The Rapid Cost Decline of lithium-ion batteries’ – Why?


Lithium-ion batteries, those marvels of lightweight power that have made possible today’s age of handheld electronics and electric vehicles, have plunged in cost since their introduction three decades ago at a rate similar to the drop in solar panel prices, as documented by a study published last March.

But what brought about such an astonishing cost decline, of about 97 percent?

Some of the researchers behind that earlier study have now analyzed what accounted for the extraordinary savings. They found that by far the biggest factor was work on research and development, particularly in chemistry and materials science. This outweighed the gains achieved through economies of scale, though that turned out to be the second-largest category of reductions.

The new findings are being published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, in a paper by MIT postdoc Micah Ziegler, recent graduate student Juhyun Song Ph.D. ’19, and Jessika Trancik, a professor in MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems and Society.

The findings could be useful for policymakers and planners to help guide spending priorities in order to continue the pathway toward ever-lower costs for this and other crucial energy storage technologies, according to Trancik. Their work suggests that there is still considerable room for further improvement in electrochemical battery technologies, she says.

The analysis required digging through a variety of sources, since much of the relevant information consists of closely held proprietary business data. “The data collection effort was extensive,” Ziegler says. “We looked at academic articles, industry and government reports, press releases, and specification sheets. We even looked at some legal filings that came out. We had to piece together data from many different sources to get a sense of what was happening.” He says they collected “about 15,000 qualitative and quantitative data points, across 1,000 individual records from approximately 280 references.”

Data from the earliest times are hardest to access and can have the greatest uncertainties, Trancik says, but by comparing different data sources from the same period they have attempted to account for these uncertainties.

Overall, she says, “we estimate that the majority of the cost decline, more than 50 percent, came from research-and-development-related activities.” That included both private sector and government-funded research and development, and “the vast majority” of that cost decline within that R&D category came from chemistry and materials research.

That was an interesting finding, she says, because “there were so many variables that people were working on through very different kinds of efforts,” including the design of the battery cells themselves, their manufacturing systems, supply chains, and so on. “The cost improvement emerged from a diverse set of efforts and many people, and not from the work of only a few individuals.”

The findings about the importance of investment in R&D were especially significant, Ziegler says, because much of this investment happened after lithium-ion battery technology was commercialized, a stage at which some analysts thought the research contribution would become less significant. Over roughly a 20-year period starting five years after the batteries’ introduction in the early 1990s, he says, “most of the cost reduction still came from R&D. The R&D contribution didn’t end when commercialization began. In fact, it was still the biggest contributor to cost reduction.”

The study took advantage of an analytical approach that Trancik and her team initially developed to analyze the similarly precipitous drop in costs of silicon solar panels over the last few decades. They also applied the approach to understand the rising costs of nuclear energy. “This is really getting at the fundamental mechanisms of technological change,” she says. “And we can also develop these models looking forward in time, which allows us to uncover the levers that people could use to improve the technology in the future.”

One advantage of the methodology Trancik and her colleagues have developed, she says, is that it helps to sort out the relative importance of different factors when many variables are changing all at once, which typically happens as a technology improves. “It’s not simply adding up the cost effects of these variables,” she says, “because many of these variables affect many different cost components. There’s this kind of intricate web of dependencies.” But the team’s methodology makes it possible to “look at how that overall cost change can be attributed to those variables, by essentially mapping out that network of dependencies,” she says.

This can help provide guidance on public spending, private investments, and other incentives. “What are all the things that different decision makers could do?” she asks. “What decisions do they have agency over so that they could improve the technology, which is important in the case of low-carbon technologies, where we’re looking for solutions to climate change and we have limited time and limited resources? The new approach allows us to potentially be a bit more intentional about where we make those investments of time and money.”

David Chandler MIT Technology

More information: Determinants of lithium-ion battery technology cost decline, Energy and Environmental Science (2021). DOI: 10.1039/d1ee01313k

Journal information: Energy and Environmental Science

Provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cancer chemotherapy drug reverses Alzheimer’s symptoms in mice – Read More at GenesisNanotech Online


GenesisNanotech – “Great Things From Small Thing”

Read GenesisNanotech Online: Articles Like: “Cancer chemotherapy drug reverses Alzheimer’s symptoms in mice” (Link) https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-10-cancer-chemotherapy-drug-reverses-alzheimer.html

And … “Tiny bubbles can be future treatment for inflammation”

Scientists hope that tiny sacs of material excreted by cells—so-called extracellular vesicles—can be used to deliver drugs inside the body. (Link) https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-10-tiny-future-treatment-inflammation.html

+More … Read The Latest Full Edition Here:

https://paper.li/GenesisNanoTech/1354215819#/

Iron-Flow Battery Technology Breakthrough Could Displace Lithium Batteries as ‘Top Choice’ for Renewable Energy Storage


iron-flow-batteries 2

Iron-flow technology from ESS is being deployed at scale in the U.S.

The world’s electric grids are creaking under the pressure of volatile fossil-fuel prices and the imperative of weaning the world off polluting energy sources. A solution may be at hand, thanks to an innovative battery that’s a cheaper alternative to lithium-ion technology.

