University of Surrey researchers have found a ground-breaking development of technology that could revolutionize the capabilities of appliances that have previously relied on battery power to work. The development could translate into very high energy density supercapacitors making it possible to recharge your mobile phone, laptop or other mobile devices in just a few seconds.

The development by Augmented Optics Ltd., could translate into very high energy density supercapacitors making it possible to recharge your mobile phone, laptop or other mobile devices in just a few seconds.

The technology was adapted from the principles used to make soft contact lenses, which Dr Donald Highgate (of Augmented Optics, and an alumnus of the University of Surrey) developed following his postgraduate studies at Surrey 40 years ago.

Supercapacitors, an alternative power source to batteries, store energy using electrodes and electrolytes and both charge and deliver energy quickly, unlike conventional batteries which do so in a much slower, more sustained way. Supercapacitors have the ability to charge and discharge rapidly over very large numbers of cycles. However, because of their poor energy density per kilogram (approximately just one twentieth of existing battery technology), they have, until now, been unable to compete with conventional battery energy storage in many applications.

The technology could have a seismic impact across a number of industries, including transport, aerospace, energy generation, and household applications such as mobile phones, flat screen electronic devices, and biosensors.

It could also revolutionize electric cars, allowing the possibility for them to recharge as quickly as it takes for a regular non-electric car to refuel with petrol – a process that currently takes approximately 6-8 hours to recharge. The British researchers use the example of, instead of an electric car being limited to a drive from London to Brighton, the new technology could allow the electric car to travel from London to Edinburgh without the need to recharge, but when it did recharge for this operation to take just a few minutes to perform.

Supercapacitor buses are already being used in China, but they have a very limited range whereas this technology could allow them to travel a lot further between recharges. Instead of recharging every 2-3 stops this technology could mean they only need to recharge every 20-30 stops and that will only take a few seconds.

Elon Musk, of Tesla and SpaceX, has previously stated his belief that supercapacitors are likely to be the technology for future electric air transportation. The Surrey team believes that the present scientific advance could make that vision a reality.

Dr Brendan Howlin of the University of Surrey, explained: “There is a global search for new energy storage technology and this new ultra capacity supercapacitor has the potential to open the door to unimaginably exciting developments.”

Dr Ian Hamerton, Reader in Polymers and Composite Materials from the Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Bristol said: “While this research has potentially opened the route to very high density supercapacitors, these polymers have many other possible uses in which tough, flexible conducting materials are desirable, including bioelectronics, sensors, wearable electronics, and advanced optics. We believe that this is an extremely exciting and potentially game changing development.”

Supercapacitors have been on the storage list of potentials for years now with progress coming in leaps and technology breakthroughs leading to new ideas. There is still quite a way to go to compete with batteries head on. This new path might be the one.

University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) researchers have developed a simple processing technique that could cut the cost of organic photovoltaics and wearable electronics. The development by the UCSB team working with three other universities is a new technique for manufacturing single-layer organic polymer solar cells that might very well move organic photovoltaics into a whole new generation of wearable devices and enable small-scale distributed power generation.

The simple doping solution-based process involves briefly immersing organic semiconductor films in a solution at room temperature. This technique, which could replace a more complex approach that requires vacuum processing, has the potential to affect many device platforms, including organic printed electronics, sensors, photodetectors and light-emitting diodes.

Closeup of a polymer film on a glass substrate before immersion in a polyoxometalte solution to electrically dope the film over a limited depth. Image Credit: Christopher Moore. Click image for the largest view.

Closeup of a polymer film on a glass substrate before immersion in a polyoxometalte solution to electrically dope the film over a limited depth.
Image Credit: Christopher Moore. Click image for the largest view.

The researchers’ findings have been published in the journal Nature Materials.

Co-author Guillermo Bazan, director of UCSB’s Center for Polymers and Organic Solids said, “Because the new process is simple to use, general in terms of applicability and should be configurable into mass productions, it has the potential to greatly accelerate the widespread implementation of plastic electronics, of which solar cells are one example. One can see impacts in technologies ranging from light-emitting devices to transistors to transparent solar cells that can be incorporated into building design or greenhouses.”

Studied in many academic and industrial laboratories for two decades, organic solar cells have experienced a continuous and steady improvement in their power conversion efficiency with laboratory values reaching 13 percent compared to around 20 percent for commercial silicon-based cells. Though polymer-based cells are currently less efficient, they require less energy to produce than silicon cells and can be more easily recycled at the end of their lifetimes.

This new method, which provides a way of inducing p-type electrical doping in organic semiconductor films, offers a simpler alternative to the air-sensitive molybdenum oxide layers used in the most efficient polymer solar cells.  Thin films of organic semiconductors and their blends are immersed in polyoxometalate solutions in nitromethane for a brief time – on the order of minutes.  The geometry of these new devices is unique as the functions of hole and electron collection are built into the light-absorbing active layer, resulting in the simplest single-layer geometry with few interfaces.

