Building the next generation of lithium-ion batteries

Recently the Anthropocene Institute asked Cypress River Advisors to discuss the future of battery technology and venture capital investment.  In 2016, lithium-ion received the bulk of the industry’s applied research dollars – focused on driving incremental improvements. Venture capital, on the other hand, invested over a half billion dollars into exploring solutions which addressed lithium-ion’s challenges through new chemistries or new technology paths to solve our global energy storage problem.  Through these conversations with various investors, we noted an inconsistent understanding of battery technologies and the challenges that the industry faces.  

To help get the public and investors on the same page, Cypress River Advisors sat down with William Chueh, a leading material science and engineering researcher at Stanford University and his team of Ph.D.  He and his team are at the forefront of materials research into battery technology, tackling the question: “How to build a better battery?”  

While there are many different kinds of energy storage systems, the rise of mobile devices has made lithium-ion the incumbent technology for consumer electronics, electric vehicles and even the grid.  It serves as one of the major benchmarks for which all other battery technologies are compared to today. We hope that this article and its related videos will give industry observers an overall sense of the challenges for the market ahead.  – Jason Wang, Partner, Cypress River Advisors.

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Three Mile Island to Shut Down, 100 People Expected to Die

Last Wednesday, Exelon announced that the last nuclear reactor operating at Three Mile Island (TMI) would close by September 30th. For those still living with fear after what is described as the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history, this sounds like cause for celebration. Those concerned about lung, heart, and brain diseases, as well as the environment, however, might want to think twice before breaking out the Champagne.

Air pollution already accounts for over 8 million annual deaths worldwide, and since 1986 oil and gas accidents have resulted in over $8 billion in financial damages. Coal use will increase immediately as Pennsylvania and surrounding states still rely on those dirty and toxic plants for base-load power. The increase in coal use, along with the increase in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from additional reliance on methane, aka “natural gas”, can cause  100 premature deaths annually, because of TMI’s premature closure. Mark Szybist, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “We’re at a point where if nuclear retires immediately, we would probably replace it with natural gas generation because we haven’t sufficiently planned to replace it with something cleaner.” Unfortunately replacing Three Mile Island’s output with fossil methane will dump an additional 3.2 million tons of CO2 emissions into Pennsylvania’s air every year. Should a $50 per ton carbon price come into place, swapping Three Mile Island’s functioning plant with fossil fuels will tack on an additional social and environmental price tag of around $350-$500 million.

Nuclear power currently supplies just over 19% of U.S. electricity, while producing zero CO2 emissions. For comparison, all non-hydro renewables together totaled about 8.5% of U.S. electricity generation. It’s tempting to imagine the United States replacing nuclear power completely with more renewables but, according to Dr. Michael Shellenberger, that scenario isn’t just unlikely—it’s currently unfeasible. Solar farms take up 450 times more land than nuclear power plants to produce the same amount of energy, while wind farms take 700 times more land.

Shale-fracked methane gas has dominated new energy builds and that’s a climate disaster. But many environmentalists are still confused. Fossil gas consumption is healthier for humans in the short term than coal, but when more than 1% of the fracked gas leaks into the atmosphere unburned its greenhouse climate damage is worse than coal. There are leaks everywhere in the system from the well to the burner and in the 100 year old cast iron pipes beneath our cities. Many places leak 7% of their gas unburned, such as Southern California, but the overall industrial “fugitive emissions” numbers are unreported or industry self-reported with unbelievable variances.

Another bad reason to favor fossil methane is the momentary cheap price. Bloomberg shows the fracking business, built on 0% interest rate, is now losing money and forced to accelerate borrowing Ponzi-style.  It’s dangerous to increase our addiction to fracked methane at affordable prices.

There are good reasons why gas wins, for now: Smaller budgets for construction.  Less uncertainty in construction cost.

For nuclear power to expand in the future, it needs to match those qualities and that is easy to do. Nuclear, like gas, will be very easy to construct on schedule, due to use of factory-built transportable equipment made of standard parts. When an effort is made to manufacture and ship small nuclear power plants, they outperform natural gas economically around the world, as well as in safety and climate impact.

