Sodium-ion Batteries Could Get Better Thanks to Graphene and Lasers

You hear a lot about the shortcomings of lithium-ion batteries, mostly related to the slow rate of capacity improvements. However, they’re also pretty expensive because of the required lithium for cathodes. Sodium-ion batteries have shown some promise as a vastly cheaper alternative, but the performance hasn’t been comparable. With the aid of lasers and graphene, researchers may have developed a new type of sodium-ion battery that works better and could reduce the cost of battery technology by an order of magnitude.

The research comes from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. Much of the country’s water comes from desalination, so there’s a lot of excess sodium left over. Worldwide, sodium is about 30 times cheaper than lithium, so it would be nice if we could use that as a battery cathode. The issue is that standard graphite anodes don’t hold onto sodium ions as well as they do lithium.

The KAUST team looked at a way to create a material called hard carbon to boost sodium-ion effectiveness. Producing hard carbon usually requires a complex multi-step process that involves heating samples to more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 Celsius). That effectively eliminates the cost advantage of using sodium in batteries. The KAUST team managed to create something like hard carbon with relative ease using graphene and lasers.

It all starts with a piece of copper foil. The team applied a polymer layer composed of urea polymides. Researchers blasted this material with a high-intensity laser to create graphene by a process called carbonization. Regular graphene isn’t enough, though. While the laser fired, nitrogen was added to the reaction chamber. Nitrogen atoms end up integrated into the material, replacing some of the carbon atoms. In the end, the material is about 13 percent nitrogen with the remainder carbon.

Making anodes out of this “3D graphene” material offers several advantages. For one, it’s highly conductive. The larger atomic spacing makes it better for capturing sodium ions in a sodium-ion battery, too. Finally, the copper base can be used as a current collector in the battery, saving additional fabrication steps.

The researchers tested a sodium-ion battery with 3D graphene anodes, finding the system outperformed existing sodium-ion systems.

It’s still not as potent as lithium-ion, but these lower cost cells could become popular for applications where high-performance lithium-ion tech isn’t necessary. Your phone will run on lithium batteries for a bit longer.

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Watch a YouTube Video for Nano Enabled Batteries from GNT US-Tenka Energy


Quantum dots could aid in fight against Parkinson’s

A large team of researchers with members from several institutions in the U.S., Korea and Japan has found that injecting quantum dots into the bloodstreams of mice led to a reduction in fibrils associated with Parkinson’s disease. In their paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the group describes their studies of the impact of quantum dots made of graphene on synuclein and what they found.

Quantum dots are particles that exist at the nanoscale and are made of semiconducting materials. Because they exhibit quantum properties, scientists have been conducting experiments to learn more about changes they cause to organisms when embedded in their cells. In this new effort, the researchers became interested in the idea of embedding quantum dots in synuclein cells.

Synucleins make up a group or family of proteins and are typically found in neural tissue.

One type, an alpha-synuclein, has been found to be associated with the formation of fibrils as part of the development of Parkinson’s disease. To see how such a protein might react when exposed to quantum dots, the researchers combined the two in a petri dish and watched what happened. They found that the quantum dots became bound to the protein, and in so doing, prevented it from clumping into fibrils. They also found that doing so after fibrils had already formed caused them to come apart. Impressed with their findings, the team pushed their research further.

Noting that quantum dots are small enough to pass through the blood/brain barrier, they injected quantum dots into mice with induced Parkinson’s disease and monitored them for several months. They report that after six months, the mice showed improvements in symptoms.

Read A Related Article

Quantum dots in brain could treat Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases

The researchers suggest that quantum dots might have a similar impact on multiple ailments where fibrilization occurs, noting that another team had found that injecting them into Alzheimer’s mouse models produced similar results.

It is still not known if injecting similar or different types of quantum dots into human patients might have the same effect, they note. Nor is it known if doing so would have any undesirable side effects. Still, the researchers are optimistic about the idea of using quantum dots for treatment of such diseases and because of that, have initiated plans for testing with other animals—and down the road they are looking at the possibility of conducting clinical trials in humans.


