Rice University: Li-Ion Components for High-Temperature Aerospace, Industrial Apps


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A toothpaste-like composite with hexagonal boron nitride developed by researchers at Rice University is an effective electrolyte and separator in lithium-ion batteries intended for high-temperature applications in a number of industries, including aerospace and oil and gas. (Source: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

One major and dangerous problem with lithium-ion batteries is that they can catch fire when heated to high temperatures, an issue that has caused damage and even death when devices ignited without warning.

Now researchers at Rice University have come up with a solution to this very serious safety problem in the form of a combined electrolyte and separator for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that supplies energy at usable voltages and in high temperatures. The material is a toothpaste-like composite that is capable of performing well at and withstanding high temperatures without combusting.

The problem with most current lithium-battery chemistries is that they present safety concerns when heated beyond 50C (122F) due to the electrolyte/separator combination used in them, explained Marco-Tulio Rodrigues, a Rice graduate student and one of the authors of a paper on the research published in Advanced Materials Science.

 

“The separator is usually a thin polymer film and may deform at high temperatures, causing a short circuit,” Rodrigues told Design News. “The electrolytes are based on organic solvents, which tend to boil at high temperatures, increasing the internal pressure of the cell. Although commercial batteries implement some protection mechanisms to avoid these problems, any damages to the cell case may potentially lead to ignition, since the electrolyte is also highly flammable.”

 

The work of the Rice team addresses both the issue of developing a separator that will not cause a short circuit and an electrolyte that doesn’t have the tendency to catch fire, he said.

The batteries made with the components they developed functioned as intended in temperatures of 50C (122F) for more than a month without losing efficiency, according to researchers. Moreover, test batteries consistently operated from room temperature to 150C (302F), setting one of the widest temperature ranges ever reported for such devices, they said.

To solve the electrolyte problem, researchers used solutions based on ionic liquids in the electrolytes, which have largely been proposed as substitutes for organic solvents in the electrolyte of lithium-ion batteries because they present a much higher thermal stability, Rodrigues explained.

“These chemicals are basically special salts with a very low melting point, in such a way that they are liquid at room temperatures,” he said. “They are completely nonflammable and they do not evaporate at all until they decompose, which occurs beyond 350C (662F).”

With the electrolyte situation solved, researchers turned their attention to finding a new separator, which they addressed with a material called hexagonal boron nitride, also known as white graphene.

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Getting Real Serious About Renewable Hydrogen In Real (Heartland) America


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Image: Two membrane-bound protein complexes work together with a synthetic catalyst to produce hydrogen from water by Olivia Johnson and Lisa Utschig via Argonne National Laboratory.

 

File this one under “W” for “When you’ve lost the heartland.” Something called the Midwest Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Coalition has just launched a mission to bring the renewable hydrogen revolution to a cluster of US states which, for reasons unknown, pop up whenever someone mentions America’s heartland, aka Real America. This is a significant development because until now, hydrogen fans have been dancing all around the perimeters of the Midwest without managing to grab a toehold.

Hydrogen is a zero-emission fuel, practically. When used in fuel cells, it produces nothing but purified water. The problem, though, is cleaning up the source of hydrogen. Currently, fossil natural gas is the primary source of hydrogen, which kind of clonks the zero emission thing in the head.

The good news is that renewable hydrogen technology is rapidly improving. One main pathway is to “split” hydrogen from water using an electrical current (aka electrolysis).

Until recent years electrolysis made no sense because coal and gas have dominated the US energy profile. The advent of low cost renewable energy has changed the game entirely.

In somewhat of an ironic twist, renewable energy critics used to complain that wind and solar were unreliable because they were intermittent. Now that very characteristic has created an opportunity for renewable hydrogen production. The basic idea is to use excess renewable energy to produce hydrogen, which then serves as a transportable energy storage medium.

Some US states have been cultivating the so-named “hydrogen economy” over the past several years, and they are already in a good position to transition from fossil-sourced hydrogen to renewables.

Leading the pack is California. The state’s ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicles) standards already call for a portion of renewable hydrogen in the mix. Eight other states — Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont — have adopted the California ZEV model. Additionally, Colorado, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Washington, and the District of Columbia are following California’s Low Emission Vehicle standards.

