The Future of Batteries, from Human Power to a Wireless Grid


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Extending the battery life of our tech is something that preoccupies manufacturers and consumers alike. With every new phone launch we’re treated to new features, such as increasingly high-res displays and better cameras, but it’s longer battery life we all want. For most of us, being able to use our phone for a full day still means charging it every night, or lugging your charger around all day and hunting for a power socket. And when the electric car revolution reaches full speed, fast-charging, long-life batteries are going to be essential.

Advances in battery life are being made all the time, even if we’re yet to see the full benefits in our day-to-day gadgets.

But what’s beyond that? Wireless power. And we don’t mean laying our phone on a charging pad – we’re talking about long-range wireless power. If this is cracked we could have all our devices at full juice all the time, no matter where we are.

The current tech

The batteries in your current phone, and in electric cars, are lithium-ion. These  charge quickly, last for plenty of cycles and offer decent capacity. But devices are more juice-hungry than ever, and with cars in particular fast charging needs to become more effective, because batteries aren’t going away any time soon.

While wireless power could be a viable option in the future, in the short-to-medium term we need to enhance batteries so that individuals and energy providers can first transition from fossil fuels to green renewable power.

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The battery tech in our smartphones has changed little, even as other features have seen dramatic advances

Louis Shaffer of power management solutions firm Eaton tells TechRadar: “We constantly hear about battery breakthroughs but still have the same lithium-ion batteries in our phones. Innovation takes time. It took over 30 years for li-ion batteries to enter the mainstream, from their invention in the 1980s to featuring in iPhones.”

Another factor in slowing this progress is highlighted by Chris Slattery, product manager at smart lighting manufacturer Tridonic. “The interesting point with mobile phones is that one of the major factors for upgrading your phone is the degradation of the current phone’s battery life,“ he says.

“Increasing the life of these batteries removes a major reason for upgrading to the latest smartphone when the feature set itself doesn’t change that greatly.”

Ultracapacitors

Ultracapacitors are seen by many as the future of energy storage, as they store energy in an electric field, rather than in a chemical reaction as a battery does, meaning they can survive hundreds of thousands more charge and discharge cycles than a battery can.

Taavi Madiburk is CEO of Skeleton Technologies, a global leader in ultracapacitor-based storage solutions. He says: “The future, we believe, lies not in replacing lithium-ion, but coupling this technology with ultracapacitors in a hybrid approach.

“In doing so, it is possible to benefit from both the high energy density of batteries, and the high power density and output of ultracapacitors.

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Advances is energy storage and fast-charging tech are urgently needed if electric car use is to become practicable on a large scale

“Ultracapacitors can be re-charged in a matter of 2-3 seconds, providing one million deep charge/discharge cycles. Also, with ultracapacitors protecting batteries from high power surges, the lifetime of the battery pack is increased by 50% and the range by 10%.

Skeleton is already working to improve power grids to cater for the growing number of electric cars. It sees current large-scale electrical grids being replaced in certain areas by smaller, less centralized grids called microgrids, and, Madiburk adds, “We’re currently working on with ultracapacitors as a piece of that puzzle.”

Solid state batteries

One of the major advances in battery tech right now sticks with good old lithium.

Solid-state lithium batteries dispense with the electrolyte liquid that transfers charged particles, making them safer than current batteries yet still able to operate at super-capacitor levels, meaning that charging and discharging can happen faster.

This is great for car batteries, as it means more power can be utilized by the car for quick pull-away speed, but fast charging will mean drivers need to spend less time at charging stations.

One example of this, from Toyota scientists, is a battery that can be fully charged from empty in just seven minutes.

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Toyota is a the forefront of the development of high-capacity, fast-charging batteries for electric cars

Another promising area is aluminium-air batteries, which have been placed in a car to deliver a whopping 1,100 miles on a single charge. Then there are sand-based batteries, which – while still lithium-ion – manage to offer three times better performance than lithium-ion while being cheaper to make, non-toxic and environmentally friendly.

Whisper it, but one of the big hopes for improved batteries for a while now has been graphene. The Grabat battery from Graphenano charges 33 times faster than lithium-ion units, and can deliver high power too, making it ideal for cars.

Battery-free phones

One way to go without batteries is to make gadgets super-low power consuming. A phone has been built that doesn’t even require a battery, so low are its power needs – and it was achieved using components that are available to anyone.

Engineers at the University of Washington designed the phone, which is able to pull power from the environment, with radio signals and light harvested by an antenna and tiny solar cell.

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Engineers at the University of Washington have developed a phone that doesn’t need a battery

The result is enough power to run the 3.5 microwatt-consuming phone. You’re limited to making calls only, but the idea having a tiny credit card-sized backup phone in your wallet will appeal to everyone from constantly on-the-move workers who need to stay in touch, to hikers.

Ambient power

Other breakthroughs have also been based on drawing ambient power from the world around us. One such technology uses sound and nanogenerators, so that simply talking into your phone generates power to charge it.

