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 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


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.

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
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

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.

NREL, Swiss Scientists Power Past Solar Efficiency Records

NREL scientist Adele Tamboli, co-author of a recent article on silicon-based multijunction solar cells, stands in front of an array of solar panels. Credit: Dennis Schroeder

August 25, 2017

Second collaborative effort proves silicon-based multijunction cells that reach nearly 36% efficiency

Collaboration between researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM), and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) shows the high potential of silicon-based multijunction solar cells.

The research groups created tandem solar cells with record efficiencies of converting sunlight into electricity under 1-sun illumination. The resulting paper, “Raising the One-Sun Conversion Efficiency of III–V/Si Solar Cells to 32.8% for Two Junctions and 35.9% for Three Junctions,” appears in the new issue of Nature Energy. Solar cells made solely from materials in Groups III and V of the Periodic Table have shown high efficiencies, but are more expensive.

Stephanie Essig, a former NREL post-doctoral researcher now working at EPFL in Switzerland, is lead author of the newly published research that details the steps taken to improve the efficiency of the multijunction cell. While at NREL, Essig co-authored “Realization of GaInP/Si Dual-Junction Solar Cells with 29.8% 1-Sun Efficiency,” which was published in the IEEE Journal of Photovoltaics a year ago.

In addition to Essig, authors of the new research paper are Timothy Remo, John F. Geisz, Myles A. Steiner, David L. Young, Kelsey Horowitz, Michael Woodhouse, and Adele Tamboli, all with NREL; and Christophe Allebe, Loris Barraud, Antoine Descoeudres, Matthieu Despeisse, and Christophe Ballif, all from CSEM.

“This achievement is significant because it shows, for the first time, that silicon-based tandem cells can provide efficiencies competing with more expensive multijunction cells consisting entirely of III-V materials,” Tamboli said. “It opens the door to develop entirely new multijunction solar cell materials and architectures.”

In testing silicon-based multijunction solar cells, the researchers found that the highest dual-junction efficiency (32.8%) came from a tandem cell that stacked a layer of gallium arsenide (GaAs) developed by NREL atop a film of crystalline silicon developed by CSEM. An efficiency of 32.5% was achieved using a gallium indium phosphide (GaInP) top cell, which is a similar structure to the previous record efficiency of 29.8% announced in January 2016. 

A third cell, consisting of a GaInP/GaAs tandem cell stacked on a silicon bottom cell, reached a triple-junction efficiency of 35.9%—just 2% below the overall triple-junction record.

The existing photovoltaics market is dominated by modules made of single-junction silicon solar cells, with efficiencies between 17% and 24%. 

The researchers noted in the report that making the transition from a silicon single-junction cell to a silicon-based dual-junction solar cell will enable manufacturers to push efficiencies past 30% while still benefiting from their expertise in making silicon solar cells.

The obstacle to the adoption of these multijunction silicon-based solar cells, at least in the near term, is the cost. Assuming 30% efficiency, the researchers estimated the GaInP-based cell would cost $4.85 per watt and the GaAs-based cell would cost $7.15 per watt. 

But as manufacturing ramps up and the efficiencies of these types of cells climbs to 35%, the researchers predict the cost per watt could fall to 66 cents for a GaInP-based cell and to 85 cents for the GaAs-based cell. 

The scientists noted that such a precipitous price drop is not unprecedented; for instance, the cost of Chinese-made photovoltaic modules fell from $4.50 per watt in 2006 to $1 per watt in 2011.

The cost of a solar module in the United States accounts for 20% to 40% of the price of a photovoltaic system. Increasing cell efficiency to 35%, the researchers estimated, could reduce the system cost by as much as 45 cents per watt for commercial installations. 

However, if the costs of a III-V cell cannot be reduced to the levels of the researchers’ long-term scenario, then the use of cheaper, high-efficiency materials for the top cell will be needed to make them cost-competitive in general power markets.

The funding for the research came from the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative—which aims to make solar energy a low-cost electricity source for all Americans through research and development efforts in collaboration with public and private partners—and from the Swiss Confederation and the initiative.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

Google’s Parent Company Will Soon Compete With Tesla for Energy Storage Solutions: Project Malta at ‘Alphabet X’

Maximizing Renewables

Given the dramatic impact human-made carbon emissions are having on our planet, cleaner energy sources have become increasingly popular alternatives to their fossil fuel counterparts. Currently, solar and wind are the most widely used renewable energy sources, but both are dependent on certain conditions.

The former can capture energy only during daylight hours, while the latter is more unpredictable, but often peaks at night.
As such, there’s a mismatch between when solar and wind energy are available and when energy is needed.

The world needs a way to maximize renewable energy usage, and that’s what Malta, a project currently brewing at Alphabet X, the “moonshot” factory by Google’s parent company, is hoping to provide.

The goal of Alphabet X is to develop technologies that could “someday make the world a radically better place.” The organization follows a three-part blueprint for their moonshot projects that starts with identifying a “huge problem” and then providing a “radical solution” that could be implemented using a “breakthrough technology.”

For Malta, the idea was to find a way to maximize the use of energy generated from renewables. Their radical solution is bridging the gap between renewable energy and grid-scale energy storage technologies using a breakthrough technology developed by Stanford physicist and Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin.

According to the project’s website, this technology is still theoretical and involves storing electricity as either heat within molten salt or cold within a liquid similar to the antifreeze used in cars. They claim this energy could remain stored for up to weeks at a time.

Storing Energy

Essentially, Malta is hoping to develop clean and cost-effective energy storage devices, which is similar to the concept behind Tesla’s Powerpack. The difference between the Malta project’s tech and the Powerpack is mostly what’s inside. While Tesla’s energy storage device uses 16 individual battery pods, Malta’s relies on molten salt or the antifreeze-like liquid.

Additionally, the tanks used to store the salt used by Malta’s system could potentially last for up to 40 years, which the project claims is three or more times longer than other current storage options. That extended lifespan would make Malta a cheaper alternative to other renewable energy storage devices.
alphabet x malta renewable energy.

Image credit: Malta/X

After two years of developing and designing their system, the Malta team is now gearing up to test the commercial viability of their technology. “The next step is to build a megawatt-scale prototype plant which would be large enough to prove the technology at commercial scale,” according to their website.
We now have multiple ways to generate energy from renewables, but if we ever hope to fully transition away from traditional energy solutions, we need better storage devices.

Though they are clearly better for the environment, renewables aren’t as consistent as fossil fuels, and that unreliability is a huge barrier to widespread adoption.

Storage systems like those proposed by Malta could collect the energy generated by renewables and ensure it is available to power grids whenever needed, putting us one step closer to a future completely free of fossil fuels.

Watch Our Video on a New Energy Storage Company for Nano-Enabled Batteries and Super Capacitors

Update: 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 Manfacturing Process
 Low Manufacturing Cost
 Rapid Charge/ Re-Charge
 Flexible Form Factor
 Long Warranty Life
 Non-Toxic
 Highly Scalable

Key Markets & Commercial Applications

 EV, (18650 & 21700); Drone and Marine Batteries
 Wearable Electronics and The Internet of Things
 Estimated $240 Billion Market by 2025

Harnessing the Functionality and ‘Power’ of Perovskites for Better Solar and LED’s

Originally a mineral, the perovskite used in today’s technology is quite different from the rock found in the Earth mantle. 

A “perovskite structure” uses a different combination of atoms but keep the general 3-dimensional structure originally observed in the mineral, which possesses superb optoelectronic properties such as strong light absorption and facilitated charge transport. These advantages qualify the perovskite structure as particularly suited for the design of electronic devices, from solar cells to lights.

The accelerating progress in perovskite technology over the past few years suggest new perovskite-based devices will soon outperform current technology in the energy sector. 

The Energy Materials and Surface Sciences Unit at OIST led by Prof. Yabing Qi is at the forefront of this development, with now two new scientific publications focusing on the improvement of perovskite solar cells and a cheaper and smarter way to produce emerging perovskite-based LED lights.

An extra layer in a solar cell “sandwich”

Perovskite-based solar cells is a rising technology forecast to replace the classic photovoltaic cells currently dominating the industry. 

In just seven years of development, the efficiency of perovskite solar cells increased to almost rival – and is expected to soon overtake – commercial photovoltaic cells, but the perovskite structure still plagued by a short lifespan due to stability issues. 

scientists have made constant baby steps in improving the cells stability, identifying the degradations factors and providing solutions towards better solar cell architecture.

The new finding, reported in the Journal of Physical Chemistry B (“Engineering Interface Structure to Improve Efficiency and Stability of Organometal Halide Perovskite Solar Cells”), suggests interactions between components of the solar cell itself are responsible for the rapid degradation of the device. 

More precisely, the titanium oxide layer extracting electrons made available through solar energy – effectively creating an electric current – causes unwanted deterioration of the neighboring perovskite layer. 

Imagine the solar cell as a multi-layered club sandwich: if not properly assembled, fresh and juicy vegetables in contact with the bread slices will make the bread very soggy in a matter of hours. 

But if you add a layer of ham or turkey between the vegetables and the bread, then your sandwich stays crisp all day in the lunchroom refrigerator.

A perovskite-based layer includes many layers, including for example the electrodes on both sides, and the perovskite in the middle. The addition of a polystyrene layer in-between prevents the titanium oxide layer to deteriorate the perovskite, but does not affect the overall power conversion efficiency. (© American Chemical Society)

This is exactly what the OIST researchers achieved: they inserted in the solar cell an additional layer made from a polymer to prevent direct contact between the titanium oxide and the perovskite layers. 
This polymer layer is insulating but very thin, which means it lets the electron current tunnel through yet does not diminish the overall efficiency of the solar cell, while efficiently protecting the perovskite structure.

“We added a very thin sheet, only a few nanometers wide, of polystyrene between the perovskite layer and the titanium oxide layer,” explained Dr. Longbin Qiu. 

“Electrons can still tunnel cross this new layer and it does not affect the light absorption of the cell. This way, we were able to extend the lifetime of the cell four-fold without loss in energy conversion efficiency”.

The lifespan of the new perovskite device was extended to over 250 hours – still not enough to compete with commercial photovoltaic cells regarding stability, but an important step forward toward fully functional perovskite solar cells.

Manufacturing LED lights from gasses

The bipolar electronic properties of the perovskite structure not only confer them the ability to generate electricity from solar energy but also can convert electricity into vivid light. Light-Emitting Diode – LED – technology, omnipresent in our daily life from laptop and smartphone screens to car lights and ceiling tubes, currently relies on semi-conductors that are difficult and expensive to manufacture. Perovskite LEDs are envisaged to become the new industry standard in the near future due to the lower cost and their efficiency to convert power into light. Moreover, by changing the atomic composition in the perovskite structure, perovskite LED can be easily tuned to emit specific colors.

The manufacturing of these perovskite LEDs is currently based on dipping or covering the targeted surface with liquid chemicals, a process which is difficult to setup, limited to small areas and with low consistency between samples. To overcome this issue, OIST researchers reported in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters (“Methylammonium Lead Bromide Perovskite Light-Emitting Diodes by Chemical Vapor Deposition”) the first perovskite LED assembled with gasses, a process called chemical vapor deposition or CVD.

“Chemical vapor deposition is already compatible with the industry, so in principle it would be easy to use this technology to produce LEDs,” commented Prof. Yabing Qi. “The second advantage in using CVD is a much lower variation from batch to batch compared to liquid-based techniques. Finally, the last point is scalability: CVD can achieve a uniform surface over very large areas”.

Like the solar cell, the perovskite LED also comprises many layers working in synergy. First, an indium tin oxide glass sheet and a polymer layer allow electrons into the LED. The chemicals required for the perovskite layer – lead bromide and methylammonium bromide – are then successively bound to the sample using CVD, in which the sample is exposed to gasses in order to convert to perovskite instead of typically solution-coating processes with liquid. In this process, the perovskite layer is composed of nanometer-small grains, whose sizes play a critical role in the efficiency of the device. Finally, the last step involves the deposition of two additional layers and a gold electrode, forming a complete LED structure. The LED can even form specific patterns using lithography during the manufacturing process.

Perovskite LED fabrication

Top: the perovskite LED sits in a furnace, where the Methylammonium Bromide (MABr) in gaseous form will be introduced into the system and deposit on the LED surface. Bottom left: a glass-based LED, glowing green when electricity is applied. Bottom right: size and shapes of the perovskite grains on the surface of the LED. (© American Chemical Society)

“With large grains, the surface of the LED is rough and less efficient in emitting light. The smaller the grain size, the higher the efficiency and the brighter the light,” explained Dr. Lingqiang Meng. “By changing the assembly temperature, we can now control the growth process and the size of the grains for the best efficiency”.

Controlling the grain size is not the only challenge for this first-of-its-kind assembling technique of LED lights.

“Perovskite is great, but the choice in the adjacent layers is really important too,” added Dr. Luis K. Ono. “To achieve high electricity-to-light conversion rates, every layer should be working in harmony with the others.”

The result is a flexible, thick film-like LED with a customizable pattern. The luminance, or brightness, currently reaches 560 cd/m2, while a typical computer screen emits 100 to 1000 cd/m2 and a ceiling fluorescent tube around 12,000 cd/m2.


This large perovskite-LED was produced using chemical vapor deposition and connect to a 5V current, illuminating through an OIST pattern etched on the surface. (© American Chemical Society)

“Our next step is to improve the luminance a thousand-fold or more,” concluded Dr. Meng. “In addition, we have achieved a CVD-based LED emitting green light but we are now trying to repeat the process with different combinations of perovskite to obtain a vivid blue or red light”.

Source: By Wilko Duprez, Okinawa Institute of Technology

MIT team creates flexible, transparent solar cells with graphene electrodes

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed flexible and transparent graphene-based solar cells, which can be mounted on various surfaces ranging from glass to plastic to paper and tape. The graphene devices exhibited optical transmittance of 61% across the whole visible regime and up to 69% at 550 nanometers. The power conversion efficiency of the graphene solar cells ranged from 2.8% to 4.1%.

MIT team’s flexible, transparent solar cell with graphene electrodes image

A common challenge in making transparent solar cells with graphene is getting the two electrodes to stick together and to the substrate, as well as ensuring that electrons only flow out of one of the graphene layers. Using heat or glue can damage the material and reduce its conductivity, so the MIT team developed a new technique to tackle this issue. Rather than applying an adhesive between the graphene and the substrate, they sprayed a thin layer of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) over the top, sticking them together like tape instead of glue.

The MIT team compared their graphene electrode solar cells against others made from standard materials like aluminum and indium tin oxide (ITO), built on rigid glass and flexible substrates. The power conversion efficiency (PCE) of the graphene solar cells was far lower than regular solar panels, but much better than previous transparent solar cells. This is a positive advancement, obviously.
Samples of solar cells using electrodes of different materials for testing image

Efficiency is often a trade-off from the graphene solar cells being flexible and transparent. In that regard the cells performed well, transmitting almost 70% of the light in the middle of the human range of vision. Hopefully the numbers will continue to improve. According to the researchers’ calculations, the efficiency of these graphene solar cells could be pushed as high as 10% without losing any transparency, and doing just that is the next step in the project. The researchers are also working on ways to scale up the system to cover windows and walls.
Source:  newatlas

Grid Batteries Are Poised to Become Cheaper Than Natural-Gas Plants in Minnesota

A 60-acre solar farm in Camp Ripley, a National Guard base in Minnesota.

A new report suggests the economics of large-scale batteries are reaching an important inflection point.

When it comes to renewable energy, Minnesota isn’t typically a headline-grabber: in 2016 it got about 18 percent of its energy from wind, good enough to rank in the top 10 states. 
But it’s just 28th in terms of installed solar capacity, and its relatively small size means projects within its borders rarely garner the attention that giants like California and Texas routinely get.

A new report on the future of energy in the state should turn some heads (PDF). According to the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab, starting in 2019 and for the foreseeable future, the overall cost of building grid-scale storage there will be less than that of building natural-gas plants to meet future energy demand.

Minnesota currently gets about 21 percent of its energy from renewables. That’s not bad, but current plans also call for bringing an additional 1,800 megawatts of gas-fired “peaker” plants online by 2028 to meet growing demand. As the moniker suggests, these plants are meant to spin up quickly to meet daily peaks in energy demand—something renewables tend to be bad at because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.

Storing energy from renewables could solve that problem, but it’s traditionally been thought of as too expensive compared with other forms of energy.

The new report suggests otherwise. According to the analysis, bringing lithium-ion batteries online for grid storage would be a good way to stockpile energy for when it’s needed, and it would prove less costly than building and operating new natural-gas plants.

The finding comes at an interesting time. For one thing, the price of lithium-ion batteries continues to plummet, something that certainly has the auto industry’s attention. And grid-scale batteries, while still relatively rare, are popping up more and more these days. The Minnesota report, then, suggests that such projects may become increasingly common—and could be a powerful way to lower emissions without sending our power bills skyrocketing in the process.
(Read more: Minnesota Public Radio, “Texas and California Have Too Much Renewable Energy,” 

“The One and Only Texas Wind Boom,” “By 2040, More Than Half of All New Cars Could Be Electric”)

World’s Largest Lithium-Ion Battery System to be Built in Australia by Tesla + Video


You’d think the biggest Tesla news today would be surrounding landmark production of Tesla Model 3 SN1 — aka serial number 1. 

However, news emerged that Elon Musk was on the other side of the world. Wall Street Journal* reports, “Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk has agreed to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery system in Australia, an ambitious project that he hopes will show how the technology can help solve energy problems.”

Above: Tesla is planning the world’s biggest battery installation in South Australia (Image: Tesla)

It’s reported that, “The plan is to build a 100-megawatt storage system in the state of South Australia—which has been hit by a string of blackouts over the past year—that will collect power generated by a wind farm built by French energy company Neoen.” Musk emphasized the magnitude of the project, explaining: ““This is not a minor foray into the frontier, this is like going three times further than anyone has gone before.”

Above: More on Tesla’s project in South Australia (Youtube: Jay Weatherill)
It turns out that “Tesla was selected from more than 90 bids to build a storage system for the state, said South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill. The value of the project wasn’t disclosed. The origins of the deal trace back to a Twitter exchange in March between Mr. Musk and local entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes, which led to conversations between Mr. Musk and Mr. Weatherill and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.”

Above: Tesla CEO Elon Musk and South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill (Twitter: Jay Weatherill)

True to his word, “Mr. Musk pledged to complete the project—which he said will be three times more powerful than any other battery system in the world—within 100 days of signing an agreement or it would be free.” In addition, “Once the project is completed, which Tesla expects will happen by the start of the Australian summer in December, it will be larger than a storage facility in the Southern California desert also built on Tesla batteries.”

Above: Tesla Powerpack installation (Image: Tesla)
According to Tesla, “The project will provide enough power for more than 30,000 homes, about equal to the number of homes that lost power during the blackouts.” Back in Fremont, the Tesla factory will get started on the first-ever production Model 3. Coming off historic rocket launches at SpaceX, chalk up another landmark milestone (or two) for Tesla today — just another week of work for the Iron Man, Elon Musk.

*Source: Wall Street Journal