Tag Archives: electric vehicles

Wearable technologies, electric vehicles and conundrums at Wollongong University (Australia)

A July 25, 2015 news item on Nanowerk announces research at the University of Wollongong designed to address a conundrum (Note: A link has been removed),

UOW’s Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials (ISEM) has successfully pioneered a way to construct a flexible, foldable and lightweight energy storage device that provides the building blocks for next-generation batteries needed to power wearable electronics and implantable medical devices (ACS Central Science, “Self-Assembled Multifunctional Hybrids: Toward Developing High-Performance Graphene-Based Architectures for Energy Storage Devices”).

The conundrum researchers have faced in developing miniature energy storage devices, such as batteries and supercapacitors, has been figuring out how to increase the surface area of the device, to store more charge, without making it larger.

A July 27, 2015 University of Wollongong news release by Grant Reynolds, which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail,

To solve this problem, a team of PhD students, led by Dr Konstantin Konstantinov under the patronage of ISEM Director Professor Shi Xue Dou and with the support of Professor Hua Kun Liu, the head of ISEM Energy Storage Division, have developed a three-dimensional structure using a flat-pack self-assembly of three components: graphene, a conductive polymer and carbon nanotubes, which are atom-thick lattice-like networks of carbon formed into cylinders.

Graphene, made from single atom-thick layers of graphite, was a suitable candidate due its electronic performance and mechanical strength.

“We knew in theory that if you can make a sort of carbon skeleton you have a greater surface area and greater surface area means more charge,” Dr Konstantinov said. “If we could efficiently separate the layers of carbon we could then use both surfaces of each layer for charge accumulation. The problem we faced was that fabricating these 3D shapes in practice, not just theory, is a challenging, if not impossible task.”

The solution was to flat-pack the components by building the 3D shape layer-by-layer, much like a miniature exercise in cake decoration. The graphene in liquid form was mixed with the conductive polymer and reduced to solid and the carbon nanotubes carefully inserted between the graphene layers to form a self-assembled flat-packed, wafer-thin supercapacitor material.

“The real challenge was how to assemble these three components into a single structure with the best use of the space available,” PhD student Monirul Islam said. “Getting the proportions or ratios of the components appropriately in order to obtain a composite material with maximum energy storage performance was another challenge.”

Wrong proportions of either ingredient result in a lumpy mess, or a 3D shape that isn’t strong enough to retain the needed flexibility as well as the charge storage ability. There’s also elegance in the simplicity of the team’s design: the researchers dispersed the components in liquid crystalline, which enabled natural chemical interactions to prevent the graphene layers clumping together.

The result was a 3D shape with, thanks to the carbon nanotubes, a massive surface area, excellent charge capacity that is also foldable. It can also be cheaply and easily fabricated without the need for expensive vacuum chambers or sophisticated equipment.

“Our graphene-based flexible composite is highly conductive, lightweight, is able to fold like a roll or stack like a paper in electronic devices to store a huge amount of charge,” Monirul said. “This material can store charge in a second and deliver the charge in superfast speed and will be more lightweight than traditional batteries used in present day’s electronics.”

The ISEM study has been financially supported by the Automotive Australia 2020 CRC as part of its research into electric vehicles. ISEM is the program leader for electrification and plays crucial role for design of next generation electric vehicles A key to unlocking the electric vehicle’s capability is a lightweight and powerful battery pack.

“Our simple fabrication method of eco-friendly materials with increased performance has great potential to be scaled up for use supercapacitor and battery technology. Our next step is to use this material to fabricate flexible wearable supercapacitors with high power density and energy density as well as large scale supercapacitors for electric vehicles.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Self-Assembled Multifunctional Hybrids: Toward Developing High-Performance Graphene-Based Architectures for Energy Storage Devices by Md. Monirul Islam, Seyed Hamed Aboutalebi, Dean Cardillo, Hua Kun Liu, Konstantin Konstantinov, and Shi Xue Dou. ACS Cent. Sci., 2015, 1 (4), pp 206–216 DOI: 10.1021/acscentsci.5b00189 Publication Date (Web): July 2, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This appears to be an open access paper.

Supercapacitors* on automobiles

Queensland University of Technology* (QUT; Australia) researchers are hopeful they can adapt supercapacitors in the form of a fine film tor use in electric vehicles making them more energy-efficient. From a Nov. 6, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

A car powered by its own body panels could soon be driving on our roads after a breakthrough in nanotechnology research by a QUT team.

