Scalable Catalyst Produces Cheap Pure Hydrogen

The “clean-energy economy” always seems a few steps away but never quite here. Fossil fuels still power transportation, heating and cooling, and manufacturing, but a team of scientists from Penn State and Florida State University have come one step closer to inexpensive, clean hydrogen fuel with a lower cost and industrially scalable catalyst that produces pure hydrogen through a low-energy water-splitting process.

Hydrogen fuel cells can boost a clean-energy economy not only in the transportation sector, where fast fueling and vehicle range outpace battery-powered vehicles, but also to store electrical energy produced by solar and wind. This research is another step forward to reaching that goal.
Energy is the most important issue of our time, and for energy, fuel cells are crucially important, and then for fuel cells, hydrogen is most important,” said Yu Lei, Penn State doctoral student and first author of an ACS Nano paper describing the water-splitting catalyst she and her colleagues theoretically predicted and then synthesized in the lab. “People have been searching for a good catalyst that can efficiently split water into hydrogen and oxygen. During this process, there will be no side products that are not environmentally friendly.”

The current industrial method of producing hydrogen — steam reforming of methane — results in the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Other methods use waste heat, from sources such as advanced nuclear power plants or concentrated solar power, both of which face technical challenges for commercial feasibility. Another industrial process uses platinum as the catalyst to drive the water-splitting process. Although platinum is a near-perfect catalyst, it is also expensive. A cheaper catalyst could make hydrogen a reasonable alternative to fossil fuels in transportation, and power fuel cells for energy storage applications.

Molybdenum disulfide has been predicted as a possible replacement for platinum, because the Gibbs free energy for hydrogen absorption is close to zero,” said Mauricio Terrones, professor of physics, materials science and engineering, and chemistry, Penn State. The lower the Gibbs free energy, the less external energy has to be applied to produce a chemical reaction.


The Rise Of The Cyborg

Researchers from UCLA and the University of Connecticut have designed a new biofriendly energy storage system called a biological supercapacitor, which operates using charged particles, or ions, from fluids in the human body. The device is harmless to the body’s biological systems, and it could lead to longer-lasting cardiac pacemakers and other implantable medical devices like artificial heart.

The UCLA team was led by Richard Kaner, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and of materials science and engineering, and the Connecticut researchers were led by James Rusling, a professor of chemistry and cell biology. A paper about their design was published this week in the journal Advanced Energy Materials.

Pacemakers — which help regulate abnormal heart rhythms — and other implantable devices have saved countless lives. But they’re powered by traditional batteries that eventually run out of power and must be replaced, meaning another painful surgery and the accompanying risk of infection. In addition, batteries contain toxic materials that could endanger the patient if they leak.

The researchers propose storing energy in those devices without a battery. The supercapacitor they invented charges using electrolytes from biological fluids like blood serum and urine, and it would work with another device called an energy harvester, which converts heat and motion from the human body into electricity — in much the same way that self-winding watches are powered by the wearer’s body movements. That electricity is then captured by the supercapacitor.

Combining energy harvesters with supercapacitors can provide endless power for lifelong implantable devices that may never need to be replaced,” said Maher El-Kady, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher and a co-author of the study.


NonCarbon SuperCapacitor Produces More Power

Energy storage devices called supercapacitors have become a hot area of research, in part because they can be charged rapidly and deliver intense bursts of power. However, all supercapacitors currently use components made of carbon, which require high temperatures and harsh chemicals to produce. Now researchers at MIT and elsewhere have for the first time developed a supercapacitor that uses no conductive carbon at all, and that could potentially produce more power than existing versions of this technology.


We’ve found an entirely new class of materials for supercapacitors,” Dincă says.

Dincă and his team have been exploring for years a class of materials called metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs, which are extremely porous, sponge-like structures. These materials have an extraordinarily large surface area for their size, much greater than the carbon materials do. That is an essential characteristic for supercapacitors, whose performance depends on their surface area. But MOFs have a major drawback for such applications: They are not very electrically conductive, which is also an essential property for a material used in a capacitor.

One of our long-term goals was to make these materials electrically conductive,” Dincă says, even though doing so “was thought to be extremely difficult, if not impossible.” But the material did exhibit another needed characteristic for such electrodes, which is that it conducts ions (atoms or molecules that carry a net electric charge) very well.

All double-layer supercapacitors today are made from carbon,” Dincă says. “They use carbon nanotubes, graphene, activated carbon, all shapes and forms, but nothing else besides carbon. So this is the first noncarbon, electrical double-layer supercapacitor.”

The team’s findings are being reported in the journal Nature Materials, in a paper by Mircea Dincă, an MIT associate professor of chemistry; Yang Shao-Horn, the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy; and four others.


Super Capacitor for NanoComputer

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland developed an extremely efficient small-size energy storage, a micro-supercapacitor, which can be integrated directly inside a silicon microcircuit chip. The high energy and power density of the miniaturized energy storage relies on the new hybrid nanomaterial developed recently at VTT. This technology opens new possibilities for integrated mobile devices and paves the way for zero-power autonomous devices required for the future Internet of Things (IoT).