So far almost all of this activity is clustered in the coastal and Northeast US states. If all goes according to plan the new MHFCC initiative will bring the hydrogen word to 12 more states smack in the nation’s midsection: Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Bam!

US Department Of Energy Hearts Renewable Hydrogen

Spearheading MHFCC is the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, in partnership with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The idea is to use the school’s decades-long foundational hydrogen and fuel cell research to jumpstart an R&D program aimed at improving electrolysis technology.

The new initiative will also leverage the Midwest’s considerable renewable energy resources. As Argonne notes, the 12 Midwest states targeted by MHFCC account for 25% of the US population and consume 30% of all electricity generated in the US.

These 12 states also lay claim to 35% of US wind capacity. So far solar has made a dismal showing in the region, but Argonne points out that major new solar projects are finally in the pipeline.

What’s Driving The Midwest Renewable Energy Train

As previously noted by CleanTechnica, the low cost of renewable energy is finally breaking through political barriers in Nebraska and other Midwest states. Considering the region’s large agricultural sector, of particular interest is the emergence of agrivoltaics, in which raised solar panels share space with grazing lands, pollinator habitats, and certain crops.

Another key factor is the Midwest’s reliance on rural electric cooperatives. RECs are becoming more engaged with renewable energy as the cost benefit comes into sharper focus, partly with an assist from the US Department of Energy.

From Renewable Energy To Renewable Hydrogen

Fans of natural gas still have a lot to cheer about. Electrolysis is not quite ready for commercial prime time, and meanwhile the demand for hydrogen is growing.

However, if all goes according to plan renewables will squeeze natural gas out of they hydrogen market in the Midwest. In announcing the new initiative, Argonne specifically states that “…the Midwestern states have some of the highest levels of renewable energy on their grids, and that “hydrogen can be used as an effective storage medium to increase utilization of these renewable energy resources.”

Sorry – not sorry.

For that matter, Argonne and the University of Illinois’s Grainger College of Engineering have already ramped up their work on electrolysis over the past couple of years.

Last fall the school described progress on a new metal-based catalyst for electrolysis. Another big breakthrough came from Argonne last winter, when the lab announced a bio-based alternative.

Also of interest is the Midwest’s relatively high nuclear energy profile. If a market for renewable hydrogen develops, nuclear power plants could continue pumping out zero emission electricity during off-peak hours and store it in the form of hydrogen.

That’s unlikely to motivate the construction of new nuclear power plants, but the use of excess nuclear energy for electrolysis could enable the region’s current fleet to operate more economically for a longer period of time (and that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms).

Interesting! CleanTechnica is reaching out to the University of Illinois to see what else is cooking in the Midwest renewable hydrogen field, so stay tuned for more on that.

Improving Access to Clean Water and the Role of Nanotechnology


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Access to clean, safe drinking water is thought to be a basic human right. Yet, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 785 million people across the globe are without access to a basic drinking-water source. This has researchers around the world researching and developing a series of water treatment solutions and applications using nanotechnology.

Current WHO statistics are damning, making this an issue that must be addressed urgently as it is thought that around 2 billion people are using a contaminated water supply. In addition, over 485,000 people die each year from diarrhoeal related illnesses and diseases such as polio, typhoid, and cholera are once again being transmitted as a further consequence. Based on current trends and data, it is thought that by 2025 half of the total global population will be living in water-stressed or water-scarce areas.

World ME Water 070816 screen shot 2016-07-08 at 11.27.43 am

 

World Water II 070816 screen shot 2016-07-08 at 11.26.27 am

While there are a wide-range of effective water purification methods and techniques including boiling, filtration, oxidation, and distillation, these often require high amounts of energy. Other treatment processes may include the use of chemical agents which is only possible in areas with an infrastructure that is up to par.

The more affordable and portable devices currently available are not always fit for purpose as they cannot guarantee 100% removal of harmful viruses, bacteria, dust, and even microplastics. So, it is thought that nanotechnology could offer affordable and accessible clean water solutions to the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Nanotechnology is a process that involves manipulating and controlling matter on the atomic scale. In the process of water purification, this involves using nanomembranes to soften the water and eradicate biological and chemical contaminants as well as other physical particles and molecules.

What’s more is that nanotechnology is portable and can be incorporated into existing commercial devices which increases the likelihood that nanotech solutions could become a feasible option for areas of the developing world and places with limited infrastructure.

