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.


Three-Wheeled Electric Vehicle

This three-wheeled vehicle is the culmination of 10 years of work For Mark Frohnmayer. It’s the Arcimoto SRK — an all-electric commuter vehicle retailing at a base price of $12,000 — and Frohnmayer hopes his first customers will have them in their driveways by the end of summer.


“I thought, you know, if we can build something that was much closer to the motorcycle in terms of efficiency and fun factor and, you know, footprint on the road but was close to the car in terms of capabilities and enclosable and carries groceries and stable, that we’d have a real product opportunity that the world has been missing for a long time,” says Mark Frohnmayer, Founder and President of Arcimoto SRK.

Frohnmayer built seven generations of prototypes with regular car steering wheels. His breakthrough moment came when he replaced the steering wheel with motorcycle handlebars.

By switching to handlebar steering, we were able to move the passengers into a more upright seating position like you’d have on a city scooter and that let us shorten the vehicle by almost two feet and drop hundreds of pounds — almost 600 pounds — of weight between generations 6 or generation 7 and generation 8 and that moved us way beyond our actual weight target and let us drop the cost to a point where it was actually going to be in the sweet spot that we were aiming for”, explains Frohnmayer.

The SRK can reach 85 mph (137 km/h) and has a range of 70 miles (113 km). It has an equivalent fuel consumption of 230 MPG”, the company says.
Arcimoto has already taken 1,500 reservations and hopes it’s just the beginning. Frohnmayer believes his small cars will soon have a big impact in the fight against climate change – offering commuters a sustainable and eco-friendly option to get to work.


Self-Healing Lithium-Ion Batteries

Researchers at the University of Illinois have found a way to apply self-healing technology to lithium-ion batteries to make them more reliable and last longer.

The group developed a battery that uses a silicon nanoparticle composite material on the negatively charged side of the battery and a novel way to hold the composite together – a known problem with batteries that contain silicon.

Materials science and engineering professor Nancy Sottos and aerospace engineering professor Scott White led the study published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials.

“This work is particularly new to self-healing materials research because it is applied to materials that store energy,” White said. “It’s a different type of objective altogether. Instead of recovering structural performance, we’re healing the ability to store energy.”

The negatively charged electrode, or anode, inside the lithium-ion batteries that power our portable devices and electric cars are typically made of a graphite particle composite. These batteries work well, but it takes a long time for them to power up, and over time, the charge does not last as long as it did when the batteries were new.

Silicon has such a high capacity, and with that high capacity, you get more energy out of your battery, except it also undergoes a huge volume expansion as it cycles and self-pulverizes,” Sottos explained.

Past research found that battery anodes made from nanosized silicon particles are less likely to break down, but suffer from other problems.

You go through the charge-discharge cycle once, twice, three times, and eventually you lose capacity because the silicon particles start to break away from the binder,” White said.

To combat this problem, the group further refined the silicon anode by giving it the ability to fix itself on the fly. This self-healing happens through a reversible chemical bond at the interface between the silicon nanoparticles and polymer binder.


Bubbles And The Future Of Electric Cars

With about three times the energy capacity by weight of today’s lithium-ion batteries, lithium-air batteries could one day enable electric cars to drive farther on a single charge. But the technology has several holdups, including losing energy as it stores and releases its charge. If researchers could better understand the basic reactions that occur as the battery charges and discharges electricity, the battery’s performance could be improved. One reaction that hasn’t been fully explained is how oxygen blows bubbles inside a lithium-air battery when it discharges. The bubbles expand the battery and create wear and tear that can cause it to fail.

A paper in Nature Nanotechnology provides the first step-by-step explanation of how lithium-air batteries form bubbles. The research was aided by a first-of-a-kind video that shows bubbles inflating and later deflating inside a nanobattery. Researchers had previously only seen the bubbles, but not how they were created.

If we fully understand the bubble formation process, we could build better lithium-air batteries that create fewer bubbles,” noted the paper’s corresponding author, Chongmin Wang, of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). “The result could be more compact and stable batteries that hold onto their charge longer.”

Wang works out of EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE Office of Science user facility located at PNNL. His co-authors include other PNNL staff and a researcher from Tianjin Polytechnic University in China.

The team’s unique video may be a silent black-and-white film, but it provides plenty of action. Popping out from the battery’s flat surface is a grey bubble that grows bigger and bigger. Later, the bubble deflates, the top turning inside of itself until only a scrunched-up shell is left behind.

