|EPFL scientists have developed a solar-panel material that can cut down on photovoltaic costs while achieving competitive power-conversion efficiency of 20.2%.|
|Some of the most promising solar cells today use light-harvesting films made from perovskites – a group of materials that share a characteristic molecular structure. However, perovskite-based solar cells use expensive “hole-transporting” materials, whose function is to move the positive charges that are generated when light hits the perovskite film. Publishing in Nature Energy (“A molecularly engineered hole-transporting material for e cient perovskite solar cells”), EPFL scientists have now engineered a considerably cheaper hole-transporting material that costs only a fifth of existing ones while keeping the efficiency of the solar cell above 20%.|
|This is a 3-D illustration of FDT molecules on a surface of perovskite crystals. (Image: Sven M. Hein / EPFL)|
|As the quality of perovskite films increases, researchers are seeking other ways of improving the overall performance of solar cells. Inadvertently, this search targets the other key element of a solar panel, the hole-transporting layer, and specifically, the materials that make them up. There are currently only two hole-transporting materials available for perovskite-based solar cells. Both types are quite costly to synthesize, adding to the overall expense of the solar cell.|
|To address this problem, a team of researchers led by Mohammad Nazeeruddin at EPFL developed a molecularly engineered hole-transporting material, called FDT, that can bring costs down while keeping efficiency up to competitive levels. Tests showed that the efficiency of FDT rose to 20.2% – higher than the other two, more expensive alternatives. And because FDT can be easily modified, it acts as a blueprint for an entire generation of new low-cost hole-transporting materials.|
|“The best performing perovskite solar cells use hole transporting materials, which are difficult to make and purify, and are prohibitively expensive, costing over €300 per gram preventing market penetration,” says Nazeeruddin. “By comparison, FDT is easy to synthesize and purify, and its cost is estimated to be a fifth of that for existing materials – while matching, and even surpassing their performance.”|
|Source: Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne|
Prof. Walter Mérida is working on fuel cells powered by hydrogen to allow us to replace fossil fuels with a truly zero-emission chemical fuel.
Moving away from fossil fuels like coal and oil are an important step in making our energy consumption more sustainable. Alternative sources include hydro, solar, and wind, but once electricity is generated, it needs to be used right away because we lack a reliable method to store large amounts of power. Prof. Walter Mérida, Director of the Clean Energy Research Centre at the University of British Columbia, is looking for ways to bypass fossil fuels by using electricity to generate hydrogen as a zero-emission chemical fuel.
“The simplest possible chemical that you can imagine is hydrogen. It is the lightest element, the simplest element, and it’s one of the elements that you can make from electricity and water. So if you use electrolysis in the one hand and water in the other to produce a chemical fuel, you can really envision a truly zero emission transportation system.“
This move is driven by our increased power needs for modern services and technologies. However, to make a real change, we need a better system. “The main driver for energy system evolution is not scarcity. We didn’t abandon the stone age due to the scarcity of stones. We abandoned it because there were better things to build things with. And in the case of fossil fuel – these transitions you have seen from wood, to coal, to oil – are due to quality and convenience; the fuels are much more convenient,” explains Mérida.
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We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.
The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.
There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.
The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.
Already, artificial intelligence is all around us, from self-driving cars and drones to virtual assistants and software that translate or invest. Impressive progress has been made in AI in recent years, driven by exponential increases in computing power and by the availability of vast amounts of data, from software used to discover new drugs to algorithms used to predict our cultural interests. Digital fabrication technologies, meanwhile, are interacting with the biological world on a daily basis. Engineers, designers, and architects are combining computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering, and synthetic biology to pioneer a symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, the products we consume, and even the buildings we inhabit.
Challenges and opportunities
Like the revolutions that preceded it, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world. To date, those who have gained the most from it have been consumers able to afford and access the digital world; technology has made possible new products and services that increase the efficiency and pleasure of our personal lives. Ordering a cab, booking a flight, buying a product, making a payment, listening to music, watching a film, or playing a game—any of these can now be done remotely.
In the future, technological innovation will also lead to a supply-side miracle, with long-term gains in efficiency and productivity. Transportation and communication costs will drop, logistics and global supply chains will become more effective, and the cost of trade will diminish, all of which will open new markets and drive economic growth.
At the same time, as the economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have pointed out, the revolution could yield greater inequality, particularly in its potential to disrupt labor markets. As automation substitutes for labor across the entire economy, the net displacement of workers by machines might exacerbate the gap between returns to capital and returns to labor. On the other hand, it is also possible that the displacement of workers by technology will, in aggregate, result in a net increase in safe and rewarding jobs.
We cannot foresee at this point which scenario is likely to emerge, and history suggests that the outcome is likely to be some combination of the two. However, I am convinced of one thing—that in the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production. This will give rise to a job market increasingly segregated into “low-skill/low-pay” and “high-skill/high-pay” segments, which in turn will lead to an increase in social tensions.
