[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]
New mesoporous crystalline Si exhibits increased rate of H2 production; potential use in Li-ion batteries also
April 11, 2014
|Schematic of mesoporous silicon Image: Donghai Wang/Penn State. Click to enlarge.|
Researchers at Penn State have devised a new process for the bottom-up synthesis of mesoporous crystalline silicon materials with high surface area and tunable primary particle/pore size via a self-templating pore formation process.
The nanosized crystalline primary particles and high surface areas enable an increased rate of photocatalytic hydrogen production from water and extended working life. These advantages also make the mesoporous silicon a potential candidate for other applications, such as optoelectronics, drug delivery systems and even lithium-ion batteries. A paper on their work is published in Nature Communications.
Honda opens Smart Home US in California; produces more energy than it consumes; direct DC-DC EV charging
March 25, 2014
|The Honda Smart Home US integrates a number of technologies, and is managed by Honda’s Home Energy Management System (HEMS). Click to enlarge.|
Honda marked the opening of Honda Smart Home US, showcasing technologies that enable zero net energy living and transportation, including Honda’s home energy management system (HEMS), a proprietary hardware and software system that monitors, controls and optimizes electrical generation and consumption throughout the home’s microgrid.
The home, located on the West Village campus of the University of California, Davis, is capable of producing more energy on-site from renewable sources than it consumes annually, including enough energy to power a Honda Fit EV for daily commuting. Honda Smart Home is expected to generate a surplus of 2.6 MWh of electricity over the course of a year, while a comparable home will consume approximately 13.3 MWh. The home’s occupant will be able to use less than half of the energy of a similarly sized new home in the Davis area for heating, cooling and lighting. The home is also three times more water-efficient than a typical US home.
JCAP hybrid photocathode material shows promising performance in conversion of solar energy to hydrogen
March 09, 2014
A new study by Berkeley Lab researchers at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) shows that nearly 90% of the electrons generated by a new hybrid photocathode material designed to store solar energy in hydrogen are being stored in the target hydrogen molecules (Faradaic efficiency).
Gary Moore, a chemist and principal investigator with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division, led an efficiency analysis study of the material he and his research group have developed for catalyzing the production of hydrogen fuel from sunlight. (Earlier post.) This material, a p-type (100) gallium phosphide (GaP) semiconductor functionalized with molecular hydrogen-producing cobaloxime catalysts via polymer grafting, has the potential to address one of the major challenges in the use of artificial photosynthesis to make renewable solar fuels.
Researchers developing DC micro smart grid for charging EV fleets; Li-ion, redox flow batteries and renewables
March 07, 2014
|Up to 30 electric vehicles at a time can recharge in Fraunhofer IAO’s parking garage. Click to enlarge.|
A team from Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, together with Daimler AG and the Institute for Human Factors and Technology Management at the University of Stuttgart, is developing both the charging infrastructure and the energy management systems required to manage large fleets of EVs in a project called charge@work.
The aim of charge@work is to design a micro smart grid (MSG) capable of supplying the EV fleet with electricity produced exclusively from renewable sources. This year will see the installation of a photovoltaic unit and a small wind power system at the Fraunhofer Institute Center Stuttgart IZS, where up to 30 electric vehicles at a time can recharge at AC charge spots in the Fraunhofer Campus parking garage.
M5BAT 5MW storage system integrates multiple battery technologies
February 24, 2014
The E.ON Energy Research Center at RWTH Aachen University, E.ON electric utility company, battery manufacturers Exide and beta-motion and inverter manufacturer SMA Solar Technology AG (SMA) have joined forces to build the first multi-technology, modular large-scale 5MW battery storage system.
The unique feature of the M5BAT (Modular Multimegawatt, Multitechnology Medium-Voltage Battery Storage System) storage system lies in its modular design, which combines different battery technologies for optimal use. It consists of lithium-ion batteries to meet short-term demand; high-temperature batteries to supply power for several hours; and lead-acid batteries when the average discharge time is one hour or less.