SB Energy Corp., a U.S. renewable-energy firm that’s an arm of Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp., is making a record purchase of the batteries manufactured by ESS Inc. The Oregon company says it has new technology that can store renewable energy for longer and help overcome some of the reliability problems that have caused blackouts in California and record-high energy prices in Europe.

Battery Breakthrough May Help End Globe’s Grid Failures
ESS batteries Photographer: Tojo Andrianarivo/Bloomberg

The units, which rely on something called “iron-flow chemistry,” will be used in utility-scale solar projects dotted across the U.S., allowing those power plants to provide electricity for hours after the sun sets. SB Energy will buy enough batteries over the next five years to power 50,000 American homes for a day.

“Long-duration energy storage, like this iron-flow battery, are key to adding more renewables to the grid,” said Venkat Viswanathan, a battery expert and associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Battery Breakthrough May Help End Globe’s Grid Failures
Founder: Craig Evans: Credit: Tojo Andrianarivo/Bloomberg

ESS was founded in 2011 by Craig Evans, now president, and Julia Song, the chief technology officer. They recognized that while lithium-ion batteries will play a key role in electrification of transport, longer duration grid-scale energy storage needed a different battery. That’s because while the price of lithium-ion batteries has declined 90% over the last decade, their ingredients, which sometimes include expensive metals such as cobalt and nickel, limit how low the price can fall.

The deal for 2 gigawatt-hours of batteries is worth at least $300 million, according to ESS. Rich Hossfeld, chief executive officer of SB Energy, said the genius of the units lies in their simplicity.

Battery Breakthrough May Help End Globe’s Grid Failures
Julia Song: Credit: Tojo Andrianarivo/Bloomberg

“The battery is made of iron salt and water,” said Hossfeld. “Unlike lithium-ion batteries, iron flow batteries are really cheap to manufacture.”

Every battery has four components: two electrodes between which charged particles shuffle as the battery is charged and discharged, electrolyte that allows the particles to flow smoothly and a separator that prevents the two electrodes from forming a short circuit.

Flow batteries, however, look nothing like the battery inside smartphones or electric cars. That’s because the electrolyte needs to be physically moved using pumps as the battery charges or discharges. That makes these batteries large, with ESS’s main product sold inside a shipping container.

What they take up in space, they can make up in cost. Lithium-ion batteries for grid-scale storage can cost as much as $350 per kilowatt-hour. But ESS says its battery could cost $200 per kWh or less by 2025.

Crucially, adding storage capacity to cover longer interruptions at a solar or wind plant may not require purchasing an entirely new battery. Flow batteries require only extra electrolyte, which in ESS’s case can cost as little as $20 per kilowatt hour.

“This is a big, big deal,” said Eric Toone, science lead at Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which has invested in ESS. “We’ve been talking about flow batteries forever and ever and now it’s actually happening.”

Battery Breakthrough May Help End Globe’s Grid Failures
A worker at the ESS facility in Wilsonville, OR Credit: Tojo Andrianarivo/Bloomberg

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration built a flow battery as early as 1980. Because these batteries used water, they presented a much safer option for space applications than lithium-ion batteries developed around that time, which were infamous for catching on fire. Hossfeld says he’s been able to get permits for ESS batteries, even in wildfire-prone California, that wouldn’t have been given to lithium-ion versions.

Still, there was a problem with iron flow batteries. During charging, the battery can produce a small amount of hydrogen, which is a symptom of reactions that, left unchecked, shorten the battery’s life. ESS’s main innovation, said Song, was a way of keeping any hydrogen produced within the system and thus hugely extending its life.

“As soon as you close the loop on hydrogen, you suddenly turn a lab prototype into a commercially viable battery option,” said Viswanathan. ESS’s iron-flow battery can endure more than 20 years of daily use without losing much performance, said Hossfeld.

Battery Breakthrough May Help End Globe’s Grid Failures
Plastic sheets are treated with plasma at the ESS manufacturing facility in Wilsonville, OR
Credit: Tojo Andrianarivo/Bloomberg

At the company’s factory near Portland, yellow robots cover plastic sheets with chemicals and glue them together to form the battery cores. Inside the shipping containers, vats full of electrolyte feed into each electrode through pumps — allowing the battery to do its job of absorbing renewable power when the sun shines and releasing it when it gets dark.

It’s a promising first step. ESS’s battery is a cheap solution that can currently provide about 12 hours of storage, but utilities will eventually need batteries that can last much longer as more renewables are added to the grid. Earlier this month, for example, the lack of storage contributed to a record spike in power prices across the U.K. when wind speeds remained low for weeks. Startups such as Form Energy Inc. are also using iron, an abundant and cheap material, to build newer forms of batteries that could beat ESS on price.

So far, ESS has commercially deployed 8 megawatt-hours of iron flow batteries. Last week, after a six-month evaluation, Spanish utility Enel Green Power SpA signed a single deal for ESS to build an equivalent amount. SB Energy’s Hossfeld, who also sits on ESS’s board, said the company would likely buy still more battery capacity from ESS in the next five years.