A Failed Car Company Gave Rise to a Revolutionary New Battery – “Fisker’s Folly” Or “Henrik’s Home-Run”?

Fisker’s solid-state battery powers electric vehicles–and drones and flying taxis.

Since Alessandro Volta created the first true battery in 1800, improvements have been relatively incremental.

When it comes to phones and especially electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries have resisted a slew of efforts to increase their power and decrease the time it takes to charge them.

Henrik Fisker, known for his high-end sports-car design, says his Los Angeles-based company, Fisker Inc., is on the verge of a breakthrough solid-state battery that will give EVs like his sleek new EMotion an extended range and a relatively short charging period.

Fisker Inc. founder Henrik Fisker and his new EMotion electric vehicle CREDIT: Courtesy Company

“With the size of battery pack we have made room for, we could get as much as a 750-kilometer [466-mile] range,” he says. The same battery could reduce charging time to what it currently takes to fill your car with gas.

Traditional lithium-ion batteries, like all others, use a “wet” chemistry– involving liquid or polymer electrolytes–to generate power.

But they also generate resistance when working hard, such as when they are charging or quickly discharging, which creates heat. When not controlled, that heat can become destructive, which is one reason EVs have to charge slowly.

Solid-state batteries, as the name implies, contain no liquid. Because of this, they have very low resistance, so they don’t overheat, which is one of the keys to fast recharging, says Fisker.

But their limited surface area means they have a low electrode-current density, which limits power. Practically speaking, existing solid-state batteries can’t generate enough juice to push a car. Nor do they work well in low temperatures. And they can’t be manufactured at scale.

CREDIT: Courtesy Company

Fisker’s head battery scientist, Fabio Albano, solved these problems by essentially turning a one-story solid-state battery into a multistory one.

“What our scientists have created is the three-dimensional solid-state battery, which we also call a bolt battery,” says Fisker. “They’re thicker, and have over 25 times the surface that a thin-film battery has.

That has allowed us to create enough power to move a vehicle.” The upside of 3-D is that Fisker’s solid-state battery can produce 2.5 times the energy density that lithium-ion batteries can, at perhaps a third of the cost.

Fisker was originally aiming at 2023 production, but its scientists are making such rapid advances that the company is now targeting 2020.

“We’re actually ahead of where we expected to be,” Fisker says. “We have built batteries with better results quicker than we thought.” The company is setting up a pilot plant near its headquarters.

Solid state, however, isn’t problem free. Lower resistance aids in much faster charging, up to a point. “We can create a one-minute charge up to 80 percent,” Fisker says. “It all depends on what we decide the specific performance and chemistry of the battery should be.”

If a one- or two- or five-minute charge gives a driver 250 miles and handles the daily commute, that can solve the range-anxiety issue that has held back EV sales.

Solid-state-battery technology can go well beyond cars. Think about people having a solid-state battery in their garage that could charge from the grid when demand is low, so they don’t pay for peak energy, and then transfer that energy to their car battery. It could also act as an emergency generator if their power goes down. “This is nonflammable and very light,” says Fisker. “It’s more than twice as light as existing lithium-ion batteries. It goes into drones and electric flying taxis.”

Like many designers, Fisker is a bit of dreamer. But he’s also a guy with a track record of putting dreams into motion.

Joy ride.

Henrik Fisker’s car company crashed in the Great Recession, but one of the industry’s flashiest designers quickly got in gear again. His latest piece of automotive art: the EMotion.

Fisker has never created an automobile that didn’t evoke a response. He’s one of the best-known designers in the industry, with mobile masterpieces such as the Fisker Karma, the Aston Martin DB9, and the BMW Z8. It’s only appropriate his latest vehicle has been christened the EMotion.

The curvy, carbon fiber and aluminum all-wheel-drive EV, with its too-cool butterfly doors and cat’s-eye headlights, debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. It will be the first passenger-vehicle offering of the new Fisker Inc.–the previous Fisker Automotive shuttered in 2013, in the aftermath of the Great Recession. (Reborn as Karma Automotive, that company makes the Revero, based on a Fisker design.)

