Squeezing more mileage out of electric cars with refillable batteries

Original news release was issued by the Ohio State University.
Maximum distance travelled on a single charge continues to be one of the biggest drawbacks if one should choose to get an electric vehicle (EV), compared to their gas-powered counterparts. Although electric cars were proven ready to satisfy our commuting needs (as we have reported before), they still remain somewhat a long stretch before most of the motorists warm up to them. Recently, engineers from Ohio State University tipped the scales some more in favor of EVs by developing a thin plastic membrane that stops rechargeable batteries from discharging when not in use and allows for rapid recharging.
This invention — called “ionic redox transistor” — is meant as a crucial component upon which the researchers hope to develop a new kind of batteries. Energy of these batteries would be stored in a liquid electrolyte — which people could recharge or empty out and refill as they would refill a gas tank. Should the development be successful, it could boost the performance limit of the eco-cars up to tens of miles per minute of charge. The current best limit appears to be 0.4 miles — less less than half a mile of driving — per minute of charging. To put it in perspective, the maximum distance range of today’s very best EVs is around 200 miles after an 8-hour charge. In comparison, the gas-powered cars can cover the same stretch after only one minute spent at the petrol station.

“For everyday commuting, the electrolyte can be simply regenerated by plugging it into a power outlet overnight or while parked at the garage. For long road trips, you could empty out the used electrolyte and refill the battery to get the kind of long driving range we are accustomed to with internal combustion engines,” said Vishnu-Baba Sundaresan, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State and leader of the study.

Batteries — such as lithium-ion batteries — with membrane separators that conduct charge are nothing new. However, the problem with today’s batteries lies in self-discharge. The phenomenon also known as thermal runaway converts battery’s internal energy into heat. In worst case scenario it causes batteries to even overheat and catch fire.
Researchers demonstrated that their membrane can shut down charge transport and prevent thermal runaway at its onset. The design for the membrane was inspired by cell membranes found in human body, which open and close to let cells perform biological functions. Openings in the cell wall respond to the electrical charge of molecules to expand or contract, and it’s this principle that was applied to the smart membrane. In laboratory tests, the engineers found they could control the density of openings in the membrane. As a result, the batteries fully functioned, but reduced charge loss to zero when the batteries were not in use.
Even though the membrane does work with conventional batteries and might be the only way to push the performance limit at the moment, the team primarily focuses to use it as a basis for a new type of fast-charging batteries. The concept of plugging in a vehicle for long hours just to drive for a few hundred miles might not be generally viewed as appealing. But the development of batteries could prove to be a significant addition to the overnight charging once the drivers find themselves in an urgent need to refill the “juice” on the road.


Harvard's artificial leaf improves photosynthesis and produces liquid fuel

Original news release was issued by the Harvard Gazette, written by Peter Reuell.

The need for renewable sources of energy keeps increasing no matter how much fossil fuels refuse to go away. Some are taking their green initiatives further than others, but Harvard’s new step towards accessible and efficient green energy may actually  be a huge leap. Daniel Nocera, the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University, and Pamela Silver, the Elliott T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, have co-created a system that uses solar energy to split water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels. Essentially, they made photosynthesis manufacturable and better.

“This is a true artificial photosynthesis system,” Nocera said. “Before, people were using artificial photosynthesis for water-splitting, but this is a true A-to-Z system, and we’ve gone well over the efficiency of photosynthesis in nature.”

But the system’s potential goes beyond production of fuel: “The beauty of biology is it’s the world’s greatest chemist — biology can do chemistry we can’t do easily,” said Silver. “In principle, we have a platform that can make any downstream carbon-based molecule. So this has the potential to be incredibly versatile.”

This isn’t the first shot that Nocera, Silver, and their colleagues have taken at a bionic leaf. The alloy used as a catalyst in its previous version required too much voltage to be efficient enough. For the new version, however, the catalyst has been redesigned using a new cobalt-phosphorous alloy that allows for lower voltage, increasing the efficiency dramatically.

Daniel Nocera (Image source: Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer)

The system can now convert solar energy to biomass with 10 percent efficiency, Nocera said, far above the 1 percent seen in the fastest-growing plants.

Though there may yet be room for additional increases in efficiency, Nocera said the system is already effective enough to consider possible commercial applications, but within a different model for technology translation. “It’s an important discovery — it says we can do better than photosynthesis,” Nocera said. “But I also want to bring this technology to the developing world as well.”

“If you think about it, photosynthesis is amazing,” he said. “It takes sunlight, water, and air — and then look at a tree. That’s exactly what we did, but we do it significantly better, because we turn all that energy into a fuel.”

EU Projects INNOVER EAST Project

A trio of INNOVER-EAST events to address energy efficiency in Belarus

INNOVER-EAST will host three events in Minsk, Belarus between May 11-13, 2016 to address the energy efficiency policies in Belarus, as well as the need for innovation and promotion in this area.

