Scientists explore how to make PV even greener

The 1-MW photovoltaic array at NREL’s Flatirons Campus. Credit: Werner Slocum, NREL

How do we reduce the carbon impact of an already green technology?

This is the question that NREL researchers Hope Wikoff, Samantha Reese, and Matthew Reese tackle in their new paper in Joule, “Embodied Energy and Carbon from the Manufacture of Cadmium Telluride and Silicon Photovoltaics.”

In the paper, the team focuses on the two dominant deployed photovoltaic (PV) technologies: silicon (Si) and cadmium telluride (CdTe) PV. These green technologies help reduce and meet global decarbonization goals—but their can themselves result in .

“Green technologies are awesome, but as we are working to scale them up to an incredible magnitude, it makes sense to take a close look to see what can be done to minimize the impact,” said Samantha Reese, a senior engineer and analyst in NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center.

To understand the overall impact of these green technologies on global decarbonization goals, the team looked beyond traditional metrics like cost, performance, and reliability. They evaluated “embodied” energy and carbon—the sunk energy and carbon emissions involved in manufacturing a PV module—as well as the energy payback time (the time it takes a PV system to generate the same amount of energy as was required to produce it).

“Most advances have been driven by cost and efficiency because those metrics are easy to evaluate,” said Matthew Reese, a physics researcher at NREL. “But if part of our goal is to decarbonize, then it makes sense to look at the bigger picture. There is certainly a benefit to trying to push efficiencies, but other factors are also influential when it comes to decarbonization efforts.”

“One of the unique things that was done in this paper is that the manufacturing and science perspectives were brought together,” Samantha Reese said. “We combined life-cycle analysis with to explain the emission results for each technology and to examine effects of future advances. We want to use these results to identify areas where additional research is needed.”

The manufacturing location and the technology type both have a major impact on embodied carbon and represent two key knobs that can be turned to influence decarbonization. By looking at present-day grid mixes in countries that manufacture solar, the authors found that manufacturing with a cleaner energy mix—compared to using a coal-rich mix—can reduce emissions by a factor of two. Furthermore, although Si PV presently dominates the market, thin-film PV technologies like CdTe and perovskites provide another path to reducing carbon intensity by an additional factor of two.

This insight matters because of the limited carbon budget available to support the expected scale of PV manufacturing in the coming decades.

“If we want to hit the decarbonization goals set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as much as a sixth of the remaining carbon budget could be used to manufacture PV modules,” Matthew Reese said. “That’s the scale of the problem—it’s a massive amount of manufacturing that has to be done in order to replace the sources being used today.”

The authors’ hope is that by illustrating the magnitude of the problem, their paper will cause people to take another look at the potential use of thin-film PV technologies, such as CdTe, and manufacturing with clean grid mixes.

Ultimately, accelerating the incorporation of low-carbon into the electrical grid mix is paramount.

“One of the big strengths of PV is that it has this positive feedback loop,” said Nancy Haegel, center director of NREL’s Materials Science Center. “As we clean up the grid—in part by adding more PV to the grid—PV manufacturing will become cleaner, in turn making PV an even better product.”

Nuclear power may be the key to least-cost, zero-emission electricity systems: study

More information:
Hope M. Wikoff et al, Embodied energy and carbon from the manufacture of cadmium telluride and silicon photovoltaics, Joule (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2022.06.006

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Battery materials must evolve to keep pace with societal needs: Study

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Humanity’s dependence on batteries for cellular phones, laptops, electric vehicles, and grid storage is fueling a demand for better battery technology. For decades, batteries have relied on micro-particles for energy storage, but new research by a team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute reveals that using advanced materials that include “multiscale particles” makes for an improved battery, capable of storing more energy, lasting longer, and charging more quickly.

