Penn State scientists have designed a new flexible thermoelectric generator that can wrap around pipes and other hot surfaces and convert wasted heat into electricity more efficiently than previously possible.

The energy systems that power our lives also produce wasted heat – like heat that radiates off hot water pipes in buildings and exhaust pipes on vehicles.

The report about the new device has been published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Power performance (right) of the state-of-the-art hH and other thermoelectric modules with a comprehensive power density comparison (left). Image Credit: Penn State. Click image for the largest view.

Shashank Priya, associate vice president for research and professor of materials science and engineering at Penn State said, “A large amount of heat from the energy we consume is essentially being thrown away, often dispersed right into the atmosphere. We haven’t had cost-effective ways with conformal shapes to trap and convert that heat to useable energy. This research opens that door.”

Penn State researchers have been working to improve the performance of thermoelectric generators – devices that can convert differences in temperature to electricity. When the devices are placed near a heat source, electrons moving from the hot side to the cold side produce an electric current, the scientists explained.

In prior work, the team created rigid devices that were more efficient than commercial units in high-temperature applications. Now the team has developed a new manufacturing process to produce flexible devices that offer higher power output and efficiency, they said.

Wenjie Li, assistant research professor at Penn State said, “These results provide a promising pathway toward widespread utilization of thermoelectric technology into waste heat recovery applications,” said Wenjie Li, assistant research professor at Penn State. “This could have a significant impact on the development of practical thermal to electrical generators.”

Flexible devices better fit the most attractive waste heat sources, like pipes in industrial and residential buildings and on vehicles. And they don’t have to be glued on surfaces like traditional, rigid devices, which further decreases efficiency.

In tests being conducted on a gas flue, the new device exhibited 150% higher power density than other state-of-the-art units, the scientists reported in the paper at Applied Materials & Interfaces. A scaled-up version, just over 3-inches squared, maintained a 115% power density advantage. That version exhibited a total power output of 56.6 watts when placed on the hot surface.

Priya explained, “Think about an industrial power plant with pipes hundreds of feet long. If you can wrap these devices around an area that large, you could generate kilowatts of energy from wasted heat that’s normally just being thrown away. You could convert discarded heat into something useful.”

Thermoelectric devices are made up of small couples, each resembling a table with two legs. Many of these two-leg couples are connected together, typically forming a flat, square device.

In creating the new device, scientists placed six couples along a thin strip. They then used flexible metal foil to connect 12 of the strips together, creating a device with 72 couples. Liquid metal was used between the layers of each strip to improve device performance, the scientist said.

Bed Poudel, associate research professor at Penn State commented, “As you scale up these devices, you often lose power density, making it challenging to fabricate large-scale thermoelectric generators. This illustrates the extraordinary performance of our 72-couple device.”

The team noted the 72-couple device exhibited the highest reported output power and device power density from a single thermoelectric generator.

The gaps between the strips provide the flexibility to fit around shapes like pipes. The gaps also allow for flexibility in altering the fill factor, or the ratio between the area of thermoelectric material and the area of the device, which can be used to optimize thermoelectric devices for different heat sources.

Other Penn State researchers on the project were Amin Nozariasbmarz, assistant research professor; Han Byul Kang and Hangtain Zhu, postdoctoral researchers; and Carter Dettor, a former graduate student. Ravi Anant Kishore, research engineer at National Renewable Energy Laboratory, also contributed.

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This could be a breakthrough. A 150% increase is quite an improvement, and 115% very impressive at about 9 square inches, almost enough to wrap a 1 inch pipe. Your humble writer is impressed and hope the work continues and grows even more productive. There is an immense amount of energy just radiated out into the atmosphere to be gathered and used.

Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have developed a smart and super-efficient new way of capturing carbon dioxide and converting it to solid carbon. The technology is designed to smoothly integrated into existing industrial processes so helping advance the decarbonization of heavy industries.

The research is published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

Decarbonization is an immense technical challenge for heavy industries like cement and steel, which are not only energy-intensive but also directly emit CO2 as part of the production process.

