"Designer carbon" boosts battery performance

Mark Shwartz, Stanford Univ.:  Stanford Univ. scientists have created a new carbon material that significantly boosts the performance of energy-storage technologies. Their results are featured in ACS Central Science.
"We have developed a 'designer carbon' that is both versatile and controllable," said Zhenan Bao, the senior author of the study and a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford. "Our study shows that this material has exceptional energy-storage capacity, enabling unprecedented performance in lithium-sulfur batteries and supercapacitors."
According to Bao, the new designer carbon represents a dramatic improvement over conventional activated carbon, an inexpensive material widely used in products ranging from water filters and air deodorizers to energy-storage devices.
"A lot of cheap activated carbon is made from coconut shells," Bao said. "To activate the carbon, manufacturers burn the coconut at high temperatures and then chemically treat it."
The activation process creates nanosized holes, or pores, that increase the surface area of the carbon, allowing it to catalyze more chemical reactions and store more electrical charges.

Berkeley lab unveils new solar energy center aimed at producing fuel from sunlight

Jeremy Thomas for Inside Bay Area News:  In a christening hailed as a key moment in the effort to harness the sun's energy to create fuel, Lawrence Berkeley Lab officials on Tuesday unveiled a $59 million Solar Energy Research Center.
Named after former Energy Department Secretary and Lab Director Steven Chu, the 40,000-square-foot Chu Hall will be a place of world-changing research in producing cheaper, more efficient renewable energy to replace fossil fuels, said Chu, who was honored for inspiring the mission.
"This is one of the most important problems that science, technology and innovation really need to solve," Chu said. "It's a very big deal. ... We simply need to save the world, and it's going to be science that's going to be at the heart of that solution."
The facility will be home to the Berkeley hub of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, a Department of Energy-funded collaboration led by the California Institute of Technology that is attempting to create solar fuel as plants do by using sunlight and other catalysts to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas and convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuels such as methanol and ethanol. The byproduct of producing such a fuel would be oxygen.

Why one company sees great potential in the U.S. offshore wind market

By Jaclyn Brandt for FierceEnergy:  In April, DONG Energy signed an agreement to take over RES Americas Developments Inc.'s (RES) more than 1,000-megawatt (MW) development project rights off the coast of Massachusetts. RES had secured the rights to two leases from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in January.

"The U.S. is an interesting market for offshore wind with the potential to become a significant area for future development," said Samuel Leupold, executive vice president of Wind Power with DONG Energy, said at the announcement in April. "We already have a number of post-2020 projects in our pipeline in North-Western Europe that we will continue to develop. With the takeover of the offshore wind development project in the US, we will broaden our geographical scope and follow the market potential outside of our current footprint."
Leupold continued, "The site conditions are quite similar to those we currently work with in North-Western Europe which means that the project could be developed using well-known technology and logistics."
Although the offshore wind market in the United States has many regulatory obstacles, Brostrøm said that there is also a lot of potential off the East Coast -- including good wind speeds and water depths. He also cited the efforts by BOEM to encourage wind development.

This cloudy-day black silicon solar cell can hit a record 22.1% efficiency

Researchers at Finland’s Aalto University have achieved a record-breaking 22.1% efficiency for a nanostructured silicon, or black, solar cell. They accomplished this by overlaying a thin, passivating film on the nanostructures by a process known as atomic layer deposition, and by integrating all of the metal contacts on the cell’s back side.
Perhaps the best part: Black solar cells work really well on cloudy days. “This is an advantage particularly in the north, where the sun shines from a low angle for a large part of the year,” said professor Hele Savin from Aalto University, who coordinated the study, in a statement. “We have demonstrated that in winter Helsinki, black cells generate considerably more electricity than traditional cells, even though both cells have identical efficiency values.”
Using the aforementioned process, the team managed to beat their previous record by almost 4%, which is a stunning achievement. The new cells have a certified external quantum efficiency of 96% at 300nm wavelengths, which the team said shows that charged carrier surface recombination is no longer a problem — and that for the first time, the black silicon isn’t limiting energy conversion efficiency. And thanks to the inherent properties of black solar cells, they can capture solar radiation at low angles, generating more electricity over the full duration of a day as compared with traditional cells.

A highlight of WINDPOWER 2015

U.S. energy secretary, Dr Ernest Moniz, spoke at the Opening General Session at AWEA’s WINDPOWER 2015 event today in Orlando, Florida. Moniz stressed that wind power is an important and necessary part of the solution to climate change. Wind could provide five times what it provides today, he said, with a goal of one trillion kilowatt-hours per year in America.