However, policies that encourage green energy often exclude nuclear power, leaving zero-carbon plants unable to compete against cheaper fossil fuels. Companies like NuScale Power hope to reverse that trend by building small modular reactors, which can be mass-produced quickly at low cost. A 2018 study by MIT suggests that decarbonization without nuclear will be costly and slow, as we must build out more renewable storage to replace existing, functional, and safe zero-emissions nuclear plans.

Andrew Place, of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, found that at a 1% annual changeover rate replacing the energy loss from Three Mile Island with alternative clean energy sources would take 5-11 years alone. With climate change already damaging our coastal cities, burning our wilderness, and hurting our vulnerable populations, air pollution is a global and local health hazard. We are committing suicide!

Anthropocene Comic

From the talented Micah Brown.

Yale Environment 360: Investors Warn of Severe Financial Crash If Climate Action Isn’t Taken

Dec 10, 2018
Source: Yale Environment 360

A group of more than 400 investors managing $32 trillion in assets warned governments to take more aggressive steps to address climate change or risk a financial crash several times worse than the 2008 global recession, The Guardian reported.

In a letter released at the COP24 climate meeting in Poland, the investors called on nations to end fossil fuel subsidies, invest in low-carbon technologies, phase out coal-fired power plants, put a price on carbon emissions, and make drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

The global investment firm Schroders, a signatory of the new “Global Investor Statement,” estimates that if governments fail to take action and the world warms by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit), it could cause $23 trillion in global economic losses over the next 80 years — three to four times the scale of the 2008 global financial crisis.

“The long-term nature of the challenge has, in our view, met a zombie-like response by many,” Chris Newton, executive director of responsible investment for IFM Investors, which manages $80 billion in assets, said in a statement. “This is a recipe for disaster as the impacts of climate change can be sudden, severe and catastrophic.”

The call from investors came just one day after the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait — four of the world’s largest fossil fuel producers — worked to dismiss recent scientific findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which concluded that the world has just over a decade to stop the worse impacts of climate change. At climate talks in Poland, the four countries challenged language endorsing the findings and officially incorporating them into negotiations, rather than just making note of them, The Washington Post reported.

Original article.

ARL: Army converts heat to electricity at record high rates, breakthrough research shows

ADELPHI, MD. (Aug. 10, 2018) – U.S. Army Research Laboratory-funded research at the University of Michigan has resulted in demonstrating a new approach for more effectively converting heat into electricity.

The research focused on fundamental improvements to an approach traditionally referred to as thermophotovoltaics, or TPV, and such technologies that are useful to Soldiers because they can enable generation of power from any heat source. Additionally they can be configured to work with sunlight in the day and with any combustible fuel in the night making them particularly useful for operation in the field.

The team of researchers accomplished this breakthrough, a 40-fold enhancement in comparison to traditional TPV, by employing new physical phenomena that arise at the nanoscale. The scientists said devices built using this approach can work far more effectively for remote power generation as well as in waste heat recovery.

These results are published in a recent edition of Nature Nanotechnology, authored by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows Dr. Anthony Fiorino, Dr. Linxiao Zhu, Dakotah Thompson, Rohith Mittapally and Professors Pramod Reddy and Edgar Meyhofer from the Mechanical Engineering Department of the University of Michigan. Read more

Stanford scientists advance new way to store wind and solar electricity on a large scale, affordably and at room temperature

A new type of flow battery that involves a liquid metal more than doubled the maximum voltage of conventional flow batteries and could lead to affordable storage of renewable power.

A new combination of materials developed by Stanford researchers may aid in developing a rechargeable battery able to store the large amounts of renewable power created through wind or solar sources. With further development, the new technology could deliver energy to the electric grid quickly, cost effectively and at normal ambient temperatures. Read more

Yale Environment 360: Why Nuclear Power Must Be Part of the Energy Solution

In the late 16th century, when the increasing cost of firewood forced ordinary Londoners to switch reluctantly to coal, Elizabethan preachers railed against a fuel they believed to be, literally, the Devil’s excrement. Coal was black, after all, dirty, found in layers underground — down toward Hell at the center of the earth — and smelled strongly of sulfur when it burned. Switching to coal, in houses that usually lacked chimneys, was difficult enough; the clergy’s outspoken condemnation, while certainly justified environmentally, further complicated and delayed the timely resolution of an urgent problem in energy supply.

