David Kirkpatrick

August 23, 2010

200x fuel cell efficiency boost

The idea of a personalized energy system is very attractive. Talk about being able to go off the grid …

The release:

200-fold boost in fuel cell efficiency advances ‘personalized energy systems’

IMAGE: A new catalyst could help speed development of inexpensive home-brewed solar energy systems for powering homes and plug-in cars during the day (left) and for producing electricity from a fuel…

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BOSTON, Aug. 23, 2010 — The era of personalized energy systems — in which individual homes and small businesses produce their own energy for heating, cooling and powering cars — took another step toward reality today as scientists reported discovery of a powerful new catalyst that is a key element in such a system. They described the advance, which could help free homes and businesses from dependence on the electric company and the corner gasoline station, at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, being held here this week.

“Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” said study leader Daniel Nocera, Ph.D. “We’re working toward development of ‘personalized’ energy units that can be manufactured, distributed and installed inexpensively. There certainly are major obstacles to be overcome — existing fuel cells and solar cells must be improved, for instance. Nevertheless, one can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic system.”

Such a system would consist of rooftop solar energy panels to produce electricity for heating, cooking, lighting, and to charge the batteries on the homeowners’ electric cars. Surplus electricity would go to an “electrolyzer,” a device that breaks down ordinary water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen. Both would be stored in tanks. In the dark of night, when the solar panels cease production, the system would shift gears, feeding the stored hydrogen and oxygen into a fuel cell that produces electricity (and clean drinking water as a byproduct). Such a system would produce clean electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week — even when the sun isn’t shining.

Nocera’s report focused on the electrolyzer, which needs catalysts — materials that jumpstart chemical reactions like the ones that break water up into hydrogen and oxygen. He is with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. Good catalysts already are available for the part of the electrolyzer that produces hydrogen. Lacking, however, have been inexpensive, long-lasting catalysts for the production of oxygen. The new catalyst fills that gap and boosts oxygen production by 200-fold. It eliminates the need for expensive platinum catalysts and potentially toxic chemicals used in making them.

The new catalyst has been licensed to Sun Catalytix, which envisions developing safe, super-efficient versions of the electrolyzer, suitable for homes and small businesses, within two years.

The National Science Foundation and the Chesonis Family Foundation provided funding for this study. Nocera did the research with post-doctoral researcher Mircea Dinca and doctoral candidate Yogesh Surendranath. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency has recently awarded the team with a grant, which it plans to use to search for related compounds that can further increase the efficiency of its electrolyzer technology. The team hopes that nickel-borate belongs to a family of compounds that can be optimized for super-efficient, long-term energy storage technologies.

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The American Chemical Society is a non-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 161,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

Update 9/2/10 — Someone really likes this story because here’s a follow-up release from yesterday.

October 2, 2008

Nanoscale image of fuel-cell nanoparticle

It may not be pretty, but it is pretty cool.

From the link:

In a step toward developing better fuel cells for electric cars and more, engineers at MIT and two other institutions have taken the first images of individual atoms on and near the surface of nanoparticles key to the eco-friendly energy storage devices.

Nanoparticles made of platinum and cobalt are known to catalyze some of the chemical reactions behind fuel cells, making those reactions run up to four times faster than if platinum alone is used as the catalyst.

Left image highlights two platinum-cobalt catalyst nanoparticles (inside the dashed boxes) with a 'sandwich' structure of platinum and cobalt atoms near the surface. At right is a cross-sectional model corresponding to the lower particle, showing platinum atoms enriched in the outermost layer, cobalt enriched in the second, and additional layers containing a mixture of the two. (Image at left taken at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.) Image courtesy / Electrochemical Energy Laboratory at MIT

Left image highlights two platinum-cobalt catalyst nanoparticles (inside the dashed boxes) with a 'sandwich' structure of platinum and cobalt atoms near the surface. At right is a cross-sectional model corresponding to the lower particle, showing platinum atoms enriched in the outermost layer, cobalt enriched in the second, and additional layers containing a mixture of the two. (Image at left taken at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.) Image courtesy / Electrochemical Energy Laboratory at MIT

October 1, 2008

International Symposium on Alternative Energy

This conference begins tomorrow at Chicago State University.

The release:

International Symposium on Alternative Energy Opens October 2-3 at Chicago State University

CHICAGO, Oct. 1 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A group of scientists and engineers from around the world will share their research on the latest alternative energy and technologies at a symposium co-sponsored by Chicago State University, October 2-3. The Center for Alternative Energy Technology’s second annual global symposium will focus on fuel cells, bio-fuels, solar cells, hydrogen (generation, separation and storage), wind power, and sustainable energy for urban and rural buildings. Sessions will be held in the university’s New Academic Library, 9501 South King Drive.

“The significance of this conference can not be over emphasized,” said CSU Professor of Physics Justin Akujieze. “Oil-based energy brings with it enormous pollution that puts our mother earth in danger. Already, signs of this danger can be seen with the overall trend in global warming resulting in the melting of the polar ice caps. This warming will produce changes in the weather that will affect prime agricultural regions and alter food production.”

Val R. Jensen, Vice President of Marketing & Environmental Programs for Commonwealth Edison, will be the keynote speaker on Thursday at 9:40 a.m. in the library’s fourth floor auditorium. Mr. Jensen is a nationally recognized expert in the field of energy efficiency, and has been affiliated with some of the most progressive programs in the United States.  He is leading various Com Ed environmental programs and initiatives, including the recently approved “Energy Efficiency Portfolio,” designed to boost Illinois into the number two spot for energy saved through voluntary customer usage reductions.

Several alternative energy experts from Chicago State University’s faculty are delivering research papers at the symposium: Fuel Cell Technology: Concise Module Introducing Students to Electrocatalysis and Integrating Fuel Cell Concepts into Undergraduate College Science (Justin Akujieze, LeRoy Jones II and Asare Nkansah); Sulfonated Dendritic Polymer Membranes for Fuel Cell (Setor Akati and Asare Nkansah); Using Scanning Electrochemical Microscopy to Investigate Electron-Transfer Processes in Dye Sensitized Solar Cells (Robert J. LeSuer and Nichole Squair); Computational Investigation of the Effect of Oxidation State on Conformational Ensembles: Applications to Possible Molecular Wires for Solar Energy Devices (A. Eastland, Q. Moore and K. L. Mardis)

In addition, representatives from various local and state government officials, including representatives from Senator Barack Obama’s and Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.’s offices, will attend the symposium.

The first CAET Symposium was held in August 2007 at Chicago State. Leading scientists and engineers from the U.S., China, India, France, Canada and the U.K. contributed to the symposium. Activities included technical sessions and panel discussions focusing on the research and development of processes and materials for cost effective, real world energy production from alternative sources.

Chicago State University was founded as a teacher training school in Blue Island, Illinois on September 2, 1867. Today, the university is a fully accredited public, urban institution located on 161-picturesque acres in a residential community on Chicago’s Southside. CSU is governed by a Board of Trustees appointed by the Governor of Illinois. The university’s five colleges — Health Sciences, Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, and Pharmacy — offer 36 undergraduate and 25 graduate and professional degree-granting programs. CSU also offers an interdisciplinary Honors College for students in all areas of study and has a Division of Continuing Education and Non-Traditional Programs that reaches out to the community with extension courses, distance learning and not-for-credit programs.

 
Source: Chicago State University