Oak Ridge National Laboratory: A NANOTECH WAFER TURNS CARBON DIOXIDE INTO ETHANOL ~ Potential for Future Renewable Energy Storage


ethanol_485TECHNIQUE TO CREATE ALCOHOL FROM THIN AIR HAS APPLICATIONS IN RENEWABLE ENERGY

Now before you conjure up images of “Animal House and John Belushi” … this is NOT the latest Frat House entry into “home brews!” The Researchers at ORNL have found a way to produce a potential fuel and energy storage for renewable energy sources using Nanotechnology – converting carbon dioxide – Alex Rondinone, the lead researcher says, “it’s like pushing combustion backwards– ….”

Ethanol

 

Ethanol’s popularity stems from the fact that it’s a major component of booze, but it has also seen use in recent years as a bio-fuel. Scientists have found a way to take everyone’s least favorite greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, and mix it with water to create alcohol.

 

A research team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee developed a way to convert carbon dioxide into ethanol--and they did it by accident. Originally, they were hoping to convert carbon dioxide that had been dissolved in water to methanol, a chemical released naturally by volcanic gases and microbes, which can cause blindness in humans if ingested.

But instead of methanol, they discovered they had ethanol, a primary component of gin and also a potential fuel source. Surprised, the team realized that not only was their new material converting the carbon dioxide to ethanol, it needed very little outside support.

The material is a small chip–about a square centimeter in size–covered in spikes, each just a few atoms across. Each spike is constructed out of nitrogen with a carbon sheath and a small sphere of copper embedded in each tip. The chip is dipped into water and carbon dioxide is bubbled in. The copper acts as a small lightning rod, attracting electricity and driving the first steps of the conversion of the carbon dioxide and water into ethanol, before the molecules move to the carbon sheath to finish the process.

Alex Rondinone, the lead researcher, says it’s like pushing combustion backwards–normally ethanol can burn with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and water, as well as energy. But they’ve managed to reverse the process, supplying carbon dioxide and water, supplying it with electricity, and ending up with ethanol.

 

ethanol-producing nanomaterial

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Nanospikes used to produce ethanol

 

The new material relies on many, many small sphere of copper only a few atoms wide, held up by carbon sheaths surrounding a core of nitrogen. These immeasurably tiny structures handle the entire business of turning carbon dioxide and water into ethanol.

The new nano-structured material allowed the researchers to use widely available materials like copper instead of more expensive options like platinum. In the past, this has hampered the ability to manufacture a material like this at larger scales.

The team hopes that their material, because it’s made from more easily available components, will be able to scale up successfully.

Even though the process probably won’t help much with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere–Rondinone says it would be too energetically costly–he believes there is another way for this process to help meet energy demands.

Rondinone sees an opportunity to help with intermittent power sources like wind and solar. By capturing excess electricity generated by the process and storing it in the form of ethanol, it could be burned later when the wind turbines aren’t spinning or the sun isn’t shining.

Don’t plan on seeing a new Oak Ridge National Laboratory luxury brand of 130 proof liquor on the shelves anytime soon though. Although Rondinone says the ethanol is just like the ethanol you drink, it also contains trace quantities of formate, which is toxic to humans. He cautions, “I would not advise people to drink it without further purification.”

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New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality: U of Waterloo



New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to realityDate:

October 18, 2016

Source:

University of Waterloo

Summary:

A new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits has now been developed, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

“The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits,” said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD candidate with IQC and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Waterloo.

 He and Thomas McConkey, PhD candidate from IQC and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Waterloo, are lead authors on the study that appears in the journal Physical Review Applied as an Editors’ Suggestion and is featured in Physics. “The technique connects classical electronics with quantum circuits, and is extendable far beyond current limits, from one to possibly a few thousand qubits.”

One promising implementation of a scalable quantum computing architecture uses a superconducting qubit, which is similar to the electronic circuits currently found in a classical computer, and is characterized by two states, 0 and 1. Quantum mechanics makes it possible to prepare the qubit in superposition states, meaning that the qubit can be in states 0 and 1 at the same time.

