The Future of Energy Storage

The modified graphene aerogels are promising for high-power electrical energy storage applications due to their high surface area and excellent conductivity.Credit: Ryan Chen

The modified graphene aerogels are promising for high-power electrical energy storage applications due to their high surface area and excellent conductivity.
Credit: Ryan Chen

We all know the buzz around graphene, but now researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have found a way to improve upon this ultra-light material to boost the efficiency of your personal electronics.

The team at Lawrence Livermore have turned to graphene aerogel for enhanced electrical energy storage. This new generation of graphene has the potential to smooth power fluctuations in the energy grid, among other things.

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Major Breakthrough on Fusion Energy Project

The magnetic coils inside the compact fusion (CF) experiment are critical to plasma containment, as pictured in this undated handout photo

The magnetic coils inside the compact fusion experiment pictured in an undated photo provided by Lockheed Martin.
Credit: Reuters/Lockheed Martin

A few days ago we talked about fusion reactors and the new development out of the University of Washington that hopes to makes fusion a reality. Now we’re talking fusion again – only on a much different scale.

Lockheed Martin is making headlines for their announcement that their compact fusion reactors could be functional within one decade.

The company has been working for some time to develop a source of infinite energy, and have been devoting much time to fusion due to its clean and safe properties.

Their work on compact fusion revolves around the idea of using a high fraction of the magnetic field pressure, or all of its potential, to make devices much smaller than previous concepts. If they can achieve this, a reactor small enough to fit on a truck could provide enough power for a small city of up to 100,000 people.

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UW Reactor Could Make Fusion a Reality

The reactor uses a tokamak design, which is a giant torus surrounded on the sides and in the core by superconducting magnets generating tremendous energy.Credit: University of Washington

The reactor uses a tokamak design, which is a giant torus surrounded on the sides and in the core by superconducting magnets generating tremendous energy.
Credit: University of Washington

Fusion energy appears to be the future of energy storage – or at least it should be. Fusion energy yields zero greenhouse gas emissions, no long-lived radioactive waste, and a nearly unlimited fuel supply.

Up until this point, there has been an economic roadblock in producing this type of energy. The designs that have been penciled out to create fusion power are too expensive and won’t feasibly outperform systems that use fossil fuels.

Now, the engineers at the University of Washington (UW) are hoping to change that. They have designed a concept for a fusion reactor, that when scaled up, would rival costs of fossil fuel plants with similar electrical outputs.

This from the University of Washington:

The design builds on existing technology and creates a magnetic field within a closed space to hold plasma in place long enough for fusion to occur, allowing the hot plasma to react and burn. The reactor itself would be largely self-sustaining, meaning it would continuously heat the plasma to maintain thermonuclear conditions. Heat generated from the reactor would heat up a coolant that is used to spin a turbine and generate electricity, similar to how a typical power reactor works.

Read the full article here.

Currently, the University of Washington’s concept is about one-tenth the size and power output of a final product, which would still be years away.

Does the future of energy interest you? Check out what our Energy Technology Division has to offer. And head over to our Digital Library to see what our scientists are researching in the field of energy storage and conversion.

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University have developed ultra-fast charging batteries that last 20 years.Credit: Nanyang Technological University

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University have developed ultra-fast charging batteries that last 20 years.
Credit: Nanyang Technological University

If you’re tired of spending more time charging your phone than actually using it, a team of researchers out of Singapore have some good news for you. The group from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have developed an ultra-fast charging battery – so fast that it can be recharged up to 70 percent in only two minutes.

When comparing this new discovery to the already existing lithium-ion batteries, the new generation has a lifespan of over 20 years – approximately 10 times more than the current lithium-ion battery. Further, each of the existing li-ion’s cycles takes two to four hours to charge, which is significantly more than the new generation’s two minute charge time.

The development will be of particular benefit to the industry of electric vehicles, where people are often put off by the long recharge times and limited battery life. The researchers at NTU believe that drivers of electric vehicles could save tens of thousands on battery replacement costs and will be able to charge their cars in just ten minutes, all in thanks to the new ultra-fast charging battery.

This from NTU:

In the new NTU-developed battery, the traditional graphite used for the anode (negative pole) in lithium-ion batteries is replaced with a new gel material made from titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide is an abundant, cheap and safe material found in soil. It is commonly used as a food additive or in sunscreen lotions to absorb harmful ultraviolet rays. Naturally found in spherical shape, the NTU team has found a way to transform the titanium dioxide into tiny nanotubes, which is a thousand times thinner than the diameter of a human hair. This speeds up the chemical reactions taking place in the new battery, allowing for super-fast charging.

Read the full article here.

If you’re interested in battery research, take a look at what our Battery Division has to offer.

You can also explore the vast amount of research ECS carries on the technological and scientific breakthroughs in the field of battery by browsing through our digital library or taking a look at this past issue of Interface.

The new solar battery stores power by "breathing" air to decompose and re-form lithium peroxide.Credit: Yiying Wu/Ohio State University

The new solar battery stores power by “breathing” air to decompose and re-form lithium peroxide.
Credit: Yiying Wu/Ohio State University

Is it a solar cell? Is it a rechargeable battery? Well, technically it’s both.

The scientists at Ohio State University have developed the world’s first solar battery that can recharge itself using light and air. The findings from the patent-pending device were published in the October 3, 2014 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

This from Ohio State University:

Key to the innovation is a mesh solar panel, which allows air to enter the battery, and a special process for transferring electrons between the solar panel and the battery electrode. Inside the device, light and oxygen enable different parts of the chemical reactions that charge the battery.

Read the full article here.

The university plans to license the solar battery to industry.

