5 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Sustainability is at the core of the research that is published in the ECS Digital Library. Electrochemists and solid state scientists and engineers are our best hope of developing the technologies that will make a difference. They are the masterminds behind the lithium batteries that run all of our mobile devices, they developed the first fuel cells and photovoltaics, and they are on the cutting edge of current research in generating and storing energy from renewable sources like solar, biofuels, even waste papaya and tomatoes. From creating more efficient systems to discovering new energy sources, electrochemists and solid state scientists are behind the most critical innovations in sustainability and renewable energy. That is why, we at ECS are excited to celebrate Earth Day this weekend.

If you still need ideas on how to spend the day, here are the top five things to do:

1. Volunteer

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help clean up a local park, beach, or river! What better way to show your appreciate for the Earth than to help her look her best? This will also help ensure the local plants and animals live a healthier life. Electrochemists and solid state scientists and engineers are tackling waste and improving living conditions around the world through novel reuse systems.

ECS member, Dr. Boryann Liaw has turned waste papaya into sugar-air batteries. Electrochemists are turning food waste like tomatoes and bread mold into energy sources for batteries and fuel cells.

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HydrogenResearchers at KTH have successfully tested a new material that can be used for cheap and large-scale production of hydrogen – a promising alternative to fossil fuel.

Precious metals are the standard catalyst material used for extracting hydrogen from water. The problem is these materials – such as platinum, ruthenium and iridium – are too costly to make the process viable. A team from KTH Royal Institute of Technology recently announced a breakthrough that could change the economics of a hydrogen economy.

Led by Licheng Sun, professor of molecular electronics at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, the researchers concluded that precious metals can be replaced by a much cheaper combination of nickel, iron and copper (NiFeCu).

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By: Bob Marcotte, University of Rochester 

Electric GridIn order to power entire communities with clean energy, such as solar and wind power, a reliable backup storage system is needed to provide energy when the sun isn’t shining and the wind doesn’t blow.

One possibility is to use any excess solar- and wind-based energy to charge solutions of chemicals that can subsequently be stored for use when sunshine and wind are scarce. At that time, the chemical solutions of opposite charge can be pumped across solid electrodes, thus creating an electron exchange that provides power to the electrical grid.

The key to this technology, called a redox flow battery, is finding chemicals that can not only “carry” sufficient charge, but also be stored without degrading for long periods, thereby maximizing power generation and minimizing the costs of replenishing the system.

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BatteryA collaborative team of researchers from Shinshu University in Japan have found a new way to curb some of the potential dangers posed by lithium ion batteries.

The team was led by Susumu Arai, a professor of the department of materials chemistry and head of Division for Application of Carbon Materials at the Institute of Carbon Science and Technology at Shinshu University.

These batteries, typically used in electric vehicles and smart grids, could help society realize a low-carbon future, according the authors. The problem is that while lithium could theoretically conduct electricity at high capacity, lithium also results in what is known as thermal runaway during the charge and discharge cycle.

“Lithium metal is inherently unsuitable for use in rechargeable batteries due to posing certain safety risks,” said Arai. “Repeated lithium deposition/dissolution during charge/discharge can cause serious accidents due to the deposition of lithium dendrites that penetrate the separator and induce internal short-circuiting.”

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Engineers have, for the first time, come up with a way to safely charge a smartphone wirelessly using a laser.

A narrow, invisible beam from a laser emitter can deliver charge to a smartphone sitting across a room—and potentially charge the phone’s battery as quickly as a standard USB cable.

To accomplish this, the researchers mounted a thin power cell to the back of a smartphone, which charges the smartphone using power from the laser.

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Perspective on Fuel Cells

Fuel Cell CarFuel cells play a major role in creating a clean energy future, with a broad set of applications ranging from powering buildings to electrifying transportation. But, as with all emerging technologies, researchers have faced many barriers in developing affordable, efficient fuel cells and creating a way to cleanly produce the hydrogen that powers them.

In a new Perspective article, published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society, researchers are aiming to tackle a fundamental debate in key reactions behind fuel cells and hydrogen production, which, if solved, could significantly bolster clean energy technologies.

In the open access article, “Perspective—Towards Establishing Apparent Hydrogen Binding Energy as the Descriptor for Hydrogen Oxidation/Evolution Reactions,” Yushan Yan and his coauthors from the University of Delaware provide an authoritative overview of work done in the areas of hydrogen oxidation and evolution, present key questions for debate, and provide paths for future innovation in the field.

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SolarResearchers have proposed three different methods for providing consistent power in 139 countries using 100 percent renewable energy.

The inconsistencies of power produced by wind, water, and sunlight and the continuously fluctuating demand for energy often hinder renewable energy solutions. In a new paper, which appears in Renewable Energy, the researchers outline several solutions to making clean power reliable enough for all energy sectors—transportation; heating and cooling; industry; and agriculture, forestry, and fishing—in 20 world regions after all sectors have converted to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

The researchers previously developed roadmaps for transitioning 139 countries to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2050 with 80 percent of that transition completed by 2030. The present study examines ways to keep the grid stable with these roadmaps.

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By: Naga Srujana Goteti, Rochester Institute of Technology; Eric Hittinger, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Eric Williams, Rochester Institute of Technology

Renewable grideCarbon-free energy: Is the answer blowing in the wind? Perhaps, but the wind doesn’t always blow, nor does the sun always shine. The energy generated by wind and solar power is intermittent, meaning that the generated electricity goes up and down according to the weather.

But the output from the electricity grid must be controllable to match the second-by-second changing demand from consumers. So the intermittency of wind and solar power is an operational challenge for the electricity system.

Energy storage is a widely acknowledged solution to the problem of intermittent renewables. The idea is that storage charges up when the wind is blowing, or the sun is shining, then discharges later when the energy is needed. Storage for the grid can be a chemical battery like those we use in electronic devices, but it can also take the form of pumping water up a hill to a reservoir and generating electricity when letting it flow back down, or storing and discharging compressed air in an underground cavern.

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By: Joshua M. Pearce, Michigan Technological University

SolarFalling costs for solar power have led to an explosive growth in residential, commercial and utility-scale solar use over the past decade. The levelized cost of solar electricity using imported solar panels – that is, the solar electricity cost measured over the life of the panels – has dropped in cost so much that it is lower than electricity from competing sources like coal in most of America.

However, the Trump administration on Jan. 22 announced a 30 percent tariff on solar panel imports into the U.S. This decision is expected to slow both the deployment of large-scale solar farms in the United States and the rate of American solar job growth (which is 12 times faster than the rest of the economy). The tariff increases the cost of solar panels by about 10 to 15 cents per watt. That could reduce utility-scale solar installations, which have come in under $1 per watt, by about 11 percent.

The tariffs may lead China and other countries to appeal the move with the World Trade Organization. But could innovations in solar power compensate for tariffs on panels?

In my research, I have found that one solar technology – previously largely ignored because of low-cost photovoltaics, or PV, panels – could make a comeback: the humble mirror, or booster reflector, as it is known in the technical literature.

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By: Joshua D. Rhodes, University of Texas at Austin

Solar panelsEditor’s note: On Jan. 22, 2018, the Trump administration announced plans to impose punitive duties on solar panels imported from abroad. This decision came in response to a complaint filed by two solar companies, but much of the industry opposes the action, which trade groups say will increase the cost of solar projects and depress demand. To illustrate what’s at stake, energy scholar Joshua Rhodes provides some context on the U.S. solar industry and its opportunities and challenges.

How big is the U.S. solar industry, and what is its growth trajectory?

The U.S. solar industry generated US$154 billion in economic activity in 2016, including direct sales, wages, salaries, benefits, taxes and fees. Its revenues have grown from $42 million in 2007 to $210 million in 2017.

About 25 percent of total new power plant capacity installed in 2017 came from solar. Total installed U.S. solar capacity is over 50 gigawatts – the equivalent generating capacity of 50 commercial nuclear reactors.

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