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Batteries are a hot topic for SPARRCI researchers

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Batteries are a hot topic for SPARRCI researchers

If you have flown commercially in recent years, you may have noticed that certain items with large lithium-ion batteries can’t be checked. Instead, they must be in your carry-on and turned off.

Objects with these batteries, such as hoverboards or even cell phones, have been known to spontaneously combust, especially if they are physically damaged somehow. The resulting fire presents a danger to people in their vicinity.

So, if these batteries aren’t allowed on airplanes unsupervised, using them to propel the fully electric aircraft of the future may come with some challenges and questions about safety.

Exploring the feasibility of predicting and preventing battery fires before they happen is the idea behind a NASA research activity called SPARRCI, or “Sensor-based Prognostics to Avoid Runaway Reactions and Catastrophic Ignition.”

The big goal is to create a “smart” battery system that would self-monitor, learn about itself as it goes, and if needed say “hey, I’m developing a problem, shut me down” well before it endangers the safety of its aircraft.

“Batteries are a hot topic. Pun intended,” said Brianne DeMattia, lead researcher for SPARRCI at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

One of the safety threats posed by batteries in electrically propelled aircraft is fire. These larger batteries, like those needed to power hoverboards and cars, have been known to catch fire because of an effect called “thermal runaway.”

Large batteries are basically many cells of small batteries packaged together. If one cell has a malfunction and starts to heat up in temperature, it causes the neighboring cell to do the same. Eventually, the whole battery overheats and could start a fire.

Battery sensors like the ones used by our phones and computers only measure the temperature outside the battery. SPARRCI is designing batteries with sensors inside them to identify the conditions that lead to thermal runaway, then alert the aircraft’s operator to the potential trouble.

The operator would then be able to correct the problem or replace the battery before the dangerous overheating ever occurs. This new, fine-tuned view of the inside of a battery could lead to safer and better performing energy storage – a new generation of batteries.

“With current batteries, we just try to contain fire so it doesn’t spread. But the best approach is to try and prevent the overheating and fire entirely. That’s what we’re trying to do with SPARRCI,” DeMattia said.

Size Matters

Another research area of SPARRCI is battery size and power storage.

A typical remote control for a television uses a couple of AA-sized batteries. A small electric aircraft such as the X-57 Maxwell, NASA’s first all-electric aircraft, may need a battery with the equivalent power of more than 5,000 AA-sized batteries.

Currently, large batteries providing that kind of power must be packaged in bulky containers to make sure that if something gets hot or catches fire, the heat is insulated, protecting other battery cells and the vehicle.

The size and weight of these containers could be reduced in the future with SPARRCI’s ability to show what’s going on inside the battery.

If the aircraft’s pilot or maintenance crew know that thermal runaway could occur, the battery can be replaced and never have a chance to catch fire.

If fire isn’t a threat anymore, extra insulation isn’t required, and the battery’s overall size and weight can be reduced. This would allow more space inside the vehicle to be dedicated to energy storage, improving its range and available power.

Since the activity began in 2020, SPARCCI researchers have successfully begun working out how to install sensors inside batteries. The next step? Identify what conditions the sensors inside the battery should look for to detect imminent battery problems or failures.

The View Inside

SPARRCI is part of the Convergent Aeronautics Solutions (CAS) project, which is designed to give NASA researchers the resources they need to determine if their ideas to solve some of aviation’s biggest technical challenges are feasible and perhaps worthy of additional pursuit within NASA or industry.

One of the things that makes CAS activities like SPARRCI unique is the requirement for researchers from different technical disciplines and NASA field centers to collaborate and bring their unique expertise to bear on the problem.

For SPARRCI, that collaboration led to some memorable moments for battery and sensor researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, who have been working with their counterparts at NASA Glenn.

The Langley researchers evaluated batteries from Glenn using a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), a device similar to the ultrasound machines used in doctors’ offices and hospitals.

“Our goal was to collect images of the guts of the battery during a test without having to open them up post-mortem. This allowed us to see conditions changing in real time and run non-destructive scans to get a sense of the ‘topography’ of the internal surfaces as they morphed during operation,” DeMattia said.

