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

December 24 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
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

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Are micro fuel cells coming out of Hype Cycle? Toshiba's Micro Fuel Cell Battery Recharger

January 30 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2010   Rating: 7 Hot

methanol fuel cell

Most new technology platforms must walk up the stages of the 'Hype Cycle', and confront our tendency to overestimate short-term change, but underestimate the long term potential.

Fuel cells are this decade's poster child for failing to meet expectations of the Hype Cycle. But there are positive signs of progress.

PC World is reporting that Toshiba plans to release its first commercial version of a Direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) battery recharger by the end of the first business quarter.

Micro Fuel cells help you unplug
Micro power applications are widely considered to be the first market application for fuel cells.  Dozens of startups and incumbent energy companies are developing micro methanol fuel cells as portable power solutions that help us 'unplug everything'.

Rather than carry around a charger+cord, you could carry a small fuel cell to recharge.  Of course the idea of a fuel cell battery recharger is still a strange concept to consumers, and could remain an early adopter niche product.  

The inevitable step for micro fuel cells is to replace batteries entirely.  To arrive at this future, hardware makers must integrate MFCs into products, and consumers must be able to buy small fuel cartridges (e.g. liquid methanol, solid hydrogen) on every retail shelf.  Until that day, the 'recharger' concept is the industry's best option.

Batteries & Fuel cells are like Peanut Butter and Jelly, not Oil and Water

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[Video] GM Segway PUMA Cruising Through Brooklyn & New York City

April 07 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Transportation   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

GM & Segway are hoping to commercialize a new category of smart micro-vehicles for urban environments by 2012 (See previous post).  I love the application of Segway software, but am skeptical of a 'plug in' battery version. 

I'm not sure how many wall sockets are accessible to urban dwellers who don't have garages!  So I love the idea, but think the real potential is the 'access' business model.  Let's keep the PUMA owned and operated by mobility service companies, not urban dwellers themselves!

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Reliable Fuel Cells Powering Remote Traffic Systems

October 06 2008 / by jvarden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: 2008   Rating: 6 Hot

By jvarden

Although fuel cell electric vehicles are still transitioning towards commercialization, the off-grid performance benefits of these electrochemical devices might soon reinforce critical pieces of our transportation infrastructure.

Smart Fuel Cell, a German-based company, has shipped thousands of their commercial fuel cell products and also totes multiple awards for its innovative methods. While most associate fuel cells with automobiles, SFC will also reliably power remote traffic systems with their EFOY Pro Series of fuel cells. Since normal batteries can only power warning blinkers for two days and solar cells/generators are too unreliable, EFOY Pro series fuel cells need no maintenance and are an off-grid power that will run, hypothetically, forever, as long as it has a fuel source. The cell’s tough case can handle rough weather, even temperatures between -4° F and +113 ° F. One 28-litre M28 fuel cell could operate the blinker for 50 days and they have a guaranteed lifetime of 5,000 operating hours or 30 months.

The Munich North Autobahn Authorities are already using the EFOY Pro Series fuel cells. If these cells become commonplace, then remote, off-the-grid traffic systems will not only be more reliable, they will cost less to maintain and will be available for usage even in disaster-struck areas whose power-lines are down.

Image: Sarah Ivancic Flicker CC

GM & Segway Unveil Personal Urban Mobility Vehicle, Demonstrate Disruptive Power of Software & Mobility as Service

April 07 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Transportation   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

GM PUMA BrooklynGeneral Motors and Segway unveiled a new type of small electric motor vehicle with advanced software that could shift how we look at mobility as a service.

In an effort to appeal to digitally connected urban audiences, GM describes Project P.U.M.A. (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) as a low-cost mobility platform that 'enables design creativity, fashion, fun and social networking.' This protoype model travels up to 35 miles per hour (56 kph), with a range up to 35 miles (56 km) between recharges (though it's not clear how urban residents will access wall sockets!)

'Smart' is the Real Revolution
The greatest opportunities to transform the human mobility experience in the next century are likely to emerge from ‘smarter software’, not cleaner energy systems.  It seems clear that the combustion engine will eventually struggle to keep cost and design competitive against the lowering 'manufacturing footprint' of electric motors powered by the integration of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.  The real question is: Can human drivers keep up with changes ahead in software of 'smart cars'.

Vehicle-to-Vehicle communication systems that relay alerts and information to drivers to reduce congestion and prevent collisions are already being integrated into luxury vehicles. But within a decade or two we can expect low cost vehicles embedded with sensors and ‘situation awareness’ detection systems that make cars 'smarter' than drivers.