Researchers have developed lightweight “supercapacitors” that can be combined with regular batteries to dramatically boost the power of an electric car.

The discovery was made by Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Jinzhang Liu, Professor Nunzio Motta and PhD researcher Marco Notarianni, from QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty — Institute for Future Environments, and PhD researcher Francesca Mirri and Professor Matteo Pasquali, from Rice University in Houston, in the United States.

A Nov. 6, 2014 QUT news release, which originated the news item, describes supercapacitors, the research, and the need for this research in more detail,

The supercapacitors – a “sandwich” of electrolyte between two all-carbon electrodes – were made into a thin and extremely strong film with a high power density.

The film could be embedded in a car’s body panels, roof, doors, bonnet and floor – storing enough energy to turbocharge an electric car’s battery in just a few minutes.

“Vehicles need an extra energy spurt for acceleration, and this is where supercapacitors come in. They hold a limited amount of charge, but they are able to deliver it very quickly, making them the perfect complement to mass-storage batteries,” he said.

“Supercapacitors offer a high power output in a short time, meaning a faster acceleration rate of the car and a charging time of just a few minutes, compared to several hours for a standard electric car battery.”

Dr Liu said currently the “energy density” of a supercapacitor is lower than a standard lithium ion (Li-Ion) battery, but its “high power density”, or ability to release power in a short time, is “far beyond” a conventional battery.

“Supercapacitors are presently combined with standard Li-Ion batteries to power electric cars, with a substantial weight reduction and increase in performance,” he said.

“In the future, it is hoped the supercapacitor will be developed to store more energy than a Li-Ion battery while retaining the ability to release its energy up to 10 times faster – meaning the car could be entirely powered by the supercapacitors in its body panels.

“After one full charge this car should be able to run up to 500km – similar to a petrol-powered car and more than double the current limit of an electric car.”

Dr Liu said the technology would also potentially be used for rapid charges of other battery-powered devices.

“For example, by putting the film on the back of a smart phone to charge it extremely quickly,” he said.

The discovery may be a game-changer for the automotive industry, with significant impacts on financial, as well as environmental, factors.

“We are using cheap carbon materials to make supercapacitors and the price of industry scale production will be low,” Professor Motta said.

“The price of Li-Ion batteries cannot decrease a lot because the price of Lithium remains high. This technique does not rely on metals and other toxic materials either, so it is environmentally friendly if it needs to be disposed of.”

A Nov. 10, 2014 news item on Azonano describes the Rice University (Texas, US) contribution to this work,

Rice University scientist Matteo Pasquali and his team contributed to two new papers that suggest the nano-infused body of a car may someday power the car itself.

Rice supplied high-performance carbon nanotube films and input on the device design to scientists at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia for the creation of lightweight films containing supercapacitors that charge quickly and store energy. The inventors hope to use the films as part of composite car doors, fenders, roofs and other body panels to significantly boost the power of electric vehicles.

A Nov. 7, 2014 Rice University news release, which originated the news item, offers a few technical details about the film being proposed for use as a supercapacitor on car panels,

Researchers in the Queensland lab of scientist Nunzio Motta combined exfoliated graphene and entangled multiwalled carbon nanotubes combined with plastic, paper and a gelled electrolyte to produce the flexible, solid-state supercapacitors.

“Nunzio’s team is making important advances in the energy-storage area, and we were glad to see that our carbon nanotube film technology was able to provide breakthrough current collection capability to further improve their devices,” said Pasquali, a Rice professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and chemistry. “This nice collaboration is definitely bottom-up, as one of Nunzio’s Ph.D. students, Marco Notarianni, spent a year in our lab during his Master of Science research period a few years ago.”

“We built on our earlier work on CNT films published in ACS Nano, where we developed a solution-based technique to produce carbon nanotube films for transparent electrodes in displays,” said Francesca Mirri, a graduate student in Pasquali’s research group and co-author of the papers. “Now we see that carbon nanotube films produced by the solution-processing method can be applied in several areas.”

As currently designed, the supercapacitors can be charged through regenerative braking and are intended to work alongside the lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles, said co-author Notarianni, a Queensland graduate student.

