13 Apr 2016
Special from The World Economic Forum
Since the First Industrial Revolution, oil and gas have played a pivotal role in economic transformation and mobility. But now, with the prospects that major economies like the United States, China and European nations will try to shift away from oil, producers are coming to realize that their oil reserves under the ground – sometimes referred to as “black gold” – could become less valuable in the future than they are today.
Of the four scenarios for the future of the industry outlined in a new set of whitepapers from the Global Agenda on the Future of Oil and Gas, three of them envisage this type of world. Factors such as technological advancements, the falling price of batteries that power electric vehicles, and a post-COP21 push for cleaner energy could even drive oil use below 80 million barrels a day by 2040 – 15% lower than today.
We’re already feeling the effect
So what would a future of falling demand mean for the oil and gas industry?
Uncertainty about whether oil demand will continue to grow is already impacting the strategies of oil and gas firms. Through the 2000s and up until last year, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), whose policies influence global oil supply and prices, took a revenues-oriented strategy, believing that scarce oil would be more valuable under the ground than out in the market, as global demand rose exponentially over time. Oil companies, too, responded to this world view by pursuing a business model that maximized adding as many reserves as possible to balance sheets and warehousing expensive assets.
Now, with new trends discussed in a new whitepaper, producers are coming to realize that oil under the ground might soon be less valuable than oil produced and sold in the coming years. This dramatic shift in expectations is changing the operating environment for the future of oil and gas.
A post-oil world: not all doom and gloom
Countries with large, low-cost reserves, such as Saudi Arabia, are rethinking strategies and will have to think twice about delaying production or development of reserves, in case they are unable to monetize those reserves over the long run. Saudi Arabia, for example, has recently announced that it is creating a $2 trillion mega-sovereign wealth fund, funded by sales of current petroleum industry assets, to prepare itself for an age when oil no longer dominates the global economy.
Declining revenues that could be reaped from exploitation of remaining oil reserves would adversely affect national revenues in many countries that have relied on oil as a major economic mainstay. Those countries will face pressing requirements for economic reform, with the risk of sovereign financial defaults rising.
But for the majority of the world’s population, structural transformations related to the future outlook for oil and gas offers an opportunity. If the global economy becomes less oil intensive, vulnerability to supply dislocations and price shocks that have plagued financial markets for decades will fade, with possible positive geopolitical implications. Moreover, many countries have reeled under the pressures of fuel subsidies to growing populations. According to the IMF, fuel subsidies cost $5.3 trillion in 2015 – around 6.5% of global GDP. Lower oil prices and larger range of alternative fuel choices would reverse this burden and lay the groundwork for shallower swings in prices for any one commodity.
Staying competitive in an industry under change
Eventually, players who remain competitive in the oil and gas industry will have to consider whether it can be more profitable to shareholders to develop profitable low-carbon sources of energy as supplement and ultimately replacements for oil and gas revenue sources, especially to maintain market share in the electricity sector.
This will require a change in the oil and gas industry investors’ mindset. To develop this flexible, supplemental leg to traditional oil and gas activities, the oil and gas industry may find new opportunities by addressing the technological challenges associated with the different parts of the renewable energy space, as well as how one can develop efficient combinations of large-scale energy storage and transportation solutions in a world with a lot of variable renewable electricity.
Industry players can benefit from partnerships for flex-fuel technologies to ease infrastructure transitions and improve their resiliency to carbon pricing by achieving carbon efficiency for end-use energy through collaborations with vehicle manufacturers and mobility firms. Such responses will enhance the industry’s attractiveness with customers and investors, and most importantly, will promote a smoother long-term energy transition.
The three whitepapers are available here.
Grid-scale approach to rechargeable power storage gets new arsenal of possible materials.
Liquid metal batteries, invented by MIT professor Donald Sadoway and his students a decade ago, are a promising candidate for making renewable energy more practical. The batteries, which can store large amounts of energy and thus even out the ups and downs of power production and power use, are in the process of being commercialized by a Cambridge-based startup company, Ambri.
Now, Sadoway and his team have found yet another set of chemical constituents that could make the technology even more practical and affordable, and open up a whole family of potential variations that could make use of local resources.
