NREL: Demonstrating and Advancing Benefits of Hydrogen Technology

by Bryan S. Pivovar, Ph.D, H2@Scale Lead/Group Manager, Chemistry and Nanosciences Center, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Over the past several decades, technological advancements and cost reductions have dramatically changed the economic potential of hydrogen in our energy system. 
Fuel cell electric vehicles are now available for commercial sale and hydrogen stations are open to the public (more than 2,000 fuel cell vehicles are on the road and more than 30 fueling stations are open to the public in California). 

Low-cost wind and solar power are quickly changing the power generation landscape and creating a need for technologies that enhance the flexibility of the grid in the mid- to long-term.

The vision of a clean, sustainable energy system with hydrogen serving as the critical centerpiece is the focus of H2@Scale, a major initiative involving multiple U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program offices, led by DOE’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and 14 DOE national laboratories. 

H2@Scale expands the focus of hydrogen technologies beyond power generation and transportation, to grid services and industrial processes that use hydrogen.

The Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) serves as a world-class, sophisticated testbed to evaluate and advance the H2@Scale concept. 

The ESIF is a DOE user facility interacting with multiple industrial stakeholders to accelerate the adoption of clean energy, including hydrogen-based technologies. Many of the barriers for making the H2@Scale vision a reality are being addressed today within ESIF by NREL researchers along with other industrial and national laboratory collaborators. 

The unique testbed capabilities at NREL and collaborating national labs are now available for use by industry and several partnerships are currently in development.
Within the ESIF, NREL researchers use electrons and water to produce hydrogen at rates of up to 100 kg/day (enough to fuel ~6,000 miles of travel in today’s fuel cell electric vehicles or more than 20 cars) with plans to expand capacity to four times this level. 

The hydrogen produced is compressed and stored in the 350 kg of on-site storage available at pressures as high as 12,500 psi. The hydrogen is used in multiple applications at the ESIF, including fueling fuel cell electric vehicles, testing and validating hydrogen infrastructure components and systems, producing renewable natural gas (through biological reaction with carbon dioxide), and as a feedstock for fuel cell power generation and research and development efforts.

To accelerate the H2@Scale concept, the cost, performance, and durability of hydrogen production, infrastructure (distribution and storage), and end use technologies need to be improved. NREL researchers, along with other labs, are actively demonstrating and advancing hydrogen technology in a number of areas including low-temperature electrolysis, biological production of renewable natural gas, and infrastructure.

Renewable hydrogen via low-temperature electrolysis

Today’s small-scale electrolysis systems are capable of producing several kilograms (kg) of hydrogen per day, but can cost as much as $10 per watt. At larger scale, megawatt (MW) systems producing more than 400 kg per day can cost under $2 per watt. However, for low-temperature electrolyzer systems to compete with the established steam methane reforming process for hydrogen production, the capital cost needs to be reduced to far below $1 per watt.

NREL has ongoing collaborations with Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to demonstrate control of a 250-kW electrolyzer system in a real-time grid simulation using a hardware-in-the-loop (HIL)-based approach to verify the performance of electrolyzer systems in providing grid support. HIL couples modeling and hardware in real-time simulations to better understand the performance of complex systems. 

The electrolyzer system, a building block for megawatt-scale deployment, was remotely controlled based on simulations of signals from a power grid. NREL and INL engineers demonstrated the ability of an electrolyzer to respond to grid signals in sub-seconds, making electrolyzers a viable candidate for “demand response” technologies that help control frequency and voltage on the grid by adjusting their power intake based on grid signals. 

A key enabler of low-cost electrolysis will be for electrolyzer technologies to respond dynamically to grid signals, such that they access low-cost power when available. The potential performance and durability implications of such dynamic operation are being elucidated in ongoing tests. Such experiments are essential to assess the potential for electrolyzers to support grid resiliency and to identify remaining R&D needs toward this value proposition.
NREL’s scientists are developing and exploring new materials for electrolysis systems, including advanced catalysts based on nanowire architecture and alkaline membranes, and approaches for integrating these materials into low-cost, durable membrane electrode assemblies.  


Antibiotics dosed with quantum dots appear to be better at killing superbugs

A researcher holds up a device used to test “super” bacteria’s ability to growth in the presence of antibiotics.CDC

Scientists have used quantum dots activated by light to help antibiotics fight bacteria more effectively. This could be a powerful new tool in the fight against antibiotic-resistant infections.

Quantum dots

Quantum dots, currently used in place of organic dyes in various experiments using photo-electronics to trace the ways that drugs and other molecules move through the body, may have a new supportive role in healthcare.

Scientists have engineered quantum dot nanoparticles that produce chemicals that can make bacteria more vulnerable to antibiotics. This will hopefully be a step forward in the fight against drug-resistant pathogens, like superbugs, and the infections they cause.

In this study, antibiotics empowered by the experimental quantum dots were 1,000 times more effective at fighting off bacteria than antibiotics alone. The quantum dots used were about the width of a strand of DNA, 3 nanometers in diameter. The dots were made of cadmium telluride, a stable crystalline compound often used in photovoltaics.

The electrons of the quantum dots react to green light at a particular frequency, causing them to bond with oxygen molecules in the body and form superoxide. Bacteria that absorbs the substance are unable to fend off antibiotics, as their internal chemistry falls out of balance.

The team mixed different quantities of quantum dots into varying concentrations of each of five antibiotics to create the range of samples for testing. They then added these test samples to five strains of drug-resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, and Salmonella.

