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A sheet of graphene is a mere atom thick and has low resistance and high mobility making it optimal for both semiconductor and capacitor applications.  (Source: University of Maryland)
Graphene ultracapacitors could double the storage of existing designs thanks to breakthrough

While the continual progress of efficiencies in solar and wind seem to make these technologies ideal candidates to eventually replace fossil fuels further into the future, one key element stands in the way of their adoption.  That element is variability of the power source.  While one solution would be to offset these power sources with continuous power sources such as tidal or geothermal, another option is storage.

Currently, two primary methods exist of storing power for later use -- rechargeable batteries and ultracapacitors (other exotic methods have also been proposed).  Ultracapacitors are a growing, but not widely known field.  Ultracapacitors can be mixed with fuel cells and batteries or used independently to provide power.  While expensive, ultracapacitors have numerous advantages over batteries, including higher power capability, longer life, a wider thermal operating range, lighter, more flexible packaging and lower maintenance.

Now a new breakthrough promises even better ultracapacitors.  A typical capacitor design features two sheets with an electrolyte between them.  Charge is developed and stored on the sheets.  The key to the new research is to use graphene as the capacitor sheet material. 

Graphene is a unique carbon molecule which is a one-atom-thick planar sheet of sp2-bonded carbon atoms densely packed in a honeycomb-like lattice.  The material has exceptional surface area, among other properties.  It also is a great conductor, and thus is being explored as a material for transistors

Rod Ruoff, a University of Texas at Austin mechanical engineering professor and a physical chemist who led the research describes, "Our interest derives from the exceptional properties of these atom-thick and electrically conductive graphene sheets, because in principle all of the surface of this new carbon material can be in contact with the electrolyte.  Graphene's surface area of 2630 m2/gram (almost the area of a football field in about 1/500th of a pound of material) means that a greater number of positive or negative ions in the electrolyte can form a layer on the graphene sheets resulting in exceptional levels of stored charge."

Professor Ruoff and his team used a chemically modified graphene sheet, and several widely used commercial electrolytes.  The resulting capacitor had a charge stored per weight (called "specific capacitance") rivalling the best available traditional ultracapacitors.  And Professor Ruoff is hopeful that the material's storage can be more than doubled with tweaking.  He states, "There are reasons to think that the ability to store electrical charge can be about double that of current commercially used materials. We are working to see if that prediction will be borne out in the laboratory."

His current team consists of graduate student Meryl Stoller and postdoctoral fellows Sungjin Park, Yanwu Zhu and Jinho An, all from the Mechanical Engineering Department and the Texas Materials Institute at the university.

Their impressive findings are reported in the forthcoming Oct. 8 edition of Nano Letters.

The U.S. Department of Energy has said advancing storage technologies is one of the most pressing needs of the renewable resource industry.  Other fields such as electric cars could also benefit from the research.  A graphene ultracapacitor equipped next-generation version of the Chevy Volt could get twice the range on a single charge or cut the battery weight in half.  It could even extend the life of laptop batteries.

Resources and funding for the project were provided by the Texas Nanotechnology Research Superiority Initiative, The University of Texas at Austin and a Korea Research Foundation Grant for fellowship support for Dr. Park.

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By uhgotnegum on 9/17/2008 1:55:34 PM , Rating: 5
I propose an experiment to Mick and Asher, and it goes like this...

You both tend to write on similar topics (e.g., environmental issues that have political implications), is that fair to say? Assuming you both said, "yes," I would be interested in you both writing articles on the same exact item, both to be submitted at the same time and both written without any "consulting" of the other.

In total, my idea is each of you would write two articles, one subject matter proposed by Mick, which you both would write on, and the other proposed by Masher (i.e., Mick may have suggested this article's breakthrough and both of you would then write on it).

What do you guys say?

To sum up:
Two articles, one each, on a topic Mick chooses
Two articles, one each, on a topic Masher chooses

Purely interested in seeing how you both would tackle an issue if given the same time, information, etc. Thanks for the consideration.

RE: Experiment
By JasonMick on 9/17/2008 1:59:47 PM , Rating: 2
I'm game. :)

RE: Experiment
By Mitch101 on 9/17/2008 2:16:10 PM , Rating: 5
The Atari 2600 Game Spy vs Spy keeps popping into my head.

RE: Experiment
By nah on 9/17/2008 3:49:28 PM , Rating: 2
Jason : Solar,Wind,Solar,Wind

Michael : Nuclear, Oil, Nuclear, Oil

nah : what, me worry ?

