University of Waterloo: Researchers develop a better way to harness the power of solar panels


Researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed a way to better harness the volume of energy collected by solar panels.

In a new study, the researchers developed an algorithm that increases the efficiency of the solar photovoltaic (PV) system and reduces the volume of power currently being wasted due to a lack of effective controls.

“We’ve developed an algorithm to further boost the power extracted from an existing solar panel,” said Milad Farsi, a PhD candidate in Waterloo’s Department of Applied Mathematics. “Hardware in every solar panel has some nominal efficiency, but there should be some appropriate controller that can get maximum power out of solar panels.

“We do not change the hardware or require additional circuits in the solar PV system. What we developed is a better approach to controlling the hardware that already exists.”

The new algorithm enables controllers to better deal with fluctuations around the maximum power point of a solar PV system, which have historically led to the wasting of potential energy collected by panels.

“Based on the simulations, for a small home-use solar array including 12 modules of 335W, up to 138.9 kWh/year can be saved,” said Farsi, who undertook the study with his supervisor, Professor Jun Liu of Waterloo’s Department of Applied Mathematics. “The savings may not seem significant for a small home-use solar system but could make a substantial difference in larger-scale ones, such as a solar farm or in an area including hundreds of thousands of local solar panels connected to the power grid.

“Taking Canada’s largest PV plant, for example, the Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant, if this technique is used, the savings could amount to 960,000 kWh/year, which is enough to power hundreds of households. If the saved energy were to be generated by a coal-fired plant, it would require emission of 312 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.”

Milad further pointed out that the savings could be even more substantial under a fast-changing ambient environment, such as Canadian weather conditions, or when the power loss in the converters due to the undesired chattering effects seen in other conventional control methods is taken into account.

The study, Nonlinear Optimal Feedback Control and Stability Analysis of Solar Photovoltaic Systems, authored by Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics researchers Farsi and Liu, was recently published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Control Systems Technology.

Advertisements

MIT: Study Furthers Radically New View of Gene Control


  • MIT researchers have developed a new model of gene control, in which the cellular machinery that transcribes DNA into RNA forms specialized droplets called condensates.

  • Image: Steven H. Lee

  • Along the genome, proteins form liquid-like droplets that appear to boost the expression of particular genes.

    In recent years, MIT scientists have developed a new model for how key genes are controlled that suggests the cellular machinery that transcribes DNA into RNA forms specialized droplets called condensates. These droplets occur only at certain sites on the genome, helping to determine which genes are expressed in different types of cells.

    In a new study that supports that model, researchers at MIT and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research have discovered physical interactions between proteins and with DNA that help explain why these droplets, which stimulate the transcription of nearby genes, tend to cluster along specific stretches of DNA known as super enhancers. These enhancer regions do not encode proteins but instead regulate other genes.

    “This study provides a fundamentally important new approach to deciphering how the ‘dark matter’ in our genome functions in gene control,” says Richard Young, an MIT professor of biology and member of the Whitehead Institute.

    Young is one of the senior authors of the paper, along with Phillip Sharp, an MIT Institute Professor and member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; and Arup K. Chakraborty, the Robert T. Haslam Professor in Chemical Engineering, a professor of physics and chemistry, and a member of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard.

    Graduate student Krishna Shrinivas and postdoc Benjamin Sabari are the lead authors of the paper, which appears in Molecular Cell on Aug. 8.

    “A biochemical factory”

    Every cell in an organism has an identical genome, but cells such as neurons or heart cells express different subsets of those genes, allowing them to carry out their specialized functions. Previous research has shown that many of these genes are located near super enhancers, which bind to proteins called transcription factors that stimulate the copying of nearby genes into RNA.

    About three years ago, Sharp, Young, and Chakraborty joined forces to try to model the interactions that occur at enhancers.

