After 40 Years of Searching, Scientists Identify The Key Flaw in Solar Panel Efficiency

Solar panels are fantastic pieces of technology, but we need to work out how to make them even more efficient – and scientists just solved a 40-year-old mystery around one of the key obstacles to increased efficiency.

A new study outlines a material defect in silicon used to produce solar cells that has previously gone undetected. It could be responsible for the 2 percent efficiency drop that solar cells can see in the first hours of use: Light Induced Degradation (LID).

Multiplied by the increasing number of panels installed at solar farms around the world, that drop equals a significant cost in gigawatts that non-renewable energy sources have to make up for.

New Efficient Solar Panels Coming to the Market in 2019

In fact, the estimated loss in efficiency worldwide from LID is estimated to equate to more energy than can be generated by the UK’s 15 nuclear power plants. The new discovery could help scientists make up some of that shortfall.

“Because of the environmental and financial impact solar panel ‘efficiency degradation’ has been the topic of much scientific and engineering interest in the last four decades,” says one of the researchers, Tony Peaker from the University of Manchester in the UK.

“However, despite some of the best minds in the business working on it, the problem has steadfastly resisted resolution until now.”

To find what 270 research papers across four decades had previously been unable to determine, the latest study used an electrical and optical technique called deep-level transient spectroscopy (DLTS) to find weaknesses in the silicon.

Here’s what the DLTS analysis found: As the electronic charge in the solar cells gets transformed into sunlight, the flow of electrons gets trapped; in turn, that reduces the level of electrical power that can be produced.

This defect lies dormant until the solar panel gets heated, the team found.

“We’ve proved the defect exists, its now an engineering fix that is needed,” says one of the researchers, Iain Crowe from the University of Manchester.

The researchers also found that higher quality silicon had charge carriers (electrons which carry the photon energy) with a longer ‘lifetime’, which backs up the idea that these traps are linked to the efficiency degradation.

What’s more, heating the material in the dark, a process often used to remove traps from silicon, seems to reverse the degradation.

The work to push solar panel efficiency rates higher continues, with breakthroughs continuing to happen in the lab, and nature offering up plenty of efficiency tipsas well. Now that the Light Induced Degradation mystery has been solved, solar farms across the globe should benefit.

“An absolute drop of 2 percent in efficiency may not seem like a big deal, but when you consider that these solar panels are now responsible for delivering a large and exponentially growing fraction of the world’s total energy needs, it’s a significant loss of electricity generating capacity,” says Peaker.

The research has been published in the Journal of Applied Physics.


High-Performance ‘Quantum Dot Mode-Locked Laser on silicon – Proven 4.1 Terabit-per-second transmission capacity – The Future of Telecommunications and Data Centers – UC Santa Barbara

Bowers Liu Optica

Ten years into the future.

That’s about how far UC Santa Barbara electrical and computer engineering professor John Bowers and his research team are reaching with the recent development of their mode-locked quantum dot lasers on silicon.

It’s technology that not only can massively increase the data transmission capacity of data centers, telecommunications companies and network hardware products to come, but do so with high stability, low noise and the energy efficiency of silicon photonics.

“The level of data traffic in the world is going up very, very fast,” said Bowers, co-author of a paper on the new technology in the journal Optica. Generally speaking, he explained, the transmission and data capacity of state-of-the-art telecommunications infrastructure must double roughly every two years to sustain high levels of performance. That means that even now, technology companies such as Intel and Cisco have to set their sights on the hardware of 2024 and beyond to stay competitive. quantum-dots-head-672x371

Enter the Bowers Group’s high-channel-count, 20 gigahertz, passively mode-locked quantum dot laser, directly grown — for the first time, to the group’s knowledge — on a silicon substrate. With a proven 4.1 terabit-per-second transmission capacity, it leaps an estimated full decade ahead from today’s best commercial standard for data transmission, which is currently reaching for 400 gigabits per second on Ethernet.

The technology is the latest high-performance candidate in an established technique called wavelength-division-multiplexing (WDM), which transmits numerous parallel signals over a single optical fiber using different wavelengths (colors). It has made possible the streaming and rapid data transfer we have come to rely on for our communications, entertainment and commerce.

The Bowers Group’s new technology takes advantage of several advances in telecommunications, photonics and materials with its quantum dot laser — a tiny, micron-sized light source — that can emit a broad range of light wavelengths over which data can be transmitted.

“We want more coherent wavelengths generated in one cheap light source,” said Songtao Liu, a postdoctoral researcher in the Bowers Group and lead author of the paper. “Quantum dots can offer you wide gain spectrum, and that’s why we can achieve a lot of channels.” Their quantum dot laser produces 64 channels, spaced at 20 GHz, and can be utilized as a transmitter to boost the system capacity.

