Researchers have found a way to use rust to build a solar-powered battery.Image: Flickr

Researchers have found a way to use rust to build a solar-powered battery.
Image: Diego Torres Silvestre

What happens when corrosion meets energy? For researchers at Stanford University, the marriage of those two uniquely electrochemical topics could yield an answer to large-scale solar power storage.

The question of how to store solar power when the sun goes down has been on the forefront of scientific discussion. While electrochemical energy storage devices exist, they are typically either too expensive to work on a large-scale or not efficient enough.

Building a solar-powered battery

New research shows that metal oxides, such as rust, can be fashioned into solar cells capable of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. The research could be looked at revelatory, especially when considering large-scale storage solutions, because of its novel heat attributes.

While we knew the promising solar power potential of metal oxides before, we believed that the efficiency of cells crafted from these materials would be very low. The new study, however, disproves that theory.

The team showed that as the cells grow hotter, efficiency levels increase. This is a huge benefit when it comes to large-scale, solar energy conversion and it the polar opposite of the traditional silicon solar cell.

“We’ve shown that inexpensive, abundant, and readily processed metal oxides could become better producers of electricity than was previously supposed,” says William Chueh, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering.

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Chemically Storing Solar Power

Solar Chemical Energy

UV light can now be stored at much higher temperatures thanks to the development of a photo-electrochemical cell.
Image: Advanced Functional Materials

A new photo-electrochemical cell has been developed with the potential to chemically store the sun’s energy at high temperatures.

It’s a concept pulled directly from nature: plants absorb sunlight and store it chemically. While the concept is simple, replicating it on a large scale has proven quite difficult.

Current photovoltaic technology can convert sunlight to electricity, but as temperatures increase, the solar cell efficiency consequently decreases.

Storage at high temperatures

The new concept developed by scientists at Vienna University of Technology looks to overcome these issues. Through a combination of specialized new materials, researchers were able to combine high temperature photovoltaics with an electrochemical cell.

From that point, the sun’s rays can be directly used to pump oxygen ions through a solid oxide electrolyte and the UV light is subsequently stored chemically. This breakthrough allows for the system to work at higher temperatures than ever before.

Mirroring a concept from nature

“This would allow us to concentrate sunlight with mirrors and build large-scale plants with a high rate of efficiency,” said Georg Brunauer, lead author of the study. “Our cell consists of two different parts – a photoelectric part on top and an electrochemical part below. In the upper layer, ultraviolet light creates free charge carriers, just like in a standard solar cell.”

Researchers hope this could lead the splitting water and the production of hydrogen.

“We want to understand the origin of these effects by carrying out a few more experiments, and we hope that we will be able to improve our materials even further,” Brunauer said. “This goal is within reach, now that we have shown that the cell is working.”

Krishnan Rajeshwar

Krishnan Rajeshwar, ECS senior vice president and co-founder of UTA’s Center for Renewable Energy, Science and Technology

New research headed by ECS senior vice president Krishnan Rajeshwar has developed “green fuels” to power cars, home appliances, and even impact critical energy storage devices.

Solar fuels addressing global issues

Rajeshwar’s research works to address critical global and environmental issue by creating an inexpensive way to generate fuel from harmful emissions such as carbon dioxide.

(MORE: Read additional publications by Rajeshwar.)

The University of Texas at Arlington professor and 35 year ECS member has developed a novel high-performing material for cells that harness sunlight to split carbon dioxide and water into usable fuels like methanol and hydrogen gas.

From harmful to helpful

“Technologies that simultaneously permit us to remove greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide while harnessing and storing the energy of sunlight as fuel are at the forefront of current research,” Rajeshwar said. “Our new material could improve the safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of solar fuel generation, which is not yet economically viable.”

(MORE: Read the full study as published in ChemElectroChem Europe.)

This from University of Texas at Arlington:

The new hybrid platform uses ultra-long carbon nanotube networks with a homogeneous coating of copper oxide nanocrystals. It demonstrates both the high electrical conductivity of carbon nanotubes and the photocathode qualities of copper oxide, efficiently converting light into the photocurrents needed for the photoelectrochemical reduction process.

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penn-state-materialA new material developed at Penn State could mean big things for everything from smartphones to solar cells.

For over 60 years, the main material used in transparent conductor display has been indium tin oxide. With over 90 percent of the display market utilizing this material, it has left very little room for competitor materials.

While indium tin oxide has provided solid efficiency levels at a decent price point for the past half decades, expenses have recently skyrocketed on this material.

Current electronic devices, such as smart phones and tables, are primarily priced according to display material costs. Displays and touch screen modules make up 40 percent of the cost to produce a device, greatly outpacing other essential pieces such as chips and processors. It hasn’t been until now that researchers have found a material that could potential replace indium tin oxide and potentially reduce device costs.

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Quantum Dots Make Infrared Light Visible

565db23d4c4abQuantum dots may be just the thing to take renewable energy technology to the next level.

A team from MIT has recently developed a double film coating that has the ability to transform infrared light into visible light.