Fisker ran out of funding but not ideas. He quickly got the new company going and has described the EMotion as having “edgy, dramatic, and emotionally charged design/ proportions–complemented with technological innovation that moves us into the future.” The car will come equipped with a Level 4 autonomous driving system, meaning it’s one step away from being completely autonomous.

You might want to drive this one yourself, though. The EMotion sports a 575-kw/780-hp- equivalent power plant that delivers a 160-mph top speed, and goes from 0 to 60 in three seconds. The sticker price is $129,000; the company is currently taking refundable $2,000 deposits.

Though designed to hold the new solid-state battery, the EMotion that will hit the road in mid-2020 has a proprietary battery module from LG Chem that promises a range of 400 miles — Tesla Model S boasts 335. About his comeback car, Fisker says he felt free to be “radically innovative.” For a niche car maker, it might be the only way to remain competitive.

OSTP Forms New Subcommittee to Focus on Quantum Technologies

A close-up of a superconducting qubit chip, about 6mm square. (Michael T. Fang, Martinis Group, UC Santa Barbara / image via National Science Foundation)

The White House honed its focus on quantum information science Friday, forming a new subcommittee tasked with coordinating a national agenda on the role of the emerging technology.

Officials said the Office of Science and Technology Policy will charter a QIS subcommittee within the National Science and Technology Council to help dovetail quantum technology initiatives across the federal government.

“Quantum information science has the potential to revolutionize all manner of industries, open up new fields of discovery and accelerate scientific breakthroughs,” said Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy, in a statement. “Now is the time to build upon and expand that leadership if we are going to realize the true potential of this technology, which will be critical to our future economic growth and national security.”

The move is similar to an anticipated bill from House Science, Space and Technology Committee chair Lamar Smith, R-Texas, that he said would coordinate disparate public and private sector research on quantum technologies.

The White House subcommittee will be chaired by experts from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Energy, National Science Foundation and Jacob Taylor, OSTP’s assistant director for QIS.

The departments of Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Interior and State, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, NASA and the National Security Agency also would reportedly have representation on the subcommittee.

Officials said the new panel’s goal will be to create a national agenda on QIS, address U.S. economic and national security implications from the technology and coordinate federal policy.

The incipient potential of the quantum computing has drawn a lot of attention recently, mostly because its processors work with quantum bits, or qubits, that exist as both a one and a zero at the same time, providing significantly more computing power than current technology and posing a threat to modern cryptography systems.

Congressional leaders have also turned their focus to quantum tech’s potential, especially as nations like China and Russia have invested heavily in it, signaling a potential new global arms race.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., recently introduced legislation directing the Department of Defense to form a Quantum Computing Research Consortium to address the development of quantum communication and quantum computing technology.

The QIS subcommittee will next meet on June 28, officials said in a statement.

Form Energy – A formidable (and notable) Startup Company Tackling the Toughest Problem(s) in Energy Storage

Industry veterans from Tesla, Aquion and A123 are trying to create cost-effective energy storage to last for weeks and months.

A crew of battle-tested cleantech veterans raised serious cash to solve the thorniest problem in clean energy.

As wind and solar power supply more and more of the grid’s electricity, seasonal swings in production become a bigger obstacle. A low- or no-carbon electricity system needs a way to dispatch clean energy on demand, even when wind and solar aren’t producing at their peaks.

Four-hour lithium-ion batteries can help on a given day, but energy storage for weeks or months has yet to arrive at scale.

Into the arena steps Form Energy, a new startup whose founders hope for commercialization not in a couple of years, but in the next decade.

More surprising, they’ve secured $9 million in Series A funding from investors who are happy to wait that long. The funders include both a major oil company and an international consortium dedicated to stopping climate change.

“Renewables have already gotten cheap,” said co-founder Ted Wiley, who worked at saltwater battery company Aquion prior to its bankruptcy. “They are cheaper than thermal generation. In order to foster a change, they need to be just as dependable and just as reliable as the alternative. Only long-duration storage can make that happen.”