“Vehicles need an extra energy spurt for acceleration, and this is where supercapacitors come in. They hold a limited amount of charge, but with their high power density, deliver it very quickly, making them the perfect complement to mass-storage batteries,” he said.

Because hundreds of film supercapacitors are used in the panel, the electric energy required to power the car’s battery can be stored in the car body. “Supercapacitors offer a high power output in a short time, meaning a faster acceleration rate of the car and a charging time of just a few minutes, compared with several hours for a standard electric car battery,” Notarianni said.

The researchers foresee such panels will eventually replace standard lithium-ion batteries. “In the future, it is hoped the supercapacitor will be developed to store more energy than an ionic battery while retaining the ability to release its energy up to 10 times faster – meaning the car would be powered by the supercapacitors in its body panels,” said Queensland postdoctoral researcher Jinzhang Liu.

Here’s an image of graphene infused with carbon nantoubes used in the supercapacitor film,

A scanning electron microscope image shows freestanding graphene film with carbon nanotubes attached. The material is part of a project to create lightweight films containing super capacitors that charge quickly and store energy. Courtesy of Nunzio Motta/Queensland University of Technology - See more at: http://news.rice.edu/2014/11/07/supercharged-panels-may-power-cars/#sthash.0RPsIbMY.dpuf

A scanning electron microscope image shows freestanding graphene film with carbon nanotubes attached. The material is part of a project to create lightweight films containing super capacitors that charge quickly and store energy. Courtesy of Nunzio Motta/Queensland University of Technology

Here are links to and citations for the two papers published by the researchers,

Graphene-based supercapacitor with carbon nanotube film as highly efficient current collector by Marco Notarianni, Jinzhang Liu, Francesca Mirri, Matteo Pasquali, and Nunzio Motta. Nanotechnology Volume 25 Number 43 doi:10.1088/0957-4484/25/43/435405

High performance all-carbon thin film supercapacitors by Jinzhang Liu, Francesca Mirri, Marco Notarianni, Matteo Pasquali, and Nunzio Motta. Journal of Power Sources Volume 274, 15 January 2015, Pages 823–830 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpowsour.2014.10.104

Both articles are behind paywalls.

One final note, Dexter Johnson provides some insight into issues with graphene-based supercapacitors and what makes this proposed application attractive in his Nov. 7, 2014 post on the Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website; Note: Links have been removed),

The hope has been that someone could make graphene electrodes for supercapacitors that would boost their energy density into the range of chemical-based batteries. The supercapacitors currently on the market have on average an energy density around 28 Wh/kg, whereas a Li-ion battery holds about 200Wh/kg. That’s a big gap to fill.

The research in the field thus far has indicated that graphene’s achievable surface area in real devices—the factor that determines how many ions a supercapacitor electrode can store, and therefore its energy density—is not any better than traditional activated carbon. In fact, it may not be much better than a used cigarette butt.

Though graphene may not help increase supercapacitors’ energy density, its usefulness in this application may lie in the fact that its natural high conductivity will allow superconductors to operate at higher frequencies than those that are currently on the market. Another likely benefit that graphene will yield comes from the fact that it can be structured and scaled down, unlike other supercapacitor materials.

I recommend reading Dexter’s commentary in its entirety.

*’University of Queensland’ corrected to “Queensland University of Technology’ on Nov. 10, 2014 at 1335 PST.

* ‘super-capacitor’ changed to ‘supercapacitor’ on April 29, 2015.

Life-cycle assessment for electric vehicle lithium-ion batteries and nanotechnology is a risk analysis

A May 29, 2013 news item on Azonano features a new study for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on nanoscale technology and lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries for electric vehicles,

Lithium (Li-ion) batteries used to power plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles show overall promise to “fuel” these vehicles and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but there are areas for improvement to reduce possible environmental and public health impacts, according to a “cradle to grave” study of advanced Li-ion batteries recently completed by Abt Associates for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“While Li-ion batteries for electric vehicles are definitely a step in the right direction from traditional gasoline-fueled vehicles and nickel metal-hydride automotive batteries, some of the materials and methods used to manufacture them could be improved,” said Jay Smith, an Abt senior analyst and co-lead of the life-cycle assessment.