MIT scientists, meanwhile, have shown off a way to harvest power from water dew in the air; they’ve only been able to create a potential one microwatt so far, but combine these methods, throw in a bit more evolution and we could be looking at a battery-free future.

Over the air power

The dream of transmitting power over the air has existed since the days of the legendary inventor and electrical engineer Nikolas Tesla, but it’s only recently started to become a reality. One company that claims to have mastered the technology, taking it beyond the close-range Qi wireless charging now found in many smartphones, is uBeam.

The uBeam system was cracked by 25-year-old astrobiology grad Meredith Perry, who has since received over $28 million in funding.

This system uses microwaves to transmit energy several metres across a room to power devices. Perry has shown it off charging phones, but says it could be applied to TVs, computers and even cars.

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The uBeam system is capable of charging devices over distances of several meters, but such technology is still in its infancy

It uses a lot of power, costs a lot to manufacture and offers a pretty slow charging rate; but there are no wires to be seen, and this way of delivering power could hail a future without batteries.

If it could be made efficient on a large scale, in a similar way to mobile phone networks, all our devices could draw power from such a system. Imagine phones and electric cars that never need charging.

But is this future as close as uBeam would have its investors and us believe? Probably not.

Human power

This is where things get really interesting – harnessing the power of human beings. Not like in The Matrix, where we’re reduced to a glorified battery, but through friction generated by movement.

Scientists have shown off the tech in action, powering 12 LED bulbs. That’s not going to change the way you use your gadgets right now, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The technology uses a 50nm thin gold film sitting under silicone rubber nanopillars which create maximum surface area with the skin. The result is lots of friction, and all the user has to do is strap the unit on, making it ideal for wearables.

And the Bill Gates Foundation has even developed a process that harvests enough power from our urine to charge a phone, dubbed the Microbial Fuel Cell; that’s pretty much the definition of sustainable power.

GNT New Thumbnail LARGE 2016Watch Our ‘Current’ Video: “Nano Enabled Super Capacitors and Batteries”

 

 

Read More: Super Capacitor Assisted Silicon Nanowire Batteries for EV and Small Form Factor Markets. A New Class of Battery /Energy Storage Materials is being developed to support the High Energy – High Capacity – High Performance High Cycle Battery Markets. “Ultrathin Asymmetric Porous-Nickel Graphene-Based Supercapacitor with High Energy Density and Silicon Nanowire,”

A New Generation Battery that is:

 Energy Dense   High Specific Power

 Simple Manufacturing Process  Low Manufacturing Cost

 Rapid Charge/ Re-Charge  Flexible Form Factor

 Long Warranty Life  Non-Toxic

 Highly Scaleable Key Markets & Commercial Applications

 EV –  (18650 & 21700); Drone and Marine Batteries

 Wearable Electronics and The Internet of Things

 Estimated $112B Market by 2025

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MIT: Researchers clarify mystery about proposed battery material – More “Energy Per Pound”- EV’s and Lithium-Air Batteries


MIT-Lithium-i-1_0Study explains conflicting results from other experiments, may lead to batteries with more energy per pound.

Battery researchers agree that one of the most promising possibilities for future battery technology is the lithium-air (or lithium-oxygen) battery, which could provide three times as much power for a given weight as today’s leading technology, lithium-ion batteries. But tests of various approaches to creating such batteries have produced conflicting and confusing results, as well as controversies over how to explain them.

Now, a team at MIT has carried out detailed tests that seem to resolve the questions surrounding one promising material for such batteries: a compound called lithium iodide (LiI). The compound was seen as a possible solution to some of the lithium-air battery’s problems, including an inability to sustain many charging-discharging cycles, but conflicting findings had raised questions about the material’s usefulness for this task. The new study explains these discrepancies, and although it suggests that the material might not be suitable after all, the work provides guidance for efforts to overcome LiI’s drawbacks or find alternative materials.battery-5001

The new results appear in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, in a paper by Yang Shao-Horn, MIT’s W.M. Keck Professor of Energy; Paula Hammond, the David H. Koch Professor in Engineering and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering; Michal Tulodziecki, a recent MIT postdoc at the Research Laboratory of Electronics; Graham Leverick, an MIT graduate student; Yu Katayama, a visiting student; and three others.

The promise of the lithium-air battery comes from the fact one of the two electrodes, which are usually made of metal or metal oxides, is replaced with air that flows in and out of the battery; a weightless substance is thus substituted for one of the heavy components. The other electrode in such batteries would be pure metallic lithium, a lightweight element.

But that theoretical promise has been limited in practice because of three issues: the need for high voltages for charging, a low efficiency with regard to getting back the amount of energy put in, and low cycle lifetimes, which result from instability in the battery’s oxygen electrode. Researchers have proposed adding lithium iodide in the electrolyte as a way of addressing these problems. But published results have been contradictory, with some studies finding the LiI does improve the cycling life, “while others show that the presence of LiI leads to irreversible reactions and poor battery cycling,” Shao-Horn says.

Previously, “most of the research was focused on organics” to make lithium-air batteries feasible, says Michal Tulodziecki, the paper’s lead author. But most of these organic compounds are not stable, he says, “and that’s why there’s been a great focus on lithium iodide [an inorganic material], which some papers said helps the batteries achieve thousands of cycles. But others say no, it will damage the battery.” In this new study, he says, “we explored in detail how lithium iodide affects the process, with and without water,” a comparison which turned out to be significant.

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The team looked at the role of LiI on lithium-air battery discharge, using a different approach from most other studies. One set of studies was conducted with the components outside of the battery, which allowed the researchers to zero in on one part of the reaction, while the other study was done in the battery, to help explain the overall process.

They then used ultraviolet and visible-light spectroscopy and other techniques to study the reactions that took place. Both of these processes foster the production of different lithium compound such as LiOH (lithium hydroxide) in the presence of both LiI and water, instead of Li2O(lithium peroxide).  LiI can enhance water’s reactivity and make it lose protons more easily, which promotes the formation of LiOH in these batteries and interferes with the charging process. These observations show that finding ways to suppress these reactions could make compounds such as LiI work better.

This study could point the way toward selecting a different compound instead of LiI to perform its intended function of suppressing unwanted chemical reactions at the electrode surface, Leverick says, adding that this work demonstrates the importance of “looking at the detailed mechanism carefully.”

Shao-Horn says that the new findings “help get to the bottom of this existing controversy on the role of LiI on discharge. We believe this clarifies and brings together all these different points of view.”

But this work is just one step in a long process of trying to make lithium-air technology practical, the researchers say. “There’s so much to understand,” says Leverick, “so there’s not one paper that’s going to solve it. But we will make consistent progress.”

“Lithium-oxygen batteries that run on oxygen and lithium ions are of great interest because they could enable electric vehicles of much greater range. However, one of the problems is that they are not very efficient yet,” says Larry Curtiss, a distinguished fellow at Argonne National Laboratory, who was not involved in this work. In this study, he says, “it is shown how adding a simple salt, lithium iodide, can potentially be used to make these batteries run much more efficiently. They have provided new insight into how the lithium iodide acts to help break up the solid discharge product, which will help to enable the development of these advanced battery systems.”Nissan-Leaf

Curtiss adds that “there are still significant barriers remaining to be overcome before these batteries become a reality, such as getting long enough cycle life, but this is an important contribution to the field.”

The team also included recent MIT graduates Chibueze Amanchukwu PhD ’17 and David Kwabi PhD ’16, and Fanny Bardé of Toyota Motor Europe. The work was supported by Toyota Motor Europe and the Skoltech Center for Electrochemical Energy Storage, and used facilities supported by the National Science Foundation.

Nanotechnology and Cardiovascular Nanomedicine


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Applications of various nano platforms in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Nano platforms can target and break down coronary artery plaques and prevent injuries caused by stenosis or occlusion of arteries. Nanoparticulate systems can also reduce the adverse effects of reperfusion injuries and regenerate/salvage myocardium after MI, through sustained and targeted delivery of cells, biomolecules and paracrine factors. (© Nature Publishing Group) (click on image to enlarge)

Ischemic cardiomyopathy (CM) is the most common type of dilated cardiomyopathy. In Ischemic CM, the heart’s ability to pump blood is decreased because the heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, is enlarged, dilated and weak. This is caused by ischemia – a lack of blood supply to the heart muscle caused by coronary artery disease and heart attacks.

Treatment of ischemic CM is aimed at treating coronary artery disease, improving cardiac function and reducing heart failure symptoms. Patients usually take several medications to treat CM. Doctors also recommend lifestyle changes to decrease symptoms and hospitalizations and improve quality of life. In addition, devices and surgery may be advised.
“Nanostructured systems have the potential to revolutionize both preventive and therapeutic approaches for treating cardiovascular disease,” says Morteza Mahmoudi, Director of and Principal Investigator at the NanoBio Interactions Laboratory at Tehran University of Medical Sciences. “Given the unique physical and chemical properties of nanostructured systems, nanoscience and nanotechnology have recently demonstrated the potential to overcome many of the limitations of cardiovascular medicine through the development of new pharmaceuticals, imaging reagents and modalities, and biomedical devices.”
Mahmoudi is first author of a review paper in Nature Nanotechnology (“Multiscale technologies for treatment of ischemic cardiomyopathy”), that covers the current state of the art in employing nanoparticulate systems either to inhibit or treat ischemic heart injuries caused by the stenosis or occlusion of coronary arteries.
The review provides a brief overview of recent advances in the use of nano platforms for early detection and treatment of coronary atherosclerosis to inhibit myocardial infarction (MI; heart attack). The authors also introduce new therapeutic opportunities in the regeneration/repair of ischemic myocardium using both nanoparticles and nanostructured biomaterials that can deliver therapeutic molecules and/or (stem) cells into hibernating myocardium.
The paper further provides an overview of recent advances in precise in vivo imaging of transplanted cells using bacterially developed nanoparticles and explain how these findings address crucial issues in in vivo cell monitoring and facilitate the clinical translation of cell therapies.
Finally, the authors examine the strengths and limitations of current approaches and discuss likely future trends in the application of nanotechnology to cardiovascular nanomedicine. Nano Cardio id48033
Here is a summary of the review, which offers an outline of critical issues and emerging developments in cardiac nanotechnology, which overall represent tremendous opportunities for advancing the field.

Diagnosis and treatment of coronary atherosclerosis

Nanoparticles have demonstrated potential in both detection and removal of atherosclerotic plaques. For instance, nanoparticles can deliver therapeutic biomolecules to the site of coronary atherosclerosis and shrink plaques by reducing inflammation (for example, by activation of pro-resolving pathways), and removing lipids and cholesterol crystals.
“The main limiting issue for design of safe and efficient nanoparticles for both prognosis and treatment of coronary atherosclerosis is our lack of a deep understanding of the biological identity of nanoparticles” the authors write (see our previous Nanowerk Spotlight on this issue: “Pre-coating nanoparticles to better deal with protein coronas“). “More specifically, nanoparticles in contact with biological fluids are quickly surrounded by a layer of proteins that form what is called the protein corona, which has not yet been adequately addressed in the field of cardiac nanotechnology.”
Therefore, to accelerate the clinical translation of nanoparticles and nanostructured materials for use in cardiac nanotechnology, their biological identities must be precisely assessed and reported.

Cell therapy for salvage and regeneration of heart tissue

Over the past decade, the majority of efforts in myocardial regeneration have been centred on cell-based cardiac repair (see for instance: “Nanotechnology based stem cell therapies for damaged heart muscles“).
However, patient-specific therapeutic cells have limitations and nanoparticles could substantially help overcome them by targeting the injured portion of the myocardium.

Delivery of therapeutic molecules to CMs

Nanoparticles demonstrate great potential for delivering therapeutic agents specifically to the ischemic injured heart, although they accumulate mainly at pre-infarcted areas rather than the diseased tissue.
According to the authors, there are two major issues that should be addressed in future studies: 1) as only a low percentage of the injected nanoparticles can pass through the coronary arteries, the targeting capabilities of these particles to the heart tissue should be precisely defined; and 2) the effect of the protein corona on the in vivo release kinetics of the payloads should be characterized. Addressing these critical issues will help scientists design safe and efficient dosage of nanoparticles for biomolecular delivery applications.

Nanostructured scaffolding strategies for myocardial repair

As a bioartificial extracellular matrix (ECM), cardiac tissue scaffolds are engineered to interact optimally with cardiac cells during their gradual degradation and neotissue formation.
A variety of nanobiomaterials have been used to recapitulate the nanoscale features of the native ECM. In comparison with conventional tissue-engineering scaffolds, nanostructured biomaterials (for example, nanofiber/tube and nanoporous scaffolds) offer more biomimetic structural and physiomechanical cues, enhancing protein (molecular) and cellular interactions.
As the field of tissue engineering evolves, more attention is being given to the development of alternative biofabrication strategies to control the nano-scaffold 3D architecture in a more reproducible and patient/tissue-specific manner. Examples include 3D bioprinting and nanoprinting technologies that use computer-assisted layer-by-layer deposition (that is, additive manufacturing) to create 3D structures with sub-micrometer resolution.

Challenges in designing nanoparticles for clinical applications

Despite the enormously large and rapidly growing arsenal of nanoparticle technologies developed to date, few have reached clinical development and even fewer have been approved for clinical use.
This is in part attributed to the challenges associated with controllable and reproducible synthesis of nanoparticles using processes and unit operations that allow for scalable manufacturing required for clinical development and commercialization.
Nanoparticles also encounter unique physiological barriers in the body as compared with small molecule drugs with regard to systemic circulation, access to tissue and intra-cellular trafficking.
The authors point out that, as nanoparticles are increasingly being used in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiac diseases, their potential cardiotoxicity should be examined in detail. Their potential toxicity for cardiac tissue and heart function is of crucial importance for the safety of such nanoparticles.
“To accelerate additional breakthrough discoveries in the field, funding for cardiac nanotechnology should be substantially increased,” the authors conclude their review. “Compared with other biomedical applications of nanotechnology, such as cancer nanotechnology, cardiac nanotechnology has lagged in achieving ‘traction’, and its slower progress also mirrors (at least in part) less investment both from governments/ foundations and financial and strategic investors. During the past few years, however, a growing number of funding opportunities have been created in the field of cardiac nanotechnology, and this has translated into the progress we outline above. We believe that nanomedicines will shift the paradigm of both predictive and therapeutic approaches in cardiac disease in the foreseeable future.”
By Michael Berger Copyright © Nanowerk

Graphene-MoS2 Hybrid Material for Energy Storage and Transfer Applications



The exponential growth rates of population density and the worldwide economy has required a significant investment in energy storage devices, particularly those which are portable and can be used for future flexible electronics.

To meet the increasing energy demands of a growing population, not only are new ways of creating the energy being devised, but so are new ways of storing this that energy. 

A team of Researchers from India have developed a hybrid nanomaterial composed of graphene and flower-shaped MoS2 nanostructures to store energy in a prototype supercapacitor.



As a result of an ever-expanding population and its associated energy consumption, there is a projection that the demand for energy in 2050 will exceed 40 terawatts (TW). 




Because of the requirements for a high amount of energy, new ways of producing renewable energy are being researched and implemented, as current non-renewable fuels will eventually run out.

Due to both the energy increase and nature of the produced energy, new materials are also being developed that can store this energy efficiently.

At present, such storage capabilities are not even close to meeting the energy demands set out in future predictions. Current devices can only store 1% of renewable energy that storage devices do for fossil fuels.

As such, there is a great need to not only create materials which can store renewable energy, but to also produce materials with a real-world function that can rival non-renewable storage options, potentially as a variant of Li-ion and Na-air batteries that can hold renewable-produced energy.



The team of Researchers have created a hybrid nanomaterial composed of flower-like MoS2 nanostructures and 3D graphene heterostructures to be used as an active material in energy storage and transfer devices.
 

The Researchers also tested and employed the material in a solid-state supercapacitor, where the 3D graphene-MoS2 material was used with a graphite current collector.

To create the active material, the Researchers first created MoS2 nanospheres through a hydrothermal method using ammonium molybdate and thiourea. 

A modified hydrothermal method was then utilized to deposit 3D graphene oxide onto a graphite electrode using a series of wet synthetic steps.

The MoS2 nanostructures were then also deposited onto the graphene sheets. To create the supercapacitor, the Researchers, alongside the electrodes, used a polyvinyl acetate (PVA) gel and a gel-soaked whatman filter paper as part of the internal components. A drying time of 12 hours was required for the device to be fully fabricated.

Nanogels for heart attack patients: Getting to the “heart” of the matter


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Heart disease and heart-related illnesses are a leading cause of death around the world, but treatment options are limited. Now, one group reports in ACS Nano that encapsulating stem cells in a nanogel could help repair damage to the heart.

Myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack, causes damage to the muscular walls of the heart. Scientists have tried different methods to repair this damage. For example, one method involves directly implanting stem cells in the heart wall, but the cells often don’t take hold, and sometimes they trigger an immune reaction. Another treatment option being explored is injectable hydrogels, substances that are composed of water and a polymer. Naturally occurring polymers such as keratin and collagen have been used but they are expensive, and their composition can vary between batches. So Ke Cheng, Hu Zhang, Jinying Zhang and colleagues wanted to see whether placing stem cells in inexpensive hydrogels with designed tiny pores that are made in the laboratory would work.

The team encapsulated stem cells in nanogels, which are initially liquid but then turn into a soft gel when at body temperature. The nanogel didn’t adversely affect stem cell growth or function, and the encased stem cells didn’t trigger a rejection response. When these enveloped cells were injected into mouse and pig hearts, the researchers observed increased cell retention and regeneration compared to directly injecting just the stem cells.

In addition, the heart walls were strengthened. Finally, the group successfully tested the encapsulated  in mouse and pig models of .

 Explore further: Cardiac stem cells from heart disease patients may be harmful

More information: “Heart Repair Using Nanogel-Encapsulated Human Cardiac Stem Cells in Mice and Pigs with Myocardial Infarction” ACS Nano (2017). pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acsnano.7b01008

 

Researchers make atoms-thick Post-It notes for solar cells and circuits: U of Chicago


23-scientistsmaSchematic diagram (left) and electron microscope image (right) of a stacked set of semiconductor films, made using the Park lab’s new technique. Credit: Park et. al./Nature

Over the past half-century, scientists have shaved silicon films down to just a wisp of atoms in pursuit of smaller, faster electronics. For the next set of breakthroughs, though, they’ll need novel ways to build even tinier and more powerful devices.

A study led by UChicago researchers, published Sept. 20 in Nature, describes an innovative method to make stacks of semiconductors just a few atoms thick. The technique offers scientists and engineers a simple, cost-effective method to make thin, uniform layers of these materials, which could expand capabilities for devices from solar cells to cell phones.

Stacking thin layers of materials offers a range of possibilities for making  with unique properties. But manufacturing such  is a delicate process, with little room for error.

“The scale of the problem we’re looking at is, imagine trying to lay down a flat sheet of plastic wrap the size of Chicago without getting any  in it,” said Jiwoong Park, a UChicago professor with the Department of Chemistry, the Institute for Molecular Engineering and the James Franck Institute, who led the study. “When the material itself is just atoms thick, every little stray atom is a problem.”

Today, these layers are “grown” instead of stacking them on top of one another. But that means the bottom layers have to be subjected to harsh growth conditions such as high temperatures while the new ones are added—a process that limits the materials with which to make them.

Park’s team instead made the films individually. Then they put them into a vacuum, peeled them off and stuck them to one another, like Post-It notes. This allowed the scientists to make films that were connected with weak bonds instead of stronger covalent bonds—interfering less with the perfect surfaces between the layers.

“The films, vertically controlled at the atomic-level, are exceptionally high-quality over entire wafers,” said Kibum Kang, a postdoctoral associate who was the first author of the study.

Kan-Heng Lee, a graduate student and co-first author of the study, then tested the films’ electrical properties by making them into devices and showed that their functions can be designed on the atomic scale, which could allow them to serve as the essential ingredient for future computer chips.

The method opens up a myriad of possibilities for such films. They can be made on top of water or plastics; they can be made to detach by dipping them into water; and they can be carved or patterned with an ion beam. Researchers are exploring the full range of what can be done with the method, which they said is simple and cost-effective.

“We expect this new  to accelerate the discovery of novel , as well as enabling large-scale manufacturing,” Park said.

 Explore further: A simple additive to improve film quality

More information: “Layer-by-layer assembly of two-dimensional materials into wafer-scale heterostructures,” Kang et. al, Nature, Sept. 20. DOI: 10.1038/nature23905

 

Graphene and other carbon Nanomaterials can Replace Scarce Metals


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Scarce metals are found in a wide range of everyday objects around us. They are complicated to extract, difficult to recycle and so rare that several of them have become “conflict minerals” which can promote conflicts and oppression. New research shows that there are potential technology-based solutions that can replace many of the metals with carbon nanomaterials, such as graphene.

Scarce metals are found in a wide range of everyday objects around us. They are complicated to extract, difficult to recycle and so rare that several of them have become “conflict minerals” which can promote conflicts and oppression. A survey at Chalmers University of Technology now shows that there are potential technology-based solutions that can replace many of the metals with carbon nanomaterials, such as graphene.

They can be found in your computer, in your mobile phone, in almost all other electronic equipment and in many of the plastics around you. Society is highly dependent on scarce metals, and this dependence has many disadvantages.

Scarce metals such as tin, silver, tungsten and indium are both rare and difficult to extract since the workable concentrations are very small. This ensures the metals are highly sought after — and their extraction is a breeding ground for conflicts, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where they fund armed conflicts.

In addition, they are difficult to recycle profitably since they are often present in small quantities in various components such as electronics.

Rickard Arvidsson and Björn Sandén, researchers in environmental systems analysis at Chalmers University of Technology, have now examined an alternative solution: substituting carbon nanomaterials for the scarce metals. These substances — the best known of which is graphene — are strong materials with good conductivity, like scarce metals.

“Now technology development has allowed us to make greater use of the common element carbon,” says Sandén. “Today there are many new carbon nanomaterials with similar properties to metals. It’s a welcome new track, and it’s important to invest in both the recycling and substitution of scarce metals from now on.”

The Chalmers researchers have studied the main applications of 14 different metals, and by reviewing patents and scientific literature have investigated the potential for replacing them by carbon nanomaterials. The results provide a unique overview of research and technology development in the field.

According to Arvidsson and Sandén the summary shows that a shift away from the use of scarce metals to carbon nanomaterials is already taking place.

“There are potential technology-based solutions for replacing 13 out of the 14 metals by carbon nanomaterials in their most common applications. The technology development is at different stages for different metals and applications, but in some cases such as indium and gallium, the results are very promising,” Arvidsson says.

“This offers hope,” says Sandén. “In the debate on resource constraints, circular economy and society’s handling of materials, the focus has long been on recycling and reuse. Substitution is a potential alternative that has not been explored to the same extent and as the resource issues become more pressing, we now have more tools to work with.”

The research findings were recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production. Arvidsson and Sandén stress that there are significant potential benefits from reducing the use of scarce metals, and they hope to be able to strengthen the case for more research and development in the field.

“Imagine being able to replace scarce metals with carbon,” Sandén says. “Extracting the carbon from biomass would create a natural cycle.”

“Since carbon is such a common and readily available material, it would also be possible to reduce the conflicts and geopolitical problems associated with these metals,” Arvidsson says.

At the same time they point out that more research is needed in the field in order to deal with any new problems that may arise if the scarce metals are replaced.

“Carbon nanomaterials are only a relatively recent discovery, and so far knowledge is limited about their environmental impact from a life-cycle perspective. But generally there seems to be a potential for a low environmental impact,” Arvidsson says.

Facts:

Carbon nanomaterials consist solely or mainly of carbon, and are strong materials with good conductivity. Several scarce metals have similar properties. The metals are found, for example, in cables, thin screens, flame-retardants, corrosion protection and capacitors.

Rickard Arvidsson and Björn Sandén at Chalmers University of Technology have investigated whether the carbon nanomaterials graphene, fullerenes and carbon nanotubes have the potential to replace 14 scarce metals in their main areas of application (see table in attached image). They found potential technology-based solutions to replace the metals with carbon nanomaterials for all applications except for gold in jewellery. The metals which we are closest to being able to substitute are indium, gallium, beryllium and silver.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Chalmers University of TechnologyNote: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Rickard Arvidsson, Björn A. Sandén. Carbon nanomaterials as potential substitutes for scarce metalsJournal of Cleaner Production, 2017; 156: 253 DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.04.048

Solar-to-Fuel System Recycles CO2 to Make Ethanol and Ethylene: Berkeley National Lab



Schematic of a solar-powered electrolysis cell which converts carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon and oxygenate products with an efficiency far higher than natural photosynthesis. Power-matching electronics allow the system to operate over a range of sun conditions. (Credit: Clarissa Towle/Berkeley Lab)

Berkeley Lab advance is first demonstration of efficient, light-powered production of fuel via artificial photosynthesis

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have harnessed the power of photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into fuels and alcohols at efficiencies far greater than plants. The achievement marks a significant milestone in the effort to move toward sustainable sources of fuel.

Many systems have successfully reduced carbon dioxide to chemical and fuel precursors, such as carbon monoxide or a mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen known as syngas. This new work, described in a study published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, is the first to successfully demonstrate the approach of going from carbon dioxide directly to target products, namely ethanol and ethylene, at energy conversion efficiencies rivaling natural counterparts.

The researchers did this by optimizing each component of a photovoltaic-electrochemical system to reduce voltage loss, and creating new materials when existing ones did not suffice.

“This is an exciting development,” said study principal investigator Joel Ager, a Berkeley Lab scientist with joint appointments in the Materials Sciences and the Chemical Sciences divisions. “As rising atmospheric CO2 levels change Earth’s climate, the need to develop sustainable sources of power has become increasingly urgent. Our work here shows that we have a plausible path to making fuels directly from sunlight.”

That sun-to-fuel path is among the key goals of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), a DOE Energy Innovation Hub established in 2010 to advance solar fuel research. The study was conducted at JCAP’s Berkeley Lab campus.

The initial focus of JCAP research was tackling the efficient splitting of water in the photosynthesis process. Having largely achieved that task using several types of devices, JCAP scientists doing solar-driven carbon dioxide reduction began setting their sights on achieving efficiencies similar to those demonstrated for water splitting, considered by many to be the next big challenge in artificial photosynthesis.

Another research group at Berkeley Lab is tackling this challenge by focusing on a specific component in a photovoltaic-electrochemical system. In a study published today, they describe a new catalyst that can achieve carbon dioxide to multicarbon conversion using record-low inputs of energy.

Not just for noon


For this JCAP study, researchers engineered a complete system to work at different times of day, not just at a light energy level of 1-sun illumination, which is equivalent to the peak of brightness at high noon on a sunny day. They varied the brightness of the light source to show that the system remained efficient even in low light conditions.

When the researchers coupled the electrodes to silicon photovoltaic cells, they achieved solar conversion efficiencies of 3 to 4 percent for 0.35 to 1-sun illumination. Changing the configuration to a high-performance, tandem solar cell connected in tandem yielded a conversion efficiency to hydrocarbons and oxygenates exceeding 5 percent at 1-sun illumination.

Copper-Silver Cathode

At left is a surface view of a bimetallic copper-silver nanocoral cathode taken from a scanning electron micrograph. To the right is an energy-dispersive X-ray image of the cathode with the copper (in pink/red) and silver (in green) highlighted. (Credit: Gurudayal/Berkeley Lab)

“We did a little dance in the lab when we reached 5 percent,” said Ager, who also holds an appointment as an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley’s Materials Science and Engineering Department.

Among the new components developed by the researchers are a copper-silver nanocoral cathode, which reduces the carbon dioxide to hydrocarbons and oxygenates, and an iridium oxide nanotube anode, which oxidizes the water and creates oxygen.

“The nice feature of the nanocoral is that, like plants, it can make the target products over a wide range of conditions, and it is very stable,” said Ager.

The researchers characterized the materials at the National Center for Electron Microscopy at the Molecular Foundry, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Berkeley Lab. The results helped them understand how the metals functioned in the bimetallic cathode. Specifically, they learned that silver aids in the reduction of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide, while the copper picks up from there to reduce carbon monoxide further to hydrocarbons and alcohols.

Seeking better, low-energy breakups



Because carbon dioxide is a stubbornly stable molecule, breaking it up typically involves a significant input of energy.
“Reducing CO2 to a hydrocarbon end product like ethanol or ethylene can take up to 5 volts, start to finish,” said study lead author Gurudayal, postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley Lab. “Our system reduced that by half while maintaining the selectivity of products.”

Notably, the electrodes operated well in water, a neutral pH environment.

“Research groups working on anodes mostly do so using alkaline conditions since anodes typically require a high pH environment, which is not ideal for the solubility of CO2,” said Gurudayal. “It is very difficult to find an anode that works in neutral conditions.”

The researchers customized the anode by growing the iridium oxide nanotubes on a zinc oxide surface to create a more uniform surface area to better support chemical reactions.

“By working through each step so carefully, these researchers demonstrated a level of performance and efficiency that people did not think was possible at this point,” said Berkeley Lab chemist Frances Houle, JCAP deputy director for Science and Research Integration, who was not part of the study. “This is a big step forward in the design of devices for efficient CO2 reduction and testing of new materials, and it provides a clear framework for the future advancement of fully integrated solar-driven CO2-reduction devices.”

Other co-authors on the study include James Bullock, a Berkeley Lab postdoctoral researcher in materials sciences, who was instrumental in engineering the system’s photovoltaic and electrolysis cell pairing. Bullock works in the lab of study co-author Ali Javey, Berkeley Lab senior faculty scientist and a UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences.

This work is supported by the DOE Office of Science.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. 
The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more, visit http://www.lbl.gov.
DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

Graphene-wrapped nanocrystals may open door toward next-gen fuel cells



Ultra-Thin  oxide layer (oxygen atoms shown in red) coating graphene-wrapped magnesium nanoparticles (orange) still allows in hydrogen atoms (blue) for hydrogen storage applications

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed a mix of metal nanocrystals wrapped in graphene that may open the door to the creation of a new type of fuel cell by enabling enhanced hydrogen storage properties.

Graphene-Wrapped Nanocrystals Make Inroads Toward Next-Gen Fuel Cells



Ultra-thin oxide layer (oxygen atoms shown in red) coating graphene-wrapped magnesium nanoparticles (orange) still allows in hydrogen atoms (blue) for hydrogen storage applications

The team studied how graphene can be used as both selective shielding, as well as a performance increasing factor in terms of hydrogen storage. 

The study drew upon a range of Lab expertise and capabilities to synthesize and coat the magnesium crystals, which measure only 3-4 nanometers (billionths of a meter) across; study their nanoscale chemical composition with X-rays; and develop computer simulations and supporting theories to better understand how the crystals and their carbon coating function together.

Reduced graphene oxide (or rGO) has nanoscale holes that permit hydrogen to pass through while keeping larger molecules away. This carbon wrapping was intended to prevent the magnesium – which is used as a hydrogen storage material – from reacting with its environment, including oxygen, water vapor and carbon dioxide. 

Such exposures could produce a thick coating of oxidation that would prevent the incoming hydrogen from accessing the magnesium surfaces. 

The study, however, suggests that an atomically thin layer of oxidation did form on the crystals during their preparation. Surprisingly, this oxide layer doesn’t seem to degrade the material’s performance.

The study’s lead author stated “Most people would suspect that the oxide layer is bad news for hydrogen storage, which it turns out may not be true in this case. Without this oxide layer, the reduced graphene oxide would have a fairly weak interaction with the magnesium, but with the oxide layer the carbon-magnesium binding seems to be stronger. 

That’s a benefit that ultimately enhances the protection provided by the carbon coating. There doesn’t seem to be any downside”.

The researchers noted that the current generation of hydrogen-fueled vehicles power their fuel cell engines using compressed hydrogen gas. “This requires bulky, heavy cylindrical tanks that limit the driving efficiency of such cars”, and the nanocrystals offer one possibility for eliminating these bulky tanks by storing hydrogen within other materials.

Ionic Industries announces a process for economically mass-producing graphene micro supercapacitors



Ionic Industries recently announced a process for economically mass-producing graphene micro supercapacitors and added that its directors and key personnel have taken direct stakes in the company.

Ionic Industries’ graphene supercapacitors patent image




Ionic stated that since it published the positive results on its graphene micro planar supercapacitors 2 years before, the company has been working toward developing a device that not only demonstrates similar performance but can be produced at scale to deliver an economically viable device.

The last 2 years of work reportedly culminated in the filing of a new patent titled: Capacitive energy storage device and method of producing same (Australian Provisional Patent Application 2017903619). 

The new patent covers: the design of new energy storage device, being a planar micro supercapacitor printed on a porous film; Ionic’s technique of stacking multiple layers of planar supercapacitors to create a 3D device that has ground-breaking energy and power density characteristics; and, most importantly, the company’s method for printing these devices so that they can be mass produced at low cost.

The critical element in this new technology is the ability to print the supercapacitors in the 1000s per minute, rather than individually creating each device with an expensive, direct-write approaches using lasers or ion beams. The technology builds on Ionic’s existing patent relating to graphene oxide membranes and it means the company could create these devices as easily as factories today produce food packaging and labels using gravure printers.

The team is now working on assembling the prototype device which is scheduled for completion in the next 6 weeks before it go into trials for a period of several months. 
The expected end result is a supercapacitor energy storage device comprised of printed graphene micro planar supercapacitors that can be produced economically at scale.

Ionic stated that it is extremely excited about this development as it brings it well within sight of a commercial product. The next steps involve identifying appropriate, world leading partners with whom Ionic can introduce this technology into products such as medical devices, wearable technologies, IoT devices or remote sensing applications.