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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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.

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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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EnergyBill Gates is taking climate change head on with his newly formed Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund. Gates is leading the fund along with a network of investors worth $170 billion, including Virgin’s Richard Branson and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

BEV will donate more than $1 billion into clean energy innovation projects over the next 20 years, focusing on its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Anything that leads to cheap, clean, reliable energy we’re open-minded to,” Gates says.

This move by Gates comes after his commitment last year to personally invest an additional $1 billion into clean energy.

However, this move will shift Gates away from his home turf of information technology.

“People think you can just put $50 million in and wait two years and then you know what you got,” Gates says. “In this energy space, that’s not true at all.”

A driving force behind the fund is to take innovative new technologies from the lab to the marketplace. Currently, the federal government funds a huge percentage of fundamental research efforts in fields such as energy storage, which are the subsequently commercialized by private investors.

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Flow batteryA team of researchers at Case Western Reserve University is building a flow battery prototype to provide cleaner, cheaper power.

The team, co-led by ECS member Bob Savinell, is working to scale up the technology in order develop a practical, efficient energy storage device that can store excess electricity and potentially augment the grid in light of a shift toward renewables.

With a $1.17 million federal grant, the team has started to build a 1-kilowatt prototype with enough power to run various, high-powered household devices for six hours.

“Intermittent energy sources, such as solar and wind, combined with traditional sources of coal and nuclear power, are powering the grid. To meet peak demand, we often use less-efficient coal or gas-powered turbines,” says Savinell, ECS Fellow and editor of the Journal of The Electrochemical Society. “But if we can store excess energy and make it available at peak use, we can increase the overall efficiency and decrease the amount of carbon dioxide emitted and lower the cost of electricity.”

One of the biggest barriers preventing the large-scale use of electrochemical energy storage devices has been the cost. To address this, Savinell and his team have been developing the flow battery with cheaper materials, such as iron and water.

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ETDNomination Deadline: September 1, 2016

The ECS Energy Technology Division invites you to nominate qualified candidate(s) for the following division awards.

Energy Technology Division Research Award: established in 1992 to encourage excellence in energy related research and to encourage publication in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society.

Energy Technology Division Supramaniam Srinivasan Young Investigator Award: established in in 2011 to recognize and reward an outstanding young researcher in the field of energy technology.

Energy Technology Division Graduate Student Award: established in 2012 to recognize and reward promising young engineers and scientists in fields pertaining to this Division.

Award recipients will all be asked to present a lecture to the Energy Technology Division at the 231st ECS biannual meeting in May/June, 2017 in New Orleans, LA. Explore the full award details on the ECS web site, paying keen attention to the specific application requirements prior to completing the electronic application.

P.S. Energy Technology Division Awards are part of ECS Honors & Awards Program, one that has recognized professional and volunteer achievement within our multi-disciplinary sciences for decades. Learn more about various forms of ECS recognition and those who share the spotlight as past award winners.

New research from the University of Washington is opening another avenue in the quest for better batteries and fuel cells. But this research is not a breakthrough in efficiency or longevity, rather a tool to more closely analyze how batteries work.

While we’ve come a long way from the voltaic pile of the 1800s, there is still much work to be done in the field of energy storage to meet modern day needs. In a society that is looking for ways to power electric vehicles and implement large scale grid energy storage for renewables, batteries and fuel cells have never been more important.

A research team from the University of Washington – including ECS members Stuart B. Adler and Timothy C. Geary – believes that these improvements will likely have to happen at the nanoscale. But in order to improve batteries and fuel cells at that microscopic level, we must first understand and see how they function.

[MORE: Read the full journal article.]

The newly developed probe offers a window for researchers to understand how batteries and fuel cells really work.

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Floatovoltaics

Image: Kyocera

A joint venture between two Japanese companies has embarked on building the world’s largest floating solar project.

The project is estimated to harvest 16,170 megawatt hours per year – enough to power around 4,970 households.

Not only will the floating solar farm – which will consist of 50,904 panels – produce a large amount of renewable energy, it will also play a major role in offsetting over 8,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually (the equivalent of 19,000 barrels of oil).

Japan is making the move to “floatovoltaics” due to the lack of open land suitable for solar farms, but plentiful water surfaces. Proponents believe floating solar farms will be cheaper to produce than their land counterparts due to less strict regulations held on water surfaces.

Powering Homes with Tofu

Energy comes in many forms. From solar to wind, there are an abundance of energy technologies available today. But one village in Indonesia is using on very different, very unique product to power their homes: Tofu.

The remote Kalisari village in Indonesia has a vibrant tofu producing industry (over 150 tofu businesses, to be exact). To produce this tofu, a lot of water is required. To make just over two pounds of tofu, some nine gallons of water is required. That water, inevitably, transforms into wastewater and it typically tossed into a nearby drainage system.

But the village has found a way to make that waste reusable in the form of energy. By treating the wastewater with a specific type of bacteria, biogas can be produced. The clean, renewable energy can be pumped directly into households.

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