29 Jan 2017
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29 Jan 2017
A team of researchers at MIT has designed one of the strongest lightweight materials known, by compressing and fusing flakes of graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon. The new material, a sponge-like configuration with a density of just 5 percent, can have a strength 10 times that of steel.
In its two-dimensional form, graphene is thought to be the strongest of all known materials. But researchers until now have had a hard time translating that two-dimensional strength into useful three-dimensional materials.
The new findings show that the crucial aspect of the new 3-D forms has more to do with their unusual geometrical configuration than with the material itself, which suggests that similar strong, lightweight materials could be made from a variety of materials by creating similar geometric features.
The findings are being reported today in the journal Science Advances, in a paper by Markus Buehler, the head of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and the McAfee Professor of Engineering; Zhao Qin, a CEE research scientist; Gang Seob Jung, a graduate student; and Min Jeong Kang MEng ’16, a recent graduate.
Other groups had suggested the possibility of such lightweight structures, but lab experiments so far had failed to match predictions, with some results exhibiting several orders of magnitude less strength than expected. The MIT team decided to solve the mystery by analyzing the material’s behavior down to the level of individual atoms within the structure. They were able to produce a mathematical framework that very closely matches experimental observations.
Two-dimensional materials—basically flat sheets that are just one atom in thickness but can be indefinitely large in the other dimensions—have exceptional strength as well as unique electrical properties. But because of their extraordinary thinness, “they are not very useful for making 3-D materials that could be used in vehicles, buildings, or devices,” Buehler says. “What we’ve done is to realize the wish of translating these 2-D materials into three-dimensional structures.”
The team was able to compress small flakes of graphene using a combination of heat and pressure. This process produced a strong, stable structure whose form resembles that of some corals and microscopic creatures called diatoms. These shapes, which have an enormous surface area in proportion to their volume, proved to be remarkably strong. “Once we created these 3-D structures, we wanted to see what’s the limit—what’s the strongest possible material we can produce,” says Qin. To do that, they created a variety of 3-D models and then subjected them to various tests. In computational simulations, which mimic the loading conditions in the tensile and compression tests performed in a tensile loading machine, “one of our samples has 5 percent the density of steel, but 10 times the strength,” Qin says.
Buehler says that what happens to their 3-D graphene material, which is composed of curved surfaces under deformation, resembles what would happen with sheets of paper. Paper has little strength along its length and width, and can be easily crumpled up. But when made into certain shapes, for example rolled into a tube, suddenly the strength along the length of the tube is much greater and can support substantial weight. Similarly, the geometric arrangement of the graphene flakes after treatment naturally forms a very strong configuration.
The new configurations have been made in the lab using a high-resolution, multimaterial 3-D printer. They were mechanically tested for their tensile and compressive properties, and their mechanical response under loading was simulated using the team’s theoretical models. The results from the experiments and simulations matched accurately.
The new, more accurate results, based on atomistic computational modeling by the MIT team, ruled out a possibility proposed previously by other teams: that it might be possible to make 3-D graphene structures so lightweight that they would actually be lighter than air, and could be used as a durable replacement for helium in balloons. The current work shows, however, that at such low densities, the material would not have sufficient strength and would collapse from the surrounding air pressure.
But many other possible applications of the material could eventually be feasible, the researchers say, for uses that require a combination of extreme strength and light weight. “You could either use the real graphene material or use the geometry we discovered with other materials, like polymers or metals,” Buehler says, to gain similar advantages of strength combined with advantages in cost, processing methods, or other material properties (such as transparency or electrical conductivity).
“You can replace the material itself with anything,” Buehler says. “The geometry is the dominant factor. It’s something that has the potential to transfer to many things.”
The unusual geometric shapes that graphene naturally forms under heat and pressure look something like a Nerf ball—round, but full of holes. These shapes, known as gyroids, are so complex that “actually making them using conventional manufacturing methods is probably impossible,” Buehler says. The team used 3-D-printed models of the structure, enlarged to thousands of times their natural size, for testing purposes.
For actual synthesis, the researchers say, one possibility is to use the polymer or metal particles as templates, coat them with graphene by chemical vapor deposit before heat and pressure treatments, and then chemically or physically remove the polymer or metal phases to leave 3-D graphene in the gyroid form. For this, the computational model given in the current study provides a guideline to evaluate the mechanical quality of the synthesis output.