In research published recently in Nature Reviews Materials, a multidisciplinary team of chemical engineers, materials scientists, and demonstrate that using nanotechnology in batteries will improve performance. The paper, entitled “Nano- versus Microstructuring in Battery Electrodes,” compares anodes and cathodes constructed of nano-materials vs. micro-particles and ultimately concludes that a combination of the two—specifically micro-particles that make use of nanostructures—will help batteries meet future energy needs.

“In our view, the next generation of active material particles deployed in future battery systems must be inherently multiscale in nature—that is, they must be micro-sized, yet endowed with nanoscale features or attributes—in order to keep pace with the demand for ever-improving batteries,” says Nikhil Koratkar, the John A. Clark and Edward T. Crossan Professor of Engineering at Rensselaer and corresponding author on this paper.

Dr. Koratkar and his team of researchers, which included doctoral students at Rensselaer and Dr. Chunsheng Wang, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Maryland, began exploring whether there were nanoscale attributes that could be added to traditional-size micro-particles to enhance battery performance. For instance, researchers were able to reduce charging time when they engineered tiny nanoscale tunnels through the micro-particles.

Similarly, when researchers constructed micro-particles with internal nano-porosity, they were able to improve battery longevity without sacrificing columbic efficiency or . Applying materials science innovations like these will significantly improve battery performance and inform battery advances going forward, Koratkar concludes.

“I think the next decade will be an era of intense activity and the battery community will successfully figure out how best to construct multiscale particles for superior performing batteries,” says Koratkar.

New discovery makes fast-charging, better performing lithium-ion batteries possible

More information:
Rishabh Jain et al, Nanostructuring versus microstructuring in battery electrodes, Nature Reviews Materials (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41578-022-00454-9

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Solving the solar energy storage problem with rechargeable batteries that can convert and store energy at once

This review focuses on recent progress of the working principles, device architectures, and performances of various closed-type and open-type photo-enhanced rechargeable metal batteries, exploring their challenges and future perspectives. Credit: Nano Research Energy.

As the climate crisis looms, scientists are racing to find solutions to common clean energy problems, including solar energy storage. Solar energy is one of the best renewable resources we have, but it has challenges that prevent it from being widely adopted and replacing conventional energy sources. Because solar energy is variable throughout the day and throughout the year, it is important to have a robust storage system. Currently, solar is converted to electricity in solar cells, which cannot store the energy long-term, and separate battery storage systems are inconvenient and expensive. To solve this problem, researchers are trying to find ways to combine the power conversion and storage capacity needs of solar energy into one device.

Previous attempts to simplify conversion and storage put two different components together into a complicated device architecture, which was ultimately inefficient, expensive, and heavy. But significant progress has been made in combining these elements into a single device, which shares elements and significantly cuts down on the problems of previous designs.

The research was summarized in a paper published on May 26 in Nano Research Energy.

“The amount of received solar energy on the Earth’s surface is up to 100,000 terawatt-hours, which completely meets the demand of the annual global energy consumption of 16 terawatts,” said paper author Hairong Xue, an assistant professor at the National Institute for Materials Science in Tsukuba, Japan. “However, like , solar energy is intermittent due to fluctuations in isolation. To balance supply and demand, converted solar energy needs to be stored in other energy storage devices. Therefore, it is imperative to incorporate suitable energy storage technologies into , enabling effective solar energy utilization and delivering the produced electricity when needed.”

The paper summarizes progress in using six different types of photo-enhanced rechargeable metal batteries: lithium-ion, zinc-ion, lithium-sulfur, lithium-iodine, zinc-iodine, lithium-oxygen, zinc-oxygen, and lithium-carbon dioxide batteries. The authors detail the advantages and disadvantages of each kind of battery and how it can be applied to solar-to-electricity power conversion and storage. For example, rechargeable batteries, which we are all familiar with because they are used in many modern electronic devices, including laptops, phones, and , are efficient, but would be difficult to scale for solar energy use because of their complicated structure.

Researchers point out that this technology is still in its early stages and there is more research to be done. Looking ahead to the future, they hope to take the next steps toward improving using photo-enhanced rechargeable metal batteries.