To get there, new technologies are needed to boost the industry is areas where it is not yet cost-effective or as profitable as other energy sources. Moniz mentioned better siting methods, improved drivetrains, and longer blades. On the show floor, companies are certainly bringing some new and improved technologies to the wind market.  Click here for the full Summary from WindPower Engineering.

Used cigarette butts offer energy storage solution

Scientists in South Korea have developed a new way to store energy that also offers a solution to a growing environmental problem.
 
Reporting their findings in the IOP Publishing journal Nanotechnology, the research team successfully converted used cigarette butts into a high performing material that could be integrated into computers, handheld devices, electric vehicles and wind turbines to store energy.
According to the study, this material outperforms commercially available carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes. It may someday be used to coat the electrodes of supercapacitors: electrochemical components that can store extremely large amounts of electrical energy.
"Our study has shown that used cigarette filters can be transformed into a high performing carbon-based material using a simple one step process, which simultaneously offers a green solution for meeting the energy demands of society," says co-author Professor Jongheop Yi of Seoul National University.

MIT Group Used Solar Energy To Make Salty Water Drinkable In Off-Grid Areas

By Eleanor Goldberg for The Huffington Post:  ​While there are many technologies out there than can effectively remove salt from water to make it drinkable, most are expensive and rely heavily on electricity –- rendering them all but useless in remote, off-grid villages.
That’s why a group of engineers from MIT, backed by Jain Irrigation Systems, set out to invent a system that relies on solar energy to bring clean drinking water to rural areas in India, The Washington Post reported.
About 21 percent of India’s communicable diseases are related to unsafe water, according to the World Bank. According to MIT researchers 60 percent of India has brackish groundwater -- while not toxic, that water is too salty to be ideal for human consumption.
The group, which took home the first-place Desal Prize last month in the “Securing Water for Food” challenge, used a method called electrodialysis, which relies on electricity and ultraviolet rays, according to the aid organization.
 
The first-place winners were awarded a $140,000 grant.  Cont'd...

Solar road in the Netherlands producing more energy than anticipated

A road made of solar panel material is producing more energy than the creators expected.
Engineers created a solar power bike path near Amsterdam that is over 200 feet long last year, and the road generated over 3,000kwh during the first six months, according to Al Jazeera, enough energy to power a house for a year.
The company that created the road, SolaRoad, claims that means the road can produce 70kwh per square meter per year. The road is made of solar panels, glass, rubber and concrete. The road can either power street lamps or add power to the general grid.
Over 150,000 cyclists have ridden on bike path without a problem since the project began. The path is made to be non-reflective and to prevent skidding.
SolaRoad is still refining its materials to make them even more weather proof and efficient, and the company hopes to expand to larger areas in the future.

Hawaii Lawmakers Pass Nation's First 100% Renewable Energy Requirement

Hawaii lawmakers voted 74-2 this week to pass the nation's first 100% renewable energy requirement. The measure, House Bill 623, makes Hawaii a global leader in renewable energy policy by requiring that 100% of the islands' electricity must be generated from renewable energy resources--such as wind, solar, and geothermal-no later than 2045. 

"Hawaii lawmakers made history passing this legislation--not only for the islands, but for the planet," said Jeff Mikulina, Executive Director of the Blue Planet Foundation. 

The measure, if enacted by Governor David Ige, would make Hawaii the first state in the nation with such a 100% renewable energy standard. Blue Planet Foundation, whose mission is to clear the path for 100% renewable energy, praised the move. 

"Passage of this measure is a historic step towards a fossil fuel free Hawaii," said Mikulina. "This visionary policy is a promise to future generations that their lives will be powered not by climate-changing fossil fuel, but by clean, local, and sustainable sources of energy." 

Wind Power Without The Mills

Bill Tucker for Forbes:  Vortex Bladeless is a radical company. It wants to completely change the way we get energy from the wind. Think wind stick instead of a massive tower with blades that capture blowing winds.
Wind stick. Really. Lest you think I’m mad, I’ve included a picture of this bladeless generator that helps with the visualization and explains the company name.
See? There are no blades. What that “stick” (the company prefers, mast) does is capitalize on an effect of the wind which has been a very serious problem for architects and engineers for decades.
When wind hits a structure and flows over its surfaces the flow changes and generates a cyclical pattern of vortices at the tail end of the flow. This is known as the vortex shedding effect which creates something known as vorticity and that is what Vortex Bladeless uses to generate energy. For those who need a explanation that exceeds my ability to fully explain, check out this link on Wikipedia and then come back and join the rest of us who won’t wait for you. (you’re clearly ahead of us anyway)

MITEI releases report on the future of solar energy

From Melissa Abraham | MIT Energy Initiative :  Report highlights enormous potential and discusses pathways toward affordable solar energy.

