07 Oct 2016
** Special to the Washington Post
The batteries that power our high-tech lifestyle are built using materials extracted in dirty, often life-threatening conditions.
If you have a cell phone, laptop, a hybrid car, or an electric vehicle, you may want to sit down. This may hurt.
You have probably heard of blood diamonds and conflict minerals. Maybe you’ve even read up a bit on how big consumer tech companies are trying (and, in some cases, being forced by governments) to sort out where the materials that go into their gadgets come from. But stories about “supply chains,” “globalization,” and “poor working conditions” can seem a world away, or just plain academic.
In a sweeping, heartbreaking series, the Washington Post is making sure it hits home.
Take the example of Yu Yuan, a farmer who lives near a graphite factory in northeastern China. In a video, he swipes at shimmering grime accumulated in his window sill and points at a barren cornfield.
The crops turn black with graphite dust he says, and don’t grow properly. He and his wife worry about the air they’re breathing and their water is undrinkable, polluted by chemicals dumped from the graphite plant. “There is nothing here once the factory is done damaging this place,” he says.
Workers in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, tend to an oven that processes slag from the region’s cobalt and copper-rich ores.
Over two pieces so far, the Post has traced the path of first cobalt and then graphite as they make their way from mines to factories and ultimately into our hands as the cathodes and anodes, respectively, for lithium-ion batteries.
Each story is a remarkable blend of globe-spanning investigative journalism, business reporting, and an appeal to us to confront the consequences of owning the devices that power our high-tech lifestyles.
While graphite is mined and processed mostly in China, a huge amount of cobalt comes from mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where “artisanal” miners sometimes dig through the floor of their own houses in search of ore. Mines collapse frequently. Injuries and death are commonplace.
Once extracted, the materials end up in Asia, where companies you’ve probably never heard of turn them into battery parts. The largest battery makers in the world, including Samsung SDI, LG Chem, and Panasonic, then purchase the components and turn them into batteries that go into phones, computers, and cars. (article continued below)
A “New Way” to Power Our World?
Read (Watch the YouTube Video Below) About a New Energy Storage Company ~ Making Energy Dense, Flexible Form, Rapid Charge/ Re-Charge Super Capacitors and Batteries for Medical Devices, Drone Batteries, Power Banks, Motorcycle and EV Batteries, developed from a Rice University Technology using ‘Nanoporous Nickle’ and ‘Si Nano Wires.
(article continued) Lithium batteries are prized for being light and having a high energy density compared to other battery chemistries. The modern smartphone would be difficult to imagine without a lithium battery as its power supply. They help power hybrid cars, and the small but fast-growing fleet of all-electric vehicles wouldn’t exist without them.
Interest in electric cars, in particular, is fueled by claims that the vehicles are clean and good for the environment. That may be true in the countries where they are mostly sold. But when we consider the bigger picture, the reality is something else altogether.
Read More: MIT Review – August 2016
Startups with novel chemistries tend to falter before they reach full production.
Earlier this year, Ellen Williams, the director of ARPA-E, the U.S. Department of Energy’s advanced research program for alternative energy, made headlines when she told the Guardiannewspaper that “We have reached some holy grails in batteries.”
Despite very promising results from the 75-odd energy-storage research projects that ARPA-E funds, however, the grail of compact, low-cost energy storage remains elusive.
A number of startups are closer to producing devices that are economical, safe, compact, and energy-dense enough to store energy at a cost of less than $100 a kilowatt-hour. Energy storage at that price would have a galvanic effect, overcoming the problem of powering a 24/7 grid with renewable energy that’s available only when the wind blows or the sun shines, and making electric vehicles lighter and less expensive.
But those batteries are not being commercialized at anywhere near the pace needed to hasten the shift from fossil fuels to renewables. Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk, hardly one to underplay the promise of new technology, has been forced to admit that, for now, the electric-car maker is engaged in a gradual slog of enhancements to its existing lithium-ion batteries, not a big leap forward.
