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The Economic Case for Wind and Solar Energy in Africa

To meet skyrocketing demand for electricity, African countries may have to triple their energy output by 2030. While hydropower and fossil fuel power plants are favored approaches in some quarters, a new assessment by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that wind and solar can be economically and environmentally competitive options and can contribute significantly to the rising demand.

Chemists ID Catalytic 'Key' for Converting CO2 to Methanol

Results from experiments and computational modeling studies that definitively identify the "active site" of a catalyst commonly used for making methanol from CO2 will guide the design of improved catalysts for transforming this pollutant to useful chemicals.

Cryo-Electron Microscopy Achieves Unprecedented Resolution Using New Computational Methods

Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM)--which enables the visualization of viruses, proteins, and other biological structures at the molecular level--is a critical tool used to advance biochemical knowledge. Now Berkeley Lab researchers have extended cryo-EM's impact further by developing a new computational algorithm instrumental in constructing a 3-D atomic-scale model of bacteriophage P22 for the first time.

New Study Maps Space Dust in 3-D

A new Berkeley Lab-led study provides detailed 3-D views of space dust in the Milky Way, which could help us understand the properties of this dust and how it affects views of distant objects.

Single-Angle Ptychography Allows 3D Imaging of Stressed Materials

Scientists have used a new X-ray diffraction technique called Bragg single-angle ptychography to get a clear picture of how planes of atoms shift and squeeze under stress.

New Feedback System Could Allow Greater Control Over Fusion Plasma

A physicist has created a new system that will let scientists control the energy and rotation of plasma in real time in a doughnut-shaped machine known as a tokamak.

Towards Super-Efficient, Ultra-Thin Silicon Solar Cells

Researchers from Ames Laboratory used supercomputers at NERSC to evaluate a novel approach for creating more energy-efficient ultra-thin crystalline silicon solar cells by optimizing nanophotonic light trapping.

Study IDs Link Between Sugar Signaling and Regulation of Oil Production in Plants

UPTON, NY--Even plants have to live on an energy budget. While they're known for converting solar energy into chemical energy in the form of sugars, plants have sophisticated biochemical mechanisms for regulating how they spend that energy. Making oils costs a lot. By exploring the details of this delicate energy balance, a group of scientists from the U.

High-Energy Electrons Probe Ultrafast Atomic Motion

A new technique synchronized high-energy electrons with an ultrafast laser pulse to probe how vibrational states of atoms change in time.

Rare Earth Recycling

A new energy-efficient separation of rare earth elements could provide a new domestic source of critical materials.


Jefferson Lab Accomplishes Critical Milestones Toward Completion of 12 GeV Upgrade

The Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has achieved two major commissioning milestones and is now entering the final stretch of work to conclude its first major upgrade. Recently, the CEBAF accelerator delivered electron beams into two of its experimental halls, Halls B and C, at energies not possible before the upgrade for commissioning of the experimental equipment currently in each hall. Data were recorded in each hall, which were then confirmed to be of sufficient quality to allow for particle identification, a primary indicator of good detector operation.

Valerie Taylor Named Argonne National Laboratory's Mathematics and Computer Science Division Director

Computer scientist Valerie Taylor has been appointed as the next director of the Mathematics and Computer Science division at Argonne, effective July 3, 2017.

Three SLAC Employees Awarded Lab's Highest Honor

At a March 7 ceremony, three employees of the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory were awarded the lab's highest honor ­- the SLAC Director's Award.

Dan Sinars Represents Sandia in First Energy Leadership Class

Dan Sinars, a senior manager in Sandia National Laboratories' pulsed power center, which built and operates the Z facility, is the sole representative from a nuclear weapons lab in a new Department of Energy leadership program that recently visited Sandia.

ORNL, HTS International Corporation to Collaborate on Manufacturing Research

HTS International Corporation and the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have signed an agreement to explore potential collaborations in advanced manufacturing research.

Jefferson Lab Director Honored with Energy Secretary Award

Hugh Montgomery, director of the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab), was awarded The Secretary's Distinguished Service Award by the Secretary of Energy earlier this year.

New Projects to Make Geothermal Energy More Economically Attractive

Geothermal energy, a clean, renewable source of energy produced by the heat of the earth, provides about 6 percent of California's total power. That number could be much higher if associated costs were lower. Now scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have launched two California Energy Commission-funded projects aimed at making geothermal energy more cost-effective to deploy and operate.

Southern Research Project Advances Novel CO2 Utilization Strategy

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy has awarded Southern Research nearly $800,000 for a project that targets a more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly method of producing some of the most important chemicals used in manufacturing.

Harker School Wins 2017 SLAC Regional Science Bowl Competition

After losing its first match of the day to the defending champions, The Harker School's team won 10 consecutive rounds to claim victory in the annual SLAC Regional DOE Science Bowl on Saturday, Feb. 11.

Francis Alexander Named Deputy Director of Brookhaven Lab's Computational Science Initiative

Alexander brings extensive management and leadership experience in computational science research to the position.


High-Energy Electrons Probe Ultrafast Atomic Motion

A new technique synchronized high-energy electrons with an ultrafast laser pulse to probe how vibrational states of atoms change in time.

Rare Earth Recycling

A new energy-efficient separation of rare earth elements could provide a new domestic source of critical materials.

Modeling the "Flicker" of Gluons in Subatomic Smashups

A new model identifies a high degree of fluctuations in the glue-like particles that bind quarks within protons as essential to explaining proton structure.

Rare Nickel Atom Has "Doubly Magic" Structure

Supercomputing calculations confirm that rare nickel-78 has unusual structure, offering insights into supernovas.

Microbial Activity in the Subsurface Contributes to Greenhouse Gas Fluxes

Natural carbon dioxide production from deep subsurface soils contributes significantly to emissions, even in a semiarid floodplain.

Stretching a Metal Into an Insulator

Straining a thin film controllably allows tuning of the materials' magnetic, electronic, and catalytic properties, essential for new energy and electronic devices.

How Moisture Affects the Way Soil Microbes Breathe

Study models soil-pore features that hold or release carbon dioxide.

ARM Data Is for the Birds

Scientists use LIDAR and radar data to study bird migration patterns, thanks to the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility.

The Future of Coastal Flooding

Better storm surge prediction capabilities could help reduce the impacts of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes.

Estimating Global Energy Use for Water-Related Processes

Scientists find that water-related energy consumption is increasing across the globe, with pronounced differences across regions and sectors.


Tuesday March 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

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Friday March 24, 2017, 10:40 AM

Great Neck South High School Wins Regional Science Bowl at Brookhaven Lab

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Wednesday February 15, 2017, 04:05 PM

Middle Schoolers Test Their Knowledge at Science Bowl Competition

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Friday January 27, 2017, 04:00 PM

Haslam Visits ORNL to Highlight State's Role in Discovering Tennessine

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Internship Program Helps Foster Development of Future Nuclear Scientists

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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More Than 12,000 Explore Jefferson Lab During April 30 Open House

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Giving Back to National Science Bowl

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NMSU Undergrad Tackles 3D Particle Scattering Animations After Receiving JSA Research Assistantship

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Shannon Greco: A Self-Described "STEM Education Zealot"

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University of Utah Makes Solar Accessible

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"Wetting" a Battery's Appetite for Renewable Energy Storage

Article ID: 621444

Released: 2014-07-31 17:00:00

Source Newsroom: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

RICHLAND, Wash. – Sun, wind and other renewable energy sources could make up a larger portion of the electricity America consumes if better batteries could be built to store the intermittent energy for cloudy, windless days. Now a new material could allow more utilities to store large amounts of renewable energy and make the nation’s power system more reliable and resilient.

A paper published today in Nature Communications describes an electrode made of a liquid metal alloy that enables sodium-beta batteries to operate at significantly lower temperatures. The new electrode enables sodium-beta batteries to last longer, helps streamline their manufacturing process and reduces the risk of accidental fire.

“Running at lower temperatures can make a big difference for sodium-beta batteries and may enable batteries to store more renewable energy and strengthen the power grid,” said material scientist Xiaochuan Lu of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Need for energy storage, but challenges remain

More than 300 megawatts of large, cargo container-sized sodium-beta batteries are running in the United States, Japan and Europe, according to Dupont Energy Consulting. They often store electricity generated by rows of solar panels and wind turbines.

But their broader use has been limited because of their high operating temperature, which reaches up to 350 degrees Celsius, or more than three times the boiling point of water. Such high operating temperatures requires sodium-beta batteries to use more expensive materials and shortens their operating lifespans. PNNL researchers set out to reduce the battery’s operating temperature, knowing that could make the battery more efficient and last longer.

The traditional design of sodium-beta batteries consists of two electrodes separated by a solid membrane made of the ceramic material beta alumina. There are two main types of sodium-beta batteries, based on the materials used for the positive electrode: those that use sulfur are called sodium-sulfur batteries, while those that use nickel chloride are known as ZEBRA batteries. Electricity is generated when electrons flow between the battery's electrodes.

Lowering the battery’s operating temperature creates several other technical challenges. Key among them is getting the negative sodium electrode to fully coat, or “wet” the ceramic electrolyte. Molten sodium resists covering beta alumina’s surface when it’s below 400 degrees Celsius, causing sodium to curl up like a drop of oil in water, making the battery less efficient. For decades researchers have tried to overcome this by applying different coatings to the membrane.

New electrode offers different take

Lu and his PNNL colleagues took an entirely different approach to the wettability problem: modifying the negative electrode. Instead of using pure sodium, they experimented with sodium alloys, or sodium blended with other metals. The team determined a liquid sodium-cesium alloy spreads out well on the beta alumina membrane.

PNNL’s new electrode material enables the battery to operate at lower temperatures. Instead of the 350 degrees Celsius at which traditional sodium-beta batteries operate, a test battery with the new electrode worked well at 150 degrees – with a power capacity of 420 milliampere-hours per gram, matching the capacity of the traditional design.

Batteries with the new alloy electrode also retain more of their original energy storage capacity. After 100 charge and discharge cycles, a test battery with PNNL’s electrode maintained about 97 percent of its initial storage capacity, while a battery with the traditional, sodium-only electrode maintained 70 percent after 60 cycles.

A battery with a lower operating temperature can also use less expensive materials such as polymers -- which would melt at 350 degrees Celsius -- for its external casing instead of steel. Using less expensive and sensitive materials would also help streamline the battery’s manufacturing process. This offsets some of the increased cost associated with using cesium, which is more expensive than sodium.

The PNNL research team is now building a larger electrode to test with a larger battery to bring the technology closer to the scale needed to store renewable energy.

This research was supported by DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability and internal PNNL funding.

REFERENCE: Xiaochuan Lu, Guosheng Li, Jin Y. Kim, Donghai Mei, John P. Lemmon, Vincent L. Sprenkle, Jun Liu, “Liquid Metal Electrode to Enable Ultra-Low Temperature Sodium0Beta Alumina Batteries for Renewable Energy Storage,” Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5578, Aug. 1, 2014.

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Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,300 staff and has an annual budget of about $950 million. It is managed by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. As the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information on PNNL, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.