 To initialize the qubit in the 0 state, superconducting qubits are brought down to temperatures close to -273 degrees Celsius inside a cryostat, or dilution refrigerator.

To control and measure superconducting qubits, the researchers use microwave pulses. The pulses are typically sent from dedicated sources and pulse generators through a network of cables connecting the qubits in the cryostat’s cold environment to the room-temperature electronics. 
The network of cables required to access the qubits inside the cryostat is a complex infrastructure and, until recently, has presented a barrier to scaling the quantum computing architecture.

“All wire components in the quantum socket are specifically designed to operate at very low temperatures and perform well in the microwave range required to manipulate the qubits,” said Matteo Mariantoni, a faculty member at IQC and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Waterloo and senior author on the paper.

 “We have been able to use it to control superconducting devices, which is one of the many critical steps necessary for the development of extensible quantum computing technologies.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Waterloo. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

J. H. Béjanin, T. G. McConkey, J. R. Rinehart, C. T. Earnest, C. R. H. McRae, D. Shiri, J. D. Bateman, Y. Rohanizadegan, B. Penava, P. Breul, S. Royak, M. Zapatka, A. G. Fowler, M. Mariantoni. Three-Dimensional Wiring for Extensible Quantum Computing: The Quantum Socket. Physical Review Applied, 2016; 6 (4) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevApplied.6.044010

Harnessing the Transformative Possibilities of the “Nanoworld”


4-harnessingth

Snow Crystal Landscape. Credit: Peter Gorges

Scientists have long suspected that the way materials behave on the nanoscale – that is when particles have dimensions of about 1–100 nanometres – is different from how they behave on any other scale. A new paper in the journal Chemical Science provides concrete proof that this is the case.

The laws of thermodynamics govern the behavior of materials in the macro world, while quantum mechanics describes behavior of particles at the other extreme, in the world of single atoms and electrons.

But in the middle, on the order of around 10–100,000 molecules, something different is going on. Because it’s such a tiny scale, the particles have a really big surface-area-to-volume ratio. This means the energetics of what goes on at the surface become very important, much as they do on the atomic scale, where is often applied.

Classical thermodynamics breaks down. But because there are so many particles, and there are many interactions between them, the quantum model doesn’t quite work either.

And because there are so many particles doing different things at the same time, it’s difficult to simulate all their interactions using a computer. It’s also hard to gather much experimental information, because we haven’t yet developed the capacity to measure behaviour on such a tiny scale.

This conundrum becomes particularly acute when we’re trying to understand crystallisation, the process by which particles, randomly distributed in a solution, can form highly ordered crystal structures, given the right conditions.

Chemists don’t really understand how this works. How do around 1018 molecules, moving around in solution at random, come together to form a micro- to millimetre size ordered crystal? Most remarkable perhaps is the fact that in most cases every crystal is ordered in the same way every time the crystal is formed.

However, it turns out that different conditions can sometimes yield different crystal structures. These are known as polymorphs, and they’re important in many branches of science including medicine – a drug can behave differently in the body depending on which polymorph it’s crystallised in.

What we do know so far about the process, at least according to one widely accepted model, is that particles in solution can come together to form a nucleus, and once a critical mass is reached we see crystal growth. The structure of the nucleus determines the structure of the final crystal, that is, which polymorph we get.Nanoparticle 2 051316 coated-nanoparticle

What we have not known until now is what determines the structure of the nucleus in the first place, and that happens on the nanoscale.

In this paper, the authors have used mechanochemistry – that is milling and grinding – to obtain nanosized , small enough that surface effects become significant. In other words, the chemistry of the nanoworld – which structures are the most stable at this scale, and what conditions affect their stability, has been studied for the first time with carefully controlled experiments.

And by changing the milling conditions, for example by adding a small amount of solvent, the authors have been able to control which polymorph is the most stable. Professor Jeremy Sanders of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, who led the work, said “It is exciting that these simple experiments, when carried out with great care, can unexpectedly open a new door to understanding the fundamental question of how surface effects can control the stability of nanocrystals.”

