Improving Lead Batteries

Photo Credit: Essential Energy Everyday

Lead batteries have been around 1859. They’ve changed our lives, giving us car batteries, standby batteries in case power outages, electric vehicles, and more. Still, despite all this progress, no one really understands the inner workings of lead batteries. According to Essential Energy Everyday, for the last century, lead battery manufacturers have invested much of their research in creating function and production, without fully understanding the underlying chemistry. However, that’s soon said to change as lead batteries are headed for a “high-tech makeover.”

A team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, Advanced Lead Acid Battery Consortium, and Electric Applications have joined forces to realize the potential of a venerable battery technology.

Venkat Srinivasan, director of the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science and ECS member, says this is a beautiful example of how synergy between industry and science can drive innovation. (more…)

Renewable grideThe U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released a report Wednesday night on electricity markets and grid reliability, stating that the decline in coal and nuclear production has not impacted grid reliability, instead the rise in a diverse energy portfolio has increased the grid’s stability.

The study, commissioned by Energy Secretary Rick Perry in April, also states that coal plant closures across the country have been due to market pressure and competition from low-priced natural gas plants, not policy changes that support renewables such as wind and solar.

(MORE: Listen to our interview with former U.S. Energy Secretary and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu.)

“America is also fortunate to have a variety of fuel sources. We need to consider how to use each effectively while recognizing our differences and unique state and regional circumstances,” Perry says in the report’s cover letter. “We must utilize the most effective combination of energy sources with an ‘all of the above’ approach to achieve long-term, reliable American energy security.”

While the report does not state that there is a current concern with grid reliability, it does warn that future problems could arise if coal and nuclear plants continue to close at the current rate. Many environmental advocates cite this as a last-ditch effort for these companies to remain relevant in the energy landscape. However, the report does go on to highlight the role of renewables in developing a diverse energy infrastructure.

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John Staser, professor of chemical engineering at Ohio UniversityImage: Ohio University

John Staser, professor of chemical engineering at Ohio University
Image: Ohio University

ECS member and Ohio University professor, John Staser, was recently granted $1.5M from the U.S. Department of Energy for biofuels research. Staser and his team will work to develop technology to make biorefineries more efficient and profitable, thereby reducing the cost of environmentally friendly biofuels.

Biofuels are combustible fuels created from biomass. Currently, they are the only viable replacement to petroleum transportation fuels because they can be used in existing combustion engines. Biofuels are typically produced from food crops (sugar cane, corn, soybean, etc.) or materials such as wood, grass, or inedible parts of plants. Ethanol and biodiesel are prominent forms of biofuels that offer an alternative to such transportation fuels as petroleum and jet fuel.

Staser will lead an interdisciplinary team to develop ways to process a class of complex organic polymers known as lignin, which is one of the many waste products produced in the biorefining process.

“It’s not really competitive with gasoline, especially if oil is $40 a barrel,” Staser says. “Before this biofuel becomes feasible, we have to find a way to reduce the manufacturing cost. One way to do this is to come up with a secondary revenue stream for the refinery. So, if biorefineries could waste lignin to do so, biofuel would become a more financially feasible option.”

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Rooftops can provide more than shelter from the elements; they may also provide a goldmine of untapped energy production.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently issued a report stating that rooftop solar panels have the potential to power nearly 40 percent of the U.S.

“It is important to note that this report only estimates the potential from existing, suitable rooftops, and does not consider the immense potential of ground-mounted PV,” co-author of the report Robert Margolis said. “Actual generation from PV in urban areas could exceed these estimates by installing systems on less suitable roof space, by mounting PV on canopies over open spaces such as parking lots, or by integrating PV into building facades. Further, the results are sensitive to assumptions about module performance, which are expected to continue to improve over time.”

Essentially, solar panels could have limitless possibles. However, land is a precious commodity. Roofs, however, provide a space that typically goes unused to generate a huge amount of power for the U.S.

Nuclear PosterThe U.S. Department of Energy recently released a new series of posters illuminating a new generation of sustainable energy and green jobs. The series is reminiscent of the famous imagery created for the Works Progress Administration, only this time, the images depict a renewable energy revolution.

The posters accompany a report on the energy accomplishments from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was signed into law seven years ago by President Obama.

(MORE: See all the the posters from the department of energy.)

The newly established law created the Section 1705 Loan Guarantee Program, which worked to spur economic growth while creating new jobs and saving existing ones.

Some of the key accomplishments of the act include the creating of 10,000 jobs in the energy industry, $16.1 billion in loans for renewable energy projects, and a newly developed infrastructure that can power an additional one million American homes annually.

The Recovery Act also launched utility-grade photovoltaic solar plants in the U.S. Prior to signing the act into law in 2009, there weren’t any plants larger than 100 megawatts in the country. Now, five major plants are producing significant amounts of energy and 28 more are scheduled for the future.

Overall, the posters remind citizens of the positive accomplishments that can be achieved when government and science work together as well as give us all a visual image of an optimistic view of a renewable future.

Engineers at UC San Diego have developed a nanoparticle-based material for concentrating solar power plants that converts 90% of captured sunlight to heat. With particle sizes ranging from 10 nanometers to 10 micrometers, the multiscale structure traps and absorbs light more efficiently and at temperatures greater than 700 degrees Celsius.Credit: Renkun Chen, Mechanical Engineering Professor, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

Engineers at UC San Diego have developed a nanoparticle-based material for concentrating solar power plants that converts 90% of captured sunlight to heat.
Credit: Renkun Chen, Mechanical Engineering Professor, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

An engineering team from the University of California, San Diego, has developed a new nanoparticle-based material for concentrating solar power. The new research, which has been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program and published in the journal Nano Energy, aims to convert 90 percent of captured light into heat and make solar costs more competitive.

The new material will be able to withstand temperatures greater than 700° Celsius and can survive many years outdoors, despite exposure to humidity.

“We wanted to create a material that absorbs sunlight that doesn’t let any of it escape. We want the black hole of sunlight,” said Sungho Jin, a professor in the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

This from the University of California, San Diego:

The novel material features a “multiscale” surface created by using particles of many sizes ranging from 10 nanometers to 10 micrometers. The multiscale structures can trap and absorb light which contributes to the material’s high efficiency when operated at higher temperatures.

Read the full article here.

Head over to our Digital Library and read more research by Sungho Jin, one of the developers of the Silicon boride-coated nanoshell material.

It’s a good day for renewable resources.

According to a jointly written report of solar photovoltaic systems (PV) pricing trends from the Energy Department’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), prices have dropped by 12 to 19 percent nationwide in 2013.

The report goes on to state that prices are expected to drop an additional 3 to 12 percent in 2014. The variation in percentage is dependent on the system location and market segment.

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U.S. Energy Department Moves to Open Access

ECS Open Access Word CloudWe have been beating the drum about open access here at ECS for some time. This taken from Interface magazine over one year ago:

Commercial publishers have learned that the subscription-based model could be played to their enormous benefit, placing a further cost on the scholarly publishing system. There has been a proliferation of new journals being added to subscription packages, burdening library budgets with additional journals and without providing reciprocal scientific value. This has been coupled with the excessively high prices being charged by many scientific publishers for the dissemination of technical knowledge, and collectively the money now being extracted from the process is stifling scientific advancement. (Read the rest.)

(We noted when Tesla was getting it right, too.)

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