    In a 2017 Cell paper, based on computational studies, they hypothesized that in these regions, transcription factors form droplets called phase-separated condensates. Similar to droplets of oil suspended in salad dressing, these condensates are collections of molecules that form distinct cellular compartments but have no membrane separating them from the rest of the cell.

    In a 2018 Science paper, the researchers showed that these dynamic droplets do form at super enhancer locations. Made of clusters of transcription factors and other molecules, these droplets attract enzymes such as RNA polymerases that are needed to copy DNA into messenger RNA, keeping gene transcription active at specific sites.

    “We had demonstrated that the transcription machinery forms liquid-like droplets at certain regulatory regions on our genome, however we didn’t fully understand how or why these dewdrops of biological molecules only seemed to condense around specific points on our genome,” Shrinivas says.

    As one possible explanation for that site specificity, the research team hypothesized that weak interactions between intrinsically disordered regions of transcription factors and other transcriptional molecules, along with specific interactions between transcription factors and particular DNA elements, might determine whether a condensate forms at a particular stretch of DNA. Biologists have traditionally focused on “lock-and-key” style interactions between rigidly structured protein segments to explain most cellular processes, but more recent evidence suggests that weak interactions between floppy protein regions also play an important role in cell activities.

    In this study, computational modeling and experimentation revealed that the cumulative force of these weak interactions conspire together with transcription factor-DNA interactions to determine whether a condensate of transcription factors will form at a particular site on the genome. Different cell types produce different transcription factors, which bind to different enhancers. When many transcription factors cluster around the same enhancers, weak interactions between the proteins are more likely to occur. Once a critical threshold concentration is reached, condensates form.

    “Creating these local high concentrations within the crowded environment of the cell enables the right material to be in the right place at the right time to carry out the multiple steps required to activate a gene,” Sabari says. “Our current study begins to tease apart how certain regions of the genome are capable of pulling off this trick.”

    These droplets form on a timescale of seconds to minutes, and they blink in and out of existence depending on a cell’s needs.

    “It’s an on-demand biochemical factory that cells can form and dissolve, as and when they need it,” Chakraborty says. “When certain signals happen at the right locus on a gene, the condensates form, which concentrates all of the transcription molecules. Transcription happens, and when the cells are done with that task, they get rid of them.”

    “A functional condensate has to be more than the sum of its parts, and how the protein and DNA components work together is something we don’t fully understand,” says Rohit Pappu, director of the Center for Science and Engineering of Living Systems at Washington University, who was not involved in the research. “This work gets us on the road to thinking about the interplay among protein-protein, protein-DNA, and possibly DNA-DNA interactions as determinants of the outputs of condensates.”

    A new view

    Weak cooperative interactions between proteins may also play an important role in evolution, the researchers proposed in a 2018 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper.

    The sequences of intrinsically disordered regions of transcription factors need to change only a little to evolve new types of specific functionality. In contrast, evolving new specific functions via “lock-and-key” interactions requires much more significant changes.

    “If you think about how biological systems have evolved, they have been able to respond to different conditions without creating new genes.

    We don’t have any more genes that a fruit fly, yet we’re much more complex in many of our functions,” Sharp says. “The incremental expanding and contracting of these intrinsically disordered domains could explain a large part of how that evolution happens.”

    Similar condensates appear to play a variety of other roles in biological systems, offering a new way to look at how the interior of a cell is organized.

    Instead of floating through the cytoplasm and randomly bumping into other molecules, proteins involved in processes such as relaying molecular signals may transiently form droplets that help them interact with the right partners.

    “This is a very exciting turn in the field of cell biology,” Sharp says. “It is a whole new way of looking at biological systems that is richer and more meaningful.”

    Some of the MIT researchers, led by Young, have helped form a company called Dewpoint Therapeutics to develop potential treatments for a wide variety of diseases by exploiting cellular condensates.

    There is emerging evidence that cancer cells use condensates to control sets of genes that promote cancer, and condensates have also been linked to neurodegenerative disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Huntington’s disease.

    The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Koch Institute Support (core) Grant from the National Cancer Institute.