In fact, many researchers believe energy storage will have to take an entirely new chemistry and new physical form, beyond the lithium-ion batteries that over the last decade have shoved aside competing technologies in consumer electronics, electric vehicles, and grid-scale storage systems. In May the DOE held a symposium entitled “Beyond Lithium-Ion.” The fact that it was the ninth annual edition of the event underscored the technological challenges of making that step.
Qichao Hu, the founder of SolidEnergy Systems, has developed a lithium-metal battery (which has a metallic anode, rather than the graphite material used for the anode in traditional lithium-ion batteries) that offers dramatically improved energy density over today’s devices (see“Better Lithium Batteries to Get a Test Flight”). The decade-long process of developing the new system highlighted one of the main hurdles in battery advancement: “In terms of moving from an idea to a product,” says Hu, “it’s hard for batteries, because when you improve one aspect, you compromise other aspects.”
Added to this is the fact that energy storage research has a multiplicity problem: there are so many technologies, from foam batteries to flow batteries to exotic chemistries, that no one clear winner is attracting most of the funding and research activity.
According to a recent analysis of more than $4 billion in investments in energy storage by Lux Research, startups developing “next-generation” batteries—i.e., beyond lithium-ion—averaged just $40 million in funding over eight years. Tesla’s investment in its Gigafactory, which will produce lithium-ion batteries, will total around $5 billion. That huge investment gap is hard to overcome.
“It will cost you $500 million to set up a small manufacturing line and do all the minutiae of research you need to do to make the product,” says Gerd Ceder, a professor of materials science at the University of California, Berkeley, who heads a research group investigating novel battery chemistries. Automakers, he points out, may test new battery systems for years before making a purchase decision. It’s hard to invest $500 million in manufacturing when your company has $5 million in funding a year.
Even if new battery makers manage to bring novel technologies to market, they face a dangerous period of ramping up production and finding buyers. Both Leyden Energy and A123 Systems failed after developing promising new systems, as their cash needs climbed and demand failed to meet expectations. Two other startups, Seeo and Sakti3, were acquired before they reached mass production and significant revenues, for prices below what their early-stage investors probably expected.
Meanwhile, the Big Three battery producers, Samsung, LG, and Panasonic, are less interested in new chemistries and radical departures in battery technology than they are in gradual improvements to their existing products. And innovative battery startups face one major problem they don’t like to mention: lithium-ion batteries, first developed in the late 1970s, keep getting better.
Read more: Why We Still Don’t Have Better Batteries The Washington Post
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Drones are used for various applications such as aero picturing, disaster recovery, and delivering. Despite attracting attention as a new growth area, the biggest problem of drones is its small battery capacity and limited flight time of less than an hour. A fuel cell developed by Prof. Gyeong Man Choi (Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering) and his research team at POSTECH can solve this problem.
Prof. Choi and his Ph.D. student Kun Joong Kim have developed a miniaturized solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) to replace lithium-ion batteries in smartphones, laptops, drones, and other small electronic devices. Their results were published in the March edition of Scientific Reports, the sister journal of Nature.
Their achievement has been highly evaluated because it can be utilized, not only for a small fuel cell, but also for a large-capacity fuel cell that can be used for a vehicle.
The SOFC, referred to as a third-generation fuel cell, has been intensively studied since it has a simple structure and no problems with corrosion or loss of the electrolyte. This fuel cell converts hydrogen into electricity by oxygen-ion migration to fuel electrode through an oxide electrolyte. Typically, silicon has been used after lithography and etching as a supporting component of small oxide fuel cells. This design, however, has shown rapid degradation or poor durability due to thermal-expansion mismatch with the electrolyte, and thus, it cannot be used in actual devices that require fast On/Off.
The research team developed, for the first time in the world, a new technology that combines porous stainless steel, which is thermally and mechanically strong and highly stable to oxidation/reduction reactions, with thin-film electrolyte and electrodes of minimal heat capacity. Performance and durability were increased simultaneously. In addition, the fuel cells are made by a combination of tape casting-lamination-cofiring (TLC) techniques that are commercially viable for large scale SOFC.
