Rice University Expands LIG (laser induced graphene) Research and Applications: Supercapacitor, an Electrocatalyst for Fuel Cells, RFID’s and Biological Sensors


J Tour Graphene on Toast 162948_webIMAGE: THIS IS RICE UNIVERSITY GRADUATE STUDENT YIEU CHYAN, LEFT, AND PROFESSOR JAMES TOUR. view more  CREDIT: JEFF FITLOW/RICE UNIVERSITY

Rice University scientists who introduced laser-induced graphene (LIG) have enhanced their technique to produce what may become a new class of edible electronics.

The Rice lab of chemist James Tour, which once turned Girl Scout cookies into graphene, is investigating ways to write graphene patterns onto food and other materials to quickly embed conductive identification tags and sensors into the products themselves.

“This is not ink,” Tour said. “This is taking the material itself and converting it into graphene.”

The process is an extension of the Tour lab’s contention that anything with the proper carbon content can be turned into graphene. In recent years, the lab has developed and expanded upon its method to make graphene foam by using a commercial laser to transform the top layer of an inexpensive polymer film.

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Laser-Induced graphene supercapacitors may be the future of wearables

The foam consists of microscopic, cross-linked flakes of graphene, the two-dimensional form of carbon. LIG can be written into target materials in patterns and used as a supercapacitor, an electrocatalyst for fuel cells, radio-frequency identification (RFID) antennas and biological sensors, among other potential applications.

The new work reported in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano demonstrated that laser-induced graphene can be burned into paper, cardboard, cloth, coal and certain foods, even toast.

“Very often, we don’t see the advantage of something until we make it available,” Tour said. “Perhaps all food will have a tiny RFID tag that gives you information about where it’s been, how long it’s been stored, its country and city of origin and the path it took to get to your table.”

He said LIG tags could also be sensors that detect E. coli or other microorganisms on food. “They could light up and give you a signal that you don’t want to eat this,” Tour said. “All that could be placed not on a separate tag on the food, but on the food itself.”

Multiple laser passes with a defocused beam allowed the researchers to write LIG patterns into cloth, paper, potatoes, coconut shells and cork, as well as toast. (The bread is toasted first to “carbonize” the surface.) The process happens in air at ambient temperatures.

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“In some cases, multiple lasing creates a two-step reaction,” Tour said. “First, the laser photothermally converts the target surface into amorphous carbon. Then on subsequent passes of the laser, the selective absorption of infrared light turns the amorphous carbon into LIG. We discovered that the wavelength clearly matters.”

The researchers turned to multiple lasing and defocusing when they discovered that simply turning up the laser’s power didn’t make better graphene on a coconut or other organic materials. But adjusting the process allowed them to make a micro supercapacitor in the shape of a Rice “R” on their twice-lased coconut skin.

Defocusing the laser sped the process for many materials as the wider beam allowed each spot on a target to be lased many times in a single raster scan. That also allowed for fine control over the product, Tour said. Defocusing allowed them to turn previously unsuitable polyetherimide into LIG.

“We also found we could take bread or paper or cloth and add fire retardant to them to promote the formation of amorphous carbon,” said Rice graduate student Yieu Chyan, co-lead author of the paper. “Now we’re able to take all these materials and convert them directly in air without requiring a controlled atmosphere box or more complicated methods.”

The common element of all the targeted materials appears to be lignin, Tour said. An earlier study relied on lignin, a complex organic polymer that forms rigid cell walls, as a carbon precursor to burn LIG in oven-dried wood. Cork, coconut shells and potato skins have even higher lignin content, which made it easier to convert them to graphene.

Tour said flexible, wearable electronics may be an early market for the technique. “This has applications to put conductive traces on clothing, whether you want to heat the clothing or add a sensor or conductive pattern,” he said.

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Rice alumnus Ruquan Ye is co-lead author of the study. Co-authors are Rice graduate student Yilun Li and postdoctoral fellow Swatantra Pratap Singh and Professor Christopher Arnusch of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. Tour is the T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry as well as a professor of computer science and of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice.

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research supported the research.

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HyperSolar Announces Impressive Catalyst Stability for Solar Hydrogen Production


Hyper Solar download

HyperSolar, Inc. the developer of a breakthrough technology to produce renewable hydrogen using sunlight and any source of water, announced today a significant improvement of its proprietary low-cost 3-dimensional oxygen catalyst.

The amount of hydrogen produced by water splitting is fundamentally limited by the slower oxygen half reaction.  Developing an efficient and stable oxygen catalyst is an important milestone in the Company’s effort to split water molecules for the production of renewable hydrogen. Recent catalyst optimization and performance testing by HyperSolar and the University of Iowa demonstrated its high efficiency oxygen catalyst working for over 190 hours, and still running without loss of efficiency.  In comparison to existing state-of-the-art photo-electrochemical technologies, this represents a significant advancement in terms of stability for catalysts made of entirely inexpensive earth abundant elements.

 

“Solar hydrogen production is challenged by the efficiency of the catalyst and the solar cell, and the risk of their instability in the harsh water conditions of photo-electrochemical reactions,” said Dr. Joun Lee, CTO of HyperSolar.  “This successful development of the 3D catalyst is an important milestone for achieving high hydrogen production efficiency for a long period of operation, which contributes to lowering the hydrogen production cost.  We are now in the process of further proving the stability of the 3D oxygen catalyst in a fully integrated solar-to-hydrogen device. We expect the device-level stability to be over 190 hours as well since the oxygen reaction is the primary limiter of device-level performance.”

This catalyst is designed for the Company’s first generation hydrogen system that uses commercially available and inexpensive amorphous triple junction silicon solar (a-Si) cells.

