Nanotechnology Is the Future of Renewable Energy

Nanotechnology is advancing so rapidly these days that it seems there is a new nanotech breakthrough being reported on a daily basis.  Top researchers from around the world are using nanotechnology to solve problems once considered impossible, and are even discovering new and interesting properties in our material reality along the way.

2011 alone has seen some major advances in nanotechnology applied to the energy sector, and the promise nanotech holds for renewable energy is exactly what the budding market needs to eventually overtake fossil fuels as the energy generation mode of choice.

Super Efficient Solar Nantennas

University of Missouri researcher Patrick Pinhero and collaborators have developed microscopic antennas called, “nantennas,” that capture sunlight in both the visible and near-infrared spectrum as well as heat energy to create a thin-film solar sheet capable of 90 percent efficiency—far better than the 20 percent efficiency offered by current solar panels.

Energy Generation from Sound

Researchers at Sungkyunkwan University have created microscopic strings of zinc oxide that when exposed to sound vibrate between two electrodes, thus creating a charge. “Sound power can be used for various novel applications including cellular phones that can be charged during conversations and sound-insulating walls near highways that generate electricity from the sound of passing vehicles,” says lead researcher Dr. Sang-Woo Kim.

Energy Transmission Via Nanotubes

A never-before witnessed energy effect has been observed by MIT scientists working with carbon “nanotubes.”  Apparently, heat waves travel through these microscopic tubes up to 10,000 times faster than normal while picking up ambient charged particles along the way, thus creating and electric charge.  This offers untold potential in energy transmission.

Focusing Energy with Nanocones 

Oak Ridge National Laboratory has created microscopic zinc oxide cones, dubbed “nanocones,” that exhibit the unique property of focusing and intensifying energy at the cones’ tips.  The nanocones have been applied to solar cells to boost efficiency.

Storing Energy with Nanosponges

University of Texas researchers have created carbon nano-supercapacitors called “nanosponges” which are capable of storing static-electric energy in their sponge-like pores.  Like traditional supercapacitors, nansponges can deliver energy faster and more efficiently than chemical-based batteries, but at a far higher capacity.  Currently, the nanosponges can store the energy equivalent of a lead-acid battery, but material improvements could put them on par with lithium-ion very soon.

Source: Nanotechnology Is the Future of Renewable Energy | Energy Digital


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Amazon To Buy Plug Power’s ‘Green’ Hydrogen In Deal With $2.1 Billion Stock Option

An electric warehouse forklift uses Plug Power's fuel cell system. Plug Power

Plug Power, which supplies fuel cells for electric forklifts used by Amazon and other companies, said the retail giant plans to buy thousands of tons of carbon-free “green” hydrogen from it per year in a deal that also includes an option to acquire a stake in the company worth up to $2.1 billion.

Under the agreement Plug will begin providing Amazon with 10,950 tons of liquified hydrogen per year that will be used to fuel transportation and building operations, starting in 2025. It’s the biggest such deal to date for the Latham, New York-based company, which expects to hit an annual revenue target of $3 billion by 2025 as a result.

“It’s a huge deal … it’s a huge deal for the (hydrogen) industry,” Andy Marsh, Plug Power’s CEO, tells Forbes. Along with fuel for forklifts, Amazon may also use hydrogen to power a range of vehicles used in delivery operations, including long-haul trucks, he said. “It’s the first, much larger-scale hydrogen ecosystem for Amazon where they’re really thinking about all the applications they can use hydrogen in.”

Hydrogen is expected to become a major source of electric power, along with batteries, for both vehicle propulsion, as well as an option for stationary power generation and storage. While most industrial hydrogen that’s used for oil refining, food processing and the chemical industry is currently made by extracting the element from natural gas, that method emits carbon dioxide.

Companies including Plug, Cummins, Nikola, Nel Hydrogen and many others are shifting to a new technique using electrolyzers that can make a “green” form of the fuel from electricity–ideally from renewable sources–and water that has no climate-harming carbon emissions.

Hydrogen also gets a boost from the new Inflation Reduction Act signed into law this month by President Joe Biden, which includes a production tax credit for green hydrogen worth $3 per kilogram of carbon-free fuel.