ARPA-E awarding $30M to 12 hybrid solar projects; conversion and storage
February 07, 2014
The US Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) is awarding $30 million in funding to 12 projects through its Full-Spectrum Optimized Conversion and Utilization of Sunlight (FOCUS) program, which is aimed at developing new hybrid solar energy converters and hybrid energy storage systems that can deliver low-cost, high-efficiency solar energy on demand. (Earlier post.)
Under the FOCUS program, projects will develop advanced solar converters that turn sunlight into electricity for immediate use, while also producing heat that can be stored at low cost for later use as well as innovative storage systems that accept both heat and electricity from variable solar sources.
Israeli company reports successful stage 1 testing of solar CO2-to-fuels technology
January 26, 2014
Israel-based NewCO2Fuels (NCF), a subsidiary of GreenEarth Energy Limited in Australia, reported completion of stage 1 testing of its proof-of-concept system for the conversion of CO2 into fuels using solar energy. NewCO2Fuels was founded in 2011 to commercialize a technology developed by Prof. Jacob Karni’s laboratory at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
In passing the Stage 1 testing, NCF demonstrated technology that successfully dissociates CO2 into CO and oxygen in a heating environment, simulating the industrial waste heat sources that will be used as one of two energy sources in the commercial product. Importantly, the company said, the dissociation rate of the system was increased by a factor of 200 and the cost was reduced by a factor of 34, relative to the original dissociation apparatus demonstrated in 2010 at the laboratories of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.
Harvard team demonstrates new metal-free organic–inorganic aqueous flow battery; potential breakthrough for low-cost grid-scale storage
January 11, 2014
|Cell schematic. Discharge mode is shown; the arrows are reversed for electrolytic/charge mode. AQDSH2 refers to the reduced form of AQDS. Huskinson et al. Click to enlarge.|
Researchers at Harvard have demonstrated a metal-free organic–inorganic aqueous flow battery—a quinone–bromide flow battery (QBFB)—as an example of a class of energy storage materials that exploits the favorable chemical and electrochemical properties of a family of molecules known as quinones. Quinones are naturally abundant, inexpensive, small organic molecules, and similar to molecules that store energy in plants and animals. The new flow battery developed by the Harvard team already performs as well as vanadium flow batteries, with chemicals that are significantly less expensive and with no precious-metal electrocatalyst.
In a paper in Nature, they suggest that the use of such redox-active organic molecules instead of redox-active metals represents a new and promising direction for realizing massive electrical energy storage at greatly reduced cost. The technology could fundamentally transform the way electricity is stored on the grid, making power from renewable energy sources such as wind and sun far more economical and reliable.
Ford unveils C-MAX Solar Energi concept; “plug-in” hybrid not dependent on electric grid can fully recharge from sun
January 02, 2014
Ford Motor Company announced the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, a sun-powered hybrid vehicle that can deliver the efficiency of a plug-in hybrid without depending on the electric grid for recharging. Instead of recharging its battery from an electrical outlet, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept uses a special Fresnel lens-based solar concentrator as a stationary canopy working with solar panels on the vehicle roof to recharge directly from the sun.
The concept vehicle uses a day’s worth of sunlight to deliver the same performance as the conventional C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid (earlier post), which draws its power from the electric grid. Ford C-MAX Energi gets a combined EPA-estimated 108 MPGe city and 92 MPGe highway, for a combined 100 MPGe. C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, which will be shown at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas, is a collaborative project of Ford, SunPower Corp. and Georgia Tech.
University of Houston team demonstrates new efficient solar water-splitting catalyst for hydrogen production
December 16, 2013
Researchers from the University of Houston (UH) have developed a cobalt(II) oxide (CoO) nanocrystalline catalyst that can carry out overall water splitting with a solar-to-hydrogen efficiency of around 5%. They report on their work in a paper in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Corresponding author Jiming Bao, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UH, said photocatalytic water-splitting experiments have been tried since the 1970s, but this was the first to use cobalt oxide and the first to use neutral water under visible light at a high energy conversion efficiency without co-catalysts or sacrificial chemicals.
NSF/DOE partnership to award up to $18M for H2 production via advanced solar water-splitting technologies; separate DOE solicitation
November 14, 2013
A National Science Foundation and US Department of Energy (DOE) partnership on hydrogen production via solar water-splitting will award (NSF 14-511) up to $18 million to support the discovery and development of advanced materials systems and chemical processes for direct photochemical and/or thermochemical water splitting for application in the solar production of hydrogen fuel.
NSF and DOE are jointly funding this program solicitation issued by the NSF Chemical, Bioengineeering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET) Division; NSF expects to make 3 to 5 awards, each of up to 3-years duration. The DOE Fuel Cell Technologies Office also issued a separate solicitation for work a broader range of hydrogen production technologies. (DE-FOA-0000826)
JCAP researchers propose protocol for standardized evaluation of OER catalysts for solar-fuel systems
November 03, 2013
|Protocol for measuring the electrochemically active surface area, catalytic activity, stability, and Faradaic efficiency of heterogeneous electrocatalysts for OER. Credit: ACS, McCrory et al. Click to enlarge.|
Electro-catalytic water splitting to produce hydrogen and oxygen is a key element of solar-fuels devices; identifying efficient catalysts for the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) is critical to their realization. (The OER is efficiency-limiting for direct solar and electrolytic water splitting, rechargeable metal-air batteries, and regenerative fuel cells. Earlier post.) However, notes a team of researchers from the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis at Caltech, current methods employed to evaluate oxygen-evolving catalysts are not standardized, making it difficult to compare the activity and stability of these materials.
To address this issue, the researchers are proposing a protocol to evaluate the activity, stability, and Faradaic efficiency of electro-deposited oxygen-evolving electrocatalysts. In particular, they focus on methods for determining electrochemically active surface area and measuring electrocatalytic activity and stability under conditions relevant to an integrated solar water-splitting device. A paper on their work is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
DOE proposing $100M in FY2014 for 2nd round of funding for Energy Frontier Research Centers
October 01, 2013
US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced a proposed $100 million in FY2014 funding for Energy Frontier Research Centers; research supported by this initiative will enable fundamental advances in energy production and use.
The Department of Energy (DOE) currently funds 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs), which were selected for five-year funding in 2009. (Earlier post.) With support for those centers set to expire in July 2014, DOE has announced a “re-competition” for a second round of funding (DE-FOA-0001010).
EPA recognizes Volkswagen Chattanooga with a Green Power Leadership Award for on-site generation
September 24, 2013
|The 9.5 MW solar park at Chattanooga is owned and operated by Silicon Ranch; VW has signed a 20-year power purchase agreement. Click to enlarge.|
Volkswagen Chattanooga has received a 2013 Green Power Leadership Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—the only automaker to be so recognized. The annual awards recognize the country’s leading green power users for their commitment and contribution to helping advance the development of the nation’s voluntary green power market.
Volkswagen Chattanooga was one of only four organizations nationwide to receive a Leadership Award in the category of on-site generation of green power. (The others were Apple; the County of Santa Clara, CA; and Kaiser Permanete.) The award recognizes EPA Green Power Partners who distinguish themselves using on-site renewable energy applications, such as solar photovoltaic (PV) or landfill gas. Volkswagen Chattanooga is currently generating more than 13 million kWh of green power annually from its on-site 9.5 MW solar energy system, which is enough green power to meet 12% of the organization’s electricity use. (Earlier post.)
Berkeley Lab researchers at JCAP develop unique semiconductor/catalyst construct for production of H2 from sunlight
August 30, 2013
Researchers with the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) working at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) have developed a method by which molecular cobalt-containing hydrogen production catalysts can be interfaced with a semiconductor that absorbs visible light.
Coupling the absorption of visible light with the production of hydrogen in one material enables the generation of a fuel simply by illuminating the photocathode, says Gary Moore, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and principal investigator for JCAP. “No external electrochemical forward biasing is required.” Moore is the corresponding author of a paper describing this research in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS).
NREL study suggests cost gap for Western renewables could narrow by 2025
August 26, 2013
A new Energy Department study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) indicates that by 2025 wind and solar power electricity generation could become cost-competitive without federal subsidies, if new renewable energy development occurs in the most productive locations. The cost of generation includes any needed transmission and integration costs.
The benchmark for the study is based on the projected future cost of a new combined-cycle natural gas turbine (CCGT) built in the destination market, with natural gas in 2025 at a nominal price of between $7.50/mmBtu and $8.43/mmBtu. According to the analysis, by 2025 geothermal generation could on average be 12% to 35% higher than CCCGT baseline; solar 1-19% higher; and wind at parity up to 13% higher.
CU-Boulder team develops more efficient isothermal solar-thermal water splitting technique for H2 production
August 02, 2013
A University of Colorado Boulder team has developed a new solar-thermal water-splitting (STWS) system for the efficient production of hydrogen. A paper on their work is published in the journal Science.
STWS cycles have long been recognized as a desirable means of generating hydrogen gas (H2) from water and sunlight, the team notes. Two-step, metal oxide–based STWS cycles generate H2 by sequential high-temperature reduction of a metal oxide catalyst (releasing oxygen atoms) and cooler conditions in which the catalyst is reoxidized by oxygen from water (freeing up hydrogen molecules for collection as hydrogen gas). The temperature swings between reduction and oxidation steps have hobbled STWS’ overall efficiency, however, because of thermal and time losses that occur during the frequent heating and cooling of the metal oxide. The cycling can also limit catalyst lifetime.
Nitrogen-doped graphene nanoplatelets offer high catalytic performance in fuel cells and solar cells; possible replacement for Pt
July 23, 2013
Researchers in South Korea have developed a simple, low-cost and eco-friendly method of creating nitrogen-doped graphene nanoplatelets (NGnPs) with excellent catalytic performance in both dye-sensitized solar cells and fuel cells to replace conventional platinum (Pt)-based catalysts for energy conversion.
A paper on the work, carried out at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), is published in Scientific Reports. The UNIST team had previously reported that dry ball-milling can efficiently produce chemically modified graphene particles in large quantities. This new work dry ball mills graphite with nitrogen gas (N2), resulting in the direct fixation of N2 at the edges of graphene nanoplatelets (GnPs).
New $30M ARPA-E program to develop new solar conversion and storage technologies; targeting higher solar penetration in mix
July 17, 2013
ARPA-E is making $30 million available to fund a new program entitled “Full-Spectrum Optimized Conversion and Utilization of Sunlight (FOCUS),” which is aimed at advancing new technologies beyond current photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) technologies to exploit the full solar spectrum and reduce the cost of solar energy when the sun is not shining.
The primary goal of this funding opportunity (DE-FOA-0000949) is to provide disruptive new solar conversion and storage technology options to enable a much higher penetration of solar energy generation into the US energy mix.
EPFL/Technion team develops “champion” nanostructures for efficient solar water-splitting to produce hydrogen
July 15, 2013
|Hydrogen bubbles as they appear in a photoelectrochemical cell. © LPI / EPFL. Click to enlarge.|
Researchers from EPFL in Switzerland and Technion-Israel Institue of Technology have developed nanoparticle-based α-Fe2O3 (hematite) electrodes that achieve the highest photocurrent of any metal oxide photoanode for photoelectrochemical water-splitting under 100 mW cm−2 air mass, 1.5 global sunlight. A paper on their work is published in the journal Nature Materials.
With current methods, in which a conventional photovoltaic cell is coupled to an electrolyzer to produce hydrogen, the cost to produce hydrogen from water using the sun is around €15 per kilo at its cheapest, said research leader Dr. Michael Grätzel, Director of the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces (LPI) at EPFL and inventor of dye-sensitized photoelectrochemical cells. “We’re aiming at a €5 charge per kilo,” he said.
New catalysts enable photocatalytic version of water gas shift reaction for H2 production
June 18, 2013
Researchers at the Univ. Politécnica de Valencia (Spain) have found that noble metal nanoparticles supported on titanium dioxide or cerium dioxide can catalyze the industrially important water gas shift (WGS) reaction for hydrogen production at ambient temperatures using visible light irradiation. An open access paper on their discovery is published in the RSC journal Energy and Environmental Science.
Currently, most hydrogen is produced via the steam reforming of natural gas, hydrocarbons and coal. Additional amounts of hydrogen are generated by the reaction of CO with water (the water gas shift reaction)—which also leads to the formation of CO2. WGS is an endothermic process typically carried out in industry at high temperatures (about 350 °C) with either an iron oxide- or copper-based catalyst to achieve almost complete CO conversion.
“Project Volt Gas Volt” proposes long-term financing plan to support widespread implementation of power-to-gas systems
June 02, 2013
|Project Volt Gas Volt is based on a long-term financing plan and the use of existing technologies for the large-scale conversion of surplus renewable electricity to methane, with subsequent reuse. Diagram: Isabelle Plat. Click to enlarge.|
Corinne Lepage, Member of the European Parliament (and former French Minister of the Environment) and Professor Robert Bell, Brooklyn University, City University of New York, are proposing Project Volt Gas Volt (VGV) as a technology pathway for using renewable energy to “keep the lights on” on the broadest scale without disruption, together with a long-term financing proposal for the project. Although they are targeting an initial implementation France, they see it as broadly applicable.
Project VGV uses surplus electricity generated by renewable and nuclear sources to produce hydrogen via electrolysis. The hydrogen is combined with CO2 to produce methane, which is pumped into and stored in the existing natural gas grid and used like natural gas for use in power generation, transportation, or other thermal and industrial uses. The concept is the same embodied in Audi’s e-gas project (earlier post), to which the VGV proposal makes continued reference.
German researchers improve catalyst for steam reforming of methanol with salt coating; enabler for renewable energy storage systems
April 19, 2013
Researchers at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany) report in the journal Angewandte Chemie their development of an enhanced platinum catalyst for the steam reforming of methanol to release hydrogen.
A central problem of renewable energy technology lies in the great variation of energy generated (i.e., intermittency). One proposed solution is methanol-based hydrogen storage. In this scenario, excess renewable electricity can be used to electrolyze water to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen, in turn, is then reacted with carbon dioxide to make methanol and water, thus allowing it to be stored as a liquid. The hydrogen can be released from the methanol at a later time to power a fuel cell.
PNNL solar thermochemical reaction system can reduce fuel consumption in natural gas power plants by about 20%; future potential for transportation fuels
April 11, 2013
|PNNL’s thermochemical conversion device is installed in front of a concentrating solar power dish. Photo: PNNL. Click to enlarge.|
A new concentrating solar power system developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) can reduce the fuel consumption of a modified natural-gas combined-cycle (NGCC) power plant by about 20%. The system converts natural gas into syngas—with higher energy content than natural gas—using a thermochemical conversion device installed in front of a concentrating solar power dish. The power plant then combusts the more energy dense syngas to produce electricity.
PNNL’s system uses a mirrored parabolic dish to direct sunbeams to a central point, where the thermochemical device uses the solar heat to produce syngas form natural gas. About four feet long and two feet wide, the device contains a chemical reactor and several heat exchangers. Concentrated sunlight heats up the natural gas flowing through the reactor’s channels, which hold a catalyst that helps turn natural gas into syngas.