Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) scientists have found a way for recycled tires to see new life in lithium-ion batteries. By modifying the microstructural characteristics of carbon black, a substance recovered from discarded tires, a team is developing a better anode for lithium-ion batteries.

Recycled Tire Carbon Black Recovery for Battery Anode Schematic. Click image for the largest view,

Recycled Tire Carbon Black Recovery for Battery Anode Schematic. Click image for the largest view,

The team led by Parans Paranthaman and Amit Naskar is developing a better anode for lithium-ion batteries. An anode is a negatively charged electrode used as a host for storing lithium during charging.

The method is outlined in a paper published in the journal RSC Advances describing numerous advantages over conventional approaches to making anodes for lithium-ion batteries.

Paranthaman said, “Using waste tires for products such as energy storage is very attractive not only from the carbon materials recovery perspective but also for controlling environmental hazards caused by waste tire stock piles.”

The ORNL technique uses a proprietary pretreatment to recover carbon black material, in a morphologically tailored pyrolysis process, which is similar to graphite but man-made. When used in anodes of lithium-ion batteries, researchers produced a small, laboratory-scale battery with a reversible capacity that is higher than what is possible with commercial graphite materials.

The surprising result is after 100 cycles the capacity measures nearly 390 milliamp hours per gram of carbon anode, which exceeds the best properties of commercial graphite. Researchers attribute this to the unique microstructure of the tire-derived carbon.

“This kind of performance is highly encouraging, especially in light of the fact that the global battery market for vehicles and military applications is approaching $78 billion and the materials market is expected to hit $11 billion in 2018,” Paranthaman said.

Naskar noted anodes are one of the principle battery components, with 11 to 15 percent of the materials market share and that the new method could eliminate a number of hurdles.

“This technology addresses the need to develop an inexpensive, environmentally benign carbon composite anode material with high-surface area, higher-rate capability and long-term stability,” Naskar said.

ORNL plans to work with U.S. industry to license this technology and produce lithium-ion cells for automobile, stationary storage, medical and military applications. ORNL has posted the solicitation titled, “Low-Cost, Graphite Anodes For Lithium-Ion Batteries,” in FedBizOpps (www.fbo.gov). The solicitation (#ORNL-TT-2014-08) closes Sept. 15. Other potential uses include water filtration, gas sorption and storage.

The technology ideas for lithium-ion batteries keeps on coming. So fast that commercial integration is a difficult challenge. This idea could well get to scale as the recycling product would have a high value added to the other products from recycled tires. Maybe one day recyclers will pay us to get old tires inside of us paying them to take the tires away.

A study by researchers from Mississippi State University, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other institutions shows methane plumes in the water column between Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and Georges Bank, Massachusetts. The study shows natural methane leakage from the seafloor is far more widespread on the U.S. Atlantic margin than previously thought.

At least 570 seafloor cold seeps have been found on the outer continental shelf and the continental slope, areas lying between the coastline and the deep ocean, constituting the continental margin.

Methane Cold Seeps Atlantic Map with Depths.  Click image for the largest view.  See the press release page linked above for a link to a high resolution image.

Methane Cold Seeps Atlantic Map with Depths. Click image for the largest view. See the press release page linked above for a link to a high resolution image.

Cold seeps are areas where gases and fluids leak into the overlying water from the sediments. They are designated as cold to distinguish them from hot hydrothermal vents, which are sites where new oceanic crust is being formed and hot fluids are being emitted at the seafloor. Cold seeps can occur in a much broader range of environments than hydrothermal vents.

The team’s study paper has been published in Nature Geoscience.

Prior to this study, only three seep areas had been identified beyond the edge of the continental shelf, which occurs at approximately 180 meters (590 feet) water depth between Florida and Maine on the U.S. Atlantic seafloor.

Adam Skarke, the study’s lead author and a professor at Mississippi State University takes up the explanation with, “Widespread seepage had not been expected on the Atlantic margin. It is not near a plate tectonic boundary like the U.S. Pacific coast, nor associated with a petroleum basin like the northern Gulf of Mexico.”