    “Affairs of the Heart” – Texas Heart Institute & Rice University – Damaged hearts are rewired with Nanotube Fibers


    Rice Nano Tube Hearts 7eae23_46bb535810c64757b54ee0fe3f4d8c8c_mv2
    Researchers at Texas Heart Institute and Rice University have confirmed that flexible, conductive fibers made of carbon nanotubes can bridge damaged tissue to deliver electrical signals and keep hearts beating despite congestive heart failure or dilated cardiomyopathy or after a heart attack. @ Texas Heart Institute Thin, flexible fibers made of carbon nanotubes have now proven able to bridge damaged heart tissues and deliver the electrical signals needed to keep those hearts beating.

    Scientists at Texas Heart Institute (THI) report they have used biocompatible fibers invented at Rice University in studies that showed sewing them directly into damaged tissue can restore electrical function to hearts.

    “Instead of shocking and defibrillating, we are actually correcting diseased conduction of the largest major pumping chamber of the heart by creating a bridge to bypass and conduct over a scarred area of a damaged heart,” said Dr. Mehdi Razavi, a cardiologist and director of Electrophysiology Clinical Research and Innovations at THI, who co-led the study with Rice chemical and biomolecular engineer Matteo Pasquali.

    “Today there is no technology that treats the underlying cause of the No. 1 cause of sudden death, ventricular arrhythmias,” Razavi said. “These arrhythmias are caused by the disorganized firing of impulses from the heart’s lower chambers and are challenging to treat in patients after a heart attack or with scarred heart tissue due to such other conditions as congestive heart failure or dilated cardiomyopathy.”

    Results of the studies on preclinical models appear as an open-access Editor’s Pick in the American Heart Association’s Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology. The association helped fund the research with a 2015 grant.

    The research springs from the pioneering 2013 invention by Pasquali’s lab of a method to make conductive fibers out of carbon nanotubes. The lab’s first threadlike fibers were a quarter of the width of a human hair, but contained tens of millions of microscopic nanotubes. The fibers are also being studied for electrical interfaces with the brain, for use in cochlear implants, as flexible antennas and for automotive and aerospace applications.

    The experiments showed the nontoxic, polymer-coated fibers, with their ends stripped to serve as electrodes, were effective in restoring function during month-long tests in large preclinical models as well as rodents, whether the initial conduction was slowed, severed or blocked, according to the researchers. The fibers served their purpose with or without the presence of a pacemaker, they found.

    In the rodents, they wrote, conduction disappeared when the fibers were removed.

    “The reestablishment of cardiac conduction with carbon nanotube fibers has the potential to revolutionize therapy for cardiac electrical disturbances, one of the most common causes of death in the United States,” said co-lead author Mark McCauley, who carried out many of the experiments as a postdoctoral fellow at THI. He is now an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

    “Our experiments provided the first scientific support for using a synthetic material-based treatment rather than a drug to treat the leading cause of sudden death in the U.S. and many developing countries around the world,” Razavi added.

    Many questions remain before the procedure can move toward human testing, Pasquali said. The researchers must establish a way to sew the fibers in place using a minimally invasive catheter, and make sure the fibers are strong and flexible enough to serve a constantly beating heart over the long term. He said they must also determine how long and wide fibers should be, precisely how much electricity they need to carry and how they would perform in the growing hearts of young patients.

    “Flexibility is important because the heart is continuously pulsating and moving, so anything that’s attached to the heart’s surface is going to be deformed and flexed,” said Pasquali, who has appointments at Rice’s Brown School of Engineering and Wiess School of Natural Sciences.

    “Good interfacial contact is also critical to pick up and deliver the electrical signal,” he said. “In the past, multiple materials had to be combined to attain both electrical conductivity and effective contacts. These fibers have both properties built in by design, which greatly simplifies device construction and lowers risks of long-term failure due to delamination of multiple layers or coatings.”