“The state of the art is to use a solar panel to capture the light, and then use a cheap battery to store the energy,” said Yiying Wu, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio State University. “We’ve integrated both functions into one device. Any time you can do that, you reduce cost.”

The device also tackles the issue of solar energy efficiency by eliminating the loss of electricity that normally occurs when electrons have to travel between a solar cell and an external battery. Where typically only 80 percent of electrons make it from the solar cell into the battery, the new solar battery saves nearly 100 percent of electrons.

Want to know more about what’s going on with solar batteries? Check out the latest research in ECS’s Digital Library and find out what our scientists think the future looks like.

“Stella” is the name on every climate-cautious, pollution-loathing environmentalist’s lips.

Who is Stella? Well, she’s a car.

She may not be “pretty” by conventional standards, but Stella is the first family car powered by solar energy. The car – driven by a team of students from Eindhoven University of Technology – has just finished its road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, fueled solely by the California sunshine.

While the car is capable of traveling 500 miles (800km) on a single charge and can clock up to 80 miles per hour, there is still one pressing question on everyone’s mind – who will drive it?

“Do you want it in your daily life? Would you want to take it to get groceries?” asked one of Stella’s drivers, Jordy de Renet, in an interview with Popular Science.

The car’s strange shape stems from a compromise for aerodynamics and allowing comfort for at least two people. Also, the wedge-shaped vehicle’s flat surface allows for more solar cell coverage.

This from Popular Science:

Stella is CO2-neutral and the first energy-positive car in the world. The solar array charges while the car is in motion as well as when it is parked. “We get more energy out of the car than is needed to drive it,” said de Renet. That power, as much as twice what the car uses, can be returned to the grid.

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The battle to produce the most efficient and environmentally friendly car rages on, and now a new company is rising in the ranks by proposing we power our cars with salt water.

The Quant e-Sportlimousine made its debut at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show and showcased its innovative NanoFlowcell technology. This new technology sets itself apart from other systems in its ability to store and release electrical energy at very high densities – all with the help of salt water.

This from Intelligent Living:

The flow cell system powering the Quant e-Sportlimousine’s four electric motors develops electricity from the electrochemical reaction created by two electrolyte solutions. This electricity is forwarded to super capacitors where it’s stored and distributed.

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A Revolution in Renewable Energy

Towering like a beacon of hope in Germany’s North Sea stand wind turbines. Stretching as high as 60-story buildings and standing as far as 60 miles from the mainland, the turbines are part of Germany’s push to find a solution to global warming.

Some call it change. Some call it transformation. We call it a revolution.

According to an article in the The New York Times, it is expected that by the end of the year, scores of new turbines will be set in place – thus allowing low-emission electricity to be sent to German cities hundreds of miles south.

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Climate Case for Open Access

This weekend I watched the recently released short film, Disruption, which is available online for free viewing. In less than one-hour, the scientists, authors and activists featured in the film highlight some truly frightening data and trends. As those who believe in the vast majority of the science already understand, we must do more to limit greenhouse gas emissions if we want any chance of keeping global temperature change below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels.

Thankfully, the conversion to a clean energy economy is already feasible, both economically and technologically. Countries like Germany have been demonstrating the possibilities of renewable energy, despite having sunshine similar to that of Alaska. We also know the scientists of ECS are currently working on even more exciting research to improve our understanding and technological capabilities in photovoltaics, nanotechnology and fuel cells, among other cutting-edge fields.

In my view, the bold pledge to move toward open access at ECS has serious implications for action on climate change. If we can make the scientific research results and latest findings more widely accessible, we may speed up the scientific discovery process. Perhaps a young scientist in the developing world will unlock the key to some perplexing scientific dilemma, once we’ve made the latest findings more freely available in an ECS journal. Many of us believe we can accelerate the pace of innovation, and help solve critical challenges by opening access to scientific research. You can support those efforts by donating to the ECS Publications Endowment.

PeoplesClimate.orgIn the meantime, I plan to attend the Peoples Climate March on Sunday, September 21. There is an entire staging area for scientists, among the various  1,500 other groups, including students, environmentalists, labor unions, and community activists. Together, we’ll be demanding action on climate change, just two days before President Obama and other world leaders are set to attend a Climate Summit at the United Nations hosted by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The researchers at Virginia Tech have successfully demonstrated the concept of a sugar biobattery that can completely convert the chemical energy in sugar substrates into electricity. Credit: Virginia Tech University

The researchers at Virginia Tech have successfully demonstrated the concept of a sugar biobattery that can completely convert the chemical energy in sugar substrates into electricity.
Credit: Virginia Tech University

According to new studies, the future of energy storage and conversion may be something that’s sitting in your kitchen cupboard.

A new breakthrough out of Virginia Tech demonstrates that a sugar-powered biobattery has the potential to outperform the current lithium-ion batteries on many fronts.

Not only is the energy density of the sugar-powered battery significantly higher than that of the lithium-ion battery, but the sugar battery is also less costly than the li-ion, refillable, environmentally friendly, and nonflammable.

This from LiveScience:

This nature-inspired biobattery is a type of enzymatic fuel cell (EFC) — an electrobiochemical device that converts chemical energy from fuels such as starch and glycogen into electricity. While EFCs operate under the same general principles as traditional fuel cells, they use enzymes instead of noble-metal catalysts to oxidize their fuel. Enzymes allow for the use of more-complex fuels (such as glucose), and these more-complex fuels are what give EFCs their superior energy density.

Read the full article here.

The scientists hope to increase the power density, extend the lifetime, and reduce the cost of electrode materials in order for this energy-dense sugar biobattery to become the technology of the future.

Find the full findings in this issue of Nature Communications.

Learn more about this topic by reading a recently published open access article via ECS’s Digital Library.