The latest findings are reported in the journal Nature Communications, in a paper by Sadoway, who is the John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry, and postdoc Takanari Ouchi, along with Hojong Kim (now a professor at Penn State University) and PhD student Brian Spatocco at MIT. They show that calcium, an abundant and inexpensive element, can form the basis for both the negative electrode layer and the molten salt that forms the middle layer of the three-layer battery.
That was a highly unexpected finding, Sadoway says. Calcium has some properties that made it seem like an especially unlikely candidate to work in this kind of battery. For one thing, calcium easily dissolves in salt, and yet a crucial feature of the liquid battery is that each of its three constituents forms a separate layer, based on the materials’ different densities, much as different liqueurs separate in some novelty cocktails. It’s essential that these layers not mix at their boundaries and maintain their distinct identities.
It was the seeming impossibility of making calcium work in a liquid battery that attracted Ouchi to the problem, he says. “It was the most difficult chemistry” to make work but had potential benefits due to calcium’s low cost as well as its inherent high voltage as a negative electrode. “For me, I’m happiest with whatever is most difficult,” he says — which, Sadoway points out, is a very typical attitude at MIT.
Another problem with calcium is its high melting point, which would have forced the liquid battery to operate at almost 900 degrees Celsius, “which is ridiculous,” Sadoway says. But both of these problems were solvable.
First, the researchers tackled the temperature problem by alloying the calcium with another inexpensive metal, magnesium, which has a much lower melting point. The resulting mix provides a lower operating temperature — about 300 degrees less than that of pure calcium — while still keeping the high-voltage advantage of the calcium.
The other key innovation was in the formulation of the salt used in the battery’s middle layer, called the electrolyte, that charge carriers, or ions, must cross as the battery is used. The migration of those ions is accompanied by an electric current flowing through wires that are connected to the upper and lower molten metal layers, the battery’s electrodes.
The new salt formulation consists of a mix of lithium chloride and calcium chloride, and it turns out that the calcium-magnesium alloy does not dissolve well in this kind of salt, solving the other challenge to the use of calcium.
But solving that problem also led to a big surprise: Normally there is a single “itinerant ion” that passes through the electrolyte in a rechargeable battery, for example, lithium in lithium-ion batteries or sodium in sodium-sulfur. But in this case, the researchers found that multiple ions in the molten-salt electrolyte contribute to the flow, boosting the battery’s overall energy output. That was a totally serendipitous finding that could open up new avenues in battery design, Sadoway says.
And there’s another potential big bonus in this new battery chemistry, Sadoway says. “There’s an irony here. If you’re trying to find high-purity ore bodies, magnesium and calcium are often found together,” he says. It takes great effort and energy to purify one or the other, removing the calcium “contaminant” from the magnesium or vice versa. But since the material that will be needed for the electrode in these batteries is a mixture of the two, it may be possible to save on the initial materials costs by using “lower” grades of the two metals that already contain some of the other.
“There’s a whole level of supply-chain optimization that people haven’t thought about,” he says.
Sadoway and Ouchi stress that these particular chemical combinations are just the tip of the iceberg, which could represent a starting point for new approaches to devising battery formulations. And since all these liquid batteries, including the original liquid battery materials from his lab and those under development at Ambri, would use similar containers, insulating systems, and electronic control systems, the actual internal chemistry of the batteries could continue to evolve over time. They could also adapt to fit local conditions and materials availability while still using mostly the same components.
“The lesson here is to explore different chemistries and be ready for changing market conditions,” Sadoway says. What they have developed “is not a battery; it’s a whole battery field. As time passes, people can explore more parts of the periodic table” to find ever-better formulations, he says.
“This paper brings together innovative engineering advances in cell design and component materials within a strategic framework of ‘cost-based discovery’ that is amenable to the massive scale-up required of grid-scale applications,” says Richard Alkire, a professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois, who was not involved in this research.
Because this work builds on a base of well-developed electrochemical systems used for aluminum production, Alkire says, “the path forward to grid-scale applications can therefore take advantage of a large body of existing engineering experience in areas of sustainability, environmental, life cycle, materials, manufacturing cost, and scale-up.”
The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Energy (ARPA-E) and by the French energy company Total S.A.
OAK RIDGE, Tenn., March 16, 2016 — Researchers at theDepartment of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have combined advanced in-situ microscopy and theoretical calculations to uncover important clues to the properties of a promising next-generation energy storage material for supercapacitors and batteries.