“It is necessary to explore more suitable electrode materials and optimize the device structure of the batteries,” Xue said. “For practical applications, stability and must be addressed and improved. Although the development of photo-enhanced rechargeable metal batteries is quite fast-based, most of the studies remain in an early stage of laboratory test. By addressing some critical challenges involving working mechanism, electrode materials, and battery structure design, the goal is to demonstrate viable uses of photo-enhanced rechargeable batteries in electronic and optoelectronic devices.” The researchers also hope to explore how this technology could be applied to other types of energy conversion and storage systems.

Building a better, cheaper battery for power grids

More information:
Renzhi Ma et al, Photo-Enhanced Rechargeable High-Energy-Density Metal Batteries for Solar Energy Conversion and Storage, Nano Research Energy (2022). DOI: 10.26599/NRE.2022.9120007

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Team develops biobatteries that use bacteria to generate power for weeks

Credit: Anwar Elhadad et al, Journal of Power Sources (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.jpowsour.2022.231487

As our tech needs grow and the Internet of Things increasingly connects our devices and sensors together, figuring out how to provide power in remote locations has become an expanding field of research.

Professor Seokheun “Sean” Choi—a faculty member in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Binghamton University’s Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science—has been working for years on biobatteries, which generate electricity through bacterial interaction.

One problem he encountered: The batteries had a lifespan limited to a few hours. That could be useful in some scenarios but not for any kind of long-term monitoring in remote locations.

In a new study published in the Journal of Power Sources, Choi and his collaborators have developed a “plug-and-play” biobattery that lasts for weeks at a time and can be stacked to improve output voltage and current. Co-authors on the research are from Choi’s Bioelectronics and Microsystems Lab: current Ph.D. student Anwar Elhadad, and Lin Liu, Ph.D. (now an assistant professor at Seattle Pacific University).

Choi’s previous batteries had two that interacted to generate the needed, but this new iteration uses three bacteria in separate vertical chambers: “A photosynthetic bacteria generates organic food that will be used as a nutrient for the other bacterial cells beneath. At the bottom is the electricity-producing bacteria, and the middle bacteria will generate some chemicals to improve the electron transfer.”

The most challenging application for the Internet of Things, Choi believes, will be deployed unattended in remote and harsh environments. These sensors will be far from an electric grid and difficult to reach to replace traditional batteries once they run down. Because those networks will allow every corner of the world to be connected, power autonomy is the most critical requirement.

“Right now, we are at 5G, and within the next 10 years I believe it will be 6G,” he said. “With artificial intelligence, we are going to have an enormous number of smart, standalone, always-on devices on extremely small platforms. How do you power these miniaturized devices? The most challenging applications will be the devices deployed in unattended environments. We cannot go there to replace the batteries, so we need miniaturized energy harvesters.”

Choi compares these new biobatteries—which measure 3 centimeters by 3 centimeters square—to Lego bricks that can be combined and reconfigured in a variety of ways depending on the electrical output that a sensor or device needs.

Among the improvements he hopes to achieve through further research is creating a package that can float on water and perform self-healing to automatically repair damage incurred in .

“My ultimate target is to make it really small,” he said. “We call this ‘smart dust,’ and a couple of bacterial cells can generate power that will be enough to operate it. Then we can sprinkle it around where we need to.”

Everything will connect to the internet someday, and this biobattery could help

More information:
Anwar Elhadad et al, Plug-and-play modular biobatteries with microbial consortia, Journal of Power Sources (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.jpowsour.2022.231487

Team develops biobatteries that use bacteria to generate power for weeks (2022, June 22)
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Climate change is shifting state views on nuclear power

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

In many of the states with the nation’s most aggressive climate goals, officials are investing millions of dollars to save the power source that was long the No. 1 target of many environmental activists: nuclear plants.

