Water-splitting hydrogen breakthrough

Commercial plants could produce hydrogen from solar power.

Commercial plants could produce hydrogen from solar power. Photo credit: University of Colorado Boulder

A University of Colorado Boulder team has developed a new technique that uses the power of sunlight to efficiently split water into its components of hydrogen and oxygen, paving the way for the broad use of hydrogen as a clean, green fuel.
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A cheap substitute for platinum?

Scanning electron microscopy image of tungsten sulphide nanotube bundles.

Tungsten sulphide nanotube bundles. Photo credit: Alla Zak, Weizmann Institute of Science

As in many areas of energy storage, hydrogen fuel cell research teams are expending a lot of time and brainpower on ways to replace expensive and rare elements with more ubiquitous catalysts. Crack that and the cost of energy storage should come tumbling down.

Now a group at Rutger University in New Jersey, USA, has published results that indicate tungsten sulphide may well be able to replace super-expensive platinum in fuel cells. But this is no ordinary tungsten sulphide.
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Lithium cells the size of rice

A video on Treehugger shows how scientists have produced lithium-ion batteries from a nozzle the width of a human hair. Although only ever likely to be used for small, low power gadgets, these minute batteries actually deliver enough current to be of real use, unlike previous attempts using thin-film printing.

The team that produced this marvel of miniaturisation works at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

Blowing in the right direction

Wind farm (pic courtesy of Gamesa).

Wind farm (pic courtesy of Gamesa).

A week after the suggestion by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that offshore turbines could store their excess energy through an underwater pumped hydro mechanism comes the news that a wind institute will be considering what it describes as “next-generation energy storage.” While no further details have been given, the storage project will be part of programme of research at Texas Tech University’s newly created the National Wind Institute (NWI).

Aiming to better support interdisciplinary research and educational opportunities in wind science, engineering and energy, and announced on May 6 at the American Wind Energy Association WINDPOWER 2013 Conference and Exhibition in Chicago, the NWI is an amalgamation of the former Wind Science and Engineering research centre and the Texas Wind Energy Institute.

Another sign that wind is waking up to the need for energy storage is the first reported purchase of GE’s 2.5-120W wind turbines. As well as an impressive suite of predictive and management technologies, the new model (named “Brilliant” by the company) is the first to have on-board battery energy storage, in the shape of GE’s Durathon units. Invenergy has ordered three machines as part of an 86-turbine deal with GE for its Mills County, Texas, wind farm.

Graphene advance for Li-ion batteries

Graphene has been cited as the saviour of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries for a while now. As an incredibly thin substance, it can massively increase the surface area of an electrode and thus increase the energy density of a battery. The big snag, however, is what researchers call pulverisation: the damage that these very flimsy nanostructured electrodes incur during recharging cycles.

Now, though, a team at the University of Science and Technology in China has managed to prevent the issue of pulverisation by using atom-thick cobalt oxide.

NY-BEST to stage microgrid event

The New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium (NY-BEST) is holding a one-day forum on energy storage and microgrids at the Pace University New York City Campus, on June 11. The cost is USD$100 for NY-BEST members, $150 for non-members and $50 for students, and you can register now online.

New ball game for sea power storage

It’s only a proposal. But it’s an idea that could make offshore wind a lot more dependable and cost-effective, says the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): storing surplus energy from wind turbines in a concrete sphere under water. The principle is straightforward.

During periods when there is more wind energy than immediate demand, the additional power would be used to pump seawater out of a hollow, submarine sphere. Later, when power is needed, water would be allowed to flow back into the sphere through a turbine attached to a generator and the resulting electricity sent back to shore. MIT has calculated that a 25m sphere in 400m-deep water could store up to 6MWh of power.

Multiply that figure up and 1,000 turbines with this form of pumped hydro energy storage could rival a nuclear power station, for a matter of hours at least. The big drawback is a minimum 200m depth of water required to make the scheme feasible, especially as off-shore wind, which currently only enjoys popularity in Europe, is currently sited in waters shallower than 30m.

But the ability to provide despatchable energy without the need for large-scale batteries on or offshore is clearly a huge plus for the idea.