The same geometry could even be applied to large-scale structural materials, they suggest. For example, concrete for a structure such a bridge might be made with this porous geometry, providing comparable strength with a fraction of the weight. This approach would have the additional benefit of providing good insulation because of the large amount of enclosed airspace within it.
Because the shape is riddled with very tiny pore spaces, the material might also find application in some filtration systems, for either water or chemical processing. The mathematical descriptions derived by this group could facilitate the development of a variety of applications, the researchers say.
More information: “The mechanics and design of a lightweight three-dimensional graphene assembly,” Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601536 , advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/1/e1601536
29 Jan 2017
The University Institute for Advanced Materials Research at the Universitat Jaume I (UJI) has participated in the European Project Sunflower, whose objective has been the development of organic photovoltaic materials less toxic and viable for industrial production.
A consortium of 17 research and business institutions has carried out this European project in the field of nanotechnology for four years and with an overall budget of 14.2 million euros, with funding of 10.1 million euros from the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission.
An introduction to Sunflower
Researchers at Sunflower have carried out several studies, among the most successful of which there are the design of an organic photovoltaic cell that can be printed and, consequently, has great versatility. In short, “we can assure that, thanks to these works, progress has been made in the achievement of solar cells with a good performance, low cost and very interesting architectural characteristics”, states the director of the University Institute for Advanced Materials Research (INAM) Juan Bisquert.
The goals of Sunflower were very ambitious, according to Antonio Guerrero, researcher at the Department of Physics integrated in the INAM, since it was intended “not only to improve the stability and efficiency of the photovoltaic materials, but also to reduce their costs of production”.
In fact, according to Guerrero, “the processes for making the leap from the laboratory to the industrial scale have been improved because, among others, non-halogenated solvents have been used that are compatible with industrial production methods and that considerably reduce the toxic loading of halogenates”.
“The involvement of our institute in these projects has a great interest because one of our priority lines of research is the new materials to develop renewable energies,” says Bisquert, who is also professor of Applied Physics. In addition, these consortia involve the work of academia and industry. According to the researcher, “the transfer of knowledge to society is favoured and, in this case, we demonstrate that organic materials investigated for twenty years are already close to become viable technologies”.
Change of use of plastic materials
The participation of UJI researchers at Sunflower has focused on “improving the aspect of chemical reactivity of materials or structural compatibility”, says Germà García, professor of Applied Physics and member of INAM.
“We have worked to move from the concepts of inorganic electronics to photovoltaic cells to the part of organic electronics,” he adds. The researchers wanted to take advantage of the faculties of absorption and conduction of plastic materials and to verify its capacity of solar production, an unusual use because normally they are used as an electrical insulation.
At UJI laboratories, they have studied the organic materials, very complex devices because they have up to eight nanometric layers. “We have made advanced electrical measurements to see where the energy losses were and thus to inform producers of materials and devices in order to improve the stability and efficiency of solar cells,” explains Guerrero.
Solar energy in everyday objects
“The potential applications of organic photovoltaic technology (OPV) are numerous, ranging from mobile consumer electronics to architecture,” says the project coordinator Giovanni Nisato, from the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM).
“Thanks to the results we have obtained, printed organic photovoltaics will become part of our daily lives, and will allow us to use renewable energy and respect the environment with a positive impact on our quality of life,” according to Nisato.
The European Sunflower project has been developed over 48 months with the main objective of extending the life and cost-efficiency of organic photovoltaic technology through better process control and understanding of materials. In addition, in the opinion of those responsible, the results of this research could double the share of renewable energy in its energy matrix, from 14% in 2012 to 27-30% by 2030. In fact, Sunflower has facilitated a significant increase in the use of solar energy incorporated in everyday objects.
The Sunflower consortium consists of 17 partners from across Europe: CSEM (Switzerland), DuPont Teijin Films UK Ltd (UK), Amcor Flexibles Kreuzlingen AG (Switzerland), Agfa-Gevaert NV (Belgium), Fluxim AG (Switzerland), University of Antwerp (Belgium), SAES Getters SpA (Italy), Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche-ISMN-Bologna (Italy), Hochschule für Life Sciences FHNW (Switzerland), Chalmers Tekniska Hoegskola AB (Sweden), Fraunhofer Institut der angewandten Forschung zur Foerderung @EV (Germany), Linköpings Universitet (Sweden), Universitat Jaume I (Spain), Genes’Ink (France), National Centre for Scientific Research (France), Belectric OPV GmbH (Germany) and Merck KGaA (Germany).