“We are moving expeditiously toward a clean energy mix, but that is going to take a while,” said Joe Fiordaliso, president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. “We can’t build renewables fast enough, and people still need energy. Nukes are an important interim part of the mix.”

Despite long-standing safety concerns, many state leaders and some say poses a greater risk than reactors, and that preserving nuclear power will prevent an expansion of fossil fuel-powered plants. Nuclear plants provide about 19% of the nation’s electricity, far more than wind and solar combined. Some activists counter that state investments in are coming at the expense of renewable projects, slowing the clean energy transition.

Illinois lawmakers passed a climate bill last year that included a commitment to keep two of the state’s nuclear plants online for five years, even if they are losing money. The state gets more than half of its electricity from nuclear generation, and state leaders said keeping the plants open will buy more time to transition to wind and solar.

“We can build enough renewables and storage to replace those plants, but it will take years,” said Jack Darin, director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club. “(If nuclear plants shut down), we would see increased utilization of the existing very dirty coal plants, primarily in communities of color, and we would see huge advantages for natural gas to come in.”

Several other , primarily on the East Coast, have pumped money into aging and in some cases unprofitable nuclear plants in recent years.

Jessica Azulay, executive director with the Alliance for a Green Economy, a New York-based environmental group that fought a 2016 state deal to subsidize nuclear plants, thinks that’s a mistake.

“It’s an enormous amount of resources that are going to plants that are going to reach the end of their life soon anyway,” she said. “If we had put that money into renewables and efficiency, we would have gotten higher greenhouse gas reductions.”

Opponents also point to the environmental effects of uranium mining and processing, and ongoing concerns about the storage of radioactive waste. But reactors provide continuous, emissions-free power, advocates note, and safety standards have significantly reduced the risk of meltdowns.

The debate largely centers on the preservation of existing plants. Some experts think small, modular reactors could be developed in the future, and Connecticut and West Virginia lawmakers recently revoked state bans on new nuclear facilities partially in case that technology becomes feasible.

But the only nuclear plant currently under construction, a project in Georgia, has run into substantial delays and cost overruns.

Earlier this year, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state would seek funding to extend the life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant under a $6 billion federal program to support nuclear power. The plant is slated for closure in 2025 under an agreement struck with environmental and labor groups in 2016.

“If Diablo Canyon shuts down, we would have to import additional capacity from outside California, and it’s all going to come from gas and coal plants,” said Carl Wurtz, president of Californians for Green Nuclear Power, an advocacy group that supports the industry. “We need to put into proportion the dangers of nuclear versus the dangers of climate change.”

Wurtz said California regulations make it difficult for power plants to remain profitable after their capital costs have been paid off because of rules that decouple profits from the amount of electricity sold, putting Diablo Canyon at a disadvantage. Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Pacific Gas & Electric, the plant’s operator, said plans to decommission the plant starting in 2025 are “full steam ahead.”

Anti-nuclear activists point to PG&E’s application to shut down Diablo Canyon, which said the plant’s large, inflexible power load may be crowding out renewables, and leaving the plant online could increase the costs of adding wind and solar to the grid.

“The nuclear plant actually blocks bringing on more renewables,” said Jane Swanson, president of San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, an advocacy group that opposes the plant. “The loss of electricity from Diablo Canyon is not going to cause more fossil fuels to be used.”

A similar debate is going on in New Jersey, where regulators last year renewed for three years a $300 million annual subsidy to keep three plants open. Nuclear power supplies 35% of the state’s electricity, according to Fiordaliso, the state official.

Jeff Tittel, a longtime environmental activist in New Jersey, was serving as the director of the state’s Sierra Club chapter when the subsidy was created in 2018. He is in favor of keeping the plants open but said the state bailout was wasteful.

“They hid behind climate change as an excuse for the subsidy, and all the subsidy has been doing is enriching the stockholders,” he said. “This is money that could be used for wind and solar.”