Tim Young, CEO of HyperSolar, commented, “Our goal with the a-Si system is to demonstrate at least 365 hours of stable hydrogen production under intensive operating conditions.  By doing so, we will have simulated one year of operating life of our technology, which we believe will make our technology commercially attractive in various hydrogen markets.  We believe that 1 year of stable operation can make conventional electrolyzer-based renewable hydrogen obsolete, and open up new markets due to our lower cost.”

About HyperSolar, Inc.
HyperSolar is developing a breakthrough, low cost technology to make renewable hydrogen using sunlight and any source of water, including seawater and wastewater. Unlike hydrocarbon fuels, such as oil, coal and natural gas, where carbon dioxide and other contaminants are released into the atmosphere when used, hydrogen fuel usage produces pure water as the only byproduct. By optimizing the science of water electrolysis at the nano-level, our low cost nanoparticles mimic photosynthesis to efficiently use sunlight to separate hydrogen from water, to produce environmentally friendly renewable hydrogen. Using our low cost method to produce renewable hydrogen, we intend to enable a world of distributed hydrogen production for renewable electricity and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  To learn more about HyperSolar, please visit our website at www.hypersolar.com.

 

Nikola Plans $1 Billion Buckeye, Arizona Fuel Cell Truck Factory


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Hydrogen-electric semi-truck startup Nikola Motor Co. plans to build a $1 billion factory in a Phoenix suburb.

The company detailed its plans Tuesday in a joint announcement with Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.

The fuel cell truck developer said it will build a 500-acre, 1 million square foot facility west of Phoenix in Buckeye.

Trevor Milton, Nikola’s chief executive, and Ducey said the plant will create 2,000 jobs and bring more than $1 billion in capital investment to the region by 2024.

Arizona will provide up to $46.5 million in various job training and tax abatement incentives. But the package is performance-based and Nikola benefits only if it makes investments in plant and employees, said Susan E. Marie, senior vice president of the Arizona Commerce Authority.

“Arizona has the workforce to support our growth and a governor that was an entrepreneur himself. They understood what 2,000 jobs would mean to their cities and state,” Milton said.

Nikola will relocate its headquarters and research and development team from Salt Lake City to Arizona by October.

Nikola says it has 8,000 pre-orders for its fuel cell truck.

Ryder System Inc. will serve as Nikola’s exclusive provider for distribution and maintenance nationwide and in parts of Mexico. Caterpillar dealer and early Nikola investor Thompson Machinery will supplement Ryder’s sales and services in Tennessee and Mississippi.

Nikola said its Nikola One sleeper and Nikola Two day cab trucks will be able to run up to 1,200 miles between refueling stops.  The company plans to lease the trucks to users. It will supply fuel as part of the lease cost through a nationwide network of 376 hydrogen fueling stations. It still has to build the network.

The powertrain is rated by the company at 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 pound-feet of torque, which analysts said fits the need for long haul trucking.

“This incredible new technology will revolutionize transportation, and we’re very proud it will be engineered right here in Arizona,” Ducey said. Nikola’s “selection of Arizona demonstrates that we are leading the charge when it comes to attracting innovative, industry-disrupting companies.”

While the factory is under construction truck components company Fitzgerald Gliders will build the first 5,000 production models.

Nikola Motor CEO Trevor Milton and his dog Taffy.

Nikola did not provide any details on how it would fund building the factory.  But in December, truck components company Wabco Holdings acquired a 1 percent stake in Nikola for  $10 million. That deal valued the startup at $1 billion.

The company also raised $110 million in a funding round last year.

“A key challenge for Nikola is to demonstrate that they can raise the significant capital necessary to be a true competitor in this space,” said John Boesel, chief executive of Pasadena-based clean transportation incubator Calstart.

However, Boesel said there is room for Nikola.

“Zero emission truck technology is rapidly evolving,” he said. “There is the opportunity for disruptive companies like Nikola to come into this space.”

Nikola has partnered with well-regarded truck components manufacturers, a smart move that builds confidence in potential customers, said Antti Lindstrom, an analyst with IHS Markit.

It has tapped parts supplier Bosch for joint development of powertrain systems for the Nikola One and the Nikola Two. Bosch also has worked with Nikola to develop the truck’s “eAxle,” which houses the electric motor, transmission and power electronics.

Swedish fuel cell developer PowerCell AB will provide the fuel cell stacks that produce electricity from hydrogen, and Nikola will build the completed fuel cell system.

Nikola plans field tests of truck prototypes this fall using the Nikola Two truck and Nikola test divers. Real-world testing with potential fleet customers will come after that. Testing of the Nikola One sleeper truck will begin later.

“I believe the fuel cell solution is better than battery electric trucks for long haul deliveries,” Lindstrom said. “You don’t have the same weight issue that you have with heavy batteries.”

That allows trucks to have a longer range between fueling and enables heavier freight loads, he said.

“This is a technology that is here and now,” Lindstrom said. “It doesn’t require advancement in technology that battery electric long-haul trucks will require.”

Nikola, however, faces potential competition from well capitalized and mature rivals.

Other players include Toyota, which is testing a Class 8 fuel cell electric drayage truck in Southern California. Kenworth, the Paccar brand, is developing a Class 8 hydrogen fuel cell electric truck prototype.

A host of companies including Tesla, Daimler Trucks, Volvo Trucks, Navistar and Cummins are working on electric trucks that could compete with fuel cell commercial vehicles.

Milton said Nikola settled on Buckeye following a 12-month site selection process that considered nine states and 30 different locations. He said he liked the city’s economic environment, engineering schools, educated workforce and geographic location that provides direct access to major markets.

