World’s first solar battery



In the October 3, 2014 issue of the journal Nature Communications, the researchers report that they’ve succeeded in combining a battery and a solar cell into one hybrid device.

Key to the innovation is a mesh solar panel, which allows air to enter the battery, and a special process for transferring electrons between the solar panel and the battery electrode. Inside the device, light and oxygen enable different parts of the chemical reactions that charge the battery.

The university will license the solar battery to industry, where Yiying Wu, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio State, says it will help tame the costs of renewable energy.

“The state of the art is to use a solar panel to capture the light, and then use a cheap battery to store the energy,” Wu said. “We’ve integrated both functions into one device. Any time you can do that, you reduce cost.”

He and his students believe that their device brings down costs by 25 percent.

The invention also solves a longstanding problem in solar energy efficiency, by eliminating the loss of electricity that normally occurs when electrons have to travel between a solar cell and an external battery. Typically, only 80 percent of electrons emerging from a solar cell make it into a battery.

With this new design, light is converted to electrons inside the battery, so nearly 100 percent of the electrons are saved.

Graphene to make large scale electricity storage a reality

Graphene to make large scale electricity storage a reality

Manchester is the home of graphene, as the ‘two-dimensional’ one-atom-thick carbon allotrope was first isolated here in 2004. The University of Manchester is a powerhouse for applied and fundamental graphene research, with the National Graphene Institute leading the way.
Graphene promises a revolution in electrical and chemical engineering. It is a potent conductor, extremely lightweight, chemically inert and flexible with a large surface area. It could be the perfect candidate for high capacity energy storage.
Soon after graphene’s isolation, early research already showed that lithium batteries with graphene in their electrodes had a greater capacity and lifespan than standard designs.
A new project ‘Electrochemical Energy Storage with Graphene-Enabled Materials’ is exploring different ways to reduce the size and weight of batteries and extend their lifespan by adding graphene as a component material.
“But before we build the batteries we need to know how graphene will interact with the chemical components – specifically electrolytes,” comments Professor Andrew Forsyth from the School of Electronics and Electrical Engineering.
His colleague Professor Robert Dryfe from the School of Chemistry performs experiments to analyse the chemical interactions between graphene and lithium ions. Professor Dryfe is also exploring how quickly electrons are transferred across graphene and the magnitude of capacitance – the amount of electrical energy that can be stored on graphene surfaces.
The academics are working with a number of commercial partners, including Rolls-Royce, Sharp and Morgan Advanced Materials. Commercial partnership is crucial for developing the future applications of graphene. Graphene@Manchester is currently working with more than 30 companies from around the world on research projects and applications.
Another focus of the project is graphene-based supercapacitors, which tend to have high power capability and longer cycle life than batteries, but lower energy storage capacity. Nevertheless, they hold much promise to complement batteries as part of an integrated storage solution.

Vanadium: The metal that may soon be powering your neighbourhood

Pile of Vanadium oxide

Vanadium’s alloying properties have been known about for well over a century. Henry Ford used it in 1908 to make the body of his Model T stronger and lighter.
For the same reasons – and also for its heat resistance – it was used to make portable artillery pieces and body armour in the First World War.
But vanadium’s history seemingly goes back even further. Indeed, mankind may have been unwittingly exploiting the metal as far back as the 3rd Century BC.

That is when “Damascus steel” first began to be manufactured.
Swords made of the steel were said to be so sharp that a hair would split if it were dropped on to the blade.
Damascus steel scimitars were credited with enabling Muslim warriors to fight off the Crusades.

Circa 1250, A crusader and Muslim warrior in hand-to-hand combat.
Samples taken from a handful of antiques were found to contain tiny amounts of impurities, including – crucially – vanadium.
Bizarrely, this two-millennium-old steel-making tradition vanished in the mid-18th Century. The vanadium-rich iron deposits in southern India from which the steel was fashioned must finally have become exhausted, or so the theory goes.

Today, vanadium mainly goes into structural steel, such as in bridges and the “rebar” used to reinforce concrete.
It is a small and sometimes volatile market. Supply is dominated by China, Russia and South Africa, where the metal is extracted mostly as a useful by-product from iron ore slag and other mining processes.

How does a Vanadium Redox Flow Battery work?
Vanadium – yellow, blue, green and violet
Consists of two giant tanks of different solutions of vanadium dissolved in sulphuric acid, separated by a membrane
The battery produces an electrical current as the fluids are pumped past electrodes on either side of the battery
In one tank, the vanadium releases electrons, turning from blue to yellow
In the other tank, the vanadium receives electrons, turning from green to violet
The electrons pass around a circuit, generating a current, while at the same time a matching number of protons (hydrogen ions) pass across the membrane between the two solutions
The BBC’s headquarters in London – home to 7,000 employees – would need one the size of two 12-metre trailers, Radvak says, perched up on the roof or perhaps buried underground.
His firm is providing the batteries’ key ingredient, the electrolyte (the fluid in the battery).
It is the same chemical solution as in Sella’s demonstration, and – conveniently enough – is also the end-product of the standard process of using sulphuric acid to leach the vanadium out of its ore.
Radvak says that among his target customers are large corporate electricity consumers such as the Metropolitan Transport Authority, which runs New York’s subway, and with whom his firm has just signed a pilot deal to supply Cellcube batteries.