The fuel cells exhibited a high power density of ~ 560 mW cm-2 at 550 oC. The research team expects this fuel cell may be suitable for portable electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, and drones that require high power-density and quick on/off. They also expect to develop large and inexpensive fuel cells for a power source of next-generation automotive.
With this fuel cell, drones can fly more than one hour, and the team expects to have smartphones that charge only once a week.
This research was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
03 Mar 2016
“Our climate change solution is two fold: To transform the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into valuable products and to provide greenhouse gas emission-free alternatives to today’s industrial and transportation fossil fuel processes,” Stuart Licht, professor of chemistry at George Washington University
An interdisciplinary team of scientists has worked out a way to make electric vehicles that are not only carbon neutral, but carbon negative, capable of actually reducing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide as they operate. They have done so by demonstrating how the graphite electrodes used in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric automobiles can be replaced with carbon material recovered from the atmosphere.
The recipe for converting carbon dioxide gas into batteries is described in a paper published in the March 2 issue of the journal ACS Central Science (“Carbon Nanotubes Produced from Ambient Carbon Dioxide for Environmentally Sustainable Lithium-Ion and Sodium-Ion Battery Anodes”).
The Solar Thermal Electrochemical Process (STEP) converts atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbon nanotubes that can be used in advanced batteries. (Image: Julie Turner, Vanderbilt University)
“Our climate change solution is two fold: To transform the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into valuable products and to provide greenhouse gas emission-free alternatives to today’s industrial and transportation fossil fuel processes,” Stuart Licht, professor of chemistry at George Washington University said.
“In addition to better batteries other applications for the carbon nanotubes include carbon composites for strong, lightweight construction materials, sports equipment and car, truck and airplane bodies.” The unusual pairing of carbon dioxide conversion and advanced battery technology is the result of a collaboration between Dr. Licht, and the laboratory of assistant professor of mechanical engineering Cary Pint at Vanderbilt University. Licht adapted the lab’s solar thermal electrochemical process (STEP) so that it produces carbon nanotubes from carbon dioxide and with Pint by incorporating them into both lithium-ion batteries like those used in electric vehicles and electronic devices and low-cost sodium-ion batteries under development for large-scale applications, such as the electric grid. In lithium-ion batteries, the nanotubes replace the carbon anode used in commercial batteries.
The team demonstrated that the carbon nanotubes gave a small boost to the performance, which was amplified when the battery was charged quickly. In sodium-ion batteries, the researchers found that small defects in the carbon, which can be tuned by STEP, can unlock stable storage performance over 3.5 times above that of sodium-ion batteries with graphite electrodes. Most importantly, both carbon-nanotube batteries were exposed to about 2.5 months of continuous charging and discharging and showed no sign of fatigue.
Published on Feb 25, 2016: Video interview with Cary Pint explaining this research.
Scientists from Vanderbilt and George Washington universities have worked out a way to make electric vehicles not just carbon neutral but carbon negative by demonstrating how the graphite electrodes used in the lithium-ion batteries can be replaced with carbon recovered from the atmosphere.
|“This trailblazing research has achieved yet another amazing milestone with the incorporation of the carbon nanotubes produced by Stuart Licht’s STEP reduction of carbon dioxide process into batteries for electric vehicles and large scale storage,” said Michael King, chair of GW’s Department of Chemistry. “We are thrilled by this translation of basic research into potentially useful consumer products while mitigating atmospheric carbon dioxide buildup. This is a win-win for everyone!”|
|The researchers estimate that with a battery cost of $325 per kWh (the average cost of lithium-ion batteries reported by the Department of Energy in 2013), a kilogram of carbon dioxide has a value of about $18 as a battery material – six times more than when it is converted to methanol – a number that only increases when moving from large batteries used in electric vehicles to the smaller batteries used in electronics.
