Electric VehicleIn 1888, German inventor Andreas Flocken created what is widely considered the world’s first electric car. According to The Battery Issue, recently published by The Verge, the 900-pound vehicle drove at the top speed of nine miles per hour, coming to a halt after a two and a half hour test ride. Although it was considered a success, it wasn’t entirely. The car’s battery, sustainably charged with water power, had died.

Today, nearly 130 years, German carmakers are still having trouble with their batteries – specifically with battery cells. As a result, car companies are relying on suppliers from China, Korea, and Japan for the highly needed component.

“Cells can be a major technology differentiator and cells are the by far most costly part of the battery pack,” says Martin Winter, a professor of materials science, energy, and electrochemistry at the University of Münster and ECS Battery Division and Europe Section member. Winter says a large scale production of battery cells by European or German companies will be crucial in order to take part in the “enormous and rapidly growing market.”

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Eric Wachsman

(Eric Wachsman will be presenting Safe, High-Energy-Density, Solid-State Li Batteries at AiMES 2018 in Cancun, Mexico on October 1, 2018.)

Behind the wheel of a ’68 Dodge Charger, Eric Wachsman discovered his passion for clean energy technology. He was a teenage boy in high school, and the open road was calling out to him.

“I just lived for cars,” says Wachsman, who serves on the ECS board of directors. “I could not wait to get my first car.”

So when he hit the road in his $1,500 hot rod, loaded with a holley double pumper carburetor, headers. “You name it.” He was thrilled. “That thing was the fastest thing around.”

However, life on the road soon came to a screeching halt.

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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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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 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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Li-ion fuel cell

Superior high-voltage performance of Li-ion full cell with Li-rich layered oxide cathode prepared with fluorinated polyimide (FPI) binder, compared to the cell with conventional binder PVdF. (Click to enlarge.)
Image: Seung Wan Song

In order to increase the driving range of electric vehicles, researchers across the globe are working to develop lithium-ion batteries with higher energy storage. Now, scientists at Chungnam National University and Kumoh National Institute of Technology in Korea are taking a step toward that goal with their development of the first high-voltage cathode binder for higher energy Li-ion batteries.

Today’s Li-ion batteries are limited to charge to 4.2V due to the electrochemical instability of the liquid electrolyte and cathode-electrolyte interface, and loosening of conventional binder, polyvinylidenefluoride (PVdF), particularly at elevated temperatures. The fabrication of Li-rich layered oxide cathode with a novel high-voltage binder, as the research team demonstrated, can overcome these limitations.

Charging the batteries with Li-rich layered oxide cathode (xLi2MnO3∙(1−x)LiMO2, M = Mn, Ni, Co) to higher than 4.5V produces approximately doubled capacity than those with LiCoO2 cathode, so that doubled energy density batteries can be achieved.

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