In recent years scientists have improved on conventional methods that use coagulants by taking their cues from nature, notably the ocean dwelling Actinia organism. Traditional coagulants, such as aluminum sulfate and other metallic salts can pull out larger contaminants by causing them to group together and settle. However, this method is not effective for smaller particles and molecules and often requires additional methods to ensure the water is clean. Thereby increasing the cost and use of energy as several techniques are required to ensure the water is safe.

Using nanocoagulants, scientists were able to synthesize organic and inorganic matter to replicate the structure of the Actina sea anemone. The researchers produced a reversable core-shell that can catch larger particles as well as the smaller ones when it turns inside-out. This is also a one-step process which removes the need for additional technologies and opens up the potential for minimizing water purification costs.

Another viable method of water purification currently in development that makes use of nanotechnology includes utilizing magnetically active nanoparticles to extract chemicals from water. The process enables the removal of toxins from drinking-water contaminants attracting nanoparticles that consist of magnetic phases. This solution would also be low-energy and could provide an economic advantage as well as health and environmental benefits.

Other proposals for nanotech solutions include using nanoparticles to break down microplastics and a rapid nano-filter that can clean dirty water 100 times faster than current methods. Researchers are also aware that most water purification methods require access to a constant electricity supply, but this can be a significant obstacle in places with limited infrastructure or areas damaged by extreme weather conditions.

One such approach is the creation of a self-sustaining biofoam that conducts heat and electricity by combining bacteria-produced cellulose with graphene oxide. The graphene-fused foam draws water up to the surface via the cellulose layer which accelerates evaporation. This results in a layer of freshwater which can be easily collected and is safe to drink. The biofoam is also lightweight and relatively inexpensive to manufacture making it an attractive alternative to conventional methods.

Thus, as the need for clean, safe water is very much still an urgent global issue, nanotech solutions offer new and essential possibilities for the water treatment industry. The next phase of development is the scaling up of nanotechnologies to improve access to clean water. Perhaps then the future can be one that offers a new hope to the expanding global population experiencing water-stressed and water-scarce conditions.

Re-Posted from AZ NAno – David J. Cross MA

Nanomesh Drug Delivery provides Hope against Global Antibiotic Resistance


Nanomesh 214137_webIMAGE: IN STUDYING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE NANOMESH, TWO ANTIBIOTICS, COLISTIN AND VANCOMYCIN, WERE ADDED TOGETHER WITH GOLD NANOPARTICLES TO THE MESH, BEFORE THEY WERE TESTED OVER A 14 DAY PERIOD CREDIT: FLINDERS UNIVERSITY … view more 

The fight against global antibiotic resistance has taken a major step forward with scientists discovering a concept for fabricating nanomeshes as an effective drug delivery system for antibiotics.

Health experts are increasingly concerned about the rise in medication resistant bacteria.

Flinders University researchers and collaborators in Japan have produced a nanomesh that is capable of delivering drug treatments.

In studying the effectiveness of the nanomesh, two antibiotics, Colistin and Vancomycin, were added together with gold nanoparticles to the mesh, before they were tested over a 14 day period by PHD student Melanie Fuller.

Flinders Institute for Nanoscience and Technology Associate Professor Ingo Koeper says 20cm by 15cm pieces of mesh were produced which contain fibres 200 nm in diameter. These meshes are produced using a process called electrospinning with parameters being optimised to ensure the mesh material was consistent.

“In order to deliver the antibiotics to a specific area, the antibiotics were embedded into the mesh produced using a technique called electrospinning, which has gained considerable interest in the biomedical community as it offers promise in many applications including wound management, drug delivery and antibiotic coatings,” says Assoc Prof. Koeper

“A high voltage is then applied between the needle connected to the syringe, and the collector plate which causes the polymer solution to form a cone as it leaves the syringe, at which point the electrostatic forces release a jet of liquid.”

“Small charged nanoparticles altered the release of the antibiotics from the nanomesh. The addition of gold nanoparticles likely neutralised charge, causing the antibiotic to migrate toward the centre of the fibre, prolonging its release.”

The results also suggest dosages could be reduced when compared to traditional drugs which can also diminish potential side effects and complications.