The natural gas being emitted by the seeps has not yet been sampled, but the researchers believe most of the leaking methane is produced by microbial processes in shallow sediments. This interpretation is based primarily on the locations of the seeps and knowledge of the underlying geology. Microbial methane is not the type found in deep-seated reservoirs and often tapped as a natural gas resource.

Most of the newly discovered methane seeps lie at depths close to the shallowest conditions at which deepwater marine gas hydrate can exist on the continental slope. Gas hydrate is a naturally occurring, ice-like combination of methane and water, and forms at temperature and pressure conditions commonly found in waters deeper than approximately 500 meters (1640 feet).

Carolyn Ruppel, study co-author and chief of the USGS Gas Hydrates Project said, “Warming of ocean temperatures on seasonal, decadal or much longer time scales can cause gas hydrate to release its methane, which may then be emitted at seep sites. Such continental slope seeps have previously been recognized in the Arctic, but not at mid-latitudes. So this is a first.”

Most seeps described in the new study are too deep for the methane to directly reach the atmosphere, but the methane that remains in the water column can be oxidized to carbon dioxide. This in turn increases the acidity of ocean waters and reduces oxygen levels.

Other shallow-water seeps that may be related to offshore groundwater discharge were detected at the edge of the shelf and in the upper part of Hudson Canyon, an undersea gorge that represents the offshore extension of the Hudson River. Methane from these seeps could directly reach the atmosphere, contributing to increased concentrations of this potent greenhouse gas. More extensive shallow-water surveys than described in this study will be required to document the extent of such seeps.

Some of the new methane seeps were discovered in 2012. In summer 2013 a Brown University undergraduate and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hollings Scholar Mali’o Kodis worked with Skarke to analyze about 94,000 square kilometers (about 36,000 square miles) of water column imaging data to map the methane plumes. The data had been collected by the vessel Okeanos Explorer between 2011 and 2013. The Okeanos Explorer and the Deep Discoverer remotely operated vehicle, which has photographed the seafloor at some of the methane seeps, are managed by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

John Haines, coordinator of the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program explained the arrangements, “This study continues the tradition of advancing U.S. marine science research through partnerships between federal agencies and the involvement of academic researchers. NOAA’s Ocean Exploration program acquired state-of-the-art data at the scale of the entire margin, while academic and USGS scientists teamed to interpret these data in the context of a research problem of global significance.”

Two questions come up, one being are these global warming results? Not remotely likely as authigenic carbonates observations imply that the emissions have continued for more than 1,000 years at some seeps, something that the major mass media will most likely overlook. The next would be are these commercially viable? It is possible, but the technology isn’t readily at hand nor is the overseeing agencies geared up or even interested in permitting for production so far.

The study authors do point out that extrapolating the upper-slope seep density on this margin area to the global passive margin system, allows a suggestion that tens of thousands of seeps could be discoverable.

Natural gas or better said as methane, seems to be everywhere in substantial amounts.

Stanford University scientists have developed a low-cost, emissions-free device that uses an ordinary AAA battery to produce hydrogen by water electrolysis. Unlike other water splitters that use precious-metal catalysts, the electrodes in this device are made of inexpensive and abundant nickel and iron.

Professor Hongjie Dai and colleagues have developed a cheap, emissions-free device that uses a 1.5-volt battery to split water into hydrogen and oxygen at room temperature. The hydrogen gas could be used to power fuel cells in zero-emissions vehicles.

The new technology could become significant as Toyota and other manufacturers plan in 2015 to offer American consumers fuel cell cars. Although touted as zero-emissions vehicles, most of the cars will run on hydrogen made from the fossil fuel natural gas.

Professor Dai explains, “Using nickel and iron, which are cheap materials, we were able to make the electrocatalysts active enough to split water at room temperature with a single 1.5-volt battery. This is the first time anyone has used non-precious metal catalysts to split water at a voltage that low. It’s quite remarkable, because normally you need expensive metals, like platinum or iridium, to achieve that voltage.”

