BatteryWhen a battery is used, electrically charged ions travel between electrodes, causing those electrodes to shrink and swell. For some time, researchers have wondered why the electrode materials – which are fairly brittle – don’t crack in the expansion and contraction styles.

Now, a team of researchers from MIT, led by ECS member Yet-Ming Chiang, may have found the answer to this mystery.

This from MIT:

While the electrode materials are normally crystalline, with all their atoms neatly arranged in a regular, repetitive array, when they undergo the charging or discharging process, they are transformed into a disordered, glass-like phase that can accommodate the strain of the dimensional changes.

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SolarA newly created material may have the capacity to double the efficiency of solar cells.

Conventional solar cells are at most one-third efficient, a limit known to scientists as the Shockley-Queisser Limit. The new material, a crystalline structure that contains both inorganic materials (iodine and lead) and an organic material (methyl-ammonium), boosts the efficiency so that it can carry two-thirds of the energy from light without losing as much energy to heat.

In less technical terms, this material could double the amount of electricity produced without a significant cost increase, according to the new study in Science.

Enough solar energy reaches the earth to supply all of the planet’s energy needs multiple times over, but capturing that energy has been difficult—as of 2013, only about 1 percent of the world’s grid electricity was produced from solar panels.

The new material, called a hybrid perovskite, would create solar cells thinner than conventional silicon solar cells, and is also flexible, cheap, and easy to make, says Libai Huang, assistant professor of chemistry at Purdue University.

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BatteryA new mathematical model may help researchers design new materials for use in high-power batteries. According to the research team, the model could benefit chemists and materials scientists who typically rely on a trial and error method when developing new materials for batteries and capacitors.

“The potential here is that you could build batteries that last much longer and make them much smaller,” says Daniel Tartakovsky, co-author of the study. “If you could engineer a material with a far superior storage capacity than what we have today, then you could dramatically improve the performance of batteries.”

Demand for affordable, efficient energy storage continues to increase as more entities transition toward renewable energy. While there are many researchers working in the area of energy storage, the team behind this development is looking at the field in a new light.

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Image:  Kathy F. Atkinson, University of Delaware

Image: Kathy F. Atkinson, University of Delaware

Fuel cells are an important technology for the nation’s energy portfolio, offering a cleaner, more efficient alternative to combustion engines that utilize fossil fuels.

However, a team of researchers from the University of Delaware point out that a major challenge in the commercialization of fuel cells is the durability of the membrane, which tends to develop cracks that short is life during operation.

A new article published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society, “Self-Healing Composite Membrane for Proton Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cell Applications,” aims to address the fuel cell membrane issue by developing a self-healing membrane, incorporating microcapsules prefilled with a Nafion solution.

“The microcapsules are designed to rupture when they encounter defects in the membrane and then release the prefilled Nafion solution to heal the defects in place,” says Liang Wang, past ECS member and co-author of the study.

Testing showed that the newly developed membrane and its self-healing functionality could greatly extend its useful life.

By: Joshua D. Rhodes, University of Texas at Austin

Renewable grideThe electric grid is an amazing integrated system of machines spanning an entire continent. The National Academy of Engineering has called it one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century. The Conversation

But it is also expensive. By my analysis, the current (depreciated) value of the U.S. electric grid, comprising power plants, wires, transformers and poles, is roughly US$1.5 to $2 trillion. To replace it would cost almost $5 trillion.

That means the U.S. electric infrastructure, which already contains trillions of dollars of sunk capital, will soon need significant ongoing investment just to keep things the way they are. A power plant built during the rapid expansion of the power sector in the decades after World War II is now 40 years old or older, long paid off, and likely needs to be replaced. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers just gave the entire energy infrastructure a barely passing grade of D+.

The current administration has vowed to invest heavily in infrastructure, which raises a number of questions with regard to the electric system: What should the energy grid of the future look like? How do we achieve a low-carbon energy supply? What will it cost?