Smith said, for example, the study showed that the batteries that use cathodes with nickel and cobalt, as well as solvent-based electrode processing, show the highest potential for certain environmental and human health impacts. The environmental impacts, Smith explained, include resource depletion, global warming, and ecological toxicity—primarily resulting from the production, processing and use of cobalt and nickel metal compounds, which can cause adverse respiratory, pulmonary and neurological effects in those exposed.

There are viable ways to reduce these impacts, he said, including cathode material substitution, solvent-less electrode processing and recycling of metals from the batteries.

The May 28, 2013 Abt Associates news release, which originated the news item, describes some of the findings,

Among other findings, Shanika Amarakoon, an Abt associate who co-led the life-cycle assessment with Smith, said global warming and other environmental and health impacts were shown to be influenced by the electricity grids used to charge the batteries when driving the vehicles.
“These impacts are sensitive to local and regional grid mixes,” Amarakoon said.  “If the batteries in use are drawing power from the grids in the Midwest or South, much of the electricity will be coming from coal-fired plants.  If it’s in New England or California, the grids rely more on renewables and natural gas, which emit less greenhouse gases and other toxic pollutants.” However,” she added, “impacts from the processing and manufacture of these batteries should not be overlooked.”
In terms of battery performance, Smith said that “the nanotechnology applications that Abt assessed were single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs), which are currently being researched for use as anodes as they show promise for improving the energy density and ultimate performance of the Li-ion batteries in vehicles.  What we found, however, is that the energy needed to produce the SWCNT anodes in these early stages of development is prohibitive. Over time, if researchers focus on reducing the energy intensity of the manufacturing process before commercialization, the environmental profile of the technology has the potential to improve dramatically.”

Abt’s Application of Life-Cycle Assessment to Nanoscale Technology: Lithium-ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles can be found here, all 126 pp.

This assessment was performed under the auspices of an interesting assortment of agencies (from the news release),

The research for the life-cycle assessment was undertaken through the Lithium-ion Batteries and Nanotechnology for Electric Vehicles Partnership, which was led by EPA’s Design for the Environment Program in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and Toxics, and EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory in the Office of Research and Development.  [emphasis mine] The Partnership also included industry partners (i.e., battery manufacturers, recyclers, and suppliers, and other industry groups), the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Lab, Arizona State University, and the Rochester Institute of Technology

I highlighted the National Risk Management Research Laboratory as it reminded me of the lithium-ion battery fires in airplanes reported in January 2013. I realize that cars and planes are not the same thing but lithium-ion batteries have some well defined problems especially since the summer of 2006 when there was a series of li-ion battery laptop fires. From Tracy V. Wilson’s What causes laptop batteries to overheat? article for How stuff works.com (Note: A link has been removed),

In conjunction with the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Dell and Apple Computer announced large recalls of laptop batteries in the summer of 2006, followed by Toshiba and Lenovo. Sony manufactured all of the recalled batteries, and in October 2006, the company announced its own large-scale recall. Under the right circumstances, these batteries could overheat, potentially causing burns, an explosion or a fire.

Larry Greenemeier in a Jan. 17, 2013 article for Scientific American offers some details about the lithium-ion battery fires in airplanes and elsewhere,

Boeing’s Dreamliner has likely become a nightmare for the company, its airline customers and regulators worldwide. An inflight lithium-ion battery fire broke out Wednesday [Jan. 16, 2013] on an All Nippon Airways 787 over Japan, forcing an emergency landing. And another battery fire occurred last week aboard a Japan Airlines 787 at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Both battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage and smoke on the aircraft, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Lithium-ion batteries—used to power mobile phones, laptops and electric vehicles—have summoned plenty of controversy during their relatively brief existence. Introduced commercially in 1991, by the mid 2000s they had become infamous for causing fires in laptop computers.

More recently, the plug-in hybrid electric Chevy Volt’s lithium-ion battery packs burst into flames following several National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests to measure the vehicle’s ability to protect occupants from injury in a side collision. The NHTSA investigated and concluded in January 2012 that Chevy Volts and other electric vehicles do not pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles.

Philip E. Ross in his Jan. 18, 2013 article about the airplane fires for IEEE’s (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Spectrum provides some insight into the fires,

It seems that the batteries heated up in a self-accelerating pattern called thermal runaway. Heat from the production of electricity speeds up the production of electricity, and… you’re off. This sort of things happens in a variety of reactions, not just in batteries, let alone the Li-ion kind. But thermal runaway is particularly grave in Li-ion batteries because they pack a lot more power than the tried-and-true metal-hydride ones, not to speak of Ye Olde lead-acid.