Supercapacitors resemble electrochemical batteries. However, in contrast to for example mobile phone lithium ion batteries, which utilize chemical reactions to store energy, supercapacitors store mainly electrostatic energy that is bound at the interface between liquid and solid electrodes. Similarly to batteries supercapacitors are typically discrete devices with large variety of use cases from small electronic gadgets to the large energy storages of electrical vehicles.

The energy and power density of a supercapacitor depends on the surface area and conductivity of the solid electrodes. VTT‘s research group has developed a hybrid nanomaterial electrode, which consists of porous silicon coated with a few nanometre thick titanium nitride layer by atomic layer deposition (ALD). This approach leads to a record large conductive surface in a small volume. Inclusion of ionic liquid in a micro channel formed in between two hybrid electrodes results in extremely small and efficient energy storage.
nano capacitor 2

The new supercapacitor has excellent performance. For the first time, silicon based micro-supercapacitor competes with the leading carbon and graphene based devices in power, energy and durability.

Micro-supercapacitors can be integrated directly with active microelectronic devices to store electrical energy generated by different thermal, light and vibration energy harvesters and to supply the electrical energy when needed. This is important for autonomous sensor networks, wearable electronics and mobile electronics of the IoT.

VTT‘s research group takes the integration to the extreme by integrating the new nanomaterial micro-supercapacitor energy storage directly inside a silicon chip. The demonstrated in-chip supercapacitor technology enables storing energy of as much as 0.2 joule and impressive power generation of 2 watts on a one square centimetre silicon chip. At the same time it leaves the surface of the chip available for active integrated microcircuits and sensors.

VTT is currently seeking a party interested in commercializing the technique.


How To Store Electricity In Paper

Researchers at Linköping University’s Laboratory of Organic Electronics, Sweden, have developed power paper – a new material with an outstanding ability to store energy. The material consists of nanocellulose and a conductive polymer.

One sheet, 15 centimetres in diameter and a few tenths of a millimetre thick can store as much as 1 F, which is similar to the supercapacitors currently on the market. The material can be recharged hundreds of times and each charge only takes a few seconds.

It’s a dream product in a world where the increased use of renewable energy requires new methods for energy storage – from summer to winter, from a windy day to a calm one, from a sunny day to one with heavy cloud cover.


Thin films that function as capacitors have existed for some time. What we have done is to produce the material in three dimensions. We can produce thick sheets,” says Xavier Crispin, professor of organic electronics and co-author to the article just published in Advanced Science.

The material, power paper, looks and feels like a slightly plasticky paper and the researchers have amused themselves by using one piece to make an origami swan – which gives an indication of its strength.

The structural foundation of the material is nanocellulose, which is cellulose fibres which, using high-pressure water, are broken down into fibres as thin as 20 nm in diameter. With the cellulose fibres in a solution of water, an electrically charged polymer (PEDOT:PSS), also in a water solution, is added. The polymer then forms a thin coating around the fibres.

The covered fibres are in tangles, where the liquid in the spaces between them functions as an electrolyte,” explains Jesper Edberg, doctoral student, who conducted the experiments together with Abdellah Malti, who recently completed his doctorate. Other co-authors are researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Innventia, Technical University of Denmark and the University of Kentucky.

The results have been published in Advanced Science.


Energy From Trees Can Power Everything

Researchers Emily Cranston and Igor Zhitomirsky from the Faculty of Engineering at McMaster University (Canada)  are turning trees into energy storage devices capable of powering everything from a smart watch to a hybrid car.

The scientists are using cellulose, an organic compound found in plants, bacteria, algae and trees, to build more efficient and longer-lasting energy storage devices or capacitors. This development paves the way toward the production of lightweight, flexible, and high-power electronics, such as wearable devices, portable power supplies and hybrid and electric vehicles.

treesUltimately the goal of this research is to find ways to power current and future technology with efficiency and in a sustainable way,” says Cranston, whose joint research was recently published in Advanced Materials.This means anticipating future technology needs and relying on materials that are more environmentally friendly and not based on depleting resources“.

Cellulose offers the advantages of high strength and flexibility for many advanced applications; of particular interest are nanocellulose-based materials. The work by Cranston, an assistant chemical engineering professor, and Zhitomirsky, a materials science and engineering professor, demonstrates an improved three-dimensional energy storage device constructed by trapping functional nanoparticles within the walls of a nanocellulose foam.


How To Store Solar Energy Up To Several Weeks

The materials in most of today’s residential rooftop solar panels can store energy from the sun for only a few microseconds at a time. A new technology developed by chemists at UCLA is capable of storing solar energy for up to several weeks — an advance that could change the way scientists think about designing solar cells.

The new design is inspired by the way that plants generate energy through photosynthesis.
bundle of polymers

The scientists devised a new arrangement of solar cell ingredients, with bundles of polymer donors (green rods) and neatly organized fullerene acceptors (purple, tan).
Biology does a very good job of creating energy from sunlight,” said Sarah Tolbert, a UCLA professor of chemistry and one of the senior authors of the research. “Plants do this through photosynthesis with extremely high efficiency.” “In photosynthesis, plants that are exposed to sunlight use carefully organized nanoscale structures within their cells to rapidly separate charges — pulling electrons away from the positively charged molecule that is left behind, and keeping positive and negative charges separated,” Tolbert said. “That separation is the key to making the process so efficient.

