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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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Rock-Based Super Battery Set to Revolutionize Electric Cars

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Rock-Based Super Battery Set to Revolutionize Electric Cars


Rock-Based Super Battery Set to Revolutionize Electric Cars

by Robert Schreiber

Berlin, Germany (SPX) Jul 22, 2024







In a decade, solid-state batteries derived from rock silicates are poised to become a greener, more efficient, and safer alternative to today’s lithium-ion batteries. Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) have patented an innovative superionic material made from potassium silicate-a mineral extractable from ordinary rocks.

Currently, the range and charging speed of electric car batteries are limited by lithium-ion technology, which also poses environmental and supply chain challenges. Lithium is costly, environmentally damaging, and scarce, potentially hindering the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.



As the demand for electric cars grows, developing new lithium-free batteries becomes essential. These batteries must match or exceed current efficiency levels while being more eco-friendly and cost-effective. This challenge drives research into new battery materials and designs, critical for reducing the transport sector’s carbon footprint.



DTU researcher Mohamad Khoshkalam has developed a promising material for next-generation batteries: solid-state batteries using potassium and sodium silicates, common minerals found in the Earth’s crust. These materials, sourced from everyday rocks, are not sensitive to air and humidity, allowing them to be molded into ultra-thin layers within the battery.



Patented Superionic Material

The newly patented potassium silicate material is economical, environmentally friendly, and abundant, covering over 90% of the Earth’s surface. It conducts ions effectively at around 40 degrees Celsius and is moisture-resistant. This facilitates safer, cheaper, and more scalable battery production, as it can occur in open environments at near-room temperatures. Moreover, it eliminates the need for expensive and harmful metals like cobalt, used in current lithium-ion batteries to enhance performance and lifespan.



“The potential of potassium silicate as a solid-state electrolyte has been known for a long time, but in my opinion has been ignored due to challenges with the weight and size of the potassium ions. The ions are large and therefore move slower,” says Mohamad Khoshkalam.



Understanding Khoshkalam’s discovery requires recognizing the electrolyte’s vital role in a battery. The electrolyte, which can be liquid or solid, enables ion movement between the anode and cathode, sustaining the electric current during charging and discharging. Its conductivity hinges on ion mobility, traditionally slower in rock silicates due to their larger size compared to lithium-based electrolytes. However, Khoshkalam’s process accelerates ion movement in potassium silicate, enhancing its conductivity.



“The first measurement with a battery component revealed that the material has a very good conductivity as a solid-state electrolyte. I cannot reveal how I developed the material, as the recipe and the method are now patented,” Mohamad Khoshkalam continues.



The Battery of the Future

Solid-state batteries are seen as the future by researchers and electric car manufacturers. Recently, Toyota announced plans to release a vehicle with a lithium solid-state battery by 2027-28. However, previous announcements have faced setbacks. Unlike conventional batteries, solid-state batteries use solid electrolytes, allowing ions to move faster, improving efficiency and reducing charging time.



A battery cell can be as thin as cardboard, with ultra-thin layers for the anode, cathode, and electrolyte, enabling more powerful, compact batteries. This can translate to driving up to 1,000 km on a single 10-minute charge. Additionally, solid-state batteries are safer as they lack combustible liquid components.



Yet, significant challenges remain before solid-state batteries reach the market. The technology, although successful in labs, is difficult and costly to scale. Material and battery research is intricate and slow, requiring advanced labs and equipment. Even after 20 years, lithium-ion batteries are still evolving.



Furthermore, new production methods are needed to ensure the ultra-thin layers in battery cells remain intact. While high-pressure techniques work in labs, translating this to commercial batteries is complex.



High-Risk, High-Reward Technology

Solid-state batteries based on potassium and sodium silicates have a low Technology Readiness Level (TRL), indicating a lengthy journey from lab discovery to market implementation. Despite the challenges, Khoshkalam remains optimistic.



“We have shown that we can find a material for a solid-state electrolyte that is cheap, efficient, eco-friendly, and scalable-and that even performs better than solid-state lithium-based electrolytes,” he said.



Khoshkalam has patented his discovery and is establishing the start-up K-Ion to develop these components for battery companies. Supported by DTU’s Earthbound initiative, K-Ion aims to expedite the transition from lab research to societal impact.



The next step is to create a demo battery to showcase to companies and investors, with a prototype expected in 1-2 years.


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EU, Serbia sign deal to kickstart lithium battery development

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EU, Serbia sign deal to kickstart lithium battery development


EU, Serbia sign deal to kickstart lithium battery development

By Mina Pejakovic and Ognjen Zoric

Belgrade (AFP) July 19, 2024






The European Union and Serbia signed a deal Friday to develop the supply of lithium batteries that are seen as a crucial building block needed to power Europe’s transition to a green economy.

The memorandum of understanding inked during a “critical raw materials summit” in Belgrade is seen as the first step in developing Serbia’s mineral resources and potentially building supply chains, including manufacturing lithium batteries and component parts.

The deal comes just days after a court decision saw the Serbian government reapprove a lithium mining project that had been shuttered for two years following mass protests.

Lithium is a strategically valuable metal needed for assembling electric vehicle batteries, making it key for helping Germany’s flagship automotive sector shift to greener production.

Serbia has vast lithium deposits near the western city of Loznica, where a disputed mining project run by the Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto has been a perennial political fault line in the Balkan country in recent years.

“There will be no project without full protection, and we know it will happen because we are bringing the best experts from Europe to Serbia,” said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during the summit, which was attended by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic.

