As far back as 1839, the English scientist William Grove had the idea that the reactants of a battery could be gases fed into it from external tanks. For most of their history, fuel cells existed only as laboratory curiosities. But fuel cells have gained much more attention in recent years, with many considering these power sources for applications in vehicles and alternative grid technology.

New research from Harvard University shows just how promising fuel cell technology could be. According to the study, the researchers were able to develop more efficient fuel cells that get more robust as they age instead of degrading.

“The elegance of this process is that it happens naturally when exposed to the electrons in fuel,” says Shriram Ramananthan, lead author of the study and past ECS member. “This technique can be applied to other electrochemical devices to make it more robust. It’s like chess—before we could only play with pawns and bishops, tools that could move in limited directions. Now, we’re playing with the queen.”

While you may be unfamiliar with Khalil Amine, he has made an immense impact in your life if you happen to use batteries in any way.

As a researcher with a vision of where the science can be applied in the market, Amine has been monumental in developing and moving some of the biggest breakthroughs in battery technology from the lab to the marketplace.

Amine is currently head of the Technology Development Group in the Battery Technology Department at Argonne National Laboratory. From 1998-2008 he was the most cited scientist in the world in the field of battery technology.

He is the chair of the organizing committee for the 18th International Meeting on Lithium Batteries being held this June in Chicago.

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AA Battery CarThere may soon be a shift in the transportation sector, where traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicles become a thing of the past and electric vehicles start on their rise to dominance.

In fact, we may be seeing that shift already. Last year, battery prices fell 35 percent, which contributed to the 60 percent increase in sales of electric vehicles. If that growth continues along the same path, electric vehicles have the potential to displace oil demand of two million barrels a day as early as 2023.

The key technology at the heart of these vehicles is energy storage. Whether it be the lithium-ion, lithium-air, or fuel cells – electric vehicles depend on affordable, highly efficient electrochemical energy storage to operate.

But what if the future of these vehicles depend on a different type of energy technology?

Saturday Night Live recently made a play on the future of electric vehicles by imagining a world where cars didn’t run off of a singular, efficient battery — but rather tons of AA batteries.

Check out what a car powered entirely out of AA batteries could look like.

PV Hybrid

A research team aims to make a battery and solar cell hybrid out of two single systems.
Image: Lunghammer – TU Graz

People across the globe are looking toward renewable solutions to change the landscape of energy. But what happens when the sun goes down and the wind stops blowing? In order to guarantee green energy that is consistent, reliable energy storage systems are critical.

“Currently, single systems of photovoltaic cells which are connected together — mostly lead-based batteries and vast amounts of cable — are in use,” said Ilie Hanzu, TU Graz professor and past member of ECS. “We want to make a battery and solar cell hybrid out of two single systems which is not only able to convert electrical energy, but also store it.”

The idea of a battery and solar cell hybrid is completely novel scientific territory. With this project, entitled SolaBat, the team hopes to develop a product that has commercial applications. For this, the scientists will have to develop the perfect combination of functional materials.

“In the hybrid system, high-performance materials share their tasks in the solar cell and in the battery,” Hanzu said. “We need materials that reliably fulfill their respective tasks and that are also electrochemically compatible with other materials so that they work together in one device.”

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Sustainable Battery

The new carbon-based material for sodium-ion batteries can be extracted from apples.
Image: KIT

The saying goes: an apple a day keeps the doctor away; but in this case, an apple may be the answer to the next generation of energy storage technology.

ECS member Stefano Passerini of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is leading a study to extract carbon-based materials for sodium-ion batteries from organic apple waste.

Developing batteries from waste

This new development could help reduce the costs of future energy storage systems by applying a cheap material with excellent electrochemical properties to the already promising field of sodium-ion batteries.

(MORE: Read more research by Passerini.)

Many researchers are currently looking to sodium-ion batteries as the next generation of energy storage, with the ability to outpace the conventional lithium-ion battery.

The future of sodium-ion batteries

Interest in sodium-ion batteries dates back to the 1980s, but discoveries haven’t taken off until recently. Researchers are now finding way to combat low energy densities and short life cycles through using novel materials such as apples.

(MORE: Read the full paper in ChemElectroChem.)

Sodium-ion batteries could prove to be the next big thing in large scale energy storage due to the high abundance of materials used in development and the relatively low costs involved.

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Who’s Talking Energy Conversion & Storage?

E2S-speakersThere are just eight days left to submit your abstracts for the 229th ECS Meeting! Make sure to submit by December 11, 2015.

Submit today!

Topic Close-up #5
SYMPOSIUM I05: Heterogeneous Functional Materials for Energy Conversion and Storage.

FOCUSED ON the science that controls emergent properties in heterogeneous functional materials as a foundation for design of functional material devices with performance not bounded by constituent properties.

PROVIDING a unique venue for both contributed and invited speakers to present the latest advances in novel modeling approaches, advanced 3-D imaging and characterization techniques, novel material synthesis and manufacturing methods to create highly ordered material structure, and applications of heterogeneous functional materials in devices for energy conversion and storage. This symposium especially encourages and welcomes contributed presentations.

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The fifth international Electrochemical Energy Summit recently took place during the 228th ECS Meeting. From environmental damage to economic implications to political involvement, the summit served as a forum for the top researchers in energy technology to discuss the most pressing issues in renewable energy and inspire technological solutions.

During the summit, we gathered some key speakers from energy research institutions across the U.S. to talk about challenges in energy storage, roadblocks for implementing renewables, and the role government plays in changing the energy infrastructure.

The podcast is moderated by ECS vice president Krishnan Rajeshwar, with guests David Wesolowski, The Fluid Interface Reactions, Structures and Transport (FIRST) Energy Frontier Research Center; M. Stanley Whittingham, NorthEast Center for Chemical Energy Storage (NECCES); Gary Rubloff, Nanostructures for Electrical Energy Storage (NEES) Energy Frontier Research Center; and Paul Fenter, Center for Electrochemical Energy Science (CEES).

Listen and download this episode and others for free through the iTunes Store, SoundCloud, or our RSS Feed. You can also find us on Stitcher.

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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trees_to_power2Researchers are not only looking for alternative ways to generate energy, they’re also looking for alternative ways to store it. From ECS member Vilas Pol’s packing peanut batteries to innovative flow batteries; scientists are looking for a way to securely store and deliver clean energy to the grid.

Now, engineers from McMaster University are turning trees into energy storage devices that could potentially power everything from small electronic devices to electric vehicles. With any luck, this technology could be taken to large-scale grid applications.

This from McMaster University:

The scientists are using cellulose, an organic compound found in plants, bacteria, algae and trees, to build more efficient and longer-lasting energy storage devices or capacitors. This development paves the way toward the production of lightweight, flexible, and high-power electronics, such as wearable devices, portable power supplies and hybrid and electric vehicles.

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Graphene’s New Role in Water-Splitting

5592616537473The topics of climate change and the energy crisis are on the minds of many scientists working in the fields of energy storage and conversion. When looking toward the future, the development of more efficient and effective energy storage technologies is critical. Instead of our traditional “carbon cycle,” researchers are beginning to focus on the “hydrogen cycle” as a promising alternative.

With this, there been a lot of focus on water-splitting techniques. However, there are many challenges that this technology has to overcome before it reaches efficient levels on a large scale.

In order to help address complications associated with water-splitting, ECS member Qiang Zhang is leading a research group from Tsinghua University to help get closer to the ultimate goal of the “hydrogen cycle” by developing a novel graphene/metal hydroxide composite with superior oxygen evolution activity.

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