The popcorn-worthy flick was captured with an in-situ environmental transmission electron microscope at EMSL. Wang and his colleagues built their tiny battery inside the microscope’s column. This enabled them to watch as the battery charged and discharged inside.

Video evidence led the team to propose that as the battery discharges, a sphere of lithium superoxide jets out from the battery’s positive electrode and becomes coated with lithium oxide. The sphere’s superoxide interior then goes through a chemical reaction that forms lithium peroxide and oxygen. Oxygen gas is released and inflates the bubble. When the battery charges, lithium peroxide decomposes, and leaves the former bubble to look like a deflated balloon.



New Technique Identifies Cancer In Urine Or Blood

A team of researchers, led by Professor Yoon-Kyoung Cho of Life Science at UNIST  (South Korea) has recently developed a new technique that effectively identifies cancer-causing substances in the urine or blood.

In the study, Professor Yoon-Kyoung Cho of Life Science, a group leader at IBS Research Center for Soft and Living Matter (CSLM) presented an integrated centrifugal microfluidic platform (Exodisc), a device that isolates extracellular vesicles (EVs) from urine.  The research team expects that this may be potentially useful in clinical settings to test urinary EV-based biomarkers for cancer diagnostics.

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are cell-derived nanovesicles (40-1000 nm in size), present in almost all types of body fluids, which play a vital role in intercellular communication and are involved in the transport of biological signals for regulating diverse cellular functions. Despite the increasing clinical importance of EVs as potential biomarkers in the diagnosis and prognosis of various diseases, current methods of EV isolation and analysis suffer from complicated procedures with long processing times. For instance, even ultracentrifugation (UC), the most commonly used method for EV isolation, requires time-consuming steps involving centrifugation and acquisition of large sample volumes, and the results suffer from low yield and purity.

To overcome these limitations, Professor Cho presented a new lab-on-a-disc platform for rapid, size-selective, and efficient isolation and analysis of nanoscale EVs from raw biological samples, such as cell-culture supernatant (CCS) or cancer-patient urine.


The Exodisc is compoased of two independent filteration units (20nm and 600nm in size) within a disk-shaped chip to enable the processing of two different samples simulateously,” says Hyun-Kyung Woo (Combined M.S./Ph.D. student of Natural Science), the first author of the study. “Upon spinning the disc, the urine sample is transferred through two integrated nanofilters, allowing for the enrichment of unirary EVs within the size range of 20 to 600 nm.”
Using Exodisc, it is possible to isolate EVs from raw samples within 30 minutes,” says Professor Cho. “The process of passing the filter through centrifugal force is automatically carried out, effectively recovering the enriched EVs.”

On-disc ELISA using urinary EVs isolated from bladder cancer patients showed high levels of CD9 and CD81 expression, suggesting that this method may be potentially useful in clinical settings to test urinary EV-based biomarkers for cancer diagnostics,” explains Vijaya Sunkara of Life Sciences, the co-first author.
The results of the study has been published in the February issue of ACS Nano journal.


Hydrogen Electric Car: New Storage System

Lawrence Livermore scientists have collaborated with an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including colleagues from Sandia National Laboratories, to develop an efficient hydrogen storage system that could be a boon for hydrogen-powered vehicles.

hydrogen lithiumHydrogenation forms a mixture of lithium amide and hydride (light blue) as an outer shell around a lithium nitride particle (dark blue) nanoconfined in carbon

Hydrogen is an excellent energy carrier, but the development of lightweight solid-state materials for compact, low-pressure storage is a huge challenge. Complex metal hydrides are a promising class of hydrogen storage materials, but their viability is usually limited by slow hydrogen uptake and release. Nanoconfinementinfiltrating the metal hydride within a matrix of another material such as carbon — can, in certain instances, help make this process faster by shortening diffusion pathways for hydrogen or by changing the thermodynamic stability of the material.

However, the Livermore-Sandia team, in conjunction with collaborators from Mahidol University in Thailand and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, showed that nanoconfinement can have another, potentially more important consequence. They found that the presence of internal “nano-interfaces” within nanoconfined hydrides can alter which phases appear when the material is cycled.

The key is to get rid of the undesirable intermediate phases, which slow down the material’s performance as they are formed or consumed. If you can do that, then the storage capacity kinetics dramatically improve and the thermodynamic requirements to achieve full recharge become far more reasonable,” said Brandon Wood, an LLNL materials scientist and lead author of the paper. “In this material, the nano-interfaces do just that, as long as the nanoconfined particles are small enough. It’s really a new paradigm for hydrogen storage, since it means that the reactions can be changed by engineering internal microstructures.”