“Chancellor Scholz has offered Germany’s support for Serbia to develop a more extensive lithium production value chain, which will bring us billions in investments,” Vucic added.

The government reinstated the licenses for the mining project earlier this week, after revoking in 2022 the permits granted to Rio Tinto following a string of demonstrations over environmental concerns.

The announcement came after Serbia’s constitutional court ruled last week that the permit cancellations were “not in line with the constitution and the law”, paving the way for the government to resume the project.

Vucic, whose party won parliamentary elections in December, has said environmental protection would be a priority after extracting new assurances from the company.

Rio Tinto has said Serbia’s lithium reserves in Loznica could produce an estimated 58,000 tonnes annually, enough for 1.1 million electric vehicles.

During an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt ahead of the Belgrade summit, Vucic said conversations were ongoing with a range of European automakers including Mercedes, Volkswagen and Stellantis.

Vucic also said the country’s lithium exports would be sold only to European partners for the time being, despite interest from Chinese manufacturers.

“We promised this to the EU representatives,” said Vucic on Friday when asked about the comments.

“We have excellent relations with the Chinese, and that has nothing to do with this project.”

– Membership in mind –

Opponents remain worried however over the mine’s impact on the environment and public health.

Critics of the mine have long accused Vucic’s government of having a poor track record with regulating its industrial sector.

Outside of the summit, a small group of protestors surrounded by police slammed the deal.

“Leave lithium and democracy to the Serbian people,” said Savo Manojlovic, a leading organiser of the protests against the mine.

Protestors also say the country is taking the biggest environmental risks with the mine for the sake of the EU’s transition to a green economy.

The lithium deposits near Loznica were discovered in 2004, but weeks of protests sparked by fears for the environment and public health forced the government to halt the project in 2022.

Vucic has hinted that Serbia could begin mining lithium as early as 2028.

The president has also said the deal would involve guarantees that limited the sale of raw materials from the country and ensure that most of the lithium exports would be through Serbian-produced batteries or component parts.

“This means battery production and potentially cars (would be manufactured in Serbia), indicating a significant technological undertaking that involves domestic science, expertise, and industry,” Aleksandar Jovovic from the mechanical engineering department of Belgrade University told AFP.

Serbia has been a candidate to join the European Union since 2012, but its prospects are seen as bleak without a normalisation of relations with Kosovo.

“The partnership will further strengthen political relations and promote long-term economic growth in Serbia and the EU, contributing to Serbia’s efforts to join the EU,” the Serbian government said in a statement on Thursday.

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HKUST Researchers Unveil Hidden Structure for Enhanced Perovskite Solar Cells

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HKUST Researchers Unveil Hidden Structure for Enhanced Perovskite Solar Cells


HKUST Researchers Unveil Hidden Structure for Enhanced Perovskite Solar Cells

by Simon Mansfield

Sydney, Australia (SPX) Jul 22, 2024






Researchers from the School of Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have discovered surface concavities on individual crystal grains in perovskite thin films. This fundamental discovery reveals significant effects on the properties and reliability of the films. Leveraging this knowledge, the team developed a new method to enhance the efficiency and stability of perovskite solar cells by eliminating these grain surface concavities.

Perovskite solar cells are a promising technology that could replace silicon solar cells across various applications, including grid electricity, portable power, and space photovoltaics. They offer higher power conversion efficiencies (PCEs) than commercial silicon cells and have advantages such as low material costs, sustainable manufacturing, and versatility in transparency and color. However, the stability of perovskite devices under light, humidity, and thermomechanical conditions has hindered their commercialization.



To tackle this challenge, Prof. ZHOU Yuanyuan, Associate Professor of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at HKUST, and his research group conducted a study focusing on the microstructure of materials. They discovered numerous surface concavities at the crystalline grains of the perovskite material. These concavities disrupt the structural continuity at the perovskite film interface, acting as a hidden microstructure factor that limits the efficiency and stability of perovskite cells.



The team innovatively removed the grain surface concavities using a surfactant molecule, tridecafluorohexane-1-sulfonic acid potassium, to manage strain evolution and ion diffusion during the formation of perovskite films. Consequently, their perovskite cells showed marked improvements in efficiency retention during standardized thermal cycling, damp heat, and maximum-power-point tracking tests.



“Structure and geometry of individual crystalline grains are the origin of the performance of perovskite semiconductors and solar cells. By unveiling the grain surface concavities, understanding their effects, and leveraging chemical engineering to tailor their geometry, we are pioneering a new way of making perovskite solar cells with efficiency and stability toward their limits,” said Prof. Zhou, the corresponding author of this work.



“We were very intrigued by the surface concavities of perovskite grains when we were using atomic force microscopy to examine the structural details of perovskite films. These concavities are usually buried underneath the film bottom and easily be overlooked,” he added.



“Microstructure is of vital importance for perovskite solar cells and other optoelectronic devices, and can be more complex than conventional materials owing to the hybrid organic-inorganic characteristics of perovskite materials. Under Prof. Zhou’s guidance, we are able to develop various novel characterization and data science approaches to gain insights into perovskite microstructure,” said ZHANG Yalan, a PhD student in Prof. Zhou’s research group and a co-author of this work.



The team’s research, titled “Elimination of Grain Surface Concavities for Improved Perovskite Thin-Film Interfaces,” has been published in the prestigious journal Nature Energy. The study was conducted in collaboration with Hong Kong Baptist University and Yale University.



Research Report:Elimination of grain surface concavities for improved perovskite thin-film interfaces


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