Co-author Thuc-Quyen Nguyen, a professor in UCSB’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry explained, “High-performing organic solar cells require a multiple layer device structure. The realization of single-layer photovoltaics with our approach will simplify the device fabrication process and therefore should reduce the cost. The initial lifetime testing of these single layer devices is promising. This exciting development will help transform organic photovoltaics into a commercial technology.”

Organic solar cells are unique within the context of providing transparent, flexible and easy-to-fabricate energy-producing devices. These could result in a host of novel applications, such as energy-harvesting windows and films that enable zero-cost farming by creating greenhouses that support crops and produce energy at the same time.

Driving down the cost of solar cells is important in every field of use. But the high volume low power device market can be huge and world wide. Driven to lower prices will only serve to push demand and larger volume for even larger markets.

University of New South Wales engineers in Australia have smashed the new perovskite compound’s world efficiency record. Perovskites are the hottest new material in solar cell design because flexible, cheap to produce and simple to make.

Anita Ho-Baillie, a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) announced at the Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference in Canberra that her team at UNSW has achieved the highest efficiency rating with the largest perovskite solar cells to date.

Dr Anita Ho-Baillie With a new Record Efficiency Perovskite Solar Cell. Image Credit: Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics. Click image for the largest view.

Dr Anita Ho-Baillie With a new Record Efficiency Perovskite Solar Cell. Image Credit: Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics. Click image for the largest view.

The 12.1% efficiency rating was for a 16 cm2 perovskite solar cell, the largest single perovskite photovoltaic cell certified with the highest energy conversion efficiency, and was independently confirmed by the international testing center Newport Corp, in Bozeman, Montana. The new cell is at least 10 times bigger than the current certified high-efficiency perovskite solar cells on record.

Her team has also achieved an 18% efficiency rating on a 1.2 cm2 single perovskite cell, and an 11.5% for a 16 cm2 four-cell perovskite mini-module, both independently certified by Newport.

“This is a very hot area of research, with many teams competing to advance photovoltaic design,” said Ho-Baillie. “Perovskites came out of nowhere in 2009, with an efficiency rating of 3.8%, and have since grown in leaps and bounds. These results place UNSW amongst the best groups in the world producing state-of-the-art high-performance perovskite solar cells. And I think we can get to 24% within a year or so.”

Perovskite is a structured compound, where a hybrid organic-inorganic lead or tin halide-based material acts as the light-harvesting active layer. They are the fastest-advancing solar technology to date, and are attractive because the compound is cheap to produce and simple to manufacture, and can even be sprayed onto surfaces.

Ho-Baillie explained, “The versatility of solution deposition of perovskite makes it possible to spray-coat, print or paint on solar cells. The diversity of chemical compositions also allows cells be transparent, or made of different colors. Imagine being able to cover every surface of buildings, devices and cars with solar cells.”

Most of the world’s commercial solar cells are made from a refined, highly purified silicon crystal and, like the most efficient commercial silicon cells (known as PERC cells and invented at UNSW), need to be baked above 800?C in multiple high-temperature steps. Perovskites, on the other hand, are made at low temperatures and 200 times thinner than silicon cells.

But although perovskites hold much promise for cost-effective solar energy, they are currently prone to fluctuating temperatures and moisture, making them last only a few months without protection. Along with every other team in the world, Ho-Baillie’s is trying to extend its durability. Thanks to what engineers learned from more than 40 years of work with layered silicon, they’re are confident they can extend this.

Nevertheless, there are many existing applications where even disposable low-cost, high-efficiency solar cells could be attractive, such as use in disaster response, device charging and lighting in electricity-poor regions of the world. Perovskite solar cells also have the highest power to weight ratio amongst viable photovoltaic technologies.

Martin Green, Director of the ACAP and Ho-Baillie’s mentor said, “We will capitalize on the advantages of perovskites and continue to tackle issues important for commercialization, like scaling to larger areas and improving cell durability.” The project’s goal is to lift perovskite solar cell efficiency to 26%.

The research is part of a collaboration backed by $3.6 million in funding through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s (ARENA) ‘solar excellence’ initiative. ARENA’s CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the achievement demonstrated the importance of supporting early stage renewable energy technologies: “In the future, this world-leading R&D could deliver efficiency wins for households and businesses through rooftop solar as well as for big solar projects like those being advanced through ARENA’s investment in large-scale solar.”

To make a perovskite solar cells, engineers grow crystals into a structure known as ‘perovskite’, named after Lev Perovski, the Russian mineralogist who discovered it. They first dissolve a selection of compounds in a liquid to make the ‘ink’, then deposit this on a specialized glass which can conduct electricity. When the ink dries, it leaves behind a thin film that crystallizes on top of the glass when mild heat is applied, resulting in a thin layer of perovskite crystals.

The tricky part is growing a thin film of perovskite crystals so the resulting solar cell absorbs a maximum amount of light. Worldwide, engineers are working to create smooth and regular layers of perovskite with large crystal grain sizes in order to increase photovoltaic yields.