“Although the dosage is reduced compared to an oral dosage, the concentration of antibiotics delivered to the infection site can still be higher, ensuring the bacteria cannot survive which will reduce instances of resistance.”

“This research, as a proof of concept, suggests an opportunity for fabricating nanomeshes which contain gold nanoparticles as a drug treatment for antibiotics.”

Working with Dr. Harriet Whiley, a Flinders environmental health scientists, the researchers studied how the release of the drugs affected the growth of E. Coli. The in vitro study confirmed Colistin with negatively charged gold nanoparticles produced the most efficient nanomesh, significantly affecting bacterial growth.

“Further investigation is needed to determine if other small charged particles affect the release of drugs and how it affects the release over time. As it is a pharmaceutical application, the stability of the mesh under different storage conditions as well as the toxicological properties also need to be evaluated.”

 

 

 

 

 

Lithium Battery Dreams Get a Rude Awakening in South America


  • Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile seek to join industry boom
  • They hold 70% of reserves, but don’t make a single battery

South America controls about 70% of the world’s reserves of lithium, the metal used in rechargeable batteries for mobile phones and electric vehicles, but none of the infrastructure needed to put it to work.

Lithium refining and battery-assembling facilities could help kick start industries in economies that are largely dependent on commodities for revenue, putting them at risk from sharp price swings.

But so far, public and private initiatives in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile have failed to deliver even a single lithium cell factory. And none are set to be built through 2025.

Chile, the world’s second-largest lithium producer behind Australia, offers perhaps the best example of an effort gone off track. A $285 million lithium-cell project by two Korea-based companies was canceled in June when plunging lithium prices undercut government incentives on the metal.

Meanwhile, a local company that assembles batteries using components from abroad is struggling to get lithium cells to support their sales in Chile.

“The size of the opportunity is huge,” said James Ellis, the head of Latin America research at BloombergNEF. “It makes sense to try to move up the value chain. But when you look at what’s planned globally, there are no battery manufacturing assets in Latin America.”

Other countries in the region face their own challenges. Here’s a breakdown:

Argentina

The third-largest lithium producer also saw a state-sponsored initiative stall.

Last year, Italy’s Seri Industrial SpA formed a joint venture with state-owned JEMSE, or more formally the Jujuy Energy and Mining State Society. The plan was to build a plant to make lithium cathodes and cells, and assemble battery parts, using raw lithium mined in Argentina’s Jujuy province.

But Argentina’s economic crisis and the possibility that Peronist candidate Alberto Fernandez could win the upcoming presidential elections has, in the words of JEMSE President Carlos Oehler, “cooled all investment projects in Argentina, including building a battery factory.”

The land and permits are ready, Oehler said, “and we were starting to look for financing, but the project is frozen now.”

Brazil

In Latin America’s biggest economy, former Tesla Inc. executive Marco Krapels and former SunEdison Inc. executive Peter Conklin founded MicroPower-Comerc with the initial goal of providing rechargeable batteries to commercial and industrial facilities. But Brazil offers almost no government subsidies for renewable energy, and import taxes add about 65% to the cost of the batteries.

That’s driven the company, which is backed by Siemens AG, to consider buying components abroad and assembling them in Brazil as a way to lower their costs.

While the nation’s market for big batteries barely exists, Krapels sees opportunity in a place with an occasionally unstable power grid and a robust market for wind and solar. “This is not for the faint of heart,” he said in an interview last month. “But I think there’s an advantage on being the first to move into a market.”

Bolivia

Bolivia hasn’t managed to produce significant volumes of lithium or lithium products. But it is home to the world’s largest salt flat, covering 6,437 kilometers (4,000 square miles), and holding more than 15% of the world’s unmined lithium resources.

A machine loads soil into a truck during the construction at the Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia. Photographer: Marcelo Perez del Carpio/Bloomberg

A pilot plant run by state-owned Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos, or YLB, produced close to 250 tons of lithium carbonate in 2018, and the country’s goal is to generate 150,000 tons within five years, partnered with German and Chinese companies. If it succeeds, Bolivia would become one of the top-producing nations.

Last month, Industrias Quantum Motors SA began sales of the first car ever built in the country, an electric vehicle that answered President Evo Morales’s once-cited wish to see a lithium-powered car “made in Bolivia.”

The problem? Eager buyers aren’t allowed to drive the cars on Bolivia highways until the government can change some existing regulations.