The new technology offers a pathway for instantly converting carbon dioxide as it is produced and locking it permanently in a solid state, keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Co-lead researcher Associate Professor Torben Daeneke said the work built on an earlier experimental approach that used liquid metals as a catalyst, “Our new method still harnesses the power of liquid metals but the design has been modified for smoother integration into standard industrial processes. As well as being simpler to scale up, the new tech is radically more efficient and can break down CO2 to carbon in an instant. We hope this could be a significant new tool in the push towards decarbonization, to help industries and governments deliver on their climate commitments and bring us radically closer to net zero.”

A provisional patent application has been filed for the technology and researchers have recently signed a $AUD 2.6 million agreement with Australian environmental technology company ABR, who are commercializing technologies to decarbonise the cement and steel manufacturing industries.

Co-lead researcher Dr Ken Chiang said the team was keen to hear from other companies to understand the challenges in difficult-to-decarbonise industries and identify other potential applications of the technology, “To accelerate the sustainable industrial revolution and the zero carbon economy, we need smart technical solutions and effective research-industry collaborations.”

The steel and cement industries are each responsible for about 7% of total global CO2 emissions per the International Energy Agency, with both sectors expected to continue growing over coming decades as demand is fuelled by population growth and urbanization.

Technologies for carbon capture and storage (CCS) have largely focused on compressing the gas into a liquid and injecting it underground, but this comes with significant engineering challenges and environmental concerns. CCS has also drawn criticism for being too expensive and energy-intensive for widespread use.

Daeneke, an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow, said the new approach offered a sustainable alternative, with the aim of both preventing CO2 emissions and delivering value-added reutilization of carbon, “Turning CO2 into a solid avoids potential issues of leakage and locks it away securely and indefinitely. And because our process does not use very high temperatures, it would be feasible to power the reaction with renewable energy.”

The Australian Government has highlighted CCS as a priority technology for investment in its net zero plan, announcing a $1 billion fund for the development of new low emissions technologies.

The RMIT team, with lead author and PhD researcher Karma Zuraiqi, employed thermal chemistry methods widely used by industry in their development of the new CCS tech.

The “bubble column” method starts with liquid metal being heated to about 100-120° C. Carbon dioxide is injected into the liquid metal, with the gas bubbles rising up just like bubbles in a champagne glass. As the bubbles move through the liquid metal, the gas molecule splits up to form flakes of solid carbon, with the reaction taking just a split second.

“It’s the extraordinary speed of the chemical reaction we have achieved that makes our technology commercially viable, where so many alternative approaches have struggled,” Chiang said.

The next stage in the research is scaling up the proof-of-concept to a modularized prototype the size of a shipping container, in collaboration with industry partner ABR.

ABR Project Director David Ngo said the RMIT process turns a waste product into a core ingredient in the next generation of cement blends. “Climate change will not be solved by one single solution, however, the collaboration between ABR and RMIT will yield an efficient and effective technology for our net-zero goals,” Ngo said.

The team is also investigating potential applications for the converted carbon, including in construction materials.

Daeneke noted, “Ideally the carbon we make could be turned into a value-added product, contributing to the circular economy and enabling the CCS technology to pay for itself over time.”

The research involved a multi-disciplinary collaboration across engineering and science, with RMIT co-authors Jonathan Clarke-Hannaford, Billy James Murdoch, Associate Professor Kalpit Shah and Professor Michelle Spencer.

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This news should send the alarmed folks a huge sense of relief. It not enough to greatly worry the botanical folks. With current CO2 levels looking to be coming up on half the average seen in ice cores, and plant life flourishing, now might be a good time for something like this to get adopted. With this tech and the technology needed to cut down on the soot expelled from coal burners we just might find a happy current carbon cycle in place someday.

Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology using a simple, environmentally sound and efficient approach involving the calcination of a bio-based polymer retained most of its initial capacity over thousands of cycles.

