MIT: New kind of supercapacitor made without carbon

MIT-Supercapacitor_0 032417

To demonstrate the supercapacitor’s ability to store power, the researchers modified an off-the-shelf hand-crank flashlight (the red parts at each side) by cutting it in half and installing a small supercapacitor in the center, in a conventional button battery case, seen at top. When the crank is turned to provide power to the flashlight, the light continues to glow long after the cranking stops, thanks to the stored energy. Photo: Melanie Gonick

Energy storage device could deliver more power than current versions of this technology.

Energy storage devices called supercapacitors have become a hot area of research, in part because they can be charged rapidly and deliver intense bursts of power. However, all supercapacitors currently use components made of carbon, which require high temperatures and harsh chemicals to produce.

Now researchers at MIT and elsewhere have for the first time developed a supercapacitor that uses no conductive carbon at all, and that could potentially produce more power than existing versions of this technology.

The team’s findings are being reported in the journal Nature Materials, in a paper by Mircea Dincă, an MIT associate professor of chemistry; Yang Shao-Horn, the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy; and four others.

“We’ve found an entirely new class of materials for supercapacitors,” Dincă says.

Dincă and his team have been exploring for years a class of materials called metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs, which are extremely porous, sponge-like structures. These materials have an extraordinarily large surface area for their size, much greater than the carbon materials do. That is an essential characteristic for supercapacitors, whose performance depends on their surface area. But MOFs have a major drawback for such applications: They are not very electrically conductive, which is also an essential property for a material used in a capacitor.

“One of our long-term goals was to make these materials electrically conductive,” Dincă says, even though doing so “was thought to be extremely difficult, if not impossible.” But the material did exhibit another needed characteristic for such electrodes, which is that it conducts ions (atoms or molecules that carry a net electric charge) very well.

“All double-layer supercapacitors today are made from carbon,” Dincă says. “They use carbon nanotubes, graphene, activated carbon, all shapes and forms, but nothing else besides carbon. So this is the first noncarbon, electrical double-layer supercapacitor.”

One advantage of the material used in these experiments, technically known as Ni3(hexaiminotriphenylene)2, is that it can be made under much less harsh conditions than those needed for the carbon-based materials, which require very high temperatures above 800 degrees Celsius and strong reagent chemicals for pretreatment.

The team says supercapacitors, with their ability to store relatively large amounts of power, could play an important role in making renewable energy sources practical for widespread deployment. They could provide grid-scale storage that could help match usage times with generation times, for example, or be used in electric vehicles and other applications.

The new devices produced by the team, even without any optimization of their characteristics, already match or exceed the performance of existing carbon-based versions in key parameters, such as their ability to withstand large numbers of charge/discharge cycles. Tests showed they lost less than 10 percent of their performance after 10,000 cycles, which is comparable to existing commercial supercapacitors.

But that’s likely just the beginning, Dincă says. MOFs are a large class of materials whose characteristics can be tuned to a great extent by varying their chemical structure. Work on optimizing their molecular configurations to provide the most desirable attributes for this specific application is likely to lead to variations that could outperform any existing materials. “We have a new material to work with, and we haven’t optimized it at all,” he says. “It’s completely tunable, and that’s what’s exciting.”

While there has been much research on MOFs, most of it has been directed at uses that take advantage of the materials’ record porosity, such as for storage of gases. “Our lab’s discovery of highly electrically conductive MOFs opened up a whole new category of applications,” Dincă says. Besides the new supercapacitor uses, the conductive MOFs could be useful for making electrochromic windows, which can be darkened with the flip of a switch, and chemoresistive sensors, which could be useful for detecting trace amounts of chemicals for medical or security applications.

While the MOF material has advantages in the simplicity and potentially low cost of manufacturing, the materials used to make it are more expensive than conventional carbon-based materials, Dincă says. “Carbon is dirt cheap. It’s hard to find anything cheaper.” But even if the material ends up being more expensive, if its performance is significantly better than that of carbon-based materials, it could find useful applications, he says.

This discovery is “very significant, from both a scientific and applications point of view,” says Alexandru Vlad, a professor of chemistry at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, who was not involved in this research. He adds that “the supercapacitor field was (but will not be anymore) dominated by activated carbons,” because of their very high surface area and conductivity. But now, “here is the breakthrough provided by Dinca et al.: They could design a MOF with high surface area and high electrical conductivity, and thus completely challenge the supercapacitor value chain! There is essentially no more need of carbons for this highly demanded technology.”

And a key advantage of that, he explains, is that “this work shows only the tip of the iceberg. With carbons we know pretty much everything, and the developments over the past years were modest and slow. But the MOF used by Dinca is one of the lowest-surface-area MOFs known, and some of these materials can reach up to three times more [surface area] than carbons. The capacity would then be astonishingly high, probably close to that of batteries, but with the power performance [the ability to deliver high power output] of supercapacitors.”

