Strong current of energy runs through MIT: Robust community focused on fueling the world’s future +Video

MIT-Energy-Past-Future-borders-01 small_0Top row (l-r): Tata Center spinoff Khethworks develops affordable irrigation for the developing world; students discuss utility research in Washington; thin, lightweight solar cell developed by Professor Vladimir Bulović and team. Bottom row (l-r): MIT’s record-setting Alcator tokamak fusion research reactor; a researcher in the MIT Energy Laboratory’s Combustion Research Facility; Professor Kripa Varanasi, whose research on slippery surfaces has led to a spinoff co-founded with Associate Provost Karen Gleason.

Photos: Tata Center for Technology and Design, MITEI, Joel Jean and Anna Osherov, Bob Mumgaard/PSFC, Energy Laboratory Archives, Bryce Vickmark

Research, education, and student activities help create a robust community focused on fueling the world’s future.

On any given day at MIT, undergraduates design hydro-powered desalination systems, graduate students test alternative fuels, and professors work to tap the huge energy-generating potential of nuclear fusion, biomaterials, and more. While some MIT researchers are modeling the impacts of policy on energy markets, others are experimenting with electrochemical forms of energy storage.

This is the robust energy community at MIT. Developed over the past 10 years with the guidance and support of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) — and with roots extending back into the early days of the Institute — it has engaged more than 300 faculty members and spans more than 900 research projects across all five schools.

In addition, MIT offers a multidisciplinary energy minor and myriad energy-related events and activities throughout the year. Together, these efforts ensure that students who arrive on campus with an interest in energy have free rein to pursue their ambitions.

Opportunities for students

“The MIT energy ecosystem is an incredible system, and it’s built from the ground up,” says Robert C. Armstrong, a professor of chemical engineering and the director of MITEI, which is overseen at the Institute level by Vice President for Research Maria Zuber. “It begins with extensive student involvement in energy.” MITnano_ 042216 InfCorrTerraceView_label (1)

Opportunities begin the moment undergraduates arrive on campus, with a freshman pre-orientation program offered through MITEI that includes such hands-on activities as building motors and visiting the Institute’s nuclear research reactor.

“I got accepted into the pre-orientation program and from there, I was just hooked. I learned about solar technology, wind technology, different types of alternative fuels, bio fuels, even wave power,” says graduate student Priyanka Chatterjee ’15, who minored in energy studies and majored in mechanical and ocean engineering.

Those who choose the minor take a core set of subjects encompassing energy science, technology, and social science. Those interested in a deep dive into research can participate in the Energy Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which provides full-time summer positions. UROP students are mentored by graduate students and postdocs, many of them members of the Society of Energy Fellows, who are also conducting their own energy research at MIT.

For extracurricular activities, students can join the MIT Energy Club, which is among the largest student-run organizations at MIT with more than 5,000 members. They can also compete for the MIT Clean Energy Prize, a student competition that awards more than $200,000 each year for energy innovation. And there are many other opportunities.

The Tata Center for Technology and Design, now in its sixth year, extends MIT’s reach abroad. It supports 65 graduate students every year who conduct research central to improving life in developing countries — including lowering costs of rural electrification and using solar energy in novel ways.

Students have other opportunities to conduct and share energy research internationally as well.

“Over the years, MITEI has made it possible for several of the students I’ve advised to engage more directly in global energy and climate policy negotiations,” says Valerie Karplus, an assistant professor of global economics and management. “In 2015, I joined them at the Paris climate conference, which was a tremendous educational and outreach experience for all of us.”

Holistic problem-solving

“What is important is to provide our students a holistic understanding of the energy challenges,” says MIT Associate Dean for Innovation Vladimir Bulović.

Adds Karplus: “There’s been an evolution in thinking from ‘How do we build a better mousetrap?’ to ‘How do we bring about change in society at a system level?’”