And unlike methanol, combining batteries with solar cells provides renewable power with zero greenhouse emissions, which is needed to put an end to the current carbon cycle that threatens future global sustainability.
|Licht also proposes a modified flue system for combustion plants that incorporates this process could be self-sustaining, as exemplified by a new natural gas power plant with zero carbon dioxide emissions. That’s because the side product of the process is pure oxygen, which plants could then use for further combustion. The calculated total cost per metric tonne of CNTs would be much less expensive than current synthetic methods.|
|“This approach not only produces better batteries but it also establishes a value for carbon dioxide recovered from the atmosphere that is associated with the end-user battery cost unlike most efforts to reuse CO2 that are aimed at low-valued fuels, like methanol, that cannot justify the cost required to produce them,” said Pint.|
|Source: Vanderbilt University|
Genesis Nanotechnology, Inc. ~ “Great Things from Small Things”
13 Jan 2016
|While lithium-ion batteries have transformed our everyday lives, researchers are currently trying to find new chemistries that could offer even better energy possibilities. One of these chemistries, lithium-air, could promise greater energy density but has certain drawbacks as well.|
|Now, thanks to research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Argonne National Laboratory, one of those drawbacks may have been overcome (Nature, “A lithium–oxygen battery based on lithium superoxide”).|
|The lattice match between LiO2 and Ir3Li may be responsible for the LiO2 discharge product found for the Ir-rGO cathode material.|
|All previous work on lithium-air batteries showed the same phenomenon: the formation of lithium peroxide (Li2O2), a solid precipitate that clogged the pores of the electrode.|
|In a recent experiment, however, Argonne battery scientists Jun Lu, Larry Curtiss and Khalil Amine, along with American and Korean collaborators, were able to produce stable crystallized lithium superoxide (LiO2) instead of lithium peroxide during battery discharging. Unlike lithium peroxide, lithium superoxide can easily dissociate into lithium and oxygen, leading to high efficiency and good cycle life.|
|“This discovery really opens a pathway for the potential development of a new kind of battery,” Curtiss said. “Although a lot more research is needed, the cycle life of the battery is what we were looking for.”|
|The major advantage of a battery based on lithium superoxide, Curtiss and Amine explained, is that it allows, at least in theory, for the creation of a lithium-air battery that consists of what chemists call a “closed system.” Open systems require the consistent intake of extra oxygen from the environment, while closed systems do not — making them safer and more efficient.|
|“The stabilization of the superoxide phase could lead to developing a new closed battery system based on lithium superoxide, which has the potential of offering truly five times the energy density of lithium ion,” Amine said.|
|Curtiss and Lu attributed the growth of the lithium superoxide to the spacing of iridium atoms in the electrode used in the experiment. “It looks like iridium will serve as a good template for the growth of superoxide,” Curtiss said.|
|“However, this is just an intermediate step,” Lu added. “We have to learn how to design catalysts to understand exactly what’s involved in lithium-air batteries.”|
|Source: Argonne National Laboratory|
A team of researchers working in China has found a way to dramatically improve the energy storage capacity of supercapacitors—by doping carbon tubes with nitrogen. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team describes their process and how well the newly developed supercapacitors worked, and their goal of one day helping supercapacitors compete with batteries.
Like a battery, a capacitor is able to hold a charge, unlike a battery, however, it is able to be charged and discharged very quickly—the down side to capacitors is that they cannot hold nearly as much charge per kilogram as batteries. The work by the team in China is a step towards increasing the amount of charge that can be held by supercapacitors (capacitors that have much higher capacitance than standard capacitors—they generally employ carbon-based electrodes)—in this case, they report a threefold increase using their new method—noting also that that their supercapacitor was capable of storing 41 watt-hours per kilogram and could deliver 26 kilowatts per kilogram to a device.
The new supercapacitor was made by first forming a template made of tubes of silica. The team then covered the inside of the tubes with carbon using chemical vapor deposition and then etched away the silica, leaving just the carbon tubes, each approximately 4 to 6 nanometers in length. Then, the carbon tubes were doped with nitrogen atoms. Electrodes were made from the resulting material by pressing it in powder form into a graphene foam. The researchers report that the doping aided in chemical reactions within the supercapacitor without causing any changes to its electrical conductivity, which meant that it was still able to charge and discharge as quickly as conventional supercapcitors. The only difference was the dramatically increased storage capacity.
