Breakthrough proton battery prototype stores energy efficiently

/  Researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) developed a proton-powered battery prototype that’s more efficient and less environmentally damaging than existing lithium-ion batteries.

The paper titled ‘Technical feasibility of a proton battery with an activated carbon electrode’ was published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy. It reports that a proton battery with a carbon-based electrode will contribute to ‘meeting the gargantuan demand for electrical energy storage that will arise with the global shift to zero greenhouse emission’.

“The proton battery is one among many potential contributors towards meeting this enormous demand for energy storage. Powering batteries with protons has the potential to be more economical than using lithium ions, which are made from scare resources,” said lead researcher Professor John Andrews.

“Carbon, which is the primary resource used in our proton battery, is abundant and cheap compared to both metal hydrogen-storage alloys, and the lithium needed for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.”

The battery features a carbon electrode and a reversible fuel cell which enables the battery to be rechargeable. When charged, water is split in the reversible fuel cell to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen is then conducted through a cell membrane to bond with storage material with the aid of electrons supplied by the applied voltage.

When the battery is supplying electricity, this process is reversed; hydrogen atoms are released from storage and lose an electron to become protons once more, where they pass through the cell membrane and combine with oxygen and electrons from the external circuit to re-form water.

This process does not burn carbon or produce greenhouse emissions, unlike fossil fuel-powered sources. Carbon is also a more abundant and cheaply available resource than metal, hydrogen and lithium-based battery materials.

The prototype battery was able to store as much energy per unit mass as commercially available lithium-ion batteries, despite having an active surface area of only 5.5cm2, smaller than an Australian 20c coin. This is before the battery had been optimised.

“Our latest advance is a crucial step towards cheap, sustainable proton batteries that can help meet our future energy needs without further damaging our already fragile environment,” Andrews said. “As the world moves towards inherently variable renewable energy to reduce greenhouse emissions and tackle climate change, requirements for electrical energy storage will be gargantuan.”

The team named household storage from solar panels and larger scale storage on electricity grids as potential uses for the technology, and Andrews quoted 1kWh-10kWh as a possible scale for a commercial battery system. Yet he is also aware that scaling the technology could provide a challenge.

“A key challenge in scaling up the storage capacity will be the form the carbon electrode will take, either in a single cell or in a stack of cells,” said Andrews.  /


DMGT invests £500k in smart energy device maker Labrador

/  Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT) invested £500,000 in energy company Labrador, bringing the latter’s total capital raised to more than £2m. Labrador developed a smart device that can automatically switch customers’ utility suppliers based on their individual energy usage, will pour the funds into its market launch.

The device, called the Retriever, taps into domestic smart meters to analyse customer usage data and then automatically switch customers to the cheapest energy option, according to preset instructions.

Labrador CEO Jane Lucy spoke to Power-Technology.com in January about the device and said: “Essentially, it is a gateway that pairs with smart meters. The household has a ZigBee home area network set up at installation which we use to pair to the meters and then we use the home broadband to send the data to our cloud.

“The technology is unique in that it’s the only way to get granular data from smart meters in real-time.”

According to Labrador, the device offers a solution to the UK’s ‘broken energy market’ and gives consumers the opportunity to unlock potential savings of around £5bn.

DMGT head of ventures Manuel Lopo de Carvalho said: “We are delighted to be supporting Labrador in its innovative disruption of the UK energy market.

“We believe the company’s focus on driving down costs for hard-working British households will be appreciated by our huge consumer audience in the UK, and now those readers will be amongst the first to benefit from Labrador’s offering”

The latest round of investment will be used for advertising, marketing and working capital to support the company’s launch. The money has come from a combination of high net worth investors, family offices and venture investors.  /


Renewable energy predictions over optimistic, says study

/  Some of the models used to predict the role renewable energy will play by 2050 may be over optimistic and should be applied with caution, according to researchers from Imperial College London.

While the proportion of renewable energy is increasing every year, the amount it will increase by 2050 has been much debated.

The mathematical models used to calculate future estimates take into account factors such as the adoption of new technologies. These models can then be used to produce ‘pathways’ that should ensure these targets are met, such as identifying policies that support certain types of technologies.

However, if the data and physics underpinning the model do not reflect real-world challenges it can give an inaccurate prediction.

A paper published in the journal Joule suggests that studies predicting that entire systems can run on near-100% renewable power by 2050 may be flawed. Researchers believe this is due to models not accounting for the level of reliability of renewable energy sources, such as the long-standing problem of intermittent sunshine for solar power.

Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London lead author Clara Heuberger said: “Mathematical models that neglect operability issues can mislead decision-makers and the public, potentially delaying the actual transition to a low-carbon economy.

"Research that proposes ‘optimal’ pathways for renewables must be upfront about their limitations if policymakers are to make truly informed decisions.”