“The Greater Phoenix region is elevating its brand as a hub for innovation, and companies such as Nikola have taken notice,” said Chris Camacho, chief executive of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

Read Next: The Economic Case For The Tesla Semi-Truck

New fuel cell technology runs on solid carbon


New Fuel Cell Solid Carbon 160820_webAdvancements allow the fuel cell to utilize about three times as much carbon as earlier direct carbon fuel cell (DCFC) designs

DOE/IDAHO NATIONAL LABORATORY

IDAHO FALLS — Advancements in a fuel cell technology powered by solid carbon could make electricity generation from resources such as coal and biomass cleaner and more efficient, according to a new paper published by Idaho National Laboratory researchers.

The fuel cell design incorporates innovations in three components: the anode, the electrolyte and the fuel. Together, these advancements allow the fuel cell to utilize about three times as much carbon as earlier direct carbon fuel cell (DCFC) designs.

The fuel cells also operate at lower temperatures and showed higher maximum power densities than earlier DCFCs, according to INL materials engineer Dong Ding. The results appear in this week’s edition of the journal Advanced Materials.

Whereas hydrogen fuel cells (e.g., proton exchange membrane (PEM) and other fuel cells) generate electricity from the chemical reaction between pure hydrogen and oxygen, DCFCs can use any number of carbon-based resources for fuel, including coal, coke, tar, biomass and organic waste.

Because DCFCs make use of readily available fuels, they are potentially more efficient than conventional hydrogen fuel cells. “You can skip the energy-intensive step of producing hydrogen,” Ding said.

But earlier DCFC designs have several drawbacks: They require high temperatures — 700 to 900 degrees Celsius — which makes them less efficient and less durable. Further, as a consequence of those high temperatures, they’re typically constructed of expensive materials that can handle the heat.

Also, early DCFC designs aren’t able to effectively utilize the carbon fuel.

Ding and his colleagues addressed these challenges by designing a true direct carbon fuel cell that’s capable of operating at lower temperatures — below 600 degrees Celsius. The fuel cell makes use of solid carbon, which is finely ground and injected via an airstream into the cell. The researchers tackled the need for high temperatures by developing an electrolyte using highly conductive materials — doped cerium oxide and carbonate. These materials maintain their performance under lower temperatures.

Next, they increased carbon utilization by developing a 3-D ceramic textile anode design that interlaces bundles of fibers together like a piece of cloth. The fibers themselves are hollow and porous. All of these features combine to maximize the amount of surface area that’s available for a chemical reaction with the carbon fuel.

Finally, the researchers developed a composite fuel made from solid carbon and carbonate. “At the operating temperature, that composite is fluidlike,” Ding said. “It can easily flow into the interface.”

The molten carbonate carries the solid carbon into the hollow fibers and the pinholes of the anode, increasing the power density of the fuel cell.

The resulting fuel cell looks like a green, ceramic watch battery that’s about as thick as a piece of construction paper. A larger square is 10 centimeters on each side. The fuel cells can be stacked on top of one another depending on the application. The Advanced Materials journal posted a video abstract here: https://youtu.be/M_wOsvze2qI.

The technology has the potential for improved utilization of carbon fuels, such as coal and biomass, because direct carbon fuel cells produce carbon dioxide without the mixture of other gases and particulates found in smoke from coal-fired power plants, for example. This makes it easier to implement carbon capture technologies, Ding said.

The advanced DCFC design has already attracted notice from industry. Ding and his colleagues are partnering with Salt Lake City-based Storagenergy, Inc., to apply for a Department of Energy Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)-Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Funding Opportunity. The results will be announced in February 2018. A Canadian energy-related company has also shown interest in these DCFC technologies.

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Idaho National Laboratory is one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories. The laboratory performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory is the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance.

See more INL news at http://www.inl.gov. Follow @INL on Twitter or visit our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/IdahoNationalLaboratory.

A Step Closer for Clean Fuel: New Catalyst (Carbon-Based Nanocomposites) for Hydrogen Production


Flask in scientist handCarbon-based nanocomposite with embedded metal ions yields impressive performance as catalyst for electrolysis of water to generate hydrogen

A nanostructured composite material developed at UC Santa Cruz has shown impressive performance as a catalyst for the electrochemical splitting of water to produce hydrogen. An efficient, low-cost catalyst is essential for realizing the promise of hydrogen as a clean, environmentally friendly fuel.

Researchers led by Shaowei Chen, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz, have been investigating the use of carbon-based nanostructured materials as catalysts for the reaction that generates hydrogen from water. In one recent study, they obtained good results by incorporating ruthenium ions into a sheet-like nanostructure composed of carbon nitride. Performance was further improved by combining the ruthenium-doped carbon nitride with graphene, a sheet-like form of carbon, to form a layered composite.

“The bonding chemistry of ruthenium with nitrogen in these nanostructured materials plays a key role in the high catalytic performance,” Chen said. “We also showed that the stability of the catalyst is very good.”

The new findings were published in ChemSusChem, a top journal covering sustainable chemistry and energy materials, and the paper is featured on the cover of the January 10 issue. First author Yi Peng, a graduate student in Chen’s lab, led the study and designed the cover image.

Hydrogen has long been attractive as a clean and renewable fuel. A hydrogen fuel cell powering an electric vehicle, for example, emits only water vapor. Currently, however, hydrogen production still depends heavily on fossil fuels (mostly using steam to extract it from natural gas). Finding a low-cost, efficient way to extract hydrogen from water through electrolysis would be a major breakthrough. Electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind power, which can be intermittent and unreliable, could then be easily stored and distributed as hydrogen fuel.Figs-2A-and-2B

Polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) water electrolysis cell Figure 2B (right): Schematic of an electrochemical energy producer. PEM hydrogen /oxygen fuel …

Currently, the most efficient catalysts for the electrochemical reaction that generates hydrogen from water are based on platinum, which is scarce and expensive. Carbon-based materials have shown promise, but their performance has not come close to that of platinum-based catalysts.

