Archive for March 2010
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You are browsing the archives of 2010 March.
According to a new report from Lux Research, the market for batteries, supercapacitors and fuel cells targeting transportation and smart grid applications will more than double from $21.4 billion in 2010 to $44.4 billion in 2015.
ACerS’ upcoming Ceramic Leadership Summit will introduce key figures in the energy storage technology sector that will expound on how to harness that $44 billion. The Energy Innovations track on Tuesday, June 10, will include talks on enabling a nuclear renaissance, current and future prospects of fuel cells, the strategic field of energy conversion. A representative from United Technologies will also present an industry perspective on energy storage, SOFCs and energy and emission reduction in gas turbines.
The Lux report, titled “Emerging Technologies Power a $44 Billion Opportunity for Transportation and Grid,” analyzes the prospects for several technologies, including batteries, supercapacitors, fuel cells in transportation and storage, distributed generation and transmission and distribution technologies on the power grid.
Some key findings are listed in the summary:
Greg Hilmas and Bill Fahrenholtz, both professors at Missouri S&T, are working on developing ceramic materials that can withstand ultrahigh temperatures (1,600°C–3,000°C) that will be encountered by hypersonic planes of the future. Ultrahigh-temperature ceramic materials are particularly needed on the leading edges of acute flight surfaces to withstand the intense heat that will be generated as these vehicles dip in and out of the upper atmosphere (in the region known as the exosphere) at speeds of Mach 5 and above. Similar materials will be need in the propulsion engines under consideration, such as the Scramjet engine they mention.
Although the Space Shuttle is technically a hypersonic vehicle, the vehicles Hilmas and Fahrenholtz are working on are very different. Unlike the bulky, blunt shapes found on a Shuttle, future hypersonic planes – envisioned for commercial and military use – will have a sleek design to minimize air resistance.
Although this is still basic science stuff, Hilmas and Fahrenholtz have discovered an unexpected trove of previous research: Cold War-era data compiled by scientists in the U.S. and the former Soviet Union on nuclear research. The duo are still sifting through these old papers for clues about what to expect in the performance of new ultrahigh-temperature materials.
Materials that can withstand hypersonic flight are being developed across the globe. Recently we wrote about composite materials being developed in Australia that can withstand the heat produced at Mach 8.
According to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory press release, researchers have discovered a new path to convert sunlight to electricity. Researchers have found a new mechanism by which the photovoltaic effect can take place in semiconductor thin films. This new route to energy production overcomes the bandgap voltage limitation that continues to be detrimental to conventional solid-state solar cells.
Working with bismuth ferrite, researchers discovered that the application of an electric field makes it possible to manipulate the crystal structure and control the photovoltaic properties.
Working through LBNL’s Helios Solar Energy Research Center, Jan Seidel, a physicist who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and the UC Berkeley physics department, and his team discovered that by applying white light to bismuth ferrite they could generate photovoltages within submicroscopic areas between one and two nanometers across. These photovoltages were significantly higher than bismuth ferrite’s electronic bandgap.
At the domain walls, the polarization direction of the bismuth ferrite changes and the photovoltaic effect arises.
“While we have not yet demonstrated these possible new applications and devices, we believe that our research will stimulate concepts and thoughts that are based on this new direction for the photovoltaic effect,” Seidel says.
Ann Arbor-based Adaptive Materials Inc, a specialist in making microtubular solid oxide fuel cells, announced yesterday that it has won $3 million in new funding through Michigan’s Centers of Energy Excellence Program.
AMI, until now, has focused most of its efforts on military uses for its SOFCs, such as soldier-worn units, power sources for unmanned vehicles and field uses. The company has both 50- and 250-watt SOFCs that can be fuel with off-the-shelf propane and butane canisters.
While AMI’s business plan has always mentioned applications in the recreational vehicles, boating and medical devices markets, the reality is that it has been easier for military customers to justify the relatively high costs of these portable power devices.
However, a press release from AMI notes that, “The company will use the funding to support the commercialization of its fuel cells within the consumer leisure market.”
AMI may be on to something. It has always struck me that there is some pretty strong logic behind developing small SOFC products whose form factor incorporates safe, cheap and easy to find fuel cartridges. Generations of campers, for example, have grown up using portable stoves and lamps that use these small gas canisters.
Michelle Crumm, AMI chief business officer, says, “Funding from COEE provides the extra boost we need to break into the consumer market and deliver a truly game-changing technology. . . By focusing our technology on readily-available fuels, Adaptive Materials solved a problem associated with fuel cells: Consumers could certainly find need for a fuel cell, but no fuel to actually sustain the unit.”
Presumably, AMI will use the funds to continue to drive down the production costs of making their SOFCs. The company uses a unique co-extrusion method to form its microtubular SOFCs. Earlier this year, in the pages of ACerS’ International Journal of Applied Ceramic Technology, the University of Birmingham’s (U.K.) Kevin Kendall praised recent developments in microtubular SOFC science and applications:
Significant progress is being made in the development of microtubular SOFCs. Since its invention in the early 1990s, information about its benefits has been disseminated, leading to the start-up of several companies interested in applications from laptop power supplies to combined heat and power to transport and APUs.
Plastic extrusion is the main method for producing microtubular cells. This is an economic process, which can lead to high-quality ceramics with good strength and Weibull modulus. Co-extrusion is also a promising possibility that could produce one-step processing of cells.
A key benefit of microtubular SOFC is the increased power density, inversely proportional to diameter. Power densities of 1 kW/L are possible but the number of cell connections rises with the square of power density and could become the limiting factor. Thermal shock resistance of microtubes is many orders of magnitude better than that of planar SOFCs. Ramp rates of 8000 K/min are possible.
Aaron Crumm, Adaptive Materials’ chief visionary officer and co-founder, along with John W. Halloran, published an excellent paper in ACerS’ Journal of the American Ceramic Society back in 1998 about innovative methods to micromanufacture complex ceramic–metal structures:
These structures are fabricated by multiple pass co-extrusion of a feedrod comprised of several powder-filled thermoplastic compounds. The compounds contain either ceramic, metal or fugitive powders. To illustrate the capabilities of microfabrication, a demonstration part containing lead manganese niobate-lead titanate ceramic and silver palladium was fabricated. The final part was microconfigured, with a fenestrated structure containing 3110 repeat units per square centimeter. The repeat unit feature sizes were 15 and 5 µm for the ceramic and electrode, respectively. Microfabrication by co-extrusion is proposed as a fabrication technique for the production of smart structures and materials.
The COEE program, administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., supports the development, growth and sustainability of alternative energy sectors throughout the state. The COEE program focuses on where the state has competitive advantages in areas of the workforce, intellectual property and natural resources but where funding is required to overcome technical and supply-chain hurdles that could prevent or stall the commercialization process.
Katie at Earth2Tech has the scoop on TerraPower and Toshiba starting to talk about an initiative to develop the former’s traveling wave design of small reactor. After Bill Gates, Toshiba would be the second well-heeled enterprise to jump on the TerraPower bandwagon.
Traveling wave reactors are attractive because they can, at least in theory, milk an initial batch of enriched uranium for dozens, if not hundreds, of years. TerraPower president John Gilleland goes so far as to claim that the company believes its reactor design “can provide nearly an infinite supply of low-cost, carbon-free energy.” He provides more information and a video to illustrate the theory here.
An even longer video of a presentation Gilleland gave at University of California, Berkeley, last April is available here. As Katie notes, one of the remarkable things in this talk is Gilleland’s assertion that “operation of a traveling wave reactor can be demonstrated in less than ten years, and commercial deployment can begin in less than fifteen years.”