ORNL’s Fluid Interface Reactions, Structures and Transport (FIRST) research team, using scanning probe microscopy made available through the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS) user program, have observed for the first time at the nanoscale and in a liquid environment how ions move and diffuse between layers of a two-dimensional electrode during electrochemical cycling. This migration is critical to understanding how energy is stored in the material, called MXene, and what drives its exceptional energy storage properties.
“We have developed a technique for liquid environments that allows us to track how ions enter the interlayer spaces. There is very little information on how this actually happens,” said Nina Balke, one of a team of researchers working with Drexel University’s Yury Gogotsi in the FIRST Center, a DOE Office of Science Energy Frontier Research Center.
“The energy storage properties have been characterized on a microscopic scale, but no one knows what happens in the active material on the nanoscale in terms of ion insertion and how this affects stresses and strains in the material,” Balke said.
The so-called MXene material — which acts as a two-dimensional electrode that could be fabricated with the flexibility of a sheet of paper — is based on MAX-phase ceramics, which have been studied for decades. Chemical removal of the “A” layer leaves two-dimensional flakes composed of transition metal layers — the “M” — sandwiching carbon or nitrogen layers (the “X”) in the resulting MXene, which physically resembles graphite.
These MXenes, which have exhibited very high capacitance, or ability to store electrical charge, have only recently been explored as an energy storage medium for advanced batteries.
“The interaction and charge transfer of the ion and the MXene layers is very important for its performance as an energy storage medium. The adsorption processes drive interesting phenomena that govern the mechanisms we observed through scanning probe microscopy,” said FIRST researcher Jeremy Come.
The researchers explored how the ions enter the material, how they move once inside the materials and how they interact with the active material. For example, if cations, which are positively charged, are introduced into the negatively charged MXene material, the material contracts, becoming stiffer.
That observation laid the groundwork for the scanning probe microscopy-based nanoscale characterization. The researchers measured the local changes in stiffness when ions enter the material. There is a direct correlation with the diffusion pattern of ions and the stiffness of the material.
Come noted that the ions are inserted into the electrode in a solution.
“Therefore, we need to work in liquid environment to drive the ions within the MXene material. Then we can measure the mechanical properties in-situ at different stages of charge storage, which gives us direct insight about where the ions are stored,” he said.
Until this study the technique had not been done in a liquid environment.
The processes behind ion insertion and the ionic interactions in the electrode material had been out of reach at the nanoscale until the CNMS scanning probe microscopy group’s studies. The experiments underscore the need for in-situ analysis to understand the nanoscale elastic changes in the 2D material in both dry and wet environments and the effect of ion storage on the energy storage material over time.
The researchers’ next steps are to improve the ionic diffusion paths in the material and explore different materials from the MXene family. Ultimately, the team hopes to understand the process’s fundamental mechanism and mechanical properties, which would allow tuning the energy storage as well as improving the material’s performance and lifetime.
ORNL’s FIRST research team also provided additional calculations and simulations based on density functional theory that support the experimental findings. The work was recently published in the Journal Advanced Energy Materials.
The research team in addition to Balke and Come and Drexel’s Gogotsi included Michael Naguib, Stephen Jesse, Sergei V. Kalinin, Paul R.C. Kent and Yu Xie, all of ORNL.
The FIRST Center is an Energy Frontier Research Center supported by the DOE Office of Science (Basic Energy Sciences). The Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center are DOE Office of Science User Facilities.
UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://science.energy.gov/.
Image cutline: When a negative bias is applied to a two-dimensional MXene electrode, Li+ ions from the electrolyte migrate in the material via specific channels to the reaction sites, where the electron transfer occurs. Scanning probe microscopy at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has provided the first nanoscale, liquid environment analysis of this energy storage material.
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17 Nov 2015
Ultrasensitive gas sensors based on the infusion of boron atoms into graphene—a tightly bound matrix of carbon atoms—may soon be possible, according to an international team of researchers from six countries.
Graphene is known for its remarkable strength and ability to transport electrons at high speed, but it is also a highly sensitive gas sensor. With the addition of boron atoms, the boron graphene sensors were able to detect noxious gas molecules at extremely low concentrations, parts per billion in the case of nitrogen oxides and parts per million for ammonia, the two gases tested to date. This translates to a 27 times greater sensitivity to nitrogen oxides and 10,000 times greater sensitivity to ammonia compared to pristine graphene. The researchers believe these results, reported today (Nov. 2) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will open a path to high-performance sensors that can detect trace amounts of many other molecules.
