Monday, January 24, 2011

Nano Breakthrough Could Lead to Electronic Textiles with Energy Storage

UT Dallas nanotechnologists have invented a groundbreaking new technology for producing weavable, knittable, sewable and knottable yarns containing giant amounts of otherwise unspinnable powders. The reseaerchers see applications for the technology in energy storage, energy conversion and energy harvesting.

The researchers at the Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute at UT Dallas have reported a new technology to embed large amounts of guest powders in nanofibers.

A tiny amount of host carbon nanotube web holds "guest" powders in the corridors of highly conducting scrolls, without altering their performance. With conventional technology, powders are either held together in a yarn using a polymer binder or incorporated on fiber surfaces. Both approaches can restrict powder concentration, powder accessibility for providing yarn functionality, or the strength needed for yarn processing into textiles and subsequent applications.

In the Jan. 7 issue of the journal Science, co-authors working in the Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute of UT Dallas describe the use of “bi-scrolling” to solve these problems.

“In this study, we demonstrated the feasibility of using our bi-scrolled yarns for applications ranging from superconducting cables to electronic textiles, batteries and fuel cells,” said Dr. Ray H. Baughman, Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry and director of the UT Dallas NanoTech Institute.

Bi-scrolled yarns get their name from the way they are produced: A uniform layer of guest powder is placed on the surface of a carbon nanotube web. This two-layer stack is then twisted into a yarn.

The carbon nanotube webs used for bi-scrolling are not ordinary— they can be lighter than air and stronger pound-per-pound than steel. Four ounces of these webs would cover an acre of land and are about a thousand times thinner than a human hair.

These strong carbon nanotube webs hold together yarns that are mostly powders and can even be machine-washed. The web’s thinness means that hundreds of scroll layers can be included in a bi-scrolled yarn no thicker than a human hair.

The choice of imbedded powder determines yarn function. For instance:

  • UT Dallas researchers used yarns imbedded with metal oxide powder to make high-performance lithium ion batteries that can be sewn into fabrics.
  • Bi-scrolled yarns for self-cleaning fabrics were obtained using photocatalytic powder.
  • A powder of nitrogen-containing carbon nanotubes provided highly catalytic yarns for chemical generation of electricity, avoiding the need for expensive platinum catalyst.
  • Using other types of powders, the team made superconducting yarns for potential use in applications ranging from powerful magnets to underground electrical transmission lines.

“UT Dallas’s bi-scrolling technology is rich in application possibilities that go far beyond those we described in Science,” Baughman said. “For instance, our collaborator, professor Seon Jeong Kim of Hanyang University in Korea has already used bi-scrolled yarn to make improved biofuel cells that might eventually be used to power medical implants.”

“I am especially proud of two of our former NanoExplorer high school students, Carter Haines and Stephanie Stoughton, who are undergraduate co-authors of both our article in Science magazine and our internationally filed patent application on bi-scrolling,” Baughman added.

Other co-authors of this article are postdoctoral fellows Dr. Márcio Lima, who is lead author; Dr. Elizabeth Castillo-Martínez, Dr. Javier Carretero-Gonzáles, Dr. Raquel Ovalle-Robles and Dr. Jiyoung Oh; graduate students Xavier Lepró, Mohammad Haque, Neema Rawat, and Vaishnavi Aare; laboratory associate Chihye Lewis; research professors Dr. Shaoli Fang and Dr. Mikhail Kozlov; and Dr. Anvar Zakhidov, professor of physics and associate director of the NanoTech Institute.

Funding for this research was provided by grants from the Air Force, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, and the Robert A. Welch Foundation.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gillette Patents Hybrid Fuel Cell-Battery Tech

Boston-based Gillette, a company best known for shaving products and deodorants, may be getting into the rechargable battery business. A U.S. patent was issued to Gillette for a "Fuel Cartridge Interconnect for Portable Fuel Cells." The patent is 7,862,926.

According to an abstract released by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office: "A hybrid power supply includes a fuel cell and an interface between the fuel cell and a fuel cartridge or external battery and a switching type DC/DC boost type converter that receives energy from the fuel cell or external battery and is arranged to deliver the energy to a rechargeable cell. The hybrid power supply also includes a fuel cell current sensor/comparator, included in a feedback control loop disposed about the DC/DC converter, which controls in part operation of the converter to provide constant current discharge on the fuel battery side of the hybrid power supply. An adapter that couples a source of AC power such as a charger to the interconnect is also disclosed."