It’s hard to overstate just how difficult it will be to deliver.

The members of Form will have to make up the playbook as they go along. The founders, though, have a clear-eyed view of the immense risks. They’ve systematically identified materials that they think can work, and they have a strategy for proving them out.

Wiley and Mateo Jaramillo, who built the energy storage business at Tesla, detailed their plans in an exclusive interview with Greentech Media, describing the pathway to weeks- and months-long energy storage and how it would reorient the entirety of the grid.

The team

Form Energy tackles its improbable mission with a team of founders who have already made their mark on the storage industry, and learned from its most notable failures.

There’s Jaramillo, the former theology student who built the world’s most recognizable stationary storage brand at Tesla before stepping away in late 2016. Soon after, he started work on the unsolved long-duration storage problem with a venture he called Verse Energy.

Separately, MIT professor Yet-Ming Chiang set his sights on the same problem with a new venture, Baseload Renewables. His battery patents made their mark on the industry and launched A123 and 24M. More recently, he’d been working with the Department of Energy’s Joint Center on Energy Storage Research on an aqueous sulfur formula for cost-effective long-duration flow batteries.

He brought on Wiley, who had helped found Aquion and served as vice president of product and corporate strategy before he stepped away in 2015. Measured in real deployments, Aquion led the pack of long-duration storage companies until it suddenly went bankrupt in March 2017.

Chiang and Wiley focused on storing electricity for days to weeks; Jaramillo was looking at weeks to months. MIT’s “tough tech” incubator The Engine put in $2 million in seed funding, while Jaramillo had secured a term sheet of his own. In an unusual move, they elected to join forces rather than compete.

Rounding out the team are Marco Ferrara, the lead storage modeler at IHI who holds two Ph.D.s; and Billy Woodford, an MIT-trained battery scientist and former student of Chiang’s.

The product

Form doesn’t think of itself as a battery company.

It wants to build what Jaramillo calls a “bidirectional power plant,” one which produces renewable energy and delivers it precisely when it is needed. This would create a new class of energy resource: “deterministic renewables.”

By making renewable energy dispatchable throughout the year, this resource could replace the mid-range and baseload power plants that currently burn fossil fuels to supply the grid.

Without such a tool, transitioning to high levels of renewables creates problems.

Countries could overbuild their renewable generation to ensure that the lowest production days still meet demand, but that imposes huge costs and redundancies. One famous 100 percent renewables scenario notoriously relied on a 15x increase in U.S. hydropower capacity to balance the grid in the winter.

The founders are remaining coy about the details of the technology itself.

Jaramillo and Wiley confirmed that both products in development use electrochemical energy storage. The one Chiang started developing uses aqueous sulfur, chosen for its abundance and cheap price relative to its storage ability. Jaramillo has not specified what he chose for seasonal storage.

What I did confirm is that they have been studying all the known materials that can store electricity, and crossing off the ones that definitely won’t work for long duration based on factors like abundance and fundamental cost per embodied energy.

“Because we’ve done the work looking at all the options in the electrochemical set, you can positively prove that almost all of them will not work,” Jaramillo said. “We haven’t been able to prove that these won’t work.”

The company has small-scale prototypes in the lab, but needs to prove that they can scale up to a power plant that’s not wildly expensive. It’s one thing to store energy for months, it’s another to do so at a cost that’s radically lower than currently available products.

“We can’t sit here and tell you exactly what the business model is, but we know that we’re engaged with the right folks to figure out what it is, assuming the technical work is successful,” Jaramillo said.

Given the diversity of power markets around the world, there likely won’t be one single business model.

The bidirectional power plant may bid in just like gas plants do today, but the dynamics of charging up on renewable energy could alter the way it engages with traditional power markets. Then again, power markets themselves could look very different by that time.

If the team can characterize a business case for the technology, the next step will be developing a full-scale pilot. If that works, full deployment comes next.

But don’t bank on that happening in a jiffy.