The researchers sought to overcome the slow charging times of conventional lithium-ion batteries and have developed a new anode material that allows for ultrafast charging. The findings of this study could pave the way to fast-charging and durable batteries for electric vehicles.

An ever-increasing number of researchers are currently focusing on improving electric vehicles (EVs) to make them a more attractive alternative to conventional gasoline cars. The battery improvement of EVs is a key issue to attract more drivers. In addition to safety, autonomy, and durability, most people want quickness in charging. Currently, it takes 40-minute with state-of-the-art EVs while gas cars can be ‘recharged’ in no longer than five minutes. The charging time is thought to need to be below 15 minutes to be an EV to be viable option.

Unsurprisingly, lithium-ion batteries (LIBs), which are used everywhere with portable electronic devices, have been recognized as an option in the field of EVs, and new strategies are always being sought to improve their performance. One way to shorten the charging time of LIBs is to increase the diffusion rate of lithium ions, which in turn can be done by increasing the interlayer distance in the carbon-based materials used in the battery’s anode. While this has been achieved with some success by introducing nitrogen impurities (technically referred to as ‘nitrogen doping’), there is no method easily available to control interlayer distance or to concentrate the doping element.

A bio-based anode material for ultrafast battery charging, Poly (benzimidazole), the precursor for the proposed anodematerial, can be derived from biological processes and processed easily to create fast-charging lithium-ion batteries. Their adoption in electric vehicles will make them more attractive to consumers over conventional cars, leading to a cleaner environments and reduced CO2 emissions. Image Credit: Noriyoshi Matsumi from Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Click image for the largest view.

In this situation, a team of scientists from Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST) recently developed an approach for anode fabrication that could lead to extremely fast-charging of LIBs. The team, led by Prof. Noriyoshi Matsumi, consists of Prof. Tatsuo Kaneko, Senior Lecturer Rajashekar Badam, JAIST Technical Specialist Koichi Higashimine, JAIST Research Fellow Yueying Peng, and JAIST student Kottisa Sumala Patnaik.

Their findings were have been published online in Chemical Communications.

Their strategy constitutes a relatively simple, environmentally sound, and highly efficient way to produce a carbon-based anode with very high nitrogen content. The precursor material for the anode is poly (benzimidazole), a bio-based polymer that can be synthesized from raw materials of biological origin. By calcinating this thermally stable material at 800 °C, the team managed to prepare a carbon anode with a record-setting nitrogen content of 17% in weight. They verified the successful synthesis of this material, and studied its composition and structural properties using a variety of techniques, including scanning electron tunneling microscopy, Raman spectroscopy, and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy.

To test the performance of their anode and compare it with the more common graphite, the researchers built half-cells and full-cells, and conducted charge-discharge experiments. The results were very promising, as the proposed anode material proved suitable for fast charging, thanks to its enhanced lithium-ion kinetics. Moreover, durability tests showed that the batteries with the proposed anode material retained about 90% of its initial capacity even after 3,000 charge-discharge cycles at high rates, which is considerably more than the capacity retained by graphite-based cells.

Excited about the results, Professor Matsumi commented, “The extremely fast charging rate with the anode material we prepared could make it suitable for use in EVs. Much shorter charging times will hopefully attract consumers to choose EVs rather than gasoline-based vehicles, ultimately leading to cleaner environments in every major city across the world.”

Another notable advantage of the proposed anode material is the use of a bio-based polymer in its synthesis. As a low-carbon technology, the material naturally leads to a synergistic effect that reduces CO2 emissions further. Additionally, as Professor Matsumi remarks, “The use of our approach will advance the study of structure-property relationships in anode materials with rapid charge-discharge capabilities.”

Modifications to the structure of the polymer precursor could lead to even better performance, which might be relevant for the batteries not only of EVs, but also of portable electronics. Finally, the development of highly durable batteries will decrease the global consumption of rare metals, which are non-renewable resources.

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This looks like a real improvement. 800° is pretty hot, but 3000 plus cycles is a major improvement. Sourced from bio materials helps and the question answers about volume and weight, one hopes, are forthcoming.

So congratulations are in order. Lets hope the major producers can prove this up and adopt the technology in very short order.

Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have developed a new water-splitting process with a material that maximizes the efficiency of producing hydrogen. The researchers expect to make it an affordable and accessible option for industrial partners that want to convert to green hydrogen for renewable energy storage instead of conventional, carbon-emitting hydrogen production from natural gas.

The Georgia Tech findings come as climate experts agree that hydrogen will be critical for the world’s top industrial sectors to achieve their net-zero emission goals. Last summer, the Biden Administration set a goal to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% in one decade. Dubbed the Hydrogen Shot, the Department of Energy-led initiative seeks to cut the cost of “clean” or green hydrogen to $1 per kilogram by 2030.

Researchers at Georgia Tech observe hydrogen and oxygen gases generated from a water-splitting reactor. Image Credit: Georgia Tech. Click image for the largest view.

The focus of the research is electrolysis, or the process of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Georgia Tech’s research team hopes to make green hydrogen less costly and more durable using hybrid materials for the electrocatalyst. Today, the process relies on expensive noble metal components such as platinum and iridium, the preferred catalysts for producing hydrogen through electrolysis at scale. These elements are expensive and rare, which has stalled the move to replace natural gas for hydrogen-based power. According to market research firm Wood Mackenzie green hydrogen accounted for less than 1% of annual hydrogen production in 2020, in large part because of this expense.

Study principal investigator Seung Woo Lee, associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, and an expert on electrochemical energy storage and conversion systems said, “Our work will decrease the use of those noble metals, increasing its activity as well as utilization options.”

In the research paper published in the journal Applied Catalysis B: Environmental and Energy & Environmental Science, Lee and his team highlighted the interactions between metal nanoparticles and metal oxide to support design of high-performance hybrid catalysts.

Lee explained, “We designed a new class of catalyst where we came up with a better oxide substrate that uses less of the noble elements. These hybrid catalysts showed superior performance for both oxygen and hydrogen (splitting).”

Their work relied upon computation and modeling from research partner, the Korea Institute of Energy Research, and X-ray measurement from Kyungpook National University and Oregon State University, which leveraged the country’s synchrotron, a football-field-sized super x-ray.

Lee described the work, “Using the X-ray, we can monitor the structural changes in the catalyst during the water-splitting process, at the nanometer scale. We can investigate their oxidation state or atomic configurations under operating conditions.”

Jinho Park, a research scientist at GTRI and a leading investigator of the research, said this research could help lower the barrier of equipment cost used in green hydrogen production. Besides developing hybrid catalysts, the researchers have fine tuned the ability to control the catalysts’ shape as well as the interaction of metals. Key priorities were reducing the use of the catalyst in the system and at the same time, increasing its durability since the catalyst accounts for a major part of the equipment cost.

Park explained, “We want to use this catalyst for a long time without degrading its performance. Our research is not only focused on making the new catalyst, but also on understanding the reaction mechanics behind it. We believe that our efforts will help support fundamental understanding of the water splitting reaction on the catalysts and will provide significant insights to other researchers in this field.”

A key finding, according to Park, was the role of the catalyst’s shape in producing hydrogen. “The surface structure of the catalyst is very important to determine if it’s optimized for the hydrogen production. That’s why we try to control the shape of the catalyst as well as the interaction between the metals and the substrate material.”

Park said some of the key applications positioned to benefit first include hydrogen stations for fuel cell electric vehicles, which today only operate in the state of California, and microgrids, a new community approach to designing and operating electric grids that rely on renewable-driven backup power.

While research is well underway to an ending stage, the team is currently working with partners to explore new materials for efficient hydrogen production using artificial intelligence (AI).

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This is another step forward as one described in yesterday’s posting. One does wonder what commercial process engineers are thinking – likely some of the ideas we see here are getting tested. But there is a hard wall of sunken investment and operating costs to be considered, with numbers without doubts. One of the ideas we see on the pages here are sure to make it someday – and we may not hear about it.

Kyoto University researchers have described how nanodiamond-reinforced composite membranes can purify hydrogen from its humid mixtures, making the hydrogen generation processes vastly more efficient and cost-effective.

Hydrogen, a clean-burning fuel, leaves nothing but water when combusted. Many countries view hydrogen as a way to a zero-carbon future, but switching to a hydrogen economy requires its production to be much more affordable than it is now.

In a study published in Nature Energy, researchers led by Kyoto University’s Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS) describe how nanodiamond-reinforced composite membranes can purify hydrogen from its humid mixtures, making the hydrogen generation processes vastly more efficient and cost-effective.

Professor Easan Sivaniah, who led the iCeMS team said, “There are several scalable methodologies to produce hydrogen, but hydrogen generally comes as humid mixtures and their purification is a challenge. Membrane technology allows for energy-efficient and economical separation processes. But we need to have the right membrane materials to make it work.”

This image offers an abstract visual representation of graphene oxide sheets (black layers) embedded with nanodiamonds (bright white points). The nanodiamonds exert long range electrostatic forces (nebulous white circles) which stabilize the sheets even in humid conditions creating a promising membrane material for hydrogen purification. Image Credits: Yasuhiro Chida, Brocken 5 and Toru Tsuji, Photograph at Kyoto University. Click image for the largest view.

Graphene oxide (GO), a water-soluble derivative of graphite, can be assembled to form a membrane that can be used for hydrogen purification. Hydrogen gas easily passes through these filters, while larger molecules get stuck.

Hydrogen is typically separated from CO2 or O2 in very humid conditions. GO sheets are negatively charged, which causes them to repel each other. When exposed to humidity, the negatively charged sheets repel each other even more, allowing water molecules to accumulate in the spaces between the GO sheets, which eventually dissolves the membrane.

Dr Behnam Ghalei, who co-supervised the research, explained that adding nanodiamonds to the GO sheets resolves the humidity-induced disintegration problem. “Positively charged nanodiamonds can cancel out the membrane’s negative repulsions, making the GO sheets more compact and water-resistant,” he added.

The team also included other research groups from Japan and abroad. The researchers at Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute (SPring-8 / JASRI) conducted advanced X-ray studies. The Institute for Quantum Life Science (QST) helped with materials development. ShanghaiTech University (China) and National Central University (Taiwan) were involved in state-of-the-art materials characterizations.

Sivaniah added, “In our collaboration with Dr. Ryuji Igarashi of QST, we were able to access nanodiamonds with well-defined sizes and functionality, without which the research would not have been possible. Importantly, Igarashi’s group has a patented technology to scale up nanodiamonds production at a reasonable cost in the future.”

Sivaniah noted that nanodiamonds have potential uses beyond hydrogen production. Humidity control is also vital in a number of other fields, including pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, and lithium-ion battery production. Membrane technology could also revolutionize air conditioning by efficiently removing humidity. Air conditioners are among the most inefficient ways to cool, as a significant amount of the electricity used to power them is used to remove humidity, generating more CO2 emissions and creating a vicious spiral for global warming.

The Japanese government is deeply committed to a zero-carbon future. It has established a US$20 billion Green Innovation Fund to support joint partnerships between major industry players and entrepreneurial ventures that bring new technologies to the market.

iCeMS at Kyoto University is one of the leading institutes in Japan for innovative approaches in engaging science to help society. Sivaniah is the founder of OOYOO (www.OOYOO.co.jp), a start-up which aims to be instrumental in commercializing membrane technology for a zero-carbon future.

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There is a lot of hydrogen research press releases out now and more coming. While this and others are great news, looking down the road suggests a couple big problems right up close, the huge electrical power needed that’s sure to be heavily tested just to start charging an EV transport fleet followed on by the hydrogen storage matter.

Cheap water splitting and separating the elements is just the first two steps.


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