Because of the huge increase in storage capacity, the team believes they are on the path to building a supercapacitor able to compete directly with batteries, perhaps even lithium-ion batteries. They note that would mean being able to charge a phone in mere seconds. But before that can happen, the team is looking to industrialize their current new supercapacitor, to allow for its use in actual devices.
More information: T. Lin et al. Nitrogen-doped mesoporous carbon of extraordinary capacitance for electrochemical energy storage, Science (2015). DOI: 10.1126/science.aab3798
Carbon-based supercapacitors can provide high electrical power, but they do not have sufficient energy density to directly compete with batteries. We found that a nitrogen-doped ordered mesoporous few-layer carbon has a capacitance of 855 farads per gram in aqueous electrolytes and can be bipolarly charged or discharged at a fast, carbon-like speed. The improvement mostly stems from robust redox reactions at nitrogen-associated defects that transform inert graphene-like layered carbon into an electrochemically active substance without affecting its electric conductivity. These bipolar aqueous-electrolyte electrochemical cells offer power densities and lifetimes similar to those of carbon-based supercapacitors and can store a specific energy of 41 watt-hours per kilogram (19.5 watt-hours per liter).
Supercapacitors can be charged and discharged tens of thousands of times, but their relatively low energy density compared to conventional batteries limits their application for energy storage. Now, A*STAR researchers have developed an ‘asymmetric’ supercapacitor based on metal nitrides and graphene that could be a viable energy storage solution (“All Metal Nitrides Solid-State Asymmetric Supercapacitors”).
|llustration of the asymmetric supercapacitor, consisting of vertically aligned graphene nanosheets coated with iron nitride and titanium nitride as the anode and cathode, respectively. (©WILEY-VCH Verlag)|
|A supercapacitor’s viability is largely determined by the materials of which its anodes and cathodes are comprised. These electrodes must have a high surface area per unit weight, high electrical conductivity and capacitance and be physically robust so they do not degrade during operation in liquid or hostile environments.|
|Unlike traditional supercapacitors, which use the same material for both electrodes, the anode and cathode in an asymmetric supercapacitor are made up of different materials. Scientists initially used metal oxides as asymmetric supercapacitor electrodes, but, as metal oxides do not have particularly high electrical conductivities and become unstable over long operating cycles, it was clear that a better alternative was needed.|
|Metal nitrides such as titanium nitride, which offer both high conductivity and capacitance, are a promising alternative, but they tend to oxidize in watery environments that limits their lifetime as an electrode. A solution to this is to combine them with more stable materials.|
|Hui Huang from A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology and his colleagues from Nanyang Technological University and Jinan University, China, have fabricated asymmetric supercapacitors which incorporate metal nitride electrodes with stacked sheets of graphene.|
|To get the maximum benefit from the graphene surface, the team used a precise method for creating thin-films, a process known as atomic layer deposition, to grow two different materials on vertically aligned graphene nanosheets: titanium nitride for their supercapacitor’s cathode and iron nitride for the anode. The cathode and anode were then heated to 800 and 600 degrees Celsius respectively, and allowed to slowly cool. The two electrodes were then separated in the asymmetric supercapacitor by a solid-state electrolyte, which prevented the oxidization of the metal nitrides.|
|The researchers tested their supercapacitor devices and showed they could cycle 20,000 times and exhibited both high capacitance and high power density. “These improvements are due to the ultra-high surface area of the vertically aligned graphene substrate and the atomic layer deposition method that enables full use of it,” says Huang. “In future research, we want to enlarge the working-voltage of the device to increase energy density further still,” says Huang.|
03 Nov 2015
McMaster University: Summary: New work demonstrates an improved three-dimensional energy storage device constructed by trapping functional nanoparticles within the walls of a foam-like structure made of nanocellulose. The foam is made in one step and can be used to produce more sustainable capacitor devices with higher power density and faster charging abilities compared to rechargeable batteries. This development paves the way towards the production of lightweight, flexible, and high-power electronics for application in wearable devices, portable power sources and hybrid vehicles.
McMaster Engineering researchers Emily Cranston and Igor Zhitomirsky are turning trees into energy storage devices capable of powering everything from a smart watch to a hybrid car.
