Graphene And Fractals Boost The Solar Power Storage By 3000%

Inspired by an American fern, researchers have developed a groundbreaking prototype that could be the answer to the storage challenge still holding solar back as a total energy solution. The new type of electrode created by RMIT University (Australia) researchers could boost the capacity of existing integrable storage technologies by 3000 per cent. But the graphene-based prototype also opens a new path to the development of flexible thin film all-in-one solar capture and storage, bringing us one step closer to self-powering smart phones, laptops, cars and buildings. The new electrode is designed to work with supercapacitors, which can charge and discharge power much faster than conventional batteries. Supercapacitors have been combined with solar, but their wider use as a storage solution is restricted because of their limited capacity.

RMIT’s Professor Min Gu said the new design drew on nature’s own genius solution to the challenge of filling a space in the most efficient way possible – through intricate self-repeating patterns known as “fractals”.

The leaves of the western swordfern are densely crammed with veins, making them extremely efficient for storing energy and transporting water around the plant,” said Gu, Leader of the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence Nanophotonics at RMIT.

mimicking fern

Our electrode is based on these fractal shapes – which are self-replicating, like the mini structures within snowflakes – and we’ve used this naturally-efficient design to improve solar energy storage at a nano level. “The immediate application is combining this electrode with supercapacitors, as our experiments have shown our prototype can radically increase their storage capacity30 times more than current capacity limits.   “Capacity-boosted supercapacitors would offer both long-term reliability and quick-burst energy release – for when someone wants to use solar energy on a cloudy day for example – making them ideal alternatives for solar power storage.”  Combined with supercapacitors, the fractal-enabled laser-reduced graphene electrodes can hold the stored charge for longer, with minimal leakage.


Electric Power: How To Increase Solar Cells Efficiency

Rice University researchers have demonstrated an efficient new way to capture the energy from sunlight and convert it into clean, renewable energy by splitting water molecules.

Hot elsplitting water Riceectrons have the potential to drive very useful chemical reactions, but they decay very rapidly, and people have struggled to harness their energy,” said lead researcher Isabell Thomann, assistant professor of nanoengineering at Rice. “For example, most of the energy losses in today’s best photovoltaic solar panels are the result of hot electrons that cool within a few trillionths of a second and release their energy as wasted heat.” Capturing these high-energy electrons before they cool could allow solar-energy providers to significantly increase their solar-to-electric power-conversion efficiencies  and reduce  the cost of solar electricity.

In the light-activated nanoparticles studied by Thomann and colleagues at Rice’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP), light is captured and converted into plasmons, waves of electrons that flow like a fluid across the metal surface of the nanoparticles. Plasmons are high-energy states that are short-lived, but researchers at Rice and elsewhere have found ways to capture plasmonic energy and convert it into useful heat or light. Plasmonic nanoparticles also offer one of the most promising means of harnessing the power of hot electrons, and LANP researchers have made progress toward that goal in several recent studies.

Thomann and her team created a system that uses the energy from hot electrons to split molecules of water into oxygen and hydrogen. That’s important because oxygen and hydrogen are the feedstocks for fuel cells, electrochemical devices that produce electricity cleanly and efficiently.

Because of the inherent inefficiencies, we wanted to find a new approach to the problem,” Thomann said. “We took an unconventional approach: Rather than driving off the hot electrons, we designed a system to carry away the electron holes. In effect, our setup acts like a sieve or a membrane. The holes can pass through, but the hot electrons cannot, so they are left available on the surface of the plasmonic nanoparticles.”

The technology, is described online in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters.



Yarns that store and release electrical power

Wearable electronic devices for health and fitness monitoring are a rapidly growing area of consumer electronics; one of their biggest limitations is the capacity of their tiny batteries to deliver enough power to transmit data. Now, researchers at MIT and in Canada have found a promising new approach to delivering the short but intense bursts of power needed by such small devices. The key is a new approach to making supercapacitors — devices that can store and release electrical power in such bursts, which are needed for brief transmissions of data from wearable devices such as heart-rate monitors, computers, or smartphones, the researchers say. They may also be useful for other applications where high power is needed in small volumes, such as autonomous microrobots.

The new approach uses yarns, made from nanowires of the element niobium, as the electrodes in tiny supercapacitors (which are essentially pairs of electrically conducting fibers with an insulator between). The concept is described in a paper in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces by MIT professor of mechanical engineering Ian W. Hunter, doctoral student Seyed M. Mirvakili, and three others at the University of British Columbia.