It’s because of this very quality that Li-ion batteries found their first application in small mobile devices, where power is critical and fires won’t cost anyone his life. It’s also why it took so long for the new tech to find its way into electric and hybrid-electric cars.

Perhaps it would have been wiser of Boeing to go for the safest possible Li-ion design, even if it didn’t have quite as much oomph as possible. That’s what today’s main-line electric-drive cars do, as our colleague, John Voelcker, points out.

“The cells in the 787 [Dreamliner], from Japanese company GS Yuasa, use a cobalt oxide (CoO2) chemistry, just as mobile-phone and laptop batteries do,” he writes in greencarreports.com. “That chemistry has the highest energy content, but it is also the most susceptible to overheating that can produce “thermal events” (which is to say, fires). Only one electric car has been built in volume using CoO2 cells, and that’s the Tesla Roadster. Only 2,500 of those cars will ever exist.” Most of today’s electric cars, Voelcker adds, use chemistries that trade some energy density for safety.

The Dreamliner (Boeing 787) is designed to be the lightest of airplanes and using a more energy dense but safer lithium-ion battery seems not to have been an acceptable trade-off.  Interestingly, Boeing according to Ross still had a backlog of orders after the fires.

I find that some of the discussion about risk and nanotechnology-enabled products oddly disconnected. There are the concerns about what happens at the nanoscale (environmental implications, etc.) but that discussion is divorced from some macroscale issues such as battery fires. Taken to absurd lengths, technology at the nanoscale could be considered safe while macroscale issues are completely ignored. It’s as if our institutions are not yet capable of managing multiple scales at once.

For more about an emphasis on scale and other minutiae (pun intended), there’s my May 28, 2013 posting about Steffen Foss Hansen’s plea to revise current European Union legislation to create more categories for nanotechnology regulation, amongst other things.

For more about airplanes and their efforts to get more energy efficient, there’s my May 27, 2013 posting about a biofuel study in Australia.

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releases Application of Life-Cycle Assessment to Nanoscale Technology: Lithium-ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles

There’s more about the Application of Life-Cycle Assessment to Nanoscale Technology: Lithium-ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles (final report) in the Apr. 30, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: Links were removed),

The final report for the life-cycle assessment (LCA) of current and emerging energy systems used in plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles conducted by the DfE [Design for the Environment]/ORD [Office of Research and Development] Li-ion Batteries and Nanotechnology Partnership is now available. The LCA results will help to promote the responsible development of these emerging energy systems, including nanotechnology innovations in advanced batteries, leading to reduced overall environmental impacts and the reduced use and release of more toxic materials.

This partnership was led by EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Program, in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, and the National Risk Management Research Laboratory, in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

US EPA’s Partnership for “Application of Life-Cycle Assessment to Nanoscale Technology: Lithium-ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles” webspace describes the project and the report,

The partnership conducted a screening-level life-cycle assessment (LCA) of currently manufactured lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery technologies for electric vehicles, and a next generation battery component (anode) that uses single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) technology.

A quantitative environmental LCA of Li-ion batteries was conducted using primary data from both battery manufacturers and recyclers–and the nanotechnology anode currently being researched for next-generation batteries.

This type of study had not been previously conducted, and was needed to help grow the advanced-vehicle battery industry in a more environmentally responsible and efficient way. The LCA results are expected to mitigate current and future impacts and risks by helping battery manufacturers and suppliers identify which materials and processes are likely to pose the greatest impacts or potential risks to public health or the environment throughout the life cycle of their products. The study identifies opportunities for environmental improvement, and can inform design changes that will result in the use of less toxic materials and reduced overall environmental impacts, and increased energy efficiency.

The opportunities for improving the environmental profile of Li-ion batteries for plug-in and electric vehicles identified in the draft LCA study have the potential to drive a significant reduction of potential environmental impacts and risks, given that advanced batteries are an emerging and growing technology.

The study also demonstrates how the life-cycle impacts of an emerging technology and novel application of nanomaterials (i.e., the SWCNT anode) can be assessed before the technology is mature, and provides a benchmark for future life-cycle assessments of this technology.

For anyone who’s interested the final report (all 126 pp) of the LCA is available here.

