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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Microbial fuel cell

Image: University illustration / Michael Osadciw

Many researchers agree that microbial fuel cells have a range of promising applications. However, before they can reach widespread applications, researchers need to make them both cheaper and more efficient.

A team of researchers from the University of Rochester believe they’re making progress on that front with the development of a paper electrode.

Microbial fuel cells drive electric current by using bacteria and mirroring bacterial interactions found in nature. In the 21st century, microbial fuel cells found new application in their ability to treat wastewater and harvest energy through anaerobic digestion.

This from University of Rochester:

Until now, most electrodes used in wastewater have consisted of metal (which rapidly corrodes) or carbon felt. While the latter is the less expensive alternative, carbon felt is porous and prone to clogging. Their solution was to replace the carbon felt with paper coated with carbon paste, which is a simple mixture of graphite and mineral oil. The carbon paste-paper electrode is not only cost-effective and easy to prepare; it also outperforms carbon felt.

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Solar-powered Water Purifier

Water purificationIn an effort to purify water, researchers from the University at Buffalo are using carbon-dipped paper to make dirty water drinkable.

Those behind the research believe this new development could be a cheap and efficient way to address a global shortage in drinking water, specifically in developing areas.

(MORE: See what ECS members are doing to address global water and sanitation issues.)

“Using extremely low-cost materials, we have been able to create a system that makes near maximum use of the solar energy during evaporation,” says Qiaoqiang Gan, lead researcher. “At the same time, we are minimizing the amount of heat loss during this process.”

This from University at Buffalo:

The team built a small-scale solar still. The device, which they call a “solar vapor generator,” cleans or desalinates water by using the heat converted from sunlight. Here’s how it works: The sun evaporates the water. During this process, salt, bacteria, or other unwanted elements are left behind as the liquid moves into a gaseous state. The water vapor then cools and returns to a liquid state, where it is collected in a separate container without the salt or contaminants.

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Plastic treeNew technology that mimics the branches and leaves of a cottonwood tree can generate electricity with the help of the wind.

Researchers say that the new technology is not meant to be a replacement for wind turbines, but could offer an alternative electricity source for those looking for small, unobtrusive machines to transform wind into energy.

“The possible advantages here are aesthetics and its smaller scale, which may allow off-grid energy harvesting,” says Michael McCloskey, co-author of the study. “We set out to answer the question of whether you can get useful amounts of electrical power out of something that looks like a plant. The answer is ‘possibly,’ but the idea will require further development.”

On top of efficiency and affordability, consumers are also looking for alternative energy technologies to be aesthetically attractive, as demonstrated in Tesla’s solar roof.

According to McCloskey, cell phone towers in urban locations are sometimes camouflaged as trees to offer better aesthetic properties. The researchers believe that towers such as this, which already host fake leaves, could be greatly improved by implementing this technology to tap energy from the leaves and provide further functionality.

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By: William Messner, Tufts University

Driverless carWhen a May 2016 crash killed the person operating a Tesla Model S driving in Autopilot mode, advocates of autonomous vehicles feared a slowdown in development of self-driving cars.

Instead the opposite has occurred. In August, Ford publicly committed to field self-driving cars by 2021. In September, Uber began picking up passengers with self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, albeit with safety drivers ready to take over.

October saw Tesla itself undeterred by the fatality. The company began producing cars it said had all the hardware needed for autonomous operation; the software will be written and added later. In December, days after Michigan established regulations for testing autonomous vehicles in December, General Motors started doing just that with self-driving Chevy Bolts. And just one day before the end of his term, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx designated 10 research centers as official test sites for automated vehicle systems.

Three of the most significant developments in the industry happened earlier this month. The 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit saw automakers new and old (and their suppliers) show off their plans and innovations in this arena. And the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued its report on the Tesla fatality. Together, they suggest a future filled with driverless cars that are both safer than today’s vehicles and radically different in appearance and comfort.

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ToyotaThe ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship kicked off in 2014, establishing a partnership between The Electrochemical Society and Toyota Research Institute of North America, aimed at funding young scholars pursuing innovative research in green energy technology.

The proposal deadline for the year’s fellowship is Jan. 31, 2017. Apply now!

While you put together your proposals, check out what Patrick Cappillino, one of the fellowship’s inaugural winners, says about his experience with the fellowship and the opportunities it presented.


The Electrochemical Society: Your proposed topic for the ECS Young Investigator Toyota Fellowship was “Mushroom-derived Natural Products as Flow Battery Electrolytes.” What inspired that work?

Patrick Cappillino: This research was inspired by a conversation with a colleague. I was relating the problem of redox instability in flow battery electrolytes. He told me his doctoral work had focused on an interesting molecule called Amavadin, produced by mushrooms, that was extremely stable and easy to make. The lightbulb really went off when we noticed that the starting material was the decomposition product of another flow battery electrolyte that has problems with instability.

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Catalysts

Image: MIT

The future of renewable energy heavily depends on energy storage technologies. At the center of these technologies are oxygen-evaluation reactions, which make possible such processes as water splitting, electrochemical carbon dioxide reduction, and ammonia production.

However, the kinetics of the oxygen-evolution reactions tend to be slow. But metal oxides involved in this process have catalytic activities that vary over several orders of magnitude, with some exhibiting the highest such rates reported to date. The origins of these activates are not well-understood by the scientific community.

A new study from MIT, led by 2016 winner of the Battery Division Research Award, Yang Shao-Horn, shows that in some of these catalysts, the oxygen does not only come from surrounding water molecules – some actually come from within the crystal lattice of the catalyst material itself.

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