“This is a project that we have been pursuing for the past four years, ” said Mauricio Terrones, professor of physics, chemistry and materials science at Penn State. “We were previously able to dope graphene with atoms of nitrogen, but boron proved to be much more difficult. Once we were able to synthesize what we believed to be boron graphene, we collaborated with experts in the United States and around the world to confirm our research and test the properties of our material.”
Both boron and nitrogen lie next to carbon on the periodic table, making their substitution feasible. But boron compounds are very air sensitive and decompose rapidly when exposed to the atmosphere. One-centimeter-square sheets were synthesized at Penn State in a one-of-a-kind bubbler-assisted chemical vapor deposition system. The result was large-area, high-quality boron-doped graphene sheets.
Once fabricated, the researchers sent boron graphene samples to researchers at the Honda Research Institute USA Inc., Columbus, Ohio, who tested the samples against their own highly sensitive gas sensors. Konstantin Novoselov’s lab at the University of Manchester, UK, studied the transport mechanism of the sensors. Novoselov was the 2010 Nobel laureate in physics. Theory collaborators in the U.S. and Belgium matched the scanning tunneling microscopy images to experimental images, confirmed the presence of the boron atoms in the graphene lattice and their effect when interacting with ammonia or nitrogen oxide molecules. Collaborators in Japan and China also contributed to the research.
“This multidisciplinary research paves a new avenue for further exploration of ultrasensitive gas sensors,” said Avetik Harutyunyan, chief scientist and project leader at Honda Research Institute USA Inc. “Our approach combines novel nanomaterials with continuous ultraviolet light radiation in the sensor design that have been developed in our laboratory by lead researcher Dr. Gugang Chen in the last five years. We believe that further development of this technology may break the parts per quadrillion level of detection limit, which is up to six orders of magnitude better sensitivity than current state-of-the-art sensors.”
These sensors can be used for labs and industries that use ammonia, a highly corrosive health hazard, or to detect nitrogen oxides, a dangerous atmospheric pollutant emitted from automobile tailpipes. In addition to detecting toxic or flammable gases, theoretical work indicates that boron-doped graphene could lead to improved lithium-ion batteries and field-effect transistors, the authors report.
Explore further: Study opens graphene band-gap
More information: Ultrasensitive gas detection of large-area boron-doped graphene, PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1505993112
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
29 Sep 2015
|Some of the 300 million tires discarded each year in the United States alone could be used in supercapacitors for vehicles and the electric grid using a technology developed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Drexel University.|
|By employing proprietary pretreatment and processing, a team led by Parans Paranthaman has created flexible polymer carbon composite films as electrodes for supercapacitors. These devices are useful in applications for cars, buses and forklifts that require rapid charge and discharge cycles with high power and high energy density. Supercapacitors with this technology in electrodes saw just a 2 percent drop after 10,000 charge/discharge cycles.|
|Instead of ending up in landfills, old tires can supply a key ingredient for supercapacitors. (Image: ORNL)|
|The technology, described in a paper published in ChemSusChem(“Waste Tire Derived Carbon–Polymer Composite Paper as Pseudocapacitive Electrode with Long Cycle Life”), follows an ORNL discovery of a method to use scrap tires for batteries. Together, these approaches could provide some relief to the problems associated with the 1.5 billion tires manufacturers expect to produce annually by 2035.|
|“Those tires will eventually need to be discarded, and our supercapacitor applications can consume several tons of this waste,” Paranthaman said. “Combined with the technology we’ve licensed to two companies to convert scrap tires into carbon powders for batteries, we estimate consuming about 50 tons per day.”|
|While that amount represents just a fraction of the 8,000 tons that need to be recycled every day, co-author Yury Gogotsi of Drexel noted that other recycling companies could contribute to that goal.|
|“Each tire can produce carbon with a yield of about 50 percent with the ORNL process,” Gogotsi said. “If we were to recycle all of the scrap tires, that would translate into 1.5 million tons of carbon, which is half of the annual global production of graphite.”|
|To produce the carbon composite papers, the researchers soaked crumbs of irregularly shaped tire rubber in concentrated sulfuric acid. They then washed the rubber and put it into a tubular furnace under a flowing nitrogen gas atmosphere. They gradually increased the temperature from 400 degrees Celsius to 1,100 degrees.|
|After several additional steps, including mixing the material with potassium hydroxide and additional baking and washing with deionized water and oven drying, researchers have a material they could mix with polyaniline, an electrically conductive polymer, until they have a finished product.|
|“We anticipate that the same strategy can be applied to deposit other pseudocapacitive materials with low-cost tire-derived activated carbon to achieve even higher electrochemical performance and longer cycle life, a key challenge for electrochemically active polymers,” Gogotsi said.|
|Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory|
15 Sep 2015
Photo courtesy of the Lemelson-MIT Program.