    Razavi noted that while there are many effective antiarrhythmic drugs available, they are often contraindicated in patients after a heart attack. “What is really needed therapeutically is to increase conduction,” he said. “Carbon nanotube fibers have the conductive properties of metal but are flexible enough to allow us to navigate and deliver energy to a very specific area of a delicate, damaged heart.”

    In Vivo Restoration of Myocardial Conduction With Carbon Nanotube Fibers

    Mark D. McCauley, Flavia Vitale, J. Stephen Yan, Colin C. Young, Brian Greet, Marco Orecchioni, Srikanth Perike, Abdelmotagaly Elgalad, Julia A. Coco, Mathews John, Doris A. Taylor, Luiz C. Sampaio, Lucia G. Delogu, Mehdi Razavi, Matteo Pasquali

    Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology Vol. 12, No. 8

    DOI: 10.1161/CIRCEP.119.007256

    Contact information:

    Matteo Pasquali

    Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Rice University

    mp@rice.edu

    Phone: 713-348-5830

    Pasquali Research Group

    Mehdi Razavi

    Cardiologist, Associate Professor of Medicine-Cardiology at Baylor College of Medicine and Director of Electrophysiology Clinical Research and Innovations at THI

    razavi@bcm.edu

    Rice University

    Samsung set to ditch lithium ion batteries for graphene, and here’s why


    Samsung phones will have super fast graphene, rather than lithium, batteries within the next two years.

    According to leaker Evan Blass, Samsung is developing graphene batteries for its smartphones — and we could see the first ones arrive as soon as next year.

    The reason for the change is clear: exceptionally fast charging. Reportedly a full charge will now take just half an hour on a graphene battery, and despite recent leaps forward in fast-charging that would still be a significant improvement on the standard lithium ion battery.

    The news is the latest update we’ve heard since Samsung reported in 2017 that they had developed a graphene ball that could charge 5x faster than standard phone batteries (reported by Cnet). So why is it taking so long for the batteries to make it onto the market? Blass surmises that’s it’s simply a question of economics: “they still need to raise capacities while lowering costs.” Once that balance is found, this tech innovation could be a true game changer.

    This news comes shortly after the release of Samsung’s latest flagship phablet, the Galaxy Note 10. It boasts an impressive 3500mAh battery, while it’s big brother — the Galaxy Note 10 Plus — has a whopping capacity of 4300mAh. But they’re not just about batteries. While both run on the powerful Exynos 9825 chip, specifications diverge significantly. The Galaxy note 10 has an 6.3-inch 1080 x 2280 resolution screen, with 8GB of RAM and a triple camera set-up; meanwhile, the Galaxy Note 10 Plus has an even larger 6.8-inch screen with a sharper 1440 x 3040 resolution, 12GB of RAM, and its triple rear camera is complemented with a Time of Flight 3D sensor.

    With all the recent innovations in smartphone batteries, from huge capacities to Qi wireless charging, you might have thought there was nowhere else to innovate. But graphene technology could point towards an era of even faster charging. All that’s left to be seen is how pricey is it, and whether the capacity will be enough to satisfy demanding users.

    MIT: New type of electrolyte could enhance supercapacitor performance


  • Large anions with long tails (blue) in ionic liquids can make them self-assemble into sandwich-like bilayer structures on electrode surfaces. Ionic liquids with such structures have much improved energy storage capabilities.

  • Image: Xianwen Mao, MIT

  • Novel class of “ionic liquids” may store more energy than conventional electrolytes — with less risk of catching fire.

    Supercapacitors, electrical devices that store and release energy, need a layer of electrolyte — an electrically conductive material that can be solid, liquid, or somewhere in between. Now, researchers at MIT and several other institutions have developed a novel class of liquids that may open up new possibilities for improving the efficiency and stability of such devices while reducing their flammability.

    “This proof-of-concept work represents a new paradigm for electrochemical energy storage,” the researchers say in their paper describing the finding, which appears today in the journal Nature Materials.