It takes more than research to change energy sources and use

Much of the talk about reducing or eliminating dependency on fossil fuels is focused on research to accomplish these goals or policies to support and promote new patterns of energy use as opposed to the details needed to implement a change in the infrastructures. For example, one frequently sees news about various energy research efforts such as this one at the University of Texas at Dallas featured in a Feb. 14, 2013 news item on Azonano,

University of Texas at Dallas researchers and their colleagues at other institutions are investigating ways to harvest energy from such diverse sources as mechanical vibrations, wasted heat, radio waves, light and even movements of the human body.

The goal is to develop ways to convert this unused energy into a form that can self-power the next generation of electronics, eliminating or reducing the need for bulky, limited-life batteries.

Beyond the more familiar wind and solar power, energy harvesting has a wide range of potential applications. These include: powering wireless sensor networks placed in “intelligent” buildings, or in hard-to-reach or dangerous areas; monitoring the structural health of aircraft; and biomedical implants that might transmit health data to your doctor or treat a chronic condition.

The Feb. 14, 2013 University of Texas at Dallas news release, which originated the news item, describes a recent energy research event and highlights some of the work being performed by the Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems (CEHMS) consortium (Note: A link has been removed),

At a recent scientific conference held at UT Dallas, experts from academia, industry and government labs gathered to share their latest research on energy harvesting. Energy Summit 2013 focused on research initiatives at UT Dallas, Virginia Tech and Leibniz University in Germany, which form a consortium called the Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems (CEHMS).

Founded in 2010, CEHMS is an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center funded in part by the National Science Foundation. It includes not only academic institutions, but also corporate members who collaborate on research projects and also provide funding for the center.  Roger Nessen, manager of sales and marketing at Exelis Inc. is chairman of the CEHMS advisory board.

Here are some examples of the research,

For example, Dr. Mario Rotea, the Erik Jonsson Chair and head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UT Dallas, discussed some of his work aimed at advancing the development of wind energy systems. He represents UT Dallas in a proposed new consortium of universities and companies called WindSTAR that would collaborate with CEHMS on wind energy science and technology issues.

On the chemistry front, Smith’s [Dennis Smith, co-director of CEHMS and the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair in Chemistry at UT Dallas] synthetic chemistry lab is working with advanced materials that use piezoelectrics. If a piezoelectric material is deformed by a mechanical stress – such as stepping on it or subjecting it to vibrations – it produces an electric current. Smith’s lab is investigating whether the addition of nanoparticles to certain piezoelectric materials can boost this so-called piezoelectric effect.

CEHMS co-director Dr. Shashank Priya, professor of mechanical engineering and the James and Elizabeth Turner Fellow of Engineering at Virginia Tech, collaborates with Smith on piezoelectric research. Among many projects, researchers at Virginia Tech are incorporating piezoelectrics into “smart” tiles that produce electricity when stepped upon, as well as into materials that might be applied like wallpaper to gather light and vibrational energy from walls.

Other university and industry projects include:

  • Investigating how to redesign systems to require less power.
  • An intelligent tire system that harvests energy from the vibrations in a rotating tire, powering embedded sensors that gather and report data on tire pressure, tire conditions and road conditions.
  • A new class of magnetoelectric materials that can simultaneously convert magnetic fields and vibrations into energy.
  • A textile-type material that converts wasted thermal energy into electricity, which could be wrapped around hot pipes or auto exhaust pipes to generate power.
  • Flexible solar cells that could be integrated into textiles, and worn by hikers or soldiers to power portable electronic devices far away from an electric socket.

It’s exciting to talk about research, startups, and policies but at some point one needs to develop an infrastructure to support these efforts as Kyle Vanhemert points out (in an elliptical fashion) in his Feb.14, 2013 article, A Deeply Thought-Out Plan for EV [electric vehicle] Charging Stations, on the Fast Company website,

Currently, the best estimates suggest that upwards of 80% of electric vehicle charging happens at home. … If we want to see wider adoption of EVs, however, one thing is obvious: We need to make it possible for drivers to charge in places other than their garage. It’s a more complex problem than it might seem, but a series of reports by the New York-based architecture and design studio WXY will at least give urban planners and prospective charging station entrepreneurs a place to start.