What they saw during the scans was, well, out of this world.

“As we used the SEM to scan images of these lithium metal surfaces inside the battery they sometimes looked like the surface of the Moon! It was one of the coolest things. We spent hours around the computer, ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ often thrown around, with an occasional ‘What on Earth is that?’ thrown in for good measure.”

“It’s not something that any of us have done or seen before, but the images did help us tie together the data we collected,” DeMattia said. “”We couldn’t have done this without the different disciplines coming together. It has been really exciting.”

SPARRCI was selected to be a two-year activity that began on Oct. 1, 2019. Interruptions in the pursuit prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic might lead to an extension, although nothing has been decided yet.

Once completed, information gathered, and experience gained during SPARRCI will be shared with others within NASA and the broader aviation community.

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Solar Energy

Argentina starts removing solar panels from Chilean border

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Argentina starts removing solar panels from Chilean border


Argentina starts removing solar panels from Chilean border

by AFP Staff Writers

Santiago (AFP) June 17, 2024






Argentina on Monday began removing solar panels that were installed by accident on the wrong side of its shared border with Chile, after a complaint from Chilean President Gabriel Boric.

In late April, the Argentine Navy inaugurated a maritime surveillance post on the border with Chile, in the Patagonia region of South America.

But the solar panels, which provide energy to that military unit, were set up on the Chilean side of the frontier.

In a statement, the Argentine Navy acknowledged the mistake and said it had “transferred personnel and means to begin the removal of a solar panel installed in the territory of the sister republic of Chile, north of the Island of Tierra del Fuego.”

Earlier in the day, Boric demanded that the panels be removed or Chile itself would do it.

“Borders are not something that can be ambiguous. It is a basic principle of respect between countries and therefore they must remove those solar panels as soon as possible or we are going to do it,” Boric told reporters during a visit to Paris.

Chile and Argentina share a border of about 5,000 kilometers (more than 3,000 miles).

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Chinese Premier Li targets clean energy in Australia visit

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Chinese Premier Li targets clean energy in Australia visit


Chinese Premier Li targets clean energy in Australia visit

by AFP Staff Writers

Sydney (AFP) June 18, 2024






Premier Li Qiang toured a Chinese-controlled lithium refiner in Perth on Tuesday, a sign of his country’s vast appetite for Australian “critical minerals” required for clean energy technologies.

Li ended his four-day visit to Australia with a tour of the low-carbon energy industry in resource-rich Western Australia.

His first stop was Tianqi Lithium Energy Australia, a 51-percent Chinese-owned venture comprising a mine for hard rock lithium ore, and a lithium refinery.

Along with at least a dozen other officials, China’s second most powerful man donned a white helmet during a rainy visit to the facility south of Perth.

The Chinese premier will also view a private research facility for clean energy-produced “green hydrogen” — touted as a fuel of the future to power heavy-duty items such as trucks and blast furnaces.

Australia extracts 52 percent of the world’s lithium, the vast majority of it exported as an ore to China for eventual refining and use in batteries, notably in China’s world-dominant electric vehicle industry.

But despite being a huge Australian customer, China’s involvement in the country’s critical mineral industry is sensitive because of its dominance of global supply chains.

Australia has only recently begun refining lithium rather than exporting the ore.

And the government has announced a strategic plan to develop new supply chains with friendly countries for critical minerals such as lithium, nickel and so-called rare earths.

Earlier this year, the government ordered five China-linked shareholders to sell off a combined 10 percent stake in Northern Minerals, a producer of the rare earth dysprosium.

Such foreign ownership was against Australia’s “national interests”, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said.

About 99 percent of the world’s dysprosium — used in high-performance magnets — is currently produced in China.

China has invested in critical minerals in Latin America, Africa and Australia over the past 10-20 years, said Marina Zhang, associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney’s Australia-China Relations Institute.

Developing supply chains independent of China is “fine and dandy” but unlikely to be achieved even in the short to medium term, she said.

“We are facing a very time-pressing issue that is fighting against climate change — so that issue should be at the centre of the discourse,” Zhang said.

“But unfortunately the Western allies are taking the approach that China’s dominance across the supply chains of critical minerals is imposing national security threats,” she said.

China’s narrative, however, was that it was investing and making a contribution to sustainability and environmental protection, the analyst said.

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Rice Lab Reports Significant Advances in Perovskite Solar Cell Stability

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Rice Lab Reports Significant Advances in Perovskite Solar Cell Stability


Rice Lab Reports Significant Advances in Perovskite Solar Cell Stability

by Clarence Oxford

Los Angeles CA (SPX) Jun 18, 2024






Solar power is growing rapidly as an energy technology, recognized for its cost-effectiveness and its role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A Rice University study published in Science details a method for synthesizing formamidinium lead iodide (FAPbI3) into stable, high-quality photovoltaic films. The efficiency of these FAPbI3 solar cells declined by less than 3% over more than 1,000 hours of operation at 85 degrees Celsius (185 Fahrenheit).



“Right now, we think that this is state of the art in terms of stability,” said Rice engineer Aditya Mohite. “Perovskite solar cells have the potential to revolutionize energy production, but achieving long-duration stability has been a significant challenge.”



This breakthrough represents a major step towards making perovskite photovoltaics commercially viable. The researchers added specially designed two-dimensional (2D) perovskites to the FAPbI3 precursor solution, which served as a template to enhance the stability of the crystal lattice structure.



“Perovskite crystals get broken in two ways: chemically – destroying the molecules that make up the crystal – and structurally – reordering the molecules to form a different crystal,” explained Isaac Metcalf, a Rice graduate student and a lead author on the study. “Of the various crystals that we use in solar cells, the most chemically stable are also the least structurally stable and vice versa. FAPbI3 is on the structurally unstable end of that spectrum.”



The researchers found that while 2D perovskites are more stable, they are less effective at harvesting light. By using 2D perovskites as templates, they improved the stability and efficiency of FAPbI3 films. The addition of well-matched 2D crystals facilitated the formation of high-quality FAPbI3 films, showing less internal disorder and better illumination response.



The study showed that solar cells with 2D templates retained their efficiency and durability significantly better than those without. Encapsulation layers further enhanced the stability of these solar cells, extending their operational life to timescales relevant for commercial applications.



“Perovskites are soluble in solution, so you can take an ink of a perovskite precursor and spread it across a piece of glass, then heat it up and you have the absorber layer for a solar cell,” Metcalf said. “Since you don’t need very high temperatures – perovskite films can be processed at temperatures below 150 Celsius (302 Fahrenheit) – in theory that also means perovskite solar panels can be made on plastic or even flexible substrates, which could further reduce costs.”



Silicon, the most commonly used semiconductor in photovoltaic cells, requires more resource-intensive manufacturing processes than perovskites, which have seen efficiency improvements from 3.9% in 2009 to over 26% currently.



“It should be much cheaper and less energy-intensive to make high-quality perovskite solar panels compared to high-quality silicon panels, because the processing is so much easier,” Metcalf said.



“We need to urgently transition our global energy system to an emissions-free alternative,” he added, referring to UN estimates that highlight the importance of solar energy in replacing fossil fuels.



Mohite emphasized that advancements in solar energy technologies are crucial for meeting the 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target and preventing a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise in global temperatures, essential for achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.



“If solar electricity doesn’t happen, none of the other processes that rely on green electrons from the grid, such as thermochemical or electrochemical processes for chemical manufacturing, will happen,” Mohite said. “Photovoltaics are absolutely critical.”



Mohite holds the title of William M. Rice Trustee Professor at Rice, is a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and directs the Rice Engineering Initiative for Energy Transition and Sustainability. The study’s lead authors also include Siraj Sidhik, a Rice doctoral alumnus.



“I would like to give a lot of credit to Siraj, who started this project based on a theoretical idea by Professor Jacky Even at the University of Rennes,” Mohite said. “I would also like to thank our collaborators at the national labs and at several universities in the U.S. and abroad whose help was instrumental to this work.”



Research Report:Two-dimensional perovskite templates for durable, efficient formamidinium perovskite solar cells


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