Meanwhile, the main lines of research at the INAM focus on new types of materials for clean energy devices, solar cells based on low cost compounds, such as perovskite and other organic compounds. Furthermore, INAM studies the production of fuels from sunlight, breaking water molecules and producing hydrogen and other catalytic materials in the chemical aspect, all of great importance in the context of international research.
Smart windows get darker to filter out the sun’s rays on bright days, and turn clear on cloudy days to let more light in. This feature can help control indoor temperatures and offers some privacy without resorting to aids such as mini-blinds.Now scientists report a new development in this growing niche: solar smart windows that can turn opaque on demand and even power other devices. The study appears in ACS Photonics (“Electrically Controllable Light Trapping for Self-Powered Switchable Solar Windows”).
Smart windows get darker to filter out the sun’s rays on bright days, and turn clear on cloudy days to let more light in. This feature can help control indoor temperatures and offers some privacy without resorting to mini-blinds. Now scientists report a new development in this growing niche: solar smart windows that can turn opaque on demand and even power other devices.
|Most existing solar-powered smart windows are designed to respond automatically to changing conditions, such as light or heat. But this means that on cool or cloudy days, consumers can’t flip a switch and tint the windows for privacy.|
|Also, these devices often operate on a mere fraction of the light energy they are exposed to while the rest gets absorbed by the windows. This heats them up, which can add warmth to a room that the windows are supposed to help keep cool. Jeremy Munday and colleagues wanted to address these limitations.|
|The researchers created a new smart window by sandwiching a polymer matrix containing microdroplets of liquid crystal materials, and an amorphous silicon layer — the type often used in solar cells — between two glass panes.
When the window is “off,” the liquid crystals scatter light, making the glass opaque. The silicon layer absorbs the light and provides the low power needed to align the crystals so light can pass through and make the window transparent when the window is turned “on” by the user.
|The extra energy that doesn’t go toward operating the window is harvested and could be redirected to power other devices, such as lights, TVs or smartphones, the researchers say.|
|Source: American Chemical Society|
|“By combining these two cells, the perovskite cell and the silicon cell, we are able to make much better use of the solar energy and achieve higher efficiencies than either cell on its own.”
Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) have found a new way to fabricate high efficiency semi-transparent perovskite solar cells in a breakthrough that could lead to more efficient and cheaper solar electricity (Advanced Energy Materials, “Efficient Indium-Doped TiOxElectron Transport Layers for High-Performance Perovskite Solar Cells and Perovskite-Silicon Tandems”).
|Dr Tom White from the ANU Research School of Engineering said the new fabrication method significantly improved the performance of perovskite solar cells, which can combine with conventional silicon solar cells to produce more efficient solar electricity.|
|ANU Ph.D. student The Duong, Dr.Tom White and Ph.D. student Jun Peng.|
|He said perovskite solar cells were extremely good at making electricity from visible light – blue, green and red – while conventional silicon solar cells were more efficient at converting infrared light into electricity.|
|“The prospect of adding a few additional processing steps at the end of a silicon cell production line to make perovskite cells is very exciting and could boost solar efficiency from 25 per cent to 30 per cent,” Dr White said.|
|“By combining these two cells, the perovskite cell and the silicon cell, we are able to make much better use of the solar energy and achieve higher efficiencies than either cell on its own.”|
|While perovskite cells can improve efficiency, they are not yet stable enough to be used on rooftops. Dr White said the new fabrication technique could help develop more reliable perovskite cells.|
|The new fabrication method involves adding a small amount of the element indium into one of the cell layers during fabrication. That could increase the cell’s power output by as much as 25 per cent.|
|“We have been able to achieve a record efficiency of 16.6 per cent for a semi-transparent perovskite cell, and 24.5 per cent for a perovskite-silicon tandem, which is one of the highest efficiencies reported for this type of cell,” said Dr White.|
|Dr White said the research placed ANU in a small group of labs around the world with the capability to improve silicon solar cell efficiency using perovskites.|
|The development builds on the state-of-the-art silicon cell research at ANU and is part of a $12.2 million “High-efficiency silicon/perovskite solar cells” project led by University of New South Wales and supported by $3.6 million of funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.|
|Research partners include Monash University, Arizona State University, Suntech R&D Australia Pty Ltd and Trina Solar.|
|Source: The Australian National University|
21 Nov 2016
Quantum computing is heralded as the next revolution in terms of global computing. Google, Intel and IBM are just some of the big names investing millions currently in the field of quantum computing which will enable faster, more efficient computing required to power the requirements of our future computing needs.