“It’s a decade-long project,” Jaramillo said. “The first half of that is spent on developing things and the second half is hopefully spent deploying things.”

The backer says

The Form founders had to find financial backers who were comfortable chasing a market that doesn’t exist with a product that won’t arrive for up to a decade.

That would have made for a dubious proposition for cleantech VCs a couple of years ago, but the funding landscape has shifted.

The Engine, an offshoot of MIT, started in 2016 to commercialize “tough tech” with long-term capital.

“We’re here for the long shots, the unimaginable, and the unbelievable,” its website proclaims. That group funded Baseload Renewables with $2 million before it merged into Form.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the entity Bill Gates launched to provide “patient, risk-tolerant capital” for clean energy game-changers, joined for the Series A.

San Francisco venture capital firm Prelude Ventures joined as well. It previously bet on next-gen battery companies like the secretive QuantumScape and Natron Energy.

The round also included infrastructure firm Macquarie Capital, which has shown an interest in owning clean energy assets for the long haul.

Saudi Aramco, one of the largest oil and gas supermajors in the world, is another backer.

Saudi Arabia happens to produce more sulfur than most other countries, as a byproduct of its petrochemical industry.

While the kingdom relies on oil revenues currently, the leadership has committed to investing billions of dollars in clean energy as a way to scope out a more sustainable energy economy.

“It’s very much consistent with all of the oil supermajors taking a hard look at what the future is,” Jaramillo said. “That entire sector is starting to look beyond petrochemicals.”

Indeed, oil majors have emerged as a leading source of cleantech investment in recent months.

BP re-entered the solar industry with a $200 million investment in developer Lightsource. Total made the largest battery acquisition in history when it bought Saft in 2016; it also has a controlling stake in SunPower. Shell has ramped up investments in distributed energy, including the underappreciated thermal energy storage subsegment.

The $9 million won’t put much steel in the ground, but it’s enough to fund the preliminary work refining the technology.

“We would like to come out of this round with a clear understanding of the market need and a clear understanding of exactly how our technology meets the market need,” Wiley said.

The many paths to failure

Throughout the conversation, Jaramillo and Wiley avoided the splashy rhetoric one often hears from new startups intent on saving the world.

Instead, they acknowledge that the project could fail for a multitude of reasons. Here are just a few possibilities:

• The technologies don’t achieve radically lower cost.

• They can’t last for the 20- to 25-year lifetime expected of infrastructural assets.

• Power markets don’t allow this type of asset to be compensated.

• Financiers don’t consider the product bankable.

• Societies build a lot more transmission lines.

• Carbon capture technology removes the greenhouse gases from conventional generation.

• Small modular nuclear plants get permitting, providing zero-carbon energy on demand.

• The elusive hydrogen economy materializes.

Those last few scenarios face problems of their own. Transmission lines cost billions of dollars and provoke fierce local opposition.

Carbon capture technology hasn’t worked economically yet, although many are trying.

Small modular reactors face years of scrutiny before they can even get permission to operate in the U.S.

The costliness of hydrogen has thwarted wide-scale adoption.

One thing the Form Energy founders are not worried about is that lithium-ion makes an end run around their technology on price. That tripped up the initial wave of flow batteries, Wiley noted.

“By the time they were technically mature enough to be deployed, lithium-ion had declined in price to be at or below the price that they could deploy at,” he said.

Those early flow batteries, though, weren’t delivering much longer duration than commercially available lithium-ion. When the storage has to last for weeks or months, the cost of lithium-ion components alone makes it prohibitive.

“Our view is, just from a chemical standpoint, [lithium-ion] is not capable of declining another order of magnitude, but there does seem to be a need for storage that is an order of magnitude cheaper and an order of magnitude longer in duration than is currently being deployed,” Wiley explained.

They also plan to avoid a scenario that helped bring down many a storage startup, Aquion and A123 included: investing lots of capital in a factory before the market had arrived.

Form Energy isn’t building small commoditized products; it’s constructing a power plant.

“When we say we’re building infrastructure, we mean that this is intended to be infrastructure,” Wiley said.