In Connecticut, officials made a deal in 2019 to procure power from the state’s Millstone nuclear plant for 10 years, part of a suite of projects for carbon-free electricity. According to state Sen. Norm Needleman, a Democrat who chairs the Energy and Technology Committee, the agreement provided a fixed price for the plant’s operator, Dominion Energy, allowing enough certainty to leave Millstone online.

Surprisingly, that price has saved ratepayers money in recent months, as the costs of other forms of energy have skyrocketed. The state is likely to seek an extension of the deal, he said.

“If you build your whole grid around intermittent renewables, you have times and days of the year where you don’t have any wind or sun,” Needleman said. “Baseload power is critical, and nuclear is the cleanest form of baseload power.”

Save the Sound, a regional environmental nonprofit, initially pushed back on Connecticut’s attempts to subsidize nuclear power, but the group’s leaders now want to keep the plant open as an interim step.

“Sometimes there’s a tendency to engage in magical thinking where the perfect vision of the future is immediately achievable,” said Charles Rothenberger, the organization’s climate and energy attorney. “This facility is currently providing significant amounts of zero-carbon energy, and we should be using that to give us the time we need to ramp up our clean renewables, but it can’t dampen our investments.”

In New York, the state’s 2016 subsidy deal to prop up its nuclear industry is on track to cost ratepayers $7.6 billion by 2029, said Azulay, the New York activist.

“The state was being threatened with multiple reactor shutdowns all at the same time unless the state came up with a bunch of money to subsidize them,” she said. “We could have gotten more energy efficiency and renewables for the money, but now we’re just tying up money in something that’s more expensive.”

New York officials dispute that characterization. Nuclear made up 24% of the state’s electricity in 2021, according to the New York Department of Public Service.

“Had these upstate nuclear abruptly closed, carbon emissions in New York would have increased by more than 15.5 million metric tons annually, resulting in public health and other societal costs of at least $700 million annually,” James Denn, an agency spokesperson, said in a statement.

In Illinois, the agreement reached to keep the state’s online has saved ratepayers money. While lawmakers committed to supporting plants if they couldn’t remain profitable, they also limited the amount that energy companies could earn if prices increased. Rising prices for fossil fuels have made nuclear much more profitable, generating a refund for customers.

Despite the shift toward keeping nuclear plants open, longstanding concerns around public safety and nuclear waste remain.

Climate change, which has brought rising sea levels and more powerful storms, is increasing the risks, said Tim Judson, at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, an anti-nuclear nonprofit.

“Reactors are more vulnerable to these natural disasters than they were designed for,” he said, pointing to the 2011 nuclear meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant after a tsunami.

But nuclear backers say the industry has learned from such high-profile disasters, and that American plants have high safety standards. They also note that far more people die every year because of pollution caused by fossil fuel-powered plants than have been killed in nuclear disasters.

“Fear of nuclear is really unjustified,” said Wurtz, the California advocate.

Environmentalists oppose more life for California nuke plant

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The simultaneous transmission of 5G and power

This could serve as the prototype for the transceiver. Credit: IEEE

The potential of millimeter-wave wireless power transfer as a solution for the Internet of Things has finally been harnessed by researchers from Tokyo Tech, who have created a device for simultaneous transmission of power and 5G signal. This transceiver for 5G network signal is fully wirelessly powered and has high power conversion efficiency at large distances and angles.

Ever since Nikola Tesla first proposed the idea of wireless transfer of , there have been multiple efforts to exploit this concept for different applications. A new way to do this is with 5G networks. As 5G networks start coming online, there is an expected associated increase in the scale of the Internet of Things network. With so many devices on the network, there is a growing need to make wirelessly powered devices that can work with 5G signals. The production of such devices has faced the same hurdles that a lot of wirelessly powered devices face—short transmission distances and a fixed direction from which power can be received.

Now, a team of scientists from Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech), led by Associate Professor , have reported the production of a wirelessly powered transmitter-receiver for 5G networks that overcomes both of these problems. Their findings were presented during the 2022 IEEE Symposium on VLSI Technology & Circuits.

