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Hydrogen Economy Closer

Washington State University (WSU) researchers have found a way to more efficiently generate hydrogen from water — an important key to making clean energy more viable. Using inexpensive nickel and iron, the researchers developed a very simple, five-minute method to create large amounts of a high-quality catalyst required for the chemical reaction to split water.

Energy conversion and storage is a key to the clean energy economy. Because solar and wind sources produce power only intermittently, there is a critical need for ways to store and save the electricity they create. One of the most promising ideas for storing renewable energy is to use the excess electricity generated from renewables to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen has myriad uses in industry and could be used to power hydrogen fuel-cell carsIndustries have not widely used the water splitting process, however, because of the prohibitive cost of the precious metal catalysts that are required – usually platinum or ruthenium. Many of the methods to split water also require too much energy, or the required catalyst materials break down too quickly.

In their work, the researchers, led by professor Yuehe Lin in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, used two abundantly available and cheap metals to create a porous nanofoam that worked better than most catalysts that currently are used, including those made from the precious metals. The catalyst they created looks like a tiny sponge. With its unique atomic structure and many exposed surfaces throughout the material, the nanofoam can catalyze the important reaction with less energy than other catalysts. The catalyst showed very little loss in activity in a 12-hour stability test.

We took a very simple approach that could be used easily in large-scale production,” said Shaofang Fu, a WSU Ph.D. student who synthesized the catalyst and did most of the activity testing. “The advanced materials characterization facility at the national laboratories provided the deep understanding of the composition and structures of the catalysts,” comments Junhua Song, another WSU Ph.D. student who worked on the catalyst characterization.

The findings are described in the journal Nano Energy.


Making Fuel Cells for a Fraction of the Cost

It is the third announcement in less than one week for a major improvment in the making of fuel cells.

In the competition between Lithium-Ion batteries (e.g. Tesla cars), and hydrogen fuel cells (see picture of Nexo from Hyundai) that power electric cars, it is difficult to predict which one will be the winner at the end.

Fuel cells have the potential to be a clean and efficient way to run cars, computers, and power stations, but the cost of producing them is limiting their use. That’s because a key component of the most common fuel cells is a catalyst made from the precious metal platinum.

In a paper published in Small, researchers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), describe the development of an inexpensive, efficient catalyst material for a type of fuel cell called a polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell (PEMFC), which turns the chemical energy of hydrogen into electricity and is among the most promising fuel cell types to power cars and electronics.

The catalyst developed at UCR is made of porous carbon nanofibers embedded with a compound made from a relatively abundant metal such as cobalt, which is more than 100 times less expensive than platinum. The research was led by David Kisailus, the Winston Chung Endowed Professor in Energy Innovation in UCR’s Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering.

Fuel cells, which are already being used by some carmakers, offer advantages over conventional combustion technologies, including higher efficiency, quieter operation and lower emissions. Hydrogen fuel cells emit only water.

Like batteries, fuel cells are electrochemical devices that comprise a positive and negative electrode sandwiching an electrolyte. When a hydrogen fuel is injected onto the anode, a catalyst separates the hydrogen molecules into positively charged particles called protons and negatively charged particles called electrons. The electrons are directed through an external circuit, where they do useful work, such as powering an electric motor, before rejoining the positively charged hydrogen ions and oxygen to form water.

A critical barrier to fuel cell adoption is the cost of platinum, making the development of alternative catalyst materials a key driver for their mass implementation.

Using a technique called electrospinning, the UCR researchers made paper-thin sheets of carbon nanofibers that contained metal ions — either cobalt, iron or nickel. Kisailus and his team, collaborating with scientists at Stanford University, determined that the new materials performed as good as the industry standard platinum-carbon systems, but at a fraction of the cost. “The key to the high performance of the materials we created is the combination of the chemistry and fiber processing conditions,” Kisailus said


Solar-driven Hydrogen Economy

Hydrogen as a fuel source, rather than hydrocarbons like oil and coal, offers many benefits. Burning hydrogen produces harmless water with the potential to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions and their environmental burden. In pursuit of technologies that could lead to a breakthrough in achieving a hydrogen economy, a key issue is making hydrogen cheaply. Using catalysts to split water is the ideal way to generate hydrogen, but doing so usually requires an energy input from other chemicals, electricity, or a portion of sunlight which has high enough energy.

Now researchers at Osaka University have developed a new catalytic system for efficiently splitting water and making hydrogen with energy from normal sunlight. Their study was recently reported in Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

It has not been possible to use visible light for photocatalysis, but our approach of combining nanostructured black phosphorus for water reduction to hydrogen and bismuth vanadate for water oxidation to oxygen lets us make use of a wide range of the solar spectrum to make hydrogen and oxygen with unprecedented efficiency,” lead author Mingshan Zhu says.