Chile

The lithium producer tried to encourage battery companies to build factories in the country by forcing miners to sell lithium at a discount. That attracted interest from giants including Samsung SDI Co. and Posco in 2017, when lithium prices were at historic highs.

But since then, prices have fallen by a third, and earlier this year the companies abandoned their plans to build.

Even those embarked in less ambitious initiatives are facing hurdles. In Chile’s south, Andesvolt currently imports battery components from abroad and assembles them in the southern city of Valdivia.

It supplies lithium-ion batteries for electricity companies including Enel Americas SA, which installs them as back-up power in industrial, commercial and residential facilities across the country.

Andesvolt expects to produce 1,000 kilowatt-hour this year, up from 200 kilowatt-hour last year. But he is finding it so difficult to import lithium cells that he is considering building South America’s first lithium-cell factory.

Dealing with the hiccups of importing the cells from China is just too much, founder and Chief Executive Officer David Ulloa said.

Lithium cells are highly volatile and can explode if not handled properly, which means shipping companies are often reluctant to transport them. Even when they do, there’s no guarantee the cargo will arrive on time — or arrive at all.

“We’ve seen it all,” Ulloa said in an interview. “Once a Chinese supplier didn’t do any of the paperwork needed for Chilean customs and later offered to disguise the cargo as shoes — we’re a serious company, we couldn’t accept that and we lost that shipment.”

The CEO Who Wants Italy to Love Hydrogen Power


A hydrogen fuel tank. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

  • Snam chief says company to inject more hydrogen into system
  • Market could be worth $2.5 trillion if industry embraces gasThe

THE CEO Who Wants Italy to Love Hydrogen Power

— Read on www.bloomberg.com/amp/news/articles/2019-10-10/hydrogen-could-feed-25-of-italy-s-energy-by-2050-snam-says

First Fully Rechargeable Carbon Dioxide Battery is Seven Times More Efficient Than Lithium Ion


CO2 Battery 1 Unmarked-Batteries-Public-Domain-via-Pxhere

Carbon Dioxide Battery is Seven Times More Efficient Than Lithium Ion

Lithium-carbon dioxide batteries are attractive energy storage systems because they have a specific energy density that is more than seven times greater than commonly used lithium-ion batteries. Until now, however, scientists have not been able to develop a fully rechargeable prototype, despite their potential to store more energy.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are the first to show that lithium-carbon dioxide batteries can be designed to operate in a fully rechargeable manner, and they have successfully tested a lithium-carbon dioxide battery prototype running up to 500 consecutive cycles of charge/recharge processes.

Their findings are published in the journal Advanced Materials.

“Lithium-carbon dioxide batteries have been attractive for a long time, but in practice, we have been unable to get one that is truly efficient until now,” said Amin Salehi-Khojin, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UIC’s College of Engineering.

MOREExciting New Study Says That Crops Thrive Underneath Solar Panels—and the Panels Produce More Energy

Traditionally, when a lithium-carbon dioxide battery discharges, it produces lithium carbonate and carbon. The lithium carbonate recycles during the charge phase, but the carbon just accumulates on the catalyst, ultimately leading to the battery’s failure.

rechargeable-carbon-dioxide-battery

Lithium–CO2 batteries are attractive energy‐storage systems for fulfilling the demand of future large‐scale applications such as electric vehicles due to their high specific energy density.

“The accumulation of carbon not only blocks the active sites of the catalyst and prevents carbon dioxide diffusion, but also triggers electrolyte decomposition in a charged state,” said Alireza Ahmadiparidari, first author of the paper and a UIC College of Engineering graduate student.

Salehi-Khojin and his colleagues used new materials in their experimental carbon dioxide battery to encourage the thorough recycling of both lithium carbonate and carbon. They used molybdenum disulfide as a cathode catalyst combined with a hybrid electrolyte to help incorporate carbon in the cycling process.

CHECK OUT: This Revolutionary Blast Furnace Vaporizes Trash and Turns It into Clean Energy (Without Any Emissions)

Specifically, their combination of materials produces a single multi-component composite of products rather than separate products, making recycling more efficient.

“Our unique combination of materials helps make the first carbon-neutral lithium carbon dioxide battery with much more efficiency and long-lasting cycle life, which will enable it to be used in advanced energy storage systems,” Salehi-Khojin said.