Even as its order books fill up, ESS faces a challenging road ahead. Bringing new batteries to market is notoriously difficult and the sector is littered with failed startups. Crucially, lithium-ion technology got a head start and customers are more familiar with its pros and cons. ESS will have to prove that its batteries can meet the rigorous demands of power plant operators.

The new order should help ESS as it looks to go public within weeks through a special-purpose acquisition company at a valuation of $1.07 billion. The listing will net the company $465 million, which it plans to use to scale up its operations.

Contributions by Tom Metcalf

Construction Begins on World’s Largest Green Hydrogen Power Plant – Part of Unique Baseload Solar Project


Hydrogen Power

Siemens Energy will operate the unique €170m facility in a remote part of French Guiana, which will provide 10MW of power during the day and 3MW at night.

A unique baseload renewables project that combines the world’s largest hydrogen power plant with a 16MW electrolyser, a 3MW fuel cell, 55MW of solar panels and 20MW/38MWh of batteries has begun construction in French Guiana.

The set-up will enable the Centrale Électrique de l’Ouest Guyanais (CEOG) project to provide 10MW of baseload renewable power from 8am-8pm and 3MW from 8pm-8am.

The variable power from the solar panels will be sent to the grid during the day, with the batteries smoothing the output and extending it into the evening as the sun goes down. Excess solar power during the day will be converted into green hydrogen using the electrolyser, with up to 88MWh of hydrogen stored, and its energy converted back into electricity using the fuel cell, primarily at night.

Why hydrogen-fired power plants ‘will play a major role in the energy transition’

Read more

Enel and Siemens Energy start building ‘world-first’ hydrogen plant to help Porsche go greener

Read more

Because French Guiana — situated in northern South America, but technically a region of both France and the EU — is close to the equator, it has around 12 hours of daylight throughout the year, ensuring that the solar output and therefore operation of the project will remain fairly constant all year round.

Siemens Energy will act as manufacturer and operator of the €170m ($197m) facility, which is owned by French infrastructure company Meridiam (60%), Martinique-based oil refiner Société Anonyme de la Raffinerie des Antilles (30%), and French hydrogen power developer HDF Energy (10%).

The project is in a remote part of northwestern French Guiana, and the electricity will be injected into the local grid under a 25-year capacity contract with French utility EDF.

“This project is not only currently the largest power plant project in the world to store intermittent renewable energy using hydrogen, it is highly innovative,” said Meridiam CEO Thierry Déau. “It will stimulate local economic activity and contribute to positive environment and social impacts.”

Ambroise Fayolle, vice-president of the European Investment Bank, which provided a €25m loan to the project, added: “This project, combining a photovoltaic plant with innovative storage technologies including hydrogen systems, illustrates very well how climate change issues may find efficient answers through innovative solutions of energy production and storage.

“For the European Union and its climate bank, it is very important to support the deployment of very advanced renewable energy technologies that can be adapted to the specific characteristics of each territory.”

Although construction started on 30 September, it is not due to be fully commissioned until 2024.

According to a recent World Bank report, the price of power from the project will be lower or at least the same as local diesel-fired electricity.

Scientists Demonstrate Pathway to Forerunner of Rugged Nanotubes That Could Lead to Widespread Industrial Fabrication


 

Nanotubes 100521

Scientists have identified a chemical pathway to an innovative insulating nanomaterial that could lead to large-scale industrial production for a variety of uses – including in spacesuits and military vehicles. The nanomaterial — thousands of times thinner than a human hair, stronger than steel, and noncombustible — could block radiation to astronauts and help shore up military vehicle armor, for example.

Collaborative researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have proposed a step-by-step chemical pathway to the precursors of this nanomaterial, known as boron nitride nanotubes (BNNT), which could lead to their large-scale production. 

“Pioneering work”

The breakthrough brings together plasma physics and quantum chemistry and is part of the expansion of research at PPPL. “This is pioneering work that takes the Laboratory in new directions,” said PPPL physicist Igor Kaganovich, principal investigator of the BNNT project and co-author of the paper that details the results in the journal Nanotechnology.

Collaborators identified the key chemical pathway steps as the formation of molecular nitrogen and small clusters of boron, which can chemically react together as the temperature created by a plasma jet cools, said lead author Yuri Barsukov of the Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. He developed the chemical reaction pathways by performing quantum chemistry simulations with the assistance of Omesh Dwivedi, a PPPL intern from Drexel University, and Sierra Jubin, a graduate student in the Princeton Program in Plasma Physics.

The interdisciplinary team included Alexander Khrabry, a former PPPL researcher now at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who developed a thermodynamic code used in this research, and PPPL physicist Stephane Ethier who helped the students compile the software and set up the simulations. 