In addition to being a key economic concern, inequality represents the greatest societal concern associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The largest beneficiaries of innovation tend to be the providers of intellectual and physical capital—the innovators, shareholders, and investors—which explains the rising gap in wealth between those dependent on capital versus labor. Technology is therefore one of the main reasons why incomes have stagnated, or even decreased, for a majority of the population in high-income countries: the demand for highly skilled workers has increased while the demand for workers with less education and lower skills has decreased. The result is a job market with a strong demand at the high and low ends, but a hollowing out of the middle.
This helps explain why so many workers are disillusioned and fearful that their own real incomes and those of their children will continue to stagnate. It also helps explain why middle classes around the world are increasingly experiencing a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction and unfairness. A winner-takes-all economy that offers only limited access to the middle class is a recipe for democratic malaise and dereliction.
Discontent can also be fueled by the pervasiveness of digital technologies and the dynamics of information sharing typified by social media. More than 30 percent of the global population now uses social media platforms to connect, learn, and share information. In an ideal world, these interactions would provide an opportunity for cross-cultural understanding and cohesion. However, they can also create and propagate unrealistic expectations as to what constitutes success for an individual or a group, as well as offer opportunities for extreme ideas and ideologies to spread.
The impact on business
An underlying theme in my conversations with global CEOs and senior business executives is that the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and that these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed. Indeed, across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses.
On the supply side, many industries are seeing the introduction of new technologies that create entirely new ways of serving existing needs and significantly disrupt existing industry value chains. Disruption is also flowing from agile, innovative competitors who, thanks to access to global digital platforms for research, development, marketing, sales, and distribution, can oust well-established incumbents faster than ever by improving the quality, speed, or price at which value is delivered.
Major shifts on the demand side are also occurring, as growing transparency, consumer engagement, and new patterns of consumer behavior (increasingly built upon access to mobile networks and data) force companies to adapt the way they design, market, and deliver products and services.
A key trend is the development of technology-enabled platforms that combine both demand and supply to disrupt existing industry structures, such as those we see within the “sharing” or “on demand” economy. These technology platforms, rendered easy to use by the smartphone, convene people, assets, and data—thus creating entirely new ways of consuming goods and services in the process. In addition, they lower the barriers for businesses and individuals to create wealth, altering the personal and professional environments of workers. These new platform businesses are rapidly multiplying into many new services, ranging from laundry to shopping, from chores to parking, from massages to travel.
On the whole, there are four main effects that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has on business—on customer expectations, on product enhancement, on collaborative innovation, and on organizational forms. Whether consumers or businesses, customers are increasingly at the epicenter of the economy, which is all about improving how customers are served. Physical products and services, moreover, can now be enhanced with digital capabilities that increase their value. New technologies make assets more durable and resilient, while data and analytics are transforming how they are maintained. A world of customer experiences, data-based services, and asset performance through analytics, meanwhile, requires new forms of collaboration, particularly given the speed at which innovation and disruption are taking place. And the emergence of global platforms and other new business models, finally, means that talent, culture, and organizational forms will have to be rethought.
Overall, the inexorable shift from simple digitization (the Third Industrial Revolution) to innovation based on combinations of technologies (the Fourth Industrial Revolution) is forcing companies to reexamine the way they do business. The bottom line, however, is the same: business leaders and senior executives need to understand their changing environment, challenge the assumptions of their operating teams, and relentlessly and continuously innovate.
The impact on government
As the physical, digital, and biological worlds continue to converge, new technologies and platforms will increasingly enable citizens to engage with governments, voice their opinions, coordinate their efforts, and even circumvent the supervision of public authorities. Simultaneously, governments will gain new technological powers to increase their control over populations, based on pervasive surveillance systems and the ability to control digital infrastructure. On the whole, however, governments will increasingly face pressure to change their current approach to public engagement and policymaking, as their central role of conducting policy diminishes owing to new sources of competition and the redistribution and decentralization of power that new technologies make possible.
Ultimately, the ability of government systems and public authorities to adapt will determine their survival. If they prove capable of embracing a world of disruptive change, subjecting their structures to the levels of transparency and efficiency that will enable them to maintain their competitive edge, they will endure. If they cannot evolve, they will face increasing trouble.
This will be particularly true in the realm of regulation. Current systems of public policy and decision-making evolved alongside the Second Industrial Revolution, when decision-makers had time to study a specific issue and develop the necessary response or appropriate regulatory framework. The whole process was designed to be linear and mechanistic, following a strict “top down” approach.
But such an approach is no longer feasible. Given the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s rapid pace of change and broad impacts, legislators and regulators are being challenged to an unprecedented degree and for the most part are proving unable to cope.
How, then, can they preserve the interest of the consumers and the public at large while continuing to support innovation and technological development? By embracing “agile” governance, just as the private sector has increasingly adopted agile responses to software development and business operations more generally. This means regulators must continuously adapt to a new, fast-changing environment, reinventing themselves so they can truly understand what it is they are regulating. To do so, governments and regulatory agencies will need to collaborate closely with business and civil society.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will also profoundly impact the nature of national and international security, affecting both the probability and the nature of conflict. The history of warfare and international security is the history of technological innovation, and today is no exception. Modern conflicts involving states are increasingly “hybrid” in nature, combining traditional battlefield techniques with elements previously associated with nonstate actors. The distinction between war and peace, combatant and noncombatant, and even violence and nonviolence (think cyberwarfare) is becoming uncomfortably blurry.
