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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contributions by Tom Metcalf

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


Investor coin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis Is Going Very Electric, Very Soon


Genesis going electric

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

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

1st Gear: Genesis Isn’t Waiting Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4th Gear: 2021 Imprezas Recalled For Welding Issue

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

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

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

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

5th Gear: Tesla Roadster Delayed

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

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

Reverse: Let’s Go See The ‘Vettes

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

Hydrogen Cars – How do Fuel Cells Really Work? Where do they fit into the Alternative Fuel Plan? Will they Prove to be the ‘Ultimate’ Renewable Fuel?


Many project hydrogen as the ultimate alternative fuel, but how does it stack up now and in the future?

In the conversation of sustainable motoring, there has long been a quiet alternative to electricity as a propulsion for our cars – hydrogen. Projected by many as a no-compromise alternative fuel that just needs more development, the reality is somewhat more complicated.

Manufacturers are persisting regardless, with Toyota, Honda and Hyundai all at the forefront of the technology in 2021.

Its future in locomotive and long-haul trucking will almost certainly drive its continued development, and as the technology matures further some have started thinking about its applications in future motorsport – an offshoot from the main technological drive that could make it viable, and crucially more entertaining than racing EVs.

What is hydrogen fuel, and how does it work?

As the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen is a great place to start when it comes to using it as fuel. Yet while sourcing it isn’t an issue, the process of turning it into useable fuel is where the complexity lies. For use in cars, hydrogen needs to be turned into its liquid form, which requires it to be compressed and kept at cryogenic temperatures.

This process is both energy intensive and expensive, which is where the practical realities of its commercial use come into question. As it stands, the production of compressed hydrogen is more energy and carbon intensive than what it gives back during the ‘burn’, but this process is being continually refined and improved. Soon, there will be a Europe-recognised certification of ‘Green Hydrogen’, which will guarantee the carbon neutrality of its production.

There are also many entirely different ways that hydrogen can create energy and thus drive cars, further complicating the technology. For the sake of simplicity let’s focus on the main two: hydrogen combustion and hydrogen fuel cells.

Hydrogen combustion

Hydrogen combustion works, as its name suggests, in exactly the same way as fossil fuel combustion engines, but without the carbon emissions. It sounds perfect, in theory, but the reality is quite different. In this process, liquid hydrogen is stored in an insulated and pressurised tank where it is injected directly into the cylinders at high pressure, burning in the same four-stroke cycle as a normal petrol engine.

Running fuel in a pressurised circuit is not the issue – cars that burn compressed natural gas are common in Australia and Brazil. Rather it lies in compressed hydrogen’s poor energy density, which makes it burn very inefficiently. BMW developed a limited-run version of a 7-seriesback in 2002 with a V12 engine converted to run on liquid hydrogen, but its fuel consumption was rated at around 50l/100kms or 4.7mpg, around four times higher than that of its petrol V12 counterpart.

From an emissions perspective, the carbon footprint of producing that much fuel is extremely high per kg, which more than counteracted its lack of a CO2 output at the exhaust pipe. And there is another long-standing issue associated with burning liquid hydrogen, as while it may not produce CO2, it does still produce large amounts of nitrogen oxide (NOx), or more specifically the nasty greenhouse gas associated with VW’s dieselgate emissions scandal.

Hydrogen cars – cutaway

Hydrogen fuel cells

Hydrogen fuel cells, by contrast, don’t burn liquid hydrogen, but create electricity from it by a completely different method.

Rather than using any form of combustion engine, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles use the process of electrolysis to create electricity, which feeds a battery and then an electric motor.

As well as being far more efficient per unit of liquid hydrogen than quite literally setting it on fire in a combustion process, a fuel cell also produces no harmful NOx emissions. This, in theory, combines the benefits of EVs and combustion engines, with the former’s lack of harmful emissions and the latter’s fast fill time come refuelling.

The drawbacks once again come from the process of creating the liquid hydrogen, before taking into account the relative complexity and expense of having what is essentially a tiny atom-splitting power station on your driveway.

As battery technology continues to grow in leaps and bounds, the benefits of a quick fill time will also become less of a drawcard.

This hasn’t stopped manufacturers such as Hyundai and Toyota from persisting with hydrogen fuel cells, exemplified by the all-new second-generation Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo. So while your next car is far more likely to be electric than hydrogen, it certainly will have its place in the wider ecosystem.

Hydrogen cars – mirai engine bay

Motorsport and combustion engines

For those of us skeptical about the reality of carbon-neutral motor racing, hydrogen does offer another alternative to traditional eFuels as a clean fuel source for the continuation of motorsport and combustion engines.

While widespread applications of hydrogen combustion engines make little commercial sense, the ability to run racing engines on liquid hydrogen could be a possibility in future.

Toyota is already experimenting with the technology, running a converted Corolla racing car in the Japanese Super Taikyu Series in 2021. As mentioned above, the lack of carbon emission is the obvious reason to apply this technology, although Toyota has not approached the issue of NOx.

Luckily, technology to remove nitrogen oxide from exhaust gases has been underpinned by advances in diesel technology of all places, utilising AdBlue technology, or a mixture of urea and deionised water, to remove NOx before it reaches the end of the exhaust pipe.

Read the Top 4 Articles from Genesis Nanotech This Week Like: New MIT Nano-Kevlar – Hydrogen Fuel from the Sea + More …


An Alternative to Kevlar – MIT and Caltech Create Nanotech Carbon Materials – Can withstand supersonic microparticle impacts

New Nanoscale Material Harvests Hydrogen Fuel From the Sea – University of Central Florida

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Engineers Develop a Simple Way to Desalinate Water Using Solar Energy – Reduced Costs + 4X Production Volume

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Hydrogen Powered Fuel Cell EV’s? Or Battery Powered EV’s? Toyota is Placing a Bet on the Green Future

Hydrogen Powered Fuel Cell EV’s? Or Battery Powered EV’s? Toyota is Placing a Bet on the Green Future


While Toyota has seen success far and wide as an early pioneer of hybrid cars, it’s had much less luck with another technology it has invested heavily in: hydrogen-powered fuel cell EVs.

While the rest of the electric car market is going heavily battery-powered, Toyota is still banking on hydrogen power in many ways—even as competitors like Honda and BMW have seemingly dialed down their hydrogen ambitions. Now we know that Toyota’s conservative battery EV strategy and its big bet on hydrogen are closely related issues.

Toyota’s HFC Car

A recent report from the New York Times shows that the company’s hydrogen play has become further reaching than just internal development; it has also become political.

Toyota’s H2 Mirai

According to the report, a Toyota executive has been traveling to Washington on behalf of the automaker and has taken steps to slow the entire industry’s adoption of electric vehicles. Chris Reynolds, a high-ranking senior executive for Toyota, reportedly has held closed-door meetings with congressional staff members.

At least four people familiar with the matter told the New York Times that Reynolds argued against an aggressive rollout of fully electric vehicles, instead urging for a focus on hybrids (like the Prius) and other alternatively-fueled vehicles, like hydrogen-powered fuel-cell EVs.

This all comes at a time when multiple automakers are planning to go fully or mostly battery electric in the years to come, often driven by tightening emissions rules in China and Europe. Toyota, on the other hand, feels incredibly late to the EV game.

Despite Toyota’s recent ambitious plans to launch 15 fully electric cars by 2025, it has only shown the world a concept of its upcoming bZ4X while other manufacturers like Audi, Ford, Hyundai, Jaguar, Porsche, Volvo, and Volkswagen all have at least one BEV for sale today.

So if Toyota can persuade lawmakers of the importance of hybrids over EVs and successfully stymie funding for EV-related infrastructure and incentives, it could give the automaker more time to separate from its crutch on hybrids and catch up to other manufacturers.

The potential impact of lobbying against BEVs can be seen in the recently proposed infrastructure spending bill, which cuts the government funding for expanding the EV charging infrastructure in half of what was anticipated by President Joe Biden’s staffers to deploy 500,000 EV charging stations nationwide.

In addition to doing a potential disservice to American EV adopters, these actions could potentially impede the already full-speed efforts by other automakers pushing towards aggressive EV rollouts.

It is worth noting, Reynolds was recently named board chair for the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. The alliance is a lobbying organization that represents the interests of many automakers and OEM suppliers, many of which aren’t as heavily invested in hydrogen power or hybrids as Toyota.

China’s Dominance Of Clean Energy Supply Chains Raises Concerns


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Over the past decade, no major energy source has grown faster than solar power. According to the 2020 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity has grown at an average annual rate of over 42% over the past 10 years, translating into a doubling of global capacity every 1.7 years on average.

Although that blistering pace could start slowing down as installed capacity grows, solar will likely remain the fastest-growing energy source for the foreseeable future. Much as with other energy sources, however, solar growth is giving rise to a number of thorny questions regarding geopolitics, supply chains, and national security.

The Path to Decarbonization

From a North American perspective, the election of Joe Biden as U.S. President has breathed new life into the Paris climate agreement — the most significant global effort to rein in carbon dioxide emissions to date. Fulfilling a key campaign promise, President Biden officially rejoined the Paris accord last month. At the same time, following meetings between President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada also pledged to submit its own new target under the Paris pact, with the two leaders insisting on a joint approach to climate issues.

The European Union, for its part, has consistently maintained an aggressive stance toward carbon emission reductions. The EU is on a path to surpass its goal of generating a third of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Last September, the European Commission presented its plan to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. That would put the EU on a path to reach climate neutrality by 2050.

All of these efforts point to one inescapable conclusion: installed renewable energy capacity will continue to rise as governments on both sides of the Atlantic pour money into decarbonization efforts.

At the same time, many of these countries are understandably sensitive about energy security. Political leaders don’t like to depend on other countries for their energy supplies, but this is frequently an accepted trade-off due to economic considerations.

That pattern has long held true for fossil fuels, with OPEC maintaining a stranglehold on the world’s oil supplies until the U.S. fracking boom somewhat weakened its monopoly. Now, as the renewable revolution picks up steam, one country – China – has built up a clear advantage around certain key renewable technologies, in particular the components needed to construct solar energy infrastructure in the West.

Huawei in the Spotlight

China’s own energy consumption continues to grow rapidly, making the Chinese economy the world’s largest energy consumer. As a result, Beijing invested aggressively in renewables and has now achieved predominant market shares in solar photovoltaics as well as lithium-ion batteries, another key renewable technology.

Chinese state-linked company Huawei, better known for telecommunications equipment and consumer electronics, has also become one of the world’s largest suppliers of solar inverters, a critical part of solar PV systems that converts direct current power generated by solar panels into alternating current electricity to power electronics in homes and businesses.

Huawei’s dominant position in the inverter market, coupled with the backing it enjoys from the Chinese government, has raised concerns in the U.S. In 2019, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators sent letters to Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, urging them to ban the sale of all Huawei solar products in the U.S., citing a national security threat to U.S. energy infrastructure.

Noting that Congress had previously blocked Huawei from the U.S. telecommunications equipment market due to concerns over its links to China’s intelligence services, the letter stated in part:

“Both large-scale photovoltaic systems and those used by homeowners, school districts, and businesses are equally vulnerable to cyberattacks. Our federal government should consider a ban on the use of Huawei inverters in the United States and work with state and local regulators to raise awareness and mitigate potential threats.”

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Comparing finite and renewable planetary energy reserves (Terawatt-years). Total recoverable reserves are shown for the finite resources. Yearly potential is shown for the renewables.

The concern is that if the U.S. power grid becomes dependent on a critical piece of state-linked Chinese electronic equipment, it could render that grid especially vulnerable to outside disruption or manipulation. This dynamic mirrors concerns in the U.S. about reliance on OPEC for oil supplies. Huawei responded to what it called an “unwelcoming climate being fostered in the United States” by closing its U.S. inverter business.

Europe’s Diverging Approach

A more ambivalent approach toward Huawei was initially adopted in the EU, which only agreed to reduce its dependency on equipment susceptible to Chinese government influence for future 5G networks. However, officials in a number of EU countries are now sounding an alarm over the Chinese state’s role in sectors of their economies that represent key national security interests, including banking, energy, and infrastructure.

Those concerns extend to solar energy, with EU policymakers also expressing concern over China’s use of Muslim forced labor in solar PV module supply chains. That issue has given additional impetus to the European Parliament, which is now pushing for trade bans on Chinese solar module equipment if human rights abuses are involved in their manufacture.

These factors all create major incentives for Western countries to address Chinese state dominance in the clean energy sector. That imbalance didn’t arise overnight, and it will take some time to address.

President Biden took a step in that direction by signing an executive order aimed at making U.S. supply chains more resilient. Among other things, the report calls for identifying “risks in the supply chain for high-capacity batteries, including electric-vehicle batteries, and policy recommendations to address these risks.”

The EU will now have to decide whether it is ready to pursue a similar approach. Clean energy supply chains haven’t received a lot of policy attention until recently, but governments are increasingly under pressure to ensure potential threats to those supply chains don’t derail global efforts to decarbonize.

Article from The Energy Collective Group: Robert Rapier

‘Artificial leaf’ concept inspires research into solar-powered fuel production: Rice University


A schematic and electron microscope cross-section show the structure of an integrated, solar-powered catalyst to split water into hydrogen fuel and oxygen. The module developed at Rice University can be immersed into water directly to produce fuel when exposed to sunlight. Credit: Jia Liang/Rice University

Rice University researchers have created an efficient, low-cost device that splits water to produce hydrogen fuel.

The platform developed by the Brown School of Engineering lab of Rice materials scientist Jun Lou integrates catalytic electrodes and  that, when triggered by sunlight, produce electricity. The current flows to the catalysts that turn water into hydrogen and oxygen, with a sunlight-to-hydrogen efficiency as high as 6.7%.

This sort of catalysis isn’t new, but the lab packaged a  layer and the electrodes into a single module that, when dropped into water and placed in sunlight, produces hydrogen with no further input.

The  introduced by Lou, lead author and Rice postdoctoral fellow Jia Liang and their colleagues in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano is a self-sustaining producer of  that, they say, should be simple to produce in bulk.

“The concept is broadly similar to an artificial leaf,” Lou said. “What we have is an integrated module that turns sunlight into electricity that drives an electrochemical reaction. It utilizes water and sunlight to get chemical fuels.”

Perovskites are crystals with cubelike lattices that are known to harvest light. The most efficient perovskite  produced so far achieve an efficiency above 25%, but the materials are expensive and tend to be stressed by light, humidity and heat.

“Jia has replaced the more expensive components, like platinum, in perovskite solar cells with alternatives like carbon,” Lou said. “That lowers the entry barrier for commercial adoption. Integrated devices like this are promising because they create a system that is sustainable. This does not require any external power to keep the module running.”

Liang said the key component may not be the perovskite but the polymer that encapsulates it, protecting the module and allowing to be immersed for long periods.

“Others have developed catalytic systems that connect the solar cell outside the water to immersed electrodes with a wire,” he said. “We simplify the system by encapsulating the perovskite layer with a Surlyn (polymer) film.”

The patterned film allows sunlight to reach the solar cell while protecting it and serves as an insulator between the cells and the electrodes, Liang said.

“With a clever system design, you can potentially make a self-sustaining loop,” Lou said. “Even when there’s no sunlight, you can use stored energy in the form of chemical fuel. You can put the hydrogen and oxygen products in separate tanks and incorporate another module like a fuel cell to turn those fuels back into electricity.”

The researchers said they will continue to improve the encapsulation technique as well as the solar themselves to raise the efficiency of the modules.

More information: Jia Liang et al, A Low-Cost and High-Efficiency Integrated Device toward Solar-Driven Water Splitting, ACS Nano (2020). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.9b09053

Journal information: ACS Nano

Provided by Rice University

Promising Lithium Production from US Sedimentary Deposits – America’s ‘Lithium Valley’ may be Key to New Energy Economy


Lithium is an essential component of electric vehicle batteries which occurs abundantly in the Earth’s crust in many different forms, roughly classified as pegmatites (“hard rock”), brines, and sedimentary deposits (which you may sometimes hear erroneously generalized as “clays”)

America’s Lithium Valley

Do you think driving a Tesla or plugging-in to solar power are environmentally-conscious choices? Then you should know it’s almost certain the batteries in those systems traveled around the world two or three times before they were even installed. That’s not very “green,” is it? Lithium-ion batteries, found in so many things we use every day, often have a rather costly carbon footprint. That could soon change with a discovery that’s just a couple hours north of Tesla’s Gigafactory. A Canadian mining company, LithiumAmericas, identified what’s one of the world’s largest lithium deposits inside the footprint of an ancient volcano. NBCLX Storyteller Chase Cain takes us to the ancient volcano in Nevada that could hold the future of a green energy boom in the West.

Currently, only pegmatite and brine resources are used to produce lithium chemical products commercially.

But a host of new players aiming to produce lithium using sedimentary deposits in Western North America and around the world are coming on the scene.

The sedimentary deposit projects claim to take advantage of favorable chemistry of processing the sediments, sometimes described as the “best of both worlds” when compared to pegmatites and brines. In this article, I will share what are some of the most promising features of sedimentary deposit projects, who’s working on developing these deposits, and why investors and mainstream capital markets should take them seriously as future sources of lithium chemical products. It will be helpful to understand some of the pros and cons of processing pegmatites and brines into lithium chemical products to understand the “best of both worlds” argument for the sedimentary deposits.

Pegmatites

In pegmatites, lithium is strongly bound in crystal structures like aluminosilicates (Al, Si oxides) and because the lithium is so tightly bound in the structure, the mineral requires aggressive processing to remove it to make lithium chemicals.

Spodumene [(LiAl(SiO3)2] is the most widely mined lithium-bearing pegmatite, and has been successfully developed into a significant source of lithium commercially (representing around half of global supply in 2019). It is first dug up and crushed to smaller pieces. The crushed material is then “upgraded” to remove waste materials from the mine that are not spodumene and don’t contain lithium. Once upgraded, calcination (heating to ~1,000°C) is used to convert the crystal to a different structure that is more amenable to removing the lithium.

These high temperatures are typically generated using coal or natural gas, meaning the carbon footprint of roasting pegmatites is typically higher than processing of other lithium resources.

The roasting is a fundamental aspect of extraction of lithium from spodumene because of their crystal structure, and it is difficult to get around this. Some other pegmatites may not require this roasting step however.

img_1752 Lithium Mining in Nevada

This calcination process is followed by a chemical treatment to extract the lithium. This gives a mostly pure lithium concentrate (called the leachate) which can be refined into lithium chemical products with a relatively simple technological approach involving addition of chemicals.

Pegmatites are a good source of lithium because they are easy to manipulate from a mining engineering perspective, and the leachate obtained from the chemical treatment isn’t heavily contaminated with elements with similar chemical characteristics to lithium (ex. alkali/alkaline earths like Na, K, Mg, Ca, Sr), meaning the impurities are easy to remove from the leachate. The waste produced from spodumene operations can be simply put aside or used for other applications like concrete manufacturing and other applications.

Lithium can be produced from other minerals like lepidolite and zinnwaldite using similar flowsheets to spodumene, but some modifications are required depending on the unique mineralogy.

Brines

Brine resources are very different from pegmatites from a lithium extraction and processing perspective.

Brines are high concentration salty reservoirs in which salts are dissolved (ex. Li, Na, K, Mg, Ca, Sr are common cations, or positively charged species, while Cl, SO4, BO3, and CO3 are common anions, or negatively charged species, in these resources). The minerals in brines start off as volcanic materials but over millions of years, rain and geochemical phenomena cause them to dissolve in water and concentrate in basins. Brines can be as high as 20-40% salt by mass, meaning that if you were to evaporate away the water from the brine, around 20-40% of the mass would be left behind as white or clear crystals.

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Read More: US Lithium Mining May Get a Boost …

Brines are liquid, meaning that they need to be pumped to the surface for processing, not dug up and crushed like pegmatites are mined. This means that they do not require roasting or leaching operations to put the lithium into solution for further processing – the lithium is already dissolved. There are two ways to remove lithium from brines.

First, evaporation pond systems can be used to evaporate the water from the brine, leaving behind contaminant salts and an “end brine” of mostly lithium chloride which is processed into lithium carbonate by adding sodium carbonate. This process only works for high lithium concentration brines with low impurities in places with no rainfall, and there is concern that if brine is pumped out from too deep in the salar, freshwater may be sucked in, diluting the salar and destroying potable water resources used by humans.

Second, direct lithium extraction (DLE) processes can be used to remove lithium from the natural brine to produce a highly pure concentrate, leaving behind a “spent brine” containing all the original components of the natural brine but without the lithium. This spent brine needs to be reinjected and/or separated from the natural brine so that the two don’t mix, or else the natural lithium-bearing brine will be diluted by the spent brine containing no lithium, making it impossible to extract more lithium from the reservoir.

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Sedimentary Deposits

As mentioned above, sedimentary deposits are considered to share some of the positive attributes of both pegmatites and brines. Sedimentary deposits are created when lithium is washed out of volcanic materials into basins where the salts and minerals dry, creating chemical structures in which the lithium is bound up in a mineral, but much less strongly compared to pegmatite resources. They typically have the consistency of dirt, not hard rock, and often break up when placed in water. If the lithium was not bound in a mineral at all, it would wash out in water forming a brine (this is typically not observed).

A number of leading projects are proposing not using any roasting, meaning the lithium is bound in the mineral with an “intermediate” strength compared to pegmatites and brines. A chemical leach is used to extract the lithium from the sediment, after which the waste sediment can be stored in mounds or back-filled into an open pit.

The lack of requirement to roast the sediment is a positive asset for these resources because it means that natural gas pipelines may not necessarily need to be built to process the sediment. Some projects report requiring upgrading of the sediment ore to remove contaminants which would “unnecessarily” consume acid, and in October 2019, only one project is proposing to use a roasting step in their flowsheet. The benefit of processing a sediment containing “loosely bound” lithium is that the solid waste can be easily disposed of without diluting the original resource, similar to the waste materials from after removing lithium from pegmatites.

The sedimentary deposit projects have some promising attributes for a future of supplying lithium to the battery industry, but reagent inputs will need to be optimized thoroughly for each individual project. Every sediment is different and the flowsheets of the different projects may look quite different. The chemistry of the sediments varies significantly (which is also the case for brines), and each project will need to take this into account. Currently, most public pre-feasibility studies show that tens to hundreds of times excess of reagents are used to create the lithium leachates. This implies low lithium concentrations in the leachate compared to pegmatite-derived leachates, and high concentrations of impurities like Na, K, and Mg.

This explains why most projects currently propose by-product sales to reduce apparent OPEX (electricity, sulfuric acid, boric acid, potash, etc.) because these are likely high OPEX flowsheets if they were “pure play” lithium.

Further, the high porosity and low particle size of the sediments mean that they “hold on” to leachate during leaching, and solid/liquid separations will be key to extracting most of the lithium as leachate from the spent ore. When this is done poorly, the ore “gums up” and a significant amount of lithium is lost with the waste.

The “in between” strength of how lithium is chemically bound in sediments results in some of their “best of both world” characteristics when compared to brines and pegmatites, and these strengths should be taken advantage of in future flowsheet development. New leaching techniques and reagent management flowsheets may be helpful in unlocking these sedimentary materials to produce high lithium concentration, low impurity concentration leachates that can be more easily processed into battery quality lithium chemical products. The sedimentary deposit lithium projects are young, but I believe that some of them will be built in the near future.

The healthy mining jurisdiction of Western North America, proximity of the deposits to American battery manufacturers, and potential for low carbon intensity means that they have excellent potential for helping supply lithium for batteries in the near future, and that they should be followed closely.

A map of these projects is seen below.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks to all those who influenced this article through including Anna WallTom BensonGene Morgan, and Davd-Deak

New Catalyst Recycles Greenhouse Gases into Fuel and Hydrogen Gas: KAIST and Rice University


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       The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST

Scientists have taken a major step toward a circular carbon economy by developing a long-lasting, economical catalyst that recycles greenhouse gases into ingredients that can be used in fuel, hydrogen gas, and other chemicals. The results could be revolutionary in the effort to reverse global warming, according to the researchers. The study was published on February 14 in Science.

“We set out to develop an effective catalyst that can convert large amounts of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane without failure,” said Cafer T. Yavuz, paper author and associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and of chemistry at KAIST.

The catalyst, made from inexpensive and abundant nickel, magnesium, and molybdenum, initiates and speeds up the rate of reaction that converts carbon dioxide and methane into hydrogen gas. It can work efficiently for more than a month.

This conversion is called ‘dry reforming’, where harmful gases, such as carbon dioxide, are processed to produce more useful chemicals that could be refined for use in fuel, plastics, or even pharmaceuticals. It is an effective process, but it previously required rare and expensive metals such as platinum and rhodium to induce a brief and inefficient chemical reaction.

Other researchers had previously proposed nickel as a more economical solution, but carbon byproducts would build up and the surface nanoparticles would bind together on the cheaper metal, fundamentally changing the composition and geometry of the catalyst and rendering it useless.

“The difficulty arises from the lack of control on scores of active sites over the bulky catalysts surfaces because any refinement procedures attempted also change the nature of the catalyst itself,” Yavuz said.

The researchers produced nickel-molybdenum nanoparticles under a reductive environment in the presence of a single crystalline magnesium oxide. As the ingredients were heated under reactive gas, the nanoparticles moved on the pristine crystal surface seeking anchoring points. The resulting activated catalyst sealed its own high-energy active sites and permanently fixed the location of the nanoparticles — meaning that the nickel-based catalyst will not have a carbon build up, nor will the surface particles bind to one another. (Article continues below **)

Read More from Rice University: Rice reactor turns greenhouse gas into pure liquid fuel

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This schematic shows the electrolyzer developed at Rice to reduce carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, to valuable fuels. At left is a catalyst that selects for carbon dioxide and reduces it to a negatively charged formate, which is pulled through a gas diffusion layer (GDL) and the anion exchange membrane (AEM) into the central electrolyte. At the right, an oxygen evolution reaction (OER) catalyst generates positive protons from water and sends them through the cation exchange membrane (CEM). The ions recombine into formic acid or other products that are carried out of the system by deionized (DI) water and gas. Illustration by Chuan Xia and Demin Liu

 

Greenhouse Gas 20170327_pr4602_co2tocnt

 

 

(** New catalyst recycles greenhouse gases into fuel and hydrogen gas continues)

“It took us almost a year to understand the underlying mechanism,” said first author Youngdong Song, a graduate student in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST. “Once we studied all the chemical events in detail, we were shocked.”

The researchers dubbed the catalyst Nanocatalysts on Single Crystal Edges (NOSCE). The magnesium-oxide nanopowder comes from a finely structured form of magnesium oxide, where the molecules bind continuously to the edge. There are no breaks or defects in the surface, allowing for uniform and predictable reactions.

“Our study solves a number of challenges the catalyst community faces,” Yavuz said. “We believe the NOSCE mechanism will improve other inefficient catalytic reactions and provide even further savings of greenhouse gas emissions.”

This work was supported, in part, by the Saudi-Aramco-KAIST CO2 Management Center and the National Research Foundation of Korea.

Other contributors include Ercan Ozdemir, Sreerangappa Ramesh, Aldiar Adishev, and Saravanan Subramanian, all of whom are affiliated with the Graduate School of Energy, Environment, Water and Sustainability at KAIST; Aadesh Harale, Mohammed Albuali, Bandar Abdullah Fadhel, and Aqil Jamal, all of whom are with the Research and Development Center in Saudi Arabia; and Dohyun Moon and Sun Hee Choi, both of whom are with the Pohang Accelerator Laboratory in Korea. Ozdemir is also affiliated with the Institute of Nanotechnology at the Gebze Technical University in Turkey; Fadhel and Jamal are also affiliated with the Saudi-Armco-KAIST CO2 Management Center in Korea.


Story Source:

Materials provided by The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Youngdong Song, Ercan Ozdemir, Sreerangappa Ramesh, Aldiar Adishev, Saravanan Subramanian, Aadesh Harale, Mohammed Albuali, Bandar Abdullah Fadhel, Aqil Jamal, Dohyun Moon, Sun Hee Choi, Cafer T. Yavuz. Dry reforming of methane by stable Ni–Mo nanocatalysts on single-crystalline MgOScience, 2020; 367 (6479): 777 DOI: 10.1126/science.aav2412