Nanotechnology researchers have been working to increase the performance of supercapacitors for the past decade. Among nanomaterials, carbon-based nanoparticles — such as carbon nanotubes and graphene — have shown promising results, but they suffer from relatively low electrical conductivity, Mirvakili says.

In this new work, he and his colleagues have shown that desirable characteristics for such devices, such as high power density, are not unique to carbon-based nanoparticles, and that niobium nanowire yarn is a promising an alternative.

MIT-Nanowires-1Yarn made of niobium nanowires, seen here in a scanning electron microscope image (background), can be used to make very efficient supercapacitors, MIT researchers have found. Adding a coating of a conductive polymer to the yarn (shown in pink, inset) further increases the capacitor’s charge capacity. Positive and negative ions in the material are depicted as blue and red spheres.

Imagine you’ve got some kind of wearable health-monitoring system,” Hunter says, “and it needs to broadcast data, for example using Wi-Fi, over a long distance.” At the moment, the coin-sized batteries used in many small electronic devices have very limited ability to deliver a lot of power at once, which is what such data transmissions need.

Long-distance Wi-Fi requires a fair amount of power,” says Hunter, the George N. Hatsopoulos Professor in Thermodynamics in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, “but it may not be needed for very long.” Small batteries are generally poorly suited for such power needs, he adds.

We know it’s a problem experienced by a number of companies in the health-monitoring or exercise-monitoring space. So an alternative is to go to a combination of a battery and a capacitor,” Hunter says: the battery for long-term, low-power functions, and the capacitor for short bursts of high power. Such a combination should be able to either increase the range of the device, or — perhaps more important in the marketplace — to significantly reduce size requirements.


Electric Car: Water Is The Future Fuel

Canadelectrochim, a non profit research and development Canadian company, have discovered a new non-platinum and nano-sized catalyst for the fuel cell based on Mother Nature which mimics the plant leaf.  The Polymer electrolyte membrane or proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) as an optimal solution for the future energy economy.
hydrogen fuel cellsThe PEMFC, where chemical energy is directly converted to electrical energy, provides a highly efficient alternative to a standard internal combustion engine. High power density, clean emissions (water), low temperature operation, rapid start-up and shutdown, and ability to use fuels from renewable sources are several reason why fuel cells such as PEMFC have attracted attention for large market applications, such as transportation. With these unique features, PEMFC will revolutionize the future energy economy.
PEMFC will indirectly make water our future fuel. Hydrogen and oxygen generated by splitting water using photosynthesis can be used as a fuel for PEMFC. PEMFC are leading candidates to power the space shuttle and other mobile applications even down to mobile phones, however, there are still some important issues that must be resolved in order for PEMFC to be commercially competitive. It is known that splitting a hydrogen molecule at the anode of fuel cell using platinum is relatively easy. Unfortunately however, splitting the oxygen molecule at the cathode of fuel cell (oxygen reduction reaction (, ORR)) is more difficult and this causes significant polarization losses (lowers efficiency of the fuel cell). An appropriate catalyst for this process has not been discovered and as of yet platinum is the best option. In the direction of operating the fuel cell using a cost effective and non-platinum based catalyst, is the work of Canadelectrochim.


Revolution In The Solar Industry

Why is silicone dominating in the solar industry? For one, it's an abundant material, coming from sand. Out of the different types of silicone used, the end results can create cells with efficiencies of up to 20 percent, claiming around $1 to $1.10 per watt. Others are pursuing thin-film technologies, which have much lower cost structures of around 70 to 80 cents per watt, but only exude efficiencies of around 10 to 13 percent. Other manufacturers have played around with other ideas like organic photovoltaics, but have yet to reach stable efficiencies at a low enough cost.

Meanwhile, a small team of experts who have been watching the market and landscape of the solar industry since its early beginnings have come together to develop a revolutionary idea. Using nanostructure-based coatings, Magnolia Solar, an American company  located in Albany -New-York, is working on a concept that would allow for the full absorption of all light, boasting efficiencies of 15 to 20 percent as low as 50 cents per watt—the lowest on the market. NASA, the US Air Force and the National Science Foundation have already begun funding the research and pilot programs pushing this unique concept. Though similar technologies are used for defense applications, Magnolia's mission is to bring it into the commercial market by developing them more at significantly lower costs.