Dr. Shirane explains that “the millimeter-wave wireless power transfer system is a promising solution for massive Internet of Things, yet it has been hampered by technical problems. We were thus able to make a breakthrough by producing a 5G transceiver with at big angles and distances.”

Electricity and data over-the-air: The simultaneous transmission of 5G and power
The graph demonstrates that how, as the beam steering increases from 0° to 45° during wireless power transmission, the present device can continue to generate 46% power—a much higher percentage than previous devices which would degrade to a few percent—while achieving more than twice the distance achieved by older devices. Credit: IEEE

The transmitter-receiver produced by the team is the first of its kind. The device has two modes, a receiving mode, and a transmitting mode. In the receiving mode, the device receives a 5G signal and a millimeter-wave power signal. This power signal activates the device and provides it with power. The device then enters the transmission mode and sends a 5G signal back in the same direction from which it initially received one. Thus, a device like this can easily communicate and be part of the Internet of Things without needing a separate plug point, unlike most current indoor Internet of Things devices. The device can generate power over a wide span of angles and distances and, thus, does not suffer from the challenges faced by previous wirelessly powered devices.

Thus, with smaller devices like this, which require very little maintenance and additional infrastructure, the Internet of Things network can be expanded easily and make our world better connected. Dr. Shirane concludes that “this was the world’s first simultaneous reception of power and communication signals with beam steering. We truly believe that technology like this can revolutionize the Internet of Things and free it from the shackles that bind it today.”

Lean and mean: Maximizing 5G communications with an energy-efficient relay network

More information:
Atsushi Shirane et al, A 28-GHz Fully-Passive Retro-Reflective Phased-Array Backscattering Transceiver for 5G Network with 24-GHz Beam-Steered Wireless Power Transfer, 2022 IEEE Symposium on VLSI Technology & Circuits.


Electricity and data over-the-air: The simultaneous transmission of 5G and power (2022, June 13)
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Carbon, cost and battery conditioning benefits calculated for vehicle-to-grid chargepoints

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Vehicle-to-grid chargepoints can improve battery life in electric vehicles and reduce carbon emissions and costs of charging, a government-funded project has found.

Research from the EV-elocity project shows that, by careful charging and discharging, EV degradation can reduce by one-eighth, and, in some situations, up to 450 kg of emitted (CO2) or £400 could be saved per vehicle each year.

Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) can balance the calendar and cycling aging (both of which affect the rate of battery degradation) to optimize the battery condition and improve its health by 8.6—12.3% over one-year’s operation, compared to conventional charging alone—equivalent to one extra year of use.

In cost-terms, V2G tariff optimization can save around £100 per year per chargepoint on normal business electricity tariffs, with up to £400 saved on a smarter tariff.

If managed to maximize the environmental benefit, nearly half a ton of annual CO2 emissions can be saved, and significant savings (over 180 kg) can be made even when reducing cost is the main goal.

Chris Rimmer, Infrastructure Strategy lead at Cenex and the project’s lead project manager, says that their “conclusions show that it is not necessary to trade-off financial, environmental and asset lifetimes when charging Electric Vehicles. Cost, carbon, and conditioning benefits can all be gained when V2G is used intelligently with fleet vehicles.”

Professor Lucelia Rodrigues of the University of Nottingham added that “a key challenge for an optimum application of V2G technology is to synchronize the needs and requirements of the users and the energy and . Our work correlated variables such as user needs, mobility patterns and to evolve different possible scenarios for the application of V2G chargers, with a view of maximizing local renewable energy consumption, lowering costs for the user, improving battery life and reducing from the whole system.”

“Our highlighted the potential to extend by exploiting the unique capability of V2G chargers to both charge and discharge the vehicle battery”, commented Professor James Marco of WMG, University of Warwick. “By careful optimization of this process and knowing how the battery performance may degrade over time, it is possible to condition the battery to extend its life in a number if situations when compared to conventional methods of vehicle charging.”