In the new composite material developed by Chen’s lab, the ruthenium ions embedded in the carbon nitride nanosheets change the distribution of electrons in the matrix, creating more active sites for the binding of protons to generate hydrogen. Adding graphene to the structure further enhances the redistribution of electrons.

water-splitting 2

 

“The graphene forms a sandwich structure with the carbon nitride nanosheets and results in further redistribution of electrons. This gives us greater proton reduction efficiencies,” Chen said.

The electrocatalytic performance of the composite was comparable to that of commercial platinum catalysts, the authors reported. Chen noted, however, that researchers still have a long way to go to achieve cheap and efficient hydrogen production.

In addition to Peng and Chen, coauthors of the study include Wanzhang Pan and Jia-En Liu at UC Santa Cruz and Nan Wang at South China University of Technology. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the NASA-funded Merced Nanomaterials Center for Energy and Sensing.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California – Santa Cruz. Original written by Tim Stephens. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Yi Peng, Wanzhang Pan, Nan Wang, Jia-En Lu, Shaowei Chen. Ruthenium Ion-Complexed Graphitic Carbon Nitride Nanosheets Supported on Reduced Graphene Oxide as High-Performance Catalysts for Electrochemical Hydrogen EvolutionChemSusChem, 2018; 11 (1): 130 DOI: 10.1002/cssc.201701880

Rice University Study Boosts Hope for Cheaper Fuel Cells


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Rice researchers show how to optimize nanomaterials for fuel-cell cathodes

Nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes or modified graphene nanoribbons may be suitable replacements for platinum for fast oxygen reduction, the key reaction in fuel cells that transform chemical energy into electricity, according to Rice University researchers.

The findings are from computer simulations by Rice scientists who set out to see how carbon nanomaterials can be improved for fuel-cell cathodes. Their study reveals the atom-level mechanisms by which doped nanomaterials catalyze oxygen reduction reactions (ORR).

The research appears in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Nanoscale.

Theoretical physicist Boris Yakobson and his Rice colleagues are among many looking for a way to speed up ORR for fuel cells, which were discovered in the 19th century but not widely used until the latter part of the 20th. They have since powered transportation modes ranging from cars and buses to spacecraft.

The Rice researchers, including lead author and former postdoctoral associate Xiaolong Zou and graduate student Luqing Wang, used computer simulations to discover why graphene nanoribbons and carbon nanotubes modified with nitrogen and/or boron, long studied as a substitute for expensive platinum, are so sluggish and how they can be improved.

Doping, or chemically modifying, conductive nanotubes or nanoribbons changes their chemical bonding characteristics. They can then be used as cathodes in proton-exchange membrane fuel cells. In a simple fuel cell, anodes draw in hydrogen fuel and separate it into protons and electrons. While the negative electrons flow out as usable current, the positive protons are drawn to the cathode, where they recombine with returning electrons and oxygen to produce water.

The models showed that thinner carbon nanotubes with a relatively high concentration of nitrogen would perform best, as oxygen atoms readily bond to the carbon atom nearest the nitrogen. Nanotubes have an advantage over nanoribbons because of their curvature, which distorts chemical bonds around their circumference and leads to easier binding, the researchers found.

Rice logo_rice3The tricky bit is making a catalyst that is neither too strong nor too weak as it bonds with oxygen. The curve of the nanotube provides a way to tune the nanotubes’ binding energy, according to the researchers, who determined that “ultrathin” nanotubes with a radius between 7 and 10 angstroms would be ideal. (An angstrom is one ten-billionth of a meter; for comparison, a typical atom is about 1 angstrom in diameter.)

They also showed co-doping graphene nanoribbons with nitrogen and boron enhances the oxygen-absorbing abilities of ribbons with zigzag edges. In this case, oxygen finds a double-bonding opportunity. First, they attach directly to positively charged boron-doped sites. Second, they’re drawn by carbon atoms with high spin charge, which interacts with the oxygen atoms’ spin-polarized electron orbitals. While the spin effect enhances adsorption, the binding energy remains weak, also achieving a balance that allows for good catalytic performance.

The researchers showed the same catalytic principles held true, but to lesser effect, for nanoribbons with armchair edges.

“While doped nanotubes show good promise, the best performance can probably be achieved at the nanoribbon zigzag edges where nitrogen substitution can expose the so-called pyridinic nitrogen, which has known catalytic activity,” Yakobson said.

“If arranged in a foam-like configuration, such material can approach the efficiency of platinum,” Wang said. “If price is a consideration, it would certainly be competitive.”

Zou is now an assistant professor at Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute in Shenzhen City, China. Yakobson is the Karl F. Hasselmann Professor of Materials Science and NanoEngineering and a professor of chemistry.

The research was supported by the Robert Welch Foundation, the Army Research Office, the Development and Reform Commission of Shenzhen Municipality, the Youth 1000-Talent Program of China and Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute.

Nikola Motors – Daimler – Toyota Challenge Tesla’s Metrics for the ‘Long-Haul’ – Will the Best Zero-Emissions Semi (Trucks) Run on Fuel Cells? Next-Gen Batteries? Both?


Toyota’s Project Portal and … a possibly “game-changing” semi from upstart Nikola Motors might prove FCEVs are the winning tech for the long-haul industry.

Last month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk rode onto the dais at Tesla’s design studio in Hawthorne, California aboard a futuristic semi truck.