The results solved the mystery of how molecular nitrogen, which has the second strongest chemical bond among diatomic, or double-atom molecules, can nonetheless break apart through reactions with boron to form various boron-nitride molecules, Kaganovich said. “We spent considerable amount of time thinking about how to get boron – nitride compounds from a mixture of boron and nitrogen,” he said. “What we found was that small clusters of boron, as opposed to much larger boron droplets, readily interact with nitrogen molecules. That’s why we needed a quantum chemist to go through the detailed quantum chemistry calculations with us.”

BNNTs have properties similar to carbon nanotubes, which are produced by the ton and found in everything from sporting goods and sportswear to dental implants and electrodes. But the greater difficulty of producing BNNTs has limited their applications and availability. 

Chemical pathway

Demonstration of a chemical pathway to the formation of BNNT precursors could facilitate BNNT production. The process of BNNT synthesis begins when scientists use a 10,000-degree plasma jet to turn boron and nitrogen gas into plasma consisting of free electrons and atomic nuclei, or ions, embedded in a background gas. This shows how the process unfolds:

− The jet evaporates the boron while the molecular nitrogen largely stays intact;
− The boron condenses into droplets as the plasma cools;
− The droplets form small clusters as the temperature falls to a few thousand degrees;
− The critical next step is the reaction of nitrogen with small clusters of boron molecules to form boron-nitrogen chains;
− The chains grow longer by colliding with one another and fold into precursors of boron nitride nanotubes.

“During the high-temperature synthesis the density of small boron clusters is low,” Barsukov said. “This is the main impediment to large-scale production.”

The findings have opened a new chapter in BNNT nanomaterial synthesis. “After two years of work we have found the pathway,” Kaganovich said. “As boron condenses it forms big clusters that nitrogen doesn’t react with. But the process starts with small clusters that nitrogen reacts with and there is still a percentage of small clusters as the droplets grow larger,” he said.

“The beauty of this work,” he added, “is that since we had experts in plasma and fluid mechanics and quantum chemistry we could go through all these processes together in an interdisciplinary group. Now we need to compare possible BNNT output from our model with experiments. That will be the next stage of modeling.”

Read the original article on Princeton Plasma Physics Lab.

Silicon Anodes as a Solution for Today’s Battery Technology – Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Explore Opportunities for 10X Energy +Safety


silicon-anodes-muscle
A silicon anode virtually intact after one cycle, with the silicon (green) clearly separate from a component of the solid electrolyte interphase (fluorine, in red). Credit: Chongmin Wang | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Silicon is a staple of the digital revolution, shunting loads of signals on a device that’s likely just inches from your eyes at this very moment.

Now, that same plentiful, cheap material is becoming a serious candidate for a big role in the burgeoning battery business. It’s especially attractive because it’s able to hold 10 times as much energy in an important part of a battery, the , than widely used graphite.

But not so fast. While  has a swell reputation among scientists, the material itself swells when it’s part of a battery. It swells so much that the anode flakes and cracks, causing the battery to lose its ability to hold a charge and ultimately to fail.

Now scientists have witnessed the process for the first time, an important step toward making silicon a viable choice that could improve the cost, performance and charging speed of batteries for electric vehicles as well as cell phones, laptops, smart watches and other gadgets.

“Many people have imagined what might be happening but no one had actually demonstrated it before,” said Chongmin Wang, a scientist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Wang is a corresponding author of the paper recently published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Of silicon anodes, peanut butter cups and packed airline passengers

Lithium ions are the energy currency in a , traveling back and forth between two electrodes through liquid called electrolyte. When lithium ions enter an anode made of silicon, they muscle their way into the orderly structure, pushing the silicon atoms askew, like a stout airline passenger squeezing into the middle seat on a packed flight. This “lithium squeeze” makes the anode swell to three or four times its original size.

When the lithium ions depart, things don’t return to normal. Empty spaces known as vacancies remain. Displaced silicon atoms fill in many, but not all, of the vacancies, like passengers quickly taking back the empty space when the middle passenger heads for the restroom. But the lithium ions return, pushing their way in again. The process repeats as the lithium ions scoot back and forth between the anode and cathode, and the empty spaces in the silicon anode merge to form voids or gaps. These gaps translate to battery failure.

Scientists have known about the process for years, but they hadn’t before witnessed precisely how it results in battery failure. Some have attributed the failure to the loss of silicon and lithium. Others have blamed the thickening of a key component known as the solid-electrolyte interphase or SEI. The SEI is a delicate structure at the edge of the anode that is an important gateway between the anode and the liquid electrolyte.

In its experiments, the team watched as the vacancies left by lithium ions in the silicon anode evolved into larger and larger gaps. Then they watched as the liquid electrolyte flowed into the gaps like tiny rivulets along a shoreline, infiltrating the silicon. This inflow allowed the SEI to develop in areas within the silicon where it shouldn’t be, a molecular invader in a part of the battery where it doesn’t belong.

That created dead zones, destroying the ability of the silicon to store lithium and ruining the anode.

Think of a peanut butter cup in pristine shape: The chocolate outside is distinct from the soft peanut butter inside. But if you hold it in your hand too long with too tight a grip, the outer shell softens and mixes with the soft chocolate inside. You’re left with a single disordered mass whose structure is changed irreversibly. You no longer have a true peanut butter cup. Likewise, after the electrolyte and the SEI infiltrate the silicon, scientists no longer have a workable anode.