Joel Bernstein, Global Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at NYU Abu Dhabi, and an expert in and structure, explains: “The authors have elegantly shown how to experimentally measure and simulate situations where you have two possible nuclei, say A and B, and determine that A is more stable. And they can also show what conditions are necessary in order for these stabilities to invert, and for B to become more stable than A.”

“This is really news, because you can’t make those predictions using classical thermodynamics, and nor is this the quantum effect. But by doing these experiments, the authors have started to gain an understanding of how things do behave on this size regime, and how we can predict and thus control it. The elegant part of the experiment is that they have been able to nucleate A and B selectively and reversibly.”

One of the key words of chemical synthesis is ‘control’. Chemists are always trying to control the properties of materials, whether that’s to make a better dye or plastic, or a drug that’s more effective in the body. So if we can learn to control how molecules in a solution come together to form solids, we can gain a great deal. This work is a significant first step in gaining that control.

Explore further: Surface chemistry offers new approach to directing crystal formation in pharmaceutical industry

More information: A. M. Belenguer et al. Solvation and surface effects on polymorph stabilities at the nanoscale, Chem. Sci. (2016). DOI: 10.1039/C6SC03457H

phantom-matter-screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-4-05-26-pm

Read Genesis Nanotechnology ~ Phantom Matter comes 2 Life+Graphene Super Caps 2 Power Tesla Rival Battery+NanoNeuro 2 treat stroke, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, cardiac conditions, and many others + ..http://buff.ly/2eCo78v

The Future of Batteries with Venkat Srinivasan: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: Video


 

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory battery scientist Venkat Srinivasan chats with Sabin Russell, former San Francisco Chronicle reporter turned Berkeley Lab science writer. They explore the problems that prevent lithium-ion batteries from being widely used in electric, hybrid-electric, and plug-in-hybrid-electric vehicles. Series: “Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Summer Lecture Series” [Science] [Show]

An electric car battery that could charge in just five minutes ~ Where is the Israeli Start-Up “+StoreDot” One Year Later? +Video


An Israeli startup is setting its sights on creating a battery for electric carsthat charges in just five minutes. If they meet their goal, the battery would be able to power a car for hundreds of miles in a single charge. StoreDot, founded in 2012, has already developed the FlashBattery for Smartphones that can fully charge in less than a minute. The startup has raised $66 million which it plans to use to get their FlashBattery technology into electric cars.

The relatively slow growth of the electric car market is often blamed upon the inconvenience of recharging. The best batteries currently available can last up to 250 miles, but take several hours to fully charge using a standard charger. Tesla’s high-speed charger takes 30 minutes to give their batteries about 170 miles of range, while Toyota’s Rav4, which takes longer to charge, can only go around 100 miles per charge. A fast-charging, affordable battery with long range, like the one StoreDot has proposed, could be the key to making electric cars more popular than their gas-powered competitors.

Related: The world’s fastest charging electric bus powers up in 10 seconds flat

 

StoreDot describes their battery as a sponge, which soaks up electricity like a sponge soaks up water. The technology is based on peptides that have been turned into energy-storing nanotubes. The nanotubes, affectionately named Nanodots by the company, can soak up huge amounts of electricity all at once. Using around 7,000 of these Nanodots, they have promised to create an EV battery that goes the distance.

EV batteries, electric cars, electric car batteries, fast-charging batteries, StoreDot, Israel technology, lithium-ion, green technology, green cars

“This fast-charging technology shortens the amount of time drivers will have to wait in line to charge their cars, while also reducing the number of charging posts in each station,” Dr. Doron Myersdorf, StoreDot’s CEO told crowds at the 2014 ThinkNext event. It will result in “considerably cutting the overall cost of owning an electric car.”