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He exited the vehicle, collar popped, to introduce what looked to be a sleeker version of the colossal, decidedly unsexy commercial vehicles that rumble endlessly across America—and received the type of hysterical fanfare usually reserved for the Beyonces and Biebers of the world.

This marked one of the most anticipated, and curious, new-vehicle reveals of 2017: the Tesla Semi, a battery-electric-powered long-haul truck.

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In his signature #humblebrag tone, Musk ticked off the Class 8 truck’s impressive capabilities: It can tow 80,000 pounds, the most allowed on US highways, for a range of 500 miles.

It has aerodynamics better than a Bugatti Chiron, a unique central seating position, and comes standard with enhanced AutoPilot, meaning it should never jackknife.

Also: it’s guaranteed not to break down for one million miles; it has a shatterproof windshield; and it implements a kinetic-energy-recovery system (KERS) in such a way that it will never need brake pads – in short WOW!

Plus, with a motor on each of the four rear wheels, it can rocket from 0-60 mph in five seconds flat—one-third the time of the average diesel semi.

Even fully loaded, that number increases to a scant 20 seconds, or a full minute faster than its smog-belching contemporaries. When towing up a five-percent grade, the Tesla can reach speeds of 65 mph, which is 20 mph faster than a diesel.

Taken in aggregate, these features and numbers would greatly benefit a trucker’s route in both speed and cost savings. They are eye-popping metrics; almost unbelievable. Which is perhaps why some are having a hard time believing them.

More important than what Musk said during his November announcement was what he didn’t say. For instance, there was no mention at all about the battery pack that will power the Tesla Semi to these magical thresholds. There was no mention of total weight or cost, which are arguably the two most important variables for long-haul shippers.

In terms of charging these unknown batteries, Musk promised a 400-mile recharge in the course of about 30 minutes. Based on recent estimates in Bloomberg New Energy Finance, hitting those numbers would require a charging system ten times more powerful than Tesla’s own Superchargers—currently the fastest consumer charging network in the world.

The cost building stations that could hit those figures would be profound, as would be the potential stress on the electrical system from multiple trucks charging simultaneously.

Bloomberg estimated that in order to fulfill Musk’s promises the truck would require a battery capacity between 600 and 1,000 kilowatt-hours.

Assuming a down-the-middle number of 800 kWh, that would necessitate a battery of more than 10,000 pounds, with a likely price tag north of $100,000. Musk also claims the Semi will be 20 percent less expensive than a diesel truck per mile—but that is with customers only paying $0.07/kWh.

Experts estimate that Tesla will have to pay, on average, a minimum of $0.40/kWh* for “green” electricity—meaning the company would have to heavily subsidize charging costs for fleets of trucks sucking down terawatts of electricity.

So, in order to hit Musk’s stated targets, Tesla will require batteries that don’t, as far as anyone knows, exist; charging capability faster than anything on the planet; and rates far below current market value.

“I don’t understand how that works,” electric vehicle analyst Salim Morsy told Bloomberg. “I really don’t.” Investor’s Business Daily dubbed Musk’s claims “monuments of envelope pushing.”

“The biggest concern that I have is that this is a typical Elon Musk ‘shiny object’ announcement to prop up Tesla’s stock price and distract from all of the issues he is having with Model 3 production,” an engineer associated with the hydrogen industry, who asked to remain anonymous, told us, referencing recent production delays and Tesla’s loss of over $1.3 billion year-to-date.

“I don’t mean to be negative; I do believe in battery technology and its merits, and I also believe that we will continue to see significant improvements in battery cost and performance during the coming decades.

But as a scientist and engineer I have always found Elon Musk’s lack of scientific accuracy and ability to overstate and exaggerate truth, and get away with it, very annoying and disingenuous.”

Tesla did not respond to requests to clarify these apparent discrepancies for this article.

The Truth About EV Trucks

Musk is not alone in the world of heavy-duty battery-electric trucks. VW recently announced a $1.7 billion investment towards developing electric powertrains for trucks and buses. Daimler, the world’s largest truck maker, unveiled an all-electric heavy-duty concept dubbed the E-FUSO Vision ONE at the Tokyo Motor Show, in late October. Daimler’s Class 8 truck promises a significantly more modest 220-mile range, with a payload 1.8 tons less than its diesel counterpart, and utilizing a 300 kWh battery pack. On paper, these figures make the E-FUSO Vision ONE more plausible than the Tesla Semi.

Project Portal Toyota maxresdefault

Of course Musk, a man who has promised to colonize Mars and builds spaceships to commute to the International Space Station, has never been known for making anything less than bold announcements.

But shorter-range BEV trucks do have a place in the transportation ecosystem.This is known as “last mile” and “short haul,” where deliveries are made inter-city, or within 100 miles. In such a capacity, the Tesla Semi could be greatly successful.

The semi truck business is a $30-billion-per-year industry in the United States alone, so there’s plenty of money to go around. But the Semi’s utility in true long-haul applications remains questionable.

Toyota’s Project Portal

Project Portal, a Real-World Zero-Emission Semi

Toyota has logged more than 4,000 development miles in a zero-emission Class 8 truck pulling drayage-rated cargo. This proof-of-concept semi, dubbed Project Portal, boasts 670 horsepower, 1,325 lb-ft of torque, and a 200-mile range. Rather than being powered strictly by battery pack—in this case, a comparatively small, 12kWh unit—Project Portal also utilizes twin fuel cell stacks plumbed from the Toyota Mirai consumer vehicle.

Project Portal II maxresdefault (2)

Project Portal has been moving goods around the Port of Los Angeles since April, and on October 23 expanded its routes to distribution warehouses and nearby rail yards. The idea is to collect data while the truck performs real-world drayage duties, its itineraries increasing as the study progresses.

