A Revolution in Renewable Energy

Towering like a beacon of hope in Germany’s North Sea stand wind turbines. Stretching as high as 60-story buildings and standing as far as 60 miles from the mainland, the turbines are part of Germany’s push to find a solution to global warming.

Some call it change. Some call it transformation. We call it a revolution.

According to an article in the The New York Times, it is expected that by the end of the year, scores of new turbines will be set in place – thus allowing low-emission electricity to be sent to German cities hundreds of miles south.

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The researchers at Virginia Tech have successfully demonstrated the concept of a sugar biobattery that can completely convert the chemical energy in sugar substrates into electricity. Credit: Virginia Tech University

The researchers at Virginia Tech have successfully demonstrated the concept of a sugar biobattery that can completely convert the chemical energy in sugar substrates into electricity.
Credit: Virginia Tech University

According to new studies, the future of energy storage and conversion may be something that’s sitting in your kitchen cupboard.

A new breakthrough out of Virginia Tech demonstrates that a sugar-powered biobattery has the potential to outperform the current lithium-ion batteries on many fronts.

Not only is the energy density of the sugar-powered battery significantly higher than that of the lithium-ion battery, but the sugar battery is also less costly than the li-ion, refillable, environmentally friendly, and nonflammable.

This from LiveScience:

This nature-inspired biobattery is a type of enzymatic fuel cell (EFC) — an electrobiochemical device that converts chemical energy from fuels such as starch and glycogen into electricity. While EFCs operate under the same general principles as traditional fuel cells, they use enzymes instead of noble-metal catalysts to oxidize their fuel. Enzymes allow for the use of more-complex fuels (such as glucose), and these more-complex fuels are what give EFCs their superior energy density.

Read the full article here.

The scientists hope to increase the power density, extend the lifetime, and reduce the cost of electrode materials in order for this energy-dense sugar biobattery to become the technology of the future.

Find the full findings in this issue of Nature Communications.

Learn more about this topic by reading a recently published open access article via ECS’s Digital Library.

Microgrid

Microgrids are small power systems that are able to function independently when storms or other emergencies knock out electricity.
Credit: Center for Sustainable Energy

New York state will be holding a $40 million energy technology competition this fall in order to aid research that will allow local communities to retain power during outages.

This from Associated Press:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the New York Prize competition, which would award funding to companies or utilities that suggest the best ways to create so-called “microgrids.” Microgrids are small power systems that are able to function independently when storms or other emergencies knock out electricity.

The microgrids will allow for hospitals, schools, water plants, and even homes to hold energy when the main electrical grid is not working.

Cuomo is to launch the competition this fall.

If you find this concept interesting and would like to partake in solving some of the most challenging issues in the world today, check out the details on ECS’s 2014 Electrochemical Energy and Water Summit.

Pressure Retarded Osmosis (PRO)

Pressure retarded osmosis (PRO) is a method of producing renewable energy from two streams of a different salinity.
Credit: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

When the River Meets the Sea” may very well be a John Denver song circa 1979, but it is also an intersection with the potential to generate a significant amount of power. According to a team of mechanical engineers at MIT, when river water collides with sea water, there exists the potential to harness a significant amount of renewable energy.

This from Phys.org:

The researchers evaluated an emerging method of power generation called pressure retarded osmosis (PRO), in which two streams of different salinity are mixed to produce energy. In principle, a PRO system would take in river water and seawater on either side of a semi-permeable membrane. Through osmosis, water from the less-salty stream would cross the membrane to a pre-pressurized saltier side, creating a flow that can be sent through a turbine to recover power.

Read the full article here.

According to calculations by Leonardo Banchik, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, a PRO system could potentially power a coastal wastewater-treatment plant by taking in seawater and combining it with treated wastewater to produce renewable energy.

Although more research needs to be done to see in what applications the PRO system is economically viable, Banchik sees the huge potential of this method.

“Say we’re in a place that could really use desalinated water, like California, which is going through a terrible drought,” Banchik says. “They’re building a desalination plant that would sit right at the sea, which would take in seawater and give Californians water to drink. It would also produce a saltier brine, which you could mix with wastewater to produce power.”

Learn more about new devlopments in osmosis via ECS’s Digital Library.

Solar Energy Without Blocking the View

Solar Concentrator

The solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight.
Credit: Yimu Zhao

A team of researchers at Michigan State University has developed a new type of solar concentrator that can harvest energy when placed over a window without blocking the view.