For the Latest News About +StoreDot Go to: +StoreDot

Henrik Fisker is using a revolutionary new battery to power his Tesla killer … Two Words … Graphene Super – Capacitors


The Fisker Karma

*** Special to The Business Insider D. Muoio

Henrik Fisker’s first stab at an electric car went up in flames – literally.

His company, Fisker Automotive, was the force behind an electric hybrid called the Fisker Karma in 2012.

The $100,000 car had a host of battery issues that caused the automaker and its battery supplier, A123 Systems, to recall more than 600 Karmas, Wired reported at the time.

Separately, the Karma was known to burst into flames, which was said to be caused by the engine compartment rather than the battery. Fisker Automotive went bankrupt in 2011.

But, as first reported by Bloomberg, Fisker is back and working on an electric car under the newly minted Fisker Inc. that will be revealed in 2017. Fisker has promised a range exceeding 400 miles – which would be huge, considering the longest range currently belongs to the high-end version of the Model S, which gets 315 miles on a single charge.

We took a closer look at the revolutionary battery tech Fisker is planning to use in the electric car that would power what could very well be a Tesla killer.


2012 Karma Shadow with Henrik Fisker and Bernhard Koehler

A Nobel-prize winning material

Rather than working with conventional lithium-ion batteries, Fisker is turning to graphene supercapacitors.



Graphene is the thinnest material on Earth and strongest material known to man. Supercapacitors also store energy like batteries, but the way they do so allows them to have faster charge times.
However, the flip side is they don’t usually store as much of a charge.
The energy applications of graphene have been known for quite some time.

In 2010, the Nobel Prize in Physics went to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov for pioneering research on graphene that opened the door for scientists to study its many applications, like its potential as a battery that can conduct energy better and charge faster.

“Graphene shows a higher electron mobility, meaning that electrons can move faster through it.

This will, e.g. charge a battery much faster,” Lucia Gauchia, an assistant professor of energy storage system at Michigan Technological University, told Business Insider.

 “Graphene is also lighter and it can present a higher active surface, so that more charge can be stored.”

But what has prevented it from having a real-world application has been the high cost associated with producing it.


“The reason we are not using it yet, even though the material is not a new one, is that there is no mass production for it yet that can show reasonable cost and scalability,” Gauchia explained.

But Fisker Inc.’s battery division, Fisker Nanotech, is patenting a machine can currently produce as much as 1,000 kilograms of graphene at a cost of just 10 cents a gram, Jack Kavanaugh, the head of Fisker Nanotech, told Business Insider.

Jack Kavanaugh

The ‘super battery’

Kavanaugh hails from Nanotech Energy, a research group composed of UCLA researchers who specialize in the graphene supercapacitor Fisker will use in his car.

“This particular technology that we’re working on and are using for Fisker Nanotech is a hybrid,” Kavanaugh told Business Insider.  “We have been able to take the best of what super-capacitors can do and the best of what batteries can do and are calling it a super battery.”

Aside from the prohibitive cost of using graphene, another limiting factor has conventionally been that supercapacitors don’t hold as much of a charge as standard lithium-ion batteries because they have a lower energy density. Kavanaugh claims his machine addresses that issue by “altering” the structure of graphene.

“The challenge with using graphene in a supercapacitor in the past has been that you don’t have the same density and ability to store as much energy. Well, we have solved that issue,” he said.  “Our testing has proven to us that we actually have much greater density than the other technologies out there.”

Hybrid supercapacitor

A hybrid supercapacitor made by Maher El-Kady and Richard Kaner at UCLA. The project was funded by Nanotech Energy.UCLA

Overall, Kavanaugh is promising a product that not only holds more charge and charges faster than lithium ion batteries, but also has a better cycle life. Improving the cycle life means you don’t have to swap out the battery for a new one as frequently as you need to for lithium ion batteries.

“Our battery technology is so much better than anything out there,” Fisker told Business Insider. “Our battery technology is the first battery technology that has taken the major leap, the next big step.”

UCLA researchers like Maher El-Kady and Richard Kaner hold several patents related to graphene superconductors. Both Kaner and El-Kady work for Nanotech Energy.

