Cheap Batteries Last 3 Times Longer, Recharge in 10 minutes

Researchers at the University of Southernn California (USC) have developed a new lithium-ion battery design that uses porous silicon nanoparticles in place of the traditional graphite anodes to provide superior performance.

The new batteries — which could be used in anything from cellphones to hybrid cars — hold three times as much energy as comparable graphite-based designs and recharge within 10 minutes. The design, currently under a provisional patent, could be commercially available within two to three years.
silicon nanoparticlesOn the left, a vial of the silicon nanoparticles; on the right, silicon nanoparticles viewed under magnification
It’s an exciting research. It opens the door for the design of the next generation lithium-ion batteries,” said Chongwu Zhou, professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, who led the team that developed the battery.

Zhou worked with USC graduate students Mingyuan Ge, Jiepeng Rong, Xin Fang and Anyi Zhang, as well as Yunhao Lu of Zhejiang University in China. Their research was published in Nano Research in January.


Solar Cells: Huge Efficiency Boost

In a new study, a team of physicists and chemists at Umeå University – Sweden – have joined forces to produce nano-engineered carbon nanotubes networks with novel properties.
For the first time, the researchers show that carbon nanotubes can be engineered into complex network architectures, and with controlled nano-scale dimensions inside a polymer matrix.
Carbon nanotubes are becoming increasingly attractive for photovoltaic solar cells as a replacement to silicon. Researchers at Umeå University have discovered that controlled placement of the carbon nanotubes into nano-structures produces a huge boost in electronic performance.

solar cells
Carbon nanotubes, CNTs, are one dimensional nanoscale cylinders made of carbon atoms that possess very unique properties. For example, they have very high tensile strength and exceptional electron mobility, which make them very attractive for the next generation of organic and carbon-based electronic devices
We have found that the resulting nano networks possess exceptional ability to transport charges, up to 100 million times higher than previously measured carbon nanotube random networks produced by conventional methods,” says Dr David Barbero, leader of the project and assistant professor at the Department of Physics at Umeå University.

Their groundbreaking results are published in the prestigious journal Advanced Materials.


Hello Hydrogen, Bye Bye Gasoline

Range: 300 miles (480 km)
Top speed: 100 mph (160 km/h)
Lease terms: $500/month (360 euros); $3000 down (2150 euros)
Free fuel or in other term Free “gas” up
After 36 months you own the car!
The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell SUV will be the first mass-produced hydrogen car in the U.S. Next month Californians can buy it.
It shows as well that hydrogen electric car may win the competition against cars powered by electric batteries.
H Mobil

Because hydrogen fuel infrastructure is more or less non-existent, Hyundai’s rollout will be small. The car will be available at select dealers in Southern California, all within range of the company’s sources of hydrogen, which include a nearby waste water treatment plant. Local drivers will be able to “gasup for free at any of seven distribution stations. A fill-up takes less than 10 minutes and lasts for up to 300 miles. The company claims that the Tucson charges more quickly and has a longer range than traditional EVs. It’s also clean: The only exhaust is water vapor.


Solar Power: Less Expensive, More Efficient

University of Cincinnati researchers are reporting early results on a way to make solar-powered panels in lights, calculators and roofs lighter, less expensive, more flexible (therefore less breakable) and more efficient. Fei Yu, a University of Cincinnati doctoral student in materials engineering, will present new findings on boosting the power conversion efficiency of polymer solar cells on March 3, at the American Physical Society Meeting in Denver. Yu is experimenting with adding a small fraction of graphene nanoflakes to polymer-blend bulk-heterojunction (BHJ) solar cells to improve performance and lower costs of solar energy.


There has been a lot of study on how to make plastic solar cells more efficient, so they can take the place of silicon solar cells in the future,” says Yu. “They can be made into thinner, lighter and more flexible panels. However, they’re currently not as efficient as silicon solar cells, so we’re examining how to increase that efficiency.”

Imagine accidentally kicking over a silicon solar-powered garden light, only to see the solar-powered cell crack. Polymers are carbon-based materials that are more flexible than the traditional, fragile silicon solar cells. Charge transport, though, has been a limiting factor for polymer solar cell performance.

Graphene, a natural form of carbon, is a relatively newly discovered material that’s less than a nanometer thin. “Because graphene is pure carbon, its charge conductivity is very high,” explains Yu. “We want to maximize the energy being absorbed by the solar cell, so we are increasing the ratio of the donor to acceptor and we’re using a very low fraction of graphene to achieve that.”


Micro-Windmills To Recharge Cell Phones

An University of Texas (UT Arlington) research associate and electrical engineering professor have designed a micro-windmill that generates wind energy and may become an innovative solution to cell phone batteries constantly in need of recharging and home energy generation where large windmills are not preferred.
Smitha Rao and J.-C. Chiao designed and built the device that is about 1.8 mm at its widest point. A single grain of rice could hold about 10 of these tiny windmills. Hundreds of the windmills could be embedded in a sleeve for a cell phone. Wind, created by waving the cell phone in air or holding it up to an open window on a windy day, would generate the electricity that could be collected by the cell phone’s battery.
Rao’s works in micro-robotic devices initially heightened a Taiwanese company’s interest in having Rao and Chiao brainstorm over novel device designs and applications for the company’s unique fabrication techniques, which are known in the semiconductor industry for their reliability.


One of Rao’s micro-windmills is placed here on a penny

The company was quite surprised with the micro-windmill idea when we showed the demo video of working devices,” Rao said. “It was something completely out of the blue for them and their investors.”
The micro-windmills work well because the metal alloy is flexible and Smitha’s design follows minimalism for functionality.” Chiao said.


