From: Integrity Research Institute <>

Sent: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 9:38 PM


Subject: Future Energy eNews


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January 2013

Dear Jacqueline,   


Beginning the New Year with resolutions, we at IRI are planning for our next level of public service so that we can devote full time to this vitally important cause of clean energy. IRI is hereby issuing a Call for Papers for our next joint Conference on Future Energy (COFE), along with several other forums under the auspices of the Natural Philosophy Alliance, to be held July 11-13, 2013 at the University of Maryland. As many of you know, we are the only organization in the US that since 1999 has successfully diagnosed, educated the public and advocated future energy innovations that can truly be called "breakthroughs." IRI wants to continue this critical service at a more expanded scale of operation in 2013 so any suggestions, endowments or referrals will be gratefully accepted. By comparison, I attended "Energy Innovation 2013" sponsored by the "Breakthrough Institute" ( in downtown DC with several panels of speakers, none of whom represented real innovation nor any breakthroughs, except Kevin Bullis, the Senior Editor for Energy of MIT's Technology Review (see his articles below). I met with him afterwards and gave him a review copy of my book, Zero Point Energy: The Fuel of the Future, since as I pointed out, this emerging energy technology has not appeared in his magazine at all but it has been featured at many conferences. At Energy Innovation 2013, there was talk of "zero carbon" emissions but no one had any idea of how to achieve such a lofty goal but we do with the IRI white paper on a national energy plan! Another example of a political energy overture is the upcoming "Symposium on Energy in the 21st Century" (April 12, 2013) with the theme "A Future Using Net Zero Energy" that seems confusing unless we go back to a Stone Age. Acknowledgement is given for a technological hopeful from NREL who will be a symposium speaker, Senior Engineer Jerry Davis.


Our first FE eNews story of 2013 is an example of a real breakthrough from Science magazine with lots of Supplementary material online. Using a heretofore unknown principle of a negative "Gibbs free-energy change of absorbed water" during an expansion and contraction cycle, a polymer married to a piezoelectric strip generates up to 1 volt and a fraction of a nanowatt by simply absorbing water thus converting chemical potential energy in water gradients to mechanical work!


The second story is an exciting demonstration from Finland of a new light-trapping surface for photovoltaic (PV) surfaces losing only 8% to transmission instead of the usual 46% from anti-reflective coatings thus significantly improving efficiency. The third story from Nature follows this theme of innovations in solar panels with a sticky panel for any surface that is lightweight and flexible.


A fourth article summarizes the results of the US DRIVE (Driving Research and Innovation for Vehicle Efficiency) government program of the DOE. The National Academy of Sciences is critical of replacing petroleum but interestingly, Amory Lovins from has the final say with his usually succinct assessment that I was privileged to receive as a member of a global energy news group which is optimistic "with RMI's help".


Our last story is an inspiration for electric car owners since the future seems to be with lithium-sulfide batteries that are projected by Lawrence Berkley labs to achieve double the storage capacity of current lithium-ion batteries which has interested the ARPA-E program as wel




Thomas Valone, PhD, PE.



















1) Free Energy: Polymer Generator Driven by Water

 9:00 10 January 2013 by Jacob Aron- New Scientist


Electricity has been squeezed from a damp surface for the first time, thanks to a polymer film that curls up and moves - a bit like an artificial muscle - when exposed to moisture. The film could be used to run small, wearable devices on nothing but sweat, or in remote locations where conventional electricity sources aren't available.


See Video Click here    

When a dry polymer absorbs water, its molecular structure changes. This can, in principle, be converted into larger-scale movement, and in turn electricity. But previous attempts at creating a material powered by a moisture gradient - the difference in chemical potential energy between a wet region and a dry region - failed to produce a useful level of force.

These unsuccessful tries used a polymer called polypyrrole. Now Robert Langer and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have turned to the material again, embedding chains of it within another material, polyol-borate. This more complex arrangement mimics structures found in muscles as well as in plant tissues that bend in response to changes in humidity. 

Flipping film

The result looks like an ordinary piece of thin black plastic, but when placed on a wet surface, something extraordinary happens. As the material absorbs water, its end curls away from the surface and the film becomes unstable, so it flips over. The ends have now dried out, so they are ready to absorb more water, and the whole process repeats itself. This continuous flipping motion lets the film travel across a suitably moist surface unaided.