Plug, which will benefit from that credit, has sold Amazon fuel cells for its warehouse forklifts since 2016, and estimates it’s provided more than 15,000 units to date. The company aims to expand its hydrogen fuel supply business and is adding production capacity to do that. Plug has said it will be able to make 500 tons of green hydrogen per day at facilities in North America by 2025, up from a goal of 70 tons per day by the end of this year.

By 2028, it hopes to produce 1,000 tons of hydrogen per day. Amazon said the deal is part of efforts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions across all its operations by 2040. It believes “scaling the supply and demand for green hydrogen, such as through this agreement with Plug Power, will play a key role in helping us achieve our goals,” Kara Hurst, Amazon’s vice president of sustainability at Amazon, said in a statement.

As part of the deal, Plug granted Amazon a warrant to acquire up to 16 million shares, with an exercise price of $22.98 for the first 9 million. It vests in full after Amazon spends $2.1 billion on Plug products over the seven-year term of the deal.Shares of Plug Power rose 9% to close at $30 in Nasdaq trading on Thursday.

I track technology-driven changes that reshape how we get around from Los Angeles, America’s sunny capital of congestion.

Source: Amazon To Buy Plug Power’s ‘Green’ Hydrogen In Deal With $2.1 Billion Stock Option

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BMW To Test Long Range Battery Made By Michigan Based Startup In Its Electric SUV

BMW will test a long-range battery made by Michigan-based startup Our Next Energy in the car manufacturer’s iX electric SUV, the companies announced Tuesday. ONE’s Gemini battery will use two types of battery cells, including one featuring advanced chemistry that can store more energy and enable vehicle range of at least 600 miles between charges, the company said.

The prototype automobile is expected to be finished by the end of the fiscal year, ONE said. The Gemini battery looks to cut down on the use of traditional electric vehicle battery materials like cobalt, nickel, graphite and lithium, ONE founder and CEO Mujeeb Ijaz said. Ijaz said ONE is testing a range of different electrode chemistries in Gemini while also analyzing possible tradeoffs in cost, energy and sustainability.

ONE may offer a production version of the battery in three varying sizes and prices. This would include a low-end version costing the equivalent, or potentially lower, as nickel- and cobalt-based batteries, Ijaz said. A BMW iX Flow with color-shifting material is displayed during CES 2022 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. January 6, 2022.

The battery maker is talking to other companies about similar prototype testing of its Gemini battery. BMW’s corporate venture department in March led a $65 million funding round in the battery company. The round’s other investors included Coatue Management, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Assembly Ventures, Flex and Volta Energy Technologies.

ONE said in December that an early prototype of the Gemini battery modified in a Tesla Model S offered more than 750 miles of range, significantly more than the best production electric vehicles on the market. The logo of German car manufacturer BMW is pictured on a BMW car prior to the earnings press conference in Munich, Germany, Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

After ONE was founded in 2020, the company has centered its attention on a long-range battery that uses safer and more sustainable materials while also putting more energy into a smaller, cheaper package. BMW executive Juergen Hildinger said in a statement that the automaker is looking for opportunities “to integrate ONE’s battery technologies into models of our future BEV (battery electric vehicle) product lineup.”

Source: BMW to test long-range battery made by Michigan-based startup in its electric SUV | Fox Business

Carmakers grapple with conflicting goals in designing electric-car batteries. They want high energy density for long range, but they also want to reduce the costly metals that provide that capacity.

Michigan battery startup Our Next Energy (ONE) claims to have a better way to optimize across all these factors. Now, BMW will fit an early prototype of ONE’s Gemini “Dual-Chemistry” battery into a test version of its iX EV luxury SUV to see if the claims—a heady 600 miles of range, nearly double the stock iX xDrive50’s EPA range estimates—are borne out in a variety of real-world uses. The test iX will be on the road by the end of this year, both companies say.

BMW is the logical vehicle partner to test ONE’s technology, because its investment arm—BMW i Ventures—was one of several backers in a $25 million round of financing for the battery startup last October.

Traction + Long Range

The Dual-Chemistry label on ONE’s Gemini battery refers to the pairing of two different types of battery cells, each with a different purpose.

The “Traction” portion has cells that use a lithium iron-phosphate (LFP) cathode, known to have a lower energy density than chemistries based on cobalt, nickel, manganese, or aluminum. LFP batteries are rare in North America, but common in Chinese EVs. Their use of cheap and easily available iron in the cathode leads battery analysts to suggest LFP cells will surge in popularity as their energy density rises, even though it remains below that of advanced cobalt-nickel cells.

The “Long Range” portion of ONE’s Gemini battery, on the other hand, uses a higher energy-density chemistry based on a proprietary material rich in manganese, with only minimal cobalt and nickel. During the current R&D phase, ONE founder and CEO Mujeeb Ijaz told Car and Driver, the company is still experimenting with blends of the three metals to enhance performance. Unusually, it has only a bare copper current collector—rather than separate anode material—a design known in academic circles as “anode-free.”

The LFP “Traction” cells will provide close to 99 percent of the vehicle’s overall miles, Ijaz said, while the “Long Range” cells kick in for the 1 percent of usage that requires extreme power, reducing stress on and deterioration of the LFP cells.

ONE says it can thus provide a battery with energy density that’s claimed to be double that of those in today’s EVs, while focusing on “safer” and “sustainable” battery chemistries created via a “conflict-free supply chain” that includes appropriately sourced and inexpensive manganese.

Lab Tests, Meet Real World

Hundreds of battery chemistries show at least some promise in lab tests, but far fewer make it into production—or even extended testing. The Gemini-powered BMW iX prototype will hit the road by the end of this year. It will be used as a demonstrator first, to prove the Gemini battery concept can store and deliver energy.

After that, BMW and ONE will work together on further testing. As Ijaz notes, ONE needs to “work with BMW to understand their requirements” for his company to become a long-term supplier. That’s an arduous path, but one every battery startup needs to travel before its products find a market.

The ONE-powered BMW iX will mark a new milestone for the company: Powering an actual vehicle, rather than simply showing bench-test results. The actual cells that will go into this early prototype pack will be fabricated by one or more of four separate supplier partners, both in Asia and North America, that are working with ONE on prototyping and production scale-up of its new cells.

When the iX is shown to run, charge, and cover the promised distances, ONE will have moved a large step away from its press stunt last December. In that effort, which ONE called a proof of concept, it stuffed cells with twice the energy capacity as a standard Tesla Model S into that car’s pack and ran it for more than 750 miles—or twice the usual range.

But those weren’t Gemini cells, whereas the BMW iX coming by the end of the year is expected to use very early and experimental versions of ONE’s new cells. This will count as definite progress, presuming it happens on schedule. Stay tuned.

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Which Came First, The Electric Pickup or The Charging Station?

How rural communities will fare in the battle for electric vehicles funds comes down to a sort of chicken and egg scenario, officials said.

Without acceptance of electric vehicles (EVs) in rural areas, federal funding for charging stations will go elsewhere. But without the charging stations, fewer rural residents will buy electric vehicles.

David Adkins, executive director and CEO of the Council of State Governments, an organization that provides states with research focusing on public policy issues, said if his family in rural Kansas is any indication, electric vehicles are gaining traction in rural communities.

“I’m confident that rural America will increasingly prioritize the need for EV charging stations once the electrified Ford F 150 becomes the truck of choice for farmers and ranchers,” he said. “And Ford will only be able to sell those trucks if charging capacity is ubiquitous.”

Ford and startup Rivian are already selling electric pickups, and several manufacturers have plans to join the market. Cost will make deployment of charging options in urban centers happen first, but without a nationwide network it will be hard to get commercial EVs in widespread use, he said.

EV charging networks will be necessary for tomorrow’s rural America, he said.

“EV charging stations are the next chapter in rural connectivity,” he said. “Right now the focus is on broadband access which primarily benefits those living and working in rural America. Charging stations on the other hand benefit both local residents and those traveling through rural America.”

Recently, the Biden Administration released “Charging Forward: A Toolkit for Planning and Funding Rural Electric Mobility Infrastructure,” a guide for rural areas to get the most out of the federal funding for the electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Getting those charging stations into rural areas is important for widespread adoption of EVs, the administration said.

“In rural parts of the country—home to 20 % of Americans and almost 70 % of America’s road miles—EVs can be an especially attractive alternative to conventional vehicles,” the administration wrote in its toolkit. “Rural residents drive more than their urban counterparts, spend more on vehicle fuel and maintenance, and often have fewer alternatives to driving to meet their transportation needs. Over the long run, EVs will help residents of rural areas reduce those costs and minimize the environmental impact of transportation in their communities.”

Ensuring that those charging stations go to rural areas will be a challenge, said U.S. Representative David Scott (D-Georgia), chair of the House Agriculture Committee.

“We are witnessing a point of major research, investment, and adoption of electric vehicles across the country and the world, driven in large part in an effort to mitigate the impacts of climate change,” Scott said at a hearing in January. “As with so many other technological advancements like electrification, broadband, or telephone service, I want to see what can be done to make sure that rural America is not left behind. And to that point, I want to also ensure that the needs of agriculture and rural residents are being considered with these important developments.”

The U.S. DOT said priority in the electric-vehicle charging network will be given to federally designated alternative fuel corridors, primarily located along interstate highways. Nominated by state and local governments, the corridors are highway segments with the infrastructure to support electric-vehicle charging stations, as well as other alternative fuels. The program requires charging stations at 50-mile intervals.

Some states in the American West have expressed concerns about that requirement.

“Western states face a suite of challenges related to planning and siting EV infrastructure, including the unique needs of both underserved and rural communities, vast distances between communities, limited electric grid infrastructure in sparsely populated areas, and a patchwork of federal, state, and private lands ownership boundaries,” the Western Governors Association, comprised of 19 states in the region, wrote in a policy resolution submitted to federal transportation officials in December.

“A number of western states have experienced challenges in meeting these defined metrics due to lacking electric infrastructure and suitable charging locations in sparsely populated areas.”

Part of the same fuel corridor goes through Appalachia, said Janiene Bohannon, director of communications with the Appalachian Regional Council, in an interview with the Daily Yonder. A map of the Electric Vehicle Charging State Location shows all the current electric vehicle charging stations across the country plus the current and proposed charging station corridors.

The number of EV charging stations in Appalachia is growing, she said. More charging stations means more connectivity for Appalachian residents and visitors.

“Bringing EV charging stations to the Appalachian Region will help to reduce its isolation and promote economic growth,” Bohannon said. “Additional electric vehicle charging stations could encourage a greater population that would visit Appalachia.”

Rural communities will have to deal with other larger challenges in installing EV charging stations, Adkins said.

“Another challenge states face in making the conversion to EV vehicles is the way surface transportation is funded,” he said. “The gas tax is currently a primary source of federal and state funding for streets and highways. States will need to update these revenue formulas in order to have funds to pay for infrastructure.”

Picking a technology to install is another obstacle. Tesla, for instance, has a proprietary charger, creating a “VHS v. Betamax-like market-based obstacle,” Adkins said.

“Like with solar, I believe significant subsidies will need to be provided to private sector players in order to build out initial EV charging networks,” he said. “It will be fun to watch how innovation occurs as the number of electric vehicles grows in the next decade.”

Source: Which Came First, the Electric Pickup or the Charging Station? | The Daily Yonder


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Hydrogen Is Not A Fuel, It’s A Cult

The sales pitch for hydrogen is heating up, although not as much as the Hindenburg did in 1937. In the UK, there are even advertisements for the fuel on the London Underground, which is quite an odd thing to see next to posters about the latest iPhone and vitamin supplements.

It’s not like the average employee on their way to work is going to rush out and buy some H2 before reaching the office. No, this is more of a sign that there is a PR campaign to implant hydrogen in the public imagination as the savior of all our lifestyles in the face of climate change.

For a certain type of tabloid-reading consumer, it’s working, with many claiming they won’t buy battery-electric vehicles because they are “waiting for hydrogen”. The bigger problem is that governments are listening too and it’s not necessarily such a good thing. Recently, the EU has made a pledge to move to 2.6% renewable fuels such as green hydrogen (produced from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar) and replace 50% of grey hydrogen (produced from methane) with green hydrogen as well.

This would be all well and good if we had abundant renewable energy to call upon, but we don’t. Research organization Transport & Environment has found that this would put undue pressure on the wind and solar we have when it is direly needed for other applications.

The UK government is also putting a lot of emphasis on hydrogen, with some dramatic numbers about how many jobs could be created and how much the industry could be worth by 2050 (100,000 jobs and £13 billion / $17 billion). The UK has already switched a lot of its generation grid to renewables, particularly wind, which sometimes now supplies over half the country’s electricity. But that still doesn’t mean there will be loads of surplus to be used for producing hydrogen. The bullish employment and market value predictions appear to hide some major obstacles.

This threatens to derail our route to decarbonization more than ease it. The arguments against hydrogen as our lord and savior are increasingly well known, and mostly revolve around the laws of physics. Hydrogen may be abundant in the universe but harnessing it for use is not so easy. Although there are some ways of harvesting hydrogen as a byproduct of other processes, it usually must be extracted from fossil fuels or electrolyzing water.

The latter is the truly green option but takes plenty of energy and loses about a third of the power input compared to just sending the electricity over the grid. You lose even more using fuel cells to convert the hydrogen back to electricity, and even more with hydrogen-derived synthetic fuels. Only mild improvements in efficiency are expected over the coming decades, too.

The chief thing that hydrogen has in its favor is convenience and that seems to be central tenet of the cult surrounding it. Hydrogen fans are fixated on the fact that it takes five minutes to replenish an H2 vehicle, just like fossil fuel. Even more enticingly, evangelists are being fed the story that they will soon be able to use a hydrogen-based synthetic fuel in the cars they are driving right now, with no change necessary.

These ideas appear to have been propagated to delay the uptake of battery-electric vehicles. In Europe at least, it doesn’t seem to be working yet, with every month an improvement on the last for EV sales. In the UK, sales of BEVs in November were twice what they were in November 2020, which in their turn were twice as much as November 2019. In contrast, there are just a few hundred hydrogen cars in the whole of Britain. Certainly, in the car industry at least, if hydrogen is coming to save us, it better hurry up before it’s too late.

The problem with all the unrealistically positive rhetoric about hydrogen for cars is that the fuel type does have a place in the decarbonized energy economy. But its inefficiency must be balanced against its convenience and where direct electrification is not an option.

Michael Liebreich of BloombergNEF has created a handy pyramid of the relative value of different hydrogen use scenarios, with applications like fertilizer being essential, but any form of transport from trucks, coaches, and short-haul aviation downwards being better served by batteries, or other forms of electrification. The essential hydrogen applications are called “no regret” scenarios, a phrase coined by German think-tank Agora Energiewende, because their need is uncontroversial, whereas transportation is already proving to be more efficiently served by batteries.

The cult of hydrogen being the future has merely provoked a massively negative reaction from those who are already driving BEVs and realize that they are not just the future, but here and now. That detracts from the uses where hydrogen does have a benefit, for example as a portable energy source for areas where there is no electrical grid. The Extreme E race series uses hydrogen generators as a clean way of creating electrical power to charge its battery-powered SUV race cars.

The problem is that the underlying battle is between two types of energy provider – electricity grid suppliers versus oil and gas companies. The latter are generally in favor of hydrogen because currently most of it is made out of their methane or coal. They also want to maintain their financial model of forcing consumers and industrial customers to go somewhere to pay for fuel, rather than having it supplied to their homes and businesses. Electricity providers, in contrast, want to sell more electricity wherever it can be supplied.

The question should be “which is greenest?” The main component of this is that governments realize where hydrogen is best used and invest accordingly. The EU is refocusing its hydrogen push away from personal mobility, but not transportation entirely. There are some valid possibilities here, but in all except some very specialized situations hydrogen has almost no reason to be used.

Cars are very much not one of those valid possibilities, which is why those who still promote this are starting to sound like a cult. As the Agora Energiewende report concludes, “Just a decade ago, fuel-cell electric cars seemed to be the future of the automotive industry. Today, the dream is over.”

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I am the editor of independent electric vehicle website WhichEV. I have over 25 years’ experience as a technology journalist and a life-long love of cars, so

Source: Hydrogen Is Not A Fuel, It’s A Cult


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