Nickel Iron Low Voltage Water Splitting Catalyst. Click image for the largest view.

Nickel Iron Low Voltage Water Splitting Catalyst. Click image for the largest view.

Dai and his colleagues describe the new device in a study published in the Aug. 22 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Dai also noted that in addition to producing hydrogen, the novel water splitter could be used to make chlorine gas and sodium hydroxide, important industrial chemicals.

Splitting water to make hydrogen doesn’t necessitate fossil fuels and could emit no greenhouse gases. But scientists have yet to develop an affordable, active water splitter with catalysts capable of working at industrial scales.

“It’s been a constant pursuit for decades to make low-cost electrocatalysts with high activity and long durability,” Dai said. “When we found out that a nickel-based catalyst is as effective as platinum, it came as a complete surprise.

“The discovery was made by Stanford graduate student Ming Gong, co-lead author of the study. “Ming discovered a nickel-metal/nickel-oxide structure that turns out to be more active than pure nickel metal or pure nickel oxide alone,” Dai said. “This novel structure favors hydrogen electrocatalysis, but we still don’t fully understand the science behind it.”

The nickel/nickel-oxide catalyst significantly lowers the voltage required to split water, which could eventually save hydrogen producers billions of dollars in electricity costs, according to Gong.

The next goal is to improve the durability of the device.

“The electrodes are fairly stable, but they do slowly decay over time,” Gong said. “The current device would probably run for days, but weeks or months would be preferable. That goal is achievable based on my most recent results”

The researchers also plan to develop a water splitter than runs on electricity produced by solar energy.

“Hydrogen is an ideal fuel for powering vehicles, buildings and storing renewable energy on the grid,” said Dai. “We’re very glad that we were able to make a catalyst that’s very active and low cost. This shows that through nanoscale engineering of materials we can really make a difference in how we make fuels and consume energy.”

The new technology may be quite significant as solar power research enters the field. Its worth noting the other authors of the study are Wu Zhou, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (co-lead author); Mingyun Guan, Meng-Chang Lin, Bo Zhang, Di-Yan Wang and Jiang Yang, Stanford; Mon-Che Tsai and Bing-Joe Wang, National Taiwan University of Science and Technology; Jiang Zhou and Yongfeng Hu, Canadian Light Source Inc.; and Stephen J. Pennycook, University of Tennessee.

Driving hydrogen production costs low enough, fuel cell prices down far enough and storage systems cheap enough, could make the hydrogen enthusiasts’ dream a reality.

A Michigan State University research team has developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy permitting the ability to actually see through the window.

Solar power with a view: MSU doctoral student Yimu Zhao holds up a transparent luminescent solar concentrator module. Image Credit: Yimu Zhao, Michigan State.  Click image for the largest view.

Solar power with a view: MSU doctoral student Yimu Zhao holds up a transparent luminescent solar concentrator module.
Image Credit: Yimu Zhao, Michigan State. Click image for the largest view.

The new technology is called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator and can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a flat, clear surface. According to Richard Lunt of MSU’s College of Engineering, the key word is “transparent.”

Lunt and research team members Yimu Zhao, an MSU doctoral student in chemical engineering and materials science, Benjamin Levine, assistant professor of chemistry, and Garrett Meek, doctoral student in chemistry, saw their research paper recently featured on the cover of the journal Advanced Optical Materials.

So far research in the production of energy from solar cells placed around luminescent plastic-like materials is not new. These past efforts, however, have yielded poor results – the energy production was inefficient and the materials were highly colored.

Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science explained, “No one wants to sit behind colored glass. It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.”

The solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,” he said.
The “glowing” infrared light is guided to the edge of the plastic where it is converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.

“Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” Lunt said.