The laser is passively ‘mode-locked’ — a technique that generates coherent optical ‘combs’ with fixed-channel spacing — to prevent noise from wavelength competition in the laser cavity and stabilize data transmission.

This technology represents a significant advance in the field of silicon electronic and photonic integrated circuits, in which the primary goal is to create components that use light (photons) and waveguides — unparalleled for data capacity and transmission speed as well as energy efficiency — alongside and even instead of electrons and wires. Silicon is a good material for the quality of light it can guide and preserve, and for the ease and low cost of its large-scale manufacture. However, it’s not so good for generating light.

“If you want to generate light efficiently, you want a direct band-gap semiconductor,” said Liu, referring to the ideal electronic structural property for light-emitting solids. “Silicon is an indirect band-gap semiconductor.” The Bowers Group’s quantum dot laser, grown on silicon molecule-by-molecule at UC Santa Barbara’s nanofabrication facilities, is a structure that takes advantage of the electronic properties of several semiconductor materials for performance and function (including their direct band-gaps), in addition to silicon’s own well-known optical and manufacturing benefits.

This quantum dot laser, and components like it, are expected to become the norm in telecommunications and data processing, as technology companies seek ways to improve their data capacity and transmission speeds.

“Data centers are now buying large amounts of silicon photonic transceivers,” Bowers pointed out. “And it went from nothing two years ago.”

Since Bowers a decade ago demonstrated the world’s first hybrid silicon laser (an effort in conjunction with Intel), the silicon photonics world has continued to create higher efficiency, higher performance technology while maintaining as small a footprint as possible, with an eye on mass production. The quantum dot laser on silicon, Bowers and Liu say, is state-of-the-art technology that delivers the superior performance that will be sought for future devices.

“We’re shooting far out there,” said Bowers, who holds the Fred Kavli Chair in Nanotechnology, “which is what university research should be doing.”

Research on this project was also conducted by Xinru Wu, Daehwan Jung, Justin Norman, MJ Kennedy, Hon K. Tsang and Arthur C. Gossard at UC Santa Barbara.

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Next-Gen Lithium-Ion Batteries – Combining Graphene + Silicon Could it be the Key?


Researchers have long been investigating the use of silicon in lithium-ion batteries, as it has the potential to greatly increase storage capacity compared to graphite, the material used in most conventional lithium-ion batteries. By some estimates, silicon could boast a lithium storage capacity of 4,200 mAh/g—11 times that of graphite.

However, despite its benefits, silicon comes with its own challenges.

“When you store a lot of lithium ion into your silicon you actually physically extend the volume of silicon to about 3 to 3.8 times its original volume—so that is a lot of expansion,” explained Bor Jang, PhD, in an exclusive interview with R&D Magazine. “That by itself is not a big problem, but when you discharge your battery—like when you open your smart phone—the silicon shrinks. Then when you recharge your battery the silicon expands again. This repeated expansion and shrinkage leads to the breakdown of the particles inside of your battery so it loses its capacity.”

Jang offers one solution—graphene, a single layer sheet of carbon atoms tightly bound in a hexagonal honeycomb lattice.

“We have found that graphene plays a critical role in protecting the silicon,” said Jang, the CEO and Chief Scientist of Global Graphene Group. The Ohio-based advanced materials organization has created GCA-II-N, a graphene and silicon composite anode for use in lithium-ion batteries.

The innovation—which was a 2018 R&D 100 Award winner—has the potential to make a significant impact in the energy storage space. Jang shared more about graphene, GCA-II-N and its potential applications in his …

Interview with R&D Magazine:


           Photo Credit: Global Graphene Group


R&D Magazine: Why is graphene such a good material for energy storage?

Jang: From the early beginning when we invited graphene back in 2002 we realized that graphene has certain very unique properties. For example, it has very high electrical conductivity, very high thermal conductivity, it has very high strength—in fact it is probably the strongest material known to mankind naturally. We thought we would be able to make use of graphene to product the anode material than we can significantly improve not only the strength of the electrode itself, but we are also able to dissipate the heat faster, while also reducing the changes for the battery to catch fire or explode.

Also graphene is extremely thin—a single layer graphene is 0.34 nanometer (nm). You can imagine that if you had a fabric that was as thin as 0.34 nanometers in thickness, than you could use this material to wrap around just about anything. So it is a very good protection material in that sense. That is another reason for the flexibility of this graphene material.



