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Energy vectors and storage

   
   

As we move towards cleaner, renewable fuel supplies we face new challenges. Primarily, how do we move, store and then release energy efficiently? Scientists across the Energy Technologies Research Institute (ETRI) are looking at developing new types of batteries and fuel cells that can be used in our vehicles, phones, cameras and computers.

Hydrogen

Hydrogenation mechanism for and magnesium-lithium light metal alloy particles

The last few years have seen new generations of electric, hybrid and biofuel vehicles on the road, but they only account for a tiny proportion of current stock.

One of the keys to creating a sustainable alternative to petrol or diesel could lie in hydrogen, a gas that only emits harmless water vapour, with no carbon outputs at point of use. 

Major stumbling blocks to the widespread use of hydrogen are the need for new storage devices that will allow vehicles to cover long distances and also the clean production of hydrogen.

Working with the likes of car giants General Motors, ETRI’s world-leading chemists and material engineers are exploring storage systems that either chemically or physically absorb hydrogen, then release it via a change in temperature or pressure. 

They are exploring solutions such as metal hydrides and complex hydride, which chemically bond hydrogen, and porous materials such as carbons and metal-organic frameworks, which act as sponges to physically absorb hydrogen. 

These types of materials are able to hold huge amounts of hydrogen and store it much more compactly and safely than by either liquid or compressed gas technologies.

Energy Storage

A key problem to any type of energy producer from small scale micro generation right up to large scale power plants is to provide energy when you need it. As more and more renewables form an integral part of our energy network then the problem of storing energy is vital.

The Hydrogen Storage research group in the Faculty of Engineering is leading the way in exploring using hydrogen generated from renewables or using the reaction between hydrogen and metals as an efficient thermal store. 

The group is working with: 

  • EON New Build and Technologies to develop prototypes for use in their 50MW power plants in Southern Spain
  • Australian companies for 100 kW units in Western Australia
  • UK electrolyser and fuel cell companies for static stores for hydrogen refueling
  • low temperature thermal stores for houses
In addition a project for hydrogen stores for remote villages is being sponsored by the UK–India government

initiatives.

Crystal structures for nanoporous metal organic framework materials

Batteries and fuel cells

Similar work is under way with nanotechnology to improve batteries and fuel cells. Using new technologies and better manufacturing processes, scientists can make batteries:

  • cheaper
  • smaller
  • lighter
  • longer lasting
  • more environmentally friendly

These fuel cells and batteries can be used in cars, domestic heating systems and mobile devices such as cameras and phones.

Supercapatteries

20 V supercapattery (Multi-cell stack with bipolar plates)

20 V supercapattery (Multi-cell stack with bipolar plates)

Power stations and many energy conversion systems run most efficiently at a constant output or production rate, although energy demand typically goes through a cycle of peak and trough every day. Switching on and off stations partly or temporarily is costly and wastes energy. Our experts are looking at ways to maintain stations at a constant output rate by storing energy when it’s not being used, then making it available when needed.

One solution being developed is a new energy storage device called a supercapattery ─ a cross between a supercapacitor (a device to store and release a small amount of energy at high rates) and a rechargeable battery (which can store and release a large amount of energy but very slowly). It will be constructed from tiny carbon nanotubes, chemically engineered with traditional battery materials. What makes this approach so attractive to industry is its combination of the high electrical energy storage capacity of a battery and the fast charge and discharge rates of a supercapacitor ─ making it the ideal storage solution.

Neutron diffraction data tracking the change in crystal structure of an energy storage material whilst being cycled 

 

Further information