Keeping Sun Energy For Use At Night

Solar energy has long been used as a clean alternative to fossil fuels such as coal and oil, but it could only be harnessed during the day when the sun’s rays were strongest. Now researchers led by Tom Meyer at the Energy Frontier Research Center at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill have built a system that converts the sun’s energy not into electricity but hydrogen fuel and stores it for later use, allowing us to power our devices long after the sun goes down.

photoelectrosynthesis cell generates hydrogenThe system generates hydrogen fuel by using sun energy to split water in its component parts. After the split the hydrogen is stored, while the byproduct, oxygen, is released in the air

So called ‘solar fuels’ like hydrogen offer a solution to how to store energy for nighttime use by taking a cue from natural photosynthesis,” said Meyer, Arey Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Our new findings may provide a last major piece of a puzzle for a new way to store the sun’s energy – it could be a tipping point for a solar energy future.”


How To Extend The Range Of Electric Cars

Next-generation lithium-ion batteries made with iron oxide nanoparticles could extend the driving distance of electric cars.
Battery-powered cars offer many environmental benefits, but a car with a full tank of gasoline can travel further. By improving the energy capacity of lithium-ion batteries, a new electrode made from iron oxide nanoparticles could help electric vehicles to cover greater distances. Developed by Zhaolin Liu of the A*STAR Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, Singapore, and Aishui Yu of Fudan University, China, and co-workers, the electrode material is inexpensive, suitable for large-scale manufacturing and can store higher charge densities than the conventional electrodes used in lithium-ion batteries.

electric carElectric vehicles could travel further when powered by a higher-capacity lithium-ion battery made with inexpensive iron oxide nanoparticles
During the 1st round of charging and discharging, the anodes showed an efficiency of 75–78%, depending on the current density. After ten more cycles, however, the efficiency improved to 98%, almost as high as commercial li-ion batteries.


How To Produce Cheap Plastic Solar Cells

Photovoltaic devices, which tap the power of the sun and convert it to electricity, offer a green — and potentially unlimited alternative to fossil fuel use. So why haven’t solar technologies been more widely adopted?
Quite simply, “they’re too expensive,” says Ji-Seon Kim, a senior lecturer in experimental solid-state physics at Imperial College London, who, along with her colleagues, has come up with a technology that might help bring the prices down.
The scientists describe their new approach to making cheaper, more efficient solar panels in a paper in The Journal of Chemical Physics.
polymer blend morphologyThe polymer blend morphology without (left) and with (right) nanowires

To collect a lot of sunlight you need to cover a large area in solar panels, which is very expensive for traditional inorganic — usually silicon — photovoltaics,” explains Kim. The high costs arise because traditional panels must be made from high purity crystals that require high temperatures and vacuum conditions to manufacture.
A cheaper solution is to construct the photovoltaic devices out of organic compounds—building what are essentially plastic solar cells. Organic semiconducting materials, and especially polymers, can be dissolved to make an ink and then simply “printed” in a very thin layer, some 100 billionths of a meter thick, over a large area. “Covering a large area in plastic is much cheaper than covering it in silicon, and as a result the cost per Watt of electricity-generating capacity has the potential to be much lower,” she says.

Sun + Wastewater Produce Hydrogen Fuel

A research team led by Yat Li, associate professor of chemistry at the University of California, Santa Cruz, developed an hybrid solar-microbial device that combines a microbial fuel cell (MFC) and a type of solar cell called a photoelectrochemical cell (PEC). In the MFC component, bacteria degrade organic matter in the wastewater, generating electricity in the process. The biologically generated electricity is delivered to the PEC component to assist the solar-powered splitting of water (electrolysis) that generates hydrogen and oxygen.
Qian said the researchers are optimistic about the commercial potential for their invention. Currently they are planning to scale up the small laboratory device to make a larger 40-liter prototype continuously fed with municipal wastewater. If results from the 40-liter prototype are promising, they will test the device on site at the wastewater treatment plant. Li’s group collaborated with researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) who have been studying electrogenic bacteria and working to enhance MFC performance.

hydrogen-electric car
When fed with wastewater and illuminated in a solar simulator, the PEC-MFC device showed continuous production of hydrogen gas at an average rate of 0.05 cubic meters per day, according to LLNL researcher and coauthor Fang Qian.
The MFC will be integrated with the existing pipelines of the plant for continuous wastewater feeding, and the PEC will be set up outdoors to receive natural solar illumination,” Qian said. “Fortunately, the Golden State is blessed with abundant sunlight that can be used for the field test,” Li added.
The findiings are reported in a paper published in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano.

Smart Windows Tune Sunlight And Heat

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have designed a new material to make smart windows even smarter. The material is a thin coating of nanocrystals embedded in glass that can dynamically modify sunlight as it passes through a window. Unlike existing technologies, the coating provides selective control over visible light and heat-producing near-infrared (NIR) light, so windows can maximize both energy savings and occupant comfort in a wide range of climates.

nanocrystals of indium tin oxideNanocrystals of indium tin oxide (shown here in blue) embedded in a glassy matrix of niobium oxide (green) form a composite material that can switch between NIR-transmitting and NIR-blocking states with a small jolt of electricity. A synergistic interaction in the region where glassy matrix meets nanocrystal increases the potency of the electrochromic effect

In the US, we spend about a quarter of our total energy on lighting, heating and cooling our buildings,” says Delia Milliron, a chemist at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry who led this research. “When used as a window coating, our new material can have a major impact on building energy efficiency.”