Argonne's Cleantech Efforts Are Bearing Fruit
What promising new technologies that address energy concerns and climate change are on the front burners at Argonne National Laboratory? Here are several:
Ceramicrete® Phosphate Cement Material
The use of this chemically bonded phosphate cement has been receiving much greater interest as a replacement for cement as a building material. It has superior material properties than ordinary Portland cement (OPC) and has green characteristics, while OPC does not. About 6.5 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the world come from the calcining and production of OPC. Replacement by Ceramicrete would eliminate at least 67 percent of these emissions for every ton of cement displaced. Use of Ceramicrete would also reduce total energy use by about 4 per cent.
Recently a new company was formed to pursue use of Ceramicrete to form pre-fabricated panels for building construction. The company wants to capture the green benefits offered by Ceramicrete as well as the benefits of the superior properties of Ceramicrete materials. The materials have greater mold and fire resistance, greater durability, can use local aggregate and have higher strength than OPC. Ceramicrete materials are versatile; they can be used in both conventional construction and low cost housing. The company, working with Argonne National Laboratory, is developing an innovative process for conventional residential and commercial construction applications.
Wide usage of Ceramicrete phosphate cement materials will reduce energy usage, reduce greenhouse gases and provide stronger, more mold- and fire-resistant structures worldwide.Prototype buildings will be constructed by 2010.
Lithium Ion Batteries
Argonne has developed advanced battery materials that will address energy concerns by offering an environmentally favorable, safer, more efficient energy-storage technology for a variety of portable power applications. Not only will these materials enable safer use of lithium-ion batteries with a longer life in consumer electronics products, they will also enable us to power advanced transportation systems to produce higher efficiency hybrid vehicles. The result of adoption of the technologies is the reduced dependence on imported oil and reduction of emissions, including greenhouse gases.
The new lithium ion battery electrode materials have been shown to take performance to the next level. The cathode materials developed are unique composites that provide higher energy density and higher power output useful for automotive applications, power tools and consumer electronics. Prototype battery testing and materials optimization are currently underway. The most recent results have shown that battery capacity is improved by approximately 50 percent.
Likewise, the improved stability of these materials enables hundreds of cycles with less than 20 percent capacity loss, compared to rechargeable battery packs today that lose up to 40 percent of their capacity during one year's typical use.
In fact, when combined with Argonne's electrolyte additive technology, less than 20 percent capacity loss is seen even after 1,000 charge/discharge cycles.
Further, due in part to their enhanced stability, the new cathode materials have lower relative reactivity rates, making them much less prone to thermal runaway and inherently safer than current systems.
Whether these innovative battery materials are used in hybrid electric vehicles, electric vehicles or even consumer electronics, the reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels and the improved efficiency of energy storage and use results in substantially reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Many platform chemicals that currently are petroleum-based can be produced from biological feedstocks. While this provides advantages over petroleum-based chemicals, there are processing challenges—€”cost, complexity, purification, stability and product inhibition. Argonne researchers have developed a novel approach to solve these problems through the membrane-based separative bioreactor using resin wafer technology.
Resin wafer technology enables electrodeionization (EDI) to be extended well beyond its conventional applications in ultrapure water production to new processes in biobased chemicals production, industrial water management, chemicals production and purification, CO2 capture, and, potentially, hydrogen production.
The technology also offers significant "green chemistry" benefits: It:
—€ reduces the cost of producing biobased chemicals, providing economic drivers for emerging biorefineries to displace petrorefineries;
—€ decreases the use of fresh water and the release of waste water in power plants;
—€ reduces energy and chemical use during the production of organic acids, esters, and other chemicals;
—€ enables CO2 capture from flue gases in coal power plants; and
—€ potentially enables enhanced hydrogen production from water.
Resin wafer technology has direct impact on three major environment issues: fossil energy consumption, water management, and CO2 capture. Sustainable development requires efficient management of all three issues. Technology solutions are emerging in these fields, but their implementation costs are often uncertain. Separations can be the single largest cost in implementing new technologies in these process-intensive areas. Although not necessarily on the public's radar screen, separations technology has been identified by the Department of Energy as one of the most significant cost barriers in process-intensive fields.
With technical and financial support from its industrial partners, Argonne developed the technology to improve the energy and atom efficiency of separations processes. The wafer technology enables electrodeionization to be utilized in several high-volume, high-environmental-impact fields, including production of biobased chemicals to replace fossil-fuel-derived chemicals, management of industrial water, production and purification of chemicals, and—€”potentially—€”photocatalytic hydrogen production from water or CO2 sequestration.
Current efforts are directed to developing a pilot-scale plant for production of a wide range of targeted building-block organic acids (such as gluconic acid) at dramatically reduced costs approaching 50 percent for that of conventional petrochemical methods.
Steve Ban is director of technology transfer at Argonne National Laboratory.