Infrastructure seems to be an issue that can gather support from both sides of the aisle. But to make good decisions on spending, we need first to understand the value of the existing grid.

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BatteryOne of the keys to developing a successful electric vehicle relies on energy storage technology. For an EV to be successful in the marketplace, it must be able to travel longer distances (i.e. over 300 miles on a single charge).

A team of researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology, including ECS fellow Meilin Liu, has recently created a nanofiber that they believe could enable the next generation of rechargeable batteries, and with it, EVs. The recently published research describes the team’s development of double perovskite nanofibers that can be used as highly efficient catalysts in fast oxygen evolution reactions. Improvements in this key process could open new possibilities for metal-air batteries.

“Metal-air batteries, such as those that could power electric vehicles in the future, are able to store a lot of energy in a much smaller space than current batteries,” Liu says. “The problem is that the batteries lack a cost-efficient catalyst to improve their efficiency. This new catalyst will improve that process.”

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Renewable liquid fuelA team of researchers from Texas A&M University is looking to take the negative impact of excessive levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and turn it into a positive with renewable hydrocarbon fuels.

Greenhouse gasses trap heat in the atmosphere and therefore impact global temperatures, making the planet warmer. Carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, is emitted into the atmosphere upon burning fossil fuels, solid waste, and wood products, and makes up 81 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

“We’re essentially trying to convert CO2 and water, with the use of the sun, into solar fuels in a process called artificial photosynthesis,” says Ying Li, principal investigator and ECS member. “In this process, the photo-catalyst material has some unique properties and acts as a semiconductor, absorbing the sunlight which excites the electrons in the semiconductor and gives them the electric potential to reduce water and CO2 into carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which together can be converted to liquid hydrocarbon fuels.”

This from Texas A&M University:

The first step of the process involves capturing CO2 from emissions sources such as power plants that contribute to one-third of the global carbon emissions. As of yet, there is no technology capable of capturing the CO2, and at the same time re-converting it back into a fuel source that isn’t expensive. The material, which is a hybrid of titanium oxide and magnesium oxide, uses the magnesium oxide to absorb the CO2 and the titanium oxide to act as the photo-catalyst, generating electrons through sunlight that interact with the absorbed CO2 and water to generate the fuel.

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John Goodenough may be 94-years old, but he shows no sign of slowing down. Now, the co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery has developed the first all-solid-state battery cells that could result in safer, longer-lasting batteries for everything from electric cars to grid energy storage.

“Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted,” Goodenough says in a statement. “We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today’s batteries.”

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New Options for Grid Energy Storage

Energy storageResearchers from Oregon State university have developed the first battery that uses only hydronium ions as the charge carrier, which the team believes could yield promising results for the future of sustainable energy storage.

Particularly, the researchers are interested in the area of stationary storage. This type of energy storage primarily refers to on-grid storage to harness power from intermittent sources, such as wind or solar, for later use in general distribution. Stationary energy storage is vital for the energy landscape to transition to more renewable types of energy because it will allow the electrical grid to continue to function when the sun goes down and the wind stops blowing.

This from Oregon State University:

Hydronium, also known as H3O+, is a positively charged ion produced when a proton is added to a water molecule. Researchers in the OSU College of Science have demonstrated that hydronium ions can be reversibly stored in an electrode material consisting of perylenetetracarboxylic dianhydridem, or PTCDA.

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GridA new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicts that as climate change continues to accelerate average temperatures, electrical grids may be unable to meet peak energy needs by the end of the century.

The electrical grid is the central component of energy distribution and consumption. In order to upgrade this massive infrastructure to meet increasing demands, the researchers behind the study estimate nearly $180 billion would have to be invested in the U.S. grid.

This from the study:

As the electricity grid is built to endure maximum load, our findings have significant implications for the construction of costly peak generating capacity.

Read the full paper.

On top of acknowledging the correlation between increasingly hot days and higher demand for electricity (i.e. increased use of air conditioners and other cooling units), the study also acknowledges how the grid could react to this extra demand for electricity during peak hours of the day.

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