Silicon anodes muscle in on battery technology
A silicon anode after 100 cycles: The anode is barely recognizable as a silicon structure and is instead a mix of the silicon (green) and the fluorine (red) from the solid electrolyte interphase. Credit: Chongmin Wang | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

The team witnessed this process begin immediately after just one battery cycle. After 36 cycles, the battery’s ability to hold a charge had fallen dramatically. After 100 cycles, the anode was ruined.

Exploring the promise of silicon anodes

Scientists are working on ways to protect the silicon from the electrolyte. Several groups, including scientists at PNNL, are developing coatings designed to act as gatekeepers, allowing lithium ions to go into and out of the anode while stopping other components of the electrolyte.

Scientists from several institutions pooled their expertise to do the work. Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory created the silicon nanowires used in the study. PNNL scientists worked together with counterparts at Thermo Fisher Scientific to modify a cryogenic transmission electron microscope to reduce the damage from the electrons used for imaging. And Penn State University scientists developed an algorithm to simulate the molecular action between the liquid and the silicon.

Altogether, the team used electrons to make ultra-high-resolution images of the process and then reconstructed the images in 3-D, similar to how physicians create a 3-D image of a patient’s limb or organ.

“This work offers a clear roadmap for developing silicon as the anode for a high-capacity battery,” said Wang.


Explore further

Novel method of imaging silicon anode degradation may lead to better batteries


More information: Chongmin Wang et al, Progressive growth of the solid–electrolyte interphase towards the Si anode interior causes capacity fading, Nature Nanotechnology (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41565-021-00947-8

Journal information: Nature Nanotechnology

U of Waterloo startups rank second in North America for investor ROI


Investor coin

Waterloo companies power past Stanford, MIT and Harvard in key metric

Ahhh …. Those wily Canadians! Surpassing MIT, Stanford and Silicon Valley 

Investors looking for higher returns might be wiser to look to Waterloo companies than ventures started by alumni at Stanford, MIT and Harvard.

A new report from a U.S. platform for investors and startups has found that ventures founded by Waterloo alumni produce a higher-than-expected return on investment than their counterparts at the three American institutions.

The data from AngelList Venture show Waterloo startups generate outsized ROI for their investors, with an average excess markup rate 13 per cent higher than the baseline at 12 and 36 months.

Only the University of Washington ranked higher with a rate of 21 per cent, while Brown University came in third with an 11.5 per cent excess markup rate.  Two other Canadian universities made the ranking, with University of Toronto coming in at 16th and McGill University at 19th.

The platform considers an investment on its list to be marked up if it does an equity round at a higher price per share in a future fundraise. The rate is a strong indication of how an investment is performing, the company says.

“This speaks highly of Waterloo founders’ ability to thrive here in southwestern Ontario, well outside of Silicon Valley, New-York or Boston,” said Vivek Goel, president and vice-chancellor of the University. “Waterloo companies like ApplyBoard, Vidyard and Clearco are paving the way for future founders who want to grow within Canada, helping to increase the prominence of the Toronto-Waterloo tech ecosystem on the global stage.”

The Toronto-Waterloo corridor ranked 18th globally in a Startup Genome’s 2020 Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking and first in Canada.

u of waterlooThe findings indicate that Waterloo founders are being underestimated or undervalued by investors, said Alex Norman, a partner at N49P and co-founder of TechTO. “As investors see more and more University of Waterloo founders succeed, this may lead to more teams being funded or higher valuations for early-stage companies.”

While Canadian founders might be initially passed over by U.S. investors, great results for Waterloo founders over time are allowing early supporters to reap outsized rewards.

“It is no longer a secret that the University of Waterloo is a top school for innovative talent in North America,” said John Dick, director of Concept, the University’s experiential entrepreneurship program.

Young companies will continue to flourish in Waterloo Region through the University’s Campus Innovation Ecosystem and Velocity Incubator, which offer many problem-solving and venture-building opportunities, he said.

While founders with Waterloo pedigrees might not see the same level of investor demand as those at larger institutions in the U.S. AngelList says that can make them undervalued, “meaning that investors willing to back the founders from these institutions may have an opportunity to capture some excess returns.”

The findings come at an eventful time for Velocity, the University’s flagship entrepreneurial incubator, which announced recently that the total amount of funding raised by Velocity companies surpassed $2.4 billion. The incubator took almost a decade to reach the $1-billion mark but less than two years to reach $2 billion, showing an acceleration in both deal numbers and sizes. Velocity is expecting an alumni company to go through IPO for the first time later this year.

Velocity started its own pre-seed venture fund in 2019, and 18 out of 19 companies they have invested in so far received meaningful follow-on investments, highlighting the program’s ability to support early-stage founders and help them turn ideas and prototypes into marketable, scalable companies.

