Archive | March 2017

Lowering the heat makes new materials possible while saving energy

A low-temperature process has been developed that has opened a window on the ability to combine incompatible materials, such as ceramics and plastics, into new, useful compound materials.

A new technology developed by Penn State researchers, called Cold Sintering Process (CSP), has opened a window on the ability to combine incompatible materials, such as ceramics and plastics, into new, useful compound materials, and to lower the energy cost of many types of manufacturing.

Ceramics is the oldest known human-made material, dating back tens of thousands of years. Throughout that time most all ceramics have been made by heating them to high temperatures, either by firing in kilns or sintering ceramic powders in furnaces, both of which require large amounts of energy.

“In this day and age, when we have to be incredibly conscious of the CO2 budget, the energy budget, rethinking many of our manufacturing processes, including ceramics, becomes absolutely vital,” said Clive Randall, professor of materials science and engineering at Penn State who developed the process with his team. “Not only is it a low temperature process (room temperature up to 200 degrees Celsius), but we are also densifying some materials to over 95 percent of their theoretical density in 15 minutes. We can now make a ceramic faster than you can bake a pizza, and at lower temperatures.”

In a recent article in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, Randall and his coauthors describe the co-sintering of ceramic and thermoplastic polymer composites using CSP. Three types of polymer were selected to complement the properties of three types of ceramics, a microwave dielectric, an electrolyte and a semiconductor, in order to highlight the diversity of applicable materials. These composite materials demonstrate new possibilities for dielectric property design, and both ionic and electronic electrical conductivity design. These composites can be sintered to high density at 120 degrees C in a time frame of 15 to 60 minutes.

Just add water

According to the researchers, the process involves wetting ceramic powder with a few drops of water or acid solution. The solid surfaces of the particles decompose and partially dissolve in the water to produce a liquid phase at particle-particle interfaces. Adding temperature and pressure causes the water to flow and the solid particles to rearrange in an initial densification process. Then in a second process, clusters of atoms or ions move away from where the particles are in contact, which aids diffusion, which then minimizes surface free energy, allowing the particles to pack tightly together. The key is knowing the exact combination of moisture, pressure, heat and time required to capture the reaction rates so the material fully crystallizes and gets to very high density.

“I see cold sintering process as a continuum of different challenges,” Randall said. “In some systems, it’s so easy you don’t need pressure. In others you do. In some you need to use nanoparticles. In others, you can get away with a mixture of nanoparticles and larger particles. It really all depends on the systems and chemistries you are talking about.”

The Penn State team has begun building a library of the precise techniques required to use CSP on various materials systems, with 50 processes verified to-date. These include ceramic-ceramic composites, ceramic-nanoparticle composites, ceramic-metals, as well as the ceramic-polymers discussed in this paper.

Other areas that are now open to exploration by CSP include architectural materials, such as ceramic bricks, thermal insulation, biomedical implants and many types of electronic components.

“My hope is that a lot of the manufacturing processes that already exist will be able to use this process, and we can learn from polymer manufacturing practices,” Randall concluded.


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Materials provided by Penn State Materials Research Institute. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Massive Jump In Wind Power Output In Scotland

Latest data for the month of February has shown Scottish wind power took a massive leap forward compared to the same time last year.

February saw the region’s wind turbines producing 1,331,420MWh of electricity, enough to supply the needs of 162 percent of Scottish households (3.9 million homes).

The figures, provided by WeatherEnergyUK and analysed by WWF Scotland, represent an increase of 43 percent over February 2016 – also a record month for the nation’s wind sector – when wind supplied 929,417MWh.

Scotland’s entire electricity consumption last month, including homes, businesses and industry, totaled 1,984,765MWh – meaning wind power contributed a whopping 67 percent of the country’s electricity needs.

And high winds meant that on four separate days, Scotland’s wind turbines generated output equivalent to more than the nation’s total energy needs for each entire day:

  • Thursday 7th – 78,512 MWh, equivalent to 118 percent electricity
  • Monday 13th – 78,936 MWh, equivalent 110 percent electricity
  • Monday 20th – 67,213 MWh, equivalent 127 percent electricity
  • Sunday 26th – 70,611 MWh, equivalent to 128 percent electricity.

“Compared to last year, some very powerful winds across the month helped increase the total electricity supplied to the National Grid from Scotland’s wind turbines,” said Karen Robinson from WeatherEnergy.

“As we began to witness for the first time last year, this February has also seen a few days where the power output from wind farms exceeded the total electricity demand for an entire day. This is quite an achievement.”

WWF noted that the highest wind output was on the 13th of February, when generation spiked at nearly 79,000 MWh, enough to power 6.5 million Scottish homes. This is more than one-and-a-half times the number of households in the nation.

“Thanks to a combination of increased capacity and stronger winds, output from turbines was up more than two-fifths compared to the same period last year,” said WWF Scotland Director Lang Banks.

“This was enough power to provide the equivalent of the electrical needs of almost four million homes. As well as helping to power our homes and businesses, wind power supports thousands of jobs and helps Scotland to avoid over a million tonnes of polluting carbon emissions every month.”

The environmental group hopes the figures will inform the government on the vital role wind power has in the future of Scotland’s energy mix as Holyrood seeks consultations on its latest draft energy plan.

“Every one of the main political parties supports the aim of generating half of all Scotland’s energy needs from renewables by 2030 – including heat, electricity and transport,” Banks said.

“With this level of political backing, we call upon all of the parties to now bring forward policies that will help maximise the benefits to Scotland’s economy, as we transition to a renewable future.”

The figures come at an important time – Scottish Renewables says businesses working in the region’s renewable energy sector are forecasting a sixth of their workforce will be lost within the next year. The group says this is due to changes to and closures of support schemes.

Black solar panels added to Panasonic’s HIT module line

Panasonic Eco Solutions North America introduced three new photovoltaic module HIT: the N320K, N315K and N310K. These new models are able to produce 320, 315, and 310 watts of power, respectively, and are a continuation of Panasonic’s line of high-efficiency residential solar panels. Boasting module efficiency of 19.1% with a sleek all-black appearance, the panels are a perfect fit for most any residential setting.

The new black panels are backed by Panasonic’s track record as an industry leader in reliability within the renewable energy field. Designed to offer optimal efficiency and stylish aesthetics, the HIT N320K, N315K and N310K photovoltaic modules will blend in seamlessly with most rooftops and begin cutting electricity bills for customers from the moment that they’re installed and start to operate.

“Panasonic has been innovating and reimagining the amorphous silicon cell since we pioneered the technology over forty years ago,” said Dan Silver, President, Panasonic Eco Solutions North America. “This addition to our industry-leading line of solar panels is the latest improvement in our array of renewable energy products. The new black panels combine the engineering expertise and high efficiency Panasonic is known for with an attractive but inconspicuous design that will yield huge savings for consumers.”

The N320K produces 23% more power for consumers than traditional panels, and feature the highest level of efficiency among other black panels available in the market today.  These new all-black solar panels are designed to maintain optimal performance even in high temperatures and vastly increase savings for the consumer. Panasonic’s trademark amorphous silicon layers and pyramid cell structure allow for the panel to absorb light at multiple angles so that the panel is maximizing generation at all times of the day. The unique water drainage frame quickly removes water from the panel and prevents the buildup of any serious precipitation.

Panasonic’s robust manufacturing process also provides installers and consumers additional value through an extended product warranty of 15 years. Panasonic’s test criteria are among the highest in the in the industry, ensuring long-term safe operation over many years.

News item from Panasonic