Its quite interesting to see how progress gathers and propels research further. Perovskite has the potential o be a large contributor to solar as the efficiency improves. How fat it will go is still speculative, but one wouldn’t want to bet on it not getting most anywhere someday.

A Waseda University research group has developed a hydrogen-carrying polymer, which can be molded as a tangible, safe, and compact plastic sheet. The Tokyo research group’s newly developed a polymer can store hydrogen in a light, compact and flexible sheet, and is safe to touch even when filled with hydrogen gas.

A sheet of the fluorenone and fluorenol hydrogel on a 5 g scale and the fluorenol sheet sealed up with a gas-barrier bag (after hydrogen releasing). Image Credit: Waseda University, Tokyo. Click image for the largest view.

A sheet of the fluorenone and fluorenol hydrogel on a 5 g scale and the fluorenol sheet sealed up with a gas-barrier bag (after hydrogen releasing). Image Credit: Waseda University, Tokyo. Click image for the largest view.

Although research and development on technology allowing hydrogen to become a major energy source has been going on for many years, the conventional methods of storing and carrying hydrogen were accompanied by safety risks such as explosions.

The research study paper was been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Recently, hydrogen-absorbing organic compounds have been studied as storage materials, for their ability to stably store and release hydrogen through chemical bonding. However, these compounds require vessels or tanks maintained at high pressure and/or temperature and often encounter difficulty in releasing the hydrogen gas. Widespread commercialization of hydrogen as an energy source requires a safer and more efficient system for storing and carrying it.

Led by Professors Hiroyuki Nishide and Kenichi Oyaizu of the Department of Applied Chemistry, the team developed a ketone (fluorenone) polymer, which can be produced as a thin sheet, and can fix hydrogen via simple electrolytic hydrogenation in water at room temperature. Furthermore, the fluorenol polymer can release hydrogen when heated to 80º Celsius with an aqueous iridium catalyst. The group proved that under mild conditions the cycle of fixing and releasing hydrogen can be repeated without significant deterioration.

The advantages of the ketone/alcohol polymer include easy handling, moldability, robustness, non-flammability and low toxicity, pointing the way to the development of a light, thin plastic container that can be carried in your pocket. The new material is also expected to contribute to the creation of distributed energy systems, especially in remote areas.

Sounds good. The hydrogen folks are sure to check this out in fine detail. Fine enough will take time, but this technology might be what breaks out the hydrogen economy into the mass market.

A University of Bristol team of physicists and chemists have grown a man-made diamond that when placed in a radioactive field, is able to generate a small electrical current. The new technology is a development that uses nuclear waste to generate electricity in a nuclear-powered battery. The development could solve some of the problems of nuclear waste, clean electricity generation and battery life.

This innovative method for radioactive energy was presented at the Cabot Institute’s sold-out annual lecture – ‘Ideas to change the world’- last Friday, November 25th, 2016.

Unlike the majority of electricity-generation technologies, which use energy to move a magnet through a coil of wire to generate a current, the man-made diamond is able to produce a charge simply by being placed in close proximity to a radioactive source.

Tom Scott, Professor in Materials in the University’s Interface Analysis Centre and a member of the Cabot Institute, said, “There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation. By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy.”

The team have demonstrated a prototype ‘diamond battery’ using Nickel-63 as the radiation source. However, they are now working to significantly improve efficiency by utilising carbon-14, a radioactive version of carbon, which is generated in graphite blocks used to moderate the reaction in nuclear power plants. Research by academics at Bristol has shown that the radioactive carbon-14 is concentrated at the surface of these blocks, making it possible to process it to remove the majority of the radioactive material. The extracted carbon-14 is then incorporated into a diamond to produce a nuclear-powered battery.

The UK for example, currently holds almost 95,000 metric tons of graphite blocks and by extracting carbon-14 from them, their radioactivity decreases, reducing the cost and challenge of safely storing this nuclear waste.

Dr. Neil Fox from the School of Chemistry explained, “Carbon-14 was chosen as a source material because it emits a short-range radiation, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material. This would make it dangerous to ingest or touch with your naked skin, but safely held within diamond, no short-range radiation can escape. In fact, diamond is the hardest substance known to man, there is literally nothing we could use that could offer more protection.”

Despite their low-power, relative to current battery technologies, the life-time of these diamond batteries could revolutionize the powering of devices over long timescales. Using carbon-14 the battery would take 5,730 years to reach 50 percent power, which is about as long as human civilization has existed.

Professor Scott added: “We envision these batteries to be used in situations where it is not feasible to charge or replace conventional batteries. Obvious applications would be in low-power electrical devices where long life of the energy source is needed, such as pacemakers, satellites, high-altitude drones or even spacecraft. There are so many possible uses that we’re asking the public to come up with suggestions of how they would utilize this technology by using #diamondbattery.”

This is another example of astonishing and intrepid innovation and creativity. While we’re a ways off from seeing this on the market, and likely some governmental oversight, as that scare the daylights word, “radioactivity’ is involved, this is an idea of great merit. The idea will need a great deal of shepherding, but the benefits are there and the risk is buried in a diamond.