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.”


Instead of batteries, a new cell phone harvests the few microwatts of power it needs from a different source: ambient radio signals or light.

Researchers were also able to make Skype calls using the battery-free phone, demonstrating that the prototype—made of commercial, off-the-shelf components—can receive and transmit speech and communicate with a base station.

“We’ve built what we believe is the first functioning cell phone that consumes almost zero power,” says Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor of computer science & engineering at the University of Washington and coauthor of the paper.

“To achieve the really, really low power consumption that you need to run a phone by harvesting energy from the environment, we had to fundamentally rethink how these devices are designed.”

Researchers eliminated a power-hungry step in most modern cellular transmissions—converting analog signals that convey sound into digital data that a phone can understand. This process consumes so much energy that it’s been impossible to design a phone that can rely on ambient power sources.


BatteryIn an effort to develop a more affordable, plentiful alternative to lithium-ion batteries, researchers from Purdue University are pursuing rechargeable potassium based batteries, demonstrating a way to derive carbon for battery electrodes from old tires.

“With the growth of rechargeable batteries for electronic devices, electric vehicles and power grid applications, there has been growing concern about the sustainability and cost of lithium,” says Vilas G. Pol, an associate professor in the Davidson School of Chemical Engineering at Purdue University and former member of ECS. “In the last decade, there has been rapid progress in the investigation of metal-ion batteries beyond lithium, such as sodium and potassium.”

Researchers in the field believe that potassium based batteries show potential for large-scale grid storage due to their low cost and the abundance of the element itself.

“The intermittent energy generated from solar and wind requires new energy storage systems for the grid,” Pol says. “However, the limited global availability of lithium resources and high cost of extraction hinder the application of lithium-ion batteries for such large-scale energy storage. This demands alternative energy storage devices that are based on earth-abundant elements.”


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.


Electric VehiclesUsing energy stored in the batteries of electric vehicles to power large buildings not only provides electricity for the building, but also increases the lifespan of the vehicle batteries, new research shows.

Researchers have demonstrated that vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology can take enough energy from idle electric vehicle (EV) batteries to be pumped into the grid and power buildings—without damaging the batteries.

This new research into the potentials of V2G shows that it could actually improve vehicle battery life by around ten percent over a year.

For two years, Kotub Uddin, a senior research fellow at the University of Warwick’s Warwick Manufacturing Group, and his team analyzed some of the world’s most advanced lithium ion batteries used in commercially available EVs—and created one of the most accurate battery degradation models existing in the public domain—to predict battery capacity and power fade over time, under various aging acceleration factors—including temperature, state of charge, current, and depth of discharge.


Ultra-low Temperature Batteries

BatteryA new development in electrolyte chemistry, led by ECS member Shirley Meng, is expanding lithium-ion battery performance, allowing devices to operate at temperatures as low as -60° Celsius.

Currently, lithium-ion batteries stop operating around -20° Celsius. By developing an electrolyte that allows the battery to operate at a high efficiency at a much colder temperature, researchers believe it could allow electric vehicles in cold climates to travel further on a single charge. Additionally, the technology could allow battery-powered devices, such as WiFi drones, to function in extreme cold conditions.

(MORE: Read ECS’s interview with Meng, “The Future of Batteries.”)

This from UC San Diego:

The new electrolytes also enable electrochemical capacitors to run as low as -80 degrees Celsius — their current low temperature limit is -40 degrees Celsius. While the technology enables extreme low temperature operation, high performance at room temperature is still maintained. The new electrolyte chemistry could also increase the energy density and improve the safety of lithium batteries and electrochemical capacitors.


Unpiloted underwater vehicles (UUVs) are used for a wide array of tasks, including exploring ship wreckage, mapping the ocean floor, and military applications. Now, a team from MIT has developed an aluminum-water power system that will allow UUVs to become safer, more durable, and have ten times more range compared to UUVs powered by lithium-ion batteries.

“Everything people want to do underwater should get a lot easier,” says Ian Salmon Mckay, co-inventor of the device. “We’re off to conquer the oceans.”

The aluminum-water power system is a direct response to lithium-ion batteries, which have a limited energy density causing service ships to chaperone UUVs while at sea, recharging the batteries when necessary. Additionally, UUV lithium-ion batteries have to be encased in expensive metal pressure vessels, making the battery both short-lived and pricey for use in UUVs.

This from MIT:

In contrast, [Open Water Power’s] power system is safer, cheaper, and longer-lasting. It consists of a alloyed aluminum, a cathode alloyed with a combination of elements (primarily nickel), and an alkaline electrolyte that’s positioned between the electrodes.


Carbon dioxideA new study describes the mechanics behind an early key step in artificially activating carbon dioxide so that it can rearrange itself to become the liquid fuel ethanol.

Solving this chemical puzzle may one day lead to cleaner air and renewable fuel.

The scientists’ ultimate goal is to convert harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere into beneficial liquid fuel. Currently, it is possible to make fuels out of CO2—plants do it all the time—but researchers are still trying to crack the problem of artificially producing the fuels at large enough scales to be useful.

Theorists at Caltech used quantum mechanics to predict what was happening at atomic scales, while experimentalists at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab) used X-ray studies to analyze the steps of the chemical reaction.

“One of our tasks is to determine the exact sequence of steps for breaking apart water and CO2 into atoms and piecing them back together to form ethanol and oxygen,” says William Goddard professor of chemistry, materials science, and applied physics, who led the Caltech team. “With these new studies, we have better ideas about how to do that.”


BatteryIn an effort to increase security on airplanes, the U.S. government is considering expanding a ban on lithium-ion based devices from cabins of commercial flights, opting instead for passengers to transport laptops and other electronic devices in their checked luggage in the cargo department. However, statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration suggest that storing those devices in the cargo area could increase the risk of fires.

The FAA reports that batteries were responsible for nine airline fires in 2014. The number grew to 16 in 2015 and further to 31 in 2016. Most fires were able to be extinguished by passengers.
According to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, the U.S. government is considering expanding the ban to 71 additional airports.

(READ: “What’s Next for Batteries?” with Robert Kostecki.)

Mainstream concern regarding lithium-ion battery safety became widespread in 2016 when videos of hoverboards exploding began to emerge. Since then, news reports of smartphone and laptop batteries have emerged.


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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