Black phosphorus has a flat, two-dimensional structure similar to that of graphene and strongly absorbs light across the whole of the visible spectrum. The researchers combined the black phosphorus with bismuth vanadate, which is a well-known water oxidation catalyst.

In the same way that plants shuttle electrons between different structures in natural photosynthesis to split water and make oxygen, the two components of this new catalyst could rapidly transfer electrons excited by sunlight. The amounts of the two components was also optimized in the catalyst, leading to production of hydrogen and oxygen gases in an ideal 2:1 ratio.


Europe: 17 Organizations United To Produce Li-Ion Batteries

Energy storage has emerged as a central building block of the EU’s objectives in low emission electric transport and replacing electricity generated by fossil fuels with renewables. The realisation that batteries are of such strategic importance has come as a wake-up call, with Europe finding itself lagging in commercialising research in the field, and for now, completely dependent on manufacturers outside the EU for battery supplies. Public and private funders in Europe that have put €555 million into developing new energy storage technologies since 2008 have little to show for it in terms of commercial outputs.

While a number of start-ups, such as France’s NAWA Technology are working on various approaches to increasing energy density and speeding up recharging of electric vehicle batteries, none are in production. As yet, Europe has no factories producing electric vehicle batteries, though LG Chem of South Korea is currently constructing a manufacturing plant in Poland, which is due to open later this year. Another Korean manufacturer, SK Innovation, whose major customer is Mercedes-Benz, has announced it will invest $777 million to build a battery plant with capacity of 7.5 GW/year in Hungary

A European company, Northvolt is planning to build a plant in Skelleftea, northern Sweden, with construction due to start in the second half of 2018. Meanwhile, Frankfurt-based TerraE announced earlier in January that it has formed a consortium of 17 companies and research institutions to handle the planning for two large-scale lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing facilities in Germany. TerraE will build and operate the factories, where customers can have batteries produced to their own specifications.


Efficient, Low-Cost Catalyst To Produce Hydrogen

A nanostructured composite material developed at UC Santa Cruz has shown impressive performance as a catalyst for the electrochemical splitting of water to produce hydrogen. An efficient, low-cost catalyst is essential for realizing the promise of hydrogen as a clean, environmentally friendly fuel.

Researchers led by Shaowei Chen, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz, have been investigating the use of carbon-based nanostructured materials as catalysts for the reaction that generates hydrogen from water. In one recent study, they obtained good results by incorporating ruthenium ions into a sheet-like nanostructure composed of carbon nitride. Performance was further improved by combining the ruthenium-doped carbon nitride with graphene, a sheet-like form of carbon, to form a layered composite.

The bonding chemistry of ruthenium with nitrogen in these nanostructured materials plays a key role in the high catalytic performance,” Chen said. “We also showed that the stability of the catalyst is very good.”

Currently, the most efficient catalysts for the electrochemical reaction that generates hydrogen from water are based on platinum, which is scarce and expensive. Carbon-based materials have shown promise, but their performance has not come close to that of platinum-based catalysts.

In the new composite material developed by Chen’s lab, the ruthenium ions embedded in the carbon nitride nanosheets change the distribution of electrons in the matrix, creating more active sites for the binding of protons to generate hydrogen. Adding graphene to the structure further enhances the redistribution of electrons.

The new findings were published in ChemSusChem.


Gilded fuel cells boost electric car efficiency

To make modern-day fuel cells less expensive and more powerful, a team led by Johns Hopkins chemical engineers has drawn inspiration from the ancient Egyptian tradition of gilding. Egyptian artists at the time of King Tutankhamun often covered cheaper metals (copper, for instance) with a thin layer of a gleaming precious metal such as gold to create extravagant masks and jewelry. In a modern-day twist, the Johns Hopkins-led researchers have applied a tiny coating of costly platinum just one nanometer thick—100,000 times thinner than a human hair—to a core of much cheaper cobalt. This microscopic marriage could become a crucial catalyst in new fuel cells that generate electric current to power cars and other machines.

The new fuel cell design would save money because it would require far less platinum, a very rare and expensive metal that is commonly used as a catalyst in present-day fuel-cell electric cars. The researchers, who published their work earlier this year in Nano Letters, say that by making electric cars more affordable, this innovation could curb the emission of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from gasoline– or diesel-powered vehicles.

This technique could accelerate our launch out of the fossil fuel era,” said Chao Wang, a Johns Hopkins assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and senior author of the study. “It will not only reduce the cost of fuel cells. It will also improve the energy efficiency and power performance of clean electric vehicles powered by hydrogen.”