BatteryRead More: Talga’s graphene silicon product extends capacity of Li-ion battery anode

Another interesting feature of graphene is that is a very high specific surface area. For instance if I give you 1.5 grams of single layer graphene it will be enough to cover an entire football stadium. There is a huge amount of surface area per unit weight with this material.

That translates into another interesting property in the storage area. In that field that is a device called supercapacitors or ultracapacitors. The operation of supercapacitors depends upon conducting surface areas, like graphene or activated carbon. These graphene sheets have, to be exact, 2630 meters squared per gram. That would give you, in principle, a very high capacity per unit gram of this material when you use it as an electron material for supercapacitors. There is are so many properties associated with graphene for energy applications, those are just examples, I could talk about this all day!



R&D Magazine: Where is the team currently with the GCA-II-N and what are the next steps for this project?

Jang: Last year we began to sell the product. In Dayton, OH, where we are situated at the moment we have a small-scale manufacturing facility. It is now about a 50-metric-ton capacity facility and we can easily scale it up. We have been producing mass qualities of this and then delivering them to some of the potential customers for validation. We are basically in the customer validation stage for this business right now.

We will continue to do research and development for this project. We will eventually manufacture the batteries here in the U.S., but at the moment we are doing the anode materials only.

R&D Magazine: What types of customers are showing interest in this technology?

Jang: Electrical vehicles are a big area that is growing rapidly, particularly in areas in Asia such as China. The electrical vehicle industry is taking the driver’s seat and is driving the growth of this business worldwide right now. E-bikes and electronic scooters are another rapidly growing business where this could be used.

Another example is your smart phone. Right now, if you continue to use your phone you may be able to last for half a day or maybe a whole day if you push it. This technology has the ability to double the amount of energy that could be stored in your battery. Electronic devices is another big area for application of this technology. 

A third area is in the energy storage business, it could be utilized to store solar energy or wind energy after it has been captured. Lithium-ion batteries are gaining a lot of ground in this market right now.

Right now, another rapidly growing area is the drone. Drones are used, not only for fun, but for agricultural purposes or for surveillance purposes, such as during natural disasters.  Drones are seeing a lot of applications right now and batteries are very important part of that.

R&D Magazine: Are there any challenges to working with graphene?

Jang: One of the major challenges is that graphene by itself is still a relatively high cost. We are doing second-generation processes right now, and I think in a couple of years we should be able to significantly reduce the cost of graphene. We are also working on a third generation of processes that would allow us to reduce the cost even further. That is a major obstacle to large-scale commercialization of all graphene applications.

The second challenge is the notion of graphene as a so-called ‘nanomaterial’ in thickness that a lot customers find it difficult to disperse in water or disperse in organic solvent or plastic in order to combine graphene with other types of materials, make a composite out of it. Therefor people are resistant to use it. We have found a way to overcome this either real challenge, or perceived challenge. We can do that for a customer and then ship that directly to the customer.

There is also an education challenge. It is sometimes difficult to convince engineers, they want to stick with the materials they are more familiar with, even though the performance is better with graphene. That is a barrier as well. However, I do think it is becoming more well known.

Laura Panjwani
Editor-in-chief R & D Magazine

Boosting lithium ion batteries capacity 10X with Tiny Silicon Particles – University of Alberta

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U of Alberta chemists Jillian Buriak, Jonathan Veinot and their team found that nano-sized silicon particles overcome a limitation of using silicon in lithium ion batteries. The discovery could lead to a new generation of batteries …more

University of Alberta chemists have taken a critical step toward creating a new generation of silicon-based lithium ion batteries with 10 times the charge capacity of current cells.

“We wanted to test how different sizes of  nanoparticles could affect fracturing inside these batteries,” said Jillian Buriak, a U of A chemist and Canada Research Chair in Nanomaterials for Energy. ua buriak tinysiliconp

Silicon shows promise for building much higher-capacity batteries because it’s abundant and can absorb much more lithium than the graphite used in current lithium ion batteries. The problem is that silicon is prone to fracturing and breaking after numerous charge-and-discharge cycles, because it expands and contracts as it absorbs and releases lithium ions.

Existing research shows that shaping silicon into nano-scale particles, wires or tubes helps prevent it from breaking. What Buriak, fellow U of A chemist Jonathan Veinot and their team wanted to know was what size these structures needed to be to maximize the benefits of silicon while minimizing the drawbacks.

The researchers examined silicon nanoparticles of four different sizes, evenly dispersed within highly conductive graphene aerogels, made of carbon with nanoscopic pores, to compensate for silicon’s low conductivity. They found that the smallest particles—just three billionths of a metre in diameter—showed the best long-term stability after many charging and discharging cycles.

“As the particles get smaller, we found they are better able to manage the strain that occurs as the silicon ‘breathes’ upon alloying and dealloying with , upon cycling,” explained Buriak.

u of alberta imagesThe research has potential applications in “anything that relies upon  using a battery,” said Veinot, who is the director of the ATUMS graduate student training program that partially supported the research.

“Imagine a car having the same size battery as a Tesla that could travel 10 times farther or you charge 10 times less frequently, or the battery is 10 times lighter.”

Veinot said the next steps are to develop a faster, less expensive way to create  to make them more accessible for industry and technology developers.

The study, “Size and Surface Effects of Silicon Nanocrystals in Graphene Aerogel Composite Anodes for Lithium Ion Batteries,” was published in Chemistry of Materials.

 Explore further: Toward cost-effective solutions for next-generation consumer electronics, electric vehicles and power grids

More information: Maryam Aghajamali et al. Size and Surface Effects of Silicon Nanocrystals in Graphene Aerogel Composite Anodes for Lithium Ion Batteries, Chemistry of Materials (2018). DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.8b03198

Watch a YouTube Video about an Energy Storage Company Tenka Energy, Inc., that has developed and prototyped the NextGen of silicon-lithium-ion batteries for EV’s, Drones, Medical Sensors ….

Tenka Energy, Inc. Building Ultra-Thin Energy Dense SuperCaps and NexGen Nano-Enabled Pouch & Cylindrical Batteries – Energy Storage Made Small and POWERFUL!

via @Genesisnanotech #greatthingsfromsmallthings #energystorage

MIT: Material (molybdenum ditelluride) could bring optical communication onto silicon chips


Researchers have designed a light-emitter and detector that can be integrated into silicon CMOS chips. This illustration shows a molybdenum ditelluride light source for silicon photonics. Image: Sampson Wilcox

Ultrathin films of a semiconductor that emits and detects light can be stacked on top of silicon wafers.

The huge increase in computing performance in recent decades has been achieved by squeezing ever more transistors into a tighter space on microchips.

However, this downsizing has also meant packing the wiring within microprocessors ever more tightly together, leading to effects such as signal leakage between components, which can slow down communication between different parts of the chip. This delay, known as the “interconnect bottleneck,” is becoming an increasing problem in high-speed computing systems.

One way to tackle the interconnect bottleneck is to use light rather than wires to communicate between different parts of a microchip. This is no easy task, however, as silicon, the material used to build chips, does not emit light easily, according to Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, an associate professor of physics at MIT.

Now, in a paper published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, researchers describe a light emitter and detector that can be integrated into silicon CMOS chips. The paper’s first author is MIT postdoc Ya-Qing Bie, who is joined by Jarillo-Herrero and an interdisciplinary team including Dirk Englund, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

The device is built from a semiconductor material called molybdenum ditelluride. This ultrathin semiconductor belongs to an emerging group of materials known as two-dimensional transition-metal dichalcogenides.

Unlike conventional semiconductors, the material can be stacked on top of silicon wafers, Jarillo-Herrero says.

“Researchers have been trying to find materials that are compatible with silicon, in order to bring optoelectronics and optical communication on-chip, but so far this has proven very difficult,” Jarillo-Herrero says. “For example, gallium arsenide is very good for optics, but it cannot be grown on silicon very easily because the two semiconductors are incompatible.”

In contrast, the 2-D molybdenum ditelluride can be mechanically attached to any material, Jarillo-Herrero says.

Another difficulty with integrating other semiconductors with silicon is that the materials typically emit light in the visible range, but light at these wavelengths is simply absorbed by silicon.

Molybdenum ditelluride emits light in the infrared range, which is not absorbed by silicon, meaning it can be used for on-chip communication.

To use the material as a light emitter, the researchers first had to convert it into a P-N junction diode, a device in which one side, the P side, is positively charged, while the other, N side, is negatively charged.

In conventional semiconductors, this is typically done by introducing chemical impurities into the material. With the new class of 2-D materials, however, it can be done by simply applying a voltage across metallic gate electrodes placed side-by-side on top of the material.

“That is a significant breakthrough, because it means we do not need to introduce chemical impurities into the material [to create the diode]. We can do it electrically,” Jarillo-Herrero says.

Once the diode is produced, the researchers run a current through the device, causing it to emit light.

“So by using diodes made of molybdenum ditelluride, we are able to fabricate light-emitting diodes (LEDs) compatible with silicon chips,” Jarillo-Herrero says.

The device can also be switched to operate as a photodetector, by reversing the polarity of the voltage applied to the device. This causes it to stop conducting electricity until a light shines on it, when the current restarts.

In this way, the devices are able to both transmit and receive optical signals.