Kavanaugh said prototypes of the “super battery” have already been made, with new versions of the prototype coming in a few weeks. He said the plant that will actually produce the battery will most likely open in Janaury and will be located in northern California.


It’s worth noting that Tesla CEO Elon Musk actually came to Silicon Valley to earn a PhD working on supercapacitors, and has been on record saying that supercapacitors, not batteries, will be the big breakthrough for EVs.



Cheaper than the Chevy Bolt?

Fisker said he plans to reveal the electric car in the latter half of 2017.

Fisker told Business Insider that he first plans to roll out a luxury vehicle that will most likely be built at VLF Automotive, the car company Fisker is a part of that is building his supercar, the Force 1.

That first luxury electric car will have a limited production run.

“I don’t want to say what kind of car, but it won’t be a supercar,” he said. “It will probably be in the price range of the higher end of the Model S.”

Fisker said he will then produce a consumer-friendly electric car that will be in “an even lower cost segment of both the [Chevy] Bolt and the Model 3.”

The cars will boast ranges greater than 400 miles, Fisker claims.
But Fisker better move quickly because competition in the EV space is mounting quickly. 


As mentioned earlier, Tesla currently offers a Model S that can drive 315 miles on a single charge. By the time Fisker unveils his electric car, Tesla may have already beaten that range or gotten closer to it.

Additionally, the Chevy Bolt will be the first consumer-friendly electric car with a competitive range of 238 miles when it hits dealerships by the end of this year.
Like Tesla, Chevy will look to improve that range by the time 2017 rolls around.


And that only touches the surface of the competition out there. 

Electric car start-ups like Faraday Future and Atieva are looking for a piece of the pie. Big name brands like Mercedes and Volkswagen are also looking to roll out electric vehicles within the next 3 to 5 years.

It’s also hard to put too much faith in Fisker’s claims without seeing the patent application for the machine producing Fisker Nanotech’s graphene. But Fisker remains confident his product will be better in one key area:

“We will have the lowest cost electric vehicle in the world,” he said.

Harvard researchers have found a way to transmit spin information through superconducting materials ~ What This Means for Quantum Materials and … TO YOU


Harvard researchers found a way to transmit spin information through superconducting materials. CREDIT WikiCommons


October 16th, 2016

Abstract:

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have made a discovery that could lay the foundation for quantum superconducting devices. 

Their breakthrough solves one the main challenges to quantum computing: how to transmit spin information through superconducting materials.

Every electronic device — from a supercomputer to a dishwasher — works by controlling the flow of charged electrons. But electrons can carry so much more information than just charge; electrons also spin, like a gyroscope on axis.

Harnessing electron spin is really exciting for quantum information processing because not only can an electron spin up or down — one or zero — but it can also spin any direction between the two poles. Because it follows the rules of quantum mechanics, an electron can occupy all of those positions at once.

Imagine the power of a computer that could calculate all of those positions simultaneously.
A whole field of applied physics, called spintronics, focuses on how to harness and measure electron spin and build spin equivalents of electronic gates and circuits.

By using superconducting materials through which electrons can move without any loss of energy, physicists hope to build quantum devices that would require significantly less power.

But there’s a problem.

According to a fundamental property of superconductivity, superconductors can’t transmit spin. Any electron pairs that pass through a superconductor will have the combined spin of zero.
In work published recently in Nature Physics, the Harvard researchers found a way to transmit spin information through superconducting materials.
“We now have a way to control the spin of the transmitted electrons in simple superconducting devices,” said Amir Yacoby, Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics at SEAS and senior author of the paper.

It’s easy to think of superconductors as particle super highways but a better analogy would be a super carpool lane as only paired electrons can move through a superconductor without resistance.

These pairs are called Cooper Pairs and they interact in a very particular way. If the way they move in relation to each other (physicists call this momentum) is symmetric, then the pair’s spin has to be asymmetric — for example, one negative and one positive for a combined spin of zero. When they travel through a conventional superconductor, Cooper Pairs’ momentum has to be zero and their orbit perfectly symmetrical.

