Lawrence Berkeley Lab team helps lead “+Charge-” to Revolutionize Energy Storage

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Venkat Srinivasan, right, staff scientist in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division, talks about some of the new features as Project Director Richard C. Stanton listens in during a tour of the new General Purpose Laboratory at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014. The GPL, otherwise known as Building 33, is a new facility dedicated to pursuing research in energy storage and renewable energy. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

BERKELEY — Imagine an electric car with the range of a Tesla Model S — able to reach Lake Tahoe from the Bay Area on a single charge — but at one-fifth the $70,000 price tag for the luxury sedan.

Or a battery not only able to provide many times more energy than today’s technology but also at significantly cheaper prices, meaning longer-lasting and less expensive power for cellphones, laptops and even the home.

Those are among the ambitious goals of the $120 million, Department of Energy-funded Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, a 14-member partnership led by Argonne National Laboratory and including Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Sandia National Laboratories and a host of universities and private companies. In January, the center’s Berkeley hub is moving into the lab’s new $54 million General Purpose Laboratory, bringing its battery scientists, chemists and engineers together under one roof for the first time.1-yellow_electric_car_charger

The team, headed by JCESR Deputy Director Venkat Srinivasan, aims to achieve revolutionary advances in battery performance — creating devices with up to five times the energy capacity of today’s batteries at one-fifth the cost by 2017.

To accomplish the feat, Srinivasan is looking to replace the current standard-bearer for rechargeable batteries — lithium-ion — with batteries made of cheaper, more durable materials, including magnesium, aluminum and calcium.

“We want to go beyond and find the next generation of technology,” Srinivasan said. “It’s clear to us that the batteries we have today are not meeting the needs.”

While private companies such as Tesla and Toyota are working to improve on lithium-ion technology, in the United States it’s the government labs that are trying to move technology to the next level.

“There’s a real opportunity for next-generation storage,” Crabtree said. “You have to make a big step forward. Lithium-ion will not be able to make that step. … You need a big program and a group effort to make it happen.”

Nearly two years into the project, Crabtree said, researchers have narrowed down a list of about 100 types of “beyond lithium-ion” batteries to a handful of promising concepts that are already in the prototype phase.

In order to reach the Obama administration’s goals of producing a quarter of all the nation’s electricity from solar and wind by 2025, and having 1 million all-electric vehicles on the road in the coming years, consumers will need cheaper batteries with a higher energy density, faster charging time and more range, said Lawrence Berkeley Lab’s Srinivasan. A battery costing $100 per kilowatt hour — three to five times cheaper than today’s technology — would make electric vehicles and renewable energy affordable to the masses.

“Energy storage is a linchpin of the future,” Srinivasan said. “Today’s batteries are kind of expensive. How do we get it to the point where the battery can pay for itself? That’s the target we’re shooting for.”

Sharing the new state-of-the-art General Purpose Laboratory will be JCESR principal investigator and Lawrence Berkeley staff scientist Brett Helms, who is focusing his research on flow batteries, a type of large-scale rechargeable battery that stores energy in a liquid solution of electrolytes that can be pumped through a membrane, generating power when they circulate and react with electrodes.

Helms wants to use more cost-effective materials such as sulfur — a plentiful byproduct of refining crude oil — to create a battery with five to 10 times more energy than current flow batteries, at a much lower cost. Combined with solar panels and wind farms, massive high-density battery packs could store most of the energy generated for use at a later time, providing an uninterrupted power supply in homes day or night, rain or shine, allowing homeowners to go off-the-grid and access the energy at any time.

This would overcome one of the main problems with renewable systems: They can only produce energy when the conditions — sun or wind — are right, not necessarily when the energy is needed, as fossil fuel-fired generators do.

“We’re producing all of this energy, but where is it going to go and how is it going to be integrated into the grid?” Helms said. “The biggest concern is to take advantage of the investment we’ve been making in the renewables. If we don’t have an energy storage solution, we will have wasted that investment.”

Helms’ team is developing a membrane for the flow battery that would increase its durability and enable the battery to cycle, or charge, better. He aims to have a working prototype of a lithium-sulfur flow battery — the first of its kind — by the end of the five-year initiative. The technology, he said, could also someday power electric vehicles.

“We’ve done battery work in the past, but thinking about national problems with people all over the country is an amazing opportunity,” Helms said.

The future home of Berkeley’s battery research hub is next door to the Advanced Light Source building, where automaker Toyota has been researching magnesium-ion batteries.

Whereas lithium-ion batteries have a charge of +1, providing a single electron per electrical current, magnesium has a charge of +2.

“For the same weight, you can have twice the charge — you’re doubling the amount of capacity,” Srinivasan said. “That’s exciting.”

Using high-performance computing, Srinivasan’s team has whittled down the number of materials to a few that have sufficient energy capacity and can be classified as safe, cheaper and longer-lasting than lithium. Within the next year, Srinivasan hopes to have other new materials ready for testing, and optimized prototypes ready by 2017.

George Crabtree, director of JCESR at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, said the federal government is pursuing the research to dramatically transform the two areas that consume two-thirds of all the energy generated in the United States — transportation and the energy grid. If successful, Crabtree said, consumers would benefit with cheaper electric cars and less dependence on utility companies for power at home.

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U of Maryland Researchers Discover New synthesis Method: Could Impact the Futures of Nanostructures, Clean Energy

IBM Graphene CircutsA team of University of Maryland physicists has published new nanoscience advances that they and other scientists say make possible new nanostructures and nanotechnologies with huge potential applications ranging from clean energy and quantum computing advances to new sensor development.
Published in the September 2, issue of Nature Communications (“Hierarchical synthesis of non-centrosymmetric hybrid nanostructures and enabled plasmon-driven photocatalysis”) the Maryland scientists’ primary discovery is a fundamentally new synthesis strategy for hybrid nanostructures that uses a connector, or “intermedium,” nanoparticle to join multiple different nanoparticles into nanostructures that would be very difficult or perhaps even impossible to make with existing methods.
The resultant mix and match modular component approach avoids the limitations in material choice and nanostructure size, shape and symmetry that are inherent in the crystalline growth (epitaxial) synthesis approaches currently used to build nanostructures.

“Our approach makes it possible to design and build higher order [more complex and materially varied] nanostructures with a specifically designed symmetry or shape, akin to the body’s ability to make different protein oligomers each with a specific function determined by its specific composition and shape,” says team leader Min Ouyang, an associate professor in the department of physics and the Maryland NanoCenter.

“Such a synthesis method is the dream of many scientists in our field and we expect researchers now will use our approach to fabricate a full class of new nanoscale hybrid structures,” he says.

IBM Graphene Circuts
Among the scientists excited about this new method is the University of Delaware’s Matt Doty, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, physics, and electrical and computer engineering and associate director of the UD Nanofabrication Facility. “The work of Weng and coauthors provides a powerful new tool for the ‘quantum engineering’ of complex nanostructures designed to implement novel electronic and optoelectronic functions. [Their] new approach makes it feasible for researchers to realize much more sophisticated nanostructure designs than were previously possible.” he says.

Lighting a Way to Efficient Clean Power Generation

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The team’s second discovery may allow full realization of a light-generated nanoparticle effect first used by ancient Romans to create glass that changes color based on light.. This effect, known as surface plasmon resonance, involves the generation of high energy electrons using light.
More accurately explains Ouyang, plasmon resonance is the generation of a collective oscillation of low energy electrons by light. And the light energy stored in such a “plasmonic oscillator” then can be converted to energetic carriers (i.e., “hot” electrons)” for use in various applications.
In recent years, many scientists have been trying to apply this effect to the creation of more efficient photocatalysts for use in the production of clean energy. Photocatalysts are substances that use light to boost chemical reactions. Chlorophyll is a natural photocatalyst used by plants.
“The ingenious nano-assemblies that Professor Ouyang and his collaborators have fabricated, which include the novel feature of a silver-gold particle that super-efficiently harvests light, bring us a giant step nearer the so-far elusive goal of artificial photosynthesis: using sunlight to transform water and carbon dioxide into fuels and valuable chemicals,” says Professor Martin Moskovits of the University of California at Santa Barbara, a widely recognized expert in this area of research and not affiliated with the paper.
Indeed, using sunlight to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen to produce hydrogen fuel has long been a clean energy “holy grail”. However, decades of research advances have not yielded photocatalytic methods with sufficient energy efficiency to be cost effective for use in large scale water splitting applications.
“Using our new modular synthesis strategy, our UMD team created an optimally designed, plasmon-mediated photocatalytic nanostructure that is an almost 15 times more efficient than conventional photocatalysts,” says Ouyang.
In studying this new photocatalyst, the scientists identified a previously unknown “hot plasmon electron-driven photocatalysis mechanism with an identified electron transfer pathway.”
It is this new mechanism that makes possible the high efficiency of the UMD team’s new photocatalyst. And it is a finding made possible by the precise materials control allowed by the team’s new general synthesis method.
Their findings hold great promise for future advances that could make water splitting cost effective for large-scale use in creating hydrogen fuel. Such a system would allow light energy from large solar energy farms to be stored as chemical energy in the form of clean hydrogen fuel. And the UMD team’s newly-discovered mechanism for creating hot (high energy) electrons should also be applicable to research involving other photo-excitation processes, according to Ouyang and his colleagues.
Source: University of Maryland