Stanford researchers pioneer world’s first affordable urea battery

February 13, 2017 by  
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Stanford University researchers have designed a new battery that could revolutionize renewable energy storage . Using urea , an affordable, natural and readily available material found in mammal urine and fertilizers, their battery is notably more efficient than past iterations. The battery, developed by Stanford chemistry professor Honjie Dai and doctoral candidate Michael Angell, uses an electrolyte made from urea – a material already produced in mass industrial quantities for use in plant fertilizers. Non-flammable and made with electrodes from abundant materials like aluminum and graphite, the battery presents a low-cost way for storing energy from many sources – including renewables . “So essentially, what you have is a battery made with some of the cheapest and most abundant materials you can find on Earth. And it actually has good performance,” says Dai in a press release. “Who would have thought you could take graphite, aluminum, urea, and actually make a battery that can cycle for a pretty long time?” Dai and his team were the first to make a rechargeable aluminum battery in 2015, which charged in less than a minute, while lasting for thousands of charge-discharge cycles. And they’ve improved on both the performance and cost of their latest model, which is about 100 times cheaper than the 2015 battery, with a higher efficiency of 1,500 charge-discharge cycles and a charging time of 45 minutes. This is also the first time that urea has been used to make a battery. Related: MIT researchers invent ingestible battery powered by stomach acid Energy storage is a huge challenge for solar power and other renewables, as users need a reliable way to store power for when their systems aren’t producing energy. The batteries currently on the market, including lithium ion and lead-acid batteries tend to be quite costly and don’t last that long. But Dai and Angell believe their battery might be the solution to the conundrum of renewable energy storage. “It’s cheap. It’s efficient. Grid storage is the main goal,” says Angell. “I would feel safe if my backup battery in my house is made of urea with little chance of causing fire,” added Dai. The researchers have licensed their battery patents to AB Systems, a company founded by Dai, and a commercial version of the battery is on the way. They’re planning to work on increasing its life span down the road by further investigating its internal chemical processes. Via Stanford Images via Pexels , US Navy and Tea Horse Trade Guest House , Wikimedia Commons

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Playful KATRIS scratching post blocks fit together like Tetris for cats

February 13, 2017 by  
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Cat owners who find themselves hiding grubby scratching posts out of sight will love this awesome KATRIS set that combines feline fun with playful design. The modular system consists of scratchable blocks that double as flexible furnishings . All of the pieces are non-toxic, and they can be assembled in a variety of ways so that cats can enjoy an ever-changing feline playground. Featured on an episode of Animal Planet’s “My Cat From Hell”, KATRIS is the result of extensive research into the best materials for feline furniture according to cat behavioral science. Each shred-resistant block is made with 200 sheets of FSC-certified heavy-duty paper , and they can support up to 300 pounds of weight. The blocks can be connected in a variety of ways using built-in straps. https://youtu.be/dHhO_CnZBjU Related: Architects turn a cramped apartment into a gorgeous loft where the owner’s cats can roam freely The blocks are manufactured using non-toxic ingredients, such as SGS-certified, non-toxic glue and eco-friendly branding ink made with non-toxic soybean inks. Not only is the whole system completely recyclable, but the blocks are designed to have an extremely long life cycle, further minimizing waste. + KATRIS Cat Via Curbed Images via KATRIS

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British supermarket chain launches trucks powered by food waste

February 13, 2017 by  
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Food waste has always been something of a bugbear with Waitrose , an upscale British grocer that stopped shoveling its leftovers into the landfill as early as 2012. It even packages some of its fusilli pasta in boxes made, in part, from recycled food scraps, which it says reduces the use of virgin tree pulp by 15 percent while lowering greenhouse-gas emissions by a fifth. But Waitrose wants to take the issue further, both literally and figuratively. The supermarket just announced that it’ll be running its delivery trucks entirely on biomethane gas generated from food waste—making it the first company in Europe to do so. Food waste is a looming concern in the United Kingdom. At a time when 8.4 million U.K. families struggle to feed themselves daily, the volume of household food waste continues to soar, amounting to an estimated 7.3 million metric tons in 2015. Waitrose, according to the Times , is partnering with CNG Fuels to juice up 10 of its trucks with 100 percent renewable biomethane. The trucks can run up to 500 miles—almost twice the current average—on what is essentially rotting food. “We will be able to make deliveries to our stores without having to refuel away from base,” Justin Laney of the John Lewis Partnership , which operates Waitrose, said in a statement on Thursday. Related: Toronto Rolls Out Biogas-Capable Garbage Trucks Because its biomethane costs 40 percent less than diesel, any upgrades will pay for themselves in two to three years, CNG Fuels said. “Renewable biomethane is far cheaper and cleaner than diesel, and, with a range of up to 500 miles, it is a game-changer for road transport operators,” CNG Fuels CEO Philip Fjeld said. Another plus? The alternative fuel emits 70 percent less carbon dioxide, which would give a much needed boost to the European Union’s pledge to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 under the Paris Climate Agreement . + Waitrose Via Grubstreet