This research was supported, in part, by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Reprinted from the University of Illinois-Chicago

Converting CO2 to Valuable Resources (ethanol and propanol) with the help of Nanoparticles


Ruhr CO2 1 2019_09_27_schuhmann_jacs_tk_01

An international research team has used nanoparticles to convert carbon dioxide into valuable raw materials. The team transferred this mechanism to metallic nanoparticles, also known as nanozymes. The chemists used carbon dioxide to produce ethanol and propanol, which are common raw materials for the chemical industry.

An international research team has used nanoparticles to convert carbon dioxide into valuable raw materials. Scientists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany and the University of New South Wales in Australia have adopted the principle from enzymes that produce complex molecules in multi-step reactions. The team transferred this mechanism to metallic nanoparticles, also known as nanozymes. The chemists used carbon dioxide to produce ethanol and propanol, which are common raw materials for the chemical industry.

The team led by Professor Wolfgang Schuhmann from the Center for Electrochemistry in Bochum and Professor Corina Andronescu from the University of Duisburg-Essen, together with the Australian team led by Professor Justin Gooding and Professor Richard Tilley, reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society on 25 August 2019.

“Transferring the cascade reactions of the enzymes to catalytically active nanoparticles could be a decisive step in the design of catalysts,” says Wolfgang Schuhmann.

Ruhr U CO2 2 nanoparticles

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Particle with two active centres

Enzymes have different active centres for cascade reactions, which are specialised in certain reaction steps. For example, a single enzyme can produce a complex product from a relatively simple starting material. In order to imitate this concept, the researchers synthesised a particle with a silver core surrounded by a porous layer of copper. The silver core serves as the first active centre, the copper layer as the second. Intermediate products formed at the silver core then react in the copper layer to form more complex molecules, which ultimately leave the particle.

In the present work, the German-Australian team showed that the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide can take place with the help of the nanozymes. Several reaction steps on the silver core and copper shell transform the starting material into ethanol or propanol.

“There are also other nanoparticles that can produce these products from CO2 without the cascade principle,” says Wolfgang Schuhmann. “However, they require considerably more energy.”

The researchers now want to further develop the concept of the cascade reaction in nanoparticles in order to be able to selectively produce even more valuable products such as ethylene or butanol.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Ruhr-University BochumNote: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Peter B. O’Mara, Patrick Wilde, Tania M. Benedetti, Corina Andronescu, Soshan Cheong, J. Justin Gooding, Richard D. Tilley, Wolfgang Schuhmann. Cascade Reactions in Nanozymes: Spatially Separated Active Sites inside Ag-Core–Porous-Cu-Shell Nanoparticles for Multistep Carbon Dioxide Reduction to Higher Organic MoleculesJournal of the American Chemical Society, 2019; 141 (36): 14093 DOI: 10.1021/jacs.9b07310

Irish Times – Plan for 80 Hydrogen Fuel Stations for Ireland by 2030


Irish Times FC image

Royal Dutch Shell’s first UK hydrogen refuelling station. Hydrogen’s big advantage, as a fuel, is that it’s quick and easy to use by a driver. File photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Currently only two hydrogen-fuelled Model cars available and neither is sold in Ireland

Plans for the introduction of a hydrogen fueling infrastructure for Ireland are accelerating, and a group representing those interested in using hydrogen as a fuel source is projecting that there will be 80 hydrogen filling stations by 2030.

Hydrogen Mobility Ireland is made up of industrial and governmental representatives, and includes, among others, BOC Gases, Bord Gáis EnergyToyota Ireland, CIÉ Group, Hyundai Ireland, and government departments from both north and south of the Border. The group wants to assess, and then push forward, ideas to bring hydrogen fuel for vehicles and public transport in Ireland.

The group’s initial report will be published on October 3rd, and one of its members, speaking to The Irish Times on background, confirmed that it will initially be aimed at “captive” fleets, whereby vehicles can be refuelled at a central depot. “It’s a central hub model, for now, rather than a distributed network. Our focus is on captive fleets, and Dublin Bus and CIÉ as a whole are both part of the group, and contributing to the discussions. Those early hydrogen fuelling stations would also be available for private users as well, to help encourage those who are interested in the technology.”