But if you can change the momentum to asymmetric — leaning toward one direction — then the spin can be symmetric. To do that, you need the help of some exotic (aka weird) physics. Superconducting materials can imbue non-superconducting materials with their conductive powers simply by being in close proximity.

Using this principle, the researchers built a superconducting sandwich, with superconductors on the outside and mercury telluride in the middle.
The atoms in mercury telluride are so heavy and the electrons move so quickly, that the rules of relativity start to apply.

“Because the atoms are so heavy, you have electrons that occupy high-speed orbits,” said Hechen Ren, coauthor of the study and graduate student at SEAS. “When an electron is moving this fast, its electric field turns into a magnetic field which then couples with the spin of the electron. This magnetic field acts on the spin and gives one spin a higher energy than another.”

So, when the Cooper Pairs hit this material, their spin begins to rotate.

“The Cooper Pairs jump into the mercury telluride and they see this strong spin orbit effect and start to couple differently,” said Ren. “The homogenous breed of zero momentum and zero combined spin is still there but now there is also a breed of pairs that gains momentum, breaking the symmetry of the orbit.

The most important part of that is that the spin is now free to be something other than zero. “The team could measure the spin at various points as the electron waves moved through the material. By using an external magnet, the researchers could tune the total spin of the pairs.

“This discovery opens up new possibilities for storing quantum information. Using the underlying physics behind this discovery provides also new possibilities for exploring the underlying nature of superconductivity in novel quantum materials,” said Yacoby.

U of Wisconsin-Madison Engineers reveal fabrication process for revolutionary transparent sensors: Applications from neuroscience, research of stroke, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, cardiac conditions, and many others


uw-brain-sensors-101416-engineersrevA blue light shines through a clear, implantable medical sensor onto a brain model. See-through sensors, which have been developed by a team of UW-Madison engineers, should help neural researchers better view brain activity. Credit: Justin Williams research group

What do you do when the World comes knocking at your door?

In 2014, when University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers announced in the journal Nature Communications that they had developed transparent sensors for use in imaging the brain, researchers around the world took notice.

Then the requests came flooding in. “So many research groups started asking us for these devices that we couldn’t keep up,” says Zhenqiang (Jack) Ma, the Lynn H. Matthias Professor and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison.

Ma’s group is a world leader in developing revolutionary . The see-through, implantable micro-electrode arrays were light years beyond anything ever created.

Although he and collaborator Justin Williams, the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in biomedical engineering and neurological surgery at UW-Madison, patented the technology through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, they saw its potential for advancements in research. “That little step has already resulted in an explosion of research in this field,” says Williams. “We didn’t want to keep this technology in our lab. We wanted to share it and expand the boundaries of its applications.”

As a result, in a paper published Thursday (Oct. 13, 2016) in the journal Nature Protocols, the researchers have described in great detail how to fabricate and use transparent graphene neural electrode arrays in applications in electrophysiology, fluorescent microscopy, , and optogenetics. “We described how to do these things so we can start working on the next generation,” says Ma.

Now, not only are the UW-Madison researchers looking at ways to improve and build upon the technology, they also are seeking to expand its applications from neuroscience into areas such as research of stroke, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, cardiac conditions, and many others. And they hope other researchers do the same.

“This paper is a gateway for other groups to explore the huge potential from here,” says Ma. “Our technology demonstrates one of the key in vivo applications of graphene. We expect more revolutionary research will follow in this interdisciplinary field.”

Explore further: See-through sensors open new window into the brain

More information: Dong-Wook Park et al, Fabrication and utility of a transparent graphene neural electrode array for electrophysiology, in vivo imaging, and optogenetics, Nature Protocols (2016). DOI: 10.1038/nprot.2016.127

Dong-Wook Park et al. Graphene-based carbon-layered electrode array technology for neural imaging and optogenetic applications, Nature Communications (2014). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6258

Hydrogen Infrastructure Testing and Research Facility: Mountain Driving Demonstration: 175 Mile Loop + Two 11,000 foot Mountain Passes ~ ‘Colorado Cool!’