Starting on the 11th, National Policy Workshop will be held to overview and discuss the current state and development trends of the national energy efficiency (EE), as well as the lessons learned in Belarus and the EU, together with the role of innovation in promoting EE. The outcome of this workshop will be recommendations on further development of the national EE policy, contributing to the final Innover-East policy event aimed at summarizing the lessons learned from 5 Eastern Partnership countries, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Ukraine. Lastly, recommendations will be formulated for EU member states and Eastern Partnership policy makers on a wider and more effective cooperation.

Continuing on the 12thBrokerage Event will facilitate the matchmaking of research organizations and businesses with the aim of upscaling and commercializing research results and innovative products. Local innovation players will be made aware of selected local and EU financial instruments to support their innovation activities. The series of events will be concluded on the by the 3rd Project Meeting on the 13th.

INNOVER-EAST is an EU-funded project with its main objective to bridge the gap between research and innovation; between researchers and business; and between the EU and the targeted Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine) in the field of energy efficiency.


Paperlike ceramic electrode viable at last, suitable for extreme conditions

Original news release was issued by Kansas State University News and Communications Services.

A rechargeable electrode that is paper-thin, 10% lighter than what we are used to, and can function properly in disagreeable conditions? All but reality at this point. Team of researchers, led by Gurpreet Singh from Kansas State University, has developed an electrode with a unique silicon oxycarbide-glass and graphene architecture. Their findings may bring strong benefits to tools for unmanned aircraft vehicles and space exploration.

In addition to being significantly lighter than its counterparts, the electrode has almost absolute cycle efficiency for more than a 1000 discharge cycles. It can even function at a temperature as low as -15 °C, enabling a wide range of high altitude aerial, and potentially space applications. The fact that its parts are made out of liquid resin – an inexpensive byproduct of the silicone industry – is a nice bonus to say the least.

Singh’s team has been battling issues with volumetric capacity, poor cycling efficiency, and chemical-mechanical instability, that have until now stunted the development of batteries that use graphene and silicon. They have cracked these problems by developing a piece of glassy ceramic, called silicon oxycarbide, stuck between sheets of chemically modified graphene. Their electrode has high capacity of 600 miliampere-hours per gram, a significant improvement from standard graphite electrodes that reach 372 mAh/g.

“The paperlike design is markedly different from the electrodes used in present day batteries because it eliminates the metal foil support and polymeric glue — both of which do not contribute toward capacity of the battery,” Singh said.

Singh and his team now wish to carry on with their work at the scale of full battery units, and in largers dimensions, as well as with mechanical bending tests. Singh has also hinted at the possibility of 3D-printing silicon oxycarbide, allowing for even more efficient production.

Research available in Nature Communications article.


INNOVER-EAST Webinar on Energy Efficient Data Centers

CREATE-NET and European Alliance for Innovation have organized a webinar on energy Efficient Data Centers on April 20, 2015. This live webinar is a ’pilot’ event in the context of innovation support services and on-site trainings starting from the 2nd half 2015 organized by INNOVER-EAST. The objective of the event was to open up new capacities for providing the innovation services in the Eastern Partnership Countries. The goal of this activity lies in assisting both researchers and business in improving their performance to manage the transfer of knowledge on energy efficient data centers from academy to industry and market. The webinar was arranged using WebEx tool and included a lecture, as well as a Q/A session.

The lecturer was given by Giovanni Giuliani affiliated by Hewlett-Packard Italy Innovation Centre. Giovanni is a master architect at the Innovation Centre and a technical coordinator of DC4Cities EU FP7 project. DC4Cities promotes the data centres role as an “eco-friendly” key player in the Smart Cities energy policies, and fosters the integration of a network of local renewable energy providers (also interconnected with local Smart Grids and Micro Grids) to support the pursued increase of renewable energy share. During the lecture Giovanni stressed the point that data centers could be considered from two stand points: fisrt, they are an ICT infrastructure supporting Smart Cities in terms of ICT services delivery to the citizens, and second, they are incredible energy consumers. To ensure the data centers smooth and ”eco” operation, enough renewable energy should be availble and delivered at the particular time by the renewable energy providers.

DC4Cities finds the adequate actions to run a data centre so as to adapt to external energy constraints and consume the minimal energy, targeting the 80% usage of renewable energy sources. The goal of DC4Cities is to make existing and new data centres energy adaptive, without requiring any modification to the logistics, and without impacting the quality of the services provided to their users. Finally new energy metrics, benchmarks, and measurement methodologies are developed and proposed for the definition of new related standards.

The webinar ended with a number of questions on how the data center owners and renewable energy providers prefer to act in terms of business contracts, what is the price and what efforts are required to scavenge the renewable energy, what are the challenges associated with the reneawble energy infrastructure.

The recording of webinar and video player are available for downloading.