    For decades, researchers have been aware of a class of materials known as ionic liquids — essentially, liquid salts — but this team has now added to these liquids a compound that is similar to a surfactant, like those used to disperse oil spills. With the addition of this material, the ionic liquids “have very new and strange properties,” including becoming highly viscous, says MIT postdoc Xianwen Mao PhD ’14, the lead author of the paper.

    “It’s hard to imagine that this viscous liquid could be used for energy storage,” Mao says, “but what we find is that once we raise the temperature, it can store more energy, and more than many other electrolytes.”

    That’s not entirely surprising, he says, since with other ionic liquids, as temperature increases, “the viscosity decreases and the energy-storage capacity increases.”

    But in this case, although the viscosity stays higher than that of other known electrolytes, the capacity increases very quickly with increasing temperature. That ends up giving the material an overall energy density — a measure of its ability to store electricity in a given volume — that exceeds those of many conventional electrolytes, and with greater stability and safety.

    The key to its effectiveness is the way the molecules within the liquid automatically line themselves up, ending up in a layered configuration on the metal electrode surface. The molecules, which have a kind of tail on one end, line up with the heads facing outward toward the electrode or away from it, and the tails all cluster in the middle, forming a kind of sandwich. This is described as a self-assembled nanostructure.

    “The reason why it’s behaving so differently” from conventional electrolytes is because of the way the molecules intrinsically assemble themselves into an ordered, layered structure where they come in contact with another material, such as the electrode inside a supercapacitor, says T. Alan Hatton, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT and the paper’s senior author. “It forms a very interesting, sandwich-like, double-layer structure.”

    This highly ordered structure helps to prevent a phenomenon called “overscreening” that can occur with other ionic liquids, in which the first layer of ions (electrically charged atoms or molecules) that collect on an electrode surface contains more ions than there are corresponding charges on the surface.

    This can cause a more scattered distribution of ions, or a thicker ion multilayer, and thus a loss of efficiency in energy storage; “whereas with our case, because of the way everything is structured, charges are concentrated within the surface layer,” Hatton says.

    The new class of materials, which the researchers call SAILs, for surface-active ionic liquids, could have a variety of applications for high-temperature energy storage, for example for use in hot environments such as in oil drilling or in chemical plants, according to Mao. “Our electrolyte is very safe at high temperatures, and even performs better,” he says. In contrast, some electrolytes used in lithium-ion batteries are quite flammable.

    The material could help to improve performance of supercapacitors, Mao says. Such devices can be used to store electrical charge and are sometimes used to supplement battery systems in electric vehicles to provide an extra boost of power.

    Using the new material instead of a conventional electrolyte in a supercapacitor could increase its energy density by a factor of four or five, Mao says. Using the new electrolyte, future supercapacitors may even be able to store more energy than batteries, he says, potentially even replacing batteries in applications such as electric vehicles, personal electronics, or grid-level energy storage facilities.

    The material could also be useful for a variety of emerging separation processes, Mao says. “A lot of newly developed separation processes require electrical control,” in various chemical processing and refining applications and in carbon dioxide capture, for example, as well as resource recovery from waste streams. These ionic liquids, being highly conductive, could be well-suited to many such applications, he says.

    The material they initially developed is just an example of a variety of possible SAIL compounds. “The possibilities are almost unlimited,” Mao says. The team will continue to work on different variations and on optimizing its parameters for particular uses. “It might take a few months or years,” he says, “but working on a new class of materials is very exciting to do. There are many possibilities for further optimization.”

    The research team included Paul Brown, Yinying Ren, Agilio Padua, and Margarida Costa Gomes at MIT; Ctirad Cervinka at École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, in France; Gavin Hazell and Julian Eastoe at the University of Bristol, in the U.K.; Hua Li and Rob Atkin at the University of Western Australia; and Isabelle Grillo at the Institut Max-von-Laue-Paul-Langevin in Grenoble, France. The researchers dedicate their paper to the memory of Grillo, who recently passed away.

