Top Energy Science Breakthroughs in 2008: Batteries, Fuel Cells and Capacitors

December 24 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 7 Hot

A123 Battery


Let's think beyond simply trying to find new ways to produce more energy, and focus on ways of storing energy.  Why?  Because this expands ways for us to produce more energy!  Confused? 

Solar and wind alone are a hard sell to utility providers because of intermittent production when the sun isn't shining or wind doesn't blow.  Add utility scale storage to solar and wind farms, and you have a more valuable proposition.

Battery powered cars sound great, but not if we have to plug in our vehicles every 50 or 100 miles. Or what about a new iPhone with a battery that cannot last the entire day. 

We have written dozens of posts on energy storage and believe it deserves much more attention from the media and policy leaders.   2009 could be a turning point for awareness around the importance of enabling next generation batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.

List of 20+ Energy Breakthroughs in Batteries, Fuel cells, and Capacitors

Solar cell directly splits water for hydrogen
Penn State researchers have a proof-of-concept device that can split water and produce recoverable hydrogen.  "This is a proof-of-concept system that is very inefficient. But ultimately, catalytic systems with 10 to 15 percent solar conversion efficiency might be achievable," says Thomas E. Mallouk, the DuPont Professor of Materials Chemistry and Physics. "If this could be realized, water photolysis would provide a clean source of hydrogen fuel from water and sunlight."

Ground breaking 'Dry water' method developed to store natural gas in a powder
Chemists at the University of Liverpool have developed a reliable way of converting methane gas into a powder form in order to make it more transportable. The researchers use a white powder material made of a mixture of silica and water to soak up large quantities of methane molecules.

Self-assembled metal nanostructures improve fuel cell performance
Cornell University researchers have designed platinum nanoparticles that automatically assemble into complex, ordered patterns and can be used for efficient and low cost catalysts in fuel cells and other micro-fabrication processes.

India develops cheaper fuel cell membrane (100x lower cost)
India researchers at Pune-based National Chemical Laboratory have created a low cost fuel cell membrane that appears competitive to the current industry standard membrane- DuPont’s Nafion.  The key to commercialization is lowering the cost and improving performance of membranes. The electrolyte of a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells (used in portable and transportation applications) generally accounts for 75% of the total unit cost. While Nafion provides thermal and mechanical stability, it is expensive.

Surface images of nanoparticles could advance energy systems
Now a group of researchers led by MIT have released the first composite atomic-scale images of the catalytic surface area of platinum-cobalt nanoparticles used in fuel cells. Their efforts could accelerate the development of electric fuel cell vehicles.


Might solid hydrogen power our future? New advances pave the way.
Metal-organic Frameworks or MOFs, are essentially Lego-like scaffolds for holding molecules like hydrogen and carbon. At the nanoscale MOFs have the highest known surface area of any known material combination. If you take a few grams of MOF material you would have several football fields of surface area. The goal is to fill as much of that open area with ‘guest’ molecules like hydrogen.

Researchers at Argonne National Energy laboratory are now pushing forward with key research in understanding MOFs. Their efforts are focused on understanding how MOF materials behave under pressure. Their characterizations of different MOF compounds could accelerate advances in practical energy applications.

Korean researchers use 3D silicon material to improve lithium ion batteries
A Korean research team led by Dr. Jaephil Cho at Hanyang University has demonstrated a novel 3D silicon material used as a lithium-ion battery anode that greatly improves performance. Materials scientists have been exploring silicon as an anode material but, until now, have been unable to overcome its main barrier: maintaining its structural integrating after repeated charging and discharging. A solution? Cho’s team of researchers have created a 3D porous silicon material that appears to hold its own and avoids collapsing on itself.

Hydrogen Fuel from Formic Acid
German researchers have shown that formic acid could be used as a safe, easy-to-transport source of hydrogen for fuel cells.

New Fuel Cell System 'Generates Electricity with Only Water, Air
Japan’s Genepax Co Ltd demonstrated its new fuel cell system "Water Energy System (WES)," which uses water to react with hydrogen producing metal compounds.

Scientists say hydrogen could be “easily” produced from water and sunlight
Australian scientists  have advanced photolysis - a method to split water using the energy contained in light using a catalyst of manganese-containing complex modeled after those found in photosynthetic organisms


Hydrogen-Producing Bacteria Provide Clean Energy
A new "green" technology developed cooperatively by scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and North Carolina State University (NC State) could lead to production of hydrogen from nitrogen-fixing bacteria 

Toward more efficient fuel cells?
Spanish researchers have developed a new way to operate solid oxide fuel cells that provide electricity on an industrial scale, at near room temperature. 

Cheaper fuel cell on the way
Australian researchers at Monash University have developed a new cathode from a conducting polymer called poly(3,4-ethlenedioxythiphene) or PEDOT that they believe could equal performance of the same amount of current per unit area as the platinum cathode. 

Cheapter Li-ion batteries
University of Texas at Austin researchers have developed lower cost way to make lithium iron phosphate that could be used in portable devices and electric vehicles.


Flower-shaped Nanoparticles May Lead To Better Batteries For Portable Electronics
Researchers have developed flower-shaped nanoparticles to increase surface area of electrodes that improve battery performance and lifespan.