The new development is called the transparent luminescent solar concentrator and it has the potential to be used on buildings, cell phones, and any other device that has a flat, clear surface.

This from Science Daily:

Research in the production of energy from solar cells placed around luminescent plastic-like materials is not new. These past efforts, however, have yielded poor results – the energy production was inefficient and the materials were highly colored.

Read the full article here.

The transparent luminescent solar concentrator is still in the beginning of its development – yielding a solar conversion efficiency just close to one percent. However, Richard Lunt of MSU’s College of Engineering believes the concentrator will reach efficiencies beyond five percent when fully optimized.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

ECS will have a symposium at the upcoming meeting in Cancun dealing with solar fuels and the utilization of solar energy. Find out more about the meeting and sign-up for early bird registration today!

Lead-acid car batteries

According to engineers at MIT, we can recycle them to make long-lasting, low-cost solar panels. Credit: Christine Daniloff

The old lead-acid battery in your car may not be as useless or environmentally dangerous as was once thought. In fact, these batteries may be the answer to creating a cheap source of green energy.

According to engineers at MIT, old lead-acid batteries can be recycled and easily converted into long-lasting, low-cost solar panels. So far, the solar cells in the panels have yielded promising results – achieving over 19 percent efficiency in converting sunlight to useable electricity.

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We all know the health risks that cigarette smoking can lead to, but with over one billion smokers internationally – according to the researchers at the World Health Organization (WHO) – smoking cigarettes has also become an environmental issue. However, a group of scientists in South Korea have discovered a way to transform this waste into a positive by converting the cigarette butts into green energy in a one-step process.

This from Smithsonian:

In a recent paper in the journal Nanotechnology, the researchers demonstrated a one-step process for turning used cigarette filters (the main component of butts) into a material that can be used to store energy in supercapacitors—components that can be used alongside batteries in the electrical grid, consumer electronics and electric vehicles.

Read the full article here.

While it is unlikely that the supercapacitors will match the storage abilities of chemical-based batteries any time soon, the scientists are optimistic about the potential of this process. With trillions of cigarette butts being tossed out each year, there is no shortage of materials to build billions of supercapacitors.

Find out more about the evolving science of supercapacitors in ECS’s Digital Library.

What’s Graphene?

Kostya Novoselov

Published over 60 peer-refereed research papers (mainly as the principal/corresponding author) including Nature and Science articles and more than 15 papers in Nature Materials, Nature Physics, Nature Nanotechnology, Reviews of Modern Physics, Physical Review Letters, PNAS.

We’ve been having lots of talks around the home office about how people don’t realize the impact of electrochemistry and solid state science have on their world.

Being new here, I’m still playing catch up with the science. I ask a lot of questions. My colleagues patiently try to do what Miss Lemke could never accomplish in 11th grade chemistry.

Here’s one result that can benefit me and the rest of our less aware readers of this blog. I got this video link explaining graphene from John Lewis, our Associate Director of Publications. The video is from The One Show, BBC1 last year.

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Tattoo That Harvests Energy from Persperation

Biobattery Tattoo

The biobattery tattoo that can create power through perspiration. Credit: Joseph Wang

Power through perspiration. That is the idea behind the new temporary tattoo that can store and generate electrical energy from your own sweat.

This new method was announced at the American Chemical Society meeting by Dr. Wenzhao Jia of the University of California, San Diego.

According to Jia’s explanation of the device in the journal Angewante Chemie, the temporary tattoo essentially acts as a sensor that measures the body’s lactate levels, which are the chemicals naturally present in sweat. From there, an enzyme in the sensor strips electrons from, which generates an electrical current. The current is then stored in a battery that is also built into the sensor.

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Using Hemp to Store Energy

“People ask me: why hemp? I say, why not?”

That is what Dr. David Mitlin said about the new discovery in bio-waste that has been published in the journal ACS Nano, according to BBC.

Mitlin and his team presented their findings at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco, where it was explained how waste fibres from hemp can be transformed into high performance energy storage devices.

The hemp – which is legal to grow due to the absence of THC – is producing supercapacitors that are at least on par with the graphene, which is known to be the industry’s gold standard.

Dr. Mitlin and his researchers primary focusing on taking produces that are considered waste and evolving them into something applicable and with high value.

This from BBC:

But the leftover bast fibre – the inner bark – typically ends up as landfill. Dr Mitlin’s team took these fibres and recycled them into supercapacitors – energy storage devices which are transforming the way electronics are powered.

Read the full article here.

If you’re interested in Dr. Mitlin’s research, take a look at this article that he published with ECS.

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