As this process takes place and new technologies such as autonomous or biological weapons become easier to use, individuals and small groups will increasingly join states in being capable of causing mass harm. This new vulnerability will lead to new fears. But at the same time, advances in technology will create the potential to reduce the scale or impact of violence, through the development of new modes of protection, for example, or greater precision in targeting.
The impact on people
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, finally, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships. It is already changing our health and leading to a “quantified” self, and sooner than we think it may lead to human augmentation. The list is endless because it is bound only by our imagination.
I am a great enthusiast and early adopter of technology, but sometimes I wonder whether the inexorable integration of technology in our lives could diminish some of our quintessential human capacities, such as compassion and cooperation. Our relationship with our smartphones is a case in point. Constant connection may deprive us of one of life’s most important assets: the time to pause, reflect, and engage in meaningful conversation.
One of the greatest individual challenges posed by new information technologies is privacy. We instinctively understand why it is so essential, yet the tracking and sharing of information about us is a crucial part of the new connectivity. Debates about fundamental issues such as the impact on our inner lives of the loss of control over our data will only intensify in the years ahead. Similarly, the revolutions occurring in biotechnology and AI, which are redefining what it means to be human by pushing back the current thresholds of life span, health, cognition, and capabilities, will compel us to redefine our moral and ethical boundaries.
Shaping the future
Neither technology nor the disruption that comes with it is an exogenous force over which humans have no control. All of us are responsible for guiding its evolution, in the decisions we make on a daily basis as citizens, consumers, and investors. We should thus grasp the opportunity and power we have to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution and direct it toward a future that reflects our common objectives and values.
To do this, however, we must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril. Today’s decision-makers, however, are too often trapped in traditional, linear thinking, or too absorbed by the multiple crises demanding their attention, to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future.
In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.
This article was first published in Foreign Affairs
Author: Klaus Schwab is Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum
Image: An Aeronavics drone sits in a paddock near the town of Raglan, New Zealand, July 6, 2015. REUTERS/Naomi Tajitsu
14 Jan 2016
|Perovskites, substances that perfectly absorb light, are the future of solar energy. The opportunity for their rapid dissemination has just increased thanks to a cheap and environmentally safe method of production of these materials, developed by chemists from Warsaw, Poland. Rather than in solutions at a high temperature, perovskites can now be synthesized by solid-state mechanochemical processes: by grinding powders.|
|We associate the milling of chemicals less often with progress than with old-fashioned pharmacies and their inherent attributes: the pestle and mortar. It’s time to change this! Recent research findings show that by the use of mechanical force, effective chemical transformations take place in solid state. Mechanochemical reactions have been under investigation for many years by the teams of Prof. Janusz Lewinski from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) and the Faculty of Chemistry of Warsaw University of Technology.|
|In their latest publication (“Mechanosynthesis of the hybrid perovskite CH3NH3PbI3: characterization and the corresponding solar cell efficiency”), the Warsaw researchers describe a surprisingly simple and effective method of obtaining perovskites – futuristic photovoltaic materials with a spatially complex crystal structure.|
|A simple, fast and safe method of obtaining perovskites has been discovered by scientists from IPC PAS in Warsaw, Poland. The perovskite (a black powder) is milled from two powders: a white one, methylammonium iodide, and a yellow one, lead iodide.|
|“With the aid of mechanochemistry we are able to synthesize a variety of hybrid inorganic-organic functional materials with a potentially great significance for the energy sector. Our youngest ‘offspring’ are high quality perovskites. These compounds can be used to produce thin light-sensitive layers for high efficiency solar cells,” says Prof. Lewinski.|
|Perovskites are a large group of materials, characterized by a defined spatial crystalline structure. In nature, the perovskite naturally occurring as a mineral is calcium titanium(IV) oxide CaTiO3. Here the calcium atoms are arranged in the corners of the cube, in the middle of each wall there is an oxygen atom and at the centre of the cube lies a titanium atom. In other types of perovskite the same crystalline structure can be constructed of various organic and inorganic compounds, which means titanium can be replaced by, for example, lead, tin or germanium. As a result, the properties of the perovskite can be adjusted so as to best fit the specific application, for example, in photovoltaics or catalysis, but also in the construction of superconducting electromagnets, high voltage transformers, magnetic refrigerators, magnetic field sensors, or RAM memories.|
|At first glance, the method of production of perovskites using mechanical force, developed at the IPC PAS, looks a little like magic.|
|“Two powders are poured into the ball mill: a white one, methylammonium iodide CH3NH3I, and a yellow one, lead iodide PbI2. After several minutes of milling no trace is left of the substrates. Inside the mill there is only a homogeneous black powder: the perovskite CH3NH3PbI3,” explains doctoral student Anna Maria Cieslak (IPC PAS).|
|“Hour after hour of waiting for the reaction product? Solvents? High temperatures? In our method, all this turns out to be unnecessary! We produce chemical compounds by reactions occurring only in solids at room temperature,” stresses Dr. Daniel Prochowicz (IPC PAS).|