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 supercapacitors. 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.
“Ultimately the goal of this research is to find ways to power current and future technology with efficiency and in a sustainable way,” says Cranston, whose joint research was recently published in Advanced Materials. “This means anticipating future technology needs and relying on materials that are more environmentally friendly and not based on depleting resources.
Cellulose offers the advantages of high strength and flexibility for many advanced applications; of particular interest are nanocellulose-based materials. The work by Cranston, an assistant chemical engineering professor, and Zhitomirsky, a materials science and engineering professor, demonstrates an improved three-dimensional energy storage device constructed by trapping functional nanoparticles within the walls of a nanocellulose foam.
The foam is made in a simplified and fast one-step process. The type of nanocellulose used is called cellulose nanocrystals and looks like uncooked long-grain rice but with nanometer-dimensions. In these new devices, the ‘rice grains’ have been glued together at random points forming a mesh-like structure with lots of open space, hence the extremely lightweight nature of the material. This can be used to produce more sustainable capacitor devices with higher power density and faster charging abilities compared to rechargeable batteries.
Lightweight and high-power density capacitors are of particular interest for the development of hybrid and electric vehicles. The fast-charging devices allow for significant energy saving, because they can accumulate energy during braking and release it during acceleration.
“I believe that the best results can be obtained when researchers combine their expertise,” Zhitomirsky says. “Emily is an amazing research partner. I have been deeply impressed by her enthusiasm, remarkable ability to organize team work and generate new ideas.”
- Xuan Yang, Kaiyuan Shi, Igor Zhitomirsky, Emily D. Cranston. Cellulose Nanocrystal Aerogels as Universal 3D Lightweight Substrates for Supercapacitor Materials. Advanced Materials, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/adma.201502284
22 Oct 2015
Posted: Oct 21, 2015
Sun and wind are important sources of renewable energy, but they suffer from natural fluctuations: In stormy weather or bright sunshine electricity produced exceeds demand, whereas clouds or a lull in the wind inevitably cause a power shortage.
For continuity in electricity supply and stable power grids, energy storage devices will become essential.
So-called redox-flow batteries are the most promising technology to solve this problem. However, they still have one crucial disadvantage: They require expensive materials and aggressive acids.
A team of researchers at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (FSU Jena), in the Center for Energy and Environmental Chemistry (CEEC Jena) and the JenaBatteries GmbH (a spin-off of the University Jena), made a decisive step towards a redox-flow battery which is simple to handle, safe and economical at the same time: They developed a system on the basis of organic polymers and a harmless saline solution.
“What’s new and innovative about our battery is that it can be produced at much less cost, while nearly reaching the capacity of traditional metal and acid containing systems,” Dr. Martin Hager says.
CAPTION Jena research team and its innovative battery (from left to right) are: Prof. Dr. Ulrich S. Schubert, Tobias Janoschka und Dr. Martin Hager.
The scientists present their battery technology in the current edition of the renowned scientific journal Nature (“An aqueous, polymer-based redox-flow battery using non-corrosive, safe, and low-cost materials”).
In contrast to conventional batteries, the electrodes of a redox-flow battery are not made of solid materials (e.g., metals or metal salts) but they come in a dissolved form: The electrolyte solutions are stored in two tanks, which form the positive and negative terminal of the battery.
With the help of pumps the polymer solutions are transferred to an electrochemical cell, in which the polymers are electrochemically reduced or oxidized, thereby charging or discharging the battery. To prevent the electrolytes from intermixing, the cell is divided into two compartments by a membrane.
“In these systems the amount of energy stored as well as the power rating can be individually adjusted. Moreover, hardly any self-discharge occurs,” Martin Hager explains.
Traditional redox-flow systems mostly use the heavy metal vanadium, dissolved in sulphuric acid as electrolyte.
“This is not only extremely expensive, but the solution is highly corrosive, so that a specific membrane has to be used and the life-span of the battery is limited,” Hager points out.