While that may not outwardly seem like a huge gain for the energy technology sector, the development has the potential to vastly improve efforts in renewable. Essentially, this research could help increase the amount of light a solar cell could capture. By capturing and using protons below their normal bandgap and thus converting the typically unused infrared light into use visible light, researchers could see efficiency levels of solar panels rise.

The researchers went about this development by placing two films on top of a plate of glass. The bottom film was comprised by using a type of quantum dot, while the top layer was made up of an organic molecule.

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The fifth international Electrochemical Energy Summit recently took place during the 228th ECS Meeting. From environmental damage to economic implications to political involvement, the summit served as a forum for the top researchers in energy technology to discuss the most pressing issues in renewable energy and inspire technological solutions.

During the summit, we gathered some key speakers from energy research institutions across the U.S. to talk about challenges in energy storage, roadblocks for implementing renewables, and the role government plays in changing the energy infrastructure.

The podcast is moderated by ECS vice president Krishnan Rajeshwar, with guests David Wesolowski, The Fluid Interface Reactions, Structures and Transport (FIRST) Energy Frontier Research Center; M. Stanley Whittingham, NorthEast Center for Chemical Energy Storage (NECCES); Gary Rubloff, Nanostructures for Electrical Energy Storage (NEES) Energy Frontier Research Center; and Paul Fenter, Center for Electrochemical Energy Science (CEES).

Listen and download this episode and others for free through the iTunes Store, SoundCloud, or our RSS Feed. You can also find us on Stitcher.

Addressing Critical Issues in Renewable Energy

Franklin Orr, U.S. Under Secretary for Science and Energy, delivering the keynote address at the fifth international ECS Electrochemical Energy Sumit.

Franklin Orr, U.S. Under Secretary for Science and Energy, delivering the keynote address at the fifth international ECS Electrochemical Energy Summit.

Today kicked off the fifth international ECS Electrochemical Energy Summit. ECS President Dan Scherson opened the summit by welcoming attendees and putting these critical topics in renewable energy into perspective.

“The research you are doing directly addresses some of the major issues people are facing around the world,” says Scherson. “Our work is about the sustainability of the planet.”

Since its establishment in Boston in 2011, the summit has grown substantially in magnitude. This year, the keynote speaker was Franklin Orr, U.S. Under Secretary for Science and Energy. Among his many responsibilities, Orr oversees the Department of Energy’s (DOE) offices of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, as well as the office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

The Future of Renewable Energy

“We’re really looking for a cost effective energy system, security for energy resources, and—even more importantly now than it was a few years ago—the environmental security,” says Orr.

Orr discussed the Quadrennial Technology Review, a recently published work by the DOE. Focusing on the energy infrastructure of the United States, the report seeks to find ways to modernize and make more secure the energy infrastructure.

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Harry Atwater is working on the forefront of alternative energy technologies. From his research in solar fuels to his innovation in photovoltaics, Atwater’s work addresses the energy crisis and strives to provide a more secure, sustainable future.

Currently, Atwater is the Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP). You can catch Atwater at the fifth international ECS Electrochemical Energy Summit, taking place October 12th through the 14th 2015 in Phoenix, AZ.

Listen and download this episode and others for free through the iTunes Store, SoundCloud, or our RSS Feed. You can also find us on Stitcher.

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Solutions for Storing Green Energy

Research into alternative sources of energy, such as solar and wind, are constantly growing and evolving. The science behind photovoltaics is improving constantly and wind turbines are producing more electrical energy than ever before. However, the question still stands of how we store and deliver this electrical energy to the grid. A few ECS members from Harvard University believe their new flow battery could answer that question.


Building off earlier research, the new and improve flow battery could offer a great solution for the reliability issue of energy sources such as wind and solar based on weather patterns. The batteries could store large amounts of electrical energy that can delivered to commercial and residential establishments even when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

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Development to Boost Solar Cell Usage

new-solar

A working cell from Switzer’s research, with gas evolution.
Image: Sam O’Keefe, Missouri S&T.

In order to satisfy growing energy demands, scientists are looking for ways to develop and deploy a broad range of alternative energy sources that can be both efficient and environmentally friendly. At Missouri University of Science and Technology, a team is working to make clean energy more accessible through the development of a cheap, simple way to split hydrogen and oxygen through a new electrodeposition method.

ECS member and head researcher in the project, Jay Switzer, believes that the new development will produce highly efficient solar cells. He and ECS student member James Hill predict the process will be able to effectively gather solar energy for use as fuel, further increasing the amount of hydrogen available for fuel usage.

“The work helps to solve the problem that solar energy is intermittent,” says Switzer. “Obviously, we cannot have the sun produce energy on one spot the entire day, but our process converts the energy into a form that is more easily stored.”

Electrodeposition for Hydrogen

This from Missouri University of Science and Technology:

Switzer and his team use silicon wafers to absorb solar energy. The silicon is submerged in water, with the front surface exposed to a solar energy simulator and the back surface covered in electrodes to conduct the energy. The silicon has cobalt nano-islands formed onto it using a process called electrodeposition.

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