There have been so many new approaches to batteries lately that it’s hard to keep track of them all, but most of them have one thing in common: they are all cheaper and safer than lithium-ion batteries.Listen, lithium-ion batteries are the best we’ve got on the market right now. They can store a lot of energy in a small, lightweight package — that’s why they’re in basically everything we own — but they also have some drawbacks. The materials needed to make them aren’t earth-abundant, which makes them more expensive, especially as you scale up in size. They are a fire risk and they also have a fairly short life span.For years, researchers have been looking to more abundant, safer materials to create a better battery. Engineers at South Korea’s Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) are just the latest. They have developed a seawater battery that runs on water and salt, which they say could soon rival the lithium-ion battery in performance.Sodium is the sixth most abundant element on earth, making this battery far cheaper to manufacture and using seawater specifically greatly reduces any chance of fire. The researchers believe that in the future, seawater could be the key to the large-scale energy storage that’s needed as the world shifts to more renewable energy. The batteries could also be used as emergency back-up energy for homes, businesses and ships.The seawater battery works much like a lithium-ion battery as the structure is the same, swapping out lithium for sodium. The university explains:The battery extracts sodium ions from the seawater when it is charged with electrical energy and stores them within the cathode compartment. Upon electrochemical discharge, sodium is released from the anode and reacts with water and oxygen from the seawater cathode to form sodium hydroxide. This process provide energy to power, for instance, an electric vehicle.The salt water is not just acting as an electrolyte; according to the American Chemical Society newsletter it is actually a “catholyte — an electrolyte and cathode combined. In batteries, the electrolyte is the component that allows an electrical charge to flow between the cathode and anode. A constant flow of seawater into and out of the battery provides the sodium ions and water responsible for producing a charge.”Currently, the seawater batteries have a lower electrical output than lithium-ion batteries, but the researchers are working on building the batteries in various sizes and shapes to increase the charge rate. They will soon start mass producing the seawater batteries in a testing facility and join cells together in battery packs. The goal is to produce a battery pack by the end of next year that is capable of providing the home energy needs of a family of four.
While Tesla’s solar roof / Powerwall event isn’t until tomorrow, the product that preceded both, its commercial… cousin, Powerpack, has been upgraded and is already shipping to companies. The company says Powerpack 2 has double the energy density than the original model, paired with a new inverter (made at its Gigafactory), that’s apparently the lowest-priced, highest efficiency utility-scale inverter available. Arguably just as important, the new inverter also simplifies the installation process, with several once-separate components now baked into it.Tesla’s blog calls the new system a “a cost-competitive alternative to other traditional utility infrastructure solutions”. It adds that nearly 300 MWh of Tesla batteries have been deployed so far –including complexes in California. Now, where’s the solar part?
Want to make your barren yard lush again? Just add a bit of soil from your local meadow. A new study reveals that the addition of foreign soil—and more importantly, the organisms it contains—can shape which plants will grow in the future. Such “inoculations” could even help bring back fallow farmlands and turn deserts green.”This is a really cool and remarkable study,” says Harsh Bais, a root biologist at the University of Delaware, Newark, who was not involved in the work. “Dirt matters.”Soil isn’t as simple as it seems. It contains microscopic bacteria and fungi, as well as tiny worms called nematodes and other invertebrates. Ecologists have long known that these underground communities build critical partnerships with the plants growing nearby. But many of these partnerships remain a mystery. Small-scale studies in greenhouses have shown that adding the right soil can promote the growth of a particular plant community, and some researchers have even tried soil transplantation—replacing one soil with another—to get certain endangered plants to grow.Such need is great across the globe, where many once-fertile lands are turning into desert, and a significant amount of agricultural land is lost every year. What’s more, when governments and nonprofit organizations try to bring back grasslands, forests, and other ecosystems destroyed by agriculture and other human uses, they are often disappointed: Restoration can take decades. It sometimes fails altogether.E. R. Jasper Wubs, an ecologist at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in Wageningen, hoped to find a better way. But instead of doing wholesale transplantation of soil—which can be expensive—he wanted to see what would happen with a booster shot.He and colleagues set up a series of 2- to 5-hectare plots on abandoned, degraded farmland in the Netherlands. They removed about 60 centimeters of top soil from part of each plot and spread a 1-centimeter-thick layer of soil in others. The soil was taken from either a heathland—rolling hills dominated by heather and small shrubs—or a grassland. They then added seeds from 30 plant species from a variety of habitats and waited—for 6 years.When their waiting was up, they compared the seeded areas with and without the added soil layers, looking at which species were thriving and which were not. The source of the added soil greatly influenced what grew where, they report today in Nature Plants. Plots with heathland soil were covered with heather and gorse, whereas plots with grasslands soil were overflowing with a variety of grasses. The added soil made the existing land richer—as the researchers found more nematode worms, more bacteria, and more fungi in those sections of the plots. Those with heathland soil also had a greater diversity of springtails and mites.
The Obama Administration said yesterday that it will invest up to $4.5 billion to build electric-car charging stations in a major push to create comprehensive charging infrastructure in the U.S.Officials hope this will lead to the construction of enough new charging stations to quell “range anxiety” and enhance the appeal of electric cars for consumers.The program will use Department of Energy (DoE) loan guarantees, and promote partnerships between Federal, state, and local governments and automakers.DON’T MISS: CA issues $9 million in grants for electric-car fast charger installationsAmong the goals of the program are a national network of DC fast-charging stations, and the creation of a coalition among 50 carmakers, utilities, and charging-network operators that will work together to ramp up charging infrastructure.State and local governments will also be encouraged to buy electric cars for their fleets.The DOE believes increased charging infrastructure will pave the way for widespread electric-car adoption.
Ask Americans which state is the greenest, most unspoiled, most eco-conscious place in the country, and a lot of people would probably say Hawaii. So it may come as a surprise to learn that Hawaii is actually the most oil-dependent state in the nation. Because it’s unreachable by trains or pipelines, the state spends $5 billion a year importing oil. As recently as 2003, more than 90 percent of their electricity came from foreign oil. That’s not just bad for the environment; it’s bad for consumers: Hawaii residents pay the highest electricity rates in the nation.That could all soon be changing, however. Thanks to sweeping legislation adopted last year, Hawaii has set a goal to become the first state in the country to generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy resources. If it’s successful — the 100 percent goal has a deadline of 2045 — Hawaii would move from worst to first on clean energy. To call the plan ambitious would be an understatement. Getting to a completely renewable portfolio requires not only new investments and new technologies, but also a complete overhaul of the energy industry in the state. But the truth is that Hawaii has already made notable strides in reducing its dependence on fossil fuels. Thanks to a committed effort over the past 15 years, the state has decreased its dependence on oil by about 20 percentage points from that 2003 high.