So far, at least, there isn’t much competition to speak of in the super-long duration battery market.

That could start to change. Now that brand-name investors have gotten involved, others are sure to take notice. The Department of Energy launched its own long-duration storage funding opportunity in May, targeting the 10- to 100-hour range.

It may be years before Form’s investigations produce results, if they ever do.

But the company has already succeeded in expanding the realm of what’s plausible and fundable in the energy storage industry.

* From Greentech Media J. Spector

Turbocharge for lithium batteries: A NEW Nanocomposite material that can Increase Storage Capacity, Lifetime and Charging Speed for Li-Io Batteries: 3X More Energy in ONE Hour

renaissanceoA team of material researchers has succeeded in producing a composite material that is particularly suited for electrodes in lithium batteries. The nanocomposite material might help to significantly increase the storage capacity and lifetime of batteries as well as their charging speed. 

Lithium-ion batteries are the ultimate benchmark when it comes to mobile phones, tablet devices, and electric cars. Their storage capacity and power density are far superior to other rechargeable battery systems. Despite all the progress that has been made, however, smartphone batteries only last a day and electric cars need hours to be recharged. Scientists are therefore working on ways to improve the power densities and charging rates of all-round batteries. “An important factor is the anode material,” explains Dina Fattakhova-Rohlfing from the Institute of Energy and Climate Research (IEK-1).

“In principle, anodes based on tin dioxide can achieve much higher specific capacities, and therefore store more energy, than the carbon anodes currently being used. They have the ability to absorb more lithium ions,” says Fattakhova-Rohlfing. “Pure tin oxide, however, exhibits very weak cycle stability — the storage capability of the batteries steadily decreases and they can only be recharged a few times. The volume of the anode changes with each charging and discharging cycle, which leads to it crumbling.”

One way of addressing this problem is hybrid materials or nanocomposites — composite materials that contain nanoparticles. The scientists developed a material comprising tin oxide nanoparticles enriched with antimony, on a base layer of graphene. The graphene basis aids the structural stability and conductivity of the material. The tin oxide particles are less than three nanometres in size — in other words less than three millionths of a millimetre — and are directly “grown” on the graphene. The small size of the particle and its good contact with the graphene layer also improves its tolerance to volume changes — the lithium cell becomes more stable and lasts longer. turbocharge batt 1

Three times more energy in one hour

“Enriching the nanoparticles with antimony ensures the material is extremely conductive,” explains Fattakhova-Rohlfing. “This makes the anode much quicker, meaning that it can store one-and-a-half times more energy in just one minute than would be possible with conventional graphite anodes. It can even store three times more energy for the usual charging time of one hour.”

“Such high energy densities were only previously achieved with low charging rates,” says Fattakhova-Rohlfing. “Faster charging cycles always led to a quick reduction in capacity.” The antimony-doped anodes developed by the scientists, however, retain 77 % of their original capacity even after 1,000 cycles.

“The nanocomposite anodes can be produced in an easy and cost-effective way. And the applied concepts can also be used for the design of other anode materials for lithium-ion batteries,” explains Fattakhova-Rohlfing. “We hope that our development will pave the way for lithium-ion batteries with a significantly increased energy density and very short charging time.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by Forschungszentrum JuelichNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Florian Zoller, Kristina Peters, Peter M. Zehetmaier, Patrick Zeller, Markus Döblinger, Thomas Bein, Zdeneˇk Sofer, Dina Fattakhova-Rohlfing. Making Ultrafast High-Capacity Anodes for Lithium-Ion Batteries via Antimony Doping of Nanosized Tin Oxide/Graphene CompositesAdvanced Functional Materials, 2018; 28 (23): 1706529 DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201706529

Are Sustainable Super-capacitors from Wood (yes w-o-o-d) the Answer for the Future of Energy Storage? Researchers at UST China Think ‘Nano-Cellulose’ may Hold the Key

Supercapacitors are touted by many as the wave of the future when it comes to battery storage for everything from cell phones to electric cars.