The studies, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, address a major obstacle standing in the way of more ubiquitous charging–namely, that no one knows exactly what ubiquitous charging looks like. And in fairness, that’s because it doesn’t look like any one thing.  …

The WXY design studio has developed guidelines for these hypothetical EV charging stations,

The study identifies 22 design elements in all, divided into three categories: installation, access, and operation. The first looks at the infrastructural nuts and bolts of the site, including factors like physical dimensions of the station and its proximity to the power grid. Access deals with the factors that shape the basic user experience, things like proximity to traffic and building entrances, lighting, and signage. …

Vanhemert’s article includes some design diagrams, more details about these charging stations, and links to the design studio’s report and other reports that have been commissioned for the US Northeast Electric Vehicle Network.

Thank you to Kyle Vanhemert for a thought-provoking article, which raises questions about what kinds of changes will need to be made to infrastructure and everyday gadgets as we transition to new energy sources.

Stanford team adds new energy (with graphene and carbon nanotubes) to 100 year old battery design

A nickel-iron battery designed to be recharged 100 years ago by Thomas Edison for use in electric vehicles has been revived with the addition of graphene. From the June 26, 2012 news item by Mark Schwartz on EurekAlert,

Designed in the early 1900s to power electric vehicles, the Edison battery largely went out of favor in the mid-1970s. Today only a handful of companies manufacture nickel-iron batteries, primarily to store surplus electricity from solar panels and wind turbines.

“The Edison battery is very durable, but it has a number of drawbacks,” said Hongjie Dai, a professor of chemistry at Stanford. “A typical battery can take hours to charge, and the rate of discharge is also very slow.”

Now, Dai and his Stanford colleagues have dramatically improved the performance of this century-old technology. The Stanford team has created an ultrafast nickel-iron battery that can be fully charged in about 2 minutes and discharged in less than 30 seconds. The results are published in the June 26 [2012] issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Here’s how the battery worked originally and what they’ve done to improve it,

Edison, an early advocate of all-electric vehicles, began marketing the nickel-iron battery around 1900. It was used in electric cars until about 1920. The battery’s long life and reliability made it a popular backup power source for railroads, mines and other industries until the mid-20th century.

Edison created the nickel-iron battery as an inexpensive alternative to corrosive lead-acid batteries. Its basic design consists of two electrodes – a cathode made of nickel and an anode made of iron – bathed in an alkaline solution. “Importantly, both nickel and iron are abundant elements on Earth and relatively nontoxic,” Dai noted.

Carbon has long been used to enhance electrical conductivity in electrodes. To improve the Edison battery’s performance, the Stanford team used graphene – nanosized sheets of carbon that are only one-atom thick – and multi-walled carbon nanotubes, each consisting of about 10 concentric graphene sheets rolled together.

“In conventional electrodes, people randomly mix iron and nickel materials with conductive carbon,” Wang explained. “Instead, we grew nanocrystals of iron oxide onto graphene, and nanocrystals of nickel hydroxide onto carbon nanotubes.”

This technique produced strong chemical bonding between the metal particles and the carbon nanomaterials, which had a dramatic effect on performance. “Coupling the nickel and iron particles to the carbon substrate allows electrical charges to move quickly between the electrodes and the outside circuit,” Dai said. “The result is an ultrafast version of the nickel-iron battery that’s capable of charging and discharging in seconds.”

The Stanford researchers created a 1-volt ‘graphene-enhanced’ nickel-iron prototype battery for experimentation in the lab. This battery can power a flashlight but the researchers are hoping to scale up so that the battery could be used for the electrical grid or transportation.

The lead author for the study is Hailiang Wang, a Stanford graduate student. Other co-authors of the study are postdoctoral scholars Yongye Liang and Yanguang Li, graduate student Ming Gong, and undergraduates Wesley Chang and Tyler Mefford also of Stanford; Jigang Zhou, Jian Wang and Tom Regier of Canadian Light Source, Inc.; and Fei Wei of Tsinghua University.

ETA: June 27, 2012: Here, by the way, is an electric vehicle powered by Edison’s battery circa 1910, downloaded from the Stanford University site (http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/june/ultrafast-edison-battery-062612.html) and courtesy of the US National Park  Service.

To demonstrate the reliability of the Edison nickel-iron battery, drivers rode a battery-powered Bailey in a 1,000-mile endurance run in 1910. Courtesy: US National Park Service