|The mechanochemically manufactured perovskites were sent to the team of Prof. Michael Graetzel from the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne in Switzerland, where they were used to build a new laboratory solar cell. The performance of the cell containing the perovskite with a mechanochemical pedigree proved to be more than 10% greater than a cell’s performance with the same construction, but containing an analogous perovskite obtained by the traditional method, involving solvents.|
|“The mechanochemical method of synthesis of perovskites is the most environmentally friendly method of producing this class of materials. Simple, efficient and fast, it is ideal for industrial applications. With full responsibility we can state: perovskites are the materials of the future, and mechanochemistry is the future of perovskites,” concludes Prof. Lewinski.|
|The described research will be developed within GOTSolar collaborative project funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 Future and Emerging Technologies action.|
|Perovskites are not the only group of three-dimensional materials that has been produced mechanochemically by Prof. Lewinski’s team. In a recent publication the Warsaw researchers showed that by using the milling technique they can also synthesize inorganic-organic microporous MOF (Metal-Organic Framework) materials. The free space inside these materials is the perfect place to store different chemicals, including hydrogen.|
|Source: Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences|
Australian solar power experts making up the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium have developed and begun to market solar cells that are created with a 3D printer.
The group, consisting of scientists from the CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and Monash University have been working on the technology for over seven years and have figured out a way to cheaply print the panels onto plastic, including smart-phones and laptops, enabling self charging electronics. They are also able to print directly on to walls and windows using an opaque solar film and claim that they can line a skyscraper with panels, making it totally electrically self sufficient.
“We print them onto plastic in more or less the same way we print our plastic banknotes,” said Fiona Scholes, senior research scientist at CSIRO. “Connecting our solar panels is as simple as connecting a battery. It’s very cheap. The way in which it looks and works is quite different to conventional silicon rooftop solar.”
The next step is to create a solar spray coating to enhance the power of the panel. “We would like to improve the efficiency of solar panels – we need to develop solar inks to generate more energy from sunlight,” said Scholes. “We are confident we can push the technology further in the years to come.”
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
21 Oct 2015
The opportunity is electricity storage, which until now has been limited by technology to a relatively modest scale. That’s about to change. And it means that Canada – and specifically Ontario – can become an ideal seedbed for storage technology, because there are ready markets for both large- and small-scale storage systems.
First, the large scale. Ontario has a fleet of nuclear generators that operate around the clock, and come close to filling the demand for power at off-peak hours. In addition, Ontario has developed a large renewable energy sector of wind and solar generation (in addition to its traditional hydro stations.) Problems sometimes arise when the natural weather cycles that drive wind and solar production are out of synch with the market cycle. On a sunny, breezy Saturday afternoon in May, with the nuclear plants running flat out, the hydro stations churning out power with the spring runoff and solar and wind systems near peak production, Ontario may have more electricity than it needs.
Our electricity system operators have a solution, of course: Sell the excess electricity to our neighbours. But since our neighbours are often in the same boat, Ontario must cut the price close to zero – or in extreme situations, even pay neighbouring states or provinces to absorb our overproduction.
Wouldn’t it make far more sense to store that excess energy, knowing that it will be needed in a matter of days, or even hours? What’s been lacking is the technology to do the job.
That’s changing however, as Ontario’s current program to procure 50 megawatts of storage capacity demonstrates. Companies with a variety of approaches are working hard to bring their solutions to market – many of them clustered at the MaRS centre in Toronto. Some, such as Hydrogenics Corp., convert electricity into hydrogen, which can be used to supplement natural gas.
My own company, NRStor, has partnered with Temporal Power and is operating a flywheel storage system in Minto, Ont., that helps the market operator to maintain consistent voltage on the grid.
Of course, businesses around the globe are looking at the same opportunities as we are, and here lies the opportunity for Canada to rebrand its energy economy.
A recent report by Deutsche Bank calls battery storage the “holy grail of solar penetration,” and believes that with the current rate of progress in improving efficiency, mass adoption of lithium ion batteries at a commercial/utility scale could occur before 2020.
Analysis by Prof. Andrew Ford of Washington State University calculates that a 1,000-megawatt air storage system from U.S.-based General Compression Inc. could deliver $6- to $8-billion of value to Ontario – in the form of lower energy costs to local utilities – over a 20-year period. All this is of interest to large-scale electricity system operators, big utilities and their customers.
But there is another reason for us to pay attention to energy storage – a reason grounded on a much more human scale. There are still large rural areas around the globe where there is no reliable electrical grid – including Northern Canada.
There is great potential for these communities, including remote First Nations communities, to improve their standard of living by installing microscale renewable generation in combination with storage, and relying less on carbon-spewing diesel generators, powered by fuel that must be transported long distances at great expense.