This kind of thinking is at the root of MIT’s multidisciplinary approach to addressing the global energy challenge — and it has been since MITEI was conceived and launched by then-MIT President Susan Hockfield, a professor of neuroscience. While energy research has been part of the Institute since its founding (MIT’s first president, William Barton Rogers, famously collapsed and died after uttering the words “bituminous coal” at the 1882 commencement), the concerted effort to connect researchers across the five schools for collaborative projects is a more recent development.

“The objective of MITEI was really to solve the big energy problems, which we feel needs all of the schools’ and departments’ contributions,” says Ernest J. Moniz, a professor emeritus of physics and special advisor to MIT’s president. Moniz was the founding director of MITEI before serving as U.S. Secretary of Energy during President Obama’s administration.

Hockfield says great technology by itself “can’t go anywhere without great policy.”

“It’s the economics, it’s the sociology, it’s the science and the engineering, it’s the architecture — it’s all of the pieces of MIT that had to come together if we were going to develop really impactful sustainable energy solutions,” she says.

This multidisciplinary approach is evident in much of MIT’s energy research — notably the series of comprehensive studies MITEI has conducted on such topics as the future of solar energy, natural gas, the electric grid, and more.

“To make a better world, it’s essential that we figure out how to take what we’ve learned at MIT in energy and get that out into the world,” Armstrong says.

Fostering collaborations

MITEI’s eight low-carbon energy research centers — focused on a range of topics from materials design to solar generation to carbon capture and storage — similarly address challenges on multiple technology and policy fronts. These centers are a core component of MIT’s five-year Plan for Action on Climate Change, announced by President L. Rafael Reif in October 2015. The centers employ a strategy that has been fundamental to MIT’s energy work since the founding of MITEI: broad, sustained collaboration with stakeholders from industry, government, and the philanthropic and non-governmental organization communities.

“It’s one thing to do research that’s interesting in a laboratory. It’s something very different to take that laboratory discovery into the world and deliver practical applications,” Hockfield says. “Our collaboration with industry allowed us to do that with a kind of alacrity that we could never have done on our own.”

For example, MITEI’s members have supported more than 160 energy-focused research projects, representing $21.4 million in funding over the past nine years, through the Seed Fund Program. Projects have led to follow-on federal and industry funding, startup companies, and pilot plants for solar desalinization systems in India and Gaza, among other outcomes.

What has MIT’s energy community as a whole accomplished over the past decade? Hockfield says it’s raised the visibility of the world’s energy problems, contributed solutions — both technical and sociopolitical — and provided “an army of young people” to lead the way to a sustainable energy future.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what MIT has contributed,” she says. “We are in the midst of a reinvention of how we make energy and how we use energy. And we will develop sustainable energy practices for a larger population, a wealthier population, and a healthier planet.”



U of Waterloo: Energy storage capacity of supercapacitors doubled by researchers

Researchers in Canada have developed a technique for improving the energy storage capacity of supercapacitors. These developments could allow for mobile phones to eventually charge in seconds.

A supercapacitor can store far more electrical energy than a standard capacitor. They are able to charge and discharge far more rapidly than batteries, making them a much-discussed alternative to traditional batteries.

The main drawback of supercapacitors as a replacement for batteries is their limited storage: while they can store 10 to 100 times more electrical energy than a standard capacitor, this is still not enough to be useful as a battery replacement in smartphones, laptops, electric vehicles and other machines.

At present, supercapacitors can store enough energy to power laptops and other small devices for approximately a tenth as long as rechargeable batteries do. 

Increases in the storage capacity of supercapacitors could allow for them to be made smaller and lighter, such that they can replace batteries in some devices that require fast charging and discharging.

A team of engineers at the University of Waterloo were able to create a new supercapacitor design which approximately doubles the amount of electrical energy that it can hold

They did this by coating graphene with an oily liquid salt in the electrodes of supercapacitors. By adding a mixture of detergent and water, the droplets of the liquid salt were reduced to nanoscale sizes.

This salt acts as an electrolyte (which is required for storage of electrical charge), as well as preventing the atom-thick graphene sheets sticking together, hugely increasing their exposed surface area and optimising energy storage capacity.