Like the Tesla Semi, Project Portal also boasts impressive acceleration versus a traditional diesel truck: 8.9 seconds to travel 1/8th of a mile versus 14.6 seconds. Unlike the Tesla Semi, however, it’s already at work in the real world, even moving supplies and auto parts for Toyota throughout Southern California. Its numbers are verifiable.

In order to supply the Project Portal truck, as well as a growing fleet of FCEV semis as the project scales in size, Toyota announced last week that it would build the world’s first megawatt-scale hydrogen power station at the Port of Long Beach.

The power plant will generate 2.35 megawatts of electricity and 1.2 tons of hydrogen each day, enough to supply power and fuel to 2,350 homes and 1,500 FCEVs, respectively. Moreover, the Tri-Gen plant will generate so-called “green hydrogen” because it will be powered by 100-percent renewable sources, like local farm bio-waste. (Currently, most hydrogen is created via “cracking” natural gas, meaning splitting the CH4 into two H2 molecules and a free carbon atom.) Toyota could then claim the Project Portal trucks to be zero-emission from well-to-wheel.

Nikola Motors Arrives on the Scene With Bold Claims

A recent surprise player in the FCEV semi game is Utah-based Nikola Motors, makers of an announced Class 8 truck dubbed the Nikola One, a 320 kWh-powered tractor-trailer that will reportedly generate over 1,000-hp and 2,000 lb-ft of torque. Nikola Motors has also set the formidable goal of building a proprietary refueling station network across America, with over 700 planned H2 stations to be constructed in the next 10 years. As ambitious as that sounds, Nikola has an innovative business plan to scale up its stations. 

Nikola I Trevor-Milton-Nikola-Motor-CEO-on-truck

Nikola Motors CEO Trevor Milton

“We’re selling to fleets that run the same route every day,” says Nikola Motors CEO Trevor Milton. “So they’ll put an order in for 500 trucks, and we’ll build the stations before they come online.” A medium-size station will be constructed on each end of the route, allowing Nikola to establish flagship stations in each of those two terminal cities. With a range between 500 and 1,200 miles, depending on terrain, for their Nikola One, these stations can be quite far apart. Nikola plans to start with 16 stations located in the Midwest and East Coast, to be completed by 2019, at a cost of about $10 million apiece. Initially, there will be four test trucks running in 2018, with a planned 250 by 2019, and a total of 750 by 2020. Nikola plans to hit full production in 2021.

Rather than through a traditional lease, Nikola’s business model will be to charge customers solely on a per-mile basis. Nikola estimates the cost of a diesel semi runs between $1 to $1.25 per mile—this includes fuel, lease, tires, warranty, service, maintenance, etc.—though Milton says that with the Nikola One a driver is paying “anywhere between 20 to 40 percent less than that.”

“You don’t have to wait for 3 years to get your money back—you get your money back starting from day one,” Milton says.

While customers pay per mile (from $0.85 per mile for cheaper models up to $1.00/mile for the most expensive) all other costs of running the truck save insurance—from wipers and tires to all maintenance and fuel—are covered by Nikola Motors.

“That’s the golden egg,” Milton says. “How do you provide something that has no emission, that has better performance at less cost? And that’s what we’ve been able to do,” he says. “You won’t even be able to buy a diesel in 10 years because you’re going to be losing over a zero-emission vehicle.”

With over 8,000 trucks reserved in their first month of unveiling, Milton has no doubt they will have the necessary customers to fill out the initial 750 truck order, and more. “We’re on track, probably, to being more than 10-15 years booked out once we hit the assembly line,” he says. “We have more customers than we know what to do with.”

As far as Tesla’s news, Milton believes the Semi will be successful for short-haul work, estimating the truck’s real-world range will probably be around 350 miles—not nearly long enough for long-haul purposes.

“Their battery alone will weigh more than our entire truck,” he says, estimating the Semi’s lithium-ion pack will weigh about 15,000 pounds.

“We don’t really see them as a competitor on our end, just because our truck can outperform their truck in every category, every time, in every situation,” Milton says. “And [Nikola One can do] it two to three times further than they can, at a 10,000-pound weight difference. But it’s good that they’re coming in teaching people that electric can work, because we need all the help we can get in the industry to prove electric trucks work.”

Competitors or colleagues, Musk and Milton share a capacity for eyebrow-raising claims. When we first spoke with Milton in the spring for a longer feature on this site about the current state of the global hydrogen industry, he claimed he would require every Nikola station to produce 100 percent of its hydrogen via renewables like solar energy—a stipulation that would make the Nikola One, like Project Portal trucks fueled by the Tri-Gen bio-waste-powered plant, truly zero-emission from wheel to well.

“We will produce all the H2 on every one of our stations onsite via electrolysis,” Milton said at the time.

The math didn’t appear to add up. Using National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) algorithms of energy production via solar cells, we deduced the lowest-capacity stations, at 12,500 kgs, would require a 540-acre solar farm to produce the necessary H2. We followed up with Nikola for clarification, and the company responded that, according to their calculations, they would each require “just over 218 acres.” Even with this considerable reduction, the idea that 700-plus stations across America would each be connected to a 218-acre solar fields seemed highly unlikely.

When we spoke more recently, Milton had softened his stance.

“I’ve definitely lessened on that, but it’s more of a philosophy, not as an actual message,” he said. “We have to take energy from the grid, but the way we get that energy is guaranteed that it’s zero-emission. We just don’t want a gigantic diesel plant powering our hydrogen.”

Instead, Milton now says, one-third of Nikola’s energy will be produced on-site, while the remainder will be bought from other green sources, whether that means from renewables, from power plants at excess capacity, or the grid via guaranteed zero-emission sources.