The patent filing describes the invention as focused on convenient techniques for operating a fuel cell hybrid-powered device in situations where a fuel cartridge is temporarily unavailable. This is achieved by providing energy to a fuel cell hybrid system from a battery or battery cartridge that is interchangeable with the fuel cartridge cavity in the device. Either a fuel cartridge or a battery inserted into the cavity would allow the embedded rechargeable battery to be recharged and provide power to the device. Either the plug-in fuel cartridge or the battery cartridge can then be replaced after use. This technique allows for different voltages on batteries to be accommodated, and provides a highly flexible approach to provide energy to the fuel cell hybrid power source using any primary or charged secondary battery chemistry available that fits into the fuel cartridge cavity. The technique also allows a charger or other non-portable sources of electrical power to supply power to the device. For instance an adapter can be configured to allow a power port such as a cigarette lighter commonly found in automobiles to supply power to the device.

Ultracell to Develop Fuel Cell for Military

UltraCell Corporation, a provider of Reformed Methanol Micro Fuel Cell (RMFC) technology, was awarded a contract from the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center (CERDEC) to advance a fuel cell system for the Coalition Warfare Program (CWP). The contract award is valued at $999,000 USD.

Under the contract, UltraCell engineers will leverage a 150-watt (150W) fuel cell system prototype, originally developed for the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence (MOD) Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) as part of the UK's Reducing the Burden on the Dismounted Soldier (RBDS) Capability Vision Program. UltraCell's goal is to mature the new prototype system to a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 7.

UltraCell's efforts will center on the advanced development of an interoperable, fuel cell power source capable of delivering 150W suitable for a wide variety of military applications. The system will use RMFC technology to convert methanol fuel into electricity, to charge batteries and power even the most energy-hungry electronics devices. The RMFC solution offers a 50% weight savings for long missions and reduced environmental impact when compared to traditional batteries.

UltraCell Corporation, a producer of fuel cells and fuel cell systems, is the first company to commercialize Reformed Methanol Micro Fuel Cell technology to provide clean, renewable energy to power portable electronics. The company develops micro fuel cell technologies and intellectual property. Its XX25™ and XX55™ portable fuel cell systems are designed for military and commercial industrial use.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Argonne Licenses Battery Tech to Korea's LG for Chevy Volt

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and LG Chem, Ltd. reached a licensing agreement to make and use Argonne's patented cathode material technology in lithium-ion battery cells. The technology is in the battery cell that is powering General Motors Company's Chevrolet Volt, the first mass-produced plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Argonne claims that its battery technology offers the longest-lasting energy available in the smallest, lightest package: a 50—100 percent increase in energy storage capacity over conventional cathode material. Further, its unique lithium- and manganese-rich mixed-metal oxide combination extends the operating time between charges, increases the calendar life and improves the inherent safety of lithium-ion cells.

LG Chem Michigan, Inc. (LGCMI), a wholly owned subsidiary of LG Chem, will manufacture Li-ion polymer battery cells for the Chevy Volt at a Recovery Act-funded $303 million production facility under construction in Holland, Mich. The plant will employ more than 400 people.

Argonne has developed and patented a sizable suite of Li-ion battery technologies with funding from DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Funding for the earlier stages of research and development of this technology was provided by DOE’s Office of Science.

LG Chem, Ltd. is Korea’s largest chemical and rechargeable battery maker in terms of both size and performance. LG Chem Michigan, Inc. (LGCMI) is a wholly-owned North American subsidiary of LG Chem. The company was established in 2010 to manufacture Lithium-ion battery cells at the $303 million production facility in Holland, Mich., that was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

One of Argonne’s patents in this area (7,790,308) issued in September 2010, describes an activated electrode for a non-aqueous electrochemical cell, having as a precursor a lithium metal oxide.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pumped Hydro: Is it TOO Green?

In the latest Electric Power Research Institute Journal, an article titled "Hydropower Reservoirs: A Question of Emissions" notes that reservoirs used for hydropower and for pumped-hydro energy storage are not necessarily as green as you might imagine. Or rather, they might be too green: carbon-rich organic material that accumulates on the reservoir floor can be the source of carbon emissions. A recent study of the 90-year-old Lake Wohlen, in Switzerland, for example, found high emissions of methane, as recently reported in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, in an article titled: "Extreme Methane Emissions from a Swiss Hydropower Reservoir: Contribution from Bubbling Sediments"

The EPRI article notest that hydropower reservoirs have come under criticism for net greenhouse gas emissions. The EPRI report The Role of Hydropower Reservoirs in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (1017971) reviews available information on the subject and examines the potential for U.S. reservoirs to be net emitters. The key finding: actual or potential reservoir greenhouse gas emissions are undetermined at present.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is funding a three year study through the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to investigate these emissions from seven to eight reservoirs primarily in the southeastern United States and three reservoirs in the Pacific Northwest. EPRI will participate in the study, and funding from the hydropower industry could expand it to reservoirs in other climatic regions and reservoirs of varying sizes and depths.

Addressing hydropower’s emissions was ranked fourth on a list of industry needs established at the 2008 EPRI/DOE Waterpower Industry R&D Prioritization Workshop. The National Hydro Association’s staff recognizes the study’s value and is urging its members to consider supporting this research. The International Hydropower Association (IHA) is collaborating with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to address the “possible role and contribution of hydropower to climate change mitigation and adaptation.” Researchers from multiple continents will examine a representative set of reservoirs. Combined with the U.S. study, these results will provide robust answers.

1.9GW of Energy Storage for Wyoming: The Gridflex Dream

Gridflex Energy, LLC - a developer of bulk energy storage projects providing support to renewable energy - is pursuing plans for five pumped storage hydroelectric projects in Wyoming that could alter the renewable energy equation in the state that exports more energy than any other.

Four of the proposed projects would be located in Carbon County, within easy range of several huge new transmission projects intended to ship Wyoming's lower-priced wind energy to Southwestern markets, including California. These include the Zephyr line, the TransWest Express, and the Overland transmission project. Rocky Mountain Power's Gateway West is another major new line that would move wind energy westward.

The fifth proposed pumped storage project is in Converse County, near the planned origination point of the High Plains Express, which is intended to help deliver renewable energy through Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico to Arizona.
The pumped storage projects range in size from 300 to 500 MW; the combined capacity of the projects, if all were developed, would be 1,900 megawatts. Energy storage potential would be more than 50 gigawatt-hours - equivalent to what 3,000 megawatts of wind turbines would put out for 17 hours at their maximum. Gridflex CEO Matthew Shapiro notes, however, that "not all projects would need to be developed in order to have a significant impact."

Gridflex suggests a number of benefits from the use of storage in Wyoming, including creating firm capacity out of variable wind energy, savings on transmission line capacity, and ancillary support services to the grid. Says Shapiro, "We are talking about being able to deliver a firm product-with a capacity factor in the intermediate-to-baseload range-with only an incremental amount of storage capacity versus wind capacity." On transmission savings, Shapiro notes:"The pumping capacity of just one of these projects could shift the top four hundred megawatts of wind output to lower wind periods, making significantly more efficient use of room on the new transmission lines."

Shapiro adds that "the most elegant approach would be to coordinate the operation of the storage projects, where, for example, one serves in the peak-shaving role to improve transmission utilization, while the others do the work of shaping and firming the resource for final delivery."

According to Shapiro, pumped storage represents an affordable incremental cost. "We are looking at firm wind power at $95 to $110 per MWh, while solar thermal-the next available firm renewable source-is upwards of $130." Shapiro believes that the wind-storage combination could even compete against combined cycle gas generation "if natural gas prices rise in the long term, and if environmental factors are taken into account."

The currently planned strategy for some Wyoming developers is to "firm" wind through the use of gas-fired combustion turbines. Shapiro argues that storage is a superior option, offering the following reasons:

The pumped storage projects will be able to peak-shave, while gas cannot do this.
Pumped storage would firm wind with wind, rather than with a fossil fuel. Pumped storage can respond much faster to fluctuations in the grid than even the next generation of "fast response" gas-fired combustion turbines. Another advantage for storage, says Shapiro, lies within the intended market: "California may well be interested in buying Wyoming wind, but they may not want to buy gas-fired generation that piggy-backs on that wind."

The storage projects could also benefit conventional generation in Wyoming by allowing it to operate at more efficient levels, which can reduce emissions and save on fuel cost. Shapiro says that Gridflex is pursuing partnerships with a number of wind and transmission developers. Gridflex Energy is currently pursuing more than 5,000 megawatts of large-scale energy storage projects across the United States. Most involve pumped storage hydro, while several involve Compressed Air Energy Storage, or "CAES."

CODA Lands $76 Million for Li-Ion Battery EV

CODA Holdings, a developer of Lithium-ion advanced battery systems and all-electric vehicles, announced the initial closing of a Series D preferred investment round totaling $76 million, bringing the company's total invested capital to more than $200 million. The funding will be used to prepare for start of production of the company's flagship all-electric vehicle, the CODA Sedan, and to support the company's 2011 sales and marketing efforts. The investment will also fund additional equity investment in the company's joint venture battery production facility where CODA will manufacture its multi-purpose Lithium-ion power battery systems for automotive and utility applications.

New investors Harbinger Capital Partners and Riverstone Holdings LLC both led the round, and Morgan Stanley acted as CODA's exclusive investment advisor and placement agent for this round. Existing investors participating in the offering include: Miles Rubin, CODA's Founder and Co-Chairman; Steven "Mac" Heller, CODA's Interim CEO and Co-Chairman, former Goldman Sachs Worldwide Head of Mergers & Acquisitions and Co-Head of the Investment Banking Division; AERIS Capital, the lead investor in CODA's Series C Round; and Angeleno Group, CODA's founding venture backers. Harbinger and Riverstone will each have a seat on CODA's Board of Directors.

In addition to producing electric vehicles, CODA is a global manufacturer of transportation and utility power storage battery systems through its joint-venture with Lishen Power Battery, LIO Energy Systems. Lishen, the largest shareholder of which is China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), is one of the world's largest manufacturers of Lithium-ion cells. CODA is considering several sites in Ohio for the construction of a power battery manufacturing facility that would also be built in a joint venture with Lishen. Construction of a facility is contingent upon the approval and receipt of a Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan.

CODA's debut vehicle, the CODA Sedan, is a four-door, five-passenger all-electric car. According to the company, the vehicle is powered by a breakthrough Lithium-ion battery system with "more energy capacity and all-electric range than other electric vehicles in its class." Factory standard equipment includes a telematics package, navigation with turn-by-turn directions, roadside assistance with an emergency button, a Bluetooth system with an embedded microphone, AM/FM/XM radio with satellite capability, iPod dock, MP3/USB connectivity and other features. Safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes with electronic stability control and advanced airbags with an occupant detection system. The vehicle is backed by a three-year/36,000 mile limited warranty and the battery system is backed by an eight-year/100,000 mile limited warranty. The car will be marketed initially to public and private fleet customers, as well as consumers in California with an expansion planned soon thereafter.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Xtreme Power Tapped for 10MW Wind Energy Storage in Hawaii

Xtreme Power, Inc (Xtreme Power), provider of Dynamic Power Resources™ (DPR™s) for utility-scale power management and energy storage systems, was selected as the energy storage provider for First Wind’s Kaheawa Wind Power II (KWP II) project. Located on the Island of Maui, the 21 MW farm will employ a 10 MW DPR from Xtreme Power.

This project marks Xtreme Power’s fourth in Hawaii since 2009, and its third collaboration with First Wind. In addition to KWP II, the DPR was installed on neighboring wind farm Kaheawa Wind Power, as well as First Wind’s Kahuku Wind Power project on Oahu.

At the KWP II site, the DPR will rapidly and automatically respond to differences between the farm’s output and the needs of the Maui grid, absorbing or delivering power as needed to significantly reduce the variability inherent to renewable energy sources. This ramping and smoothing functionality is essential to ensuring the management of large changes in wind farm output. First Wind will also utilize the DPR to provide the Maui Electric Company (MECO) with responsive reserves to enable the increased integration of clean wind energy, as well as for supporting services such as frequency and voltage regulation.

The Kaheawa Wind Power II project is scheduled for completion in November 2011.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ener1 Raises $25M in Capital for Li-Ion Energy Storage

Ener1, Inc. (Nasdaq: HEV), a manufacturer of lithium-ion energy storage systems for transportation, utility grid and industrial electronics applications, announced the sale of $25 million of senior unsecured notes, together with shares of common stock and warrants.

Along with funds from an existing grant from the U.S. Department of Energy under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Ener1 will use the proceeds from the sale primarily to continue building out production capacity in the U.S. and for working capital to support existing projects with customers in the grid energy storage and transportation sectors. In addition to its growing relationships with car makers THINK and Volvo, the company says it has made substantial progress with U.S. and international customers in the heavy-duty transportation market, a key company focus for 2011 and beyond.

"Ener1 is strategically scaling its global manufacturing capabilities to meet the demand for our recently announced customer programs, including a $40-million utility supply agreement with the Russian Federal Grid Company," said Chairman and CEO Charles Gassenheimer.

The initial phase of the project in Russia is scheduled for completion in Q2 this year. It focuses on grid integration of large-scale emergency power back-up systems in economically critical regions, specifically the Black Sea port city of Sochi, selected as the official site of the XXII Winter Olympic Games in 2014. Installations are being custom designed for remote grid substations in the Western Caucasus Mountains ski resort Krasnaya Polyana (shown). The purpose is to maximize reliability of the power supply for Olympic events.

The supply contract was signed with state-run FGC's wholly owned subsidiary Mobile GTES, Russia's leading manufacturer of mobile electric power stations. In addition to the design and manufacture of the specialized Sochi energy storage units, the contract includes two in-depth joint studies involving Ener1 and FGC engineers covering: System-wide assessment for deployment of lithium-ion storage for applications including strengthening the grid in remote regions, peak load-shaving and future integration of intermittent renewable power sources such as wind;
Feasibility of localization within Russia of development and manufacture of lithium-ion battery cells and other components for energy storage systems.

Headquartered in New York City, Ener1 has more than 700 employees with manufacturing locations in the United States and Korea. Ener1 also develops commercial fuel cell products, nanotechnology-based materials and manufacturing processes. In collaboration with strategic partner and electric vehicle manufacturer THINK, Ener1 also manufactures electric vehicle drive train products.