|Now a researcher and his team at Tyndall National Institute in Cork have made a ‘quantum leap’ by developing a technical step that could enable the use of quantum computers sooner than expected.|
|Conventional digital computing uses ‘on-off’ switches, but quantum computing looks to harness quantum state of matters – such as entangled photons of light or multiple states of atoms – to encode information. In theory, this can lead to much faster and more powerful computer processing, but the technology to underpin quantum computing is currently difficult to develop at scale.|
|Researchers at Tyndall have taken a step forward by making quantum dot light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that can produce entangled photons (whose actions are linked), theoretically enabling their use to encode information in quantum computing.|
|This is not the first time that LEDs have been made that can produce entangled photons, but the methods and materials described in the new paper (Nature Photonics, “Selective carrier injection into patterned arrays of pyramidal quantum dots for entangled photon light-emitting diodes”) have important implications for the future of quantum technologies, explains researcher Dr Emanuele Pelucchi, Head of Epitaxy and Physics of Nanostructures and a member of the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Irish Photonic Integration Centre (IPIC) at Tyndall National Institute in Cork.|
|Dr Emanuele Pelucchi.|
|“The new development here is that we have engineered a scalable array of electrically driven quantum dots using easily-sourced materials and conventional semiconductor fabrication technologies, and our method allows you to direct the position of these sources of entangled photons,” he says.|
|“Being able to control the positions of the quantum dots and to build them at scale are key factors to underpin more widespread use of quantum computing technologies as they develop.”|
|The Tyndall technology uses nanotechnology to electrify arrays of the pyramid-shaped quantum dots so they produce entangled photons. “We exploit intrinsic nanoscale properties of the whole “pyramidal” structure, in particular, an engineered self-assembled vertical quantum wire, which selectively injects current into the vicinity of a quantum dot,” explains Dr Pelucchi.|
|“The reported results are an important step towards the realization of integrated quantum photonic circuits designed for quantum information processing tasks, where thousands or more sources would function in unison.”|
|“It is exciting to see how research at Tyndall continues to break new ground, particularly in relation to this development in quantum computing. The significant breakthrough by Dr Pelucchi advances our understanding of how to harness the opportunity and power of quantum computing and undoubtedly accelerates progress in this field internationally. Photonics innovations by the IPIC team at Tyndall are being commercialized across a number sectors and as a result, we are directly driving global innovation through our investment, talent and research in this area,” said Dr Kieran Drain, CEO at Tyndall National Institute.|
|Source: Tyndall National Institute|
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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Batteries in smart phones and other portable electronics often die at inopportune times. Carrying a spare battery is one solution. As an alternative, researchers have tried to create fibers to incorporate in clothing that would power these devices. However, many of these fibers can’t withstand clothing manufacturing, especially weaving and cutting.
Now, in the journal ACS Nano, scientists report the first fibers suitable for weaving into tailorable textiles that can capture and release solar energy.
To collect solar power, Wenjie Mai, Xing Fan and colleagues created two different types of fibers. One contained titanium or a manganese-coated polymer along with zinc oxide, a dye and an electrolyte. These fibers were then interlaced with copper-coated polymer wires to create the solar cell section of the textile. To store power, the researchers developed a second type of fiber. This one was made of titanium, titanium nitride, a thin carbon shell to prevent oxidation and an electrolyte. These fibers were woven with cotton yarn.
When combined, the new materials formed a flexible textile that the team could cut and tailor into a “smart garment” that was fully charged by sunlight. The researchers say the clothing could potentially power small electronics including tablets and phones.(Article Continues Below – After Tenka Energy Story)
Read About (Watch the YouTube Video)
Tenka Energy, LLC is developing and commercializing the Next Generation of Super-Capacitors andBatteries, providing the High-Energy-Density,in Flexible-Thin-Form with Rapid Charge/ Recharge Cycles with Extended Life that is required and in high demand from a“power starved world”. The opportunity is based on a Nanoporous-Nickel Flexible Thin-form technology that is easily scaled, from Rice University. Applications: Powered Smart Cards, Wearable Electronics, Drone Batteries, Medical Devices, Motorcycle and EV Batteries – just to name a few!
(Article Continued) Explore further: New fabric uses sun and wind to power devices
More information: Zhisheng Chai et al. Tailorable and Wearable Textile Devices for Solar Energy Harvesting and Simultaneous Storage, ACS Nano(2016). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.6b05293
The pursuit of harmonic combination of technology and fashion intrinsically points to the development of smart garments. Herein, we present an all-solid tailorable energy textile possessing integrated function of simultaneous solar energy harvesting and storage, and we call it tailorable textile device. Our technique makes it possible to tailor the multifunctional textile into any designed shape without impairing its performance and produce stylish smart energy garments for wearable self-powering system with enhanced user experience and more room for fashion design.
The “threads” (fiber electrodes) featuring tailorability and knittability can be large-scale fabricated and then woven into energy textiles. The fiber supercapacitor with merits of tailorability, ultrafast charging capability, and ultrahigh bending-resistance is used as the energy storage module, while an all-solid dye-sensitized solar cell textile is used as the solar energy harvesting module. Our textile sample can be fully charged to 1.2 V in 17 s by self-harvesting solar energy and fully discharged in 78 s at a discharge current density of 0.1 mA.
Genesis Nanotechnology, Inc. ~ “Great Things from Small Things”
07 Oct 2016
Equipment at a brewery. Credit: FTGallo / Wikipedia.
University of Colorado Boulder engineers have developed an innovative bio-manufacturing process that uses a biological organism cultivated in brewery wastewater to create the carbon-based materials needed to make energy storage cells.
This unique pairing of breweries and batteries could set up a win-win opportunity by reducing expensive wastewater treatment costs for beer makers while providing manufacturers with a more cost-effective means of creating renewable, naturally-derived fuel cell technologies.
“Breweries use about seven barrels of water for every barrel of beer produced,” said Tyler Huggins, a graduate student in CU Boulder’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and lead author of the new study. “And they can’t just dump it into the sewer because it requires extra filtration.”
The process of converting biological materials, or biomass, such as timber into carbon-based battery electrodes is currently used in some energy industry sectors. But, naturally-occurring biomass is inherently limited by its short supply, impact during extraction and intrinsic chemical makeup, rendering it expensive and difficult to optimize.
However, the CU Boulder researchers utilize the unsurpassed efficiency of biological systems to produce sophisticated structures and unique chemistries by cultivating a fast-growing fungus, Neurospora crassa, in the sugar-rich wastewater produced by a similarly fast-growing Colorado industry: breweries.
“The wastewater is ideal for our fungus to flourish in, so we are happy to take it,” said Huggins.
By cultivating their feedstock in wastewater, the researchers were able to better dictate the fungus’s chemical and physical processes from the start. They thereby created one of the most efficient naturally-derived lithium-ion battery electrodes known to date while cleaning the wastewater in the process.
The findings were published recently in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials & Interfaces.
If the process were applied on a large scale, breweries could potentially reduce their municipal wastewater costs significantly while manufacturers would gain access to a cost-effective incubating medium for advanced battery technology components.
“The novelty of our process is changing the manufacturing process from top-down to bottom-up,” said Zhiyong Jason Ren, an associate professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and a co-author of the new study. “We’re biodesigning the materials right from the start.”
Huggins and study co-author Justin Whiteley, also of CU Boulder, have filed a patent on the process and created Emergy, a Boulder-based company aimed at commercializing the technology.
“We see large potential for scaling because there’s nothing required in this process that isn’t already available,” said Huggins.
The researchers have partnered with Avery Brewing in Boulder in order to explore a larger pilot program for the technology. Huggins and Whiteley recently competed in the finals of a U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored startup incubator competition at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, Illinois.
“This research speaks to the spirit of entrepreneurship at CU Boulder,” said Ren, who plans to continue experimenting with the mechanisms and properties of the fungus growth within the wastewater. “It’s great to see students succeeding and creating what has the potential to be a transformative technology. Energy storage represents a big opportunity for the state of Colorado and beyond.”
Explore further: Researchers use wastewater treatment to capture CO2, produce energy
More information: Tyler M. Huggins et al. Controlled Growth of Nanostructured Biotemplates with Cobalt and Nitrogen Codoping as a Binderless Lithium-Ion Battery Anode, ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acsami.6b09300
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