Access and Ownership (and Potential Chaos)
A compelling vision of Personal Urban Vehicles is the emergence of personal 'mobility as service' companies that connect outer hubs with urban destination points (offices, retail, recreation, et al).  In addition to owning personal vehicles, we can imagine paying for 'access' to fleets of vehicles that we don't have to park.  (Of course, adding fleets of small vehicles could mean chaos in urban areas for pedestrians! Not to mention pushback from the Cabbies in New York!)

More Images and Related Posts on The Future of Auto Industry

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France to spend millions on electric vehicle infrastructure, but what is the future of 'plugging in'?

October 10 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Environment   Year: 2011   Rating: 5 Hot

In recent years advocates of plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles have argued ‘the infrastructure for electric cars exists. We only need to plug in our cars at night while nobody is using the electricity.’ This was the source of their disdain for the other electron energy carrier hydrogen. Why waste time on building something new, when it already exists?

It turns out that this observation of our electricity grid was only a snapshot of reality, not the description of a future-ready system for supporting electric vehicles. The world’s electric grids are not ready to support commercial vehicle fleets. And now auto makers like Renault are leading efforts to rally utility grid operators, energy storage companies and entrepreneurs to prepare for the electrification of the global auto fleet.

France’s EDF & Renault creating the future
Business Week is reporting on a pledge by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Paris Auto Show to dedicate 400 million euros ($549 million) in state support for the development of electric and hybrid cars.

The funds are likely to be packaged with a major agreement between Renault and France’s utility EDF to jointly develop the infrastructure needed to recharge electric vehicles, allowing Renault to deliver vehicles in 2011. (The French government owns 85 percent of EDF and 15 percent of Renault.)

GDF is already the owner of the world’s biggest corporate fleet of electric vehicles and has an obvious stake in developing a “smart” charging stations.

Meanwhile Business Week confirms that Renault-Nissan is to establish infrastructure in Israel, Denmark, Portugal, the U.S. state of Tennessee and the Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, with production plans for electric cars from 2011.

Are electric recharge stations the best path?
Futurist Jamais Cascio has been quoted as saying ‘The road to hell is paved with short-term distractions.” And as someone who has followed the hype cycle of transportation propulsion systems I wonder if a strategy based solely on batteries and electricity could be that? A short-term distraction.

The future of vehicle fueling infrastructure might actually be more complicated than just plugging in. Why should we hedge our bets with powering electric vehicles around other electrons carrier systems like fuel cells and capacitors? (Continue)

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[Video] A water powered fuel cell? For toys?

October 12 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: 2009   Rating: 5 Hot

[Catch: water is not the fuel]

Horizon Fuel Cell’s future is based on an elegant idea – water powered electric devices. Their HydroPak portable generator units are designed for early markets around military, medical, telecommunication, building management, and industrial customers.

Fuel cells are basically advanced refillable batteries that convert chemical energy into electrical energy. The technology is taking longer than expected to commercialize, but they are coming.

Horizon uses a hydrogen rich chemical hydride (NaBH4) to power the device. This fuel was developed by Millennium Cell which formed a strategic partnership in an equity swap with Horizon last year.

The water is only part of the reaction to release the chemical energy. Water is less a fuel, than it is a reactant. So the product’s appeal uses a bit of trick marketing!!

‘Water’ powered sounds better than ‘chemical hydride’ powered!

Video credit: DigInfo

What’s happening? How does water create electricity?
Fuel cells for toys? And what about methanol fuel cells?

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[Video] MIT Professor reminds us of how much there is yet to discover around energy science

February 09 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

What we don't know about the fundamental science of energy systems might actually help us!  The problem is that most people assume we already know everything, and that we are running out of solution sets.  In fact, we are only at the beginning of a new era of understanding nanoscale (molecular) energy systems engineering.

MIT Chemistry Professor Dan Nocera's lecture Whales to Wood, Wood to Coal/Oil to What's Next? describes what we do not understand about solar energy conversion (photosynthesis) and effective energy storage in nature's form of chemical bonds.  His focus is to uncover the science of nature's recipe for storing energy: Light + Water = Fuel. 

The Real Transition: Era of Extraction

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California moves forward on 'green infrastructure', invites startup Better Place to build out electric car fueling network

November 21 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Transportation   Year: 2016   Rating: 4

On November 20th California took a major step towards building out the state’s “green” infrastructure to support the electrification of the auto fleet towards vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors. State and local leaders gathered in San Francisco to announce a new public partnership with ‘mobility operator’ Better Place.

Better Place has big plans for California and has estimated that the network investment in the Bay Area alone will total $1 billion when the system is fully deployed.