“There are multiple ways we’ll be buying and getting energy into our hydrogen production, but it’s not one-size-fits-all, that’s for sure. And if we made it sound like that, we apologize; we were mainly just trying to educate people that we are going to mandate that almost all of our energy is zero-emission from production to consumption.

“We’re evolving every month, as we get all these orders going in. We’re learning. There’s little things we’re tweaking, but ultimately our overall philosophy is it’s our duty and our goal to get rid of all the diesels and all the emissions on the road. And we’ll get there soon, it’ll just take some time.”

Regardless of the historical challenges inherent to starting any automotive brand, some people are hopeful about Nikola’s future.

“Building up a hydrogen eco-system entails many—and very different—elements,” says Yorgo Chatzimarkakis, Secretary General of the hydrogen-advocacy group Hydrogen Europe. After invoking the myriad doubts that Elon Musk faced when launching Tesla, he continues. “Some areas of a hydrogen-based economy need visionaries who have ambitions that do not seem plausible at the moment but are doable, and absolutely make sense in the long run.”

The Realities of a Zero-Emission Future

The point here isn’t to denigrate Tesla specifically, or BEVs in general. In order to achieve a zero emission transportation future—the goal of an increasing number of nations worldwide—many think that we should not have to choose between BEVs and FCEVs. Each has its clear advantages. 

As we’ve outlined in detail before, a zero-emission future will likely require the right solution for specific applications. Battery-electric power excels in smaller vehicles and for shorter ranges, while FCEVs are better suited for heavy-duty jobs that demand intense energy consumption and longer ranges. It need not be a zero-sum game.

Musk has accomplished enough already to warrant the benefit of the doubt for his bold Semi claims. Just this summer, he made a bet on Twitter that he could install a 100-megawatt battery storage facility in the South Australian outback within 100 days—or it would be free. Many doubted the billionaire futurist’s wager, but sure enough, by December 1 the facility was online and functional. During his comet-streak career he has made a habit of unflinching claims doubted by the masses, and has often enough enjoyed the last laugh.

However, Musk also has a history of disparaging hydrogen and FCEVs as legitimate transportation alternatives, calling them “incredibly dumb” and “bullshit.” This position is not only erroneous and misleading, but also dangerous and counterproductive to the same zero-emission future that he repeatedly touts. As the founder and CEO of the most valuable BEV company in the world by far—in fact, Wall Street considers Tesla the most valuable American automaker, having surpassed General Motors in April—it benefits him tremendously if that future is strictly BEV-powered.

The potential problem with Musk’s Semi assertions wouldn’t be that they’re possible embellishments about the capabilities of a BEV truck—he certainly wouldn’t be the first CEO to promise the impossible to prop up stock value—as much as their potential to salt the earth for FCEV semi truck growth. Claiming that BEV semis are a better solution than FCEVs would be fine on a barstool or in a vacuum, but the incredible power of Musk’s voice in the tech and transportation markets could devalue the viability of Class 8 vehicles powered by fuel cells.

Case in point: Bloomberg reported that immediately after Musk’s Tesla Semi announcement, share prices of truck and truck component makers dropped. They recovered when analysts had time to sift through the available information, but Musk potentially hobbling a critical cog of a zero-emission future runs contrary to his stated goals of saving the planet.

In the end, if Tesla, Daimler, Toyota and Nikola can get their respective FCEV and BEV semis off the ground, the impact would be tectonic. Using average estimates, every single alternative-powertrain truck replacing a similar ICE-powered vehicle would remove about 173 tons of CO2 emissions each year. Scale that to a fleet of 1,000, or 100,000, or a million trucks, and the impact on the climate and air quality would be profound. Musk should be free to do what he needs to in order to ensure his company succeeds, except when it values Tesla’s bottom line over that of the planet.

*Note: This article was updated to reflect that the stated price of $0.40/kWh is specifically for so-called “green” electricity harnessed from renewable or zero-emission sources.

UCLA: Solar supercapacitor creates electricity and hydrogen fuel on the cheap


Hydrogen-powered vehicles are slowly hitting the streets, but although it’s a clean and plentiful fuel source, a lack of infrastructure for mass producing, distributing and storing hydrogen is still a major roadblock.

But new work out of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) could help lower the barrier to entry for consumers, with a device that uses sunlight to produce both hydrogen and electricity.

The UCLA device is a hybrid unit that combines a supercapacitor with a hydrogen fuel cell, and runs the whole shebang on solar power.

Along with the usual positive and negative electrodes, the device has a third electrode that can either store energy electrically or use it to split water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen atoms – a process called water electrolysis.

To make the electrodes as efficient as possible, the team maximized the amount of surface area that comes into contact with water, right down to the nanoscale. That increases the amount of hydrogen the system can produce, as well as how much energy the supercapacitor can store.

“People need fuel to run their vehicles and electricity to run their devices,” says Richard Kaner, senior author of the study. “Now you can make both fuel and electricity with a single device.”

Hydrogen itself may be clean, but producing it on a commercial scale might not be. It’s often created by converting natural gas, which not only results in a lot of carbon dioxide emissions but can be costly.

Using renewable sources like solar can help solve both of those problems at once. And it helps that the UCLA device uses materials like nickel, iron and cobalt, which are much more abundant than the precious metals like platinum that are currently used to produce hydrogen.

“Hydrogen is a great fuel for vehicles: It is the cleanest fuel known, it’s cheap and it puts no pollutants into the air – just water,” says Kaner. “And this could dramatically lower the cost of hydrogen cars.”

The new system could also help solve some of the infrastructure woes as well. Hydrogen vehicles can’t really take off until consumers can easily find places to fill up, and while strides are being made in that department, with the UCLA device users can hook into the sun almost anywhere to produce their own fuel, which could be particularly handy for those living in rural or remote areas.