Making the case for hydrogen in a zero-carbon economy


Hydrogen Power
As the United States races to achieve its goal of zero-carbon electricity generation by 2035, energy providers are swiftly ramping up renewable resources such as solar and wind. But because these technologies churn out electrons only when the sun shines and the wind blows, they need backup from other energy sources, especially during seasons of high electric demand. Currently, plants burning fossil fuels, primarily natural gas, fill in the gaps.

“As we move to more and more renewable penetration, this intermittency will make a greater impact on the ,” says Emre Gençer, a research scientist at the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI). That’s because grid operators will increasingly resort to fossil-fuel-based “peaker”  that compensate for the intermittency of the variable renewable  (VRE) sources of sun and wind. “If we’re to achieve zero-carbon electricity, we must replace all greenhouse gas-emitting sources,” Gençer says.

Low- and zero-carbon alternatives to greenhouse-gas emitting peaker plants are in development, such as arrays of lithium-ion batteries and  power generation. But each of these evolving technologies comes with its own set of advantages and constraints, and it has proven difficult to frame the debate about these options in a way that’s useful for policymakers, investors, and utilities engaged in the clean energy transition.

Now, Gençer and Drake D. Hernandez SM ’21 have come up with a model that makes it possible to pin down the pros and cons of these peaker-plant alternatives with greater precision. Their hybrid technological and , based on a detailed inventory of California’s power system, was published online last month in Applied Energy. While their work focuses on the most cost-effective solutions for replacing peaker power plants, it also contains insights intended to contribute to the larger conversation about transforming energy systems.

“Our study’s essential takeaway is that hydrogen-fired power generation can be the more economical option when compared to lithium-ion batteries—even today, when the costs of hydrogen production, transmission, and storage are very high,” says Hernandez, who worked on the study while a graduate research assistant for MITEI. Adds Gençer, “If there is a place for hydrogen in the cases we analyzed, that suggests there is a promising role for hydrogen to play in the energy transition.”

Adding up the costs

California serves as a stellar paradigm for a swiftly shifting power system. The state draws more than 20 percent of its electricity from solar and approximately 7 percent from wind, with more VRE coming online rapidly. This means its peaker plants already play a pivotal role, coming online each evening when the sun goes down or when events such as heat waves drive up electricity use for days at a time.

“We looked at all the peaker plants in California,” recounts Gençer. “We wanted to know the cost of electricity if we replaced them with hydrogen-fired turbines or with lithium-ion batteries.” The researchers used a core metric called the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) as a way of comparing the costs of different technologies to each other. LCOE measures the average total cost of building and operating a particular energy-generating asset per unit of total electricity generated over the hypothetical lifetime of that asset.

Selecting 2019 as their base study year, the team looked at the costs of running natural gas-fired peaker plants, which they defined as plants operating 15 percent of the year in response to gaps in intermittent renewable electricity. In addition, they determined the amount of carbon dioxide released by these plants and the expense of abating these emissions. Much of this information was publicly available.

Coming up with prices for replacing peaker plants with massive arrays of lithium-ion batteries was also relatively straightforward: “There are no technical limitations to lithium-ion, so you can build as many as you want; but they are super expensive in terms of their footprint for energy storage and the mining required to manufacture them,” says Gençer.

But then came the hard part: nailing down the costs of hydrogen-fired electricity generation. “The most difficult thing is finding cost assumptions for new technologies,” says Hernandez. “You can’t do this through a literature review, so we had many conversations with equipment manufacturers and plant operators.”

The team considered two different forms of hydrogen fuel to replace natural gas, one produced through electrolyzer facilities that convert water and electricity into hydrogen, and another that reforms natural gas, yielding hydrogen and carbon waste that can be captured to reduce emissions. They also ran the numbers on retrofitting natural gas plants to burn hydrogen as opposed to building entirely new facilities. Their model includes identification of likely locations throughout the state and expenses involved in constructing these facilities.

The researchers spent months compiling a giant dataset before setting out on the task of analysis. The results from their modeling were clear: “Hydrogen can be a more cost-effective alternative to lithium-ion batteries for peaking operations on a power grid,” says Hernandez. In addition, notes Gençer, “While certain technologies worked better in particular locations, we found that on average, reforming hydrogen rather than electrolytic hydrogen turned out to be the cheapest option for replacing peaker plants.”

making-the-case-for-hy

Credit: DOI: 10.1016/j.apenergy.2021.117314

A tool for energy investors

When he began this project, Gençer admits he “wasn’t hopeful” about hydrogen replacing natural gas in peaker plants. “It was kind of shocking to see in our different scenarios that there was a place for hydrogen.” That’s because the overall price tag for converting a fossil-fuel based plant to one based on hydrogen is very high, and such conversions likely won’t take place until more sectors of the economy embrace hydrogen, whether as a fuel for transportation or for varied manufacturing and industrial purposes.

A nascent hydrogen production infrastructure does exist, mainly in the production of ammonia for fertilizer. But enormous investments will be necessary to expand this framework to meet grid-scale needs, driven by purposeful incentives. “With any of the climate solutions proposed today, we will need a carbon tax or carbon pricing; otherwise nobody will switch to new technologies,” says Gençer.