Langer found that a 0.03-millimetre-thick strip, weighing roughly 25 milligrams, could curl up and lift a load 380 times its mass to a height of 2 millimetres. It was also able to move sideways when carrying a load about 10 times its mass.

To extract energy from this effect, Langer's team added a layer of piezoelectric material - one which produces electricity when squeezed. When this enhanced film, weighing about 100 milligrams, flipped over, it generated an output of 5.6 nanowatts - enough to power a microchip in sleep mode.

Electricity from sweat

Though the output is small, it is proof that electricity can be extracted from a water gradient. "To the extent of our knowledge, we are the first to utilise a water gradient, without a pressure gradient, to generate electricity," says Langer.

Large-scale energy harvesting is unlikely as the size of the device needed would be impractical, but it could be used to power small devices such as environmental monitoring systems in remote locations. "It will be interesting for applications where the amount of energy needed may be low but where access to energy may be difficult," says Peter Fratzl at the Max-Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany, who was not involved in the work.

Another application, Langer suggests, would be to place the film inside the clothing of joggers or athletes. The evaporation of sweat could generate enough electricity to power sensors monitoring blood pressure and heart rate.

Journal reference: Science, DOI 10.1126/science.1230262


 back to table of contents


2) How Light-Tapping Surfaces Will Boost Solar Cells Efficiency

 MIT Technology Review, January 2013 




Improving the efficiency of photovoltaic cells is one of the great challenges for renewable energy science.  In the lab, the best cells can convert almost half the sunlight hitting them into electricity (44 per cent) although for the figure commercial cells is less than half that.


One way to improve matters is to minimise the amount of light reflected from the cell or transmitted through it, since this energy is clearly lost. The conventional approach is to use an anti-reflection coating which can be optimised to minimise reflections particularly at the cell's optimal frequencies. 


But there's a problem. While these coatings are good at preventing reflections, they cannot stop light being transmitted.  And for the next generation of thin film solar cells, this is a particular problem. In some cases, almost half the light passes straight through.


So the most recent research is focused on a different approach-capturing incoming light and trapping it against the surface. This prevents both reflection and transmission and so has the potential to significantly increase the efficiency of thin film solar cells. The question, of course, is how best to do this in a way that is commercially viable.Today, Constantin Simovski at Aalto University in Finland and a few pals reveal their design for a new light-trapping structure. Their idea is to cover a cell with a regular array of silver nanoantennas that convert ordinary incoming waves into more exotic ones that propagate through the photovoltaic slab itself.


The work is a theoretical study and simulation of how good these nanoantennas can be and the conclusions are promising. "We demonstrate that [the nanoantenna array can] increase significantly the overall spectral eciency of solar cells with a very small thickness." they say.


The simulations produce some interesting numbers. Simovski and co calculate that an ordinary anti-reflection coating about 7 per cent of the light is lost due to reflection while 46 per cent is lost to transmission.

By contrast, their light-trapping surface loses 20 per cent to reflection but only 8 per cent to transmission. The extra surface itself absorbs a further 6 per cent. That's significantly better but there's also the important question of fabrication costs.

Simovski and co say that new fabrication techniques for printing a nanoantenna array on a thin film mean it could be done at low cost. Whether this can be done on the required scale at a price that is cost-effective, remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, light trapping surfaces look a promising way to increase the efficiency of thin film solar cells-provided somebody can work out how to make them cheaply enough.

Ref: Enhanced Eciency of Light-Trapping Nanoantenna Arrays for Thin Film Solar Cells


back to table of contents 




3) Flexible Solar Cells that Stick to Any Surface

Kevin Bullis, Technology Review, January 2013


Solar panels are typically heavy, which makes them expensive to install, and rigid, which limits where they can be used. In the current issue of Nature Scientific Reports, researchers describe a novel, potentially cheap way to make solar cells that are both lightweight and flexible.

Solar Cell affixed to a Business Card


The technique is meant to work with thin-film solar cells. The active part of thin-film cells-the part that gathers sunlight and generates electricity-is thin enough to be flexible, but the cells usually have to be manufactured on rigid materials such as glass to achieve the highest quality. 


Researchers led by Xiaolin Zheng, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University, demonstrated a way to transfer the active materials of the solar cell from a rigid substrate onto another surface, such as a sheet of paper or plastic, the roof of a car, or the back of a smartphone. As with other solar cells, wires would then be connected to deliver power, but flexible solar cells could be used on curved surfaces, and, because they're lightweight, they would be easier to install than conventional panels.


Although Zheng has demonstrated that the process can transfer solar cells even to cheap surfaces such as paper, in practical applications, the materials used would be limited by the need to protect the cells from the elements.


These aren't the first flexible solar panels. Several companies already manufacture them (see "A Solar Startup that Isn't Afraid of Solyndra's Ghost" and "Solar Shingles See the Light of Day"). But Zheng says prior approaches to making flexible solar cells have drawbacks. Manufacturers often modify processing steps to accommodate flexible substrate materials that can't tolerate high temperatures or certain chemicals, but this can reduce the performance of the resulting solar cell. And manufacturers have typically used costly flexible substrate materials, such as foils with extremely uniform surfaces, in order to produce high-quality thin films.


The trick to peeling thin-film silicon away from a solid substrate of silicon dioxide involves depositing a layer of nickel on top of an underlying wafer. After the cell is finished, it's immersed in room-temperature water. The water interacts with the nickel and silicon dioxide, causing the solar cell to come loose. It can then be peeled away and deposited onto another material. The researchers demonstrated that the efficiency of the solar cell wasn't affected by the transfer process.


The current paper shows that the process works for dislodging a solar cell from a silicon and silicon dioxide wafer. Zheng says the group has also demonstrated the process with solar cells made on a glass surface, but this work has not yet been published. This could make it possible to use the technique with copper indium gallium selenide solar cells, which are nearly twice as efficient as amorphous ones.



4) Review of US DRIVE Partnership

Lorin Hancock,  Jan. 23, 2013, National Academy of Sciences


(Ed. Note: scroll down to Amory Lovins' solution to a complex political problem cited in this press release!  - TV)




WASHINGTON -- A new report from the National Research Council calls the operation and management of the technical teams of U.S. DRIVE generally "exemplary," but finds that its Executive Steering Group has not provided adequate guidance for fitting the technical teams' work into an overall plan for the partnership's goals of reduced petroleum use.  The public-private partnership has made steady progress in creating viable alternatives to gas-powered vehicles, but formidable technical barriers have prevented the emergence of a stand-out contender to replace petroleum


U.S. DRIVE is a government-industry partnership conducting precompetitive research and development to help accelerate the emergence of advanced technologies for clean and efficient light-duty vehicles that could eventually compete commercially with petroleum vehicles.  The partnership participants include four automotive companies, five energy companies, two electric power companies, and the Electric Power Research Institute, with the U.S. Department of Energy providing federal leadership.  The partnership has determined three potential primary pathways to reaching significantly reduced petroleum consumption: improved internal combustion engine vehicles coupled with greater use of biofuels and natural gas in conventional or hybrid vehicles; expanded use of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles; and the possible transition to hydrogen as a transportation fuel.  Nine technical teams, including those on hydrogen storage, grid interaction, and combustion and emissions control, focus on specific research needed to make any or all of the pathways a commercial possibility.


As in previous Research Council reviews of the FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership -- predecessor of U.S. DRIVE -- the report finds the operation and management of the technical teams and the integration of the systems analysis functions within those teams to be exemplary for the most part, and provides recommendations in specific technical areas.  However, it is not apparent that critical issues being investigated by the technical teams are guided and prioritized by an overall understanding of how these technical improvements affect larger program goals.  Without overarching guidance, there is a potential for conflict among the respective goals of the various technical teams.  It is imperative that the partnership's Executive Steering Group, Joint Operations Group, or other program decision-making groups continually broaden their understanding of these implications and adapt research plans to provide effective portfolio management.


The Executive Steering Group should set targets for the technical teams that are consistent with the objectives of reduced petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and U.S. DRIVE should conduct a comprehensive review of the partnership's portfolio, the report says.  Focusing on the mission of supporting longer-term, higher-risk precompetitive activities in all three potential primary pathways, the review will ensure that research and development efforts are adequate and appropriate to achieve the targets.  The report also recommends adopting a portfolio-based research and development strategy to balance the investment among alternative pathways with more traditional reviews of the individual pathways' progress.


The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. 




From: On Behalf Of Amory B. Lovins
Sent: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 2:29 PM
To: Global Energy Network
Subject: Re: [global-energy] FW: New Report: Review of U.S. DRIVE Partnership


The problems referred to have a common cause and a common solution. They can be resolved by a different vehicle-design strategy starting with platform "fitness" - taking the obesity (unnecessary weight and drag) out of the automobile. This not only saves about two-thirds of the tractive load (the energy required to move the auto), at approximately zero net marginal manufacturing cost, but also makes affordable the advanced powertrains, specifically electrification, that can displace the rest of the fuel. This strategy is described in Chapter Two of Reinventing Fire (, 2011). It confers strong competitive advantage on early adopters; is already being adopted by some automakers, often with RMI's help, and is in discussion with others; and has been encouragingly received by DOE leadership.


-- ABL


Amory B. Lovins
Chairman and Chief Scientist
Rocky Mountain Institute
1739 Snowmass Creek Road
Snowmass CO 81654, USA


back to table of contents 




5) Lithium-sulfide Batteries could store far more Energy than Lithium-ion

Kevin Bullis, Technology Review, January 2013




For the roads to start filling up with electric cars, batteries will need to get much cheaper-as much as 80 percent cheaper by some estimates (see "How Improved Batteries Will Make Electric Vehicles Competitive"). Two recent advances that make an experimental type of battery much more practical could lead to such cost savings.


Researchers have for years been working on a type of battery that uses lithium metal in one electrode and sulfur in the other. In theory, this kind of battery could store three to five times as much energy as a conventional lithium-ion battery (see "Revisiting Lithium-Sulfur Batteries"). But lithium metal is highly reactive when exposed to water and can form root-like structures inside batteries over time; these structures can join positive and negative electrodes, causing short circuits and even fires. So many researchers have begun turning their attention to a similar battery that doesn't require lithium metal.


In the new type of battery, the sulfur electrode is replaced with a lithium-sulfide material-a compound that contains both lithium and sulfur. This becomes the source of the lithium, so the lithium metal is no longer required and can be replaced with graphite-a material used in lithium-ion batteries today-or with a material such as silicon.


The trouble is, lithium sulfide is electrically insulating, which slows down charging and reduces the amount of energy the battery can deliver. But two recent papers, one from Stanford and the other from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, offer ways to make lithium-sulfide batteries more practical.


These research papers demonstrate low-cost methods for making lithium-sulfide batteries with high-energy storage capacities. The work could lead to commercial batteries that store more than three times as much energy as the lithium-ion batteries currently used in electric vehicles, says Yuegang Zhang, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Earlier this year, Yi Cui, a materials science professor at Stanford, showed a way to overcome the inherent limitations of lithium-sulfide batteries by charging the battery at a higher voltage than usual for its first charge. This changes the chemistry of the electrode, getting around the conductivity problem.


Even then, the lithium sulfide had to be mixed with carbon to improve its conductivity, and the carbon decreases the amount of energy the electrode can store: in experiments, it was enough to reduce the battery's capacities to levels close to conventional lithium-ion batteries.


Zhang demonstrated a new way to mix the carbon with the lithium sulfide that greatly reduces the amount of carbon needed in the cathode. The percent of the electrode that's made up of lithium sulfide increases from less than 50 percent to 67.5 percent. This improvement, in part because it's amplified by improvements it allows in other parts of the battery, could nearly double the overall battery storage capacity, from 350 to 610 watt-hours per kilogram, Zhang estimates. (Lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles now typically store less than 200 watt-hours per kilogram.)


Obstacles remain to commercializing the technology, including the need to improve the number of times the batteries can be recharged and the speed with which they can be charged. The energy storage numbers should also be taken with a grain of salt-they're estimates derived from lab-scale experiments, not measurements of large, commercial-scale batteries.


And lithium-sulfur batteries that use lithium metal may yet prove to be the technology of choice. Researchers and companies such as Sion Power and Polyplus are making progress on improving the number of times they can be recharged, and are using ceramics or other materials to address safety issues (see "Beyond Lithium Ion: ARPA-E Places Bets on Novel Energy Storage").




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