    “It is a very exciting result that surface-active ionic liquids (SAILs) with amphiphilic structures can self-assemble on electrode surfaces and enhance charge storage performance at electrified surfaces,” says Yi Cui, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford University, who was not associated with this research. “The authors have studied and understood the mechanism. The work here might have a great impact on the design of high energy density supercapacitors, and could also help improve battery performance,” he says.

    Nicholas Abbott, the Tisch University Professor at Cornell University, who also was not involved in this work, says “The paper describes a very clever advance in interfacial charge storage, elegantly demonstrating how knowledge of molecular self-assembly at interfaces can be leveraged to address a contemporary technological challenge.”

    The work was supported by the MIT Energy Initiative, an MIT Skoltech fellowship, and the Czech Science Foundation.

    Scientists develop novel nano-vaccine for melanoma


    Melanoma in skin biopsy with H&E stain — this case may represent superficial spreading melanoma. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

    Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a novel nano-vaccine for melanoma, the most aggressive type of skin cancer. Their innovative approach has so far proven effective in preventing the development of melanoma in mouse models and in treating primary tumors and metastases that result from melanoma.

    The focus of the research is on a nanoparticle that serves as the basis for the new vaccine. The study was led by Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro, chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and head of the Laboratory for Cancer Research and Nanomedicine at TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, and Prof. Helena Florindo of the University of Lisbon while on sabbatical at the Satchi-Fainaro lab at TAU; it was conducted by Dr. Anna Scomparin of Prof. Satchi-Fainaro’s TAU lab, and postdoctoral fellow Dr. João Conniot. The results were published on August 5 in Nature Nanotechnology.

    Melanoma develops in the skin cells that produce melanin or skin pigment. “The war against cancer in general, and melanoma in particular, has advanced over the years through a variety of treatment modalities, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy; but the vaccine approach, which has proven so effective against various viral diseases, has not materialized yet against cancer,” says Prof. Satchi-Fainaro. “In our study, we have shown for the first time that it is possible to produce an effective nano-vaccine against melanoma and to sensitize the  to immunotherapies.”

    The researchers harnessed tiny particles, about 170 nanometers in size, made of a biodegradable polymer. Within each particle, they “packed” two peptides—short chains of amino acids, which are expressed in melanoma cells. They then injected the nanoparticles (or “nano-vaccines”) into a  bearing melanoma.

    “The nanoparticles acted just like known vaccines for viral-borne diseases,” Prof. Satchi-Fainaro explains. “They stimulated the immune system of the mice, and the immune cells learned to identify and attack cells containing the two peptides—that is, the melanoma cells. This meant that, from now on, the immune system of the immunized mice will attack melanoma cells if and when they appear in the body.”

    The researchers then examined the effectiveness of the vaccine under three different conditions.

    First, the vaccine proved to have prophylactic effects. The vaccine was injected into healthy mice, and an injection of melanoma  followed. “The result was that the mice did not get sick, meaning that the vaccine prevented the disease,” says Prof. Satchi-Fainaro.

    Second, the nanoparticle was used to treat a primary tumor: A combination of the innovative vaccine and immunotherapy treatments was tested on melanoma model mice. The synergistic treatment significantly delayed the progression of the disease and greatly extended the lives of all treated mice.

    Finally, the researchers validated their approach on tissues taken from patients with melanoma brain metastases. This suggested that the nano- can be used to treat brain metastases as well. Mouse models with late-stage melanoma brain metastases had already been established following excision of the primary melanoma lesion, mimicking the clinical setting. Research on image-guided surgery of primary melanoma using smart probes was published last year by Prof. Satchi-Fainaro’s lab.

    “Our research opens the door to a completely new approach—the —for effective treatment of , even in the most advanced stages of the disease,” concludes Prof. Satchi-Fainaro. “We believe that our platform may also be suitable for other types of cancer and that our work is a solid foundation for the development of other cancer nano-vaccines.”