The researchers believe studies like theirs could help key energy stakeholders make better-informed decisions. To that end, they have integrated their analysis into SESAME, a life cycle and techno-economic assessment tool for a range of energy systems that was developed by MIT researchers. Users can leverage this sophisticated modeling environment to compare costs of energy storage and emissions from different technologies, for instance, or to determine whether it is cost-efficient to replace a -powered plant with one powered by hydrogen.

“As utilities, industry, and investors look to decarbonize and achieve zero-emissions targets, they have to weigh the costs of investing in low-carbon technologies today against the potential impacts of climate change moving forward,” says Hernandez, who is currently a senior associate in the energy practice at Charles River Associates. Hydrogen, he believes, will become increasingly cost-competitive as its production costs decline and markets expand.

A study group member of MITEI’s soon-to-be published Future of Storage study, Gençer knows that hydrogen alone will not usher in a zero-carbon future. But, he says, “Our research shows we need to seriously consider hydrogen in the energy transition, start thinking about key areas where hydrogen should be used, and start making the massive investments necessary.”


Explore further

Green hydrogen production from curtailed wind and solar power

Genesis Is Going Very Electric, Very Soon


Genesis going electric

Hyundai’s luxury brand pledges to stop releasing new ICE-powered models in 2025.

Genesis will lead Hyundai’s electrification efforts, Takata airbag recalls are still a thing and, surprise, the Tesla Roadster has slipped back another year. All this and more in this Thursday edition of The Morning Shift for September 2, 2021.

1st Gear: Genesis Isn’t Waiting Around

Automakers are busy making projections that they’ll stop selling gas-powered vehicles by maybe 2030 or 2035. Genesis in now among them. As a very young brand with just five models on sale in the United States, it doesn’t have a lot of history or buyers entrenched in the brand to please. It’s pretty much free to go in any direction it chooses, when it chooses. Starting in 2025, it’ll stop bringing new ICE cars to market, it announced Wednesday. From Automotive News:

Hyundai Motor Group’s top-shelf brand said that all new vehicles will be electric from 2025 under a dual-pronged approach that focuses on full-electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells.

The company will drop internal combustion technology from new models beginning that year, meaning Genesis will also bypass hybrids and plug-in hybrids, spokesman Jee Hyun Kim said.

By 2030, the global lineup will consist of eight EV and fuel cell models, he said. Around that time, Genesis plans to achieve worldwide sales of 400,000 vehicles a year. As recently as late 2019, Genesis was expecting annual sales to crest at 100,000 for the first time.

The report notes that Genesis shifted 128,365 cars in 2020. Last year was Genesis’ first in which it offered an SUV — the GV80 — and this year, the company added the GV70. The weird-looking GV60 is next, and will represent the brand’s first EV. Now that it finally has a couple SUVs and crossovers under its belt, I imagine Genesis is well on its way toward that 400,000-car goal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change the way I feel about the GV60, which is that it looks like the automotive equivalent of a naked mole rat.

2nd Gear: NHTSA Is Probing Tesla Over That Autopilot Crash With a Police Car In Florida

Last Saturday morning, a Tesla Model 3 in Orlando collided with a parked police car while Autopilot was enabled. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a probe into crashes between Autopilot-enabled Teslas and emergency vehicles last month. The department added this one to the list on Tuesday, making for the 12th incident on the books. From Reuters:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Aug. 16 said it had opened a formal safety probe into Tesla driver assistance system Autopilot after 11 crashes. The probe covers 765,000 U.S. Tesla vehicles built between 2014 and 2021.

The 12th occurred in Orlando on Saturday, NHTSA said. The agency sent Tesla a detailed 11-page letter on Tuesday with numerous questions it must answer, as part of its investigation.

Like with the latest crash, most of them have happened in dark conditions according to the NHTSA. As part of the probe, Tesla is asked to explain how its software is designed to respond to emergency vehicles and hazard alerts like cones, lights and flares.

Tesla is required to disclose any adjustments it plans to make to Autopilot over the next 120 days, Reuters reports. The company must also answer the NHTSA’s questions by October 22, or risk fines up to $115 million if it doesn’t respond.

3rd Gear: Volkswagen’s Latest Takata Settlement Is Worth $42 Million

Supposedly, every vehicle with a Takata airbag inflator has been recalled. But millions of those cars are still driving around with potentially faulty inflators and automakers have struggled to get them into service — Volkswagen included. From Reuters:

Volkswagen’s U.S. unit has agreed to a $42 million settlement covering 1.35 million vehicles that were equipped with potentially dangerous Takata air bag inflators, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Miami.

The settlement is the latest by major automakers and much of the funding goes to boosting recall completion rates. To date, seven other major automakers have agreed to settlements worth about $1.5 billion covering tens of millions of vehicles.

According to court documents, it’s estimated that 35 percent of the inflators in question in Volkswagen and Audi cars have not been replaced. The main purpose of this settlement is to cover out-of-pocket expenses like rental fees, or cover for wages lost while owners are without their cars.