Storage is the key to making renewable energy a fully competitive component of any electrical grid. It can make our grid cleaner and more efficient, for the benefit of all consumers – large and small, urban and rural. We have the chance, in Canada, to become world leaders in developing this technology. Let’s seize it.
Annette Verschuren is the chairwoman and CEO of NRStor and on the board of MaRS Discovery District.
Annette Verschuren is speaking at the Cleantech Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX Cleantech) conference in Toronto on Oct. 15.
A discovery made in Leiden helps not only to make natural gas from CO2 but also to store renewable energy. Research by Professor Marc Koper and PhD student Jing Shen shows how this process can be implemented in a cost-effective and controllable way.
The conversion of the greenhouse gas CO2 into natural gas is achieved using a chemical process in which CO2 is bubbled through an acid solution. The solution contains a graphite electrode — to which a small negative voltage is applied — with a cobalt-porphyrin catalyst attached to it. It was already known that this catalyst can convert CO2 into carbon monoxide and methane, but the reaction always released unwanted hydrogen. In their investigation, Koper and Shen show for the first time how the process works. They therefore know exactly what the best acidity degree is in order to minimise the amount of hydrogen and to convert as much CO2 as possible into natural gas.
An added benefit is that the catalyst is entirely made up of common materials. Cobalt porphyrin is a part of vitamin B12, while the graphite for the electrode is similar to a pencil lead. Therefore the catalyst only costs a few euros. Comparable methods of converting CO2 into methane often use rare and expensive metals, such as platinum.
Realising a dream
Koper hopes that this discovery will bring his dream a little closer to realisation: to convert CO2 and water, the by-products of fuels, into new energy or building blocks for the chemical industry. If this can be achieved using solar energy, this process will also offer a method of storing renewable energy.
Using renewable energy efficiently
‘We’re generating more and more electricity using solar panels and windmills, but that energy is by no means always used straight away,’ Koper explains. ‘In Germany, for example, too much renewable electricity is generated sometimes, so you want to store it. That is the most important potential application of our research: to use renewable energy efficiently by converting water and CO2 into valuable products.’
A fundamentally different way
Still, Koper thinks that it will take a while to get to that point. ‘This is something for the long term and it could be another fifty years before we have a method that makes valuable products and is also robust, scalable and cost-effective. But I’m nevertheless convinced that this is the way to go. It will not be easy, but this discovery is helpful. We have to find a fundamentally different way to manage energy, and our discovery can contribute to that.’
- Jing Shen, Ruud Kortlever, Recep Kas, Yuvraj Y. Birdja, Oscar Diaz-Morales, Youngkook Kwon, Isis Ledezma-Yanez, Klaas Jan P. Schouten, Guido Mul, Marc T. M. Koper. Electrocatalytic reduction of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide and methane at an immobilized cobalt protoporphyrin. Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 8177 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms9177
13 Aug 2015
Environmental sustainability remains a big trend; topics such as climate change and global warming are generating a lot of discussion. Growing world energy demand from fossil fuels plays a key role in the upward trend in CO2 emissions and is the main source of human-induced climate changes. While energy systems around the world remain at vastly different stages of development, all countries share a common problem: they are far away from achieving sustainable energy systems. As levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases continue to rise in the atmosphere, with historical maximums reached lately, sustainability in energy generation and energy efficiency principles is becoming ever more important.
For the first time in recorded history, more people worldwide are living in urban areas than in rural. The urbanization trend picked up pace in the 20th century and has accelerated since. Urbanization manifests itself in two ways: expansion of existing cities and creation of new ones.1 Cities are already the source of close to 80% of global CO2 (carbon-dioxide) emissions and will account for an ever-higher percentage in the coming years.
Too much CO2 in the atmosphere has been linked to climate change. If humanity continued with the same solutions that have been used to address urban development needs in the past, the resulting urban ecological footprint will not be sustainable: we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles by the 2030s. The challenge is to meet the demands of urbanization in an economically viable, socially inclusive, and environmentally sustainable fashion.1,2
According to a World Energy Council study,3 global demand for primary energy is expected to increase by between 27% and 61% by 2050. Climate change is expected to lead to changes in a range of climatic variables, most notably temperature levels. Since electricity demand is closely influenced by temperature, there is likely to be an impact on power demand patterns. The magnitude of the potential impact of future climate changes on electricity demand will depend on patterns in the power use, as well as long-term socio-economic trends.
The latest assessment by Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in September 2013, concluded that climate change remains one of the greatest challenges facing society. Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, human-influenced, and many unprecedented changes have been observed throughout the climate system since 1950. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.4
Consumption patterns, together with aging and urbanization in some countries seem to have bigger implications for health and the reduction of carbon emissions than the total number of people in the world.5 As developing and newly industrialized countries improve their standards of living, their use of air conditioning and other weather-dependent consumption will likely increase their sensitivity to climate change.6 On the other hand, reducing consumption and achieving more sustainable lifestyles in rich countries will likely represent the most effective way to reduce carbon emissions.
