When we think of carbon and the environment, our minds often develop a negative association between the two in light of things such as greenhouse gases and climate change. But what if carbon is the answer to clean energy?

A team of researchers at Griffith University is looking toward carbon to lead the way in the clean energy revolution. Their latest research showed that carbon could be used to produce hydrogen from water. This could offer a potential replacement for the costly platinum materials currently used.

“Hydrogen production through an electrochemical process is at the heart of key renewable energy technologies including water splitting and hydrogen fuel cells,” says Professor Xiangdong Yao, leader of the research group. “We have now developed this carbon-based catalyst, which only contains a very small amount of nickel and can completely replace the platinum for efficient and cost-effective hydrogen production from water.”

(MORE: Learn about the future of electrochemical energy.)

This from Griffith University:

Proponents of a hydrogen economy advocate hydrogen as a potential fuel for motive power including cars and boats and on-board auxiliary power, stationary power generation (e.g., for the energy needs of buildings), and as an energy storage medium (e.g., for interconversion from excess electric power generated off-peak).

Read the full article.

The researchers also believe that these findings could open the door for new development in large-scale water electrolysis.

An interdisciplinary team, including 32 year ECS member Stuart Licht and ECS student member Matthew Lefler, has developed a way to make electric vehicles that are not only carbon neutral, but carbon negative – capable of reducing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide as they operate by transforming the greenhouse gas.

By replacing the graphite electrodes that are currently being used in the development of lithium-ion batteries for electric cars with carbon materials recovered from the atmosphere, the researchers have been able to develop a recipe for converting collected carbon dioxide into batteries.

This from Vanderbilt University:

The team adapted a solar-powered process that converts carbon dioxide into carbon so that it produces carbon nanotubes and demonstrated that the nanotubes can be incorporated into both lithium-ion batteries like those used in electric vehicles and electronic devices and low-cost sodium-ion batteries under development for large-scale applications, such as the electric grid.

Read the full article.

The research is not the first time scientists have shown progress in collecting and converting harmful greenhouse gases from the environment.

Typically, carbon dioxide conversion revolves around transforming the gas into low-value fuels such as methanol. These conversions often do not justify the costs.

(MORE: Read “Carbon Nanotubes Produced from Ambient Carbon Dioxide for Environmentally Sustainable Lithium-Ion and Sodium-Ion Battery Anodes.“)

However, the new process produces better batteries that are not only expected to be efficient, but also cost effective.

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MIT researcher have developed the first steps to creating the thinnest, lightest solar cell ever made.

Through a unique fabrication method, the researchers are moving toward the development of a solar cell so thin it could blow away. Instead of a solar cell’s typical makeup, the MIT researchers have opted for a unique fabrication of creating each layer at the same time.

This from Popular Science:

Solar cells are typically made up of layers of photovoltaic materials and a substrate, such as glass or plastic. Instead of the usual method of fabricating each layer separately, and then depositing the layers onto the substrate, the MIT researchers made all three parts of their solar cell (the cell, the supportive substrate, and the protective coating) at the same time, a method that cuts down on performance-harming contaminants. In the demonstration, the substrate and coating are made from parylene, which is a flexible polymer, and the component that absorbs light was made from dibutyl phthalate (DBP). The researchers note that the solar cell could be made from a number of material combinations, including perovskite, and it could be added to a variety of surfaces such as fabric or paper.

Read the full article.

To put the thinness of the solar cell in perspective, it is approximately 1/50th the thickness of a strand of hair. The light weight means that its power-to-weight ratio is particularly high, with an efficiency output of about 6 watts per gram (400 times higher than silicon-based solar cells).

The final trial for the researcher will be to translate the lab work to the real world, making it scalable and practical for commercial use.

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.

Call for Papers: ECS Focus Issues

focus_issues_coversThomas Fuller, JES Technical Editor, and guest editors
Bryan Pivovar, Kathy Ayers, Marcelo Carmo, Jim O’Brien, and
Xiaoyu Zhang, invite you to submit to the:

JES Focus Issue:

Electrolysis for Increased Renewable Energy Penetration

Submission Deadline | April 7, 2016

This special issue of the Journal of The Electrochemical Society focuses on electrolysis. Interest in this area has increased significantly with focus on several different technological approaches, each with their own unique challenges. Examples include, cost challenges for PEM water electrolysis, and thermal and durability challenges for high-temperature, solid-oxide electrolysis.

Topics of interest to this special issue of JES include, but are not limited to:

  • Novel approaches for electrocatalysts including nanostructures with enhanced activities, durability, and cost reduction
  • Fundamental studies of the chemical processes on solid surfaces and triple-phase-boundaries
  • Polymers, ion conducting ceramics, membranes, and electrodes for electrolysis applications
  • New approaches on the design and characterization of membrane/separator components
  • New architectures for porous transport medias and bipolar plates

Read more topics of interest.