One of the benefits of this new development is its flexibility. While the technology is at an early stage, it has the potential to be scaled to commercial or industrial applications with an affordable cost.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

Lunt said more work is needed in order to improve its energy-producing efficiency. Currently it is able to produce a solar conversion efficiency close to 1 percent, but noted they aim to reach efficiencies beyond 5 percent when fully optimized. The best colored LSC has an efficiency of around 7 percent.

The technology looks from the press release photo to be extraordinary in its clarity. That would be a huge starting point. The efficiency is not a number of great note, but the ratio of production to cost isn’t known, thus the application, cost and payback equation is still to be determined.

There are sure to be applications where this technology would have a worthy role. Lets hope there is enough market the costs can driven quite low.


A system proposed by researchers at MIT recycles materials from discarded car batteries into new, long-lasting solar panels that provide emissions-free power. Lead acid car batteries are a potential source of lead pollution, which makes the idea a classic win-win solution.

The system is described in a paper in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, co-authored by professors Angela M. Belcher and Paula T. Hammond, graduate student Po-Yen Chen, and three others.

The solar cell idea for recycled lead is based on a recent development in solar cells that makes use of a compound called perovskite – specifically, organolead halide perovskite – a technology that has rapidly progressed from initial experiments to a point where its efficiency is nearly competitive with that of other types of solar cells.

Belcher, the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy at MIT said, “It went from initial demonstrations to good efficiency in less than two years.” Already, perovskite-based photovoltaic cells have achieved power-conversion efficiency of more than 19 percent, which is close to that of many commercial silicon-based solar cells.

Initial descriptions of the perovskite technology identified its use of lead, whose production from raw ores can produce toxic residues, as a drawback. But by using recycled lead from old car batteries, the manufacturing process can instead be used to divert toxic material from landfills and reuse it in photovoltaic panels that could go on producing power for decades.

Because the perovskite photovoltaic material takes the form of a thin film just half a micrometer thick, the team’s analysis shows that the lead from a single car battery could produce enough solar panels to provide power for an astonishing 30 households.

As an added advantage, the production of perovskite solar cells is a relatively simple and benign process. “It has the advantage of being a low-temperature process, and the number of steps is reduced” compared with the manufacture of conventional solar cells, Belcher said.

Those factors will help to make it “easy to get to large scale cheaply,” Chen added.

In a finished solar panel, the lead-containing layer would be fully encapsulated by other materials, as many solar panels are today, limiting the risk of lead contamination of the environment. When the panels are eventually retired, the lead can simply be recycled into new solar panels.

Chen noted, “The process to encapsulate them will be the same as for polymer cells today. That technology can be easily translated.”

Hammond noted, “It is important that we consider the life cycles of the materials in large-scale energy systems. And here we believe the sheer simplicity of the approach bodes well for its commercial implementation.”

Belcher pointed out one motivation for using the lead in old car batteries is that battery technology is undergoing rapid change, with new, more efficient types, such as lithium-ion batteries, swiftly taking over the market saying, “Once the battery technology evolves, over 200 million lead-acid batteries will potentially be retired in the United States, and that could cause a lot of environmental issues.”

Today, she said, 90 percent of the lead recovered from the recycling of old batteries is used to produce new batteries, but over time the market for new lead-acid batteries is likely to decline, potentially leaving a large stockpile of lead with no obvious application.

Belcher believes that the recycled perovskite solar cells will be embraced by other photovoltaics researchers, who can now fine-tune the technology for maximum efficiency. The team’s work clearly demonstrates that lead recovered from old batteries is just as good for the production of perovskite solar cells as freshly produced metal.

Some companies are already gearing up for commercial production of perovskite photovoltaic panels, which could otherwise require new sources of lead. Since this could expose miners and smelters to toxic fumes, the introduction of recycling instead could provide immediate benefits, the team said.

This is good news for the solar cell industry. While the mining and recycling of lead is a minor issue in the developed world it remains a problem where employee safety and environmental pollution isn’t taken as seriously. Refined lead out in the environment is a really bad thing that justifies everyone keep an eye out and get those old batteries back in for recycling.