Self-assembled metal nanostructures improve fuel cell performance

November 25 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 4 Hot

The way to improve fuel cells, energy storage devices and solar cells is to evolve our ability to control the way molecules and photons flow through materials and lead to other reactions. We do not need to overcome the Laws of Physics, just improve the design of materials at the molecular level.

What happened?
Cornell University researchers have designed platinum nanoparticles that automatically assemble into complex, ordered patterns and can be used for efficient and low cost catalysts in fuel cells and other micro-fabrication processes.

“The challenge with metals is that their high surface energies cause the particles to cluster,” explains , led by Professor Uli Wiesner who led the team. “This tendency to aggregate makes it difficult to coax metal particles into lining up in an orderly fashion, which is a critical step in forming ordered materials.”

Instead of relying on the traditional (and imprecise) ‘heat it and beat it’ approach” to structuring metals, Professor Wiesner, Scott C. Warren, and their coworkers prepared their materials through self-assembly of block copolymers and stabilized platinum nanoparticles. This ‘bottom up’ approach can lower costs and improve the precision of material design.

Why is this important to the future of energy?
We need breakthroughs in materials science that make energy systems cost effective and clean. Nanoscale science (billionth of a meter) and engineering is the platform of future innovation.

Fuel cell costs are based on two main factors: the cost of membranes (MEAs) that enable the reactions and manufacturing techniques to build the device. The way forward is to reduce the amount of precious metal catalysts needed in membranes, and also lower the cost of manufacturing materials around self-assembly. These metallic structures developed by the Cornell team could take us further down the road towards lower cost energy systems that go beyond traditional combustion energy conversion.

Related research:

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Researchers change shape of aluminum nanoparticles to produce hydrogen at room temperature

January 26 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 3

hydrogen production

Scientists at Penn State University and Virginia Commonwealth University have discovered a way to produce hydrogen using aluminum nanoparticles (billionth of a meter) that react with water molecules to split oygen and hydrogen bonds.

What does that mean?

The physical arrangment and exposure of the alumninum atoms determines its ability to split certain chemical bonds by binding oxygen and releasing hydrogen.

Three of the tested aluminum clusters produced hydrogen from water at room temperature.

This ground-breaking work is important because it confirms the belief held by catalysis researchers that nanoparticle 'geometries, not just electronic properties', effect the reaction performance of catalytic materials.

Hydrogen Production at Room Temperature (& Confusion of Hype vs Hope)

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Ultra light and strong metal foam uses less energy

October 29 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Technology   Year: 2014   Rating: 2

A North Carolina State University research team led by Afsaneh Rabiei has developed a high-performance metal foam material that uses less energy during production, yet provides a high level of safety in the event of a collision. The material has a higher strength-to-density ratio than any metal foam ever been reported.

Energy use for Manufacturing
Consumers are not the only stakeholders that have incentive to lower the energy consumption. Industries involved in materials manufacturing are working to develop new materials that require less energy yet still provide high performance. Companies that build cars and airplanes are also looking for lighter materials to lower the cost to consumers for fueling over the lifetime of the product.

Metal Foam Applications
This metal foam, which is three times lighter than traditional steel, could be used in the aerospace, medical, automotive and building construction industries. Rabiei’s team conducted tests for automotive applications. ‘Rough traffic accident calculations show that by inserting two pieces of her composite metal foam behind the bumper of a car traveling 28 miles per hour (mph), the impact would feel the same to passengers as the impact if they were traveling at only 5 mph.’

Focusing on Fundamentals of Energy Use
In addition to solutions like ‘changing light bulbs’ and buying more fuel efficient cars, we must focus on the fundamental of materials manufacturing to enable lighter cars and airplanes, and materials used in construction.

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Moore's Law, Materials Science & The Future of Energy

January 02 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Science   Year: 2014   Rating: 2

energy shapes

We are not going to 'consume' ourselves into a future global economy driven by clean energy technologies. 

We have to build it using new scientific knowledge based on nanoscale interactions of light and molecules  mostly- carbon, hydrogen, oxygen reacting to metals and enzymes. 

Energy = Interactions
Creating 'clean energy' means using materials that make these molecular interactions that capture and release energy more efficient and less wasteful.

While consumers might be the ones who get the credit for changing behavior, the real heros of our cleantech energy future will be people involved in chemistry, biology, physics and materials engineering.

And the good news is that these scientists are increasingly turning to advanced computers and simulation software to accelerate the development of energy related materials!