“We’re showing record numbers for the energy-storage capacity of supercapacitors,” said Professor Michael Pope, a chemical engineer at the University of Waterloo. “And the more energy-dense we can make them, the more batteries we can start displacing.”

According to Professor Pope, supercapacitors could be a green replacement for lead-acid batteries in vehicles, capturing the energy otherwise wasted by buses and high-speed trains during braking. In the longer term, they could be used to power mobile phones and other consumer technology, as well as devices in remote locations, such as in orbit around Earth.

“If they are marketed in the correct ways for the right applications, we’ll start seeing more and more of them in our everyday lives,” said Professor Pope.


NREL, University of Washington Scientists Elevate Quantum Dot Solar Cell World Record to 13.4 Percent

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) established a new world efficiency record for quantum dot solar cells, at 13.4 percent.

Colloidal quantum dots are electronic materials and because of their astonishingly small size (typically 3-20 nanometers in dimension) they possess fascinating optical properties. 

Quantum dot solar cells emerged in 2010 as the newest technology on an NREL chart that tracks research efforts to convert sunlight to electricity with increasing efficiency. 

The initial lead sulfide quantum dot solar cells had an efficiency of 2.9 percent. Since then, improvements have pushed that number into double digits for lead sulfide reaching a record of 12 percent set last year by the University of Toronto. 

The improvement from the initial efficiency to the previous record came from better understanding of the connectivity between individual quantum dots, better overall device structures and reducing defects in quantum dots.

 NREL scientists Joey Luther and Erin Sanehira are part of a team that has helped NREL set an efficiency record of 13.4% for a quantum dot solar cell.

The latest development in quantum dot solar cells comes from a completely different quantum dot material. The new quantum dot leader is cesium lead triiodide (CsPbI3), and is within the recently emerging family of halide perovskite materials. 

In quantum dot form, CsPbI3 produces an exceptionally large voltage (about 1.2 volts) at open circuit.

“This voltage, coupled with the material’s bandgap, makes them an ideal candidate for the top layer in a multijunction solar cell,” said Joseph Luther, a senior scientist and project leader in the Chemical Materials and Nanoscience team at NREL. 

The top cell must be highly efficient but transparent at longer wavelengths to allow that portion of sunlight to reach lower layers. 
Tandem cells can deliver a higher efficiency than conventional silicon solar panels that dominate today’s solar market.

This latest advance, titled “Enhanced mobility CsPbI3 quantum dot arrays for record-efficiency, high-voltage photovoltaic cells,” is published in Science Advances. The paper was co-authored by Erin Sanehira, Ashley Marshall, Jeffrey Christians, Steven Harvey, Peter Ciesielski, Lance Wheeler, Philip Schulz, and Matthew Beard, all from NREL; and Lih Lin from the University of Washington.

The multijunction approach is often used for space applications where high efficiency is more critical than the cost to make a solar module. 
The quantum dot perovskite materials developed by Luther and the NREL/University of Washington team could be paired with cheap thin-film perovskite materials to achieve similar high efficiency as demonstrated for space solar cells, but built at even lower costs than silicon technology–making them an ideal technology for both terrestrial and space applications.

“Often, the materials used in space and rooftop applications are totally different. It is exciting to see possible configurations that could be used for both situations,” said Erin Sanehira a doctoral student at the University of Washington who conducted research at NREL.

The NREL research was funded by DOE’s Office of Science, while Sanehira and Lin acknowledge a NASA space technology fellowship.

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.

NREL Inks Technology Agreement for High Efficiency Multijunction Solar Cells

October 24, 2017

MicroLink Devices opens the door for new multijunction solar cell applications

October 24, 2017

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has entered into a license agreement with MicroLink Devices, Inc. (Niles, IL) to commercialize NREL’s patented inverted metamorphic (IMM) multijunction solar cells. 

While high-efficiency multijunction solar cells are commonly used for space satellites, researchers have continued to look for ways to improve cost and performance to enable a broader range of applications. 