To capture energy from sunlight, conventional rooftop solar cells use silicon, a fairly expensive material.  There is currently a big push to make lower-cost solar cells using plastics, rather than silicon, but today’s plastic solar cells are relatively inefficient, in large part because the separated positive and negative electric charges often recombine before they can become electrical energy.

Modern plastic solar cells don’t have well-defined structures like plants do because we never knew how to make them before,” Tolbert said. “But this new system pulls charges apart and keeps them separated for days, or even weeks. Once you make the right structure, you can vastly improve the retention of energy.”

The findings are published June 19 in the journal Science.



How To Boost Battery Performance

Stanford University scientists have created a new carbon material that significantly boosts the performance of energy-storage technologies.
A new ”designer carbon” invented by Stanford scientists significantly improved the power-delivery rate of this supercapacitor

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 findings are featured on the cover of the journal ACS Central Science.


Hydrogen Catalysts Efficient After Twenty-Thousand Cycles

Rice University scientists who want to gain an edge in energy production and storage report they have found it in molybdenum disulfide. The Rice lab of chemist James Tour has turned molybdenum disulfide’s two-dimensional form into a nanoporous film that can catalyze the production of hydrogen or be used for energy storage. The versatile chemical compound classified as a dichalcogenide is inert along its flat sides, but previous studies determined the material’s edges are highly efficient catalysts for hydrogen evolution reaction (HER), a process used in fuel cells to pull hydrogen from water.
Tour and his colleagues have found a cost-effective way to create flexible films of the material that maximize the amount of exposed edge and have potential for a variety of energy-oriented applications. Molybdenum disulfide isn’t quite as flat as graphene, the atom-thick form of pure carbon, because it contains both molybdenum and sulfur atoms. When viewed from above, it looks like graphene, with rows of ordered hexagons.

thin filmThe Rice lab built supercapacitors with thin films; in tests, they retained 90 percent of their capacity after 10,000 charge-discharge cycles and 83 percent after 20,000 cycles.

So much of chemistry occurs at the edges of materials,” said Tour. “A two-dimensional material is like a sheet of paper: a large plain with very little edge. But our material is highly porous. What we see in the images are short, 5- to 6-nanometer planes and a lot of edge, as though the material had bore holes drilled all the way through.”

The Rice research appears in the journal Advanced Materials.


Cigarette Butts Better Than Graphene To Store Energy

A group of scientists from South Korea have converted cigarette butts into a high-performing material that could be integrated into computers, handheld devices, electrical vehicles and wind turbines to store energy. Presenting their findings today, 5 August 2014, in IOP Publishing’s journal Nanotechnology, the researchers have demonstrated the material’s superior performance compared to commercially available carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes. It is hoped the material can be used to coat the electrodes of supercapacitors electrochemical components that can store extremely large amounts of electrical energy – while also offering a solution to the growing environmental problem caused by used cigarette filters. It is estimated that as many as 5.6 trillion cigarette butts (equivalent to 766 571 metric tons), are deposited into the environment worldwide every year.

cigarette buttsOur 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 to meeting the energy demands of society“, said co-author of the study Professor Jongheop Yi, from Seoul National University. “Numerous countries are developing strict regulations to avoid the trillions of toxic and non-biodegradable used cigarette filters that are disposed of into the environment each year; our method is just one way of achieving this.”


Salt, Key Element To Mass Production Of Nanostructures

Chemists at Oregon State University have identified that salt could significantly reduce the cost and potentially enable the mass commercial production of silicon nanostructures – materials that have huge potential in everything from electronics to biomedicine and energy storage. Simple sodium chloride, most frequently found in a salt shaker, has the ability to solve a key problem in the production of silicon nanostructures, researchers just announced in Scientific Reports, a professional journal. By melting and absorbing heat at a critical moment during a “magnesiothermic reaction,” the salt prevents the collapse of the valuable nanostructures that researchers are trying to create. The molten salt can then be washed away by dissolving it in water, and it can be recycled and used again.

silicon nanostructure 2

This could be what it takes to open up an important new industry,” said David Xiulei Ji, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science. “There are methods now to create silicon nanostructures, but they are very costly and can only produce tiny amounts“. “The use of salt as a heat scavenger in this process should allow the production of high-quality silicon nanostructures in large quantities at low cost,” he said. “If we can get the cost low enough many new applications may emerge.”

Solar Energy Nano Flowers

Researchers from North Carolina State University have created flower-like structures out of germanium sulfide (GeS) – a semiconductor material – that have extremely thin petals with an enormous surface area. The GeS flower holds promise for next-generation energy storage devices and solar cells.

Creating these GeS nanoflowers is exciting because it gives us a huge surface area in a small amount of space,” says Dr. Linyou Cao, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper on the research. “This could significantly increase the capacity of lithium-ion batteries, for instance, since the thinner structure with larger surface area can hold more lithium ions. By the same token, this GeS flower structure could lead to increased capacity for supercapacitors, which are also used for energy storage.