The project deployed 15 chargepoints across nine sites—including West Midlands Police, Leeds City Council and the University of Nottingham Creative Energy Homes campus. Two of chargers from eNovates and Nichicon were managed by a technology-agnostic operating system, demonstrating V2G across the different trial sites within the UK.

The final report presents the findings and lessons learned for future vehicle-to-grid deployment.

Can EV spare battery capacity support the grid?

More information:
Report: … ity-Final-Report.pdf

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Scientists use multivalent cation additives to rid rechargeable batteries of a common pitfall

Graphical abstract. Credit: Cell Reports Physical Science (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.xcrp.2022.100907

Researchers at Tohoku University have unearthed a means to stabilize lithium or sodium deposits in rechargeable batteries, helping keep their metallic structure intact. The discovery prevents potential battery degradation and short circuiting, and paves the way for higher energy-density metal-anode batteries.

Scientists are always seeking to develop safer, higher-capacity, and faster-charging to meet our energy needs sustainably. Metal anodes show the highest promise to achieve that goal. Yet the use of alkali metals poses several problems.

In a rechargeable battery, ions pass from the cathode to the anode when charging, and in the opposite direction when generating power. Repeated and dissolution of metal deforms the structures of and . Additionally, fluctuations in diffusion and electric fields in the electrolytes close to the electrode surface leads to the formation of needle-like microstructures called dendrites. The dendrites are weakly bonded and peel away from the electrodes, resulting in short circuiting and decreases in cycle capacity.

To solve this problem, a research team led by Hongyi Li and Tetsu Ichitsubo from Tohoku University’s Institute for Materials Research added multivalent , such as calcium ions, that altered and strengthened the solvation structure of lithium or sodium ions in the electrolyte.

“Our modified structure moderates the reduction of lithium or sodium ions on the electrode surface and enables a stable diffusion and electric field,” said Dr. Li. The stabilized ions, in turn, preserve the structure of the electrodeposited metals.

Details of their research were published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science on May 20, 2022.

For their next steps, Li and Ichitsubo are hoping to improve the metal anodes’ interface design to further enhance the cycle life and power density of the batteries.

Reactive electrolyte additives improve lithium metal battery performance

More information:
Hongyi Li et al, Dendrite-free alkali metal electrodeposition from contact-ion-pair state induced by mixing alkaline earth cation, Cell Reports Physical Science (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.xcrp.2022.100907

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Sonar technology tool to help conserve water

University of Canterbury Civil and Natural Resources Engineer Dr Derek Li with the sonar technology for detecting blocked and damaged underground water pipes.

Dr. Derek Li, Lecturer in Civil and Natural Resources Engineering at the University of Canterbury (UC), has been further developing a unique system pioneered by UC Professor Pedro Lee, that uses soundwaves to locate broken or leaking pipes.

Dr. Li says the technology provides a very accurate location of the problem so it can be fixed without needing to dig up a wide area.

“The basic mechanics are like a sonar system, which is used by bats and dolphins. We’ve developed that can identify and pinpoint the location of a blockage or .

“Typically, the only way to assess the quality of a section of pipe is to shut off the water supply and dig it up. But our approach is non-invasive. We use a fire hydrant as access, put in a sensor listening device and then just listen to soundwaves that are already in the system.

“We can identify leaks as a hissing noise and we can also detect signals that suggest corrosion of the pipes or blockages.”

The technology has been tested on the University of Canterbury campus as part of a 15-year plan to repair and renew the campus’ aging water pipe system.

Dr. Li and Professor Lee, also worked with Waimakariri District Council last year, carrying out assessments on in the Oxford area helping the local authority identify corroded pipes.

Dr. Li says these experiences have boosted confidence in the accuracy of the tools.