RE: Experiment
By BansheeX on 9/18/2008 9:41:19 AM , Rating: 3
Mick doesn't seem to understand that there is no benefit to solar or wind over fission for major generation applications. They need vast amounts of real estate, they're much more costly to build and maintain per watt produced, wind is less safe to workers, they're not less harmful to the environment, and they can't produce power under any conditions. I like wind for rural areas, but Mick gives it disproportionate attention and revolutionary flair. There's no way in hell this stuff should become more than 10% of our national power generation.

RE: Experiment
By alcalde on 9/18/08, Rating: 0
RE: Experiment
By masher2 on 9/18/2008 11:34:40 PM , Rating: 4
Wind turbines do, however, have enormous spinning blades and weighty poles, both of which can most certainly kill you, especially in areas exposed to high winds-- which, coincidentally, is where such windmills tend to be built.

In fact, despite the small amount of power generated by wind at present, several people have already died from such accidents. How many have died from nuclear waste in the Western world? None a half-century of operation.

So much for that theory.

Wind also requires the mining and production of vast amounts of steel and concrete, far more than nuclear reactors require...operations which have a number of toxic byproducts.

> "Oh, and then there's the drilling for fuel."

What drilling? We have enough fuel from spare nuclear weapons alone to power the nation for more than 200 years-- all without mining an additional ounce of uranium. And even after that, nuclear requires far less mining that wind power, due to the vastly smaller amount of resources it requires.

> "the non-renewableness of nuclear."

There's enough nuclear fuel on earth to last several times all of recorded human history. On that basis, nuclear is just as renewable as solar or wind. All three will run out eventually...but it's a problem so far in the future, we can't even conceive of it.

> "we don't have to worry about solar or wind falling into the hands of terrorists."

What would terrorists do with nuclear fuel? They certainly can't make a nuclear bomb out of low-enriched uranium. The plutonium generated is poisoned with so much Pu-240 that it's essentially useless as a nuclear weapon...and even refining it out is so complex and requires so much resources that one might just as well build your own reactor or enrichment plant (which is why nations like Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea chose just that route).

So that leaves a "dirty bomb" -- something more useful for generating irrational fear than any real damage. But if one wants radioactive material for such a bomb, it's much easier to get it from sources like medical radionuclides or even a large amount of discarded smoke detectors. Or -- if you're a smart terrorist -- you skip the idea entirely, and get something truly destructive, like a biological agent, or some much-more-deadly sarin, ricin, or other toxins.

RE: Experiment
By lco45 on 9/23/2008 3:53:35 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, but to be fair Masher, even if a whole field of wind generators failed at the same time it wouldn't render the entire region unlivable for hundreds of years, like Chernobyl did.
Having said that, fission is an excellent choice for power generation, and is orders of magnitude safer than mining for coal, or warring for oil control.

RE: Experiment
By Regs on 9/23/2008 10:55:32 AM , Rating: 2
You know what ticks me off?

The Sun goes away each day and doesn't let us know where it's going.

How can we work with this? Gawd damnit.

RE: Experiment
By Etsp on 9/17/2008 2:44:34 PM , Rating: 2
I'd actually also like a third article chosen by the DT master himself, Kristopher Kubicki Just to make sure there is at least one neutral party involved. :)

RE: Experiment
By Lord 666 on 9/17/2008 3:40:18 PM , Rating: 2
Ideally, Kris would be included as a writer in all three assignments.

Masher topic - all three write
Mick topic - all three write
Kris topic - all three write

RE: Experiment
By masher2 on 9/17/2008 4:07:26 PM , Rating: 2
That's 9 papers already. I think people would lose interest long before they reached the end.

RE: Experiment
By danrien on 9/17/2008 5:30:51 PM , Rating: 3
I would actually be interested in seeing this all the time. Sort of like Hannity and Colmes, but without the cherry-picked idiot Colmes that Fox picked to beat up (I honestly pictured a Fox executive finding a homeless bum off the street, and telling him to spew unintelligible shit for a job as long as he went by the name 'Colmes').

RE: Experiment
By TSS on 9/17/2008 6:25:18 PM , Rating: 2
on a regular basis, yes, but for once it would be fun to see the results.

which would probably be anything but non-biased objective journalism. however, that would fit perfectly with most if not all other media outlets.

RE: Experiment
By Lord 666 on 9/17/2008 6:32:32 PM , Rating: 3
Done on a limited basis (once a month, maybe just once) there might be some interest if positioned as a "contest."

To be fair, the author names should be ommitted, but due to the distinct writing styles, the author will be easily identifiable.