In their journal article, the authors tipped their hats to the ancient Egyptian artisans who used a similar plating technique to give copper masks and other metallic works of art a lustrous final coat of silver or gold.The idea,” Wang said, “is to put a little bit of the precious treasure on top of the cheap stuff.”

He pointed out that platinum, frequently used in jewelry, also is a critical material in modern industry. It catalyzes essential reactions in activities including petroleum processing, petrochemical synthesis, and emission control in combustion vehicles, and is used in fuel cells. But, he said, platinum’s high cost and limited availability have made its use in clean energy technologies largely impractical—until now.


Budweiser Orders 40 Tesla Electric Trucks

The list of companies placing orders for Tesla Semi electric trucks keeps growing weeks after the unveiling event last month. Now Anheuser-Busch, the brewer behind Budweiser, announced that it ordered 40 Tesla Semi trucks. Last week, DHL confirmed an order of 10 trucks – bringing the tally to just over 200 Tesla Semi trucks. The brewer says that it will include the electric trucks in its distribution network as part of its commitment to reduce its operational carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2025. Considering the size of their distribution network, they say that it would be the equivalent of removing nearly 500,000 cars from the road globally each year.

At Anheuser-Busch, we are constantly seeking new ways to make our supply chain more sustainable, efficient, and innovative. This investment in Tesla semi-trucks helps us achieve these goals while improving road safety and lowering our environmental impact,” commented James Sembrot, Senior Director of Logistics Strategy.

Tesla Semi is actually only one part of Anheuser-Busch’s effort to modernize its fleet. They also confirmed orders from Nikola Motors for their battery/fuel cell hydrogen trucks and Uber’s Otto autonomous trucks.

Last year, Uber’s Otto completed its first shipment by self-driving truck with an autonomous beer run with Budweiser.


Tesla Electric Truck Travels 500 Miles (805 km) On A Single Charge

The main course was expected: a pair of sleek silver Tesla semi-trucks that get 500 miles per charge, go from zero to 60 mph in five seconds and — if the hype is to be believed — promise to single-handedly transform the commercial trucking industry. But dessert was a surprise: A bright red prototype of the newest Tesla Roadster, a revamped version of the company’s debut vehicle that can travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back on a single charge and go from zero to 60 mph in under two seconds. If true, that would make the $200,000 sports car the fastest production car ever made.

On Thursday night, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk delivered both dishes to a packed crowd at the company’s design studio in Hawthorne, Calif.

What does it feel like to drive this truck?” Musk asked the audience, shortly after his latest creations rolled onto the stage. “It’s amazing! It’s smooth, just like driving a Tesla.” “It’s unlike any truck that you’ve ever driven,” he added, noting that Tesla’s big rig puts the driver at the center of the vehicle like a race car, but surrounded with touchscreen displays like those found in the Model 3. “I can drive this thing and I have no idea how to drive a semi.”

Range anxiety has always been a key concern for anyone who is weighing the purchase of an electric vehicle. Musk sought to reassure potential buyers that the company’s big rigs can match — and surpass — the performance of a diesel engine, which he referred to as “economic suicide.” Musk did not reveal the truck’s exact price, but argued that a diesel truck would be 20 cents more expensive per mile than Tesla’s electric counterpart, which will be available for purchase in 2019.


How To Charge Lithium Batteries 20 Times Faster

A touch of asphalt may be the secret to high-capacity lithium metal batteries that charge 10 to 20 times faster than commercial lithium-ion batteries, according to Rice University scientists. The Rice lab of chemist James Tour developed anodes comprising porous carbon made from asphalt that showed exceptional stability after more than 500 charge-discharge cycles. A high-current density of 20 milliamps per square centimeter demonstrated the material’s promise for use in rapid charge and discharge devices that require high-power density.

Scanning electron microscope images show an anode of asphalt, graphene nanoribbons and lithium at left and the same material without lithium at right. The material was developed at Rice University and shows promise for high-capacity lithium batteries that charge 20 times faster than commercial lithium-ion batteries

The capacity of these batteries is enormous, but what is equally remarkable is that we can bring them from zero charge to full charge in five minutes, rather than the typical two hours or more needed with other batteries,” Tour said.

The Tour lab previously used a derivative of asphalt — specifically, untreated gilsonite, the same type used for the battery — to capture greenhouse gases from natural gas. This time, the researchers mixed asphalt with conductive graphene nanoribbons and coated the composite with lithium metal through electrochemical deposition. The lab combined the anode with a sulfurized-carbon cathode to make full batteries for testing. The batteries showed a high-power density of 1,322 watts per kilogram and high-energy density of 943 watt-hours per kilogram.

Testing revealed another significant benefit: The carbon mitigated the formation of lithium dendrites. These mossy deposits invade a battery’s electrolyte. If they extend far enough, they short-circuit the anode and cathode and can cause the battery to fail, catch fire or explode. But the asphalt-derived carbon prevents any dendrite formation.