The IMM technique licensed by MicroLink Devices enables multijunction III-V solar cells to be grown with both higher efficiencies and lower costs than traditional multijunction solar cells by reversing the order in which individual sub-cells are typically grown.

Two hands holding the IMM solar cellA 6-inch MicroLink Devices high-efficiency, lightweight and flexible ELO IMM solar cell wafer. Photo courtesy of MicroLink Devices

The IMM architecture enables greater power extraction from the higher-bandgap sub-cells and further allows the use of more efficient low-bandgap sub-cell materials such as Indium Gallium Arsenide. 

In contrast to traditional III-V multijunction solar cells, IMM devices are removed from their growth substrate, allowing the substrate to be reused over multiple growth runs – a significant component in reducing overall device costs. Removing the substrate also reduces the weight of the solar cell, which is important for applications such as solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles.

MicroLink Devices is an Illinois-based ISO 9001 certified semiconductor manufacturer specializing in removing active semiconductor device layers from their growth substrate via a proprietary epitaxial liftoff (ELO) process. 

By utilizing its ELO capabilities, MicroLink will be able to make thin, lightweight, and highly flexible IMM solar cells which are ideal for use in unmanned aerial vehicles, space-based vehicles and equipment, and portable power generation applications. 

“IMM makes multijunction solar cells practical for a wide variety of weight-, geometry-, and space-constrained applications where high efficiency is critical,” said Jeff Carapella, one of the researchers in NREL’s III-V multijunction materials and devices research group that developed the technology.

“Former NREL Scientist Mark Wanlass pioneered the use of metamorphic buffer layers to form tandem III-V solar cells with three or more junctions. 

This approach is very synergistic with our ELO process technology, and MicroLink Devices is excited to now be commercializing IMM solar cells for high-performance space and UAV applications,” said Noren Pan, CEO of MicroLink Devices.

MicroLink and NREL have collaborated to evaluate the use of ELO for producing IMM solar cells since 2009, when MicroLink was the recipient of a DOE PV Incubator subcontract from NREL. 

Tests of MicroLink-produced IMM solar cells conducted at NREL have demonstrated multiple successful substrate reuses and efficiencies exceeding 30%.

NREL has more than 800 technologies available for licensing and continues to engage in advanced research and development of next-generation IMM and ultra-high-efficiency multijunction solar cells with both academic and commercial collaborators. 

Companies interested in partnering to advance research on or commercialize renewable energy technologies can visit the EERE Energy Innovation Portal, which features descriptions of all renewable energy technologies funded by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 

Parties interested specifically in ongoing development of IMM solar cells can contact Dan Friedman, Manager of NREL’s High Efficiency Crystalline Photovoltaics Group, for more information.

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.

Breaking through the sunlight-to-electricity conversion limit

Solar-excited “hot” electrons are usually wasted as heat in conventional silicon solar cells. In a new type of solar cell, known as a hybrid organic-inorganic perovskite cell, scientists found these “hot” electrons last longer. These hot electrons have lifetimes more than a 1000 times longer than those formed in silicon cells. 

The rotation of oppositely charged ions plays a key role in protecting “hot” electrons from adverse energy-depleting interactions (Science, “Screening in crystalline liquids protects energetic carriers in hybrid perovskites”).

In the illustration of a perovskite structure, a “hot” electron is located at the center of the image. Positive molecules (red and blue dumbbells) surround the “hot” electron. The distortion of the crystal structure and the liquid-like environment of the positive molecules (blurred dumbbells at the periphery of the image) screen (yellow circle, partially shown) the “hot” electron. The “shield” protects the hot electron and allows it to survive 1000 times longer than it would in conventional silicon solar cells. (Image: Xiaoyang Zhu, Columbia University)

This research identified a possible route to dramatically increase the efficiency of solar cells. By slowing the cooling of excited “hot” electrons, scientists could produce more electricity. They could devise cells that function above the predicted efficiency limit, around 33 percent, for conventional solar cells.

Hybrid organic-inorganic lead halide perovskites (HOIP) are promising new materials for use in low-cost solar cells. HOIPs have already been demonstrated in solar cells with solar-to-electricity conversion efficiency exceeding 20 percent, which is on par with the best crystalline silicon solar cells.

Research is ongoing to discover why HOIPs work so well for solar energy harvesting and to determine their efficiency limit. A team led by Columbia University has discovered that electrons in HOIPs acquire protective shields that make them nearly invisible to defects and other electrons, which allows the electrons to avoid losing energy. The mechanism of protection is dynamic screening correlated with liquid-like molecular motions in the crystal structure.

Moreover, the researchers discovered that the protection mechanism works for electrons with excess energy (with energy greater than the semiconductor band gap); as a result, these so-called “hot” electrons are very long-lived in HOIPs. In a conventional solar cell, such as the silicon cell widely in use today, only part of the solar spectrum is used, and the energy of the “hot” electrons is wasted. Excess electron energy generated initially from the absorption of high-energy photons in the solar spectrum is lost as heat before the electron is harvested for electricity production.

For conventional solar cells, this loss is partially responsible for the theoretical efficiency limit of around 33 percent, called the Shockley-Queisser limit. However, the long lifetime of “hot” electrons in HOIPs makes it possible to harvest the “hot” electrons to produce electricity, thus increasing the efficiency of HOIP solar cells beyond the conventional limit.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science

NREL Charges Forward to Reduce Time at EV Stations

Shortening recharge times may diminish range anxiety, increase EV market viability, however Speeding up battery charging will be crucial to improving the convenience of owning and driving an electric vehicle (EV). 

The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is collaborating with Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), Idaho National Laboratory (INL), and industry stakeholders to identify the technical, infrastructure, and economic requirements for establishing a national extreme fast charging (XFC) network.

Today’s high power EV charging stations take 20 minutes or more to provide a fraction of the driving range car owners get from 10 minutes at the gasoline pump. 

Porsche is leading the industry with the deployment of two XFC 350kW EV charging stations in Europe that will begin to approach the refueling time of gasoline vehicles. Photo courtesy of Porsche.

Drivers can pump enough gasoline in 10 minutes to carry them a few hundred miles. Most of today’s fast charging stations take 20 minutes to provide 50-70 miles of electric driving range. 

A series of articles in the current edition of the Journal of Power Sources summarizes the NREL team’s findings on how battery, vehicle, infrastructure, and economic factors impact XFC feasibility.

“You can charge an EV today at one of 44,000 stations across the country, but if you can’t leave your car plugged in for a few hours, you may only get enough juice to travel across town a few times,” says NREL Senior Engineer and XFC Project Lead Matthew Keyser

“We’re working to match the time, cost, and distance that generations of drivers have come to expect—with the additional benefits of clean, energy-saving technology.”

While XFC can help overcome real (and perceived) EV driving range limitations, the technology also introduces a series of new challenges. More rapid and powerful charging generates higher temperatures, which can lead to battery degradation and safety issues. 

Power electronics found in commercially available EVs are built for slower overnight charging and may not be able to withstand the stresses of higher voltage battery systems which are expected for higher power charging systems. XFC’s extreme, intermittent demands for electricity could also pose challenges to grid stability.

The XFC research team is exploring solutions for these issues, examining factors related to vehicle technology, gaps in existing technology, new demands on system design, and additional thermal management requirements. Researchers are also looking beyond vehicle systems to consider equipment and station design and potential impact on the grid.

NREL’s intercity travel analysis revealed that recharge times comparable to the time it takes to pump gas will require charge rates of at least 400 kW. 

Current DC Fast Charging rates are limited to 50-120 kW, and most public charging stations are limited to 7kW. 

XFC researchers have concluded that this will necessitate increases in battery charging density and new designs to minimize potential related increases in component size, weight, and cost. 

It appears that a more innovative battery thermal management system will be needed if XFC is to become a reality, and new strategies and materials will be needed to improve battery cell and pack cooling, as well as the thermal efficiency of cathodes and anodes.

“Yes, this substantial increase in charging rate will create new technical issues, but they are far from insurmountable—now that we’ve identified them,” says NREL Engineer Andrew Meintz.