Submission Deadline | April 7, 2016

We invite original contributions from both fundamental and applied work that falls in the technical areas of interest of JES readership.

Please submit manuscripts at http://ecsjournals.msubmit.net.

Papers accepted into this focus issue are published online within 10 days of acceptance. The issue is created online an article at a time with the final article published in September 2016.

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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Wind Turbine System Recycles Wasted Energy

Wind energy has been rising in the ranks when it comes to renewable energy sources. In the United States alone, wind energy produces enough electricity to power roughly 18 million homes—with about 48,000 utility-scale wind turbines operating nationally. While wind energy shows promising potential, there is still room for scientists to tweak this technology in order to yield higher efficiency levels.

The latest prototype of a new wind turbine system was developed with that goal in mind. The new system from researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is set to yield 8.5 percent more electricity than current wind turbines.

Powering the Future

While wind turbines are a promising source of alternative energy, they tend to produce a decent amount of surplus energy that has not been able to be harvested and utilized. The newly developed turbine prototype examines that issue and can now store surplus energy for later use as electricity.

When comparing the new prototype and current generation wind turbines, the new turbines have the potential to yield up to an extra 16,400 kwh of electricity per month—coming in around 18 times the amount of energy a single United States household uses in a month.

(more…)

Record-Breaking Energy Efficiency Levels

An interdisciplinary team has set a new record for direct solar water splitting efficiency. Surpassing the 17 year old record of 12.4 percent, the new achieved efficiency level of 14 percent guarantees a promising future for solar hydrogen production.

While the potential for renewable energy is available across the globe, the ability to harvest and store this energy is not. One solution to achieving global renewable energy is through artificial photosynthesis.

How to Power the Future

Much like organic photosynthesis, artificial photosynthesis coverts sunlight into chemical energy. This highly-researched concept also has the ability to be carried into semiconductor technology.

Essentially, researchers can take the sun’s electrical power and split water into oxygen and hydrogen with high energy density levels. This type of development has the potential to replace current fossil fuels and create a type of energy that does not emit harmful carbon dioxide.

The concept has not been utilized on a commercial level due to the high cost. However, this new development could raise the efficiency levels to a high enough percentage to make the process economically viable.

This from the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres:

Lead author Matthias May … processed and surveyed about one hundred samples in his excellent doctoral dissertation to achieve this. The fundamental components are tandem solar cells of what are known as III-V semiconductors. Using a now patented photo-electrochemical process, May could modify certain surfaces of these semiconductor systems in such a way that they functioned better in water splitting.

(more…)

Japan Turns Golf Courses into Solar Farms

It’s all about repurposing. At least, that looks to be the case for Japan’s energy grid.

Beth Schademann, ECS’s Publications Specialist, recently came across a Business Insider article detailing Japan’s initiative to turn abandoned golf courses into solar power plants.

Japan’s Kyocera Corporation is taking the unused green space and making clean, renewable solar farms. They’re starting off big with a 23 megawatt solar plant that will produce enough energy to power around 8,100 households.

And they’re not stopping there. After their first project goes live in 2017, the company will go full force into their 92 megawatt solar plant project that is expected to power over 30,000 households.

Japan’s abandoned golf courses are prime real estate for solar farms, and there’s no shortage of potential here.

(more…)

Biofuels to Fuel Cells Short Course

ECS will be offering three Short Courses at the 227th ECS Meeting this May in Chicago. Taught by industry experts, the small class size makes for an excellent opportunity for personalized instruction helping both novices and experts advance their technical expertise and knowledge.

Register online today!

Short Course #1
Nanotechnology for Bioenergy: Biofuels to Fuel Cells
Shelley D. Minteer, Instructor

This course is perfect for those with an interest in biofuels and renewable energy. Attendees can expect to learn about the production and use of biofuels, the advances in synthetic biology that have improved biofuel production, advance sin ananotechnology that have improved electrochemical biofuel production, electrochemical uses of biofuel, and more—including fuel cells, enzmatic biofuel cells, and microbial biofuel cells. Read more.

Minteer_Shelley_2013About the Instructor
Dr. Shelley D. Minteer is most well known for her contributions to the use of catalytic cascades for anodic electrocatlaysis. In 2003, Professor Minteer co-founded Akermin, Inc. with her previous graduate student, which has focused on the commercialization of her biofuel cell technology and has moved on to carbon capture technology. Her roles with ECS have included: Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary-Treasurer, and Member-at-Large of the Physical and Analytical Electrochemistry Division, as well as being a member of multiple other Society committees. She is currently the technical editor for the Journal of The Electrochemical Society and ECS Electrochemistry Letters.

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