In the redox-flow battery of the Jena scientists, on the other hand, novel synthetic materials are used: In their core structure they resemble Plexiglas and Styrofoam (polystyrene), but functional groups have been added enabling the material to accept or donate electrons. No aggressive acids are necessary anymore; the polymers rather ‘swim’ in an aqueous solution.
“Thus we are able to use a simple and low-cost cellulose membrane and avoid poisonous and expensive materials”, Tobias Janoschka, first author of the new study, explains. “This polymer-based redox-flow battery is ideally suited as energy storage for large wind farms and photovoltaic power stations,” Prof. Dr. Ulrich S. Schubert says. He is chair for Organic and Macromolecular Chemistry at the FSU Jena and director of the CEEC Jena, a unique energy research center run in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems Hermsdorf/Dresden (IKTS).
In first tests the redox-flow battery from Jena could withstand up to 10.000 charging cycles without losing a crucial amount of capacity. The energy density of the system presented in the study is ten watt-hours per liter. Yet, the scientists are already working on larger, more efficient systems. In addition to the fundamental research at the University, the chemists develop their system, within the framework of the start-up company JenaBatteries GmbH, towards marketable products.
Source: Friedrich-Schiller-Universitaet Jena
Tesla is launching the home battery business partly because it’s already making vehicle batteries—and as a result it can benefit from the economies of scale that come from making both. Another reason is that the market for storage is expected to grow in concert with the use of solar power. Tesla needs both electric vehicles and solar power to boom if it hopes to fulfill the projected output from a vast $5 billion battery “gigafactory” it’s building in Nevada.
“The obvious problem with solar power is that the sun does not shine at night,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said at the unveiling of the new batteries at the company’s design studio in Hawthorne, California, yesterday. “We need to store the energy that is generated during the day so you can use it at night.”
A number of solar companies now offer batteries to accompany their solar panels (see “Solar Power, and Somewhere to Store It”). Although just a tenth of a percent of U.S. homes now get power from rooftop solar panels combined with energy storage, such systems could account for 3 percent of homes by 2018, according to Greentech Media Research.
Tesla’s residential battery, called Powerwall, will be available in several months and will come in two sizes, a seven-kilowatt-hour battery system that costs $3,000 and a slightly larger 10-kilowatt-hour system for $3,500. The larger battery would keep an average-sized home running for a day. It is unclear what the cost of installation would be.
Tesla expects that many sales will come from commercial customers who pay a variable rate of electricity over the course of a day based on demand. Such customers already see significant reductions in their energy bills by drawing on stored electricity during periods of peak energy demand.
In the near term, the market for home energy storage will depend on how states regulate homeowners’ ability to buy and sell electricity. Net metering, currently available in 43 states, allows residential customers to sell excess generation back to their utility company at retail rates. The policies are being challenged by utility companies that say it undermines their ability to recoup grid infrastructure costs. But as long as net metering continues, consumers will have little need to buy an energy storage system because they can sell the excess solar power they generate rather than store it, says Jay Stein, an analyst with energy consulting company E Source. “I don’t see any financial payoff for them to buy batteries,” he says.
Most utilities that offer net metering, however, also allow residential customers to buy and sell electricity at rates that vary throughout the day based on demand. Battery storage would allow such people to maximize the value of the electricity they sell back to the utility.
“There are some arbitrage values emerging,” says Karl Rábago, executive director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center in White Plains, New York. “If I could export selectively, using a storage device, I might beget higher value for my generation.”
Home energy storage will make more sense in the years to come. Residential and commercial solar-plus-storage systems will offer a clear cost advantage over electricity from the grid throughout the United States by 2030, according to a recent report by the Rocky Mountain Institute, an energy research and consulting group.
Tesla’s Nevada gigafactory, which it’s building with Panasonic, will have an annual production capacity of 35 gigawatt-hours by 2020, more than all the lithium-ion batteries produced globally in 2013.
Such a large investment in what is still a niche market is risky, but Tesla claims that the new factory will cut battery costs by 30 percent when it begins operations, as early as 2016. Tesla’s biggest challenge will likely be filling enough orders for the output. By 2020, the plant will be able to produce enough batteries for half a million electric vehicles per year. Last year, Tesla sold around 20,000 cars.