In the 480 tests with different quantum dots/antibiotics/bacteria combinations, more than 75 percent of the samples with quantum dots were able to curb bacterial growth or kill the bacteria entirely with lower doses of antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance is becoming a growing problem considering how fast bacteria is adapting to medication.Getty Images/Joe Raedle

Antibiotic resistance

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antibiotic resistance is among the most serious threats to food security, health, and development in the world. It can affect anyone in any country, and infections like gonorrhea, pneumonia, and tuberculosis thar were once simple to treat are now becoming increasingly difficult to manage due to antibiotic resistance.

Aside from obvious health and even mortality risks, antibiotic resistance also causes higher medical costs and longer hospital stays. And, although some level of antibiotic resistance occurs naturally as bacteria adapt to survive, misuse of antibiotics in both animals and humans is drastically accelerating this process.

In the US alone, at least 2 million people are affected by antibiotic resistance every year. And, if nothing is done to combat this problem, by 2050 antibiotic resistance will kill more than 10 million people. 

Researchers are working on a variety of techniques to overcome this challenge. Some are using CRISPR to attack the bacteria directly, while others are looking for answers by studying the ways that ants battle detrimental fungi. Meanwhile, scientists are searching for the genetic origins of antibiotic resistance and some are even battling resistance by studying the ways bacteria behave in space.

One limitation of this study’s use of quantum dots is the light that activates the process; it has to come from somewhere, and it can only radiate through a few millimeters of flesh.

For now, these quantum dots would really only be useful for surface issues. However, the team is also working to develop nanoparticles that absorb infrared light instead, as infrared light can pass through the body and could be used to treat bone and deep tissue infections.


Paper-based Supercapacitor uses metal Nanoparticles to Boost Energy Density

GIT Paper SuperCap 171005121053_1_540x360Images show the difference between paper prior to metallization (left) and the paper coated with conductive nanoparticles. Credit: Ko et al., published in Nature Communications

Using a simple layer-by-layer coating technique, researchers from the U.S. and Korea have developed a paper-based flexible supercapacitor that could be used to help power wearable devices. The device uses metallic nanoparticles to coat cellulose fibers in the paper, creating supercapacitor electrodes with high energy and power densities — and the best performance so far in a textile-based supercapacitor.

By implanting conductive and charge storage materials in the paper, the technique creates large surface areas that function as current collectors and nanoparticle reservoirs for the electrodes. Testing shows that devices fabricated with the technique can be folded thousands of times without affecting conductivity.

“This type of flexible energy storage device could provide unique opportunities for connectivity among wearable and internet of things devices,” said Seung Woo Lee, an assistant professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We could support an evolution of the most advanced portable electronics. We also have an opportunity to combine this supercapacitor with energy-harvesting devices that could power biomedical sensors, consumer and military electronics, and similar applications.”

The research, done with collaborators at Korea University, was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea and reported September 14 in the journal Nature Communications.

Energy storage devices are generally judged on three properties: their energy density, power density and cycling stability. Supercapacitors often have high power density, but low energy density — the amount of energy that can be stored — compared to batteries, which often have the opposite attributes. In developing their new technique, Lee and collaborator Jinhan Cho from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Korea University set out to boost energy density of the supercapacitors while maintaining their high power output.

The researchers began by dipping paper samples into a beaker of solution containing an amine surfactant material designed to bind the gold nanoparticles to the paper. Next they dipped the paper into a solution containing gold nanoparticles. Because the fibers are porous, the surfactants and nanoparticles enter the fibers and become strongly attached, creating a conformal coating on each fiber.

By repeating the dipping steps, the researchers created a conductive paper on which they added alternating layers of metal oxide energy storage materials such as manganese oxide. The ligand-mediated layer-by-layer approach helped minimize the contact resistance between neighboring metal and/or metal oxide nanonparticles. Using the simple process done at room temperatures, the layers can be built up to provide the desired electrical properties.

“It’s basically a very simple process,” Lee said. “The layer-by-layer process, which we did in alternating beakers, provides a good conformal coating on the cellulose fibers. We can fold the resulting metallized paper and otherwise flex it without damage to the conductivity.”

Though the research involved small samples of paper, the solution-based technique could likely be scaled up using larger tanks or even a spray-on technique. “There should be no limitation on the size of the samples that we could produce,” Lee said. “We just need to establish the optimal layer thickness that provides good conductivity while minimizing the use of the nanoparticles to optimize the tradeoff between cost and performance.”

The researchers demonstrated that their self-assembly technique improves several aspects of the paper supercapacitor, including its areal performance, an important factor for measuring flexible energy-storage electrodes. The maximum power and energy density of the metallic paper-based supercapacitors are estimated to be 15.1mWcm?2 and 267.3 ?Wh cm?2, respectively, substantially outperforming conventional paper or textile supercapacitors.

The next steps will include testing the technique on flexible fabrics, and developing flexible batteries that could work with the supercapacitors. The researchers used gold nanoparticles because they are easy to work with, but plan to test less expensive metals such as silver and copper to reduce the cost.

During his Ph.D. work, Lee developed the layer-by-layer self-assembly process for energy storage using different materials. With his Korean collaborators, he saw a new opportunity to apply that to flexible and wearable devices with nanoparticles.