Computational Power & Materials Science - Recent Examples for Materials Science 

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[Video] Zeobond E Crete promises less carbon emissions from cement

January 29 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Environment   Year: 2018   Rating: 2

ZeobondEco-Energy blogs seem to love stories about cleaner ways of making cement - which accounts for at least 5% global carbon dioxide emissions.  Last year the viral story was a novel process developed by MIT students, and now Australian-based Zeobond is gaining a lot of attention.  The company uses industry waste materials to reduce the environmental impact of cement material compounds. 



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3M forms Renewable Energy Divison to evolve cleantech materials for energy generation and management

February 03 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 2

Green 3MThe case for investing in a 'New Energy Economy' was just validated by one of the world's leading material solutions companies.

3M has announced the formal creation of its new Renewable Energy Division that will include two divisions dedicated to Energy Generation & Energy Management.

The Energy Generation Division will develop materials for solar, wind, geothermal and biofuel solutions such as films, tapes, coatings, encapsulants, sealants and adhesives to reduce costs and improve performance.

The Energy Management Division will focus on thermal efficiences (e.g. film efficiencies), membranes for energy storage devices (e.g. fuel cells, batteries) and other applications for the Automotive, Commercial Building and Residential market segments.

New Energy Economy depends on Advanced Nanostructured Materials
This is big news for the cleantech sector.  Energy is about interactions between light, molecules, metals, and heat.  The only way to build a 'green' economy is to advance materials that make these interactions cleaner and lower cost.

3M has the resources to fundamentally change the performance-price points of cleantech materials.  And it is a corporate stamp of approval on the idea that we must begin to move beyond extracting ancient stored energy (coal, oil and natural gas) and shift towards producing and storing energy using renewable resources that make clean electrons and clean molecules.

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Argonne Lab Researchers Take Us Another Step Closer to Greener Chemistry and Materials

March 15 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 2

Argonne Platinum Catalyst

Rethinking the Problem: Think Small, not Big
Our current 'crisis' around energy and climate change has less to do with our relationship with the Planet, than it does our relationship with molecules. 

To change our footprint on the Planet, we have to change our relationship with nature at the molecular level.

We are still living in an Industrial Age where we extract carbon-hydrogen bonds assembled by ancient plants and algae to power our world and to make plastic-based products.  To stay within the Planet's carrying capacity, we have to change this relationship with molecules.

This is the next, yet to be written, chapter:
The Nanoscale Era of Materials Engineering.

Industrial Age Part Two: Green Chemistry
Why be hopeful?  Scientists continue to move us closer to a new era of Industrial manufacturing based on a vision of 'Green Chemisty' in which we create the basic components used in making materials, energy, food and pharmaceuticals using more sustainable practices, often without the use of petroleum based feedstocks. Now we have another step forward.

Argonne National Lab researchers have developed a clustered platinum catalyst to reduce the amount of energy needed in converting propane (via oxidative dehydrogenation) into a propene feedstocks used in a wide variety of materials.  (I know these words seem strange, but they all related to different arrangements of carbon and hydrogen with oxygen to stir things up a bit.)

“Using platinum clusters, we have devised a way to catalyze propane not only in a more environmentally friendly way, but also using far less energy than previous methods,” said Argonne scientist Stefan Vajda.

Researchers believe that this 'new class of catalysts may lead to energy-efficient and environmentally friendly synthesis strategies and the possible replacement of petrochemical feedstocks by abundant small alkanes.' 

(Alkane?  There's another funny word.  But honestly, it's just a different arrangement of carbon and hydrogen! Whether you say 'ethelyne', 'human being' or 'breathing' it is just another funny way of saying carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.)

Related posts on Green Chemistry on The Energy

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Making Glass from Sugar?

December 03 2008 / by amisampat / In association with Future
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 1


Is there 'bio-plexiglass' in our future?

What happened?
Acrylic glass, or polymethyl methacrylate, could soon be made out of sugars, alcohol, or even fatty acids. Acrylic glass, which is sold under the name plexiglass, is used as a non shattering alternative to glass, in items such as protective goggles and vehicle lights.

Dr. Thore Rohwerder and Dr. Roland H. Muller were able to come up with an alternative solution to creating acrylic glass. Instead of it being a purely chemical process, based on petrochmical raw materials, they have found a way to use renewable raw bio-materials instead.

Why is the important to the future?

The demand for arcylic glass is expected to rise in the next few years. Having an alternative method to create this glass would benefit as the demand increases. Using renewable materials is an easy, fast solution to appease this problem while also being beneficial to the environment.

