VIASPACE's fuel cell subsidiary Direct Methanol Fuel Cell Corporation (DMFCC) will deliver disposable methanol fuel cartridges to Samsung for integration into portable electronics like notebook computers, mobile phones and small portable power stations.
The agreement is an early indicator of a new category for the energy sector based on a simple, but disruptive alternative to 'plugging in' - Refillable Packets sold over retail shelves that offer a real cost and performance alternative to the grid.
The Disruptive Power of High Density Storage
Electron Economy via 'Streams vs Packets'
In the years ahead, we could see the emergence of a new form of 'packet' based energy distribution that could undercut the grid's last mile, and the notion of 'plugging in' objects to a wall socket connected to a 'stream' of electricity.
The future of electricity depends on chemical storage. Batteries require us to 'plug in' and recharge. Fuel cells keep the 'fuel' (e.g. hydrogen/methanol) and oxidant separate offering a 'refill' platform. One is a storage device dependent on the wall socket, the other is its own 'power plant' that requires businesses to supply 'fuel' rather than direct access to the grid.
High density refillable packets based on advanced chemical storage (e.g. methanol, solid hydrogen) represent a classic 'low end disruption' strategy popularized by Clayton Christensen.
Instead of massive market populations around the world waiting for the electrical grid to arrive via a wall socket, why not sell them power packs next to bars of soap at the retail level. Imagine disposable batteries on steroids.
It is a simple but disruptive idea to the notion of end point grid access. What if Walmart could sell you a 20-pack of energy cartridges to fuel all of your home appliances and gadgets? Or electric vehicles (via solid hydrogen bricks)?
Why push for energy Packets?
Learn from 'Streams' of Water vs 'Packets' of Bottled Water
What if Barack Obama said in his first State of the Union address: 'America must invest in high surface area materials...' ?
Most people would be puzzled. Some minds would probably close down after hearing something slightly intimidating and 'scientific'.
Why surface area? Why not say 'invest in better batteries, cleaning up fossil fuels, solar and hydrogen'?
Energy is about Interactions
Surface area enables better interactions between light, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, metals, and bio enzymes. (At least, that's the short answer.)
The real road to a 'New Energy Economy' is paved at the nanoscale of material science.
What types of applications can we expect?
1) High surface area materials - Trap Molecules & Light
Imagine being able to 'trap' harmful molecules that are byproducts of coal or oil.
Or solar cells that hold photons longer to produce more energy!
2) Solid state storage of energy - High Density Packets
Imagine billions of people buying high density 'packets' of energy at retail stores. We 'refill' instead of 'plugging into' wall sockets. Or electric vehicles that can be refilled by swapping out 'bricks' of energy in the form of solid Hydrogen.
The Evolution of MOFs
Chemical Engineering & News is reporting on progress in a very promising class of high surface area materials that can absorb hydrogen and carbon: Metal Organic Frameworks or MOFs.
MOFs are highly ordered interconnected 'lego' like structures that have open pores that can selectively absorb molecules. It is a 'sponge' with the highest surface area of all known materials- estimated at several football fields per gram.
The problem? Clogged pores.
Now, a team led by UCLA's Professor Omar M. Yaghi, who synthesized MOFs in mid 1990s at Michigan, has developed a technique using supercritical fluids that essentially clean out the material leading to a vast network of open holes.
What to do next? Somebody tell Barack Obama to make Molecular Surface Area a National Priority
Related posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
Researchers from RIKEN’s Harima Institute have designed a unique version of a high surface area material known as Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs). Their version of these ‘lego-like’ scaffolding have two different size pores useful in manipulating metals to interact with carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules.
The larger pores could be helpful in separating alcohol gases from water in creation of fuels from biomass, while the smaller pores can be used to store hydrogen as a solid.
We have featured a number of stories (below) on MOFs, and believe they are on a solid development path towards commercialization in a wide range of energy applications.
First synthesized in the mid 1990s, MOFs have the highest surface area of any known material. They can be used for 'separating (carbon-hydrogen rich) gases, acting as catalysts to speed up chemical reactions, and for storing gases as solids.'
The future of energy will be based on our mastering of interactions between basic units like light, molecules, and metals. MOFs provide human beings with a platform of unprecedented surface area that increase our ability to manipulate these interactions. They might play a critical role in enabling a new era of energy systems that go beyond 'extraction' of hydrocarbon reserves.
Why Science, Not Consumerism, is Needed to Move beyond the ‘Extraction’ Era of Energy
Human beings have mastered the brute-force era of ‘energy by engineering’ where we’ve pulled stored energy from the Earth locked up as coal, oil and natural gas. But we are just beginning to achieve a more Zen-like ability to manipulate molecules that we harness and store ourselves.
Energy is about the interaction of molecules. And the way human beings can create cleaner energy interactions is by designing materials at the nanoscale to achieve unprecedented performance. Surface area is a key piece to this puzzle.
One Gram = One Football Field = How many molecules?
Now, imagine holding a material in your hand that was made up of tiny nano-sized ‘cages’ that could hold gas molecules like hydrogen and carbon. Now imagine a gram of this material having the surface area of a football field. How many hydrogen or carbon molecules could you fit in that space? We don't yet know what practical storage systems might yield. This is a big question for energy researchers.
A research team led by University of Michigan’s Adam Matzger has created a novel nanoporous material known as UMCM-2 (University of Michigan Crystalline Material-2) that could claim the world record for surface area with more than 5,000 square meters per gram.
"Surface area is an important, intrinsic property that can affect the behavior of materials in processes ranging from the activity of catalysts to water detoxification to purification of hydrocarbons," Matzger said. That means we can design high surface area materials to scrub carbon leaving cleaner hydrogen bonds, or desalinate water using less energy.
Until recently the threshold for surface area was 3,000 square meters per gram. Then in 2004, a U-M team that included Matzger reported development of a material known as MOF-177 (metal-organic frameworks) that has the surface area of a football field.
"Pushing beyond that point has been difficult," Matzger said, but apparently not impossible using a new method of coordination copolymerization. If it's hard to get your head around, just think: Building Legos wth Molecules! That's a Big Idea!
Related posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
Next generation energy storage solutions (e.g. batteries, fuel cells, capacitors) continue to gain attention from investors and energy forecasters who see significant growth ahead beyond typical production side investments.
A new report from Lux Research, titled Thin Batteries: Novel Storage Powering Novel Devices, believes that this low cost battery platform could have 'enough juice to grow from a $19 million market in 2008 to a market of over $250 million in 2014.'
The report updates Lux Research's analyses of eight thin battery manufacturers and draws on nine additional interviews with application developers downstream to assemble a comprehensive perspective on thin battery technologies, companies, and markets.
Thin batteries appear to be following a classic 'low end disruption' growth strategy of avoiding direct head to head competition with current 'coin cell' batteries in favor of growing around new applications. Lux describes potential growth across a range of sectors including healthcare (e.g. drug delivery patches), media (e.g. video displays), and information systems (e.g. RFIDs/Sensors)
Lux expects opportunities for investors able to find opportunities in later stage funding rounds but stress the inevitability of shake out in emerging markets. "By 2014, there simply won't be enough space in this market for ten thin battery companies to sustain a healthy business," said Jacob Grose, an Analyst at Lux Research and the report's lead author "Anyone interested in getting a seat at the table will need to identify the winners, and identify them early."