    More information: Immunization with mannosylated nanovaccines and inhibition of the immune-suppressing microenvironment sensitizes melanoma to immune checkpoint modulators, Nature Nanotechnology(2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41565-019-0512-0 , https://nature.com/articles/s41565-019-0512-0

    Journal information: Nature Nanotechnology

    Provided by Tel Aviv University

    Tesla Battery Guru Jeff Dahn Claims New FB m derfdjLithium-Ion Thomx gr Cell Outperforms Solid-State morningioujniioatteriesyou svbnygtegdgd


    Jeff-Dahn-red-Model-S-frunk

    Tesla watchers know that Jeff Dahn and his team at Dalhousie University near Halifax, Nova Scotia, are world leaders in lithium-ion battery research. For years, Dahn worked exclusively for 3M, but when that arrangement ended, Tesla swooped in and signed a contract for Dahn to work for the Silicon Valley car/tech/energy company.

    In addition, solid-state batteries are less like to catch fire or explode if they get too hot. That in turn means electric car manufacturers can make simpler, less costly cooling systems for their battery packs, driving down the cost of EVs. It also reassures the public their shiny new electric cars aren’t going to explode in the garage, as recently happened to the owner of a Hyundai Kona EV in Canada.

    Research published by Dahn and his team in the journal Nature Energy on July 15 reveals they have created new lithium-ion pouch cells that may outperform solid-state technology battery. Here’s the abstract of that research report:

    “Cells with lithium-metal anodes are viewed as the most viable future technology, with higher energy density than existing lithium-ion batteries. Many researchers believe that for lithium-metal cells, the typical liquid electrolyte used in lithium-ion batteries must be replaced with a solid-state electrolyte to maintain the flat, dendrite-free lithium morphologies necessary for long-term stable cycling.

    “Here, we show that anode-free lithium-metal pouch cells with a dual-salt LiDFOB/LiBF4 liquid electrolyte have 80% capacity remaining after 90 charge–discharge cycles, which is the longest life demonstrated to date for cells with zero excess lithium. The liquid electrolyte enables smooth dendrite-free lithium morphology comprised of densely packed columns even after 50 charge — discharge cycles. NMR measurements reveal that the electrolyte salts responsible for the excellent lithium morphology are slowly consumed during cycling.”

    Jeff-Dahn-Pouch-Cell-Research

    Credit: Jeff Dahn, et al./Nature Energy

    Those pesky dendrites are the bane of lithium-ion batteries. They are little projections like stalagmites in caves that can poke through the insulating layer inside individual cells, leading to short circuits and potential fires. Eliminating them would be a big step forward, particularly for use in electric vehicles.

    img_1343

    Is Tesla on the verge of replacing the cylindrical cells in its battery packs with Jeff Dahn’s pouch cells? Not just yet. There is a lot of research and testing left to do before they becomes suitable for commercial production, but they may signal an important step forward for energy storage in the years ahead.

    Below is a video of Dahn when he won the prestigious National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada award in 2017. Here is a fellow who knows what he is talking about. If he says pouch cells can outperform solid state cells, we should pay heed.

    Nano One (Burnaby, B.C.) granted important Battery Material Patent in the U.S.


    NanoOne 1 download

    Dr. Stephen Campbell, Chief Technology Officer at Nano One Materials Corporation has announced the issuance of US Patent No. 10,374,232. In the race to commercialize lithium ion battery powered electric vehicles, this patent adds value to Nano One’s high energy cathode materials as it defines the unique physical form of the powdered materials and provides a proprietary means of improving durability, safety, handling and cost.

    Dr. Campbell said “This patent is particularly significant as it defines the properties of our high energy NMC cathode powders, rather than the underlying process to make them. These powders have unique physical properties, related to size and nanostructure, that Nano One is exploiting for improved durability, handling, safety and cost. It complements our process patent portfolio and adds substantially to our strategy with recently announced automotive partners to develop a new generation of low cost and durable high energy cathodes.”

    NMC cathodes are typically comprised of lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt. There are global initiatives underway to increase nickel for more energy and reduce cobalt to mitigate supply chain risk. However, this shift to nickel-rich materials compromises stability and safety in the battery, and the air sensitive materials require special handling. Nano One’s unique powders are differentiated from these efforts and they enable an innovative approach to lowering cost and increasing the durability of NMC powders.

    NanoOne 2 download

    Utilizing proprietary manufacturing technologies, which are themselves protected by patents in the US, Canada, Taiwan, China, Japan and Korea, Nano One is able to carefully control the formation of lithium ion battery materials resulting in unique forms and improved electrical properties. The improved NMC materials themselves are now patent protected in the US and Korea.

    “The granting of this patent is great news”, said Dr. Joseph Guy, Director of Nano One and Patent Agent. “Our NMC powders are different because of very fine particles and layered nanostructures. It gives Nano One a sustainable means of differentiating its NMC cathode powder for improved performance and cost in lithium ion batteries. This is an important cornerstone in the execution of Nano One’s business plan and provides valuable leverage going forward.”

    S Campbell 1

     

    Profile: Dr. Stephen Campbell

    A Game-Changer For Lithium-Ion Batteries: Dalhousie University, Tesla’s Canadian Electrek and the University of Waterloo Discover New Disruptive LI-On Technology


    The latest news in the battery space has been about alternatives to lithium-ion technology, which still dominates the space in electronics and cars but is being increasingly challenged from several directions, notably solid-state batteries.

    Now, a team of researchers has reported they have improved lithium-ion batteries in a way that could discourage some challengers.

    In a paper published in Nature magazine, the team, led by Jeff Dahn from Dalhousie University, reports they had designed more battery cells with higher energy density without using the solid-state electrolyte that many believe is a necessary condition for enhanced density.

    What’s more, the battery cell the team designed demonstrated a longer life than some comparable alternatives.

    The team from Dalhousie University was working with Tesla’s Canadian research and development team, Electrek notes in its report of the news, as well as the University of Waterloo.

    The EV maker is probably the staunchest proponent of lithium-ion technology for electric car batteries, so it would make sense for it to continue investing in research that would keep the technology’s dominance in the face of multiple challengers.

    Recently, for example, Japanese researchers announced they had successfully found a substitute for the lithium ions used in batteries and this substitute was much cheaper and more abundant: sodium.

    Last year, scientists from the Australian University of Wollongong announced 

    they had solved a problem with sodium batteries that made them too expensive to produce, namely a lot of the other materials used in such an installation besides the sodium itself.

    Sodium batteries are among the more advanced challengers to lithium ion dominance, but like other alternatives to Li-ion batteries, they have been plagued by persistent problems with their performance. Even so, work continues to make them competitive with lithium-ion technology.

    This fact has probably made li-ion proponents such as Tesla, who have invested substantial amounts in the technology, double their efforts to improve their batteries’ performance or reduce their cost.

    As the most expensive component of an electric car, the battery is a top priority for R&D departments in the car-making industry. 

     

    Related: Oil Industry Faces Imminent Talent Crisis

    Earlier this year, German scientists saidthey had found a way to make lithium ion batteries charge much faster. Charing times are the second most important consideration after cost for potential EV buyers, and another priority for EV makers. What the scientists did was replace the cobalt oxide used in the cathode of a lithium ion battery with another compound, vanadium disulfide.

    Millions of electric cars are expected to hit the roads in the coming years. From a certain perspective, the race to faster charging is the race that will make or break the long-term mainstream future of the EV, which, it turns out, is not as certain as some would think.

    A J.D.Power survey recently revealed that people are not particularly crazy about EVs, and the reasons they are not crazy about them have to do a lot with the batteries: charging times and range, plus price. In this context, the battery improvement race could (and will) only intensify further.