How can nanotechnology reduce CO2 emission?
“The Grid” and Improving Efficiencies
Nanotechnology is a platform whereby matter is manipulated at the atomic level. There are various ways that nanotechnology can be applied along the Smart Grid to help reduce CO2 emissions.
The major impact of nanotechnology on the energy sector is likely to improve the efficiency of current technologies to minimize use of fossil fuels. Any effort to reduce emissions in vehicles by reducing their weight and, in turn, decreasing fuel consumption can have an immediate and significant global impact.
It is estimated that a 10% reduction in weight of the vehicle corresponds to a 10% reduction in fuel consumption, leading to a proportionate fall in emissions. In recognition of the above, there is growing interest worldwide in exploring means of achieving weight reduction in automobiles through use of novel materials. For example, use of lighter, stronger, and stiffer nano-composite materials is considered to have the potential to significantly reduce vehicle weight.9,49
Nanotechnology is applied in aircraft coatings, which protect the materials from the special conditions of the environment where they are used (instead of the conventional bulk metals such as steel). Since the amount of CO2 emitted by an aircraft engine is directly related to the amount of fuel burned, CO2 can be reduced by making the airplane lighter.
Nanocoatings are one of the options for aerospace developers, but also for automotive, defense, marine, and plastics industries.49 Lufthansa Cargo uses the most advanced technologies and innovative processes including efficient jet engines, nanotechnology in aircraft coatings, new composites or regular jet engine cleaning – and of course monitoring overall aircraft weight. It is often a matter of only a few grams. However, given 15,000 to 16,000 flights a year and an average flight time of about 6 hours, the cumulative effect of a number of grams can quickly add up to tons. The removal of a 350 gram phone handset resulted in jet fuel savings of 3.5 tons in a year.50
Nanotechnology is already applied to improve fuel efficiency by incorporation of nanocatalysts. Enercat, a third generation nanocatalyst developed by Energenics, uses the oxygen storing cerium oxide nanoparticles to promote complete fuel combustion, which helps in reducing fuel consumption. Recently, the company has demonstrated fuel savings of 8%–10% on a mixed fleet of diesel vehicles in Italy.51
Reducing friction and improving wear resistance in engine and drive train components is of vital importance in the automotive sector. Based on the estimates made by a Swedish company Applied Nano Surfaces, reducing friction can lower the fuel consumption by about 2% and result in cutting down CO2 emissions by 500 million tons per year from trucks and other heavy vehicles in Sweden alone.9 Thanks to nanomaterials like silica, many tires will in the future be capable of attaining the best rating, the green category A. Cars equipped with category A tires consume approximately 7.5% less fuel than those with tires of the minimum standard (category G).52
Residential and commercial buildings contribute to 11% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Space heating and cooling of residential buildings account for 40% of the total residential energy use. Nanostructured materials, such as aerogels, have the potential to greatly reduce heat transfer through building elements and assist in reducing heating loads placed on air-conditioning/heating systems. Aerogel is a nanoporous super-insulating material with extremely low density; silica aerogel is the lightest solid material known with excellent thermal insulating properties, high temperature stability, very low dielectric constant and high surface area.51
Nanotechnology is positioned to create significant change across several domains, especially in energy where it may bring large and possibly sudden performance gains to renewable sources and Smart Grids. Nanotech enhancements may also increase battery power by orders of magnitude, allowing intermittent sources such as solar and wind to provide a larger share of overall electricity supply without sacrificing stability. Nanotech sensors will also enable Smart Grids and foster more flexible and decentralized electricity management.53
Nanotechnology may accelerate the technology behind renewables in various ways:
- experts are discovering means to apply nanotechnology to photovoltaics, which would produce solar panels with double or triple the output by 2020;
- wind turbines stand to be improved from high-performance nano-materials like graphene, a nano-engineered one-atom thick layer of mineral graphite that is 100 times stronger than steel. Nanotechnology will enable light and stiff wind blades that spin at lower wind speeds than regular blades;
- nanotechnology could play a major role in the next generation of batteries. For example, coating the surface of an electrode with nanoparticles increases the surface area, thereby allowing more current to flow between the electrode and the chemicals inside the battery. Such techniques could increase the efficiency of electric and hybrid vehicles by significantly reducing the weight of the batteries. Moreover, superior batteries would complement renewables by storing energy economically, thus offsetting the whole issue of intermittent generation.