The finding is reported in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano.


Renewable Fuel From Water

Physicists at Lancaster University (in UK) are developing methods of creating renewable fuel from water using quantum technologyRenewable hydrogen can already be produced by photoelectrolysis where solar power is used to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen. But, despite significant research effort over the past four decades, fundamental problems remain before this can be adopted commercially due to inefficiency and lack of cost-effectivenessDr Manus Hayne  from the Department of Physics said: “For research to progress, innovation in both materials development and device design is clearly needed.

The Lancaster study, which formed part of the PhD research of Dr Sam Harrison, and is published in Scientific Reports, provides the basis for further experimental work into the solar production of hydrogen as a renewable fuel. It demonstrates that the novel use of nanostructures could increase the maximum photovoltage generated in a photoelectrochemical cell, increasing the productivity of splitting water molecules.

To the authors’ best knowledge, this system has never been investigated either theoretically or experimentally, and there is huge scope for further work to expand upon the results presented here,” said Dr Haynes. “Fossil-fuel combustion releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing global climate change, and there is only a finite amount of them available for extraction. We clearly need to transition to a renewable and low-greenhouse-gas energy infrastructure, and renewable hydrogen is expected to play an important role.

Fossil fuels accounted for almost 90% of energy consumption in 2015, with absolute demand still increasing due to a growing global population and increasing industrialisationPhotovoltaic solar cells are currently used to convert sunlight directly into electricity but solar hydrogen has the advantage that it is easily stored, so it can be used as and when needed. Hydrogen is also very flexible, making it highly advantageous  for remote communities. It can be converted to electricity in a fuel cell, or burnt in a boiler or cooker just like natural gas. It can even be used to fuel aircraft.


More Durable Fuel Cells For Hydrogen Electric Car

Take a ride on the University of Delaware’s (UDFuel Cell bus, and you see that fuel cells can power vehicles in an eco-friendly way. In just the last two years, Toyota, BMW and Honda have released vehicles that run on fuel cells, and carmakers such as GM, BMW and VW are working on prototypes.  If their power sources lasted longer and cost less, fuel cell vehicles could go mainstream faster. Now, a team of engineers at UD has developed a technology that could make fuel cells cheaper and more durable.

Hydrogen-powered fuel cells are a green alternative to internal combustion engines because they produce power through electrochemical reactions, leaving no pollution behind. Materials called catalysts spur these electrochemical reactions. Platinum is the most common catalyst in the type of fuel cells used in vehicles. However, platinum is expensive — as anyone who’s shopped for jewelry knows. The metal costs around $30,000 per kilogram. Instead, the UD team made a catalyst of tungsten carbide, which goes for around $150 per kilogram. They produced tungsten carbide nanoparticles in a novel way, much smaller and more scalable than previous methods.

The material is typically made at very high temperatures, about 1,500 Celsius, and at these temperatures, it grows big and has little surface area for chemistry to take place on,” explains Vlachos, professor at the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation (UD). “Our approach is one of the first to make nanoscale material of high surface area that can be commercially relevant for catalysis.”

The researchers made tungsten carbide nanoparticles using a series of steps including hydrothermal treatment, separation, reduction, carburization and more. The results are described in a paper published in Nature Communications.


Regular Hydrogen Electric Bus Lines Will Open In 2019

Koningshooikt – Van Hool, the independent Belgian bus, coach and industrial vehicle manufacturer has won a contract in Pau, France, to supply 8 Exqui.Cities, known as “tram-buses“, powered by hydrogen. The use of hydrogen buses is not only a first for France it is also a world first for a full BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system with 18-metre-long articulated tram-buses. This is the first time that hydrogen technology has been integrated as a power source in a tram-bus.

The brand new vehicle is an 18.62 metre-long articulated tram-bus with a 125 passenger capacity and an autonomy of around 300 km. The order of 8 Exqui.Cities will be delivered to the SMTU-PPP (Syndicat Mixte de Transports urbains – Pau Portes des Pyrénées) and the STAP (Société de Transport de l’Agglomération Paloise) in the second half of 2019.

The bus’s power source is an electric hybrid. On the one hand hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2) are converted to electricity in the fuel cell using electrolysis in “real time” and, on the other hand, the lithium batteries and electric motors provide additional power wherever and whenever it is needed. The energy that is released when the vehicle’s brakes are applied is also re-used. The use of this technology results in the 0-emission of greenhouse gases or air polluting substances. The vehicle’s only emission is water vapour.

Additional advantages offered by hydrogen buses include their autonomy of over three hundred kilometres and fast re-fuelling (10 minutes). These buses therefore allow bus companies to reach the highest level of operational flexibility and productivity.