The research is reported  in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces


First Driverless Electric Bus Line Opened In Paris

Shuttling their way to a greener city. Paris opening its first driverless buses to the public on Monday. Fully electric and fully autonomous, the ‘EZ 10‘ transports up to 10 passengers across the Seine between two main stations. The buses use laser sensors to analyse their surroundings on the road and for now they don’t have to share it with any other vehicles.


“Fewer people come on board, its slower, its electric, it doesn’t pollute and it can be stored away more easily but it will never replace a traditional bus“, says Jose Gomes, who has been driving buses here for 26 years. He’ll oversee the smooth operation of the autonomous bus.

The shuttles come as Paris faces high pollution levels. City mayor Anna Hidalgo wants to reduce the number of cars, while authorities crack down on traffic restrictions. It may be a short 130m stretch for the buses but for Paris, it’s a big step towards promoting cleaner transport.


Electric Motorbike Round-The-World Trip

80-day round-the-world trips aren’t new – but using an electric motorbike built from scratch by students on them certainly is. Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands) riders drove up to 500 kilometres a day on their self-constructed Storm Wave bike, relying entirely on battery power. Other students rode behind in a bus, with one change of driver and battery swap per day.

Storm electric motorcycleCLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENJOY THE VIDEO

With a full pack you can ride 400 kilometres on one single charge. But during our tour we had to drive more, so we had to re-energise quickly. So we just took the empty ones out, replaced them with charged ones, and we could ride again,” says Bas Verkaik, Spokeperson for Storm Eindhoven.  Key to the Storm Wave is its unique modular system of 24 individual batteries. This helped ease navigation of difficult roads in countries like Turkmenistan and Uzbekhistan.

When we faced those bad roads we just took, for example half of the batteries out, we have a lighter motorcycle, lower centre of gravity, which makes it easier to handle,” comments Bas Verkaik. Storm Wave also contains a gearbox, unusual for an electric motorcycle, but allowing greater acceleration and efficiency at high speeds.

The misconceptions people have about electric vehicles is that either they’re slow or they don’t have enough power or they can’t drive fast or far enough. With our motorcycle it can go from zero to 100 (kilometres per hour) in under five seconds, and probably could go even faster if we changed some specs… I think it looks pretty nice. That’s also a misconception that people have, that electric vehicles have to be futuristic and they don’t like the design, but I’ve only heard good things about this motorcycle” , explains Storm Wave driver Yorick Heidema.

The 23 students returned home in November after receiving huge interest in cities they drove through. They say they’ve showed the world that long-distance electric vehicle travel isn’t just feasible, but cool too.


The Rise Of The Hydrogen Electric Car

Right now, if you want an alternative-fuel vehicle, you have to pick from offerings that either require gasoline or an electrical outlet. The gas-electric hybrid and the battery-powered car — your Toyota Priuses, Chevy Volts, and Teslas — are staples in this space. There are drawbacks for drivers of both types. You still have to buy gas for your hybrid and you have to plug in your Tesla — sometimes under less than favorable conditions — lest you be stranded someplace far away from a suitable plug. Beyond that, automakers have been out to find the next viable energy source. Plug-in vehicles are more or less proven to be the answer, but Toyota and a handful of other carmakers are investigating hydrogen.


That’s where the Toyota Mirai comes in. The Mirai‘s interior center stack has all the technology you would expect from a car that retails for $57,500, including navigation, Bluetooth, and USB connectivity. It’s all accessible by touch screens and robust digital displays.
A fill-up on hydrogen costs just about as much as regular gasoline in San Francisco. The Mirai gets an estimated 67 MPGe (67 Miles per gallon gasoline equivalent = 28,5 kilometers per liter)), according to Toyota.
It’s an ambitious project for Toyota because the fueling infrastructure for this car is minimal. There are only 33 public hydrogen-filling stations in the US, according to the US Department of Energy. Twenty-six of those stations are in California, and there’s one each in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina.

If you include public and private hydrogen stations, then the total climbs to 58 — nationwide. Compare that to the more than 15,100 public electric-charging stations and the 168,000 retail gas stations in the US, and you can see the obvious drawback of hydrogen-powered cars. Despite this, the Mirai is an interesting project, and you must keep in mind that Japan at the Government level seems to bet on a massively hydrogen powered economy in the near future (fuel, heating, replacement of nuclear energy, trains, electric vehicles, etc…).