4th Gear: 2021 Imprezas Recalled For Welding Issue

Speaking of recalls, Subaru will soon reach out to some owners of 2021 Imprezas due to an “improper weld” on the car’s front driver’s side lower control arm. Some 802 vehicles are reportedly affected. If the weld breaks, it could cause the tire to partially detach and strike the inside of the wheel well. From Automotive News:

Subaru on Wednesday said the improper weld is near a connection joint between the lower control arm and the crossmember, and could lead to a partial separation of the two components.

Subaru says it has received no reports of crashes or injuries related to the defect, but is warning owners to have their vehicles checked by Subaru dealers to see if the lot number stamped into the control arm is part of the recall. If it is, consumers are being told not to drive the vehicle until it is repaired.

Subaru will notify owners by mail, but if you’re wondering if your Impreza might be affected and would rather not wait to know for sure, you could visit the NHTSA’s recall tracker or Subaru’s website, enter your car’s VIN number, and find out.

5th Gear: Tesla Roadster Delayed

The Tesla Roadster was announced in 2017. Lots of people made deposits. Then thrusters were added as an optional extra for some reason. Then Elon Musk said around the middle of last year that Roadster production would begin basically now, during mid-to-late 2021. On Wednesday, Musk tweeted that the production target’s been pushed back to next year, and the cars will reach buyers in 2023. The reason? The chip shortage!

I know automotive manufacturing is wholeheartedly broken right now, but considering the Roadster was announced four whole years ago, the “oh, us too” excuse doesn’t quite sound so convincing. I do believe the Roadster will eventually be a real thing that really exists. Because Tesla felt it necessary to announce the car extremely early for some reason, now it feels like vaporware. It’ll continue to feel like vaporware until it’s proven to be otherwise.

Reverse: Let’s Go See The ‘Vettes

The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky opened its doors on September 2, 1994. 120,000 visitors reportedly attended its grand opening during its first weekend. I learned about the existence of this museum the same way I figure a great many people did: when a sinkhole opened up underneath it in 2014 and swallowed up a bunch of cars. Thankfully the Corvette Museum bounced back, and here’s something else: you can actually tour the sinkhole itself from your web browser, right now, in 3D. I’m not kidding.

New way to pull lithium from water could increase supply, efficiency


Lithium from Water
Lithium extraction. Credit: The University of Texas at Austin.

Anyone using a cellphone, laptop or electric vehicle depends on lithium. The element is in tremendous demand. And although the supply of lithium around the world is plentiful, getting access to it and extracting it remains a challenging and inefficient process.

An interdisciplinary team of engineers and scientists is developing a way to extract  from . New research, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, could simplify the process of extracting lithium from aqueous brines, potentially create a much larger supply and reduce costs of the element for batteries to power , electronics and a wide range of other devices. Currently, lithium is most commonly sourced from salt brines in South America using solar evaporation, a costly process that can take years and loses much of the lithium along the way.

The research team from The University of Texas at Austin and University of California, Santa Barbara designed membranes for precise separation of lithium over other ions, such as sodium, significantly improving the efficiency of gathering the coveted element.

“The study’s findings have significant implications for addressing major resource constraints for lithium, with the potential to also extract it from water generated in oil and gas production for batteries,” said Benny Freeman, a professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at UT Austin and a co-author on the paper.

Beyond salt brines, wastewater generated in oil and gas production also contains lithium but remains untapped today. Just a single week’s worth of water from hydraulic fracturing in Texas’s Eagle Ford Shale has the potential to produce enough lithium for 300 electric vehicle batteries or 1.7 million smartphones, the researchers said. This example shows the scale of opportunities for this new technique to vastly increase lithium supply and lower costs for devices that rely on it.

At the heart of the discovery is a novel polymer membrane the researchers created using crown ethers, which are ligands with specific chemical functionality to bind certain ions. Crown ethers had not previously been applied or studied as integral parts of water treatment membranes, but they can target specific molecules in water—a key ingredient for lithium extraction.

In most polymers, sodium travels through membranes faster than lithium. However, in these , lithium travels faster than sodium, which is a common contaminant in lithium-containing brines. Through computer modeling, the team discovered why this was happening. Sodium ions bind with the crown ethers, slowing them down, while lithium ions remain unbound, enabling them to move more quickly through the polymer.

The findings represent a new frontier in membrane science that required above-and-beyond collaboration between the universities in such areas as polymer synthesis, membrane characterization and modeling simulation. The research was supported as part of the Center for Materials for Water and Energy Systems, an Energy Frontier Research Center at UT Austin funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The lead authors of the paper are Samuel J. Warnock of UCSB’s Materials Department and Rahul Sujanani and Everett S. Zofchak from the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at UT Austin. Other contributors are, from UT Austin, professors Venkat Ganesan and Freeman and researchers Theodore J. Dilenschneider; and from UCSB, Chemical Engineering assistant professor Chris Bates, Chemistry professor Mahdi Abu-Omar, and researchers Kalin G. Hanson, Shou Zhao and Sanjoy Mukherjee.


Explore further

Electrochemical cell harvests lithium from seawater

%d bloggers like this: