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Tokyo Institute of Technology research: Solid electrolytes open doors to solid-state batteries

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Japanese scientists have synthesized two crystal materials that show great promise as solid electrolytes. All-solid-state batteries built using the solid electrolytes exhibit excellent properties, including high power and high energy densities, and could be used in long-distance electric vehicles.

High power batteries are desirable for numerous applications, including the electric vehicles of the future. These batteries must be rechargeable, remain safe to store and use at variable temperatures, and retain charge for a considerable length of time. Now, Yuki Kato and Ryoji Kanno in collaboration with colleagues from Toyota Motor Corporation, Tokyo Institute of Technology and High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK) in Japan, have successfully designed and conducted trials on novel, high power all-solid-state batteries with promising results.

Most traditional batteries rely on the flow of ions through a liquid electrolyte between two electrodes; lithium-ion batteries used in mobile phones would be one example of this type of battery. However, batteries incorporating a liquid electrolyte are prone to problems, including low charge retention and difficulties in operating at high and low temperature. Previous designs for solid electrolytes have shown promise, but have proven expensive and some have exhibited problems with electrochemical stability.

Kato and his team synthesized two new lithium-based ‘superionic’ materials based on the same crystal structure previously discovered by the same team. They studied these crystal structures using Synchrotron X-ray diffractometer, BL02B2, at SPring-8 and neutron diffractometer iMATERIA(BL20) at J-PARC. Superionic materials are solid crystal structures through which ions can ‘hop’ easily, essentially maintaining a flow of ions similar to that which occurs inside a liquid electrolyte. They showed how the lithium ions   move fast in the structure of their compounds even at room temperature.

Both superionic materials developed by the team showed extremely high ionic conductivity and high stability. The researchers used their two new solid electrolytes to create two battery cell types; one high-voltage cell and one cell designed to work under large currents. Both all-solid-state cell types exhibited superior performance compared with lithium ion batteries, operating very well at temperatures between -30 and 100°C. Kato’s team found that the cells provided high power density, with ultrafast charging capabilities and a longer lifespan than existing battery types.

Although the technology requires further development before it is commercially available, these promising results indicate that all-solid-state batteries may soon provide a much-needed boost to applications requiring stable, long-life energy storage.

Background

A need for solid electrolytes

Most batteries and capacitors we use in daily life are powered by liquid electrolytes. Rechargeable lithium ion batteries, for example, work by maintaining a flow of ions from the negative electrode to the positive electrode during use, and the ion flow is reversed during charging. Although lithium ion batteries are useful for these purposes, there is still strong demand for new devices with higher power and energy densities. All-solid-state batteries are the most promising candidates for future battery systems, due to the high energy density attainable by direct-series-stacking of battery cells.  However, the low power characteristics of all-solid-state batteries, due to their higher solid electrolyte-resistivity than conventional liquid electrolyte, still remain unsolved.

The search for materials suitable for creating solid electrolytes has already produced some prototypes. So far, these ‘superionic’ materials, which allow ions to move quickly and freely through their crystal structure, have been developed using the expensive element germanium – researchers are therefore keen to find alternative superionic conductors that could provide the basis for all-solid-state batteries.

Significance

The development of two new lithium-based superionic conductor materials (structures: Li9.54Si1.74P1.44S11.7Cl0.3 and Li9.6P3S12 ) by Yuki Kato and his team represents a leap forward in the creation of useable solid-state batteries. Their two cells based on the novel solid electrolytes performed very well in trials in comparison with lithium ion batteries. The cells remained stable and operated consistently at a range of temperatures between -30 and 100°C. They exhibited high energy and high power densities, and very small internal resistance levels. Their properties would allow the cells to be stacked close together without interference.

Further, the cells exhibited ultrafast charging, retained their charge for lengthy periods, and appeared to have a long lifespan with excellent cycling ability (after over 500 cycles, the cells retained around 75% of their initial discharge capacity).

Future work

These promising results require further investigation prior to commercialization. The addition of high energy electrodes into the solid-state cells could enhance the power of the batteries still further. Also, processing technology to complement the batteries that would allow for battery stacking is required before such configurations could be fully tested. Kato and his team are hopeful that their new materials will pave the way for all-solid-state batteries for multiple applications, including long-distance electric vehicles, in future.

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Energy

Are the UK Governments Plans for the Energy Sector Smart?

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The revolution in the energy sector marches on, wind turbines and solar panels are harnessing more renewable energy than ever before – so where is it all leading?

The UK government have recently announced plans to modernise the way we produce, store and use electricity. And, if realised, the plans could be just the thing to bring the energy sector in line with 21st century technology and ideologies.

Central to the plans is an initiative that will see smart meters installed in homes and businesses the length and breadth of the country – and their aim? To create an environment where electricity can be managed more efficiently.

The news has prompted some speculation about how energy suppliers will react and many are predicting a price war. This could benefit consumers of electricity and investors, many of whom may be looking to make a profit by trading energy company shares online using platforms such as Oanda – but the potential for good news doesn’t end there.

Introducing New Technology

The plan, titled Smart Systems and Flexibility is being rolled out in the hope that it will have a positive impact in three core areas.

  • To offer consumers greater control by making smart meters available for all homes and businesses by 2020. Energy users will be able to monitor, control and record the amount of energy they use.
  • Incentivise energy suppliers to change the manner in which they buy electricity, to offer more smart tariffs and more off-peak periods for energy consumption.
  • Introduce new standards for electrical appliances – it is hoped that the new wave of appliances will recognise when electricity is at its cheapest and at its most expensive and respond accordingly.

How the Plans Will Affect Solar Energy

Around 7 million houses in the UK have solar panels and the government say that their plan will benefit them as they will be able to store electricity on batteries. The stored energy can then be used by the household and excess energy can be exported to the national grid – in this instance lower tariffs or even payment for the excess energy will bring down annual costs significantly.

The rate of return on energy exported to the national grid is currently between 6% and 10%, but there are many variables to take into account, such as, the cost of battery storage and light levels. Still, those with state-of-the-art solar electricity systems could end up with an annual profit after selling their excess energy.

The Internet of Things

Much of what the plans set out to achieve are linked to the now ubiquitous “internet of things” – where, for example, appliances and heating systems are connected to the internet in order to make them function more smartly.

Companies like Hive have already made great inroads into this type of technology, but the road that the government plans are heading down, will, potentially, go much further -blockchain technology looms and has already proved to be a game changer in the world of currency.

Blockchain Technology

It has already been suggested that the peer to peer selling of energy and exporting it to the national grid may eventually be done using blockchain technology.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”

Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)

The upshot of the government’s plans for the revolution of the energy sector, is that technology will play an indelible role in making it more efficient, more flexible and ultimately more sustainable.

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Energy

4 Case Studies on the Benefits of Solar Energy

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Demand for solar energy is growing at a surprising rate. New figures from SolarPower Europe show that solar energy production has risen 50% since the summer of 2016.

However, many people are still skeptical of the benefits of solar energy.Does it actually make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? Is it actually cost-effective for the company over the long-run?

A number of case studies have been conducted, which indicate solar energy can be enormously beneficial. Here are some of the most compelling studies on the subject.

1.     Boulder Nissan

When you think of companies that leverage solar power, car dealerships probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. However, Boulder Nissan is highly committed to promoting green energy. They worked with Independent Power Systems to setup a number of solar cells. Here were the results:

  • Boulder Nissan has reduced coal generated electricity by 65%.
  • They are on track to run on 100% renewable energy within the next 13 years.
  • Boulder Nissan reduced CO2 emissions by 416,000 lbs. within the first year after installing their solar panels.

This is one of the most impressive solar energy case studies a small business has published in recent years. It shows that even small companies in rural communities can make a major difference by adapting solar energy.

2.     Valley Electric Association

In 2015, the Valley Electric Association (VEA) created an 80-acre solar garden. Before retiring from the legislature, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised the new project as a way to make the state more energy dependent and reduce our carbon footprint.

“This facility will provide its customers with the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy produced in Nevada,” Reid told reporters with the Pahrump Valley Times. “That’s a step forward for the Silver State, but it also proves that utilities can work with customers to provide clean renewable energy that they demand.”

The solar energy that VEA produced was drastically higher than anyone would have predicted. SolarWorld estimates that the solar garden created 32,680,000 kwh every year, which was enough to power nearly 4,000 homes.

This was a major undertaking for a purple state, which may inspire their peers throughout the Midwest to develop solar gardens of their own. It will reduce dependency on the electric grid, which is a problem for many remote states in the central part of the country.

3.     Las Vegas Casinos

A number of Las Vegas casinos have started investing in solar panels over the last couple of years. The Guardian reports that many of these casinos have cut costs considerably. Some of them are even selling the energy back to the grid.

“It’s no accident that we put the array on top of a conference center. This is good business for us,” Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts told Guardian reporters. “We are looking at leaving the power system, and one of the reasons for that is we can procure more renewable energy on the open market.”

There have been many benefits for casinos using solar energy. They are some of the most energy-intensive institutions in the world, so this has helped them become much more cost-effective. It also helps minimize disruptions to their customers learning online keno strategies in the event of any problems with the electric grid.

4.     Boston College

Boston College has been committed to many green initiatives over the years. A group of researchers experimented with solar cells on different parts of the campus to see where they could produce the most electricity. They discovered that the best locationwas at St. Clement’sHall. The solar cells there dramatically. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by 521,702 lbs. a year and be enough to save 10,869 trees.

Boston College is exploring new ways to expand their usage of solar cells. They may be able to invest in more effective solar panels that can generate far more solar energy.

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