One open aspect would be how to grade feedback and author responses to such feedback. A factual piece should be able to stand on its own, but in a collaborative Web 2.0 world, author responses to feedback is always a good thing

RE: Experiment
By johnsonx on 9/17/2008 11:10:53 PM , Rating: 3
I would say Kris doesn't need to write for this purpose, but having him pick one topic is a good idea.

Also, spread it out over a few weeks; we don't need 3 pairs of articles all at once.

RE: Experiment
By therealnickdanger on 9/17/2008 2:50:23 PM , Rating: 2
I suggested this same thing some time ago... Slipped through the cracks of teh interweb, I think. :P

It would be a very interesting exchange. It would essentially be the same as it is now, just better organized and promoted.

C'mon Kris, you know it's a good idea!

RE: Experiment
By uhgotnegum on 9/17/2008 3:44:10 PM , Rating: 2
i'm n ur idea,
stealn' all ur raetingz

maybe should each write the suggestion, post it at the same time, and see how they differ...or that might just be a joke ;)

(didn't mean to steal your thunder)

RE: Experiment
By SeanMI on 9/17/2008 2:51:21 PM , Rating: 2
I can't rate him up any higher so I figured I'd throw my 2 cents in and let you know I'd like to see this happen as well :)

RE: Experiment
By MarcLeFou on 9/17/2008 7:07:23 PM , Rating: 2
I also think this would be a good idea - if only to get both side of the coin. Opposing viewpoints often leave one better informed on the topic at hand.

RE: Experiment
By jlips6 on 9/17/2008 11:50:22 PM , Rating: 3
I would also be content with a dance-off.

Horrible TItle
By d0gb0y on 9/17/2008 3:37:53 PM , Rating: 5
While this breakthrough would allow for better wind or solar storage, they are completely unrelated. This breakthrough would also allow for better nuclear power storage. Why wasn't that added to the title?

This is a generic battery upgrade. It is also an exciting possibility. To link it with your own bias and call it news is sickening... blog maybe... journalism, barf!

RE: Horrible TItle
By svenkesd on 9/17/2008 4:10:12 PM , Rating: 2
Not quite.

There is no need to store nuclear power. Nuclear power output is not easily changed. (without wasting energy)

Wind and solar, on the other hand, could use some form of storage to filter the power output and make these generation methods more usable.

RE: Horrible TItle
By masher2 on 9/17/2008 4:23:32 PM , Rating: 2
True. Sources like nuclear and coal can have their output tuned to meet demand. Wind and solar cannot. This is one of the primary reasons that such sources cannot presently be used to supply more than a small fraction of total grid demand.

RE: Horrible TItle
By inflames99 on 9/17/2008 8:11:44 PM , Rating: 2
wind generation also tends to peak at night when demand is very low and wind turbines will draw power from the grid when wind speeds are too low.

economically nuclear generators will actually sell power at a loss or even pay others in the market to accept power at times of very low demand since starting a downed reactor takes a very long time.

RE: Horrible TItle
By svenkesd on 9/18/2008 9:00:09 AM , Rating: 2
Correct. And excessive high demand during peak hours is usually covered by smaller much more expensive generators because it is not practical ( or possible ) to ramp a large nuclear or coal plant to match demand.

This is why electricity is much more expensive than the estimated 2.866 c/kWh for nuclear and a little more for coal.

By Gzus666 on 9/17/2008 2:02:47 PM , Rating: 5
New capacitor technology is great for everything involving electronics, the environmental spin seems to always be in this guy's articles. Great technology none the less.

By kattanna on 9/17/2008 2:41:35 PM , Rating: 3
well the enviromental "spin" on this news story is in every version of it i have seen, not just his.

By Gzus666 on 9/17/2008 3:09:40 PM , Rating: 2
Which makes you wonder about the other sources as well. Most of the articles I have seen him write have some form of environmental use. Does it take away from a great new technology? Hell no!

By lco45 on 9/23/2008 4:00:44 AM , Rating: 2
It's not a conspiracy, just more like wishful thinking from people who wish the world could be better. Hardly a hanging offence.

By masher2 on 9/17/2008 4:03:57 PM , Rating: 5
> "Currently, two primary methods exist of storing power for later use"

For commercial power storage, batteries and ultracapacitors are not "primary methods". Pumped-storage hydro is the largest method by far, with low costs and a relatively high efficiency. For concentrated solar power, thermal storage comes in first, using molten salts, water, or some other medium. Compressed air, hydrogen formation, and other schemes exist as well.