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Currently, only two hydrogen fuelled cars are available on the market – the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo – and neither is sold in Ireland, for the simple reason that there is currently nowhere to refuel them.

Rancorous

The debate over the potential of hydrogen power for cars is often a rancorous one, with Tesla’s Elon Musk describing the power source as “dumb” and apparent internal disagreements within the VW Group over whether to press ahead with hydrogen vehicle development (Audi says yes, VW says no).

That debate is acknowledged by the group. Dr Richard Riley, a senior consultant at Element Energy, says: “Our view is that just like today, where there are multiple fuels for transport, the future will see both battery electric and hydrogen vehicles on the market filling different needs.

It is more efficient just to put that electricity straight into a battery vehicle. However, some vehicle operating profiles especially large trucks, refuse collection vehicles, some bus routes, rural and commuter train routes, ferries, police and ambulance fleets etc are not well suited to batteries as the battery range and recharging are not flexible enough to meet operators needs.

“Refuelling takes no longer than a conventional petrol or diesel car, and the usable range of a fuel cell vehicle is about the same as an ordinary car”

“Initial stations need a captive fleet to ensure the demand for hydrogen which helps to bring the cost of hydrogen down. However, right from the start we plan for some of the stations to be open to the public so that the investments made by industry and fleets benefits the wider community. We have explored a few different options for early fleets including taxis, buses and refuse collection vehicles. Some interest has been expressed across all these fleets.”

An advantage

Hydrogen’s big advantage, as a fuel, is that it’s quick and easy to use by a driver. Refuelling takes no longer than a conventional petrol or diesel car, and the usable range of a fuel cell vehicle is about the same as an ordinary car. Given current battery and charger designs, that’s an advantage that hydrogen is unlikely to surrender to electric cars any time soon. There’s also the fact that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and is relatively easily extracted from water.

“The only emission from a vehicle fuelled by hydrogen is water vapour, as the hydrogen combines in the fuel cell with oxygen, forming water, and generating an electrical current.”

That, however, is a rose-tinted view of hydrogen. While there have, in the past, been plans for vast solar-powered operations to extract hydrogen from seawater, much commercial hydrogen currently available is a by-product of fossil fuel extraction. On top of which, compressing it, transporting it and storing it all have significant energy consumption issues. The fuel cells themselves also suffer from some of the same issues surrounding batteries such as the use of rare-earth metals, which have to be expensively and messily mined.

Dr Riley says the hydrogen supply being proposed for Ireland comes is extracted using renewable electricity, a fact which might alleviate some of those concerns. Each of those 80 proposed hydrogen filling stations will require investment in the region of €1.5 – €2million.

The Government has made no commitments as yet on any incentives for such investments, but has, according to Dr Riley, “agreed that hydrogen shows great potential for Ireland and that the policies set out by the group to deliver hydrogen mobility are within the cost and policy limits that they committed to, to bring electric vehicles to market.”

“What we’re aiming to do is reach a point where other actors can start to make a decision to invest in hydrogen technology,” the group’s spokesperson said. “We need to reduce the unknowns, and raise the certainty level so that we can move from this phase through to implementation.

What we want to do is to have a highly visible, public strategy so that people can feel comfortable coming on board. This is not just an industry looking to feed itself – we’re drawing in a very broad spectrum of opinion from car makers, fleet operators, academics and policymakers.”

MIT: New approach suggests path to Emissions-Free Cement


MIT-Green-Cement_0

In a demonstration of the basic chemical reactions used in the new process, electrolysis takes place in neutral water. Dyes show how acid (pink) and base (purple) are produced at the positive and negative electrodes. A variation of this process can be used to convert calcium carbonate (CaCO3) into calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2), which can then be used to make Portland cement without producing any greenhouse gas emissions. Cement production currently causes 8 percent of global carbon emissions. Image: Felice Frankel

MIT researchers find a way to eliminate carbon emissions from cement production — a major global source of greenhouse gases.

It’s well known that the production of cement — the world’s leading construction material — is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 8 percent of all such releases. If cement production were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter.

A team of researchers at MIT has come up with a new way of manufacturing the material that could eliminate these emissions altogether, and could even make some other useful products in the process.

The findings are being reported today in the journal PNAS in a paper by Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, with postdoc Leah Ellis, graduate student Andres Badel, and others.