How To Store Hydrogen Fuel In Electric Cars

Layers of graphene separated by nanotube pillars of boron nitride may be a suitable material to store hydrogen fuel in cars, according to Rice University scientists. The Department of Energy has set benchmarks for storage materials that would make hydrogen a practical fuel for light-duty vehicles. The Rice lab of materials scientist Rouzbeh Shahsavari determined in a new computational study that pillared boron nitride and graphene could be a candidate.

hydrogenSimulations by Rice scientists show that pillared graphene boron nitride may be a suitable storage medium for hydrogen-powered vehicles. Above, the pink (boron) and blue (nitrogen) pillars serve as spacers for carbon graphene sheets (grey). The researchers showed the material worked best when doped with oxygen atoms (red), which enhanced its ability to adsorb and desorb hydrogen (white).


Just as pillars in a building make space between floors for people, pillars in boron nitride graphene make space for hydrogen atoms. The challenge is to make them enter and stay in sufficient numbers and exit upon demand.Shahsavari’s lab had already determined through computer models how tough and resilient pillared graphene structures would be, and later worked boron nitride nanotubes into the mix to model a unique three-dimensional architecture. (Samples of boron nitride nanotubes seamlessly bonded to graphene have been made.)

In their latest molecular dynamics simulations, the researchers found that either pillared graphene or pillared boron nitride graphene would offer abundant surface area (about 2,547 square meters per gram) with good recyclable properties under ambient conditions. Their models showed adding oxygen or lithium to the materials would make them even better at binding hydrogen. They focused the simulations on four variants: pillared structures of boron nitride or pillared boron nitride graphene doped with either oxygen or lithium. At room temperature and in ambient pressure, oxygen-doped boron nitride graphene proved the best, holding 11.6 percent of its weight in hydrogen (its gravimetric capacity) and about 60 grams per liter (its volumetric capacity); it easily beat competing technologies like porous boron nitride, metal oxide frameworks and carbon nanotubes.

The study by Shahsavari and Farzaneh Shayeganfar appears in the American Chemical Society journal Langmuir.


Electric Car: Graphene Is The Next Revolution

Henrik Fisker, the famed automotive designer known for his work on iconic vehicles such as the Aston Martin DB9, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and the BMW Z8, did not do well in an electric car venture that he launched in 2007. Fisker Automotive was a rival to Tesla Motors in the early days of the electric car industry, but it was not able to deliver its promised vehicles and had to declare bankruptcy in 2013. However, it seems that Fisker has not pushed electric cars out of his mind, as it was recently reported that he is returning to the electric vehicle scene with a new company named Fisker Inc. that will be taking form next year.

With rival Tesla Motors now the perceived leader in the industry, Fisker Inc. is looking to make a splash. It seems that the new company would be able to do so, as Fisker revealed that instead of the traditional lithium-ion batteries, Fisker Inc. vehicles will be powered by a new kind of battery known as graphene supercapacitors.


It was earlier reported that the luxury electric car that Fisker Inc. is working on will have a full-charge range that will reach over 400 miles, which is significant because the longest range that Tesla Motors offers through its vehicles is 315 miles on the high-end version of the Model S. The 400-mile range is said to be made possible by the usage of graphene in electric car batteries, with the technology being referred to by Fisker as the “next big step” in the industry.

According to Michigan Technological University assistant professor Lucia Gauchia, graphene has a higher electron mobility and presents a higher active surface, which are characteristics that lead to faster charging times and expanded energy storage, respectively, when used for batteries.

Graphene, however, has so far been associated with high production costs. Fisker is looking to solve that problem and mass produce graphene through a machine that his battery division, named Fisker Nanotech, is looking to have patented. Through the machine, 1,000 kilograms of graphene can be produced at a cost of just 10 cents per gram.

Our battery technology is so much better than anything out there,” Fisker said, amid the many improvements that his company has made on the material’s application to electric car batteries.

Fisker also said that the first Fisker Inc. electric car is being planned to be unveiled in the second half of next year. The luxury electric vehicle will only have limited production, and will be in the price range of the higher-end models of the Model S. However, Fisker said that he will then be producing consumer-friendly electric vehicles that will be even cheaper compared with the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevrolet Bolt, following the footsteps of its rival.