Using data for the UK, the team tested a model for 100% power generation using only wind, water and solar (WWS) power by 2050. They found that the lack of firm backup energy systems, such as nuclear or power plants equipped with carbon capture systems, would result in the power supply failing often enough to deem the system inoperable.

The team found that even if they added a small amount of backup nuclear and biomass energy, creating a 77% WWS system, around 9% of the annual UK demand could remain unmet, leading to considerable power outages and economic damage.

Report co-author Dr Niall Mac Dowell from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial said: “A speedy transition to a decarbonised energy system is vital if the ambitions of the 2015 Paris Agreement are to be realised.

“However, the focus should be on maximising the rate of decarbonisation, rather than the deployment of a particular technology, or focusing exclusively on renewable power.

“Nuclear, sustainable bioenergy, low-carbon hydrogen and carbon capture and storage are vital elements of a portfolio of technologies that can deliver this low carbon future in an economically viable and reliable manner.

“Finally, these system transitions must be socially viable. If a specific scenario relies on a combination of hypothetical and potentially socially challenging adaptation measures, in addition to disruptive technology breakthroughs, this begins to feel like wishful thinking.”  /


Prototype wind turbine blades to improve efficiency and reduce costs

/  The Fraunhofer Institute, a German organisation which specialises in applications for emerging technology, is developing a rotor blade for wind turbines that can rotate in response to wind pressure for more efficient operation. The SmartBlades2 project involves the German Aerospace Centre and Wind Energy Research Alliance, and puts into practice blades designed and simulated as part of the SmartBlades1 project.

In conventional wind turbines, blades that experience sudden and very strong gusts of wind are often turned away from the wind for their own protection, counterintuitively meaning the turbine produces no electricity when winds are at their strongest. There is also significant variation in pressure on individual blades; a turbine with blades 85m long sweeps an area of 22,670m2, creating a space large enough for individual blades to experience different pressure.

The new blades use bend-twist coupling (BTC) to rotate on their own axes in response to variations in wind pressure. The prototype blades are 20m long and their tips are slightly offset, to the rear in the direction of rotation.

“The use of BTC blades on wind turbines in the development stage makes the turbine lighter compared to a turbine with conventional blades, due to the reduced load on the structure,” the Fraunhofer Institute announced.

“This, in turn, means a drop in material and logistics costs while maintaining the same energy yield. In existing turbines, the use of BTC blades allows the rotor diameter to be increased without having to strengthen the other turbine components. This results in an increase in revenue thanks to a greater wind yield.”

The blades are being tested in Bremerhaven to measure their durability and to what extent they deform when subjected to high pressure. Deformation will be measured along three axes of each blade, and angle sensors will precisely measure the direction of force applied. The blades will also be subject to fatigue testing, where the stresses incurred over a 20 year lifespan of a blade are simulated within a shorter timeframe. Following these tests, the blades will be tested further in the Rocky Mountains in the United States.

“The aim of the accompanying measuring campaign is to determine whether the load reduction thanks to BTC seen in the simulation can be recreated under real-life conditions and whether its effect is as pronounced as expected,” said the Institute.

The blades were designed by Dr Elia Daniele, and received €15.4m in funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economics Affairs and Energy.  /


Vattenfall to invest $121m for large-scale solarpower generation

/  Swedish state-owned energy company Vattenfall is planning to invest SEK1bn ($121m) for a large-scale solar project over the next two years. The investment is expected to support Vattenfall’s objective to become fossil-free within a generation and will help to develop new industrial solarpower plants during 2018-2019. The Swedish power company will also focus on developing small-scale solar solutions for customers.

“Solarpower is an important supplement to windpower as a renewable source of energy. We are now increasing the investment budget for solarpower to satisfy our customers’ increased interest and demand,” said Vattenfall president and CEO Magnus Hall.

“From electricity consumers, who can obtain electricity from our future solarfarms, but also from potential customers, who want to both consume and generate electricity from solarpower.”

The energy company will focus on developing large-scale photovoltaic (PV) technology at locations where Vattenfall has already established the relevant infrastructure. Additionally, the company will concentrate on facilitating decentralised energy generation for both private customers and business customers. By decentralising energy generation, Vattenfall intends to create new solutions for its customers that will enable them to generate and consume their own solar PV electricity. Recently, the Swedish company has decided to invest in its existing large-scale solarpower plants located at Velsen, Hemweg, and Eemshaven (the Netherlands). The investment at the three solarpower facilities would result in the generation of 10.5MW. 

