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MCARE 2012 Symposia

Materials Challenges in Energy 2012

Batteries and Energy Storage

Batteries are devices that convert chemical energy into electrical energy. There are many types of batteries available, representing a multi-billion dollar industry. Among the battery types of much interest are standard lead acid batteries and Li-ion batteries. Materials improvements are critical in making these energy systems more effective in the future.



Biomass is energy derived from organic plant and animal matter including wood, crops, manure, and municipal solid wastes. When burned, the energy in biomass is released as heat but it can also be converted to other forms of energy like methane gas, ethanol and biodiesel. Biomass fuels currently account for about 3% of the energy used in the U.S.


Electric Grid

The Electric Grid is an interconnected network designed to deliver electricity from various energy sources, and involves controlling the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. The grid cannot store significant amounts of power, so electricity must be generated as it is needed, by millions of consumers at any moment in time. Therefore, an efficient and effective control system is essential to match electric generation with use. It is critical to improve the reliability, efficiency and security of this system.



The U.S. produces more geothermal electricity that any other country, but this still amounts to less than ½ of one percent of all energy generated. Most geothermal reservoirs are deep underground but can find their way to the surface as volcanoes, hot springs and geysers. California has almost three dozen geothermal power plants that produce the largest fraction of U.S. energy from this source.



Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of domestic sources, including fossil fuels as well as from renewable resources and can be stored in gas, liquid or solid forms. There is considerable work in progress on development of materials and systems for effective hydrogen storage. This alternative is considered a promising energy concept of the future, but like many alternatives, there currently is no infrastructure in place to produce, store, transport or distribute hydrogen effectively.



Conventional Hydropower is the most often used form of renewable energy in the U.S. Mechanical energy is produced and used by harnessing moving water. Over half of the U.S. hydroelectric capacity is located in Washington, California and Oregon, with the largest facility being the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. Hydropower currently accounts for about 6% of the total electricity generated in the U.S.
Marine & Hydrokinetic Technologies are emerging advanced water power devices that capture energy from waves, tides, ocean currents, rivers, streams and ocean thermal gradients. There are several demonstration projects throughout the U.S. along with research to improve their manufacture, reliability, performance, increase market acceleration, and understand environmental effects.


Materials Availability for Alternative Energy

Tying all of the alternative energy technologies together is the availability of the materials needed to solve the issues for creating, storage and distribution of energy. The supply chain for the materials and parts that are necessary to create the new alternative energy scenario is crucial. Whether we find that materials are less available, or we find new uses for less expensive materials and materials systems, we will have to develop this supply chain to move forward. The theme of materials availability is, and will be, a major challenge as we develop our new and sustainable energy infrastructure.


Nanocomposites and Nanomaterials for Energy

There has been a tremendous increase in the use of nanocomposite materials to improve the existing energy systems based on conventional and renewable energy sources. It is important to know the possibilities and limitations of the use of nanomaterials in providing solutions for the current energy issues. We therefore need a better control and understanding of synthesis, processing, characterization, application as well as toxicity of nanomaterials and nanocomposites used for energy sources such as solar cells, fuel cells, and supercapacitors.



Nuclear power extracts usable energy from atomic nuclei by controlled nuclear reactions and most often, through nuclear fission. On a global scale, there are more than 400 operating nuclear power plants in more than 30 countries, which generate about 30% of the energy produced in the European Union and almost 20% of the energy produced in the U.S. Among the advantages of nuclear energy are no greenhouse emissions.


Solar Power

Solar power is energy derived from sunlight and can be converted into various forms of energy such as heat and electricity. The conversion to electricity can take place by photovoltaic (PV) or solar cells, as well as by use of solar power plants. There are currently more than a dozen major solar plants in the U.S., with most of these facilities located in California.



Wind power plants or wind farms often consist of many individual units. The largest wind farm located in Texas, consists of over 400 wind turbines that generate enough electricity to power about a quarter of a million homes each year. The U.S. is ranked second in the world in wind power capacity, only following
Germany. In countries such as Denmark, about 20% of its electricity is generated from the wind.



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