Unlike batteries, supercapacitors can charge and discharge much more rapidly — a boon for impatient drivers who want to be able to charge their electric cars quickly.

The key to supercap performance is electrodes with a large surface area and high conductivity that are inexpensive to manufacture, according to Science Daily.

Carbon aerogels satisfy the first two requirements but have significant drawbacks. Some are made from phenolic precursors which are inexpensive but not environmentally friendly. Others are made from  graphene and carbon nanotube precursors but are costly to manufacture.

Researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China have discovered a new process that is low cost and sustainable using nanocellulose, the primary component of wood pulp that gives strength to the cell walls of trees.

Once extracted in the lab, it forms a stable, highly porous network which when oxidized forms a micro-porous hydrogel of highly oriented cellulose nano-fibrils of uniform width and length.

Like most scientific research, there was not a straight line between the initial discovery and the final process.

A lot of tweaking went on in the lab to get things to work just right. Eventually, it was found that heating the hydrogel in the presence of para-toluenesulfonic acid, an organic acid catalyst, lowered the decomposition temperature and yielded a “mechanically stable and porous three dimensional nano-fibrous network” featuring a “large specific surface area and high electrical conductivity,” the researchers say in a report published by the journal Angewandte Chemie International.

The chemists have been able to create a low cost, environmentally friendly wood-based carbon aerogel that works well as a binder-free electrode for supercapacitor applications with electro-chemical properties comparable to commercial electrodes currently in use.

Now the hard work of transitioning this discovery from the laboratory to commercial viability will begin. Contributed by Steve Hanley

Watch Tenka Energy’s YouTube Video

Tenka Energy, Inc. Building Ultra-Thin Energy Dense SuperCaps and NexGen Nano-Enabled Pouch & Cylindrical Batteries – Energy Storage Made Small and POWERFUL!

Graphene smart contact lenses could give you thermal infrared and UV vision

A breakthrough in graphene imaging technology means you might soon have a smart contact lens, or other ultra-thin device, with a built-in camera that also gives you infrared “heat vision.” By sandwiching two layers of graphene together, engineers at the University of Michigan have created an ultra-broadband graphene imaging sensor that is ultra-broadband (it can capture everything from visible light all the way up to mid-infrared) — but more importantly, unlike other devices that can see far into the infrared spectrum, it operates well at room temperature.

As you probably know by now, graphene has some rather miraculous properties — including, as luck would have it, a very strong effect when it’s struck by photons (light energy). Basically, when graphene is struck by a photon, an electron absorbs that energy and becomes a hot carrier — an effect that can be measured, processed, and turned into an image. The problem, however, is that graphene is incredibly thin (just one atom thick) and transparent — and so it only absorbs around 2.3% of the light that hits it. With so little light striking it, there just aren’t enough hot carrier electrons to be reliably detected. (Yes, this is one of those rare cases where being transparent and super-thin is actually a bad thing.)

Zhaohui Zhong and friends at the University of Michigan, however, have devised a solution to this problem. They still use a single layer of graphene as the primary photodetector — but then they put an insulating dielectric beneath it, and then another layer of graphene beneath that. When light strikes the top layer, the hot carrier tunnels through the dielectric to the other side, creating a charge build-up and strong change in conductance. In effect, they have created a phototransistor that amplifies the small number of absorbed photons absorbed by the top layer (gate) into a large change in the bottom layer’s conductance (channel).

In numerical terms, raw graphene generally produces a few milliamps of power per watt of light energy (mA/W) —  the Michigan phototransistor, however, is around 1 A/W, or around 100 times more sensitive. This is around the same sensitivity as CMOS silicon imaging sensors in commercial digital cameras.

The prototype device created by Zhong and co. is already “smaller than a pinky nail” and can be easily scaled down. By far the most exciting aspect here is the ultra-broadband sensitivity — while the silicon sensor in your smartphone can only register visible light, graphene is sensitive to a much wider range of wavelengths, from ultraviolet at the bottom, all the way to far-infrared at the top.