The research team included former MIT postdoc Dennis Sheberla (now a postdoc at Harvard University), MIT graduate student John Bachman, Joseph Elias PhD ’16, and Cheng-Jun Sun of Argonne National Laboratory. The work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy through the Center for Excitonics, the Sloan Foundation, the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, 3M, and the National Science Foundation.

Powerful hybrid storage system combines advantages of lithium-ion batteries and Supercapacitors – “What Comes Next”


A battery that can be charged in seconds, has a large capacity and lasts ten to twelve years? Certainly, many have wanted such a thing. Now the FastStorageBW II project – which includes Fraunhofer – is working on making it a reality. Fraunhofer researchers are using pre-production to optimize large-scale production and ensure it follows the principles of Industrie 4.0 from the outset.

Imagine you’ve had a hectic day and then, to cap it all, you find that the battery of your electric vehicle is virtually empty. This means you’ll have to take a long break while it charges fully. It’s a completely different story with capacitors, which charge in seconds. However, they have a different drawback: they store very little energy.electric cars images

In the FastStorageBW II project, funded by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, together with colleagues from the battery manufacturer VARTA AG and other partners, are developing a powerful hybrid storage system that combines the advantages of lithium-ion batteries and .

“The PowerCaps have a specific capacity as high as lead batteries, a long life of ten to twelve years, and charge in a matter of seconds like a supercapacitor,” explains Joachim Montnacher, Head of the Energy business unit at Fraunhofer IPA. What’s more, PowerCaps can operate at temperatures of up to 85 degree Celsius. They withstand a hundred times more charge cycles than conventional battery systems and retain their charge over several weeks without any significant losses due to self-discharge.

Elon+Musk+cVLpwWp3rxJmAlso Read About: Supercapacitor breakthrough suggests EVs could charge in seconds but with a trade-off

“Supercapacitors may be providing an alternative to electric-car batteries sooner than expected, according to a new research study. Currently, supercapacitors can charge and discharge rapidly over very large numbers of cycles, but their poor energy density per kilogram —- at just one twentieth of existing battery technology — means that they can’t compete with batteries in most applications. That’s about to change, say researchers from the University of Surrey and University of Bristol in conjunction with Augmented Optics.

Large-scale production with minimum risk

The Fraunhofer IPA researchers’ main concern is with manufacturing: to set up new battery production, it is essential to implement the relevant process knowledge in the best possible way.

After all, it costs millions of euros to build a complete manufacturing unit. “We make it possible for battery manufacturers to install an intermediate step – a small-scale production of sorts – between laboratory production and large-scale production,” says Montnacher. “This way, we can create ideal conditions for large-scale production, optimize processes and ensure production follows the principles of Industrie 4.0 from the outset. Because in the end, that will give companies a competitive advantage.” Another benefit is that this cuts the time it takes to ramp up production by more than 50 percent.

For this innovative small-scale production setup, researchers cleverly combine certain production sequences. However, not all systems are connected to each other – at least, as far as the hardware is concerned. More often, it is an employee that carries the batches from one machine to the next. Ultimately, it is about developing a comprehensive understanding of the process, not about producing the greatest number of in the shortest amount of time. For example, this means clarifying questions such as if the desired quality can be reproduced. The systems are designed as flexibly as possible so that they can be used for different production variations.

Making large-scale production compatible with Industrie 4.0

As far as software is concerned, the systems are thoroughly connected. Like process clusters, they are also equipped with numerous sensors, which show the clusters what data to capture for each of the process steps. They communicate with one another and store the results in a cloud. Researchers and entrepreneurs can then use this data to quickly analyze which factors influence the quality of the product – Does it have Industrie 4.0 capability? Were the right sensors selected? Do they deliver the desired data? Where are adjustments required?

Fraunhofer IPA is also applying its expertise beyond the area of production technology: The scientists are developing business models for the marketing of cells, they are analyzing resource availability, and they are optimizing the subsequent recycling of PowerCaps.

Explore further: Virtual twin controls production

Provided by: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

Watch a YouTube Video in ‘Next Generation’ Energy-Dense Si-Nanowire Batteries



Using Nanotechnology to Control the formation of ice on surfaces

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Control of ice growth kinetics. (A) Hexagonal ice composed by two basal facets (c-axis) and six prism facets (a-axis). (B) Random and aligned orientations of c-axes were found on trapezoid-shaped microgrooves (TMG) and V-shaped microgrooves (VMG) surfaces, respectively. (C) Ice embryos appear on the side walls, the edges, and the valleys of groove on TMG surfaces, resulting in different orientations of ice crystals. On the other hand, an ice embryo forms only at the valley of grooves on the VMG surface, leading to the confined ice orientation. Scale bars are 15 µm. (Reprinted with permission by American Chemical Society) (click on image to enlarge)

In recent years, researchers working on de-icing and anti-icing strategies have been inspired by biology and nanotechnology to develop nanocoatings and other nanostructured surfaces.