As an added bonus, the supercapacitor part of the system can chemically store the harvested solar energy as hydrogen. Doing so could help bolster energy storage for the grid. Although the current device is palm-sized, the researchers say that it should be relatively easy to scale up for those applications.

The research was published in the journal Energy Storage Materials.

Source: UCLA

The Fuel Tank of Tomorrow – A Super Capacitor? +YouTube Video


 

KiloWatt Labs CEO Omer Ghani explains in the above interview, filmed at the IDTechEX Show!, that his company has overcome these challenges and has begun shipping large-scale, super capacitor-based energy storage solutions for applications such as microgrid, renewable, utility and mobility. He indicates their solution is a cost-competitive replacement for traditional battery approaches,

 

New Efficient, Low-Temperature Catalyst for Converting Water and CO to Hydrogen Gas and CO2


New Fuel Cell Tech d4530617-720px

Brookhaven Lab chemists Ping Liu and José Rodriguez helped to characterize structural and mechanistic details of a new low-temperature catalyst for producing high-purity hydrogen gas from water and carbon monoxide.

Low-temperature “water gas shift” reaction produces high levels of pure hydrogen for potential applications, including fuel cells

UPTON, NY—Scientists have developed a new low-temperature catalyst for producing high-purity hydrogen gas while simultaneously using up carbon monoxide (CO). The discovery—described in a paper set to publish online in the Journal Science — could improve the performance of fuel cells that run on hydrogen fuel but can be poisoned by CO.

“This catalyst produces a purer form of hydrogen to feed into the fuel cell,” said José Rodriguez, a chemist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory. Rodriguez and colleagues in Brookhaven’s Chemistry Division—Ping Liu and Wenqian Xu—were among the team of scientists who helped to characterize the structural and mechanistic details of the catalyst, which was synthesized and tested by collaborators at Peking University in an effort led by Chemistry Professor Ding Ma.

“This catalyst produces a purer form of hydrogen to feed into fuel cells.”

— José Rodriguez

Because the catalyst operates at low temperature and low pressure to convert water (H2O) and carbon monoxide (CO) to hydrogen gas (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2), it could also lower the cost of running this so-called “water gas shift” reaction.

“With low temperature and pressure, the energy consumption will be lower and the experimental setup will be less expensive and easier to use in small settings, like fuel cells for cars,” Rodriguez said.

The gold-carbide connection

The catalyst consists of clusters of gold nanoparticles layered on a molybdenum-carbide substrate. This chemical combination is quite different from the oxide-based catalysts used to power the water gas shift reaction in large-scale industrial hydrogen production facilities.

“Carbides are more chemically reactive than oxides,” said Rodriguez, “and the gold-carbide interface has good properties for the water gas shift reaction; it interacts better with water than pure metals.”

operando x-ray diffraction studies of the gold-molybdenum-carbide catalyst over a range of temperatuClick on the image to download a high-resolution version.Wenqian Xu and José Rodriguez of Brookhaven Lab and Siyu Yao, then a student at Peking University but now a postdoctoral research fellow at Brookhaven, conducted operando x-ray diffraction studies of the gold-molybdenum-carbide catalyst over a range of temperatures (423 Kelvin to 623K) at the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) at Brookhaven Lab. The study revealed that at temperatures above 500K, molybdenum-carbide transforms to molybdenum oxide, with a reduction in catalytic activity.

 

“The group at Peking University discovered a new synthetic method, and that was a real breakthrough,” Rodriguez said. “They found a way to get a specific phase—or configuration of the atoms—that is highly active for this reaction.”

Brookhaven scientists played a key role in deciphering the reasons for the high catalytic activity of this configuration. Rodriguez, Wenqian Xu, and Siyu Yao (then a student at Peking University but now a postdoctoral research fellow at Brookhaven) conducted structural studies using x-ray diffraction at the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) while the catalyst was operating under industrial or technical conditions. These operandoexperiments revealed crucial details about how the structure changed under different operating conditions, including at different temperatures.

With those structural details in hand, Zhijun Zuo, a visiting professor at Brookhaven from Taiyuan University of Technology, China, and Brookhaven chemist Ping Liu helped to develop models and a theoretical framework to explain why the catalyst works the way it does, using computational resources at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN).

“We modeled different interfaces of gold and molybdenum carbide and studied the reaction mechanism to identify exactly where the reactions take place—the active sites where atoms are binding, and how bonds are breaking and reforming,” she said.

Additional studies at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS), the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and two synchrotron research facilities in China added to the scientists’ understanding.

“This is a multipart complex reaction,” said Liu, but she noted one essential factor: “The interaction between the gold and the carbide substrate is very important. Gold usually bonds things very weakly. With this synthesis method we get stronger adherence of gold to molybdenum carbide in a controlled way.”

That configuration stabilizes the key intermediate that forms as the reaction proceeds, and the stability of that intermediate determines the rate of hydrogen production, she said.

The Brookhaven team will continue to study this and other carbide catalysts with new capabilities at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a new facility that opened at Brookhaven Lab in 2014, replacing NSLS and producing x-rays that are 10,000 times brighter. With these brighter x-rays, the scientists hope to capture more details of the chemistry in action, including details of the intermediates that form throughout the reaction process to validate the theoretical predictions made in this study.

The work at Brookhaven Lab was funded by the U.S. DOE Office of Science.

Additional funders for the overall research project include: the National Basic Research Program of China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, National Natural Science Foundation of China, Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities of China, and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

NSLS, NSLS-II, CFN, CNMS, and ALS are all DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy.  The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.  For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.