Published on Oct 10, 2016

Recently, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory wanted to know, how well does NREL’s hydrogen infrastructure support fueling multiple fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) for a day trip to the Rocky Mountains?car-fc-3-nrel-download

The answer-great! NREL staff took FCEVs on a trip to demonstrate real-world performance and range in high-altitude conditions. To start the trip, drivers filled three cars at NREL’s hydrogen fueling station. The cars made a 175-mile loop crossing two 11,000+ foot mountain passes on the way. Back at NREL, the cars were filled up with hydrogen in ~5 minutes and ready to go again. Learn more at http://www.nrel.gov/hydrogen.

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Genesis Nanotechnology, Inc. ~ “Great Things from Small Things”

Solar Fuel Cell U of T energy_cycleRead More on Nano Enabled Fuel Cell Technologies for many more Energy Applications: Genesis Nanotechnology Fuel Cell Articles & Videos

New applications for Ultra(super)Capacitors ~ Startup’s energy-storage devices find uses in drilling operations, aerospace applications, electric vehicles.


mit-fastcap_0

FastCAP Systems’ ultracapacitors (pictured) can withstand extreme temperatures and harsh environments, opening up new uses for the devices across a wide range of industries, including oil and gas, aerospace and defense, and electric vehicles. Courtesy of FastCAP Systems

Devices called ultra-capacitors have recently become attractive forms of energy storage: They recharge in seconds, have very long lifespans, work with close to 100 percent efficiency, and are much lighter and less volatile than batteries. But they suffer from low energy-storage capacity and other drawbacks, meaning they mostly serve as backup power sources for things like electric cars, renewable energy technologies, and consumer devices.

But MIT spinout FastCAP Systems is developing ultracapacitors, and ultracapacitor-based systems, that offer greater energy density and other advancements. This technology has opened up new uses for the devices across a wide range of industries, including some that operate in extreme environments.

Based on MIT research, FastCAP’s ultra-capacitors store up to 10 times the energy and achieve 10 times the power density of commercial counterparts. They’re also the only commercial ultra-capacitors capable of withstanding temperatures reaching as high as 300 degrees Celsius and as low as minus 110 C, allowing them to endure conditions found in drilling wells and outer space. Most recently, the company developed a AA-battery-sized ultra-capacitor with the perks of its bigger models, so clients can put the devices in places where ultra-capacitors couldn’t fit before.

Founded in 2008, FastCAP has already taken its technology to the oil and gas industry, and now has its sights set on aerospace and defense and, ultimately, electric, hybrid, and even fuel-cell vehicles. “In our long-term product market, we hope that we can make an impact on transportation, for increased energy efficiency,” says co-founder John Cooley PhD ’11, who is now president and chief technology officer of FastCAP.

FastCAP’s co-founders and technology co-inventors are MIT alumnus Riccardo Signorelli PhD ’09 and Joel Schindall, the Bernard Gordon Professor of the Practice in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

A “hairbrush” of carbon nanotubes

Ultracapacitors use electric fields to move ions to and from the surfaces of positive and negative electrode plates, which are usually coated with a porous material called activated carbon. Ions cling to the electrodes and let go quickly, allowing for quick cycling, but the small surface area limits the number of ions that cling, restricting energy storage. Traditional ultracapacitors can, for instance, hold about 5 percent of the energy that lithium ion batteries of the same size can.

In the late 2000s, the FastCAP founding team had a breakthrough: They discovered that a tightly packed array of carbon nanotubes vertically aligned on the electrode provided much more surface area. The array was also uniform, whereas the porous material was irregular and difficult for ions to move in and out of. “A way to look at it is the industry standard looks like a nanoscopic sponge, and the vertically aligned nanotube arrays look like a nanoscopic hairbrush” that provides the ions more efficient access to the electrode surface, Cooley says.

