Renewable Natural Gas: The Next Great Renewable Fuel
As a result of an exponentially rising population and industrialization around the world, the demand for global energy is expected to double by 2050. While fossil fuels will continue to meet the majority of those energy needs for a long time, crude oil supplies are limited and pose unprecedented environmental risks. And while many claim America's booming natural gas industry will be the holy grail in alleviating a tightening market, public skepticism is mounting regarding the unforeseen costs of the methods used in obtaining those sources.
Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas is not only pointed to for contaminating crucial aquifers, but also as a highly likely cause of minor to medium scale earthquakes (thus far at least). However, the natural gas industry has the most potential to meet a fast approaching future energy crisis, increasing domestic energy security in a way that's slightly more environmental than extracting petroleum. Until renewables are able to make a significant dent in the global energy market, natural gas will continue to serve as one of the most important transitional variables in reaching a greener energy future.
But what if natural gas could come in a form that is renewable, safe and inexpensive? Researchers at HyperSolar believe they have found the answer that could potentially revolutionize the industry.
RENEWABLE NATURAL GAS
Using solar to react with wastewater and carbon dioxide, HyperSolar has developed a photochemical reaction that mimics photosynthesis to produce renewable natural gas safely (above ground) and, more importantly, cost-effectively.
“We need a renewable fuel that is environmentally clean,” says Tim Young, CEO of HyperSolar. “But before you can start, you must ask first and foremost, 'what form of renewable fuel can be economically produced?' The beauty of this project is that we're starting with commercialization in mind.”
The process requires sunlight, water, carbon dioxide and a slurry reactor, or vessel resembling a large baggy for lack of more elegant language. When wastewater enters the slurry reactor housing thousands of nanoparticles, hydrogen is produced through a photochemical process that is then reacted with carbon dioxide to create methane or natural gas. Instead of using expensive pure water, the process utilizes waste streams from industrial facilities, simultaneously detoxifying wastewater containing organic molecules of all kinds to produce molecular hydrogen and clean water. The nanoparticles can be programmed to react with different forms of wastewater and the reaction takes place at a low voltage, requiring minimal solar power.
“There are two forces working together that make this a very attractive proposition in terms of energy,” says Young. “Not only are we able to produce a cost-effective renewable form of energy, but also clean water in the process.”
After HyperSolar completes a series of pilot programs over the next several months, Young believes the technology has the potential to have a significant impact on the industry in the near future as “the only form of solar energy that may prove to be truly cost effective will come in a chemical form—hydrogen,” concludes Young. “And since the infrastructure of the natural gas pipeline is already in place, natural gas is the most logical way to go.”
Sakuu Corporation creates 3D printer for EV batteries
Sakuu Corporation has announced a new industrial-grade 3D printer for e-mobility batteries which it claims will unlock the mainstream adoption of electric vehicles.
Offering an industrial scale ‘local’ battery production capability, Sakuu believes the technology will provide increased manufacturer and consumer confidence. Sakuu’s Alpha Platform for its initial hardware offering will be available in Q4.
Backed by Japanese automotive parts supplier to major OEMs, Musashi Seimitsu, Sakuu is set to enable fast and high-volume production of 3D printed solid-state batteries (SSBs) that, compared with lithium-ion batteries, have the same capacity yet are half the size and almost a third lighter.
The company’s KeraCel-branded SSBs will also use around 30%-50% fewer materials – which can be sourced locally – to achieve the same energy levels as lithium-ion options, significantly reducing production costs. Sakuu anticipates the 3D printer’s attributes being easily transferable to a host of different applications in other industry sectors.
"For the e-mobility markets specifically, we believe this to be a landmark achievement, and one that could transform consumer adoption of electric vehicles,” said Robert Bagheri, Founder, CEO and chairman, Sakuu Corporation. “SSBs are a holy grail technology, but they are both very difficult and expensive to make. By harnessing the flexibility and efficiency-enhancing capabilities of our unique and scalable AM process, we’re enabling battery manufacturers and EV companies to overcome these fundamental pain points."
The ability to provide on-demand, localised production will create more efficient manufacturing operations and shorter supply chains, he added.
Sakuu will initially focus on the two-, three- and smaller four-wheel electric vehicle market for whom the company’s SSB proposition delivers an obvious and desirable combination of small form factor, low weight and improved capacity benefits. The agility of Sakuu’s AM process also means that customers can easily switch production to different battery types and sizes, as necessary, for example to achieve double the energy in the same space or the same energy in half the space.
Beyond energy storage, Sakuu’s development of print capability opens complex end device markets previously closed off to current 3D printing platforms. These include active components like sensors and electric motors for aerospace and automotive; power banks and heatsinks for consumer electronics; PH, temperature and pressure sensors within IoT; and pathogen detectors and microfluidic devices for medical, to name a few.
"As a cheaper, faster, local, customisable and more sustainable method of producing SSBs – which as a product deliver much higher performance attributes than currently available alternatives – the potential of our new platform offers tremendous opportunities to users within energy, as well as a multitude of other markets," said Bagheri.
Ongoing research and new funding collaborations
Omega Seiki, a part of Anglian Omega Group of companies, has partnered with New York-based company C4V to introduce SSBs for EVs and the renewable sector in India. As part of an MoU, the two companies are also looking at the manufacturing of SSBs in the country, according to reports.
Solid Power, which produces solid-state batteries for electric vehicles, recently announced a $130 million Series B investment round led by the BMW Group, Ford Motor Company and Volta Energy Technologies. Ford and the BMW Group have also expanded existing joint development agreements with Solid Power to secure all solid-state batteries for future EVs. Solid Power plans to begin producing automotive-scale batteries on the company's pilot production line in early 2022.
"Solid-state battery technology is important to the future of electric vehicles, and that's why we're investing directly," said Ted Miller, Ford's manager of Electrification Subsystems and Power Supply Research. "By simplifying the design of solid-state versus lithium-ion batteries, we'll be able to increase vehicle range, improve interior space and cargo volume, deliver lower costs and better value for customers and more efficiently integrate this kind of solid-state battery cell technology into existing lithium-ion cell production processes."
A subsidiary of Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest private company, Vinfast has signed an MoU with SSB manufacturer ProLogium - which picked up a bronze award at the recent Edison Awards - to accelerate commercialisation of batteries for EVs (click here).
Xin Li, Associate Professor of Materials Science, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is designing an SSB for ultra-high performance EV applications. The ultimate goal is to design a battery "that outperforms internal combustion engines so electrical vehicles accelerate the transition from fossil-fuel-based energy to renewable energy," according to The Harvard Gazette.
The dramatic increase in EV numbers means that the potential battery market is huge. McKinsey projects that by 2040 battery demand from EVs produced in Europe will reach a total of 1,200GWh per year, which is enough for 80 gigafactories with an average capacity of 15GWh per year.