Just a few weeks after France vowed to get gasoline and diesel powered cars off the road by 2040, Australia has joined in on the conversation of transportation transformation. According to a statement, Queensland is looking to kick off an electric vehicle revolution with the implementation of an “electric super highway.”

The highway will incorporate 18 towns and cities in Australia. Officials expect the highway to be completed within the next six months, stretching 1,240 miles along the Queensland’s east coast loaded with 18 fast-charging stations that can charge a car in 30 minutes, allowing electric vehicle drivers to make it from the state’s southern border to the far north.

“EVs can provide not only a reduced fuel cost for Queenslanders, but an environmentally-friendly transport option, particularly when charged from renewable energy,” says Environment Minister and Acting Main Roads Minister Steven Miles. “The Queensland Electric Super Highway has the potential to revolutionize the way we travel around Queensland in the future.”

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By: Amy Myers Jaffe, University of California, Davis and Lewis Fulton, University of California, Davis

Electric VehiclesWhen will cars powered by gas-guzzling internal combustion engines become obsolete? Not as soon as it seems, even with the latest automotive news out of Europe.

First, Volvo announced it would begin to phase out the production of cars that run solely on gasoline or diesel by 2019 by only releasing new models that are electric or plug-in hybrids. Then, France and the U.K. declared they would ban sales of gas and diesel-powered cars by 2040. Underscoring this trend is data from Norway, as electric models amounted to 42 percent of Norwegian new car sales in June.

European demand for oil to propel its passenger vehicles has been falling for years. Many experts expect a sharper decline in the years ahead as the shift toward electric vehicles spreads across the world. And that raises questions about whether surging electric vehicle sales will ultimately cause the global oil market, which has grown on average by 1 to 2 percent a year for decades and now totals 96 million barrels per day, to decline after hitting a ceiling.

Energy experts call this concept “peak oil demand.” We are debating when and if this will occur.

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Solar PanelResearchers have created a concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) system with embedded microtracking that is capable of producing 50 percent more energy per day than the standard silicon solar cells.

“Solar cells used to be expensive, but now they’re getting really cheap,” says Chris Giebink, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Penn State.

“As a result, the solar cell is no longer the dominant cost of the energy it produces. The majority of the cost increasingly lies in everything else—the inverter, installation labor, permitting fees, etc.—all the stuff we used to neglect,” he says.

This changing economic landscape has put a premium on high efficiency. In contrast to silicon solar panels, which currently dominate the market at 15 to 20 percent efficiency, concentrating photovoltaics focus sunlight onto smaller, but much more efficient solar cells like those used on satellites, to enable overall efficiencies of 35 to 40 percent.

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EnergyIn an effort to expand South Australia’s renewable energy supply, the state has looked to business magnate Elon Musk to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery. The goal of the project is to deliver a grid-scale battery with the ability to stabilize intermittency issues in the area as well as reduce energy prices.

An energy grid is the central component of energy generation and usage. By changing the type of energy that powers that grid in moving from fossil fuels toward more renewable sources, the grid itself changes. Traditional electrical grids demand consistency, using fossil fuels to control production for demand. However, renewable sources such as wind and solar provide intermittency issues that traditional fossil fuels do not. Researchers must look at how we can deliver energy to the electrical grid when the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing. This is where energy storage systems, such as batteries, play a pivotal role.

In South Australia, Musk’s battery is intended to sustain 100 megawatts of power and store that energy for 129 megawatt hours. To put it in perspective, that is enough energy to power 30,000 homes and, according to Musk, will be three times as powerful as the world’s current largest lithium-ion battery.

Musk hopes to complete the project by December, stating that “It’s a fundamental efficiency improvement to the power grid, and it’s really quite necessary and quite obvious considering a renewable energy future.”

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Researchers from Argonne National Laboratory and Oregon State University have developed new cathode architecture for lithium-sulfur batteries. The team, led by ECS member Khalil Amine, incorporated graphene and sulfide nanoparticles to improve electrical conductivity in the promising lithium-sulfur batteries.

Lithium-sulfur batteries hold major promise as researchers explore the range of energy storage technologies. With an extremely high theoretical energy density, these batteries have the potential to store up to five times as much energy as today’s best lithium-ion battery.

But there are barriers preventing that theoretical density from becoming an actual density. Namely, the discharge products of sulfur electrodes and cycling intermediates produced.

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SolarResearchers have developed a new kind of semiconductor alloy capable of capturing the near-infrared light located on the edge of the visible light spectrum.

Easier to manufacture and at least 25 percent less costly than previous formulations, it’s believed to be the world’s most cost-effective material that can capture near-infrared light—and is compatible with the gallium arsenide semiconductors often used in concentrator photovoltaics.

Concentrator photovoltaics gather and focus sunlight onto small, high-efficiency solar cells made of gallium arsenide or germanium semiconductors. They’re on track to achieve efficiency rates of over 50 percent, while conventional flat-panel silicon solar cells top out in the mid-20s.