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MIT researchers invent an ingestible battery powered by stomach acid

February 8, 2017 by  
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MIT researchers have developed a new safe-to-swallow battery powered by stomach acid. The technology could significantly aid in the powering of ingestible electronic devices currently being used for drug delivery and internal medical procedures like colonoscopies – as well as other wearable technology . MIT drug delivery device As New Atlas reports, “safe-to-swallow batteries” are currently being developed to power these ingestible electronic devices, but up until recently they have posed problems. This recent development out of MIT is expected to provide a cheaper and safer alternative to those batteries currently on the market. The battery was the result of a study by a team of MIT researchers led by senior authors, Giovanni Traverso and Robert Langer who have developed a number of internal devices, for which they wanted a safe, reliable power source. “We need to come up with ways to power these ingestible systems for a long time,” Traverso told New Atlas . “We see the GI tract as providing a really unique opportunity to house new systems for drug delivery and sensing, and fundamental to these systems is how they are powered.” They started with the fact that the majority of batteries are powered by acid, and realized they could take advantage of acid in the stomach. Their concept is based on the simple battery concept that involves putting a piece of zinc and copper into a lemon, where the citric acid becomes an electrolyte that can carry a current between the two metals – creating enough power to run an LED . Related: MIT designs innovative wearable tech that makes it easier to network As New Atlas explains, “The researchers scaled that principle down by attaching their own zinc and copper electrodes to the outside of a small, ingestible device containing a temperature sensor and a 900 MHz transmitter. Like in the lemon, the stomach acid can carry the electric current from the zinc to the copper and power the device, which, when tested in pigs, was able to take temperature readings and then send that data wirelessly, every 12 seconds, to a receiver up to 2 m (6.6 ft) away.” According to senior author Anantha Chandrakasan, this design solves problems with internal medical devices, such as energy generation , conversion, storage and utilization, opening up new horizons for the technology. “This work allows us to envision new medical devices where the body itself contributes to energy generation enabling a fully self-sustaining system.” Via New Atlas Images via MIT

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Groundbreaking new seawater battery could replace expensive lithium batteries

December 9, 2016 by  
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Open your smartphone and you’ll probably find a lithium-ion battery inside. They’re rechargeable, which is great – but they’re difficult to dispose of, and the price of lithium is soaring. Nine scientists from Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) in South Korea developed a groundbreaking alternative: a new battery made from abundant and readily available seawater. Lithium-ion batteries – found in devices like iPhones and Tesla’s Powerwall – can help us end our fossil fuel dependence. But concerns over how lithium is mined and rising expenses mean we haven’t created the perfect battery yet. UNIST researchers turned to seawater for a superior solution. Related: Scientists develop new way to generate electricity via seawater Their device is technically a sodium-air, or sodium oxygen, battery. While sodium-air batteries are more cost-effective than lithium-ion batteries, they’re not quite ready for commercial distribution. Part of the goal of the researchers’ work was to address some of the challenges that stand in the way of commercialization – and they may have found an answer in seawater. It turns out seawater serves as an excellent catholyte – a cathode and electrolyte combined together. In a paper published in the ACS journal Applied Materials & Interfaces , the researchers state: “A constant flow of seawater into and out of the battery provides the sodium ions and water responsible for producing a charge.” Their seawater battery can be compared against lithium-ion batteries by measuring discharge voltage. The seawater battery had an average discharge voltage of around 2.7 volts, according to ACS, while the same statistic for a lithium ion battery is 3.6 to four volts. That means the scientists still have work to do, but their device might just bring us closer to a world where we don’t need to depend on lithium for energy storage. ACS’s journal Applied Materials & Interfaces published the scientists’ study online in November. Via American Chemical Society Images via Pexels and American Chemical Society

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Tesla to install worlds largest backup battery for the city of Los Angeles

September 19, 2016 by  
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In the latest development to solidify Tesla’s position as more than just a luxury electric car maker, the California-based company has been chosen to produce a lithium ion battery solution to power the city of Los Angeles during peak energy times. Following the massive methane leak near L.A. last year that caused more environmental damage than the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, authorities demanded a peak time solution that would not carry such enormous health and environmental risks. Tesla will design and build exactly that solution at its new Gigafactory .

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Copenhagen’s Hanging Gardens will allow residents to grow and sell their own vegetables on-site

September 19, 2016 by  
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Designed with sustainability in mind, the Hanging Gardens Tower is envisioned with locally sourced construction materials and its gardens provide benefits to the environment through the management of rainwater, habitat creation for local fauna, and air purification. The building features a checkered facade with floor-to-ceiling windows that alternate with prefabricated angled bays. The tower’s identical bays provide room for an outdoor balcony and gardens, while its angled form helps provide privacy and protect the interior from solar heat gain. Related: MVRDV’s Gorgeous Tunnel-Shaped Market Hall Opens its Doors in Rotterdam Each apartment will have access to a private vegetable garden and hanging gardens , where residents can grow their produce. Residents will also be able to trade and sell their produce on the ground floor farmer’s market, an addition inspired by the site’s history as a former vegetable market. “The utilization of contextual shapes in new combinations gave the building a series of architectural benefits for the residents,” write the architects. “As an example, the layout of the facade generates more than 200 balconies, without compromising the daylight intake of the apartments. The geometry furthermore shields the users from wind nuisance, while enhancing the acoustic environment of the balconies. Lastly the balconies are designed to give the highest amount of comfort, in respect to daylight and privacy.” The Hanging Gardens Tower is slated to begin construction by April 2017. + Studio LOKAL Via ArchDaily Images via Studio LOKAL

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Copenhagen’s Hanging Gardens will allow residents to grow and sell their own vegetables on-site

New graphene super batteries charge up in seconds and last virtually forever

July 25, 2016 by  
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With the aid of one of the strongest materials on Earth, a researcher at Australia’s Swinburne University has created a battery that charges up super fast and can be used over and over and over again, without losing efficiency. Researcher Han Lin developed the battery using a form of carbon called graphene , which is commonly heralded as one of the strongest materials on the planet. The new supercapacitor addresses many of the shortcomings of traditional lithium ion batteries, beating them in charging time, lifespan, and also environmental impact. Researchers around the globe have worked on expanding the capabilities of supercapacitors for many years, but they are typically limited in storage capacity. Han overcame this problem by adding sheets of graphene , which have a large surface area for energy storage due to the material’s honeycomb structure. The material is also strong and flexible at the same time. The researcher used a 3D printer to create the graphene sheets, resulting in a cost-effective energy storage method that could someday replace the batteries in our cell phones and electric cars. Related: Melbourne’s Advanced Technologies Centre by H2O Architects looks like a gigantic LEGO brick The new supercapacitor ’s ultra-quick charging time—just seconds compared to the minutes or hours needed by a lithium-based battery—is its primary selling point, as it eliminates the inconvenience of long charging times. The graphene-enhanced battery also costs less than a traditional lithium ion battery over the course of its lifetime, due to its unique ability to withstand more recharges without losing strength. Han presented his new supercapacitor at Fresh Science Victoria 2016 earlier this year. + Swinburne University Via Phys.org Images via Fresh Science and Wikipedia 1 2

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MIT’s new liquid battery charges with gravity – like an hourglass

July 5, 2016 by  
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Harnessing the force of gravity , researchers at MIT have designed a new liquid battery that functions similarly to an hourglass. the gravity-powered liquid battery at MIT could be groundbreaking in its simplicity, efficiency and low-cost. Although it is only a proof-of-concept design at the moment, the team is confident it can create a working prototype. The researchers predict their liquid battery could be used in the expansion of clean energy through enabling more powerful grid-connected storage systems. Liquid flow batteries were first developed in the 1970s. Positive and negative electrons are stored in liquid form and are separated by a membrane. Historically, increasing the  capacity  of a liquid battery required larger tanks to hold more of the charged particle-filled slurry. Expansion of the system has required a complex system of pumps, valves, and tanks, which adds cost and decreases efficiency. Related: Scientists develop new way to generate electricity via seawater The new design from MIT replaces this complexity with a simple, gravity-fed pump that allows for adjusting the rate of energy production by tilting the battery at different angles. The design also is innovative in its inclusion of both liquid and solid battery components. “The concept here shows that you don’t need to be confined by these two extremes,” says Yet-Ming Chiang, Kyocera Professor of Ceramics at MIT. “This is an example of hybrid devices that fall somewhere in the middle.” The design is simple enough that its components could potentially be crafted by 3D printers . The liquid battery design is only the latest innovative battery project to which MIT researchers have contributed. In 2006, a team led by Angela Belcher created a new battery nanotechnology based on a genetically engineered M13 virus. That nanobattery is resilient enough to power small sensors used to identify cancer or other diseases within the body. Via Gizmodo Images via MIT  and Andy Armstrong/Flickr

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Can a water heater be as sexy as a Tesla?

March 4, 2016 by  
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How grid-interactive water heaters are joining the battery revolution.

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