Development of a network of XFC stations will depend on cost, market demand, and management of intermittent power demands. 
The team’s research revealed a need for more extensive analysis of potential station siting, travel patterns, grid resources, and business cases. 

At the same time, it is clear that any XFC network will call for new infrastructure technology and operational practices, along with cooperation and standardization across utilities, station operators, and manufacturers of charging systems and EVs.

These studies provide an initial framework for effectively establishing XFC technology. The initiative has attracted keen interest from industry members, who realize that faster charging will ultimately lead to wider market adoption of EV technologies.

This research is supported by the DOE Vehicle Technologies Office. Learn more about NREL’s energy storage and EV grid integration research.

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.

NREL: Demonstrating and Advancing Benefits of Hydrogen Technology

by Bryan S. Pivovar, Ph.D, H2@Scale Lead/Group Manager, Chemistry and Nanosciences Center, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Over the past several decades, technological advancements and cost reductions have dramatically changed the economic potential of hydrogen in our energy system. 
Fuel cell electric vehicles are now available for commercial sale and hydrogen stations are open to the public (more than 2,000 fuel cell vehicles are on the road and more than 30 fueling stations are open to the public in California). 

Low-cost wind and solar power are quickly changing the power generation landscape and creating a need for technologies that enhance the flexibility of the grid in the mid- to long-term.

The vision of a clean, sustainable energy system with hydrogen serving as the critical centerpiece is the focus of H2@Scale, a major initiative involving multiple U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program offices, led by DOE’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and 14 DOE national laboratories. 

H2@Scale expands the focus of hydrogen technologies beyond power generation and transportation, to grid services and industrial processes that use hydrogen.

The Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) serves as a world-class, sophisticated testbed to evaluate and advance the H2@Scale concept. 

The ESIF is a DOE user facility interacting with multiple industrial stakeholders to accelerate the adoption of clean energy, including hydrogen-based technologies. Many of the barriers for making the H2@Scale vision a reality are being addressed today within ESIF by NREL researchers along with other industrial and national laboratory collaborators. 

The unique testbed capabilities at NREL and collaborating national labs are now available for use by industry and several partnerships are currently in development.
Within the ESIF, NREL researchers use electrons and water to produce hydrogen at rates of up to 100 kg/day (enough to fuel ~6,000 miles of travel in today’s fuel cell electric vehicles or more than 20 cars) with plans to expand capacity to four times this level. 

The hydrogen produced is compressed and stored in the 350 kg of on-site storage available at pressures as high as 12,500 psi. The hydrogen is used in multiple applications at the ESIF, including fueling fuel cell electric vehicles, testing and validating hydrogen infrastructure components and systems, producing renewable natural gas (through biological reaction with carbon dioxide), and as a feedstock for fuel cell power generation and research and development efforts.

To accelerate the H2@Scale concept, the cost, performance, and durability of hydrogen production, infrastructure (distribution and storage), and end use technologies need to be improved. NREL researchers, along with other labs, are actively demonstrating and advancing hydrogen technology in a number of areas including low-temperature electrolysis, biological production of renewable natural gas, and infrastructure.

Renewable hydrogen via low-temperature electrolysis

Today’s small-scale electrolysis systems are capable of producing several kilograms (kg) of hydrogen per day, but can cost as much as $10 per watt. At larger scale, megawatt (MW) systems producing more than 400 kg per day can cost under $2 per watt. However, for low-temperature electrolyzer systems to compete with the established steam methane reforming process for hydrogen production, the capital cost needs to be reduced to far below $1 per watt.

NREL has ongoing collaborations with Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to demonstrate control of a 250-kW electrolyzer system in a real-time grid simulation using a hardware-in-the-loop (HIL)-based approach to verify the performance of electrolyzer systems in providing grid support. HIL couples modeling and hardware in real-time simulations to better understand the performance of complex systems. 

The electrolyzer system, a building block for megawatt-scale deployment, was remotely controlled based on simulations of signals from a power grid. NREL and INL engineers demonstrated the ability of an electrolyzer to respond to grid signals in sub-seconds, making electrolyzers a viable candidate for “demand response” technologies that help control frequency and voltage on the grid by adjusting their power intake based on grid signals. 

A key enabler of low-cost electrolysis will be for electrolyzer technologies to respond dynamically to grid signals, such that they access low-cost power when available. The potential performance and durability implications of such dynamic operation are being elucidated in ongoing tests. Such experiments are essential to assess the potential for electrolyzers to support grid resiliency and to identify remaining R&D needs toward this value proposition.
NREL’s scientists are developing and exploring new materials for electrolysis systems, including advanced catalysts based on nanowire architecture and alkaline membranes, and approaches for integrating these materials into low-cost, durable membrane electrode assemblies.  

Tesla wants to build special charging stations that sell food and coffee — and it could be a huge opportunity … Or NOT!


Tesla wants to build special charging stations that sell food and coffee — and it could be a huge opportunity

Tesla Coffee – I’ll have a cup of Musk’s Blend – Business Insider

• Tesla is planning to build more retail-and-lifestyle focused “Mega Supercharger locations.”
• This might tempt the company to partner with the Amazons and Starbucks of the world.
• IOHO – That would be a big mistake!

As Tesla expands its Supercharger network, the automaker intends to up its game, building higher-end, retail-rich locations that CEO Elon Musk has called “Mega Superchargers” but that we’ll call just Megachargers.

CEO Elon Musk has speculatively described them as “like really big supercharging locations with a bunch of amenities,” complete with “great restrooms, great food, amenities” and an awesome place to “hang out for half an hour and then be on your way.”

The move makes sense. 

Superchargers are currently located through the US and other countries, providing the fastest rate of recharging available to Tesla owners. The station can have varying numbers of charging stalls, however, and they aren’t always located in the best areas for passing the time while a Tesla inhales new electrons, although Tesla typically tries to construct them near retail and dining options.

With more Tesla hitting the road in coming years as more and more Model 3 sedans are delivered (Tesla has about 500,000 pre-orders for the car, priced from $35,000-$44,000), additional Superchargers will be needed. Creating stand-alone Megachargers that function sort of like Tesla stores would enhance the ownership experience — and open new opportunities to the company.

At Business Insider, when we heard about the Megachargers, a discussion broke out. Should Tesla partner with Amazon or Starbucks to develop these locations, offering great shopping, food, and above all else … coffee?

Bring on the Tesla Brew

A Starbucks store is seen inside the Tom Bradley terminal at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California, United States, October 27, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson      

Don’t do it, Tesla!Thomson Reuters I insisted, “NO NO NO!”
There’s no way that Tesla can blow the chance to create its own coffee. They could call it “Elon’s Blend” — bold, complex flavors, with a hint of, um, musk.

In all seriousness, for Tesla to share its Megacharger commerce might sound great, but it wouldn’t fit with the company’s plan to move toward greater vertical integration, owning not just the entire manufacturing process for its cars but also controlling its brand experience from top to bottom.

A recent example of Tesla’s reluctance to partner for the sake of partnering was the announcement that the carmaker could be working on its own streaming service. There are other instances that aren’t as obvious. Tesla’s audio system is an in-house design, a departure from what most luxury automaker do, which is joined with a well-known premium audio brands such as Bose or Bowers & Wilkins.

The company is already focused on building its own vehicle components, ranging from the guts of its cars — the battery packs and drivetrains — to seats and, of course, software. 

For a huge automaker, this type of integration can be impractical, but at Tesla’s current size, its business model operates more like Ford’s or GM’s did back before World War II, when near-total vertical integration was an advantage.

Supercharging is fun — and could be more fun!

In this respect, I’m using Tesla Brew as a symbolic bit of humor: it’s not entirely logical for Tesla to give away any branding opportunity that bolsters its existing and future owners’ perception that the Tesla experience is unique, self-contained, and dramatically different from what other carmakers are selling.

The Megachargers, if they’re built, are going to have a significant effect on how the overall Tesla experience is enjoyed. At the moment, the Supercharger network is pretty far-flung.

But Tesla wants to locate more fast-charging stations along the routes owners are likely to travel, so you could end up in a nice retail location just as easily as you could an out-of-the-way venue where there isn’t much to do besides consider some fast-food options.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but Tesla is a premium brand and for the most part, presents itself accordingly. You don’t find Tesla stores in odd places; you find them in upscale urban areas.

Tesla has endured its problems, but marketing isn’t one of them. Musk and his team might not yet have delivered 100,000 vehicles in a full year, but they’ve delivered almost that — with no advertising whatsoever. In the car world, 
Tesla ranks with Ferrari in terms of its aspirational aspects, and outside the car world, one thinks immediately of Apple. In the retail realm, Starbucks pops to mind, and that in itself is reason enough for Tesla to avoid putting the Green Siren next to its logo at Megacharger locations. 

If you’re a little bit cynical about Tesla, you might argue that the company is much better at marketing than it is at the whole car thing, and you’d be right. However, few people get excited about Ford- or Toyota-branded products that aren’t cars, and even Ferrari-branded merchandise isn’t always coveted, something that Ferrari, now a public company, is trying to change.

Tesla is already a luxury, and with an added high-tech, save-the-planet edge to everything. It’s begun the remaking of transportation. It could now be time to remake coffee, too. 

Better photovoltaic efficiency grows from enormous solar crystals: MH Perovskites 

In-depth analysis of the mechanisms that generate floating crystals from hot liquids could lead to large-scale, printable solar cells

New evidence of surface-initiated crystallization may improve the efficiency of printable photovoltaic materials.

In the race to replace silicon in low-cost solar cells, semiconductors known as metal halide perovskites are favored because they can be solution-processed into thin films with excellent photovoltaic efficiency. 

A collaboration between King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and Oxford University researchers has now uncovered a strategy that grows perovskites into centimeter-scale, highly pure crystals thanks to the effect of surface tension (ACS Energy Letters, “The role of surface tension in the crystallization of metal halide perovskites”).

In their natural state, perovskites have difficultly moving solar-generated electricity because they crystallize with randomly oriented grains. 

Osman Bakr from KAUST’s Solar Center and coworkers are working on ways to dramatically speed up the flow of these charge carriers using inverse temperature crystallization (ITC). This technique uses special organic liquids and thermal energy to force perovskites to solidify into structures resembling single crystals—the optimal arrangements for device purposes.

While ITC produces high-quality perovskites far faster than conventional chemical methods, the curious mechanisms that initiate crystallization in hot organic liquids are poorly understood. Ayan Zhumekenov, a PhD student in Bakr’s group, recalls spotting a key piece of evidence during efforts to adapt ITC toward large-scale manufacturing. “At some point, we realized that when crystals appeared, it was usually at the solution’s surface,” he says. “And this was particularly true when we used concentrated solutions.”

The KAUST team partnered with Oxford theoreticians to identify how interfaces influence perovskite growth in ITC. They propose that metal halides and solvent molecules initially cling together in tight complexes that begin to stretch and weaken at higher temperatures. With sufficient thermal energy, the complex breaks and perovskites begin to crystallize.

But interestingly, the researchers found that complexes located at the solution surface can experience additional forces due to surface tension—the strong cohesive forces that enable certain insects to stride over lakes and ponds. The extra pull provided by the surface makes it much easier to separate the solvent-perovskite complexes and nucleate crystals that float on top of the liquid.

Exploiting this knowledge helped the team produce centimeter-sized, ultrathin single crystals and prototype a photodetector with characteristics comparable to state-of-the-art devices. Although the single crystals are currently fragile and difficult to handle due to their microscale thicknesses, Zhumekenov explains that this method could help direct the perovskite growth onto specific substrates.

“Taking into account the roles of interfaces and surface tension could have a fundamental impact,” he says, “we can get large-area growth, and it’s not limited to specific metal cations—you could have a library of materials with perovskite structures.”

Source: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

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