First mass-produced, low-cost, eco-friendly battery has the potential to transition the world toward a more sustainable energy future.
Jay Whitacre, a materials scientist and professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering, is the recipient of the 2015 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. Whitacre is the inventor of the Aqueous Hybrid Ion (AHI) battery, a reliable, environmentally-benign and cost-efficient energy storage system. This first-of-its-kind battery, often used in combination with solar and wind energy systems, stores significant amounts of energy at a low cost per joule and allows for around-the-clock consumption. Whitacre’s AHI battery, developed using abundant and inexpensive resources including water, sodium and carbon, can help reduce dependence on fossil fuels and make sustainable energy a viable alternative. The company that Whitacre founded, Aquion Energy, has fully scaled manufacturing and commercialized the battery with global distribution channels and installations in many locations including Australia, California, Germany, Hawaii, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
The Lemelson-MIT Prize honors outstanding mid-career inventors improving the world through technological invention and demonstrating a commitment to mentorship in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Whitacre plans to contribute a significant portion of the money from the Lemelson-MIT Prize to create a fellowship to support graduate students and nurture interest in innovative energy solutions.
“We are proud to recognize Jay Whitacre as this year’s Lemelson-MIT Prize winner,” said Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. “Jay is passionate about sharing his experiences with young people, and is intent on inspiring them to cultivate an interest in STEM and invention. He personifies the mission of Lemelson-MIT through his commitment to mentorship, his desire to solve some of our world’s greatest problems, and his ability to commercialize his technologies.”
Low-cost stationary energy storage systems
The greatest technical challenge with harnessing electricity from renewable sources is its intermittency; storing energy for use when the sun isn’t shining or a breeze isn’t blowing has remained an expensive hurdle. Further, energy storage batteries for stationary applications have historically been based on lead-acid chemistry that pollutes and is largely unreliable, or lithium-ion chemistry that has proven unsafe at times.
Whitacre founded Aquion Energy (then known as “44 tech”) in 2008 with support from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, with the goal of bringing to market a new class of aqueous sodium ion functional battery. The resulting Aquion battery systems help customers increase use of renewables, reduce reliance on diesel, control peak energy costs, provide power stability, bring access to electricity in under-electrified regions, and improve power reliability to areas with unstable grid infrastructure. It is the industry’s first-ever Cradle to Cradle Certified battery while offering superior value when compared with other energy storage products on the market.
A prolific inventor and mentor
Whitacre is a prolific inventor with a PhD in materials science and engineering from the University of Michigan and a BA in physics from Oberlin College; he currently holds 30 patents or pending patents, and has had more than 60 peer-reviewed papers published or in press. His additional areas of focus have concentrated on a broad range of subjects that include thin-film solid state batteries, ultra-low temperature carbon-fluorine electrode materials, and implantable neuroprosthetic devices. He is currently forming a cross-disciplinary center at Carnegie Mellon University that focuses on electrode materials and structures with a variety of applications including water purification and biomedical devices.
Whitacre is also a successful teacher and mentor, both within academia and in the energy startup field. As a professor he retains a “home base” at Carnegie Mellon that allows him to share ideas, results, and other learnings with a range of communities. Whitacre is an exemplary role model and a compelling communicator who has been active in the Pittsburgh area through Aquion’s involvement in several programs that introduce students to science and engineering, including the Summer Engineering Experience for Girls (SEE). Aquion has also partnered with the “Tour Your Future” program, which introduces young women to STEM fields, and the SUCCEED program in Pittsburgh, which engages STEM-inclined high school students in the Pittsburgh area.