Aging water pipelines is a major issue across New Zealand: “Most of our were installed 50–70 years ago and they are approaching their designed lifespan, but there is inadequate information on which pipe section’s rehabilitation should be prioritized. The technology could be used throughout New Zealand, and potentially internationally, to identify pipe issues, achieve proactive infrastructure management and help conserve water,” he says.

“About 20% of our drinking water is leaking from damaged water pipelines. If we can save water by finding leaks and maintaining our water supply then we can alleviate a lot of issues.”

AI could help cities detect expensive water leaks

Sonar technology tool to help conserve water (2022, June 3)
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Increasing methane yield from biogas plants

Reactor for catalytic methanation of CO2, 50 kW nominal output. Credit: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

Biogas plants produce methane along with more than 40% CO2 which has been released into the atmosphere in conventional biogas plants. Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Microengineering and Microsystems IMM have now found a way to convert this waste product into additional methane, thus drastically increasing the methane yield from biogas plants. The process is up and running and the research team is currently scaling up the demonstration plant to five cubic meters of methane per hour.

Germany is on the road to climate neutrality and is aiming to reduce by 65% by 2030 compared to the 1990 levels. Biogas plants play an important role in defossilization: Bacteria in these plants break down biomass in the absence of oxygen to form biogas which, on average, comprises up to 60% methane and more than 40% CO2. While the biogas is used to generate electricity and heat in combined heat and power units or can be upgraded to natural gas quality and fed into the natural gas network, the CO2 has not been utilized to date.

Ensuring full use of biogas

Researchers from Fraunhofer IMM are now working at technology to utilize the CO2. “We are converting the CO2 into methane using green ,” says Dr. Christian Bidart, one of the scientists at Fraunhofer IMM, explaining the principle behind the new process. This means that the biogas produced can be used to its full extent now and not only to around 60%, as in the past. The underlying chemical reaction has been discovered more than hundred years ago, but to date it has not been used for direct upgrading of biogas. In the scope of the energy transition process, however, pathways for the utilization of CO2 are getting into focus.

In the ICOCAD I project, the research team developed a demonstration plant which converts one cubic meter of biogas per hour into one cubic meter of with a thermal power equivalent of ten kilowatts of the electrolyzer required to produce the hydrogen for the process. In the follow-up project ICOCAD II, the researchers are now in the process of scaling up this demonstrator by a factor of five—to a thermal output of 50 kilowatts. One of the challenges in this project is the highly dynamic nature of the process. The amount of electricity generated by wind and fluctuates significantly—which means that the amount of green hydrogen obtained from water using electricity in electrolyzers is also subject to considerable fluctuations. The demonstration plant therefore needs to be able to respond quickly to varying quantities of hydrogen. Storing hydrogen would technically be possible but would be complicated and expensive. “We are therefore working on making the entire system flexible in order to avoid hydrogen storage to the largest possible extent,” says Bidart. CO2 storage tanks are part of this plan, because the quantity of CO2 produced in the remains constant.

Fraunhofer process increases methane yield from biogas plants
10 kW mini plant for the methanation of CO2. Credit: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

Developing efficient catalysts

Developing for the reaction was another challenge. The solution that the Fraunhofer IMM researchers came up with was to use a microcoating made from precious metals. The principle behind it is that hydrogen and carbon dioxide flow through a large number of microchannels—which have walls coated with the catalyst—where they react with each other. “In this way, we can increase the contact surface between the gases and the catalyst material and reduce the amount of catalyst required,” says Bidart. Numerous microstructures of this kind are stacked on top of each other in the reactor.

Plans for further upscaling

The researchers are currently working on implementing the larger demonstrator and realizing dynamic operation. They hope to be able to put this plant into operation in 2023 so they can test it under real conditions at a biogas plant. However, this is by no means the limit of their upscaling plans—given the large volumes of CO2 produced by the biogas plants. The researchers therefore have further plans to scale up to 500 kilowatts by 2025 and again to one to two megawatts by 2026.

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Increasing methane yield from biogas plants (2022, June 1)
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