For too many environmentalists concerned with global warming, nuclear energy is today’s Devil’s excrement. They condemn it for its production and use of radioactive fuels and for the supposed problem of disposing of its waste. In my judgment, their condemnation of this efficient, low-carbon source of baseload energy is misplaced. Far from being the Devil’s excrement, nuclear power can be, and should be, one major component of our rescue from a hotter, more meteorologically destructive world.

Like all energy sources, nuclear power has advantages and disadvantages. What are nuclear power’s benefits? First and foremost, since it produces energy via nuclear fission rather than chemical burning, it generates baseload electricity with no output of carbon, the villainous element of global warming. Switching from coal to natural gas is a step toward decarbonizing, since burning natural gas produces about half the carbon dioxide of burning coal. But switching from coal to nuclear power is radically decarbonizing, since nuclear power plants release greenhouse gases only from the ancillary use of fossil fuels during their construction, mining, fuel processing, maintenance, and decommissioning — about as much as solar power does, which is about 4 to 5 percent as much as a natural gas-fired power plant.

Nuclear power releases less radiation into the environment than any other major energy source.

Second, nuclear power plants operate at much higher capacity factors than renewable energy sources or fossil fuels. Capacity factor is a measure of what percentage of the time a power plant actually produces energy. It’s a problem for all intermittent energy sources. The sun doesn’t always shine, nor the wind always blow, nor water always fall through the turbines of a dam.

In the United States in 2016, nuclear power plants, which generated almost 20 percent of U.S. electricity, had an average capacity factor of 92.3 percent, meaning they operated at full power on 336 out of 365 days per year. (The other 29 days they were taken off the grid for maintenance.) In contrast, U.S. hydroelectric systems delivered power 38.2 percent of the time (138 days per year), wind turbines 34.5 percent of the time (127 days per year) and solar electricity arrays only 25.1 percent of the time (92 days per year). Even plants powered with coal or natural gas only generate electricity about half the time for reasons such as fuel costs and seasonal and nocturnal variations in demand. Nuclear is a clear winner on reliability.

Third, nuclear power releases less radiation into the environment than any other major energy source. This statement will seem paradoxical to many readers, since it’s not commonly known that non-nuclear energy sources release any radiation into the environment. They do. The worst offender is coal, a mineral of the earth’s crust that contains a substantial volume of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium. Burning coal gasifies its organic materials, concentrating its mineral components into the remaining waste, called fly ash. So much coal is burned in the world and so much fly ash produced that coal is actually the major source of radioactive releases into the environment.

Anti-nuclear activists protest the construction of a nuclear power station in Seabrook, New Hampshire in 1977. 

Anti-nuclear activists protest the construction of a nuclear power station in Seabrook, New Hampshire in 1977.  AP PHOTO

In the early 1950s, when the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission believed high-grade uranium ores to be in short supply domestically, it considered extracting uranium for nuclear weapons from the abundant U.S. supply of fly ash from coal burning. In 2007, China began exploring such extraction, drawing on a pile of some 5.3 million metric tons of brown-coal fly ash at Xiaolongtang in Yunnan. The Chinese ash averages about 0.4 pounds of triuranium octoxide (U3O8), a uranium compound, per metric ton. Hungary and South Africa are also exploring uranium extraction from coal fly ash.

What are nuclear’s downsides? In the public’s perception, there are two, both related to radiation: the risk of accidents, and the question of disposal of nuclear waste.

There have been three large-scale accidents involving nuclear power reactors since the onset of commercial nuclear power in the mid-1950s: Three-Mile Island in Pennsylvania, Chernobyl in Ukraine, and Fukushima in Japan.

Studies indicate even the worst possible accident at a nuclear plant is less destructive than other major industrial accidents.

The partial meltdown of the Three-Mile Island reactor in March 1979, while a disaster for the owners of the Pennsylvania plant, released only a minimal quantity of radiation to the surrounding population. According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

“The approximately 2 million people around TMI-2 during the accident are estimated to have received an average radiation dose of only about 1 millirem above the usual background dose. To put this into context, exposure from a chest X-ray is about 6 millirem and the area’s natural radioactive background dose is about 100-125 millirem per year… In spite of serious damage to the reactor, the actual release had negligible effects on the physical health of individuals or the environment.”

The explosion and subsequent burnout of a large graphite-moderated, water-cooled reactor at Chernobyl in 1986 was easily the worst nuclear accident in history. Twenty-nine disaster relief workers died of acute radiation exposure in the immediate aftermath of the accident. In the subsequent three decades, UNSCEAR — the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, composed of senior scientists from 27 member states — has observed and reported at regular intervals on the health effects of the Chernobyl accident. It has identified no long-term health consequences to populations exposed to Chernobyl fallout except for thyroid cancers in residents of Belarus, Ukraine and western Russia who were children or adolescents at the time of the accident, who drank milk contaminated with 131iodine, and who were not evacuated. By 2008, UNSCEAR had attributed some 6,500 excess cases of thyroid cancer in the Chernobyl region to the accident, with 15 deaths.  The occurrence of these cancers increased dramatically from 1991 to 1995, which researchers attributed mostly to radiation exposure. No increase occurred in adults.

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, located near Avila Beach, California, will be decommissioned starting in 2024.

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, located near Avila Beach, California, will be decommissioned starting in 2024. PACIFIC GAS AND ELECTRIC

“The average effective doses” of radiation from Chernobyl, UNSCEAR also concluded, “due to both external and internal exposures, received by members of the general public during 1986-2005 [were] about 30 mSv for the evacuees, 1 mSv for the residents of the former Soviet Union, and 0.3 mSv for the populations of the rest of Europe.”  A sievert is a measure of radiation exposure, a millisievert is one-one-thousandth of a sievert. A full-body CT scan delivers about 10-30 mSv. A U.S. resident receives an average background radiation dose, exclusive of radon, of about 1 mSv per year.

The statistics of Chernobyl irradiations cited here are so low that they must seem intentionally minimized to those who followed the extensive media coverage of the accident and its aftermath. Yet they are the peer-reviewed products of extensive investigation by an international scientific agency of the United Nations. They indicate that even the worst possible accident at a nuclear power plant — the complete meltdown and burnup of its radioactive fuel — was yet far less destructive than other major industrial accidents across the past century. To name only two: Bhopal, in India, where at least 3,800 people died immediately and many thousands more were sickened when 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide plant; and Henan Province, in China, where at least 26,000 people drowned following the failure of a major hydroelectric dam in a typhoon. “Measured as early deaths per electricity units produced by the Chernobyl facility (9 years of operation, total electricity production of 36 GWe-years, 31 early deaths) yields 0.86 death/GWe-year),” concludes Zbigniew Jaworowski, a physician and former UNSCEAR chairman active during the Chernobyl accident. “This rate is lower than the average fatalities from [accidents involving] a majority of other energy sources. For example, the Chernobyl rate is nine times lower than the death rate from liquefied gas… and 47 times lower than from hydroelectric stations.”

Nuclear waste disposal, although a continuing political problem, is not any longer a technological problem.

The accident in Japan at Fukushima Daiichi in March 2011 followed a major earthquake and tsunami. The tsunami flooded out the power supply and cooling systems of three power reactors, causing them to melt down and explode, breaching their confinement. Although 154,000 Japanese citizens were evacuated from a 12-mile exclusion zone around the power station, radiation exposure beyond the station grounds was limited. According to the report submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency in June 2011:

“No harmful health effects were found in 195,345 residents living in the vicinity of the plant who were screened by the end of May 2011. All the 1,080 children tested for thyroid gland exposure showed results within safe limits. By December, government health checks of some 1,700 residents who were evacuated from three municipalities showed that two-thirds received an external radiation dose within the normal international limit of 1 mSv/year, 98 percent were below 5 mSv/year, and 10 people were exposed to more than 10 mSv… [There] was no major public exposure, let alone deaths from radiation.”

Nuclear waste disposal, although a continuing political problem in the U.S., is not any longer a technological problem. Most U.S. spent fuel, more than 90 percent of which could be recycled to extend nuclear power production by hundreds of years, is stored at present safely in impenetrable concrete-and-steel dry casks on the grounds of operating reactors, its radiation slowly declining.

An activist in March 2017 demanding closure of the Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant in France. Authorities announced in April that they will close the facility by 2020.

An activist in March 2017 demanding closure of the Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant in France. Authorities announced in April that they will close the facility by 2020. SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

The U.S. Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico currently stores low-level and transuranic military waste and could store commercial nuclear waste in a 2-kilometer thick bed of crystalline salt, the remains of an ancient sea. The salt formation extends from southern New Mexico all the way northeast to southwestern Kansas. It could easily accommodate the entire world’s nuclear waste for the next thousand years.

Finland is even further advanced in carving out a permanent repository in granite bedrock 400 meters under Olkiluoto, an island in the Baltic Sea off the nation’s west coast. It expects to begin permanent waste storage in 2023.

A final complaint against nuclear power is that it costs too much. Whether or not nuclear power costs too much will ultimately be a matter for markets to decide, but there is no question that a full accounting of the external costs of different energy systems would find nuclear cheaper than coal or natural gas.

Richard Rhodes is the author of numerous books, including the recently published Energy: A Human History, and is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Appearing as host and correspondent for documentaries on public television’s Frontline and American Experience series, he has also been a visiting scholar at Harvard, MIT, and Stanford University. MORE ABOUT RICHARD RHODES →

Original article.


NPR: As Nuclear Struggles, A New Generation Of Engineers Is Motivated By Climate Change

from All Things Considered

by Jeff Brady

The number of people graduating with nuclear engineering degrees has more than tripled since a low point in 2001, and many are passionate about their motivation.

“I’m here because I think I can save the world with nuclear power,” Leslie Dewan told the crowd at a 2014 event as she pitched her company’s design for a new kind of reactor.

Dewan says climate change, and the fact that nuclear plants emit no greenhouse gases, are the big reason she became a nuclear engineer. And she is not the only one.

“The reason that almost all of our students come into this field is climate change,” says Dennis Whyte, head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Read more

Reuters: Rich nations spend $100 bln a year on fossil fuel subsidies despite climate pledges

Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States have pledged to phase out subsidies – but many are still in place

By Lin Taylor

LONDON, June 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The world’s major industrial democracies spend at least $100 billion each year to prop up oil, gas and coal consumption, despite vows to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025, a report said on Monday ahead of the G7 summit in Canada.

Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States – known as the Group of Seven (G7) – pledged in 2016 to phase out their support for fossil fuels by 2025.

But a study led by Britain’s Overseas Development Insitute (ODI) found they spent at least $100 billion a year to support fossil fuels at home and abroad in 2015 and 2016. Read more

Department of Energy Announces 10 Projects to Support Advanced Nuclear Reactor Power Plants

ARPA-E provides up to $24 million for technologies to enable lower cost, safer advanced nuclear plant designs

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced up to $24 million in funding for 10 projects as part of a new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program: Modeling-Enhanced Innovations Trailblazing Nuclear Energy Reinvigoration (MEITNER). MEITNER teams will identify and develop innovative technologies that enable designs for lower cost, safer, advanced nuclear reactors.

“Nuclear energy is an essential component of the U.S. energy mix, and by teaming up with the private sector to reduce costs and improve safety, we are keeping America ahead of the curve in advanced reactor design and technology,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “These next-generation ARPA‑E technologies help us maintain our competitive, technological edge globally, while improving the resilience of the grid and helping provide reliable, baseload electricity to each and every American.” Read more

CEM: Countries Launch a Nuclear Innovation Initiative under the Clean Energy Ministerial


May 24, 2018 – At the 9th Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM9) meeting today, a new nuclear innovation partnership was announced under the leadership of the United States, Canada, and Japan. Called “Nuclear Innovation: Clean Energy Future (NICE Future),” the initiative will, for the first time, put the spotlight at CEM on nuclear energy in clean energy systems. U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette, Canadian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources Kim Rudd, and Japanese Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Masaki Ogushi launched the NICE Future initiative today at the Ninth CEM in Copenhagen, Denmark.

NICE Future initiative will address improved power system integration through innovative, integrated, and advanced energy systems and applications, such as nuclear-renewable systems, combined uses of heat and power, hydrogen production, and industrial decarbonization. It will highlight the opportunities for nuclear energy technologies to reduce emissions and air pollution from power generation, industry, and end-use sectors. Read more