Archives for the month of: May, 2012

An Ontario-based company that makes hydrogen fuel cells recently received a financial investment of five million dollars from Enbridge, the well-known oil and gas company.  Enbridge is interested in making better use of the province’s electrical generation capacity by incorporating hydrogen gas into their natural gas mix.

For those not familiar with the concept, an electric current can be passed through water to break down water molecules (H2O) into hydrogen gas (H2) and oxygen gas (O2).  This is called electrolysis and in this reaction, the energy in the electric current is stored in the hydrogen gas molecules. A fuel cell can then free the stored energy by using the hydrogen gas to produce electricity.

The research Enbridge is interested in concerns only the first stage, that is, the electrolyser, the machine where electrolysis takes place. They want to use electrolyzers to turn excess grid electricity into hydrogen gas fuel which can be mixed with natural gas and transported via existing pipelines and processed back into electricity in any of the province’s natural gas electrical generation plants by conventional combustion.

The idea is intriguing. It is synergy of two already existing infrastructures, the electrical grid and the natural gas pipeline network, that may be enable us to better utilize the energy we generate.

Furthermore, any new developments in a hydrogen gas infrastructure can be encouraging for a renewable energy economy because the two are often thought to be complementary technologies.

– Erik Janssen

(Engineering Physics, MASc, Year 2 at McMaster University)

Content from:

Tyler Hamilton. “Is large-scale energy storage a pipe dream?” Toronto Star. May 4, 2012.

http://www.thestar.com/business/cleanbreak/article/1173202–is-large-scale-energy-storage-a-pipe-dream

New research has shown that wrinkles on the surface of an organic solar cell can not only help boost performance considerably but can also be straightforward to implement, perhaps bringing organic solar cells one step closer to wider-scale commercial development.

The recent article in Nature Photonics states that the researchers took their inspiration from the natural world where some of the most basic light-harvesting structures rely on the small-scale variation in the morphology of surfaces.  A wide variety of light absorption enhancing surface structures are possible but many of those examined so far in the research literature require complex laboratory techniques. In some cases, this limits the potential for future commercialization.

In contrast to this research are surface structures like wrinkles and folds. They are something that occurs naturally as a material responds to stresses and strains and they may therefore be a cheap but useful way for improving the light-harvesting capabilities of certain types of solar cells.

The wrinkles on the surface of an organic solar cell bends light into the solar cell, forcing it to travel a longer distance inside the cell and enhancing absorption (Picture credit: Ref. at bottom).

The technique is conceptually straightforward.  Stresses and strains are applied to a substrate such that it develops wrinkles and folds on its surface. The organic solar cell is then deposited on top of this substrate and the surface pattern is imprinted into the solar cell. This allowed the Princeton researchers to create a solar cell that produced 47% more electric current than a comparably flat surface.

So next time somebody tells you that wrinkles are a bad thing; you can make sure to correct them.

-Erik Janssen

(Engineering Physics, MASc, Year 2 at McMaster University)

Article:

Wrinkles and deep folds as photonic structures in photovoltaics. Nature photonics, Vol 6. May 2012.

http://www.nature.com/nphoton/journal/v6/n5/full/nphoton.2012.70.html