The "exotic" flywheel storage from the prior DT article is primarily used for load-levelling, not for long-term energy storage.

> "one key element stands in the way of their adoption. That element is variability of the power source.

Energy storage is one of the three key elements. The other two are cost and energy transmission. Transmission is one of the largest issues, as building solar farms in Arizona or wind farms in Texas will require transporting power across thousands of miles, incurring enormous line losses and requiring hundreds of billions of dollars in new power line capacity alone.

RE: Corrections.
By masher2 on 9/17/2008 4:21:30 PM , Rating: 5
> "Their impressive findings are reported..."

More issues. While Jason can't resist putting his own opinion in the reporting, this development is far from "promising" better solar and wind energy storage.

First of all, this development is, in the researchers own words, merely "suggesting" the possibility of doubling the energy density of existing ultracapacitors. They may not ever get there.

But more importantly, even if they do, ultracapacitors will be far from ideal for commercial energy storage. Existing designs have an energy density only about 1/20 of what a lithium battery does. Their primary advantages are enormously fast recharge and discharge times...useful for a hybrid's regenerative braking, if coupled with higher-density batteries, but not a real plus in the long-term storage of large amounts of power.

RE: Corrections.
By The Irish Patient on 9/18/2008 11:35:19 AM , Rating: 2
Transmission is one of the largest issues, as building solar farms in Arizona or wind farms in Texas will require transporting power across thousands of miles, incurring enormous line losses and requiring hundreds of billions of dollars in new power line capacity alone.

Not to mention the near impossible task of securing approval for the new power lines in multiple jurisdictions.

Renewable energy storage?
By Entropy42 on 9/17/2008 2:01:06 PM , Rating: 2
Ultracapacitors have a high power density compared to batteries, but a low energy density. They are good for rapid charging and discharging, but on the whole, hold orders of magnitude less energy than a battery. Batteries would still seem to be far more suited for use with solar or wind. I could maybe see a hybrid battery/ultracapacitor system used for Wind turbine that have spikes in output, but for solar batteries are far better.

RE: Renewable energy storage?
By Doormat on 9/17/2008 2:32:40 PM , Rating: 3
Yea, I have a feeling this would be great for hybrid vehicles but poor for RE storage to fill in gaps in energy production. Altairnano's large 2MW/500kWh battery arrays are better suited for that.

RE: Renewable energy storage?
By bobsmith1492 on 9/17/2008 3:21:36 PM , Rating: 2
Low energy density - great for hybrid vehicles

These two do not mix. Vehicles need as much energy in as little space and with as little weight as possible.

RE: Renewable energy storage?
By MrTeal on 9/17/2008 9:41:25 PM , Rating: 2
Energy and power density are not the same thing. Ultra caps are good for systems like braking in a hybrid where the energy needs to be stored very quickly, possibly faster than the battery is able to accept it. They store less per volume than a battery, but can accept the same energy orders of magnitude more quickly.

RE: Renewable energy storage?
By lco45 on 9/23/2008 3:59:07 AM , Rating: 2
It's the near-instant charging of capacitors that has an advantage in store energy generated by a hybrid's regenerative breaking.

Energy storage
By FishTankX on 9/17/2008 6:17:30 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, my favorite way to get around this is to use solar and wind energy for automotive fuel production

It's an idea that doesn't get much talk around here, but the possibility of being able to throw water and CO2 together to produce alcohol fuels. Methanol is the easiest one I've heard of.

You could simply build production plants right next to the renewable, supplement with grid power, and haul the stuff away when you're done, through pipelines or trucks.

RE: Energy storage
By Reflex on 9/17/2008 11:13:08 PM , Rating: 2
Probably because it would not have a significant impact. Keep in mind that our consumption of oil is enormous, building vehicles to run on a solution that is never going to hit economies of scale is just a waste of money.

Here's a good picture of just how much oil is consumed globally, and what it would take to replace that with a variety of power generation techniques:

There is no easy answer.

RE: Energy storage
By Jaybus on 9/18/2008 12:39:26 PM , Rating: 2
I agree that there's no easy way. Therefore, we should be concentrating on using existing technology, rather than placing our hopes on future technology that may, or may not, someday materialize. I don't see how the new capacitor technology could much affect electrical power generation, even if it's the best thing since sliced bread.

According to the US DOE, the maximum capacity for the 1,493 coal-fired stations is 335,830 MW, or 51% of the US electrical power capacity. The capacity of the 104 nuclear stations is 105,585 MW, or 21% of the US electrical power capacity. The average nuclear station produces 4.5 times the power of the average coal-fired station. It would take 331 nuclear stations (more than 3 times the current number) to completely replace the current coal-fired stations.

By comparison, the maximum stated capacity of the 348 wind farms is 11,352 MW. So it takes at least 7 wind farms to replace 1 coal-fired station. It would take 10,451 wind farms, (30 times the current number) to replace the current coal-fired stations, regardless of battery/super-capacitor technology.

What I conclude from this is that coal-fired stations are not going away any time soon, and if even a few of the nuclear stations are forced to shut down due to their age, (the youngest of which is 30 years old), we are in serious trouble. I would prefer to build the nuclear stations now. They can be replaced later, should the great scientific discovery of a better power source finally come along.

So let me get this straight
By kenzmn on 9/19/2008 9:16:14 AM , Rating: 1
To make solar and wind generation even better we need to use a carbon product. How does THAT affect the carbon footprint?

What a joke this whole alternative energy crap is.

RE: So let me get this straight
By Chamuel85 on 9/19/2008 3:32:47 PM , Rating: 2
Well, the whole carbon footprint thing is how much of it exists in the form of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere which inhibits energy absorbed by earth from being radiated out into space via infrared radiation (usually). Alternative energy sources are attempts of energy production without the whole C02 emissions.

RE: So let me get this straight
By lco45 on 9/23/2008 5:04:02 AM , Rating: 2
I think you've got it mixed up.

They're talking about solid carbon, like wood, and only a few hundred tons if it ever goes ahead.

The term "carbon footprint" refers to Carbon Dioxide gas, and that's billions of tons of gas every year.

Also, alternative energy is not crap at all, it's just normal people trying to work out how we keep the lights on and the cars running once we're out of oil and coal.

Sure there's a few hippies who want us to ride horses to work, but don't get sidetracked by them.

an even better use!
By kattanna on 9/17/2008 2:50:53 PM , Rating: 2
if we are going to have to build new power storage systems, why not just link them with the existing power stations that normally shut down at night now, but instead keep them running and fill that storage for use during peak daytime usage?

seriously, why not?

that would help to extend our already built infrastructure

RE: an even better use!
By menace on 9/19/2008 12:11:57 AM , Rating: 2
Um, because it would probably cost trillions of dollars... Require massive amounts of batteries... It would take centuries to build all the batteries required...

As long as money is no object we can put all those batteries in the Arizona desert and fill up the desert with solar cells and completely scrap and reconfigure our power grid to go all solar.

I didn't really work through the figures but you get the idea, it just flat out isn't a financially practical idea - if it was then it already would be being done because there are no technical obstacles to doing it other than time and money.

anyone notice these guys use "THANKS TO" x alot?
By phxfreddy on 9/18/2008 1:11:38 AM , Rating: 2
time to rev up your writing game a bit. You sound like a technician I used to have thanks to you using THANKS TO phrase so much.

By Schrag4 on 9/18/2008 10:15:03 AM , Rating: 2
Actually I was going to say that the word 'exceptional' was thrown around a lot.

By porkpie on 9/18/2008 2:52:35 PM , Rating: 3
while they stupidly messed up the planet by peeing in their own pool.
I don't know how you define "messed up" but the air and water is getting cleaner all the time, life expectancies keep going up, and we're STILL burning more gas every year.

The age of the electric car is RAPIDLY APPROACHING folks
And where do we get that electricity? The enviros block every new plant that we try to build.

So far, fail.
By captainBOB on 9/18/2008 10:33:46 PM , Rating: 2
None of the technologies proposed have any long term benefits, just like oil, it'll only be feasible for for ~50 years.
Add the fact that that these so called "green" people keep blocking every attempt to try and start to fix the problem. We can't suddenly go to windmill power, we have to wean off the fossil fuels, but these bozos keep going around like 9 year olds going "i want my candy NOW!".

So far the only alternative i've seen that COULD have any long term benefit would be to recreate the power of the sun, scientists are at work on that as we speak, but even then its a big IF. Still to many obstacles before it ever see's the light of day.

So far the small developments are just that, small developments, I don't know how Google can expect a whole world to switch to alternative energies in 20 years when it took over 100 years and still counting to get the world running on fossil fuels.

Maybe? Maybe not
By Chamuel85 on 9/19/2008 3:39:33 PM , Rating: 2
Personally, I'd love to see solar and wind power come to fruition. However, I just don't know how feasible it the whole idea is. These wind and solar "plants" or farms maybe be too large to effectively use. Who knows, maybe the technology for turning wind power and solar power will get more effective so the size of these things can go down. :)

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