In this case, the Michigan phototransistor is sensitive to visible light and up to mid-infrared — but it’s entirely possible that a future device would cover UV and far-IR as well.

There are imaging technologies that can see in the UV and IR ranges, but they generally require bulky cryogenic cooling equipment; the graphene phototransistor, on the other hand, is so sensitive that it works at room temperature. [Research paper: doi:10.1038/nnano.2014.31 – “Graphene photodetectors with ultra-broadband and high responsivity at room temperature”]

Now, I think we can all agree that a smartphone that can capture UV and IR would be pretty damn awesome — but because this is ultra-thin-and-light-and-efficient graphene we’re talking about, the potential, futuristic applications are far more exciting. For me, the most exciting possibility is building graphene imaging technology into smart contact lenses. At first, you might just use this data to take awesome photos of the environment, or to give you you night/thermal vision through a display built into the contact lens. In the future, though, as bionic eyes and retinal implants improve, we might use this graphene imaging tech to wire UV and IR vision directly into our brains.

Imagine if you could look up at the sky, and instead of seeing the normal handful of stars, you saw this:

The Milky Way, as seen by NASA’s infrared Spitzer telescope

That’d be pretty sweet.

New Simple Blood Test can Detect Alzheimer’s 30 Years in Advance + Can Also Detect 8 Cancers: Videos

New Simple Blood Test can Detect Alzheimer’s 30 Years in Advance + Can Also Detect 8 Cancers


Watch the Videos Below

Detecting Alzheimer’s 30 Years in Advance

8 Cancers Detected with ONE Simple Blood Test

Paper Biomass Could Yield Lithium-Sulfur Batteries

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

A byproduct of the papermaking industry could be the answer to creating long-lasting lithium-sulfur batteries.

A team from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has created a method to use sulfonated carbon waste called lignosulfonate to build a rechargeable lithium-sulfur battery.

Lignosulfonate is typically combusted on site, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere after sulfur has been captured for reuse. A battery built with the abundant and cheap material could be used to power big data centers, as well as provide a cheaper energy-storage option for microgrids and the traditional electric grid.

“Our research demonstrates the potential of using industrial paper-mill byproducts to design sustainable, low-cost electrode materials for lithium-sulfur batteries,” Trevor Simmons, a Rensselaer research scientist who developed the technology with his colleagues at the Center for Future Energy Systems (CFES), said in a statement.

Rechargeable batteries have two electrodes—a positive cathode and a negative anode. A liquid electrolyte is placed in between the electrodes to serve as a medium for the chemical reactions that produce electric current. In a lithium-sulfur battery, the cathode is made of a sulfur-carbon matrix and the anode is comprised of a lithium metal oxide.

Sulfur is nonconductive in its elemental form. When combined with carbon at elevated temperatures it becomes highly conductive, but can easily dissolve into a battery’s electrolyte, causing the electrodes on either side to deteriorate after only a few cycles.

Different forms of carbon, like nanotubes and complex carbon foams, have been tried to confine the sulfur in place, but have not been successful.

“Our method provides a simple way to create an optimal sulfur-based cathode from a single raw material,” Simmons said.

The research team developed a dark syrupy substance dubbed “brown liquor,” which they dried and then heated to about 700 degrees Celsius in a quartz tube furnace.

The high heat drives off most of the sulfur gas, while retaining some of the sulfur as polysulfides—chains of sulfur atoms—that are embedded deep within an activated carbon matrix. The heating process is then repeated until the correct amount of sulfur is trapped within the carbon matrix.

The researchers then ground up the material and mix it with an inert polymer binder to create a cathode coating on aluminum foil.

Thus far, the team has created a lithium-sulfur battery prototype the size of a watch battery that can cycle approximately 200 times.

They will now attempt to scale up the prototype to markedly increase the discharge rate and the battery’s cycle life.

“In repurposing this biomass, the researchers working with CFES are making a significant contribution to environmental preservation while building a more efficient battery that could provide a much-needed boost for the energy storage industry,” Martin Byrne, CFES director of business development, said in a statement.