Vattenfall intends to make more investments in its Haringvliet facility this year and will see a solarpower infrastructure of more than 130,000 panels that will have the ability to produce nearly 40MW renewable electricity. The Haringvliet solarfarm will be combined with Haringvliet windfarm, which includes six turbines. Vattenfall said it has applied for several permits for combining its other solarfarms with windfarms.  /


sPower executes 30-year PPA for Prevailing Wind Park in US

/  sPower has completed a 30-year power purchase agreement for the Prevailing Wind Park project in South Dakota, US. The 220MW windfarm is being developed in Charles Mix County, Hutchinson County and Bon Homme County. The project was initially developed by South Dakota’s local development group Prevailing Winds, which sold the project to sPower in October last year.

sPower CEO Ryan Creamer said: “We are excited to be involved in this great project that will provide so many benefits to the state of South Dakota. The Prevailing Winds Project was a local idea that has blossomed into a great project that we are privileged to be a part of.”

Construction of the project is expected to start later this year and once fully operational, the wind park will produce enough power to meet the electricity requirements of nearly 90,000 homes in the region. On an annual basis, the project will help eliminate more than 486,000t of carbon emissions. More than $56m in tax revenue is expected to be generated over the service life of the project.  /


Microsoft and Sunseap sign 20-year solarpower agreement

/  US-based technology company Microsoft has signed an agreement to purchase renewable energy from Sunseap’s 60MWp solar portfolio. The 20-year clean energy agreement is reported to be the first for Microsoft in the Asian market. The portfolio is said to be the largest rooftop solar project in Singapore.

Microsoft Singapore managing director Kevin Wo said: “Our Cloud services are helping to power Singapore’s digital transformation, and today’s agreement will ensure that transformation is increasingly powered by clean energy.

“We’re proud to work with Sunseap, the leading solar provider in Singapore, to support the growth of the local clean energy economy. With the agreement, Microsoft will improve the sustainability of our local operations and make important progress toward our corporate sustainability goals for data centres.”

Apart from improving Sunseap’s position in the energy markets, the agreement will also help the country make progress in the renewables sector.

Sunseap co-founder and president Lawrence Wu said: “Sunseap is pleased to work with Microsoft on this landmark solar project. We see exciting potential in our partnership with Microsoft to raise awareness within the tech industry of the importance of adopting renewable energy solutions.

“Their investment in Singapore solar indicates a growing momentum for clean energy in the country and will further the positive ripple effect for organisations in Singapore to incorporate sustainability practices into their businesses.”  /


Nickel atoms aid efficient CO2 conversion for fuel use

/  Using single nickel atoms as a catalyst for carbon dioxide (CO2) conversion results in greater efficiency, according to researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. The research team found it catalysed the CO2 conversion reaction with a maximum efficiency of 97%, which it claims is a major step towards recycling CO2 for usable energy and chemicals.

In addition to providing more usable energy, successful and efficient CO2 conversion could also recycle excess levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which reached record levels last year. During the process, CO2 is converted into carbon monoxide (CO), a highly energetic molecule that can then be converted to fuel.

“There are many ways to use CO,” said Eli Stavitski, a scientist at Brookhaven and an author on the paper. “You can react it with water to produce energy-rich hydrogen gas, or with hydrogen to produce useful chemicals, such as hydrocarbons or alcohols.”

Traditional electrocatalysts have not effectively initiated the reaction because a competing reaction, called hydrogen evolution reaction (HER), takes precedence over the CO2 conversion reaction. There are some noble metals—such as gold and platinum—that can avoid HER and convert CO2 to CO. However, these rare elements are not cost-effective. Nickel, by contrast, is more abundant and therefore cheaper to source than precious metals, but has not typically been used as an electrocatalyst.

“Nickel metal, in bulk, has rarely been selected as a promising candidate for converting CO2 to CO,” said Haotian Wang, a Rowland Fellow at Harvard University and the corresponding author on the paper. “One reason is that it performs HER very well, and brings down the CO2 reduction selectivity dramatically. Another reason is because its surface can be easily poisoned by CO molecules if any are produced.”

Single atoms of nickel, however, produce a different result.

“Single atoms prefer to produce CO, rather than performing the competing HER, because the surface of a bulk metal is very different from individual atoms,” Stavitski said.

The conversion reaction was facilitated by the interaction of the nickel atoms with a surrounding sheet of grapheme. Anchoring the atoms to graphene enabled the scientists to tune the catalyst and suppress HER. The team used a transmission electron microscope to look at the individual nickel atoms on the graphene, and the ultra-bright x-ray beamline 8-ID to gain a detailed view of the material’s inner structure. Mapping the energy states of the electrons enabled the team to discover that single nickel atoms catalysed the CO2 conversion reaction with a maximum efficiency of 97%.

“To apply this technology to real applications in the future, we are currently aimed at producing this single atom catalyst in a cheap and large-scale way, while improving its performance and maintaining its efficiency,” said Wang.

The findings were published in Energy & Environmental Science.  /