We have featured several stories on Better Place and CEO Shai Agassi [Video Interview] to highlight the company’s vision for changing the business model for how cars are fueled. Better Place is moving quickly and has already negotiated infrastructure projects within Israel, Denmark, Australia, and Hawaii. Adding California to their list could be the tipping point. Not just for Better Place, but for how we think about fueling our vehicles with batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.

The simplest translation of Shai Agassi’s disruptive vision?
To expand adoption of electric vehicles we must lower barriers for consumers and rethink our notions of infrastructure in a way that goes beyond the model of paying at the corner gas station pump.

Consumers should buy the car, but not the energy storage device (battery, fuel cell or capacitor). Remove the cost and risk of owning energy storage systems that might be improved in the next six months or a year. Instead consumers would subscribe to an energy infrastructure provider who offers a ‘pay per mile’ (e.g. mobile phone minutes) plan.

Drivers could recharge at a local station, or (pay attention!!) pull up to a station to ‘swap out’ an old battery (or solid block of hydrogen, other fuel cartridge) for a new container. It is this ‘swap out’ model that holds the greatest disruptive potential.

How do we do it?

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Self-assembled metal nanostructures improve fuel cell performance

November 25 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 4 Hot

The way to improve fuel cells, energy storage devices and solar cells is to evolve our ability to control the way molecules and photons flow through materials and lead to other reactions. We do not need to overcome the Laws of Physics, just improve the design of materials at the molecular level.

What happened?
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.

“The challenge with metals is that their high surface energies cause the particles to cluster,” explains , led by Professor Uli Wiesner who led the team. “This tendency to aggregate makes it difficult to coax metal particles into lining up in an orderly fashion, which is a critical step in forming ordered materials.”

Instead of relying on the traditional (and imprecise) ‘heat it and beat it’ approach” to structuring metals, Professor Wiesner, Scott C. Warren, and their coworkers prepared their materials through self-assembly of block copolymers and stabilized platinum nanoparticles. This ‘bottom up’ approach can lower costs and improve the precision of material design.

Why is this important to the future of energy?
We need breakthroughs in materials science that make energy systems cost effective and clean. Nanoscale science (billionth of a meter) and engineering is the platform of future innovation.

Fuel cell costs are based on two main factors: the cost of membranes (MEAs) that enable the reactions and manufacturing techniques to build the device. The way forward is to reduce the amount of precious metal catalysts needed in membranes, and also lower the cost of manufacturing materials around self-assembly. These metallic structures developed by the Cornell team could take us further down the road towards lower cost energy systems that go beyond traditional combustion energy conversion.

Related research:

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Energy Story of 2008: #1 Electrification of the Passenger Car

December 15 2008 / by joelg / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: 2008   Rating: 4 Hot

By the fall of 2008, every major automanufacturer from GM to Nissan to Tata--and a few startups such as Tesla and Aptera--had announced production model plans for all manner of electric vehicles, from all electrc vehicles, to plug-in hybrid electrics, to fuel cell vehicles, with deliveries to consumers starting in 2010.  2008 could well be known as the nail in the coffin for the bulky combustion engine which has plagued the auto industry with its manufacturing and design liabilities, and association with volatile oil markets.

How quickly might the world re-tool the global auto industry to build new vehicle chassis based on electric motors and advanced energy storage systems?

Every Auto Manufacturer has Announced Electric Vehicles

Continue Reading other Top Energy Stories from 2008

#2   The Year of Scientific Breakthroughs

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Brown University Researchers Design Nanoparticle Palladium Catalysts For Fuel Cells

March 23 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

Palladium Brown UniversityMetals, like platinum, palladium and nickel, play a key role as catatysts that change the quality of reactions of gases like carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

Designing catalysts at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter) will help to improve interactions within fuel cells that convert chemical energy into electricity.  But achieving precise control over nano-sized particles has been difficult.

Now Brown University researchers have designed fuel cell catalysts using palladium  nanoparticles that have about 40 percent greater active surface area, and ‘remain intact four times longer’.

The innovations? 
A New Binding Agent & Surface Area

The researchers have learned how to bind the 4.5 nanometer sized metal pieces to a carbon support platform using weak binding amino ligands that keep the nanoparticles separate.  After they are set, the ligand links are ‘washed away’ without negatively changing the catalysts.

“This approach is very novel. It works,” said Vismadeb Mazumder, a graduate researcher who joined chemistry professor Shouheng Sun “It’s two times as active, meaning you need half the energy to catalyze. And it’s four times as stable.  It just works better.”

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