Solar energy holds the best potential for meeting humanity’s future long-term energy needs while cutting greenhouse gas emissions — but to realize this potential will require increased emphasis on developing lower-cost technologies and more effective deployment policy, says a comprehensive new study, titled “The Future of Solar Energy,” released today by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI).

“Our objective has been to assess solar energy’s current and potential competitive position and to identify changes in U.S. government policies that could more efficiently and effectively support its massive deployment over the long term, which we view as necessary,” says MITEI Director Robert Armstrong, the Chevron Professor in Chemical Engineering at MIT.

Tesla's New Powerwall Packs a Powerful Punch

Ryan Wallace for The Science Times:  Known as the "Powerwall", Tesla's newest invention is a thin, wall-mounted battery that is the size of a flat screen TV. And with this new battery home owners who have already invested in solar power will be able to entirely go off the grid, and even to sell their excess solar juice back to energy companies.

Developed in conjunction with the lithium-ion batteries that Tesla uses for its electric vehicles, the Powerwall unit is an inexpensive unit, only running $3,000 to $3,500, and with it Musk and his companies believe that humans may one day be able to transition to solely using energy derived from the Sun. Though the installation may look like an artpiece, it packs quite a punch at 10 kWh, and with it consumers will not only be able to store their energy for dark solar-free nights, but also more efficiently contribute to global energy use by contributing carbon-free energy back into the mix.
 

Elon Musk's big announcement: it's called 'Tesla Energy'

Late Thursday night in Los Angeles, Tesla announced "Tesla Energy," described by the company in a statement as "a suite of batteries for homes, businesses, and utilities fostering a clean energy ecosystem and helping wean the world off fossil fuels."
 
The statement continued: "Tesla is not just an automotive company, it’s an energy innovation company. Tesla Energy is a critical step in this mission to enable zero emission power generation."
 
Tesla CEO Elon Musk made the official announcement onstage at the company's design studio in Hawthorne, CA, just south of LA.
 
The home battery, call the "Powerwall," is intended to store solar energy and enable customers to bank grid electricity from non-peak periods and use it during peak times, saving money. It looks "like a beautiful piece of sculpture," Musk said. You can order it now, and it comes in different colors.
 
"The Tesla Powerwall is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery designed to store energy at a residential level for load shifting, backup power and self-consumption of solar power generation," Tesla said.
 
"The Powerwall consists of Tesla’s lithium-ion battery pack, liquid thermal control system and software that receives dispatch commands from a solar inverter. The unit mounts seamlessly on a wall and is integrated with the local grid to harness excess power and give customers the flexibility to draw energy from their own reserve."

Engineering a better solar cell: UW research pinpoints defects in popular perovskites

One of the fastest-growing areas of solar energy research is with materials called perovskites. These promising light harvesters could revolutionize the solar and electronics industries because they show potential to convert sunlight into electricity more efficiently and less expensively than today’s silicon-based semiconductors.
 
These superefficient crystal structures have taken the scientific community by storm in the past few years because they can be processed very inexpensively and can be used in applications ranging from solar cells to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) found in phones and computer monitors.
 
A new study published online April 30 in the journal Science by University of Washington and University of Oxford researchers demonstrates that perovskite materials, generally believed to be uniform in composition, actually contain flaws that can be engineered to improve solar devices even further.  Cont'd...

First Offshore Wind Farm In The U.S. Kicks Off Construction

Offshore wind is coming to the United States.
Construction on what will be the country’s first offshore wind farm started Monday in Rhode Island. The wind farm, which is being developed by Deepwater Wind, will be located off of the coast of Block Island, a small island about 13 miles south of Rhode Island. Once completed, the five-turbine, 30-megawatt wind farm will produce enough energy to power all homes and businesses on Block Island, which previously relied on diesel generators, according to the Sierra Club. The wind farm will also send energy to mainland Rhode Island. It’s expected to come online in fall 2016.
Environmental groups, many of which have pushed for the project since it started going through hearings in 2013, applauded the start of construction. Bruce Nilles, senior campaign director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, told ThinkProgress that the start of construction was a “landmark” moment for the U.S. wind industry, and that it “really makes real the promise offshore wind has” in the U.S., particularly on the East Coast.
“This is technology that will play a very important part in decarbonizing electric sector,” he said.

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