What to watch

Using renewable bio-materials is a long way from becoming used in commercial acrylic glass, but to be thinking of such things is a step in the right direction. Companies, such as DuPont, have already started thinking of the next generation applications for bio-materials. In September 2007, DuPont and Plantic Technologies created a joint venture - the development and sale of renewably sourced polymers.

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Chemists advance new theory to support next generation cleantech materials

December 13 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 1


The future of energy systems will be shaped by our ability to control light, electrons and molecules.  

If we expect to transform the world's largest industries then we need fundamental breakthroughs in materials science and engineering. 

This is not the time for incremental improvements, or resting on strategies of 'consuming' green.  This is the time to turn to science- chemistry, physics, and biology.

If we expect to use our natural resources more efficienctly, and create low cost solar cells, batteries and fuel cells, then we need to leap foward in our ability to manipulate and assemble chains (polymers) of hydrogen and carbon.

Now we are a step closer to realizing this new age of advanced materials science that enable leaps in performance and efficiencies.

What happened?
A team of Oregon University researchers led by Dr Marina Guenza, using data collected by European materials researchers, has developed a theory that could end the confusion over molecule behavior in the creation of polymer materials.

The new framework for explaining molecule movement might help lower costs and expand performance of materials used in the fields of engineering, nanotechnology, and renewable energy.

Why is this important to the future of energy?

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Chinese researchers develop platinum-free fuel cell

December 18 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 1

alkaline fuel cellMIT Technology Review has featured a research breakthrough in platinum free fuel cells that could significantly reduce costs for a unique type of fuel cell energy conversion devices.

A Wuhan University team led by Professor Lin Zhuang has developed an Alkaline Fuel Cell (AFC) using a new hydroxyl ion electrolyte that uses low cost nickel catalyst materials to react hydrogen and oxygen to create electrical current, heat and water.

NASA has used alkaline fuel cells (AFC) in space missions since the 1960s, but these types of fuel cells are not likely to be used in automobile or portable devices.  They might best be suited for onsite power generation, which is still an enormous market. AFCs use a water-based electrolye that lets postive charged molecules pass, diverting negative charges into the current.  They are very efficient (up to 70%) but do have their downsides.  If the team of researchers can increase the protoype's 'modest' electricity output (50 milliwatts/sq centimeter at 60 ºC) it could help bring low cost alkaline fuel cells to market.

Why is this important to the future of energy?
Understanding Fuel Cells & The Hype Cycle

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Rice University licenses bioengineered E Coli that produces key ingredient for biomaterials

December 19 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Biotechnology   Year: 2011   Rating: 1


The vision of 'Green Chemisty' is to create the basic components used in making materials, energy, food and pharmaceuticals using sustainable practices, often without the use of petroleum based feedstocks. 

Rice University researchers have bio-engineered Ecoli to produce large amounts of a key component used in the development of bio-based and biodegradable polymers.

What happened?
Raw (starch) materials provider Roquette Frères has licensed a bio-process from Rice University to use genetically engineered Ecoli that produce large quantities of succinic acid used in plastics, textiles, drugs and solvents and as a food additive.

The high volume process is competitive with petroleum based processes, and actually 'carbon negative' as it consumes carbon during the fermenation process.

Roquette Frères is not a household brand, but could go a long way in realizing a scalable way to produce bio-based succinic acid from renewable resources via “green” chemistry.

Roquette will develop a demonstration plant in France by the end of 2009 with the capacity to produce several hundred metric tons of succinic acid per year.   After successful demonstration of the technology, the company expects to begin large-scale production by 2011.

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Top Energy Science Breakthroughs in 2008 for Materials Science

December 27 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2009   Rating: 1

silicon lithium battery

How do you build an 'sustainable' economy for 9 billion people? 

Reinvent how we make, recycle and re-use metals, wood, glass, plastic and biomaterials that go into everyday products.

Who can enable the 'new energy economy'?  Our bet is on the Scientist, not the Consumer.

While some get excited over 'green products' like solar powered backpacks, better lightbulbs and organic cotton yoga mats, most notions of 'eco-friendly' products fall drastically short of what will be needed to meet the demands of adding another 3 billion people to the planet by 2050.

We need to reinvent the whole concept of 'Industrialism' to create new methods for producing materials using less energy and 'resources' in fundamentally new ways.

List of 2008 Stories in Energy Materials Science

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