Researchers now have demonstrated the ability to spatially control frost nucleation (ice formation from water vapor) and to manipulate ice crystal growth kinetics.”The spatial control of icing in the condensation-freezing process and through the coating of hydrophilic materials has been demonstrated before,” Ming-Chang Lu, Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at National Chiao Tung University said, “However, the ice nucleation control and the confinement of ice crystal growth direction through manipulating roughness scale have not been reported in the literature.”

In previous work, Lu and his team demonstrated that heterogeneous nucleation of condensation could be spatially controlled by manipulating roughness scale (Advanced Functional Materials, “Spatial Control of Heterogeneous Nucleation on the Superhydrophobic Nanowire Array”).


ricedeicerga-052416Read more About Nanotechnology and Deicing

Rice University: Graphene Nano-Ribbons Demonstrate Deicing Capabilities: Dr. James Tour





This motivated them to further explore whether the same control could be achieved in the icing process.Indeed, as they recently have reported in ACS Nano (“Control of Ice Formation”), they found that a surface’s anti-icing (preventing ice formation) and deicing performances could be promoted through the control of nucleation and the confinement of the ice crystal growth direction.The scientists achieved control of nucleation and the confinement of the crystal growth kinetics by manipulating local free energy barrier for nucleation.Moreover, the growth kinetics of ice can also be altered by adjusting the shape of the microgroove of the surface: Ice stacked along the direction of the V-shaped microgroove, whereas it grew in random directions on the trapezoid-shaped microgroove.As the researchers demonstrate in their paper, the spatial control of frost formation and the confinement of ice-growing kinetics improved the anti-icing and deicing performances.”We have shown that ice formation and ice crystal growth could be manipulated by tailoring surface roughness scale,” notes Lu.


“We believe that our results could be potentially applied to alleviate the icing issues in many industrial systems, such as, power transmission system, telecommunication system, heat exchangers, aircraft, etc.”In this work, the team systematically investigated – under an environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM) – frosting and deicing processes on a plain silicon surface, a silicon nanowire (SiNW) array-coated surface, and V-shaped and trapezoid-shaped microgroove patterned surfaces.Nucleation is the first step of the phase transition during freezing. The team’s goal is to gain complete control of the ice formation process including nucleation, crystal growth, and ice spreading.”The results we demonstrated were on a Si surface and on a laboratory chip; in my opinion, the future directions are to explore whether the phenomena could be realized on other materials and on a larger system,” concludes Lu. “The ultimate goal is to have fully controls of icing and deicing processes. Therefore, it could be applied to alleviate the adverse effect caused by global warming, e.g., the loss of ice sheets.”

Original Post by Micheal Berger

Third-Generation Solar Cells using Metalorganic Perovskites Challenges silicon based Solar Cells

nanotubefilmAn illustration of a perovskite solar cell. Credit: Photo by Aalto University / University of Uppsala / EPFL

Five years ago, the world started to talk about third-generation solar cells that challenged the traditional silicon cells with a cheaper and simpler manufacturing process that used less energy.

Methylammonium lead iodide is a metal-organic material in the perovskite crystal structure that captures light efficiently and conducts electricity well—both important qualities in . However, the lifetime of solar cells made of metalorganic perovskites has proven to be very short compared to cells made of .

Now researchers from Aalto University, Uppsala University and École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have managed to improve the long term stability of solar cells made of perovskite using “random network” nanotube films developed under the leadership of Professor Esko Kauppinen at Aalto University. Random network nanotube films are films composed of single-walled carbon nanotubes that in an electron microscope image look like spaghetti on a plate.

‘In a traditional perovskite solar cell, the hole conductor layer consists of organic material and, on top of it, a thin layer of gold that easily starts to disintegrate and diffuse through the whole solar cell structure. We replaced the gold and also part of the organic material with films made of carbon nanotubes and achieved good cell stability in 60 degrees and full one sun illumination conditions‘, explains Kerttu Aitola, who defended her doctoral dissertation at Aalto University and now works as a researcher at Uppsala University

In the study, thick black films with conductivity as high as possible were used in the back contact of the solar cell where light does not need to get through. According to Aitola, nanotube films can also be made transparent and thin, which would make it possible to use them as the front contact of the cell, in other words as the contact that lets light through.

‘The solar cells were prepared in Uppsala and the long-term stability measurement was carried out at EPFL. The leader of the solar cell group at EPFL is Professor Michael Grätzel, who was awarded the Millennium Prize 2010 for dye-sensitised solar cells, on which the are also partly based on’, says Aitola.

Nanotube film may resolve longevity problem of challenger solar cells
Cross-section of the solar cell in an electron microscope image. The fluff seen in the front of the image is composed of bundles of nanotubes that have become half-loose when the samples have been prepared for imaging. Credit: Photo by Aalto University / University of Uppsala / EPFL


The lifetime of solar cells made of silicon is 20-30 years and their industrial production is very efficient. Still, alternatives are needed as reducing the silicon dioxide in sand to silicon consumes a huge amount of energy. It is estimated that a needs two or three years to produce the energy that was used to manufacture it, whereas a perovskite solar cell would only need two or three months to do it.

‘In addition, the silicon used in solar cells must be extremely pure’, says Aitola.

‘Perovskite solar cell is also interesting because its efficiency, in other words how efficiently it converts sunlight energy into electrical energy, has very quickly reached the level of silicon solar cells. That is why so much research is conducted on perovskite solar cells globally.’

The alternative solar cells are even more interesting because of their various application areas. Flexible solar cells have until now been manufactured on conductive plastic. Compared with the conductive layer of plastic, the flexibility of nanotube films is superior and the raw materials are cheaper. Thanks to their flexibility, solar cells could be produced using the roll-to-roll processing method known from the paper industry.

‘Light and would be easy to integrate in buildings and you could also hang them in windows by yourself’, says Aitola.

Explore further: New way to make low-cost solar cell technology

More information: Kerttu Aitola et al, High Temperature-Stable Perovskite Solar Cell Based on Low-Cost Carbon Nanotube Hole Contact, Advanced Materials (2017). DOI: 10.1002/adma.201606398

New nanofiber marks important step in next generation battery development

One of the keys to building electric cars that can travel longer distances and to powering more homes with renewable energy is developing efficient and highly capable energy storage systems.

Materials researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have created a nanofiber that could help enable the next generation of rechargeable batteries and increase the efficiency of hydrogen production from water electrolysis.

In a study that was published in Nature Communications (“A tailored double perovskite nanofiber catalyst enables ultrafast oxygen evolution”) and was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the researchers describe the development of double perovskite nanofiber that can be used as a highly efficient catalyst in ultrafast oxygen evolution reactions – one of the underlying electrochemical processes in hydrogen-based energy and the newer metal-air batteries.

Double Perovskite Nanofiber Catalyst

This is a 20 nanometer double perovskite nanofiber that can be used as a highly efficient catalyst in ultrafast oxygen evolution reactions — one of the underlying electrochemical processes in hydrogen-based energy and the newer metal-air batteries. (Image: Georgia Tech)

“Metal-air batteries, such as those that could power electric vehicles in the future, are able to store a lot of energy in a much smaller space than current batteries,” said Meilin Liu, a Regents Professor in the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering. 

“The problem is that the batteries lack a cost-efficient catalyst to improve their efficiency. This new catalyst will improve that process.”

Perovskite refers to the crystal structure of the catalyst the researchers used to form the nanofibers.

“This unique crystal structure and the composition are vital to enabling better activity and durability for the application,” Liu said.

During the synthetization process, the researchers used a technique called composition tuning – or “co-doping” – to improve the intrinsic activity of the catalyst by approximately 4.7 times. The perovskite oxide fiber made during the electrospinning process was about 20 nanometers in diameter – which thus far is the thinnest diameter reported for electrospun perovskite oxide nanofibers.

The researchers found that the new substance showed markedly enhanced oxygen evolution reaction capability when compared to existing catalysts. 
The new nanofiber’s mass-normalized catalytic activity improved about 72 times greater than the initial powder catalyst, and 2.5 times greater than iridium oxide, which is considered a state of the art catalyst by current standards.

That increase in catalytic activity comes in part from the larger surface area achieved with nanofibers, the researchers said. Synthesizing the perovskite structure into a nanofiber also boosted its intrinsic activity, which also improved how efficiently it worked as a catalyst for oxygen evolution reactions (OER).

“This work not only represents an advancement in the development of highly efficient and durable electrocatalysts for OER but may also provide insight into the effect of nanostructures on the intrinsic OER activity,” the researchers wrote.

Beyond its applicability in the development of rechargeable metal air batteries, the new catalyst could also represent the next step in creating more efficient fuel cell technologies that could aid in the creation of renewable energy systems.

“Solar, wind, geothermal – those are becoming very inexpensive today. But the trouble is those renewable energies are intermittent in nature,” Liu said. 

“When there is no wind, you have no power. But what if we could store the energy from the sun or the wind when there’s an excess supply. We can use that extra electricity to produce hydrogen and store that energy for use when we need it.”

That’s where the new nanofiber catalysts could make a difference, he said.

“To store that energy, batteries are still very expensive,” Liu said. “We need a good catalyst in order for the water electrolysis to be efficient. This catalyst can speed up electrochemical reactions in water splitting or metal air batteries.”

Rice University’s Nanophotonics team creates low-voltage, multicolor, electrochromic glass

nanophotonicAdding and removing an electron from neutral perylene (center column) produces an anion (left) and cation (right), respectively, with different electronic structures (middle row). Upon excitation with visible light, the anion and cation …more
Rice University’s latest nanophotonics research could expand the color palette for companies in the fast-growing market for glass windows that change color at the flick of an electric switch.

In a new paper in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano, researchers from the laboratory of Rice plasmonics pioneer Naomi Halas report using a readily available, inexpensive hydrocarbon molecule called perylene to create that can turn two different colors at low voltages.

“When we put charges on the molecules or remove charges from them, they go from clear to a vivid color,” said Halas, director of the Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP), lead scientist on the new study and the director of Rice’s Smalley-Curl Institute. “We sandwiched these molecules between glass, and we’re able to make something that looks like a window, but the window changes to different types of color depending on how we apply a very low voltage.”

Adam Lauchner, an applied physics graduate student at Rice and co-lead author of the study, said LANP’s color-changing glass has polarity-dependent colors, which means that a positive voltage produces one color and a negative voltage produces a different color.

“That’s pretty novel,” Lauchner said. “Most color-changing glass has just one color, and the multicolor varieties we’re aware of require significant voltage.”

 Credit: Rice University

Glass that changes color with an applied voltage is known as “electrochromic,” and there’s a growing demand for the light- and heat-blocking properties of such glass. The projected annual market for electrochromic glass in 2020 has been estimated at more $2.5 billion.

Lauchner said the glass project took almost two years to complete, and he credited co-lead author Grant Stec, a Rice undergraduate researcher, with designing the perylene-containing nonwater-based conductive gel that’s sandwiched between glass layers.

“Perylene is part of a family of molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,” Stec said. “They’re a fairly common byproduct of the petrochemical industry, and for the most part they are low-value byproducts, which means they’re inexpensive.”

There are dozens of (PAHs), but each contains rings of carbon atoms that are decorated with hydrogen atoms. In many PAHs, carbon rings have six sides, just like the rings in graphene, the much-celebrated subject of the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics.

Nanophotonics team creates low-voltage, multicolor, electrochromic glass
Grant Stec and Adam Lauchner of Rice University’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics have used an inexpensive hydrocarbon molecule called perylene to create a low-voltage, multicolor, electrochromic glass. Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

“This is a really cool application of what started as fundamental science in plasmonics,” Lauchner said.

A plasmon is wave of energy, a rhythmic sloshing in the sea of electrons that constantly flow across the surface of conductive nanoparticles. Depending upon the frequency of a plasmon’s sloshing, it can interact with and harvest the energy from passing light. In dozens of studies over the past two decades, Halas, Rice physicist Peter Nordlander and colleagues have explored both the basic physics of plasmons and potential applications as diverse as cancer treatment, solar-energy collection, electronic displays and optical computing.

The quintessential plasmonic nanoparticle is metallic, often made of gold or silver, and precisely shaped. For example, gold nanoshells, which Halas invented at Rice in the 1990s, consist of a nonconducting core that’s covered by a thin shell of gold.

“Our group studies many kinds of metallic nanoparticles, but graphene is also conductive, and we’ve explored its plasmonic properties for several years,” Halas said.

Nanophotonics team creates low-voltage, multicolor, electrochromic glass
Rice University researchers demonstrated a new type of glass that turns from clear to black when a low voltage is applied. The glass uses a combination of molecules that block almost all visible light when they each gain a single electron. Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

She noted that large sheets of atomically thin graphene have been found to support plasmons, but they emit infrared light that’s invisible to the human eye.

“Studies have shown that if you make graphene smaller and smaller, as you go down to nanoribbons, nanodots and these little things called nanoislands, you can actually get graphene’s plasmon closer and closer to the edge of the visible regime,” Lauchner said.

In 2013, then-Rice physicist Alejandro Manjavacas, a postdoctoral researcher in Nordlander’s lab, showed that the smallest versions of graphene—PAHs with just a few carbon rings—should produce visible plasmons. Moreover, Manjavacas calculated the exact colors that would be emitted by different types of PAHs.

“One of the most interesting things was that unlike plasmons in metals, the plasmons in these PAH molecules were very sensitive to charge, which suggested that a very small electrical charge would produce dramatic colors,” Halas said.

Nanophotonics team creates low-voltage, multicolor, electrochromic glass
Student researchers Grant Stec (left) and Adam Lauchner (right) with Rice plasmonics pioneer Naomi Halas, director of Rice University’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics. Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Lauchner said the project really took off after Stec joined the research team in 2015 and created a perylene formulation that could be sandwiched between sheets of conductive glass.

In their experiments, the researchers found that applying just 4 volts was enough to turn the clear window greenish-yellow and applying negative 3.5 volts turned it blue. It took several minutes for the windows to fully change color, but Halas said the transition time could easily be improved with additional engineering.

Stec said the team’s other window, which turns from clear to black, was produced later in the project.

“Dr. Halas learned that one of the major hurdles in the electrochromic device industry was making a window that could be clear in one state and completely black in another,” Stec said. “We set out to do that and found a combination of PAHs that captured no visible light at zero volts and almost all visible light at low voltage.”

Explore further: Nanoscale drawbridges open path to color displays

More information: Grant J. Stec et al. Multicolor Electrochromic Devices Based on Molecular Plasmonics, ACS Nano (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.7b00364

Researchers at CalTech and Berkeley Lab Discover New materials that could turn “water into the fuel of the future”

Water for Fuel 170306151722_1_900x600New materials are created through deposition onto disks, which are then tested to determine their properties. Credit: Caltech


California Institute of Technology Summary: Combining computational with experimental approaches, researchers identify 12 new materials with potential use in solar fuels generators.

Researchers at Caltech and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have — in just two years — nearly doubled the number of materials known to have potential for use in solar fuels.

They did so by developing a process that promises to speed the discovery of commercially viable solar fuels that could replace coal, oil, and other fossil fuels.

Solar fuels, a dream of clean-energy research, are created using only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide (CO2). Researchers are exploring a range of target fuels, from hydrogen gas to liquid hydrocarbons, and producing any of these fuels involves splitting water.

Each water molecule is comprised of an oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. The hydrogen atoms are extracted, and then can be reunited to create highly flammable hydrogen gas or combined with CO2 to create hydrocarbon fuels, creating a plentiful and renewable energy source. The problem, however, is that water molecules do not simply break down when sunlight shines on them — if they did, the oceans would not cover most of the planet. They need a little help from a solar-powered catalyst.

To create practical solar fuels, scientists have been trying to develop low-cost and efficient materials, known as photoanodes, that are capable of splitting water using visible light as an energy source. Over the past four decades, researchers identified only 16 of these photoanode materials. Now, using a new high-throughput method of identifying new materials, a team of researchers led by Caltech’s John Gregoire and Berkeley Lab’s Jeffrey Neaton and Qimin Yan have found 12 promising new photoanodes.

A paper about the method and the new photoanodes appears the week of March 6 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The new method was developed through a partnership between the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) at Caltech, and Berkeley Lab’s Materials Project, using resources at the Molecular Foundry and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC).

“This integration of theory and experiment is a blueprint for conducting research in an increasingly interdisciplinary world,” says Gregoire, JCAP thrust coordinator for Photoelectrocatalysis and leader of the High Throughput Experimentation group. “It’s exciting to find 12 new potential photoanodes for making solar fuels, but even more so to have a new materials discovery pipeline going forward.”

“What is particularly significant about this study, which combines experiment and theory, is that in addition to identifying several new compounds for solar fuel applications, we were also able to learn something new about the underlying electronic structure of the materials themselves,” says Neaton, the director of the Molecular Foundry.

Previous materials discovery processes relied on cumbersome testing of individual compounds to assess their potential for use in specific applications. In the new process, Gregoire and his colleagues combined computational and experimental approaches by first mining a materials database for potentially useful compounds, screening it based on the properties of the materials, and then rapidly testing the most promising candidates using high-throughput experimentation.

In the work described in the PNAS paper, they explored 174 metal vanadates — compounds containing the elements vanadium and oxygen along with one other element from the periodic table.

The research, Gregoire says, reveals how different choices for this third element can produce materials with different properties, and reveals how to “tune” those properties to make a better photoanode.

“The key advance made by the team was to combine the best capabilities enabled by theory and supercomputers with novel high throughput experiments to generate scientific knowledge at an unprecedented rate,” Gregoire says.

Story Source:

Materials provided by California Institute of Technology. Original written by Robert Perkins. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Qimin Yan, Jie Yu, Santosh K. Suram, Lan Zhou, Aniketa Shinde, Paul F. Newhouse, Wei Chen, Guo Li, Kristin A. Persson, John M. Gregoire, and Jeffrey B. Neaton. Solar fuels photoanode materials discovery by integrating high-throughput theory and experiment. PNAS, March 2017 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1619940114

Portable nanofiber device offers precise, point-and-shoot capability

Nanofiber Harvard 170301105611_1_540x360
These are scanning electron microscopy images of various scaffold structures and fiber alignments. Credit: Christophe Chantre/Harvard University

Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Summary:

A lightweight, portable nanofiber fabrication device has been developed that could one day be used to dress wounds on a battlefield or dress shoppers in customizable fabrics.

Harvard researchers have developed a lightweight, portable nanofiber fabrication device that could one day be used to dress wounds on a battlefield or dress shoppers in customizable fabrics. The research was published recently in Macromolecular Materials and Engineering.

There are many ways to make nanofibers. These versatile materials — whose target applications include everything from tissue engineering to bullet proof vests — have been made using centrifugal force, capillary force, electric field, stretching, blowing, melting, and evaporation.

Each of these fabrication methods has pros and cons. For example, Rotary Jet-Spinning (RJS) and Immersion Rotary Jet-Spinning (iRJS) are novel manufacturing techniques developed in the Disease Biophysics Group at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Both RJS and iRJS dissolve polymers and proteins in a liquid solution and use centrifugal force or precipitation to elongate and solidify polymer jets into nanoscale fibers. These methods are great for producing large amounts of a range of materials- — including DNA, nylon, and even Kevlar — but until now they haven’t been particularly portable.

The Disease Biophysics Group recently announced the development of a hand-held device that can quickly produce nanofibers with precise control over fiber orientation. Regulating fiber alignment and deposition is crucial when building nanofiber scaffolds that mimic highly aligned tissue in the body or designing point-of-use garments that fit a specific shape.

“Our main goal for this research was to make a portable machine that you could use to achieve controllable deposition of nanofibers,” said Nina Sinatra, a graduate student in the Disease Biophysics Group and co-first author of the paper. “In order to develop this kind of point-and-shoot device, we needed a technique that could produce highly aligned fibers with a reasonably high throughput.”

The new fabrication method, called pull spinning, uses a high-speed rotating bristle that dips into a polymer or protein reservoir and pulls a droplet from solution into a jet. The fiber travels in a spiral trajectory and solidifies before detaching from the bristle and moving toward a collector. Unlike other processes, which involve multiple manufacturing variables, pull spinning requires only one processing parameter — solution viscosity — to regulate nanofiber diameter. Minimal process parameters translate to ease of use and flexibility at the bench and, one day, in the field.

Pull spinning works with a range of different polymers and proteins. The researchers demonstrated proof-of-concept applications using polycaprolactone and gelatin fibers to direct muscle tissue growth and function on bioscaffolds, and nylon and polyurethane fibers for point-of-wear apparel.

“This simple, proof-of-concept study demonstrates the utility of this system for point-of-use manufacturing,” said Kit Parker, the Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics and director of the Disease Biophysics Group. “Future applications for directed production of customizable nanotextiles could extend to spray-on sportswear that gradually heats or cools an athlete’s body, sterile bandages deposited directly onto a wound, and fabrics with locally varying mechanical properties.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Original written by Leah Burrows. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Leila F. Deravi, Nina R. Sinatra, Christophe O. Chantre, Alexander P. Nesmith, Hongyan Yuan, Sahm K. Deravi, Josue A. Goss, Luke A. MacQueen, Mohammad R. Badrossamy, Grant M. Gonzalez, Michael D. Phillips, Kevin Kit Parker. Design and Fabrication of Fibrous Nanomaterials Using Pull Spinning. Macromolecular Materials and Engineering, 2017; 1600404 DOI: 10.1002/mame.201600404




Energy Storage: New Si-Nanowire Battery for Applications in Marine and Drone Batteries (based on Rice University technologies): Video


Photos taken by a scanning electron microscope of silicon nanowires before (left) and after (right) absorbing lithium. Both photos were taken at the same magnification. The work is described in “High-performance lithium battery anodes using silicon nanowires,”

fourth-ir-051416-aaeaaqaaaaaaaatfaaaajgezy2e0nwvilwu4ogitndzkzi1hymzilta1yty1nzczngqznaA new company Tenka Energy, LLC ™ has been formed to exploit and commercialize the Next Generation Super-Capacitors and Batteries. The opportunity is based on Nanoporous-Nickel Flexible Thin-Form, Scalable Super Capacitors and Si-Nanowire Battery Technologies with Exclusive IP Licensing Rights from Rice University. Discovered and developed by Dr. James M. Tour, PhD – named “One of the Fifty (50) most influential scientists in the World today” is the patent holder and early stage developer. Tenka’s Senior Science & Business Teams have over 120+ Years combined experience in relevant areas of expertise.Rice logo_rice3

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Stanford and Oxford scientists report New Perovskite low cost solar cell design could outperform existing commercial technologies: Video

stanford-oxfoed-perovskite_news-960x640Researchers have created a new type of solar cell that replaces silicon with a crystal called perovskite. This design converts sunlight to electricity at efficiencies similar to current technology but at much lower cost.

A new design for solar cells that uses inexpensive, commonly available materials could rival and even outperform conventional cells made of silicon.

Stanford and Oxford have created novel solar cells from crystalline perovskite that could outperform existing silicon cells on the market today. This design converts sunlight to electricity at efficiencies of 20 percent, similar to current technology but at much lower cost.


Writing in the Oct. 21 edition of Science, researchers from Stanford and Oxford describe using tin and other abundant elements to create novel forms of perovskite – a photovoltaic crystalline material that’s thinner, more flexible and easier to manufacture than silicon crystals.

Video: Stanford and Oxford scientists have created novel solar cells from crystalline perovskite that could rival and even outperform existing silicon cells on the market today. The new design converts sunlight to electricity at efficiencies of 20 percent, similar to current technology but at much lower cost.

In the video, Professor Michael McGehee and postdoctoral scholar Tomas Leijtens of Stanford describe the discovery, which could lead to thin-film solar cells with a record-setting 30% efficiency.

“Perovskite semiconductors have shown great promise for making high-efficiency solar cells at low cost,” said study co-author Michael McGehee, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford. “We have designed a robust, all-perovskite device that converts sunlight into electricity with an efficiency of 20.3 percent, a rate comparable to silicon solar cells on the market today.”

The new device consists of two perovskite solar cells stacked in tandem. Each cell is printed on glass, but the same technology could be used to print the cells on plastic, McGehee added.

“The all-perovskite tandem cells we have demonstrated clearly outline a roadmap for thin-film solar cells to deliver over 30 percent efficiency,” said co-author Henry Snaith, a professor of physics at Oxford. “This is just the beginning.”

Tandem technology

Previous studies showed that adding a layer of perovskite can improve the efficiency of silicon solar cells. But a tandem device consisting of two all-perovskite cells would be cheaper and less energy-intensive to build, the authors said.

Stanford post-doctoral scholar Tomas Leijtens and Professor Mike McGehee examine perovskite tandem solar cells.

Stanford post-doctoral scholar Tomas Leijtens and Professor Mike McGehee examine perovskite tandem solar cells. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

“A silicon solar panel begins by converting silica rock into silicon crystals through a process that involves temperatures above 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,600 degrees Celsius),” said co-lead author Tomas Leijtens, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford. “Perovskite cells can be processed in a laboratory from common materials like lead, tin and bromine, then printed on glass at room temperature.”

But building an all-perovskite tandem device has been a difficult challenge. The main problem is creating stable perovskite materials capable of capturing enough energy from the sun to produce a decent voltage.

A typical perovskite cell harvests photons from the visible part of the solar spectrum. Higher-energy photons can cause electrons in the perovskite crystal to jump across an “energy gap” and create an electric current.

A solar cell with a small energy gap can absorb most photons but produces a very low voltage. A cell with a larger energy gap generates a higher voltage, but lower-energy photons pass right through it.

An efficient tandem device would consist of two ideally matched cells, said co-lead author Giles Eperon, an Oxford postdoctoral scholar currently at the University of Washington.

“The cell with the larger energy gap would absorb higher-energy photons and generate an additional voltage,” Eperon said. “The cell with the smaller energy gap can harvest photons that aren’t collected by the first cell and still produce a voltage.”

Cross-section of new tandem solar cell

Cross-section of a new tandem solar cell designed by Stanford and Oxford scientists. The brown upper layer of perovskite captures low-energy lightwaves, and the red perovskite layer captures high-energy waves. (Image credit: Scanning electron microscopy image by Rebecca Belisle and Giles Eperon)

The smaller gap has proven to be the bigger challenge for scientists. Working together, Eperon and Leijtens used a unique combination of tin, lead, cesium, iodine and organic materials to create an efficient cell with a small energy gap.

“We developed a novel perovskite that absorbs lower-energy infrared light and delivers a 14.8 percent conversion efficiency,” Eperon said. “We then combined it with a perovskite cell composed of similar materials but with a larger energy gap.”

The result: A tandem device consisting of two perovskite cells with a combined efficiency of 20.3 percent.

“There are thousands of possible compounds for perovskites,” Leijtens added, “but this one works very well, quite a bit better than anything before it.”

Seeking stability

One concern with perovskites is stability. Rooftop solar panels made of silicon typically last 25 years or more. But some perovskites degrade quickly when exposed to moisture or light. In previous experiments, perovskites made with tin were found to be particularly unstable.

To assess stability, the research team subjected both experimental cells to temperatures of 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) for four days.

“Crucially, we found that our cells exhibit excellent thermal and atmospheric stability, unprecedented for tin-based perovskites,” the authors wrote.

“The efficiency of our tandem device is already far in excess of the best tandem solar cells made with other low-cost semiconductors, such as organic small molecules and microcrystalline silicon,” McGehee said. “Those who see the potential realize that these results are amazing.”

The next step is to optimize the composition of the materials to absorb more light and generate an even higher current, Snaith said.

“The versatility of perovskites, the low cost of materials and manufacturing, now coupled with the potential to achieve very high efficiencies, will be transformative to the photovoltaic industry once manufacturability and acceptable stability are also proven,” he said.

Co-author Stacey Bent, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford, provided key insights on tandem-fabrication techniques. Other Stanford coauthors are Kevin Bush, Rohit Prasanna, Richard May, Axel Palmstrom, Daniel J. Slotcavage and Rebecca Belisle. Oxford co-authors are Thomas Green, Jacob Tse-Wei Wang, David McMeekin, George Volonakis, Rebecca Milot, Jay Patel, Elizabeth S. Parrott, Rebecca Sutton, Laura Herz, Michael Johnston and Henry Snaith. Other co-authors are Bert Conings, Aslihan Babayigit and Hans-Gerd Boyen of Hasselt University in Belgium, and Wen Ma and Farhad Moghadam of SunPreme Inc.

Funding was provided by the Graphene Flagship, The Leverhulme Trust, U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, European Union Seventh Framework Programme, Horizon 2020, U.S. Office of Naval Research and the Global Climate and Energy Project at Stanford.