“We have nanoscale control over the coating applied to the paper,” he added. “If we increase the number of layers, the performance continues to increase. And it’s all based on ordinary paper.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by Georgia Institute of TechnologyNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Yongmin Ko, Minseong Kwon, Wan Ki Bae, Byeongyong Lee, Seung Woo Lee, Jinhan Cho. Flexible supercapacitor electrodes based on real metal-like cellulose papersNature Communications, 2017; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00550-3

Light-activated Nanoparticles (Quantum Dots) can supercharge current antibiotics

QDs and Antibiotics CU 171004142650_1_540x360CU Boulder researcher Colleen Courtney (left) speaks with Assistant Professor Anushree Chatterjee (right) inside a lab in the BioFrontiers Institute.
Credit: University of Colorado Boulder

Light-activated nanoparticles, also known as quantum dots, can provide a crucial boost in effectiveness for antibiotic treatments used to combat drug-resistant superbugs such as E. coliand Salmonella, new University of Colorado Boulder research shows.

Multi-drug resistant pathogens, which evolve their defenses faster than new antibiotic treatments can be developed to treat them, cost the United States an estimated $20 billion in direct healthcare costs and an additional $35 billion in lost productivity in 2013.

CU Boulder researchers, however, were able to re-potentiate existing antibiotics for certain clinical isolate infections by introducing nano-engineered quantum dots, which can be deployed selectively and activated or de-activated using specific wavelengths of light.

Rather than attacking the infecting bacteria conventionally, the dots release superoxide, a chemical species that interferes with the bacteria’s metabolic and cellular processes, triggering a fight response that makes it more susceptible to the original antibiotic.

“We’ve developed a one-two knockout punch,” said Prashant Nagpal, an assistant professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CHBE) and the co-lead author of the study. “The bacteria’s natural fight reaction [to the dots] actually leaves it more vulnerable.”

The findings, which were published today in the journal Science Advances, show that the dots reduced the effective antibiotic resistance of the clinical isolate infections by a factor of 1,000 without producing adverse side effects.

“We are thinking more like the bug,” said Anushree Chatterjee, an assistant professor in CHBE and the co-lead author of the study. “This is a novel strategy that plays against the infection’s normal strength and catalyzes the antibiotic instead.”

While other previous antibiotic treatments have proven too indiscriminate in their attack, the quantum dots have the advantage of being able to work selectively on an intracellular level. Salmonella, for example, can grow and reproduce inside host cells. The dots, however, are small enough to slip inside and help clear the infection from within.

“These super-resistant bugs already exist right now, especially in hospitals,” said Nagpal. “It’s just a matter of not contracting them. But they are one mutation away from becoming much more widespread infections.”

Overall, Chatterjee said, the most important advantage of the quantum dot technology is that it offers clinicians an adaptable multifaceted approach to fighting infections that are already straining the limits of current treatments.

“Disease works much faster than we do,” she said. “Medicine needs to evolve as well.”

Going forward, the researchers envision quantum dots as a kind of platform technology that can be scaled and modified to combat a wide range of infections and potentially expand to other therapeutic applications.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder. Original written by Trent Knoss. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Colleen M. Courtney, Samuel M. Goodman, Toni A. Nagy, Max Levy, Pallavi Bhusal, Nancy E. Madinger, Corrella S. Detweiler, Prashant Nagpal, and Anushree Chatterjee. Potentiating antibiotics in drug-resistant clinical isolates via stimuli-activated superoxide generationScience Advances, 04 Oct 2017 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701776

Tesla wants to build special charging stations that sell food and coffee — and it could be a huge opportunity … Or NOT!


Tesla wants to build special charging stations that sell food and coffee — and it could be a huge opportunity

Tesla Coffee – I’ll have a cup of Musk’s Blend – Business Insider

• Tesla is planning to build more retail-and-lifestyle focused “Mega Supercharger locations.”
• This might tempt the company to partner with the Amazons and Starbucks of the world.
• IOHO – That would be a big mistake!

As Tesla expands its Supercharger network, the automaker intends to up its game, building higher-end, retail-rich locations that CEO Elon Musk has called “Mega Superchargers” but that we’ll call just Megachargers.

CEO Elon Musk has speculatively described them as “like really big supercharging locations with a bunch of amenities,” complete with “great restrooms, great food, amenities” and an awesome place to “hang out for half an hour and then be on your way.”

The move makes sense. 

Superchargers are currently located through the US and other countries, providing the fastest rate of recharging available to Tesla owners. The station can have varying numbers of charging stalls, however, and they aren’t always located in the best areas for passing the time while a Tesla inhales new electrons, although Tesla typically tries to construct them near retail and dining options.

With more Tesla hitting the road in coming years as more and more Model 3 sedans are delivered (Tesla has about 500,000 pre-orders for the car, priced from $35,000-$44,000), additional Superchargers will be needed. Creating stand-alone Megachargers that function sort of like Tesla stores would enhance the ownership experience — and open new opportunities to the company.

At Business Insider, when we heard about the Megachargers, a discussion broke out. Should Tesla partner with Amazon or Starbucks to develop these locations, offering great shopping, food, and above all else … coffee?

Bring on the Tesla Brew

A Starbucks store is seen inside the Tom Bradley terminal at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California, United States, October 27, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson      

Don’t do it, Tesla!Thomson Reuters I insisted, “NO NO NO!”
There’s no way that Tesla can blow the chance to create its own coffee. They could call it “Elon’s Blend” — bold, complex flavors, with a hint of, um, musk.

In all seriousness, for Tesla to share its Megacharger commerce might sound great, but it wouldn’t fit with the company’s plan to move toward greater vertical integration, owning not just the entire manufacturing process for its cars but also controlling its brand experience from top to bottom.

A recent example of Tesla’s reluctance to partner for the sake of partnering was the announcement that the carmaker could be working on its own streaming service. There are other instances that aren’t as obvious. Tesla’s audio system is an in-house design, a departure from what most luxury automaker do, which is joined with a well-known premium audio brands such as Bose or Bowers & Wilkins.

The company is already focused on building its own vehicle components, ranging from the guts of its cars — the battery packs and drivetrains — to seats and, of course, software. 

For a huge automaker, this type of integration can be impractical, but at Tesla’s current size, its business model operates more like Ford’s or GM’s did back before World War II, when near-total vertical integration was an advantage.

Supercharging is fun — and could be more fun!

In this respect, I’m using Tesla Brew as a symbolic bit of humor: it’s not entirely logical for Tesla to give away any branding opportunity that bolsters its existing and future owners’ perception that the Tesla experience is unique, self-contained, and dramatically different from what other carmakers are selling.

The Megachargers, if they’re built, are going to have a significant effect on how the overall Tesla experience is enjoyed. At the moment, the Supercharger network is pretty far-flung.

But Tesla wants to locate more fast-charging stations along the routes owners are likely to travel, so you could end up in a nice retail location just as easily as you could an out-of-the-way venue where there isn’t much to do besides consider some fast-food options.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but Tesla is a premium brand and for the most part, presents itself accordingly. You don’t find Tesla stores in odd places; you find them in upscale urban areas.

Tesla has endured its problems, but marketing isn’t one of them. Musk and his team might not yet have delivered 100,000 vehicles in a full year, but they’ve delivered almost that — with no advertising whatsoever. In the car world, 
Tesla ranks with Ferrari in terms of its aspirational aspects, and outside the car world, one thinks immediately of Apple. In the retail realm, Starbucks pops to mind, and that in itself is reason enough for Tesla to avoid putting the Green Siren next to its logo at Megacharger locations. 

If you’re a little bit cynical about Tesla, you might argue that the company is much better at marketing than it is at the whole car thing, and you’d be right. However, few people get excited about Ford- or Toyota-branded products that aren’t cars, and even Ferrari-branded merchandise isn’t always coveted, something that Ferrari, now a public company, is trying to change.

Tesla is already a luxury, and with an added high-tech, save-the-planet edge to everything. It’s begun the remaking of transportation. It could now be time to remake coffee, too. 

Tiny Nanoparticles Could Help Repair Damaged Brain And Nerve Cells

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When our brains develop problems, such as degenerative diseases or epilepsy, some of the trouble can be electrical. As nerve signals involve electrically charged particles moving around, medics often try to treat associated problems using implanted electrodes. But this is a clumsy and difficult approach. A much better idea could be to implant tiny structures deep in the brain to act almost as miniature electricians. It may sound like science fiction, but it is moving fast towards reality.

Attilio Marino and colleagues at the Smart Bio-Interfaces group at the Italian Institute of Technology in Pontedera are striving to bring the idea to the clinic. They summarise progress in the field in a news and opinions article in Nano Today.brain_header

Nanomaterials are showing great potential in biomedicine since they can interact precisely with living systems down to the level of cells, subcellular structures and even individual molecules,” says Marino.

Marino is most interested in ‘piezoelectric‘ materials, which can convert mechanical stimulation into electrical energy, or vice-versa. He is exploring using ultrasound to mechanically stimulate nanoparticles into creating electrical signals that may fix problems with brain cells.

He points out that ultrasound offers a way to get a signal deep into brain tissue without using invasive electrodes, which can cause other problems including inflammation. Some researchers try to get round these difficulties using stimulation with light, but light cannot penetrate very deeply so ultrasound is a better option.

The field is still in its early days. Researchers are mainly studying the effects of piezoelectric nanoparticles on cultured cells rather than in animals or people, but the results are promising. Marino’s team, for example, shows that using ultrasound to stimulate nanoparticles embedded in nerve cells can increase the sprouting of new cell-signalling appendages called axons. This is exactly the kind of effect that may one day repair degenerative brain disease.

“We used barium titanate nanoparticles and confirmed the effect was specifically due to the piezoelectricity of our materials,” says Marino.

Other researchers are working with the ‘stem cells‘ that can develop into a wide range of mature types of cell needed by the body. Some are finding that piezoelectric nanomaterials can stimulate stem cells to begin their transformation into a variety of functional cell types.

A long road of safety studies, animal tests and eventual clinical trials lies ahead. But Marino is optimistic, he concludes: “The preliminary successes strongly encourage us that our research is a realistic approach for use in clinical practice in the near future.”

You can read the article for free for a limited time:

Marino, A., et al.: “Piezoelectric nanotransducers: The future of neural stimulation,” Nano Today (2017)

Better photovoltaic efficiency grows from enormous solar crystals: MH Perovskites 

In-depth analysis of the mechanisms that generate floating crystals from hot liquids could lead to large-scale, printable solar cells

New evidence of surface-initiated crystallization may improve the efficiency of printable photovoltaic materials.

In the race to replace silicon in low-cost solar cells, semiconductors known as metal halide perovskites are favored because they can be solution-processed into thin films with excellent photovoltaic efficiency. 

A collaboration between King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and Oxford University researchers has now uncovered a strategy that grows perovskites into centimeter-scale, highly pure crystals thanks to the effect of surface tension (ACS Energy Letters, “The role of surface tension in the crystallization of metal halide perovskites”).

In their natural state, perovskites have difficultly moving solar-generated electricity because they crystallize with randomly oriented grains. 

Osman Bakr from KAUST’s Solar Center and coworkers are working on ways to dramatically speed up the flow of these charge carriers using inverse temperature crystallization (ITC). This technique uses special organic liquids and thermal energy to force perovskites to solidify into structures resembling single crystals—the optimal arrangements for device purposes.

While ITC produces high-quality perovskites far faster than conventional chemical methods, the curious mechanisms that initiate crystallization in hot organic liquids are poorly understood. Ayan Zhumekenov, a PhD student in Bakr’s group, recalls spotting a key piece of evidence during efforts to adapt ITC toward large-scale manufacturing. “At some point, we realized that when crystals appeared, it was usually at the solution’s surface,” he says. “And this was particularly true when we used concentrated solutions.”

The KAUST team partnered with Oxford theoreticians to identify how interfaces influence perovskite growth in ITC. They propose that metal halides and solvent molecules initially cling together in tight complexes that begin to stretch and weaken at higher temperatures. With sufficient thermal energy, the complex breaks and perovskites begin to crystallize.

But interestingly, the researchers found that complexes located at the solution surface can experience additional forces due to surface tension—the strong cohesive forces that enable certain insects to stride over lakes and ponds. The extra pull provided by the surface makes it much easier to separate the solvent-perovskite complexes and nucleate crystals that float on top of the liquid.

Exploiting this knowledge helped the team produce centimeter-sized, ultrathin single crystals and prototype a photodetector with characteristics comparable to state-of-the-art devices. Although the single crystals are currently fragile and difficult to handle due to their microscale thicknesses, Zhumekenov explains that this method could help direct the perovskite growth onto specific substrates.

“Taking into account the roles of interfaces and surface tension could have a fundamental impact,” he says, “we can get large-area growth, and it’s not limited to specific metal cations—you could have a library of materials with perovskite structures.”

Source: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

The Future of Batteries, from Human Power to a Wireless Grid

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Extending the battery life of our tech is something that preoccupies manufacturers and consumers alike. With every new phone launch we’re treated to new features, such as increasingly high-res displays and better cameras, but it’s longer battery life we all want. For most of us, being able to use our phone for a full day still means charging it every night, or lugging your charger around all day and hunting for a power socket. And when the electric car revolution reaches full speed, fast-charging, long-life batteries are going to be essential.

Advances in battery life are being made all the time, even if we’re yet to see the full benefits in our day-to-day gadgets.

But what’s beyond that? Wireless power. And we don’t mean laying our phone on a charging pad – we’re talking about long-range wireless power. If this is cracked we could have all our devices at full juice all the time, no matter where we are.

The current tech

The batteries in your current phone, and in electric cars, are lithium-ion. These  charge quickly, last for plenty of cycles and offer decent capacity. But devices are more juice-hungry than ever, and with cars in particular fast charging needs to become more effective, because batteries aren’t going away any time soon.

While wireless power could be a viable option in the future, in the short-to-medium term we need to enhance batteries so that individuals and energy providers can first transition from fossil fuels to green renewable power.

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The battery tech in our smartphones has changed little, even as other features have seen dramatic advances

Louis Shaffer of power management solutions firm Eaton tells TechRadar: “We constantly hear about battery breakthroughs but still have the same lithium-ion batteries in our phones. Innovation takes time. It took over 30 years for li-ion batteries to enter the mainstream, from their invention in the 1980s to featuring in iPhones.”

Another factor in slowing this progress is highlighted by Chris Slattery, product manager at smart lighting manufacturer Tridonic. “The interesting point with mobile phones is that one of the major factors for upgrading your phone is the degradation of the current phone’s battery life,“ he says.

“Increasing the life of these batteries removes a major reason for upgrading to the latest smartphone when the feature set itself doesn’t change that greatly.”


Ultracapacitors are seen by many as the future of energy storage, as they store energy in an electric field, rather than in a chemical reaction as a battery does, meaning they can survive hundreds of thousands more charge and discharge cycles than a battery can.

Taavi Madiburk is CEO of Skeleton Technologies, a global leader in ultracapacitor-based storage solutions. He says: “The future, we believe, lies not in replacing lithium-ion, but coupling this technology with ultracapacitors in a hybrid approach.

“In doing so, it is possible to benefit from both the high energy density of batteries, and the high power density and output of ultracapacitors.

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Advances is energy storage and fast-charging tech are urgently needed if electric car use is to become practicable on a large scale

“Ultracapacitors can be re-charged in a matter of 2-3 seconds, providing one million deep charge/discharge cycles. Also, with ultracapacitors protecting batteries from high power surges, the lifetime of the battery pack is increased by 50% and the range by 10%.

Skeleton is already working to improve power grids to cater for the growing number of electric cars. It sees current large-scale electrical grids being replaced in certain areas by smaller, less centralized grids called microgrids, and, Madiburk adds, “We’re currently working on with ultracapacitors as a piece of that puzzle.”

Solid state batteries

One of the major advances in battery tech right now sticks with good old lithium.

Solid-state lithium batteries dispense with the electrolyte liquid that transfers charged particles, making them safer than current batteries yet still able to operate at super-capacitor levels, meaning that charging and discharging can happen faster.

This is great for car batteries, as it means more power can be utilized by the car for quick pull-away speed, but fast charging will mean drivers need to spend less time at charging stations.

One example of this, from Toyota scientists, is a battery that can be fully charged from empty in just seven minutes.

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Toyota is a the forefront of the development of high-capacity, fast-charging batteries for electric cars

Another promising area is aluminium-air batteries, which have been placed in a car to deliver a whopping 1,100 miles on a single charge. Then there are sand-based batteries, which – while still lithium-ion – manage to offer three times better performance than lithium-ion while being cheaper to make, non-toxic and environmentally friendly.

Whisper it, but one of the big hopes for improved batteries for a while now has been graphene. The Grabat battery from Graphenano charges 33 times faster than lithium-ion units, and can deliver high power too, making it ideal for cars.

Battery-free phones

One way to go without batteries is to make gadgets super-low power consuming. A phone has been built that doesn’t even require a battery, so low are its power needs – and it was achieved using components that are available to anyone.

Engineers at the University of Washington designed the phone, which is able to pull power from the environment, with radio signals and light harvested by an antenna and tiny solar cell.

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Engineers at the University of Washington have developed a phone that doesn’t need a battery

The result is enough power to run the 3.5 microwatt-consuming phone. You’re limited to making calls only, but the idea having a tiny credit card-sized backup phone in your wallet will appeal to everyone from constantly on-the-move workers who need to stay in touch, to hikers.

Ambient power

Other breakthroughs have also been based on drawing ambient power from the world around us. One such technology uses sound and nanogenerators, so that simply talking into your phone generates power to charge it.

MIT scientists, meanwhile, have shown off a way to harvest power from water dew in the air; they’ve only been able to create a potential one microwatt so far, but combine these methods, throw in a bit more evolution and we could be looking at a battery-free future.

Over the air power

The dream of transmitting power over the air has existed since the days of the legendary inventor and electrical engineer Nikolas Tesla, but it’s only recently started to become a reality. One company that claims to have mastered the technology, taking it beyond the close-range Qi wireless charging now found in many smartphones, is uBeam.

The uBeam system was cracked by 25-year-old astrobiology grad Meredith Perry, who has since received over $28 million in funding.

This system uses microwaves to transmit energy several metres across a room to power devices. Perry has shown it off charging phones, but says it could be applied to TVs, computers and even cars.

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The uBeam system is capable of charging devices over distances of several meters, but such technology is still in its infancy

It uses a lot of power, costs a lot to manufacture and offers a pretty slow charging rate; but there are no wires to be seen, and this way of delivering power could hail a future without batteries.

If it could be made efficient on a large scale, in a similar way to mobile phone networks, all our devices could draw power from such a system. Imagine phones and electric cars that never need charging.

But is this future as close as uBeam would have its investors and us believe? Probably not.

Human power

This is where things get really interesting – harnessing the power of human beings. Not like in The Matrix, where we’re reduced to a glorified battery, but through friction generated by movement.

Scientists have shown off the tech in action, powering 12 LED bulbs. That’s not going to change the way you use your gadgets right now, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The technology uses a 50nm thin gold film sitting under silicone rubber nanopillars which create maximum surface area with the skin. The result is lots of friction, and all the user has to do is strap the unit on, making it ideal for wearables.

And the Bill Gates Foundation has even developed a process that harvests enough power from our urine to charge a phone, dubbed the Microbial Fuel Cell; that’s pretty much the definition of sustainable power.

GNT New Thumbnail LARGE 2016Watch Our ‘Current’ Video: “Nano Enabled Super Capacitors and Batteries”



Read More: Super Capacitor Assisted Silicon Nanowire Batteries for EV and Small Form Factor Markets. A New Class of Battery /Energy Storage Materials is being developed to support the High Energy – High Capacity – High Performance High Cycle Battery Markets. “Ultrathin Asymmetric Porous-Nickel Graphene-Based Supercapacitor with High Energy Density and Silicon Nanowire,”

A New Generation Battery that is:

 Energy Dense   High Specific Power

 Simple Manufacturing Process  Low Manufacturing Cost

 Rapid Charge/ Re-Charge  Flexible Form Factor

 Long Warranty Life  Non-Toxic

 Highly Scaleable Key Markets & Commercial Applications

 EV –  (18650 & 21700); Drone and Marine Batteries

 Wearable Electronics and The Internet of Things

 Estimated $112B Market by 2025

MIT: Researchers clarify mystery about proposed battery material – More “Energy Per Pound”- EV’s and Lithium-Air Batteries

MIT-Lithium-i-1_0Study explains conflicting results from other experiments, may lead to batteries with more energy per pound.

Battery researchers agree that one of the most promising possibilities for future battery technology is the lithium-air (or lithium-oxygen) battery, which could provide three times as much power for a given weight as today’s leading technology, lithium-ion batteries. But tests of various approaches to creating such batteries have produced conflicting and confusing results, as well as controversies over how to explain them.

Now, a team at MIT has carried out detailed tests that seem to resolve the questions surrounding one promising material for such batteries: a compound called lithium iodide (LiI). The compound was seen as a possible solution to some of the lithium-air battery’s problems, including an inability to sustain many charging-discharging cycles, but conflicting findings had raised questions about the material’s usefulness for this task. The new study explains these discrepancies, and although it suggests that the material might not be suitable after all, the work provides guidance for efforts to overcome LiI’s drawbacks or find alternative materials.battery-5001

The new results appear in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, in a paper by Yang Shao-Horn, MIT’s W.M. Keck Professor of Energy; Paula Hammond, the David H. Koch Professor in Engineering and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering; Michal Tulodziecki, a recent MIT postdoc at the Research Laboratory of Electronics; Graham Leverick, an MIT graduate student; Yu Katayama, a visiting student; and three others.

The promise of the lithium-air battery comes from the fact one of the two electrodes, which are usually made of metal or metal oxides, is replaced with air that flows in and out of the battery; a weightless substance is thus substituted for one of the heavy components. The other electrode in such batteries would be pure metallic lithium, a lightweight element.

But that theoretical promise has been limited in practice because of three issues: the need for high voltages for charging, a low efficiency with regard to getting back the amount of energy put in, and low cycle lifetimes, which result from instability in the battery’s oxygen electrode. Researchers have proposed adding lithium iodide in the electrolyte as a way of addressing these problems. But published results have been contradictory, with some studies finding the LiI does improve the cycling life, “while others show that the presence of LiI leads to irreversible reactions and poor battery cycling,” Shao-Horn says.

Previously, “most of the research was focused on organics” to make lithium-air batteries feasible, says Michal Tulodziecki, the paper’s lead author. But most of these organic compounds are not stable, he says, “and that’s why there’s been a great focus on lithium iodide [an inorganic material], which some papers said helps the batteries achieve thousands of cycles. But others say no, it will damage the battery.” In this new study, he says, “we explored in detail how lithium iodide affects the process, with and without water,” a comparison which turned out to be significant.

lithium-air-battery (1)

The team looked at the role of LiI on lithium-air battery discharge, using a different approach from most other studies. One set of studies was conducted with the components outside of the battery, which allowed the researchers to zero in on one part of the reaction, while the other study was done in the battery, to help explain the overall process.

They then used ultraviolet and visible-light spectroscopy and other techniques to study the reactions that took place. Both of these processes foster the production of different lithium compound such as LiOH (lithium hydroxide) in the presence of both LiI and water, instead of Li2O(lithium peroxide).  LiI can enhance water’s reactivity and make it lose protons more easily, which promotes the formation of LiOH in these batteries and interferes with the charging process. These observations show that finding ways to suppress these reactions could make compounds such as LiI work better.

This study could point the way toward selecting a different compound instead of LiI to perform its intended function of suppressing unwanted chemical reactions at the electrode surface, Leverick says, adding that this work demonstrates the importance of “looking at the detailed mechanism carefully.”

Shao-Horn says that the new findings “help get to the bottom of this existing controversy on the role of LiI on discharge. We believe this clarifies and brings together all these different points of view.”

But this work is just one step in a long process of trying to make lithium-air technology practical, the researchers say. “There’s so much to understand,” says Leverick, “so there’s not one paper that’s going to solve it. But we will make consistent progress.”

“Lithium-oxygen batteries that run on oxygen and lithium ions are of great interest because they could enable electric vehicles of much greater range. However, one of the problems is that they are not very efficient yet,” says Larry Curtiss, a distinguished fellow at Argonne National Laboratory, who was not involved in this work. In this study, he says, “it is shown how adding a simple salt, lithium iodide, can potentially be used to make these batteries run much more efficiently. They have provided new insight into how the lithium iodide acts to help break up the solid discharge product, which will help to enable the development of these advanced battery systems.”Nissan-Leaf

Curtiss adds that “there are still significant barriers remaining to be overcome before these batteries become a reality, such as getting long enough cycle life, but this is an important contribution to the field.”

The team also included recent MIT graduates Chibueze Amanchukwu PhD ’17 and David Kwabi PhD ’16, and Fanny Bardé of Toyota Motor Europe. The work was supported by Toyota Motor Europe and the Skoltech Center for Electrochemical Energy Storage, and used facilities supported by the National Science Foundation.

Nanotechnology and Cardiovascular Nanomedicine

Nano Cardio id48033

Applications of various nano platforms in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Nano platforms can target and break down coronary artery plaques and prevent injuries caused by stenosis or occlusion of arteries. Nanoparticulate systems can also reduce the adverse effects of reperfusion injuries and regenerate/salvage myocardium after MI, through sustained and targeted delivery of cells, biomolecules and paracrine factors. (© Nature Publishing Group) (click on image to enlarge)

Ischemic cardiomyopathy (CM) is the most common type of dilated cardiomyopathy. In Ischemic CM, the heart’s ability to pump blood is decreased because the heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, is enlarged, dilated and weak. This is caused by ischemia – a lack of blood supply to the heart muscle caused by coronary artery disease and heart attacks.

Treatment of ischemic CM is aimed at treating coronary artery disease, improving cardiac function and reducing heart failure symptoms. Patients usually take several medications to treat CM. Doctors also recommend lifestyle changes to decrease symptoms and hospitalizations and improve quality of life. In addition, devices and surgery may be advised.
“Nanostructured systems have the potential to revolutionize both preventive and therapeutic approaches for treating cardiovascular disease,” says Morteza Mahmoudi, Director of and Principal Investigator at the NanoBio Interactions Laboratory at Tehran University of Medical Sciences. “Given the unique physical and chemical properties of nanostructured systems, nanoscience and nanotechnology have recently demonstrated the potential to overcome many of the limitations of cardiovascular medicine through the development of new pharmaceuticals, imaging reagents and modalities, and biomedical devices.”
Mahmoudi is first author of a review paper in Nature Nanotechnology (“Multiscale technologies for treatment of ischemic cardiomyopathy”), that covers the current state of the art in employing nanoparticulate systems either to inhibit or treat ischemic heart injuries caused by the stenosis or occlusion of coronary arteries.
The review provides a brief overview of recent advances in the use of nano platforms for early detection and treatment of coronary atherosclerosis to inhibit myocardial infarction (MI; heart attack). The authors also introduce new therapeutic opportunities in the regeneration/repair of ischemic myocardium using both nanoparticles and nanostructured biomaterials that can deliver therapeutic molecules and/or (stem) cells into hibernating myocardium.
The paper further provides an overview of recent advances in precise in vivo imaging of transplanted cells using bacterially developed nanoparticles and explain how these findings address crucial issues in in vivo cell monitoring and facilitate the clinical translation of cell therapies.
Finally, the authors examine the strengths and limitations of current approaches and discuss likely future trends in the application of nanotechnology to cardiovascular nanomedicine. Nano Cardio id48033
Here is a summary of the review, which offers an outline of critical issues and emerging developments in cardiac nanotechnology, which overall represent tremendous opportunities for advancing the field.

Diagnosis and treatment of coronary atherosclerosis

Nanoparticles have demonstrated potential in both detection and removal of atherosclerotic plaques. For instance, nanoparticles can deliver therapeutic biomolecules to the site of coronary atherosclerosis and shrink plaques by reducing inflammation (for example, by activation of pro-resolving pathways), and removing lipids and cholesterol crystals.
“The main limiting issue for design of safe and efficient nanoparticles for both prognosis and treatment of coronary atherosclerosis is our lack of a deep understanding of the biological identity of nanoparticles” the authors write (see our previous Nanowerk Spotlight on this issue: “Pre-coating nanoparticles to better deal with protein coronas“). “More specifically, nanoparticles in contact with biological fluids are quickly surrounded by a layer of proteins that form what is called the protein corona, which has not yet been adequately addressed in the field of cardiac nanotechnology.”
Therefore, to accelerate the clinical translation of nanoparticles and nanostructured materials for use in cardiac nanotechnology, their biological identities must be precisely assessed and reported.

Cell therapy for salvage and regeneration of heart tissue

Over the past decade, the majority of efforts in myocardial regeneration have been centred on cell-based cardiac repair (see for instance: “Nanotechnology based stem cell therapies for damaged heart muscles“).
However, patient-specific therapeutic cells have limitations and nanoparticles could substantially help overcome them by targeting the injured portion of the myocardium.

Delivery of therapeutic molecules to CMs

Nanoparticles demonstrate great potential for delivering therapeutic agents specifically to the ischemic injured heart, although they accumulate mainly at pre-infarcted areas rather than the diseased tissue.
According to the authors, there are two major issues that should be addressed in future studies: 1) as only a low percentage of the injected nanoparticles can pass through the coronary arteries, the targeting capabilities of these particles to the heart tissue should be precisely defined; and 2) the effect of the protein corona on the in vivo release kinetics of the payloads should be characterized. Addressing these critical issues will help scientists design safe and efficient dosage of nanoparticles for biomolecular delivery applications.

Nanostructured scaffolding strategies for myocardial repair

As a bioartificial extracellular matrix (ECM), cardiac tissue scaffolds are engineered to interact optimally with cardiac cells during their gradual degradation and neotissue formation.
A variety of nanobiomaterials have been used to recapitulate the nanoscale features of the native ECM. In comparison with conventional tissue-engineering scaffolds, nanostructured biomaterials (for example, nanofiber/tube and nanoporous scaffolds) offer more biomimetic structural and physiomechanical cues, enhancing protein (molecular) and cellular interactions.
As the field of tissue engineering evolves, more attention is being given to the development of alternative biofabrication strategies to control the nano-scaffold 3D architecture in a more reproducible and patient/tissue-specific manner. Examples include 3D bioprinting and nanoprinting technologies that use computer-assisted layer-by-layer deposition (that is, additive manufacturing) to create 3D structures with sub-micrometer resolution.

Challenges in designing nanoparticles for clinical applications

Despite the enormously large and rapidly growing arsenal of nanoparticle technologies developed to date, few have reached clinical development and even fewer have been approved for clinical use.
This is in part attributed to the challenges associated with controllable and reproducible synthesis of nanoparticles using processes and unit operations that allow for scalable manufacturing required for clinical development and commercialization.
Nanoparticles also encounter unique physiological barriers in the body as compared with small molecule drugs with regard to systemic circulation, access to tissue and intra-cellular trafficking.
The authors point out that, as nanoparticles are increasingly being used in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiac diseases, their potential cardiotoxicity should be examined in detail. Their potential toxicity for cardiac tissue and heart function is of crucial importance for the safety of such nanoparticles.
“To accelerate additional breakthrough discoveries in the field, funding for cardiac nanotechnology should be substantially increased,” the authors conclude their review. “Compared with other biomedical applications of nanotechnology, such as cancer nanotechnology, cardiac nanotechnology has lagged in achieving ‘traction’, and its slower progress also mirrors (at least in part) less investment both from governments/ foundations and financial and strategic investors. During the past few years, however, a growing number of funding opportunities have been created in the field of cardiac nanotechnology, and this has translated into the progress we outline above. We believe that nanomedicines will shift the paradigm of both predictive and therapeutic approaches in cardiac disease in the foreseeable future.”
By Michael Berger Copyright © Nanowerk