, carbon dioxide emissions account for significant environmental issues, but for researchers like Haotian Wang of Harvard University, carbon dioxide could be the perfect raw material.

According to a new study, Wang and his team are well on the way to developing a system that uses renewable electricity to electrochemically transform carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide could then be used in a host of industrial processes, such as plastics production, creating hydrocarbon products, or as a fuel itself.

This from Harvard University:

The energy conversion efficiency from sunlight to CO can be as high as 12.7%, more than one order of magnitude higher than natural photosynthesis.

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Researchers have developed a prototype device that mimics natural photosynthesis to produce ethylene gas using only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide.

The novel method, which produces ethylene at room temperature and pressure using benign chemicals, could be scaled up to provide a more eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to the current method of ethylene production.

Ethylene, which is the building block of polyethylene, is an important chemical feedstock produced in large quantities for manufacturing plastics, rubber, and fibers. More than 170 million tons of ethylene were produced worldwide in 2015 alone, and the global demand is expected to exceed 220 million tons by 2020.

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BiofuelNew research stitches together the best parts of several different bacteria to synthesize a new biofuel product that matches current engines better than previously produced biofuels.

“My lab is interested in developing microbial biosynthetic processes to make biofuels, chemicals, and materials with tailored structures and properties,” says Fuzhong Zhang, associate professor at the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis. “Previously, we engineered E.coli to produce a precursor compound that leads to the production of advanced biofuels. In this work, we took the next step toward the actual manufacture.”

Zhang’s research focuses on engineering metabolic pathways that, when optimized, allow the bacteria to act as a biofuel generator. In its latest findings, recently published in Biotechnology for Biofuels, Zhang’s lab used the best bits of several other species—including a well-known pathogen—to enable E. coli to produce branched, long-chain fatty alcohol (BLFL), a substance that can be used as a freeze-resistant, liquid biofuel.

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Poplar treeNew research indicates that poplar trees could be an economically viable biofuel material.

In the quest to produce affordable biofuels, poplars are one of the Pacific Northwest’s best bets—the trees are abundant, fast-growing, adaptable to many terrains, and their wood can become substances used in biofuel and high-value chemicals that we rely on in our daily lives.

But even as researchers test poplars’ potential to morph into everything from ethanol to chemicals in cosmetics and detergents, a commercial-scale processing plant for poplars has yet to be achieved. This is mainly because production costs still are not competitive with the current price of oil.

Now, a team of researchers is trying to make poplar a viable competitor by testing the production of younger poplar trees that could be harvested more frequently—after only two or three years—instead of the usual 10- to 20-year cycle.

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BatteryA team of researchers from the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research is taking a potential major step toward developing energy dense, safe solid state magnesium-ion batteries.

This research marks another step in pursing batteries that utilize solid electrolytes, which could offer significant safety benefits over conventional lithium-ion batteries.

The work was developed out of efforts to create a magnesium battery with a liquid electrolyte. While magnesium has promising properties for energy storage, the researchers had trouble finding a viable liquid electrolyte for the technology that wouldn’t corrode.

“Magnesium is such a new technology, it doesn’t have any good liquid electrolytes,” said Gerbrand Ceder, co-author of the research and member of ECS. “We thought, why not leapfrog and make a solid state electrolyte?”

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AlgaeA nanoparticle that can help clean water of cadmium becomes toxic once taking in the metal. But research finds that organic matter, in this case from algae, reduces that toxicity.

Nanotechnology plays an important role in removing toxic chemicals found in the soil. Currently more than 70 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund sites are using or testing nanoparticles to remove or degrade environmental contaminants. One of these—nano-zero-valent iron—is widely used, though its effect on organisms has not been examined.

In a recent experiment, a team of scientists tested the effect of sulfurized nano-zero-valent iron (FeSSi) on a common freshwater alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii). They found that FeSSi picked up cadmium from a watery medium and alleviated cadmium toxicity to that alga for more than a month.

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By: Deepak Kumar, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Stephen P. Long, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Vijay Singh, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

AirplaneThe aviation industry produces 2 percent of global human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. This share may seem relatively small – for perspective, electricity generation and home heating account for more than 40 percent – but aviation is one of the world’s fastest-growing greenhouse gas sources. Demand for air travel is projected to double in the next 20 years.

Airlines are under pressure to reduce their carbon emissions, and are highly vulnerable to global oil price fluctuations. These challenges have spurred strong interest in biomass-derived jet fuels. Bio-jet fuel can be produced from various plant materials, including oil crops, sugar crops, starchy plants and lignocellulosic biomass, through various chemical and biological routes. However, the technologies to convert oil to jet fuel are at a more advanced stage of development and yield higher energy efficiency than other sources.

We are engineering sugarcane, the most productive plant in the world, to produce oil that can be turned into bio-jet fuel. In a recent study, we found that use of this engineered sugarcane could yield more than 2,500 liters of bio-jet fuel per acre of land. In simple terms, this means that a Boeing 747 could fly for 10 hours on bio-jet fuel produced on just 54 acres of land. Compared to two competing plant sources, soybeans and jatropha, lipidcane would produce about 15 and 13 times as much jet fuel per unit of land, respectively.

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By: Joshua M. Pearce, Michigan Technological University

EnergyWithin the next month, energy watchers expect the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to act on an order from Energy Secretary Rick Perry that would create new pricing rules for certain power plants that can store fuel on site to support grid resilience. This initiative seeks to protect coal-fired and nuclear power plants that are struggling to compete with cheaper energy sources.

Perry’s proposed rule applies to plants that operate in regions with deregulated power markets, where utilities normally compete to deliver electricity at the lowest price. To qualify, plants would have to keep a 90-day fuel supply on site. Each qualified plant would be allowed to “recover its fully allocated costs.”

In other words, plant owners would be able to charge enough to cover a range of costs, including operating costs, costs of capital and debt, and investor returns. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Neil Chatterjee has stated that the extra money to keep coal and nuclear plants running “would come from customers in that region, who need the reliability.”

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A new bendable lithium-ion battery prototype continues delivering electricity even when cut into pieces, submerged in water, or struck with force.

“We are very encouraged by the feedback we are receiving,” says Jeffrey P. Maranchi, manager of the materials science program at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. “We are not that far away from testing in the field.”

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