In a somewhat more distant future, we may see electricity systems apply nanotechnology in transmission lines. Research indicates that it is possible to develop electrical wires using carbon nanotubes that can carry higher loads and transmit without power losses even over hundreds of kilometers. The implications are significant, as it would increase the efficiency of generating power where the source is easiest to harness.53
Semiconductor devices, transistors, and sensors will benefit from nanotechnology especially in size and speed. Nanotech sensors could be used for the Smart Grid to detect issues ahead of time, ie, to measure degrading of underground cables or to bring down the price of chemical sensors already available for transformers. Nanotechnology will likely become indispensable for the Smart Grid to fully evolve in the near future.54
Energy efficiency is a way of managing and restraining the growth of energy consumption. It is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to combat climate change, improve the competitiveness of businesses, and reduce energy costs for consumers.7
More on Using Nanotechnology to Reduce Carbon-Based Emissions
Berkley Lab: A Better Way of Scrubbing CO2
Berkeley Lab Researchers Find Way to Improve the Cost-Effectiveness Through the Use of MOFs
A means by which the removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal-fired power plants might one day be done far more efficiently and at far lower costs than today has been discovered by a team of researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). By appending a diamine molecule to the sponge-like solid materials known as metal-organic-frameworks (MOFs), the researchers were able to more than triple the CO2-scrubbing capacity of the MOFs, while significantly reducing parasitic energy.
Read the Full Article Here: https://genesisnanotech.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/berkley-lab-a-better-way-of-scrubbing-co2/
Nanotechnology material could help reduce CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants
|The new nanomaterial, described in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (“Post-synthetic Structural Processing in a Metal–Organic Framework Material as a Mechanism for Exceptional CO2/N2 Selectivity”), efficiently separates the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from nitrogen, the other significant component of the waste gas released by coal-fired power stations. This would allow the carbon dioxide to be separated before being stored, rather than released to the atmosphere.|
|“A considerable amount of Australia‘s – and the world’s – carbon dioxide emissions come from coal-fired power stations,” says Associate Professor Christopher Sumby, project leader and ARC Future Fellow in the University’s School of Chemistry and Physics.
Read the Full Article Here: https://genesisnanotech.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/nanotechnology-material-could-help-reduce-co2-emissions-from-coal-fired-power-plants/
One Nano-Crystal – Many Facets – Reducing Fuel Toxins
When it comes to reducing the toxins released by burning gasoline, coal, or other such fuels, the catalyst needs to be reliable. Yet, a promising catalyst, cerium dioxide (CeO2), seemed erratic. The catalyst’s three different surfaces behaved differently. For the first time, researchers got an atomically resolved view of the three structures, including the placement of previously difficult-to-visualize oxygen atoms. This information may provide insights into why the surfaces have distinct catalytic properties (“Probing the Surface Sites of CeO2 Nanocrystals with Well-Defined Surface Planes via Methanol Adsorption and Desorption”).
Read the Full Article Here: https://genesisnanotech.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/one-nano-crystal-many-facets-reducing-fuel-toxins/
This review demonstrates the potential for reduction of CO2 emissions that Smart Grids can potentially achieve. Power grid modernization is an evolution that will continue for years or decades, and providing a robust foundation for new applications and technologies is imperative.
The electric power industry is facing tremendous opportunities and becoming increasingly important in the emerging low-carbon economy. Governments are still dominant players in high-cost smart-grid investments. This suggests the need for a policy framework that attracts private capital investment, especially from renewable project developers, and communication and ICT companies.
The challenge we face is neither a technical nor policy one – it is political: the current pace of action is simply insufficient. The technologies to reduce emission levels to a level consistent with the 2°C target are available and we know which policies we can use to deploy them. However, the political will to do so remains weak. This lack of political will comes with a price: we will have to undertake steeper and more costly actions to potentially bridge the emissions gap by 2020.4 However, technical possibilities aside, the key to reducing emission levels will be the tough but unavoidable decision that reducing carbon pollution must be of the highest priority.
To Read the Full Article Go Here: http://www.dovepress.com/smart-grid-and-nanotechnologies-a-solution-for-clean-and-sustainable-e-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-EECT
09 Aug 2015
This post is part of a series examining the connections between nanotechnology and the top 10 trends facing the world, as described in the Outlook on the Global Agenda 2015. All authors are members of the Global Agenda Council on Nanotechnology. Special to the World Economic Forum: By Tim Harper
The late Richard Smalley, often considered to be one of the fathers of nanotechnology following his Nobel Prize-winning work on fullerenes, had a keen interest in energy. In many presentations he would ask the audience to call out what they considered to be the most pressing issues facing humanity. The answers were often similar to those identified in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, including persistent worries such as disease, clean water, poverty, inequality and access to resources. Smalley would then rearrange the list to put energy at the top and proceed to explain how a happy, healthy world of 9 billion could be achieved if we could only fix the problem of providing cheap and abundant clean energy.
Back in the early 2000s, most of the imagined solutions to the energy challenge involved novel materials such as carbon nanotubes for lossless electricity transmission, or hydrogen storage to enable fuel-cell vehicles. While novel materials like nanotubes never quite lived up to their promise, 15 years later many nanotechnologies, including the latest carbon-based material graphene, are now promising to deliver huge leaps in the way that we generate, store and use energy.
But these advances are not enabled by nanotechnologies in isolation. Many of the technologies identified in the Forum’s top 10 emerging technologies list for the past three years, from gene editing to additive manufacturing, also play a role, supporting our ability to understand the nanoscale processes in nature, generating new insights into how to move beyond conventional solar cells and copy some of nature’s tricks, such as photosynthesis.
