EnergyIn an effort to expand South Australia’s renewable energy supply, the state has looked to business magnate Elon Musk to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery. The goal of the project is to deliver a grid-scale battery with the ability to stabilize intermittency issues in the area as well as reduce energy prices.

An energy grid is the central component of energy generation and usage. By changing the type of energy that powers that grid in moving from fossil fuels toward more renewable sources, the grid itself changes. Traditional electrical grids demand consistency, using fossil fuels to control production for demand. However, renewable sources such as wind and solar provide intermittency issues that traditional fossil fuels do not. Researchers must look at how we can deliver energy to the electrical grid when the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing. This is where energy storage systems, such as batteries, play a pivotal role.

In South Australia, Musk’s battery is intended to sustain 100 megawatts of power and store that energy for 129 megawatt hours. To put it in perspective, that is enough energy to power 30,000 homes and, according to Musk, will be three times as powerful as the world’s current largest lithium-ion battery.

Musk hopes to complete the project by December, stating that “It’s a fundamental efficiency improvement to the power grid, and it’s really quite necessary and quite obvious considering a renewable energy future.”

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Instead of batteries, a new cell phone harvests the few microwatts of power it needs from a different source: ambient radio signals or light.

Researchers were also able to make Skype calls using the battery-free phone, demonstrating that the prototype—made of commercial, off-the-shelf components—can receive and transmit speech and communicate with a base station.

“We’ve built what we believe is the first functioning cell phone that consumes almost zero power,” says Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor of computer science & engineering at the University of Washington and coauthor of the paper.

“To achieve the really, really low power consumption that you need to run a phone by harvesting energy from the environment, we had to fundamentally rethink how these devices are designed.”

Researchers eliminated a power-hungry step in most modern cellular transmissions—converting analog signals that convey sound into digital data that a phone can understand. This process consumes so much energy that it’s been impossible to design a phone that can rely on ambient power sources.

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BatteryIn an effort to develop a more affordable, plentiful alternative to lithium-ion batteries, researchers from Purdue University are pursuing rechargeable potassium based batteries, demonstrating a way to derive carbon for battery electrodes from old tires.

“With the growth of rechargeable batteries for electronic devices, electric vehicles and power grid applications, there has been growing concern about the sustainability and cost of lithium,” says Vilas G. Pol, an associate professor in the Davidson School of Chemical Engineering at Purdue University and former member of ECS. “In the last decade, there has been rapid progress in the investigation of metal-ion batteries beyond lithium, such as sodium and potassium.”

Researchers in the field believe that potassium based batteries show potential for large-scale grid storage due to their low cost and the abundance of the element itself.

“The intermittent energy generated from solar and wind requires new energy storage systems for the grid,” Pol says. “However, the limited global availability of lithium resources and high cost of extraction hinder the application of lithium-ion batteries for such large-scale energy storage. This demands alternative energy storage devices that are based on earth-abundant elements.”

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Researchers from Argonne National Laboratory and Oregon State University have developed new cathode architecture for lithium-sulfur batteries. The team, led by ECS member Khalil Amine, incorporated graphene and sulfide nanoparticles to improve electrical conductivity in the promising lithium-sulfur batteries.

Lithium-sulfur batteries hold major promise as researchers explore the range of energy storage technologies. With an extremely high theoretical energy density, these batteries have the potential to store up to five times as much energy as today’s best lithium-ion battery.

But there are barriers preventing that theoretical density from becoming an actual density. Namely, the discharge products of sulfur electrodes and cycling intermediates produced.

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Unpiloted underwater vehicles (UUVs) are used for a wide array of tasks, including exploring ship wreckage, mapping the ocean floor, and military applications. Now, a team from MIT has developed an aluminum-water power system that will allow UUVs to become safer, more durable, and have ten times more range compared to UUVs powered by lithium-ion batteries.

“Everything people want to do underwater should get a lot easier,” says Ian Salmon Mckay, co-inventor of the device. “We’re off to conquer the oceans.”

The aluminum-water power system is a direct response to lithium-ion batteries, which have a limited energy density causing service ships to chaperone UUVs while at sea, recharging the batteries when necessary. Additionally, UUV lithium-ion batteries have to be encased in expensive metal pressure vessels, making the battery both short-lived and pricey for use in UUVs.

This from MIT:

In contrast, [Open Water Power’s] power system is safer, cheaper, and longer-lasting. It consists of a alloyed aluminum, a cathode alloyed with a combination of elements (primarily nickel), and an alkaline electrolyte that’s positioned between the electrodes.

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BatteryIn an effort to increase security on airplanes, the U.S. government is considering expanding a ban on lithium-ion based devices from cabins of commercial flights, opting instead for passengers to transport laptops and other electronic devices in their checked luggage in the cargo department. However, statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration suggest that storing those devices in the cargo area could increase the risk of fires.

The FAA reports that batteries were responsible for nine airline fires in 2014. The number grew to 16 in 2015 and further to 31 in 2016. Most fires were able to be extinguished by passengers.
According to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, the U.S. government is considering expanding the ban to 71 additional airports.

(READ: “What’s Next for Batteries?” with Robert Kostecki.)

Mainstream concern regarding lithium-ion battery safety became widespread in 2016 when videos of hoverboards exploding began to emerge. Since then, news reports of smartphone and laptop batteries have emerged.

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AirplaneIn 2016, Solar Impulse 2 was the first solar-powered electrified aircraft to make a trip around the world. But that aircraft wasn’t the first to partake in electric flight, nor will it be the last.

Since the development of the battery-powered Militky MB-E1 in the early 1970s, there has been excitement surrounding the promise of an electric aircraft. However, many of the concepts being floated around by aerospace companies assume huge improvements in current battery technology.

The problem? According to a recently published article in Wired, current battery technology does not offer the power-to-weight ratio needed to make battery-powered planes feasible.

But battery technology has taken leaps over the past few years. Energy storage devices are become more efficient and lighter simultaneously. But how long will it take to be able to pack enough energy into a device while remaining light enough to glide through the sky?

“There’s already been a lot of progress,” Venkat Srinivasan, battery expert with Argonne National Lab, told Wired. “It’s not the same ballpark as Moore’s law progress because it’s chemistry, not electronics, but it’s still very good.”

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CellphoneThe development of the lithium-ion battery has helped enable the modern day electronics revolution, making possible everything from cellphones to laptops to electric vehicles and even grid-scale energy storage.

However, those batteries have limited lifespans. Battery expert Daniel P. Abraham is looking to address that.

“As your cellphone battery ages, you notice that you have to plug it in more often,” says Abraham, ECS member and scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. “Over a period of time, you are not able to store as much charge in the battery, and that is the process we call capacity fade.”

Abraham is a co-author of an open access paper recently published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society, “Transition Metal Dissolution, Ion Migration, Electrocatalytic Reduction and Capacity Loss in Lithium-Ion Full Cells,” which addresses the question of why your battery doesn’t age well.

A majority of today’s electronic devices are powered by the lithium-ion battery. In order for the battery to store and release energy, lithium ions move back and forth between the positive and negative electrodes through an electrolyte.  In theory, the ions could travel back and forth an infinite number of times, resulting in a battery that lasts forever.

But that’s not what happens in the batteries that power your laptops and your electric vehicles. According to Abraham, unwanted side reactions often occur as ions move between the electrodes, resulting in batteries that lose capacity over time.

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Lithium-ionLithium-ion batteries power a vast majority of the world’s portable electronics, but the magnification of recent safety incidents have some looking for new ways to keep battery-related hazards at bay. The U.S. Navy is one of those groups, with chemists in the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) unveiling a new battery, which they say is both safe and rechargeable for applications such as electric vehicles and ships.

“We keep having too many catastrophic news stories of lithium-ion batteries smoking, catching fire, exploding,” says Debra Rolison, head of NRL’s advanced electrochemical materials section and co-author of the recently published paper. “There’ve been military platforms that have suffered severe damage because of lithium-ion battery fires.”

Once example of such damage came in 2008, when an explosion and fire caused by a lithium-ion battery damaged the Advanced SEAL Delivery Vehicle 1 at its base in Pearl Harbor.

While generally safe when manufactured properly, lithium-ion batteries host an organic liquid which is flammable if the battery or device gets too hot.

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BatteryLike all things, batteries have a finite lifespan. As batteries get older and efficiency decreases, they enter what researchers call “capacity fade,” which occurs when the amount of charge your battery could once hold begins to decrease with repeated use.

But what if researchers could reduce this capacity fade?

That’s what researchers from Argonne National Laboratory are aiming to do, as demonstrated in their open access paper, “Transition Metal Dissolution, Ion Migration, Electrocatalytic Reduction and Capacity Loss in Lithium-Ion Full Cells,” which was recently published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society.

The capacity of a lithium-ion battery directly correlates to the amount of lithium ions that can be shuttled back and forth as the device is charged and discharged. Transition metal ions make this shuttling possible, but as the battery is cycled, some of those ions get stripped out of the cathode material and end up at the battery’s anode.

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