With funding from the Ford-MIT Alliance and MIT Energy Initiative, the researchers built a fingernail-sized prototype that stored twice the energy and delivered seven to 15 times more power than traditional ultracapacitors.

In 2008, the three researchers launched FastCAP, and Cooley and Signorelli brought the business idea to Course 15.366 (Energy Ventures), where they designed a three-step approach to a market. The idea was to first focus on building a product for an early market: oil and gas. Once they gained momentum, they’d focus on two additional markets, which turned out to be aerospace and defense, and then automotive and stationary storage, such as server farms and grids. “One of the paradigms of Energy Ventures was that steppingstone approach that helped the company succeed,” Cooley says.

FastCAP then earned a finalist spot in the 2009 MIT Clean Energy Prize (CEP), which came with some additional perks. “The value there was in the diligence effort we did on the business plan, and in the marketing effect that it had on the company,” Cooley says.

Based on their CEP business plan, that year FastCAP won a $5 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy grant to design ultracapacitors for its target markets in automotive and stationary storage. FastCAP also earned a 2012 DOE Geothermal Technologies Program grant to develop very high-temperature energy storage for geothermal well drilling, where temperatures far exceed what available energy-storage devices can tolerate. Still under development, these ultracapacitors have proven to perform from minus 5 C to over 250 C.

From underground to outer space

Over the years, FastCAP made several innovations that have helped the ultracapacitors survive in the harsh conditions. In 2012, FastCAP designed its first-generation product, for the oil and gas market: a high-temperature ultracapacitor that could withstand temperatures of 150 C and posed no risk of explosion when crushed or damaged. “That was an interesting market for us, because it’s a very harsh environment with [tough] engineering challenges, but it was a high-margin, low-volume first-entry market,” Cooley says. “We learned a lot there.”

In 2014, FastCAP deployed its first commercial product. The Ulysses Power System is an ultracapacitor-powered telemetry device, a long antenna-like system that communicates with drilling equipment. This replaces the battery-powered systems that are volatile and less efficient. It also amplifies the device’s signal strength by 10 times, meaning it can be sent thousands of feet underground and through subsurface formations that were never thought penetrable in this way before.

After a few more years of research and development, the company is now ready to break into aerospace and defense. In 2015, FastCAP completed two grant programs with NASA to design ultracapacitors for deep space missions (involving very low temperatures) and for Venus missions (involving very high temperatures).

In May 2016, FastCAP continued its relationship with NASA to design an ultracapacitor-powered module for components on planetary balloons, which float to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere to observe comets. The company is also developing an ultracapacitor-based energy-storage system to increase the performance of the miniature satellites known as CubeSats. There are other aerospace applications too, Cooley says: “There are actuators systems for stage separation devices in launch vehicles, and other things in satellites and spacecraft systems, where onboard systems require high power and the usual power source can’t handle that.”

A longtime goal has been to bring ultracapacitors to electric and hybrid vehicles, providing high-power capabilities for stop-start and engine starting, torque assist, and longer battery life. In March, FastCAP penned a deal with electric-vehicle manufacturer Mullen Technologies. The idea is to use the ultracapacitors to augment the batteries in the drivetrain, drastically improving the range and performance of the vehicles. Based on their wide temperature capabilities, FastCAP’s ultracapacitors could be placed under the hood, or in various places in the vehicle’s frame, where they were never located before and could last longer than traditional ultracapacitors.

The devices could also be an enabling component in fuel-cell vehicles, which convert chemical energy from hydrogen gas into electricity that is then stored in a battery. These zero-emissions vehicles have difficulty handling surges of power — and that’s where FastCAP’s ultracapacitors can come in, Cooley says.

“The ultra-capacitors can sort of take ownership of the power and variations of power demanded by the load that the fuel cell is not good at handling,” Cooley says. “People can get the range they want for a fuel-cell vehicle that they’re anxious about with battery-powered electric vehicles. So there are a lot of good things we are enabling by providing the right ultra-capacitor technology to the right application.”

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