The problem is that conventional silicon-based solar cells, while effective, have many drawbacks. They are brittle, which means that they need to be fixed to a rigid support, and they only harvest a small amount of the spectrum of light generated by the sun. For instance, silicon is transparent to infrared light, which means a lot of potential energy available is not harvested.
Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, are helping to solve this by working with hybrid material combining inorganic semiconductor nanoparticles with organic compounds. These first capture two infrared photons that would normally pass right through a solar cell without being converted to electricity, then add their energies together to make one higher energy photon.
An alternative approach is the use of quantum dots. These are nanoscale particles where the response to different wavelengths can be tuned by altering their sizes. Because of their unique optical properties, they are finding increasing uses in lighting and televisions, but these properties are also useful in solar cells. While the efficiency of quantum-dot solar cells reported in recent studies is increasing to as high as 9%, the real breakthrough is that the new devices can be produced at room temperature and in an atmosphere, rather than an expensive and hard-to-maintain vacuum. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of quantum-dot solar cells, though, is that the quantum dots can be dispersed in other materials, leading to “spray on” low-cost and large-area solar cells that can be applied to buildings or vehicles.
A leaf out of nature’s book
But the big prize in advanced photovoltaics will come with achieving artificial photosynthesis. The aim is to enable the production of useful chemicals and fuels directly from sunlight and carbon dioxide, just as plants do. By combining nanotechnology and biology, researchers are mimicking the processes that occur in the leaf of a plant to produce fuels such as butanol and biodegradable plastics. Once combined with synthetic biology to precisely engineer the bacteria, the possibilities are endless.
Generating energy is only half the solution, though. It also has to be stored for later use. This is an addressable issue for energy utilities, who balance peaks and troughs in demand by using techniques such as pumping water uphill into hydro-electric dams. But such large-scale engineering solutions are not an option for off-grid communities in much of the developing world. Local energy use requires a cheap and efficient way of storing energy, as do electric vehicles and smartphones.
Nanomaterials, and graphene in particular, have been attracting significant interest as potential game-changers for energy storage. One driver for this is the high surface area of many nanomaterials, which increases the ability to store charge within a given volume. Graphene – which is formed from layers of carbon a single atom thick – has a tremendous surface area for a given amount of material, and has created a lot of excitement about graphene-based supercapacitors and anodes for lithium ion batteries.
One of the biggest problems with the lithium ion batteries is the amount of charge that can be stored in the conventional graphite-based anodes they use. Lithium is added to the graphite when the battery is charging and removed as it discharges, but the low capacity of graphite means that the anode is limited in the amount of energy it can store. Researchers have been looking at silicon anodes that promise 10 times better capacity for the best part of decade, but the constant stresses on the material results in a short lifetime. One way of addressing this issue has been to place the silicon in cage of fullerenes, nanotubes or nanowires. Companies such as XG Sciences and California Lithium Battery are developing graphene-coated silicon, or “silicon-graphene nano-composite anode material”.
Taking a more bio-inspired approach, the Israeli company StoreDot is combining nanotechnology and biology to create nanoscale peptide crystals to produce a battery that will charge in less than a minute, while researchers in Singapore have recently developed a nanotube-based battery that could last more than 10 times as long as normal ion batteries and can also charge in minutes.
In the meantime, while we wait for current nanotechnology research to bear fruit, the biggest contribution that nanotechnology can make today is simply to reduce the amount of energy required to perform common tasks, such as heating and cooling.
The UK company Xefro, for instance, is making use of graphene to create a smart home-heating system which promises savings of up to 70%. The heaters make use of the high surface area of what is effectively a two-dimensional material to create an efficient heating material which is then applied as an ink. The ink can be printed on a variety of materials and in just about any shape, including water heaters. In a two-dimensional material, energy isn’t wasted in heating up the heater, so the heat can be turned on and off quickly. This both reduces energy use and makes the system ideal for use with smart thermostats.
Meanwhile, another UK start-up called Inclusive Designs is addressing the problem of keeping things cool by combining nanomaterials and fractals with 3D printing. The company prints 3D fractal structures designed to absorb infrared (heat) and then removes the heat by making use of the high thermal conductivity of graphene, creating a cooling system with no liquids or moving parts.
Since Richard Smalley’s untimely death in 2005, the energy situation has improved, with an increasing number of countries now generating the majority of their power from renewable sources; electric vehicles are now a common sight. But cheap, efficient renewable-energy production – together with its storage and transmission – remains a challenge. The combination of nanotechnology, with a wide range of other emerging and transformative technologies, promises to make Smalley’s dream of a world of abundant, cheap, clean energy a reality over the coming decade.
Also Read: Genesis Nanotech Home Page
“Great Things from Small Things”
Also Read Our Online “Nano-News and Updates” at: GNT OnLine: “Great Things from Small Things”
Author: Tim Harper, CEO G2O Water International and co-founder of Xefro
Image: Solar panels are seen in the Palm Springs area, California April 13, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson