Getting Real Serious About Renewable Hydrogen In Real (Heartland) America


Image: Two membrane-bound protein complexes work together with a synthetic catalyst to produce hydrogen from water by Olivia Johnson and Lisa Utschig via Argonne National Laboratory.


File this one under “W” for “When you’ve lost the heartland.” Something called the Midwest Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Coalition has just launched a mission to bring the renewable hydrogen revolution to a cluster of US states which, for reasons unknown, pop up whenever someone mentions America’s heartland, aka Real America. This is a significant development because until now, hydrogen fans have been dancing all around the perimeters of the Midwest without managing to grab a toehold.

Hydrogen is a zero-emission fuel, practically. When used in fuel cells, it produces nothing but purified water. The problem, though, is cleaning up the source of hydrogen. Currently, fossil natural gas is the primary source of hydrogen, which kind of clonks the zero emission thing in the head.

The good news is that renewable hydrogen technology is rapidly improving. One main pathway is to “split” hydrogen from water using an electrical current (aka electrolysis).

Until recent years electrolysis made no sense because coal and gas have dominated the US energy profile. The advent of low cost renewable energy has changed the game entirely.

In somewhat of an ironic twist, renewable energy critics used to complain that wind and solar were unreliable because they were intermittent. Now that very characteristic has created an opportunity for renewable hydrogen production. The basic idea is to use excess renewable energy to produce hydrogen, which then serves as a transportable energy storage medium.

Some US states have been cultivating the so-named “hydrogen economy” over the past several years, and they are already in a good position to transition from fossil-sourced hydrogen to renewables.

Leading the pack is California. The state’s ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicles) standards already call for a portion of renewable hydrogen in the mix. Eight other states — Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont — have adopted the California ZEV model. Additionally, Colorado, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Washington, and the District of Columbia are following California’s Low Emission Vehicle standards.

So far almost all of this activity is clustered in the coastal and Northeast US states. If all goes according to plan the new MHFCC initiative will bring the hydrogen word to 12 more states smack in the nation’s midsection: Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.


US Department Of Energy Hearts Renewable Hydrogen

Spearheading MHFCC is the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, in partnership with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The idea is to use the school’s decades-long foundational hydrogen and fuel cell research to jumpstart an R&D program aimed at improving electrolysis technology.

The new initiative will also leverage the Midwest’s considerable renewable energy resources. As Argonne notes, the 12 Midwest states targeted by MHFCC account for 25% of the US population and consume 30% of all electricity generated in the US.

These 12 states also lay claim to 35% of US wind capacity. So far solar has made a dismal showing in the region, but Argonne points out that major new solar projects are finally in the pipeline.

What’s Driving The Midwest Renewable Energy Train

As previously noted by CleanTechnica, the low cost of renewable energy is finally breaking through political barriers in Nebraska and other Midwest states. Considering the region’s large agricultural sector, of particular interest is the emergence of agrivoltaics, in which raised solar panels share space with grazing lands, pollinator habitats, and certain crops.

Another key factor is the Midwest’s reliance on rural electric cooperatives. RECs are becoming more engaged with renewable energy as the cost benefit comes into sharper focus, partly with an assist from the US Department of Energy.

From Renewable Energy To Renewable Hydrogen

Fans of natural gas still have a lot to cheer about. Electrolysis is not quite ready for commercial prime time, and meanwhile the demand for hydrogen is growing.

However, if all goes according to plan renewables will squeeze natural gas out of they hydrogen market in the Midwest. In announcing the new initiative, Argonne specifically states that “…the Midwestern states have some of the highest levels of renewable energy on their grids, and that “hydrogen can be used as an effective storage medium to increase utilization of these renewable energy resources.”

Sorry – not sorry.

For that matter, Argonne and the University of Illinois’s Grainger College of Engineering have already ramped up their work on electrolysis over the past couple of years.

Last fall the school described progress on a new metal-based catalyst for electrolysis. Another big breakthrough came from Argonne last winter, when the lab announced a bio-based alternative.

Also of interest is the Midwest’s relatively high nuclear energy profile. If a market for renewable hydrogen develops, nuclear power plants could continue pumping out zero emission electricity during off-peak hours and store it in the form of hydrogen.

That’s unlikely to motivate the construction of new nuclear power plants, but the use of excess nuclear energy for electrolysis could enable the region’s current fleet to operate more economically for a longer period of time (and that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms).

Interesting! CleanTechnica is reaching out to the University of Illinois to see what else is cooking in the Midwest renewable hydrogen field, so stay tuned for more on that.


The CEO Who Wants Italy to Love Hydrogen Power

A hydrogen fuel tank. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

  • Snam chief says company to inject more hydrogen into system
  • Market could be worth $2.5 trillion if industry embraces gasThe

THE CEO Who Wants Italy to Love Hydrogen Power

— Read on

EIA projects nearly 50% increase in world energy usage by 2050, led by growth in Asia


global primary energy consumption by region

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2019 Reference case


In the International Energy Outlook 2019 (IEO2019) Reference case, released at 9:00 a.m. today, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that world energy consumption will grow by nearly 50% between 2018 and 2050. Most of this growth comes from countries that are not in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and this growth is focused in regions where strong economic growth is driving demand, particularly in Asia.

EIA’s IEO2019 assesses long-term world energy markets for 16 regions of the world, divided according to OECD and non-OECD membership. Projections for the United States in IEO2019 are consistent with those released in the Annual Energy Outlook 2019.

global energy consumption by sector

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2019 Reference case

The industrial sector, which includes refining, mining, manufacturing, agriculture, and construction, accounts for the largest share of energy consumption of any end-use sector—more than half of end-use energy consumption throughout the projection period. World industrial sector energy use increases by more than 30% between 2018 and 2050 as consumption of goods increases. By 2050, global industrial energy consumption reaches about 315 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu).

Transportation energy consumption increases by nearly 40% between 2018 and 2050. This increase is largely driven by non-OECD countries, where transportation energy consumption increases nearly 80% between 2018 and 2050. Energy consumption for both personal travel and freight movement grows in these countries much more rapidly than in many OECD countries.

Energy consumed in the buildings sector, which includes residential and commercial structures, increases by 65% between 2018 and 2050, from 91 quadrillion to 139 quadrillion Btu. Rising income, urbanization, and increased access to electricity lead to rising demand for energy.

global net electricity generation

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2019 Reference case

The growth in end-use consumption results in electricity generation increasing 79% between 2018 and 2050. Electricity use grows in the residential sector as rising population and standards of living in non-OECD countries increase the demand for appliances and personal equipment. Electricity use also increases in the transportation sector as plug-in electric vehicles enter the fleet and electricity use for rail expands.

global primary energy consumption by energy source

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2019 Reference case

With the rapid growth of electricity generation, renewables—including solar, wind, and hydroelectric power—are the fastest-growing energy source between 2018 and 2050, surpassing petroleum and other liquids to become the most used energy source in the Reference case. Worldwide renewable energy consumption increases by 3.1% per year between 2018 and 2050, compared with 0.6% annual growth in petroleum and other liquids, 0.4% growth in coal, and 1.1% annual growth in natural gas consumption.

Global natural gas consumption increases more than 40% between 2018 and 2050, and total consumption reaches nearly 200 quadrillion Btu by 2050. In addition to the natural gas used in electricity generation, natural gas consumption increases in the industrial sector. Chemical and primary metals manufacturing, as well as oil and natural gas extraction, account for most of the growing industrial demand.

Global liquid fuels consumption increases more than 20% between 2018 and 2050, and total consumption reaches more than 240 quadrillion Btu in 2050. Demand in OECD countries remains relatively stable during the projection period, but non-OECD demand increases by about 45%.

Principal contributor: Ari Kahan

Fuel Cells to Receive Boost with pledge of 10M Vehicles

Toyota released the first mass-produced fuel cell  automobile, the Mirai, in 2014. But because of high costs, the technology has been slow to catch on.

Global ministers meeting will focus on ways to increase the technology’s use

An international conference on fuel cells that is scheduled to open here Wednesday is set to call for powering 10 million vehicles — including trains, planes and automobiles — with the environmentally friendly technology in 10 years, Nikkei has learned.

Currently, only around 10,000 vehicles around the world run on fuel cells, which use hydrogen to produce electricity without emitting Earth-warming carbon dioxide.

Japanese Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara will chair the second Hydrogen Energy Ministerial Meeting that will be attended by officials from the U.S., Europe and the Mideast. He has included the 10 million goal in his draft chairman’s statement, which also includes a goal to increase the number of hydrogen fueling stations to 10,000 in 10 years. There are now several hundred fueling stations globally.

The goal of 10 million vehicles is not a commitment, but is seen as an ambitious, common global target, the draft notes.

Toyota Motor introduced the first mass-produced fuel cell vehicle in 2014. Japan has considered the technology important even as battery-powered electric vehicles have been widely adopted overseas.

The chairman’s statement will also include a call for common standards and research agenda.

The meeting will endeavor to map out what a hydrogen supply chain might look like. Hydrogen is produced by the electrolysis of water, and once liquefied is easy to transport and store. The draft statement raises the possibility of cross-border trading and calls for determining international shipping routes and support for market trading.

One issue for fuel cell vehicles has been cost — Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle, the Mirai, has a sticker price of more than 7 million yen ($65,000), about 3 million more than a conventional hybrid. The Japanese government believes that by expanding the market, costs will fall, creating a positive feedback cycle.

In the U.S., there are around 25,000 fuel cell forklifts in operation. These types of industrial vehicles are included in the 10 million goal.


Re-Posted from Nikkei Asian Review

Renewable to Clean Energy – Floating wind-to-hydrogen plan to heat millions of UK homes

Floating Wind to Hydrogen 25a74c7253afc70c79b50cf2f4f8919c

Project aiming to deploy 4GW, £12bn ‘green hydrogen’ array in the North Sea is backed by UK government

Floating offshore wind turbines far out in the North Sea will convert seawater to ‘green’ hydrogen that will be pumped ashore and used to heat millions of homes, under an ambitious plan just awarded UK government funding.

Deployment of a 4GW floating wind farm in the early 2030s at an estimated cost of £12bn ($14.8bn) could be the first step in the eventual replacement of natural gas by hydrogen in the UK energy system, claimed Kevin Kinsella, director of the Dolphyn project for consultancy ERM.

ERM – which is working on Dolphyn with the Tractebel unit of French energy giant Engie and offshore specialist ODE – plans to integrate hydrogen production technology into a 10MW floating wind turbine platform, enabling each unit to import seawater, convert it to hydrogen and export the gas via a pipeline.

“If you had 30 of those in the North Sea you could replace the natural gas requirement for the whole country.”

Deployment of hundreds of the floating platforms would be able to tap into the excellent wind resources far out in the North Sea, way beyond the depths accessible to fixed-bottom foundations, Kinsella told Recharge, estimating that a 4GW floating wind farm could produce enough hydrogen to heat 1.5 million homes.

“If you had 30 of those in the North Sea you could totally replace the natural gas requirement for the whole country, and be totally self-sufficient with hydrogen,” said Kinsella.

ERM in August received £427,000 under a UK government support plan for promising hydrogen technologies. That will be used to develop a prototype unit for deployment off Scotland using a 2MW turbine from MHI Vestas and the WindFloat platform, designed by floating wind specialist Principle Power and already successfully tested off Portugal, Kinsella added.

It plans to have the 2MW prototype ready for a final investment decision by 2021, at which point ERM hopes a major energy player – “an Engie or a BP or a Total” – will back the project to take it forward to deployment by 2023, with a full-scale 10MW version in the water in 2026.

Will floating wind power help Big Oil crack its ‘Kinder Egg’?

Read more

The Dolphyn team is integrating into the floating turbine platform the systems needed for water intake, desalination and conversion of water to hydrogen via proton exchange membrane (PEM) technology.

The gas will then be exported under pressure via a flexible riser, before joining the output of other turbines to be pumped to shore via a trunkline. Kinsella said the project team is talking to a “major oil company” about repurposing an existing pipeline for hydrogen export.

The floating wind-to-hydrogen turbines would be completely independent of the power grid – a major contributor to cost reduction Kinsella, said. “Once you get a long way offshore it’s the electrical infrastructure that dominates the costs.” They will be equipped with an on-board energy storage unit to make them self-sufficient, with the ability to restart the turbine from a standstill.

Generating ‘green hydrogen’ – completely produced via renewables – competitively at scale is one of the big challenges before it can assume a key role in the energy transition. Pilot green hydrogen projects currently operate at five to ten-times the cost of ‘grey’ hydrogen, which is produced using fossil fuels but is by far the cheapest existing option.

However, research group BloombergNEF recently projected an 80% fall in the cost of green hydrogen by 2030, opening the way for its widespread use as a carbon-free fuel.

ERM’s projections suggest a full-scale floating wind farm deployed in 2032 – by which time 15MW turbines may be used – could produce hydrogen at £1.15/kg ($1.41/kg). “This is comparable with the projected wholesale UK price of natural gas,” Kinsella claimed.

Hydrogen: the green-energy problem solver

Read more

Decarbonising heat and transport, as well as power supplies, are major challenges facing the UK as it seeks to become emissions ‘net-zero’ by 2050.

A 2018 report from the UK Committee on Climate Change said hydrogen could largely replace natural gas for heating into the 2030s, but questioned whether renewable generation could compete on cost with hydrogen produced using gas itself then subjected to carbon capture and storage.

Flexible Solar Cells a Step Closer to Reality … Lower Cost and Improved Performance – University of Warwick

QD Solar untitled

Solar cells that use mixtures of organic molecules to absorb sunlight and convert it to electricity, that can be applied to curved surfaces such as the body of a car, could be a step closer thanks to a discovery that challenges conventional thinking about one of the key components of these devices.

A basic organic solar cell consists of a thin film of organic semiconductors sandwiched between two electrodes which extract charges generated in the organic semiconductor layer to the external circuit. It has long been assumed that 100% of the surface of each electrode should be electrically conductive to maximise the efficiency of charge extraction.

Scientists at the University of Warwick have discovered that the electrodes in organic solar cells actually only need ~1% of their surface area to be electrically conductive to be fully effective, which opens the door to using a range of composite materials at the interface between the electrodes and the light harvesting organic semiconductor layers to improve device performance and reduce cost. The discovery, published today (11 September), is reported in Advanced Functional Materials.

The academic lead, Dr Ross Hatton from the University’s Department of Chemistry, said: “It’s widely assumed that if you want to optimise the performance of organic solar cells you need to maximize the area of the interface between the electrodes and the organic semiconductors. We asked whether that was really true.”

The researchers developed a model electrode that they could systematically change the surface area of, and found that when as much as 99% of its surface was electrically insulating the electrode still performs as well as if 100% of the surface was conducting, provided the conducting regions aren’t too far apart.Nanotechnology-in-Solar-Energy-2

High performance organic solar cells have additional transparent layers at the interfaces between the electrodes and the light harvesting organic semiconductor layer that are essential for optimising the light distribution in the device and improving its stability, but must also be able to conduct charges to the electrodes. This is a tall order and not many materials meet all of these requirements.

Dr Dinesha Dabera, the post-doctoral researcher on this Leverhulme Trust funded project, explains:“This new finding means composites of insulators and conducting nano-particles such as carbon nanotubes, graphene fragments or metal nanoparticles, could have great potential for this purpose, offering enhanced device performance or lower cost.

“Organic solar cells are very close to being commercialised but they’re not quite there yet, so anything that allows you to further reduce cost whilst also improving performance is going to help enable that.”

Dr Hatton, who was interviewed by Serena Bashal of the UK Youth Climate Coalition at the British Science Festival this week, explains: “What we’ve done is to demonstrate a design rule for this type of solar cell, which opens up much greater possibilities for materials choice in the device and so could help to enable their realisation commercially.’’

Organic solar cells are potentially very environmentally friendly, because they contain no toxic elements and can be processed at low temperature using roll-to-roll deposition, so can have an extremely low carbon footprint and a short energy payback time.

Dr Hatton explains: “There is a fast growing need for solar cells that can be supported on flexible substrates that are lightweight and colour-tuneable. Conventional silicon solar cells are fantastic for large scale electricity generation in solar farms and on the roofs of buildings, but they are poorly matched to the needs of electric vehicles and for integration into windows on buildings, which are no longer niche applications. Organic solar cells can sit on curved surfaces, and are very lightweight and low profile.

“This discovery may help enable these new types of flexible solar cells to become a commercial reality sooner because it will give the designers of this class of solar cells more choice in the materials they can use.”

From Nano

University of Waterloo: Researchers develop a better way to harness the power of solar panels

Researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed a way to better harness the volume of energy collected by solar panels.

In a new study, the researchers developed an algorithm that increases the efficiency of the solar photovoltaic (PV) system and reduces the volume of power currently being wasted due to a lack of effective controls.

“We’ve developed an algorithm to further boost the power extracted from an existing solar panel,” said Milad Farsi, a PhD candidate in Waterloo’s Department of Applied Mathematics. “Hardware in every solar panel has some nominal efficiency, but there should be some appropriate controller that can get maximum power out of solar panels.

“We do not change the hardware or require additional circuits in the solar PV system. What we developed is a better approach to controlling the hardware that already exists.”

The new algorithm enables controllers to better deal with fluctuations around the maximum power point of a solar PV system, which have historically led to the wasting of potential energy collected by panels.

“Based on the simulations, for a small home-use solar array including 12 modules of 335W, up to 138.9 kWh/year can be saved,” said Farsi, who undertook the study with his supervisor, Professor Jun Liu of Waterloo’s Department of Applied Mathematics. “The savings may not seem significant for a small home-use solar system but could make a substantial difference in larger-scale ones, such as a solar farm or in an area including hundreds of thousands of local solar panels connected to the power grid.

“Taking Canada’s largest PV plant, for example, the Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant, if this technique is used, the savings could amount to 960,000 kWh/year, which is enough to power hundreds of households. If the saved energy were to be generated by a coal-fired plant, it would require emission of 312 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.”

Milad further pointed out that the savings could be even more substantial under a fast-changing ambient environment, such as Canadian weather conditions, or when the power loss in the converters due to the undesired chattering effects seen in other conventional control methods is taken into account.

The study, Nonlinear Optimal Feedback Control and Stability Analysis of Solar Photovoltaic Systems, authored by Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics researchers Farsi and Liu, was recently published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Control Systems Technology.

A Game-Changer For Lithium-Ion Batteries: Dalhousie University, Tesla’s Canadian Electrek and the University of Waterloo Discover New Disruptive LI-On Technology

The latest news in the battery space has been about alternatives to lithium-ion technology, which still dominates the space in electronics and cars but is being increasingly challenged from several directions, notably solid-state batteries.

Now, a team of researchers has reported they have improved lithium-ion batteries in a way that could discourage some challengers.

In a paper published in Nature magazine, the team, led by Jeff Dahn from Dalhousie University, reports they had designed more battery cells with higher energy density without using the solid-state electrolyte that many believe is a necessary condition for enhanced density.

What’s more, the battery cell the team designed demonstrated a longer life than some comparable alternatives.

The team from Dalhousie University was working with Tesla’s Canadian research and development team, Electrek notes in its report of the news, as well as the University of Waterloo.

The EV maker is probably the staunchest proponent of lithium-ion technology for electric car batteries, so it would make sense for it to continue investing in research that would keep the technology’s dominance in the face of multiple challengers.

Recently, for example, Japanese researchers announced they had successfully found a substitute for the lithium ions used in batteries and this substitute was much cheaper and more abundant: sodium.

Last year, scientists from the Australian University of Wollongong announced 

they had solved a problem with sodium batteries that made them too expensive to produce, namely a lot of the other materials used in such an installation besides the sodium itself.

Sodium batteries are among the more advanced challengers to lithium ion dominance, but like other alternatives to Li-ion batteries, they have been plagued by persistent problems with their performance. Even so, work continues to make them competitive with lithium-ion technology.

This fact has probably made li-ion proponents such as Tesla, who have invested substantial amounts in the technology, double their efforts to improve their batteries’ performance or reduce their cost.

As the most expensive component of an electric car, the battery is a top priority for R&D departments in the car-making industry. 


Related: Oil Industry Faces Imminent Talent Crisis

Earlier this year, German scientists saidthey had found a way to make lithium ion batteries charge much faster. Charing times are the second most important consideration after cost for potential EV buyers, and another priority for EV makers. What the scientists did was replace the cobalt oxide used in the cathode of a lithium ion battery with another compound, vanadium disulfide.

Millions of electric cars are expected to hit the roads in the coming years. From a certain perspective, the race to faster charging is the race that will make or break the long-term mainstream future of the EV, which, it turns out, is not as certain as some would think.

A J.D.Power survey recently revealed that people are not particularly crazy about EVs, and the reasons they are not crazy about them have to do a lot with the batteries: charging times and range, plus price. In this context, the battery improvement race could (and will) only intensify further.

Chemists could make ‘smart glass’ smarter by manipulating it at the nanoscale: Colorado State University

Smart glass 190604131210_1_540x360

Chemists have devised a potentially major improvement to both the speed and durability of smart glass by providing a better understanding of how the glass works at the nanoscale.

An alternative nanoscale design for eco-friendly smart glass

Source: Colorado State University
“Smart glass,” an energy-efficiency product found in newer windows of cars, buildings and airplanes, slowly changes between transparent and tinted at the flip of a switch.

“Slowly” is the operative word; typical smart glass takes several minutes to reach its darkened state, and many cycles between light and dark tend to degrade the tinting quality over time. Colorado State University chemists have devised a potentially major improvement to both the speed and durability of smart glass by providing a better understanding of how the glass works at the nanoscale.

They offer an alternative nanoscale design for smart glass in new research published June 3 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The project started as a grant-writing exercise for graduate student and first author R. Colby Evans, whose idea — and passion for the chemistry of color-changing materials — turned into an experiment involving two types of microscopy and enlisting several collaborators. Evans is advised by Justin Sambur, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, who is the paper’s senior author.

The smart glass that Evans and colleagues studied is “electrochromic,” which works by using a voltage to drive lithium ions into and out of thin, clear films of a material called tungsten oxide. “You can think of it as a battery you can see through,” Evans said. Typical tungsten-oxide smart glass panels take 7-12 minutes to transition between clear and tinted.

The researchers specifically studied electrochromic tungsten-oxide nanoparticles, which are 100 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Their experiments revealed that single nanoparticles, by themselves, tint four times faster than films of the same nanoparticles. That’s because interfaces between nanoparticles trap lithium ions, slowing down tinting behavior. Over time, these ion traps also degrade the material’s performance.

To support their claims, the researchers used bright field transmission microscopy to observe how tungsten-oxide nanoparticles absorb and scatter light. Making sample “smart glass,” they varied how much nanoparticle material they placed in their samples and watched how the tinting behaviors changed as more and more nanoparticles came into contact with each other. They then used scanning electron microscopy to obtain higher-resolution images of the length, width and spacing of the nanoparticles, so they could tell, for example, how many particles were clustered together, and how many were spread apart.

Based on their experimental findings, the authors proposed that the performance of smart glass could be improved by making a nanoparticle-based material with optimally spaced particles, to avoid ion-trapping interfaces.

Their imaging technique offers a new method for correlating nanoparticle structure and electrochromic properties; improvement of smart window performance is just one application that could result. Their approach could also guide applied research in batteries, fuel cells, capacitors and sensors.

“Thanks to Colby’s work, we have developed a new way to study chemical reactions in nanoparticles, and I expect that we will leverage this new tool to study underlying processes in a wide range of important energy technologies,” Sambur said.

The paper’s co-authors include Austin Ellingworth, a former Research Experience for Undergraduates student from Winona State University; Christina Cashen, a CSU chemistry graduate student; and Christopher R. Weinberger, a professor in CSU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering

Story Source:

Materials provided by Colorado State University. Original written by Anne Manning. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. R. Colby Evans, Austin Ellingworth, Christina J. Cashen, Christopher R. Weinberger, Justin B. Sambur. Influence of single-nanoparticle electrochromic dynamics on the durability and speed of smart windowsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019; 201822007 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1822007116


Colorado State University. “Chemists could make ‘smart glass’ smarter by manipulating it at the nanoscale: An alternative nanoscale design for eco-friendly smart glass.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 June 2019. <>.

‘Self-healing’ polymer brings perovskite solar tech closer to market

This perovskite solar module is better able to contain the lead within its structure when a layer of epoxy resin is added to its surface. This approach to tackling a long-standing environmental concern helps bring the technology closer to commercialization. Credit: OIST

A protective layer of epoxy resin helps prevent the leakage of pollutants from perovskite solar cells (PSCs), according to scientists from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST). Adding a “self-healing” polymer to the top of a PSC can radically reduce how much lead it discharges into the environment. This gives a strong boost to prospects for commercializing the technology.

With atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reaching their highest recorded levels in history, and  continuing to rise in number, the world is moving away from legacy energy systems relying on fossil fuels towards renewables such as solar. Perovskite solar technology is promising, but one key challenge to commercialization is that it may release pollutants such as  into the environment—especially under .

“Although PSCs are efficient at converting sunlight into electricity at an affordable cost, the fact that they contain lead raises considerable environmental concern,” explains Professor Yabing Qi, head of the Energy Materials and Surface Sciences Unit, who led the study, published in Nature Energy.

“While so-called ‘lead-free’ technology is worth exploring, it has not yet achieved efficiency and stability comparable to lead-based approaches. Finding ways of using lead in PSCs while keeping it from leaking into the environment, therefore, is a crucial step for commercialization.”

Testing to destruction

Qi’s team, supported by the OIST Technology Development and Innovation Center’s Proof-of-Concept Program, first explored encapsulation methods for adding protective layers to PSCs to understand which materials might best prevent the leakage of lead. They exposed cells encapsulated with different materials to many conditions designed to simulate the sorts of weather to which the cells would be exposed in reality.

They wanted to test the solar cells in a worst-case weather scenario, to understand the maximum lead leakage that could occur. First, they smashed the  using a large ball, mimicking extreme hail that could break down their structure and allow lead to be leaked. Next, they doused the cells with acidic water, to simulate the rainwater that would transport leaked lead into the environment.

Using mass spectroscopy, the team analyzed the acidic rain to determine how much lead leaked from the cells. They found that an epoxy  layer allowed only minimal lead leakage—orders of magnitude lower than the other materials.
'Self-healing' polymer brings perovskite solar tech closer to market
Researchers exposed the solar cells to brutal conditions to simulate worst-case weather scenarios. Adding a self-healing epoxy resin polymer to the cell minimized the leakage of lead from the cell. Credit: OIST

Enabling commercial viability

Epoxy resin also performed best under a number of weather conditions in which sunlight, rainwater and temperature were altered to simulate the environments in which PSCs must operate. In all scenarios, including extreme rain, epoxy resin outperformed rival encapsulation materials.

Epoxy resin works so well due to its “self-healing” properties. After its structure is damaged by hail, for example, the polymer partially reforms its original shape when heated by sunlight. This limits the amount of lead that leaks from inside the cell. This self-healing property could make  the encapsulation layer of choice for future photovoltaic products.

“Epoxy resin is certainly a strong candidate, yet other  polymers may be even better,” explains Qi. “At this stage, we are pleased to be promoting photovoltaic industry standards, and bringing the safety of this technology into the discussion. Next, we can build on these data to confirm which is truly the best polymer.”

Beyond lead leakage, another challenge will be to scale up  into perovskite solar panels. While  are just a few centimeters long, panels can span a few meters, and will be more relevant to potential consumers. The team will also direct their attention to the long-standing challenge of renewable energy storage.

Explore further

The potential of non-toxic materials to replace lead in perovskite solar cells

More information: Reduction of lead leakage from damaged lead halide perovskite solar modules using self-healing polymer-based encapsulation, Nature Energy (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41560-019-0406-2,

Journal information: Nature Energy