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Decades of Solar Mirror Research Now Accessible in New Database

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Decades of Solar Mirror Research Now Accessible in New Database


Decades of Solar Mirror Research Now Accessible in New Database

by Simon Mansfield

Sydney, Australia (SPX) Nov 01, 2023






The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), part of the U.S. Department of Energy, is set to launch an extensive database cataloging the outcomes of decades-long exposure tests on solar mirrors. Known as the Solar Mirror Materials Database (SMMD), this resource promises to house a vast array of data, encompassing over 2,000 samples and 100,000 measurements from more than 100 suppliers. Designed to serve the solar-thermal power industry, the database aims to become a cornerstone in research and development.

NREL’s exhaustive solar mirror study spans a timeline reaching back to 1980. It offers deep insights into the durability and degradation of various materials that make up the mirrors commonly used in concentrating solar-thermal power systems. These mirrors have been exposed to a variety of testing conditions, in both outdoor settings and lab environments, across three locations: Phoenix, Miami, and NREL’s own campus in Golden, Colorado.



The research has been condensed into an article, “Compilation of a Solar Mirror Materials Database and an Analysis of Natural and Accelerated Mirror Exposure and Degradation,” published in the Journal of Solar Energy Engineering. Authored by Tucker Farrell, a research engineer at NREL, alongside co-authors Yue Cao, Daniel Celvi, Christa Schreiber, and Guangdong Zhu, the paper applies statistical analysis to synthesize decades of measurement data.



Tucker Farrell explained the utility of the SMMD, saying, “The database can guide the development of accelerated tests, design of solar reflectors, and manufacturing processes.” He elaborated on the scope of solar-thermal technology: “You’ve got a variety of forms like parabolic trough, tower, Fresnel, dish, and more, but they all center around a single principle. You aim to reflect and concentrate solar energy at a focal point to capture heat.”



The information within the SMMD is considered exceptionally valuable for its long-term outdoor exposure data. One significant observation made by the NREL team was a strong correlation between four months of accelerated lab testing and nine months of outdoor exposure. This suggests that extended durations in lab conditions are essential for precise modeling of material behavior over time.



The varying climatic conditions at the three test sites provide additional layers of nuance to the research. Phoenix offered the lowest humidity and highest daily temperature ranges, while Miami presented high humidity levels but stable temperatures. Golden experienced the lowest average temperatures but had considerable temperature fluctuations. This range allows for more comprehensive conclusions about how different environmental factors interact with solar mirror materials.



Mirrors used in the studies consisted of various combinations of materials such as glass and aluminum, polymer and silver, or glass and silver. While it’s a given that solar mirrors degrade over time, losing some of their reflectivity, the SMMD aims to offer a deeper understanding of the underlying causes. Factors like corrosion, microfractures, pitting, and other chemical and physical changes have been explored in the database. This enables the development of more targeted and environment-specific solutions. For instance, a mirror designed for arid climates with coarse sand may not be optimal for coastal settings with high humidity and airborne salts.



Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, the research embodied in the SMMD serves as a rich resource for the development and refinement of solar mirror technologies. The SMMD is expected to be accessible online later this year, offering a comprehensive tool for both researchers and industry professionals.



NREL operates as the U.S. Department of Energy’s premier lab for research and development in renewable energy and energy efficiency, managed by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC.



Research Report:Compilation of a Solar Mirror Materials Database and an Analysis of Natural and Accelerated Mirror Exposure and Degradation



ai.energy-daily.com analysis



Relevance Scores:



1. Renewable Energy Industry Analyst: 9/10

2. Stock and Finance Market Analyst: 7/10

3. Government Policy Analyst: 8/10



Analyst Summary:



The article focuses on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)’s upcoming Solar Mirror Materials Database (SMMD), a comprehensive compilation of decades-long research on solar mirrors, particularly their durability and degradation. This initiative is primarily aimed at serving the solar-thermal power industry.



Renewable Energy Industry Analyst:



For renewable energy professionals, especially those in the solar-thermal sector, the database is a treasure trove. It covers critical aspects like material degradation and performance under various climatic conditions. The in-depth data could accelerate R and D efforts and potentially lead to more efficient and durable solar mirrors.



Stock and Finance Market Analyst:



From a financial standpoint, this development has implications for companies involved in manufacturing solar mirrors and those investing in solar-thermal projects. The data could reduce risks associated with long-term investments by offering insights into material longevity and performance. However, the database mainly serves the solar-thermal industry, limiting its broader applicability in the entire renewable energy sector.



Government Policy Analyst:



For policy analysts, the database offers concrete data that could inform future policy decisions on renewable energy, particularly solar-thermal technologies. Given that the research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the government would have a vested interest in utilizing this information to shape grants, incentives, and regulations.



Historical Context:



Over the past 25 years, the renewable energy sector has seen significant advancements in technology, efficiency, and scalability. Early solar thermal projects were fraught with issues of inefficiency and durability, many of which this database aims to address. Additionally, in terms of policy, there has been an increased focus on renewable energies as part of sustainable development goals and climate commitments. The SMMD can be seen as a confluence of these advancements and policy directions, offering empirical data to support future initiatives.



Investigative Questions:



1. How can the data in the SMMD be used to create a more sustainable solar-thermal energy supply chain?



2. What are the financial implications of implementing the database’s findings in existing solar-thermal projects?



3. How will the SMMD influence governmental policies around renewable energy subsidies and tax incentives?



4. Could the methodology of the SMMD be applied to other forms of renewable energy technologies for similar benefits?



5. How might the SMMD impact international collaborations on renewable energy research and development?



The SMMD promises to be a valuable resource across different sectors, impacting R and D, investment strategies, and policy formulation in the realm of renewable energy.


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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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