“Dr. Whitacre is an excellent choice to receive this award as we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of The Lemelson Foundation,” said Lemelson Foundation Chair, Dorothy Lemelson. “Like Dr. Whitacre, my husband Jerry invented to advance technologies and improve lives. Jerry’s ultimate goal for the foundation was to inspire young people to enter STEM careers. Dr. Whitacre shares that vision through his programs aimed at girls and young women. We enthusiastically applaud his accomplishments and service.”
Seeking nominees for 2016 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize
The Lemelson-MIT Program is now seeking nominations for the 2016 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. Please contact the Lemelson-MIT Program at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or visit lemelson.mit.edu/prize.
22 Jun 2015
Aiming to completely overhaul the lithium-ion battery industry, MIT-based scientist Yet-Ming Chiang on Monday publicly unveiled his latest startup, called 24M.
The company uses a novel battery composition based on a semi-solid material that eliminates much of the bulk of conventional lithium-ion batteries—which are typically made up mostly of inactive, non-energy-storing materials—while dramatically increasing the energy density. Chiang and 24M CEO Throop Wilder also say that they can reduce the time needed to make a battery by 80 percent and the cost by 30 to 50 percent.
After five years of research and development, 24M has raised $50 million in funding from Charles River Ventures, North Bridge Venture Partners, and its strategic partners, along with a $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. It has strategic partnerships with the Japanese heavy-industry giant IHI and from PTT, the formerly state-owned Thai oil and gas company, which is increasingly moving into alternative energy.
Since a 2011 paper in the journal Advanced Energy Materials previewed 24M’s technology, the company has received a large amount of press coverage for a stealth-mode startup, including articles in this publication as well as a long, adulatory profile on the website Quartz. The company calls its new battery “the most significant advancement in lithium-ion technology since its debut more than 20 years ago.”
That would be a remarkable accomplishment, with the potential to drive the electric-vehicle market to a new level and accelerate the spread of renewable energy. But 24M faces a challenge that many previous companies with promising technology have failed to solve: how to revolutionize a manufacturing industry with huge amounts of capital sunk into extensive existing capacity.
Yet-Ming Chiang is personally familiar with this quandary: he was one of the founders of A123, the lithium-ion startup that received nearly a quarter of a million dollars in funding from the U.S. government, went public in the largest IPO of 2009, and filed for bankruptcy in 2012. A123 was done in by an EV market that grew slower than expected and by its close relationship with EV maker Fisker, which itself failed in 2013 and was purchased by the Chinese auto parts company Wanxiang Group. But it also stumbled in trying to compete with more established battery makers such as LG and Panasonic.
Chiang acknowledges the dilemma: “In the last decade, there have been a lot of new lithium-ion plants built, and the EV market has not materialized to fill these factories.”
Now, energy storage demand is soaring—for vehicles, for power grids, and for residences with distributed renewable generation, such as rooftop solar arrays. Capacity in the United States is expected to more than triple this year, and rapid growth will continue through the end of the decade, according to GTM Research.
That means that demand for a less expensive, more efficient technology should be robust. But the building boom of the previous decade means there’s also excess manufacturing capacity available to supply that market. LG Chem’s plant in Holland, Michigan, which makes batteries for the Chevrolet Volt and the Cadillac ELR, currently operates at about 30 percent of capacity, according to CEO Prabhakar Patil.
And established players are already increasing their output. Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler, for instance, announced late last year it will invest 100 million euros ($113 million) to expand its lithium-ion manufacturing capacity through its subsidiary Deutsche ACCUmotive.
Then there’s the Gigafactory. Tesla’s giant Nevada plant will produce 35 gigawatt-hours’ worth of batteries a year, dwarfing any previous manufacturing ventures for lithium-ion batteries.
Meanwhile, improvements in the manufacturing of conventional lithium-ion batteries are reducing the cost per kilowatt-hour of existing systems—even as research into next-generation chemistries, such as lithium-sulfur and lithium-air, continues at institutions around the world.
In short, 24M is attempting to transform a worldwide manufacturing industry in which established players with deep pockets are investing hundreds of millions in the expansion of existing processes. That’s a tough road even for a startup with a novel and exciting technology.
Chiang and CEO Wilder are undeterred. “This is the next great mega-market,” says Wilder. “To quote Elon Musk, the world is going to need multiple gigafactories.”