The device is a proof of concept, and a great deal of work still needs to be done before the technology can be developed into a commercial product, Jarillo-Herrero says.

This paper fills an important gap in integrated photonics, by realizing a high-performance silicon-CMOS-compatible light source, says Frank Koppens, a professor of quantum nano-optoelectronics at the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona, Spain, who was not involved in the research.

“This work shows that 2-D materials and Si-CMOS and silicon photonics are a natural match, and we will surely see many more applications coming out of this [area] in the years to come,” Koppens says.

The researchers are now investigating other materials that could be used for on-chip optical communication.

Most telecommunication systems, for example, operate using light with a wavelength of 1.3 or 1.5 micrometers, Jarillo-Herrero says.

However, molybdenum ditelluride emits light at 1.1 micrometers. This makes it suitable for use in the silicon chips found in computers, but unsuitable for telecommunications systems.

“It would be highly desirable if we could develop a similar material, which could emit and detect light at 1.3 or 1.5 micrometers in wavelength, where telecommunication through optical fiber operates,” he says.

To this end, the researchers are exploring another ultrathin material called black phosphorus, which can be tuned to emit light at different wavelengths by altering the number of layers used. They hope to develop devices with the necessary number of layers to allow them to emit light at the two wavelengths while remaining compatible with silicon.

“The hope is that if we are able to communicate on-chip via optical signals instead of electronic signals, we will be able to do so more quickly, and while consuming less power,” Jarillo-Herrero says.

The research was supported by Center for Excitonics, an EFRC funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Silicon Solves Problems for next-Generation Battery Technology: University of Eastern Finland

Silicon in New LI Batts 170830114817_1_540x360

Silicon — the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust — shows great promise in Li-ion batteries, according to new research from the University of Eastern Finland. By replacing graphite anodes with silicon, it is possible to quadruple anode capacity.

In a climate-neutral society, renewable and emission-free sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, will become increasingly widespread. The supply of energy from these sources, however, is intermittent, and technological solutions are needed to safeguard the availability of energy also when it’s not sunny or windy. Furthermore, the transition to emission-free energy forms in transportation requires specific solutions for energy storage, and lithium-ion batteries are considered to have the best potential.

Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland introduced new technology to Li-ion batteries by replacing graphite used in anodes by silicon. The study analysed the suitability of electrochemically produced nanoporous silicon for Li-ion batteries. It is generally understood that in order for silicon to work in batteries, nanoparticles are required, and this brings its own challenges to the production, price and safety of the material.

However, one of the main findings of the study was that particles sized between 10 and 20 micrometres and with the right porosity were in fact the most suitable ones to be used in batteries. The discovery is significant, as micrometre-sized particles are easier and safer to process than nanoparticles. This is also important from the viewpoint of battery material recyclability, among other things. The findings were published in Scientific Reports.

“In our research, we were able to combine the best of nano- and micro-technologies: nano-level functionality combined with micro-level processability, and all this without compromising performance,” Researcher Timo Ikonen from the University of Eastern Finland says. “Small amounts of silicon are already used in Tesla’s batteries to increase their energy density, but it’s very challenging to further increase the amount,” he continues.

Next, researchers will combine silicon with small amounts of carbon nanotubes in order to further enhance the electrical conductivity and mechanical durability of the material.

“We now have a good understanding of the material properties required in large-scale use of silicon in Li-ion batteries. However, the silicon we’ve been using is too expensive for commercial use, and that’s why we are now looking into the possibility of manufacturing a similar material from agricultural waste, for example from barley husk ash,” Professor Vesa-Pekka Lehto explains.

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EV Batteries: A $240 Billion Industry In the Making that China is Taking the Lead

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Even those who consider themselves somewhat knowledgeable about the electric vehicle (EV) industry would be hard pressed to name more than a handful of EV battery suppliers.

Most would quickly name Japan’s Panasonic and South Korea’s Samsung and LG Chem, as well as reference the Gigafactoy that Panasonic and Tesla opened this past January in Nevada. A few of the more knowledgeable would also name BYD, a leading electric vehicle manufacturer in China that is also one of the world’s largest battery suppliers.

Other than those names, however, and perhaps one or two other lesser known players, the list would end there.


Nearly everyone would be surprised to learn that there are now more than 140 EV battery manufacturers in China, busily building capacity in order to claim a share of what will become a $240 billion global industry within the next 20 years. As in all things auto, EVs and the batteries that will power them promise to be big industries in China.

A $240 billion industry

The math is simple. Respected auto analysts like those at Bernstein, a Wall Street research and securities firm, are predicting that EVs will account for as much as 40% of global vehicle purchases in 20 years. Since almost 100 million vehicles are produced and sold globally, that means that the annual market for EVs will be 40 million, even if the total global vehicle build does not increase between now and then.

Assuming that battery prices reach parity with the $6,000 cost of an internal combustion engine, a $240 billion battery industry is now in the making. Due to its well-publicized problems combatting air pollution, China will lead the way in EVs, as well as in batteries.

Read more: Why China Is Leading The World’s Boom In Electric Vehicles

In order to meet projected demand, battery cell manufacturing capacity globally will need to increase dramatically, which is why China’s battery makers are aggressively expanding. When Tesla and Panasonic announced in 2014 their plans to build a “Gigafactory” capable of producing 35 Gigawatt hours (GWh) of battery cells every year, that was big news. (A GWh is equal to one million kilowatt hours.) After all, the entire battery capacity in the world at the time was less than 50 GWh.

A great deal has changed over the last three years, though. Led by China, battery cell manufacturing capacity has more than doubled to 125 GWh, and is projected to double again to over 250 GWh by 2020. Even that will not be nearly enough. Total cell production capacity will need to increase tenfold from 2020 to 2037, the equivalent of adding 60 new Gigafactories, during that period.


Shifting towards China

Battery technology originated in Japan; was then further developed by companies in Korea; and is now shifting strongly toward China. China’s cell production already has a larger share of global production than Japan’s, and China’s global market share is projected to rise to more than 70% by 2020.

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This photo taken on May 22, 2017 shows a car passing new electric vehicles parked in a parking lot under a viaduct in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei province. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Rapid market growth for EVs in China, as well as the tendency for Chinese auto assemblers to use homegrown products, augurs well for China’s continued leadership in battery cell manufacturing. According to Roland Berger’s E-mobility Index Q2 2017 report, locally made lithium-ion cells are used in more than 90% of the EVs produced by Chinese manufacturers.

Read more: The Electric Car Market Has A ‘Chicken Or Egg’ Problem — And China Is Solving It

With so many Chinese companies hoping to enter the battery sweepstakes, China’s government is considering policies that will set minimum production capacities for battery manufacturers as a way to further strengthen its position as a global leader. Although not yet official, Beijing would like Chinese manufacturers to have a production volume of at least 3 to 5 GWh per year. Separately, Beijing released draft guidelines at the end of 2016 stipulating that battery manufacturers would need to have at least 8 GWh of production capacity in order to qualify for subsidies. As a signal to the market, the government is planning to back the development of only those battery companies with annual production capacities of 40 GWh or more.img_0160

Who the government is championing

While Panasonic is the world’s largest supplier of electric vehicle batteries globally, Chinese companies are catching up.

Based in Shenzhen, BYD — which stands for “Build Your Dream” — is a Hong Kong listed, Chinese car company that in 2016 produced almost 500,000 cars and buses, approximately 100,000 of which were EVs or plug-in hybrids. Consistent with BYD’s strategy of vertical integration, it also has 20 GWh of battery cell capacity and is China’s largest battery maker.

In 2008, a subsidiary of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway invested $230 million in BYD, which at the time represented a 10% stake in the company. BYD is now valued in the marketplace at $16.9 billion.

Read more: China And The U.S. Supercharge The Growing Global Electric Vehicle Industry

CATL is another leading Chinese battery company. Founded in 2011 and headquartered in Ningde, Fujian province, CATL focuses on the production of lithium-ion batteries and the development of energy storage systems. With manufacturing bases in Qinghai, Jiangsu, and Guangdong provinces, CATL has 7.7 GWh of battery capacity and plans to have battery production capacity of 50 GWh by 2020. Like BYD, CATL is the type of company that the Chinese government wants to support and promote as a national champion.

Companies to watch

Other companies to watch are Tianjin based Lishen Battery and Hangzhou’s Wanxiang Group.

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State Grid Corp. of China (SGCC) battery packs sit on display in the showroom of Wanxiang Group Corp. in Hangzhou, China in September 2016. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

Lishen has production bases in Bejing, Qingdao, Suzhou, Wuhan, Ningbo, Shenzhen and Mianyang, and plans to have 20 GWh of battery cell capacity by 2020. And Wanxiang is one of China’s largest private companies and one of the country’s leading automotive components suppliers. In 1994, Wanxiang established a U.S. company in Elgin, Illinois. Since then, Wanxiang has made over two dozen acquisitions in the United States, including A123, a battery maker that had gone into bankruptcy, in 2013, and Fisker Automotive in 2014.

The flip side to the coming Electric Revolution, of course, is that for every battery pack that is put into a vehicle, one less internal combustion engine is needed. While the growth of EVs will give rise to a large global battery industry, it will also make obsolete the substantial investments that have been made in global engine and engine component capacity.

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Tenka Power Max SuperCap Battery Pack for 18650 and 21700 Markets

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Batteries that Really Keep Going and Going and Going …

U of Waterloo: Forget the graphite-based lithium batteries currently powering your devices. Next-generation batteries could last for decades. Really.

With a potential lifespan of 10 to 20 years, Professor Zhongwei Chen’s next-generation rechargeable batteries are set to put the Energizer Bunny to shame.

This battery could last 10 years, or even more than 20 years.Energizer_Bunny

Dr. Chen and his team are developing next-generation batteries and fuel cells. They are working on two types of batteries that are destined to be longer lasting and more efficient. One of these batteries is a rechargeable zinc battery that uses renewable energy, such as solar and wind. It could also be cost effective, which means that everyone could use it in the future.

Dr. Chen and his team are using novel materials to upgrade the traditional battery. He says that the key is to use silicon-based materials instead of graphite materials, which are currently being used in the commercial battery. Why? Silicon’s energy density is 10 times higher.

The result is a potential 150% energy density increase compared to its graphite-based lithium battery counterpart, which is currently being used to power electric cars and our cell phones. With the popularity of electric cars on the rise, companies such as Tesla and Panasonic are already looking to move beyond the limitations of the lithium battery.

Dr. Chen explains how he plans to solve the problems associated with the traditional battery as we move forward to meet the increased energy demands of the future.

MORE: Watch Our Current Battery Technology Project Video

A new company has been formed to exploit and commercialize the Next Generation Super-Capacitors and Batteries. The opportunity is based on Technology & Exclusive IP Licensing Rights from Rice University, discovered/ curated by Dr. James M. Tour, named “One of the Fifty (50) most influential scientists in the World today”

The Silicon Nanowires & Lithium Cobalt Oxide technology has been further advanced to provide a New Generation Battery that is:

 Energy Dense
 High Specific Power
 Affordable Cost
 Low Manufacturing Cost
 Rapid Charge/ Re-Charge
 Flexible Form Factor
 Long Warranty Life
 Non-Toxic
 Highly Scalable

Key Markets & Commercial Applications

 Motor Cycle/ EV Batteries
 Marine Batteries
 Drone Batteries and
 Power Banks
 Estimated $112B Market for Rechargeable Batteries by 2025

Energy-collecting Windows Dream One-Step Closer


Silicon-based luminescent solar concentrator. While most of the light concentrated to the edge of the silicon-based luminescent solar concentrator is actually invisible, we can better see the concentration effect by the naked eye when the slab is illuminated by a “black light” which is composed of mostly ultraviolet wavelengths. (image: Uwe Kortshagen, University of Minnesota)

February 20, 2017

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and University of Milano-Bicocca are bringing the dream of windows that can efficiently collect solar energy one step closer to reality thanks to high tech silicon nanoparticles.

The researchers developed technology to embed the silicon nanoparticles into what they call efficient luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs). These LSCs are the key element of windows that can efficiently collect solar energy. When light shines through the surface, the useful frequencies of light are trapped inside and concentrated to the edges where small solar cells can be put in place to capture the energy.

The research is published today in Nature Photonics (“Highly efficient luminescent solar concentrators based on Earth-abundant indirect-bandgap silicon quantum dots”).

Windows that can collect solar energy, called photovoltaic windows, are the next frontier in renewable energy technologies, as they have the potential to largely increase the surface of buildings suitable for energy generation without impacting their aesthetics—a crucial aspect, especially in metropolitan areas. LSC-based photovoltaic windows do not require any bulky structure to be applied onto their surface and since the photovoltaic cells are hidden in the window frame, they blend invisibly into the built environment.

The idea of solar concentrators and solar cells integrated into building design has been around for decades, but this study included one key difference—silicon nanoparticles. Until recently, the best results had been achieved using relatively complex nanostructures based either on potentially toxic elements, such as cadmium or lead, or on rare substances like indium, which is already massively utilized for other technologies. Silicon is abundant in the environment and non-toxic. It also works more efficiently by absorbing light at different wavelengths than it emits. However, silicon in its conventional bulk form, does not emit light or luminesce.

“In our lab, we ‘trick’ nature by shrinking the dimension of silicon crystals to a few nanometers, that is about one ten-thousandths of the diameter of human hair,” said University of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor Uwe Kortshagen, inventor of the process for creating silicon nanoparticles and one of the senior authors of the study. “At this size, silicon’s properties change and it becomes an efficient light emitter, with the important property not to re-absorb its own luminescence. This is the key feature that makes silicon nanoparticles ideally suited for LSC applications.”

Using the silicon nanoparticles opened up many new possibilities for the research team.

“Over the last few years, the LSC technology has experienced rapid acceleration, thanks also to pioneering studies conducted in Italy, but finding suitable materials for harvesting and concentrating solar light was still an open challenge,” said Sergio Brovelli, physics professor at the University of Milano-Bicocca, co-author of the study, and co-founder of the spin-off company Glass to Power that is industrializing LSCs for photovoltaic windows “Now, it is possible to replace these elements with silicon nanoparticles.”

Researchers say the optical features of silicon nanoparticles and their nearly perfect compatibility with the industrial process for producing the polymer LSCs create a clear path to creating efficient photovoltaic windows that can capture more than 5 percent of the sun’s energy at unprecedented low costs.

“This will make LSC-based photovoltaic windows a real technology for the building-integrated photovoltaic market without the potential limitations of other classes of nanoparticles based on relatively rare materials,” said Francesco Meinardi, physics professor at the University of Milano-Bicocca and one of the first authors of the paper.

The silicon nanoparticles are produced in a high-tech process using a plasma reactor and formed into a powder.

“Each particle is made up of less than two thousand silicon atoms,” said Samantha Ehrenberg, a University of Minnesota mechanical Ph.D. student and another first author of the study. “The powder is turned into an ink-like solution and then embedded into a polymer, either forming a sheet of flexible plastic material or coating a surface with a thin film.”

The University of Minnesota invented the process for creating silicon nanoparticles about a dozen years ago and holds a number of patents on this technology. In 2015, Kortshagen met Brovelli, who is an expert in LSC fabrication and had already demonstrated various successful approaches to efficient LSCs based on other nanoparticle systems. The potential of silicon nanoparticles for this technology was immediately clear and the partnership was born. The University of Minnesota produced the particles and researchers in Italy fabricated the LSCs by embedding them in polymers through an industrial based method, and it worked.

“This was truly a partnership where we gathered the best researchers in their fields to make an old idea truly successful,” Kortshagen said. “We had the expertise in making the silicon nanoparticles and our partners in Milano had expertise in fabricating the luminescent concentrators. When it all came together, we knew we had something special.”

Source: University of Minnesota


Bio-inspired way to grow graphene for electronic devices

BioGraphene-320Dr. Gao (left) and research assistant Ms Lim Xiao Fen working on the wafer-scale graphene growth and transfer in the Graphene Research Centre’s clean roomGraphene, a form of two-dimensional carbon, has many desirable properties that make it a promising material in many applications. However, its production especially for high-end electronics such as touch screens faces many challenges. This may soon change with a fresh approach developed by National Univ. of Singapore (NUS) researchers that mimics nature.

Inspired by how beetles and tree frogs keep their feet attached to submerged leaves, the findings published recently in Nature revealed a new method that allows both the growth and transfer steps of graphene on a silicon wafer. This technique enables the graphene to be applied in photonics and electronics, for devices such as optoelectronic modulators, transistors, on-chip biosensors and tunnelling barriers.

Professor Loh Kian Ping, Head of the NUS Department of Chemistry, led a team to come up with the one-step method to grow and transfer high-quality graphene on silicon and other stiff substrates. This promises the use of graphene in high-value areas where no technique currently exists to grow and transfer graphene with minimal defects for use in semiconductors.

Prof Loh, who is also a Principal Investigator with the Graphene Research Centre at NUS Faculty of Science, explained: “Although there are many potential applications for flexible graphene, it must be remembered that to date, most semiconductors operate on “stiff” substrates such as silicon and quartz.”

Thus, a transfer method with the direct growth of graphene film on silicon wafer is needed for enabling multiple optoelectronic applications, he said.

In the process called “face-to-face transfer”, Dr. Gao Libo, the first author who is with the Graphene Research Centre, grew graphene on a copper catalyst layer coating a silicon substrate. After growth, the copper is etched away while the graphene is held in place by bubbles that form capillary bridges, similar to those seen around the feet of beetles and tree frogs attached to submerged leaves. The capillary bridges help to attach the graphene to the silicon surface and prevent its delamination during the etching of the copper catalyst.

The novel technique can potentially be deployed in batch-processed semiconductor production lines, such as the fabrication of large-scale integrated circuits on silicon wafers.

The researchers will be fine-tuning the process to optimise the high throughput production of large diameter graphene on silicon, as well as target specific graphene-enabled applications on silicon. They are also looking at applying the techniques to other two-dimensional films.

Source: National Univ. of Singapore