Researchers generate hydrogen without the carbon footprint
Penn State researchers  have developed a way to produce hydrogen by splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, using commonly available titanium and copper as nanotubes photoelectrochemical diodes.  "It seems that nanotube geometry is the best geometry for production of hydrogen from photolysis of water," says Grimes

MOF discovery may lead to breakthrough in solid hydrogen storage
University of Calgary researcher Brett Chandler produced a metal-organic framework that traps gases without compression.    "What is important is discovering that there are compounds with holes on a molecular scale that can open and close controllably," Shimizu says, adding, "The key is the interaction between the organic and the metal. It's very flexible in this compound."    "Things can flow freely through channels. When (this compound) is heated, the channels pinch off into little closed cavities that are gas tight. To have a hole, it has to be a stable structure, but the fact that with a little bit of heating you can pinch off cages is interesting. A lot of compounds just collapse when heated. (Then) if you just add water the cages open up again and you can release the gas." This particular compound doesn't store hydrogen because H molecules are too tiny, but the researchers just have to adjust the organic unit to tighten up the holes.

Lower cost Solid Oxide fuel cell
Berkeley Lab researchers have developed a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) that promises to generate electricity as cheaply as the most efficient gas turbine. "We're closer to breaking the ($400 kilowatt) cost barrier than ever before," says Steve Visco, who developed the SOFC technology with fellow Materials Sciences Division researchers Craig Jacobson and Lutgard De Jonghe.

Researchers fired up over new battery
MIT's Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems (LEES) believe they have advanced ultracapacitors that capture energy as an electrical field, making them more efficient than standard batteries, which get their energy from chemical reactions.

Storing hydrogen as dense as center of Jupiter
Rice University have made the surprising discovery that tiny carbon capsules called buckyballs are so strong they can hold volumes of hydrogen nearly as dense as those at the center of Jupiter.  "Based on our calculations, it appears that some buckyballs are capable of holding volumes of hydrogen so dense as to be almost metallic," said lead researcher Boris Yakobson, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Rice. "It appears they can hold about 8 percent of their weight in hydrogen at room temperature, which is considerably better than the federal target of 6 percent.

New nanoparticle catalyst brings fuel-cell cars closer to showroom
UW-Madison chemical and biological engineering Professor Manos Mavrikakis and UM chemistry and biochemistry Professor Bryan Eichhorn have developed a nanoparticle ruthenium (Ru) catalyst with one to two layers of platinum (Pt) atoms  that dramatically improves a key hydrogen purification reaction and leaves more hydrogen available to make energy in the fuel cell. 

Finding improves fuel cell efficiency
Researchers at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering have developed a membrane that allows fuel cells to operate at low humidity and theoretically to operate at higher temperatures.

Platinum-rich shell, platinum-poor core
University of Houston’s Peter Strasser has created a new class of electrocatalysts based on nanoparticles with a platinum-rich shell and a core of copper, cobalt, and platinum.  The novel ‘shell’ catalyst has the highest activity yet observed for the reduction of oxygen.


Researchers Observe Hydrogen-Bond Exchange
Japan researchers have used a scanning tunneling microscope to directly observe a hydrogen-bond exchange taking place within a single water dimer (two molecules of H2O bound together). The observation provides evidence to support the model in which quantum tunneling and molecular vibrations play important roles in the hydrogen-bond exchange process’, and could help explain the catalytic reactions on electrode surfaces in batteries and fuel cells. 

Hydrogen storage could support lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles
Researchers have successfully demonstrated a new way to test materials for storing hydrogen as a solid. Dutch-sponsored researcher Robin Gremaud has built a solid storage system for hydrogen based on a light alloy of magnesium, titanium and nickel. Gremaud used a novel (and potentially disruptive) method for simultaneously analyzing thousands of different combinations of the metals. This solid storage system could weigh sixty percent less than a comparable battery pack.

Carbon based hydrogen storage might be on the horizon
The Department of Energy has awarded $1.9 million to researchers at the University of Missouri and Midwest Research Institute (MRI) The Missouri team has found that carbon briquettes (derived from corn cobs) then “doped” (or mixed and layered) with boron, have a unique ability to store natural gas with high capacity at low pressure. While corn cobs hydrogen storage sounds a bit far fetched, one gram of this carbon material has a surface area comparable to a football field. The boron additive to carbon creates binding energies with H2 molecules that might make this a viable storage medium.

Novel Carbon Graphen Layer hydrogen storage
Greek researchers have developed another carbon based solution using stacked thin sheets of carbon doped with lithium.

Nano-scale fuel cells
UW-Madison researchers have developed a way to manufacture high performance nano-scale fuels

MIT Methanol Fuel cell breakthrough
MIT engineers have improved the power output of Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFCs) by more than 50 percent.


New Low-Cost Non-noble Metal Catalyst for Hydrogen Production from Biofuels
Ohio State University researchers have developed a cobalt-based catalyst for the steam reforming of bio-derived liquids into hydrogen with 90% yield, at 350°C (660°F), and without the use of precious metals such as platinum or rhodium.   Their catalyst costs around $9/kg ($0.25/ounce), while rhodium costs around $9,000/ounce ($317,466/kg).

Monash team learns from nature to split water
An international team of researchers led by Monash University has used chemicals found in plants to replicate a key process in photosynthesis paving the way to a new approach that uses sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. "We have copied nature, taking the elements and mechanisms found in plant life that have evolved over 3 billion years and recreated one of those processes in the laboratory," Professor Spiccia said.

A promising step towards more effective light metal hydride hydrogen storage
An international research team led by Professor Rajeev Ahuja at Uppsala University has demonstrated an atomistic mechanism of hydrogen release in magnesium nanoparticle.


Comment Thread (1 Response)

  1. Awesome list Garry, rocking resource.

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   December 26, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

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