Extremely small batteries built inside nanopores show that properly scaled structures can use the full theoretical capacity of the charge storage material. The batteries are part of assessing the basics of ion and electron transport in nanostructures for energy storage. These nanobatteries delivered their stored energy efficiently at high power (fast charge and discharge) and for extended cycling.
Precise structures can be constructed to assess the fundamentals of ion and electron transport in nanostructures for energy storage and to test the limits of three-dimensional nanobattery technologies.
Nanostructured batteries, when properly designed and built, offer promise for delivering their energy at much higher power and longer life than conventional technology. To retain high energy density, nanostructures (such as nanowires) must be arranged as dense “nanostructure forests,” producing three-dimensional nanogeometries in which ions and electrons can rapidly move. Researchers have built arrays of nanobatteries inside billions of ordered, identical nanopores in an alumina template to determine how well ions and electrons can do their job in such ultrasmall environments.
The nanobatteries were fabricated by atomic layer deposition to make oxide nanotubes for ion storage inside metal nanotubes for electron transport, all inside each end of the nanopores. The tiny nanobatteries work extremely well: they can transfer half their energy in just a 30 second charge or discharge time, and they lose only a few percent of their energy storage capacity after 1000 cycles. Researchers attribute this performance to rational design and well-controlled fabrication of nanotubular electrodes to accommodate ion motion in and out and close contact between the thin nested tubes to ensure fast transport for both ions and electrons.
This work was performed at the University of Maryland and was supported by the Nanostructures for Electrical Energy Storage (NEES) Center, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the DOE Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences.
- Chanyuan Liu, Eleanor I. Gillette, Xinyi Chen, Alexander J. Pearse, Alexander C. Kozen, Marshall A. Schroeder, Keith E. Gregorczyk, Sang Bok Lee, Gary W. Rubloff. An all-in-one nanopore battery array. Nature Nanotechnology, 2014; 9 (12): 1031 DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2014.247
- Paul V. Braun, Ralph G. Nuzzo. Batteries: Knowing when small is better. Nature Nanotechnology, 2014; 9 (12): 962 DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2014.263
10 Jun 2015
|Many of us would be hard-pressed to spend a day without using a lithium-ion battery, the technology that powers our portable electronics. And with electric vehicles (EVs) and energy storage for the power grid around the corner, their future appears pretty bright.|
|So bright that the iconic California-based upstart Tesla Motors stated that their newly announced residential Powerwall battery is sold out until mid-2016 and that the strong market demand could meet the capacity of their upcoming battery “gigafactory” of 35 gigawatt-hours per year – the daily electrical energy needs of 1.2 million US households.|
|When released by Sony in the early 1990s, many considered lithium-ion batteries to be a breakthrough in rechargeable batteries: with their high operating voltage and their large energy density, they outclassed the then state-of-the-art nickel metal hydride batteries (NiMH). The adoption of the lithium-ion technology fueled the portable electronic revolution: without lithium-ion, the battery in the latest Samsung Galaxy smartphones would weigh close to four ounces, as opposed to 1.5 ounces, and occupy twice as much volume.|
|Yet, in recent years lithium-ion batteries have gathered bad press. They offer disappointing battery life for modern portable devices and limited driving range of electric cars, compared to gasoline-powered vehicles. Lithium-ion batteries also have safety concerns, notably the danger of fire.|
|This situation raises legitimate questions: What is coming next? Will there be breakthroughs that will solve these problems?|
|Better lithium chemistries|
|Before we attempt to answer these questions, let’s briefly discuss the inner mechanics of a battery. A battery cell consists of two distinct electrodes separated by an insulating layer, conveniently called a separator, which is soaked in an electrolyte. The two electrodes must have different potentials, or a different electromotive force, and the resulting potential difference defines the cell’s voltage. The electrode with the largest potential is referred to as the positive electrode, the one with the lowest potential as the negative electrode.|
|Next-generation batteries could improve on energy density, allowing for longer run-time on electronics and driving range on EVs. (Image: Author and Wikipedia, Author provided)|
|During discharge, electrons flow through an external wire from the negative electrode to the positive electrode, while charged atoms, or ions, flow internally to maintain a neutral electrical charge. With rechargeable batteries, the process is reversed during charging.|
|Lithium-ion batteries’ energy density, or the amount of energy stored per weight, has increased steadily by about 5% every year, from 90 watt-hours/kilogram (Wh/kg) to 240 Wh/kg over 20 years, and this trend is forecast to continue. It’s due to incremental refinements in electrodes and electrolyte compositions and architectures, as well as increases in the maximum charge voltage, from 4.2 volts conventionally to 4.4 volts in the latest portable devices.|
|Picking up the pace of energy density improvements would require breakthroughs on both the electrodes’ materials and the electrolyte fronts. The biggest awaited leap would be to introduce elemental sulfur or air as a positive electrode and use metallic lithium as a negative electrode.|
|In the labs|
|Lithium-sulfur batteries could potentially bring a twofold improvement over the energy density of current lithium-ion batteries to about 400 Wh/kg. Lithium-air batteries could bring a tenfold improvement to approximately 3,000 Wh/kg, mainly because using air as an off-board reactant – that is, oxygen in the air rather than an element on a battery electrode – would greatly reduce weight.|
|A lithium air battery uses oxygen from the air to drive an electrochemical reaction – if it would work outside the lab. (Image: Na9234/wikimedia, CC BY)|
|Both systems are intensively studied by the research community, but commercial availability has been elusive as labs struggle to develop viable prototypes. During the discharge of the sulfur electrodes, the sulfur can be dissolved in the electrolyte, disconnecting it from the electronic circuit. This reduces the amount of lithium that could be removed from the sulfur during the charge and hurts the overall reversibility of the system.|
|To make this technology viable, critical milestones must be reached: improve the positive electrode architecture to better retain the active material or develop new electrolytes in which the active material is not soluble.|
|The lithium-air battery, too, suffers from this difficulty of being repeatedly recharged as a result of problems caused by reactions between the electrolyte and air. Also, with both technologies, protection of the lithium electrode is an issue that needs to be solved.|
|Savior in sodium?|
|For all of the aforementioned batteries, lithium is an essential component of the battery. Lithium is a fairly abundant element around the world but unfortunately only at trace levels, which prevents its worldwide commercial extraction. Although it is found in harvestable conditions in a few ores that could be mined, most of the production of lithium comes from brines of high-altitude salt lakes, mostly in the Andes in South America.|
|Despite this relatively difficult extraction, lithium carbonate can be found at around US$6 per kilogram, and since an electric vehicle battery pack requires only about three kilograms of lithium carbonate, its cost is not a major concern to date.|
|The concern here is more about geopolitics: every country seeks energy independence, and replacing oil with lithium batteries as a transportation fuel simply shifts the dependence from the Middle East to South America.|
|One possible solution would be to replace lithium with the element sodium, which is 2,000 times more abundant.|
|Electrochemically speaking, sodium is almost comparable to lithium, which makes it an extremely good candidate for batteries. Sodium-ion batteries research has exploded in recent years, and their performance, once commercialized, could be on par with their lithium-ion counterparts.|
|While sodium-ion batteries might not bring any significant cost or performance advantage over lithium-ion technology, it could offer a path for every country to manufacture their own batteries with readily available resources.|
|No matter what, all of these emerging technologies are likely to suffer from the same safety concerns as the current lithium-ion cells. The threat comes from the flammable solvent-based electrolyte which makes it possible to operate at voltages above two volts.|
|Indeed, because water splits into oxygen and hydrogen above two volts, it cannot be used in three volt-class lithium or sodium batteries and has been replaced by expensive flammable carbonate solvents. Alternatives such as solvent-free electrolytes do not provide a good enough conductivity for ions at room temperature to handle high-power applications, such as powering a car, and are therefore not used in commercial cells.|
|Fortunately, with the current lithium-ion technology, it has been estimated that only one in 40 million cells undergoes dramatic failure, of a fire. Although the risk cannot be fully suppressed, engineering controls and conservative designs can keep it in check.|
|In sum, the current lithium-ion batteries offer fairly good performances. Emerging chemistries such as lithium-sulfur or lithium-air have the potential to revolutionize portable energy storage applications, but they are still at the lab research stage with no guarantee of becoming a viable product.|
|For stationary energy storage applications such as storing wind and solar energy, other types of batteries, including high-temperature sodium-sulfur batteries or the redox flow batteries, might prove more sustainable and cost-effective candidates than lithium-ion batteries, but that could be a story for another article.|
|Source: By Matthieu Dubarry, Assistant Researcher in Electrochemistry and Solid State Science at University of Hawaii, and Arnaud Devie, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University of Hawaii, via The Conversation|