“Flat-panel silicon is basically maxed out in terms of efficiency,” says Rachel Goldman, a professor of materials science and engineering, as well as physics at the University of Michigan, whose lab developed the alloy. “The cost of silicon isn’t going down and efficiency isn’t going up. Concentrator photovoltaics could power the next generation.”

Varieties of concentrator photovoltaics exist today. They are made of three different semiconductor alloys layered together. Sprayed onto a semiconductor wafer in a process called molecular-beam epitaxy—a bit like spray painting with individual elements—each layer is only a few microns thick. The layers capture different parts of the solar spectrum; light that gets through one layer is captured by the next.

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powerPADIn its first “Science for Solving Society’s Problems Challenge,” ECS partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to leverage the brainpower of the many scientists in electrochemistry and solid state science and technology that regularly attend ECS meetings. From this project, seven presentations were selected, with a total of $360,000 awarded to pursue research projects addressing world sanitation problems.

The powerPAD, a collaboration among Neus Sabaté, Juan Pablo Esquivel, and Erik Kjeang, was one of the projects selected to receive $50,000 in funding. Now, just over two years later, the researchers are discussing their findings and how their work has transformed over time.

“As originally proposed, the developed battery is completely made of organic materials such as cellulose, carbon electrodes, beeswax and organic redox species, and can be fabricated by affordable methods with low energy consumption,” Esquivel told ECS in an email. “After it’s used, the battery can be disposed of in an organic waste container or even discarded in the field, because it biodegrades by the action of microorganisms present in soils and water bodies. In the article we have shown that this biodegradable battery can substitute for a Li-ion coin cell battery to run a portable water monitoring device. The battery is activated upon the addition of a drop of the same water sample that is analyzed.”

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By: Erin Baker, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Renewable grideThe U.S. Department of Energy spends US$3-$4 billion per year on applied energy research. These programs seek to provide clean and reliable energy and improve our energy security by driving innovation and helping companies bring new clean energy sources to market. The Conversation

President Trump’s detailed budget request reportedly will ask Congress to cut funding for the Energy Department’s clean energy programs by almost 70 percent, from $2 billion this year to $636 million in 2018. Clean energy advocates and environmental groups strongly oppose such drastic cuts, but some reductions are likely. Where should DOE focus its limited funding to produce the greatest energy and environmental benefits?

My colleagues Laura Diaz Anadon of Cambridge University and Valentina Bosetti of Bocconi University and I recently reviewed 15 studies that asked this question. We found a number of clean energy technologies in electricity and transportation that will help us slow climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, even at lower levels of investment.

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CellphoneThe development of the lithium-ion battery has helped enable the modern day electronics revolution, making possible everything from cellphones to laptops to electric vehicles and even grid-scale energy storage.

However, those batteries have limited lifespans. Battery expert Daniel P. Abraham is looking to address that.

“As your cellphone battery ages, you notice that you have to plug it in more often,” says Abraham, ECS member and scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. “Over a period of time, you are not able to store as much charge in the battery, and that is the process we call capacity fade.”

Abraham is a co-author of an open access paper recently published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society, “Transition Metal Dissolution, Ion Migration, Electrocatalytic Reduction and Capacity Loss in Lithium-Ion Full Cells,” which addresses the question of why your battery doesn’t age well.

A majority of today’s electronic devices are powered by the lithium-ion battery. In order for the battery to store and release energy, lithium ions move back and forth between the positive and negative electrodes through an electrolyte.  In theory, the ions could travel back and forth an infinite number of times, resulting in a battery that lasts forever.

But that’s not what happens in the batteries that power your laptops and your electric vehicles. According to Abraham, unwanted side reactions often occur as ions move between the electrodes, resulting in batteries that lose capacity over time.

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By: Joshua D. Rhodes, University of Texas at Austin; Michael E. Webber, University of Texas at Austin; Thomas Deetjen, University of Texas at Austin, and Todd Davidson, University of Texas at Austin

SolarU.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry in April requested a study to assess the effect of renewable energy policies on nuclear and coal-fired power plants. The Conversation

Some energy analysts responded with confusion, as the subject has been extensively studied by grid operators and the Department of Energy’s own national labs. Others were more critical, saying the intent of the review is to favor the use of nuclear and coal over renewable sources.

So, are wind and solar killing coal and nuclear? Yes, but not by themselves and not for the reasons most people think. Are wind and solar killing grid reliability? No, not where the grid’s technology and regulations have been modernized. In those places, overall grid operation has improved, not worsened.

To understand why, we need to trace the path of electrons from the wall socket back to power generators and the markets and policies that dictate that flow. As energy scholars based in Texas – the national leader in wind – we’ve seen these dynamics play out over the past decade, including when Perry was governor.

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