“About 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide is released for every kilogram of cement made today,” Chiang says. That adds up to 3 to 4 gigatons (billions of tons) of cement, and of carbon dioxide emissions, produced annually today, and that amount is projected to grow. The number of buildings worldwide is expected to double by 2060, which is equivalent to “building one new New York City every 30 days,” he says. And the commodity is now very cheap to produce: It costs only about 13 cents per kilogram, which he says makes it cheaper than bottled water.

So it’s a real challenge to find ways of reducing the material’s carbon emissions without making it too expensive. Chiang and his team have spent the last year searching for alternative approaches, and hit on the idea of using an electrochemical process to replace the current fossil-fuel-dependent system.

Ordinary Portland cement, the most widely used standard variety, is made by grinding up limestone and then cooking it with sand and clay at high heat, which is produced by burning coal. The process produces carbon dioxide in two different ways: from the burning of the coal, and from gases released from the limestone during the heating. Each of these produces roughly equal contributions to the total emissions. The new process would eliminate or drastically reduce both sources, Chiang says. Though they have demonstrated the basic electrochemical process in the lab, the process will require more work to scale up to industrial scale.

First of all, the new approach could eliminate the use of fossil fuels for the heating process, substituting electricity generated from clean, renewable sources. “In many geographies renewable electricity is the lowest-cost electricity we have today, and its cost is still dropping,” Chiang says. In addition, the new process produces the same cement product. The team realized that trying to gain acceptance for a new type of cement — something that many research groups have pursued in different ways — would be an uphill battle, considering how widely used the material is around the world and how reluctant builders can be to try new, relatively untested materials.

The new process centers on the use of an electrolyzer, something that many people have encountered as part of high school chemistry classes, where a battery is hooked up to two electrodes in a glass of water, producing bubbles of oxygen from one electrode and bubbles of hydrogen from the other as the electricity splits the water molecules into their constituent atoms. Importantly, the electrolyzer’s oxygen-evolving electrode produces acid, while the hydrogen-evolving electrode produces a base.

In the new process, the pulverized limestone is dissolved in the acid at one electrode and high-purity carbon dioxide is released, while calcium hydroxide, generally known as lime, precipitates out as a solid at the other. The calcium hydroxide can then be processed in another step to produce the cement, which is mostly calcium silicate.

The carbon dioxide, in the form of a pure, concentrated stream, can then be easily sequestered, harnessed to produce value-added products such as a liquid fuel to replace gasoline, or used for applications such as oil recovery or even in carbonated beverages and dry ice. The result is that no carbon dioxide is released to the environment from the entire process, Chiang says. By contrast, the carbon dioxide emitted from conventional cement plants is highly contaminated with nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide and other material that make it impractical to “scrub” to make the carbon dioxide usable.

Calculations show that the hydrogen and oxygen also emitted in the process could be recombined, for example in a fuel cell, or burned to produce enough energy to fuel the whole rest of the process, Ellis says, producing nothing but water vapor.

In a demonstration of the basic chemical reactions used in the new process, electrolysis takes place in neutral water. Dyes show how acid (pink) and base (purple) are produced at the positive and negative electrodes. A variation of this process can be used to convert calcium carbonate (CaCO3) into calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2), which can then be used to make Portland cement without producing any greenhouse gas emissions. Cement production currently causes 8 percent of global carbon emissions.

In their laboratory demonstration, the team carried out the key electrochemical steps required, producing lime from the calcium carbonate, but on a small scale. The process looks a bit like shaking a snow-globe, as it produces a flurry of suspended white particles inside the glass container as the lime precipitates out of the solution.

While the technology is simple and could, in principle, be easily scaled up, a typical cement plant today produces about 700,000 tons of the material per year. “How do you penetrate an industry like that and get a foot in the door?” asks Ellis, the paper’s lead author. One approach, she says, is to try to replace just one part of the process at a time, rather than the whole system at once, and “in a stepwise fashion” gradually add other parts.

The initial proposed system the team came up with is “not because we necessarily think we have the exact strategy” for the best possible approach, Chiang says, “but to get people in the electrochemical sector to start thinking more about this,” and come up with new ideas. “It’s an important first step, but not yet a fully developed solution.”

The research was partly supported by the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology.