In the future, internal combustion engines will be no longer power mobilities. In fact, new EVs and FCEVs have now begun to appear in large numbers in the markets. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement with regard to how to utilize new sources of energy in a more efficient way in automobiles. Green Energy Lab is focusing its effort on next-generation energy materials to tackle the core challenges in the best way possible that an automobile company can.
What type of energy research is
the Green Energy Lab focusing on?
There are three key areas in materials for energy system research: conversion, storage and conservation. For example, solar cells convert, lithium ion batteries store, and smart windows conserve energy. We are working to improve the performance and efficiency of the materials used in all three areas of the energy system.
Is it correct to say that the lab is
focusing on developing technologies
that can improve efficiency and
environmental performance of
green energy rather than
developing energy sources?
We are actually working on both, although we are more focused on the latter at the moment. But, things are moving fast so we could move on to developing new energy sources or new tools and systems that harness energy, after we complete our current flagship projects.
Byproduct energy is generated when we use green energy. For example, radiative heat energy is generated from solar panels. We plan to research ways to harness these byproducts. A lot of electricity is used when the air conditioner is operated in electric cars, reducing the range. Reflecting radiation away from the vehicle can reduce the electricity consumption from the air conditioner by keeping the vehicle cabin cooler. This is one of the approaches in our next-generation energy research.
What types of energy can be
regarded as next generation energy?
Efficiency is always a factor when utilizing energy resources. Let’s assume that the current generation of solar panels are capable of converting 20% of sunlight into electricity. We could then refer to solar panels with 30% efficiency as next-generation energy. Similarly, fuel cells, which are capable of 10 to 20% more electricity generation with the same amount of hydrogen, would qualify as a next-generation system. It does not necessarily need to be renewable energy in order to be ”next generation”.
R&D is all about making improvements and overcoming shortcomings. The same rules apply to next generation energy R&D, its aim is to make improvements and overcome the shortcomings in energy systems to make it more efficient. For example, an internal combustion engine could be referred to as a next-generation energy system if its efficiency could reach 100%.
What is the latest trends in next
generation energy R&D?
Waste-to-energy is a next generation energy with great potential. We need to take care of our waste somehow and it could be environmentally beneficial if we can generate energy through waste processing. Chickens are consumed in large quantities in South Korea. What do we do with all the feathers? To date we have been simply dumping them but feathers contain material that can store hydrogen. Recently, Imperial College London in the UK launched research which focuses on making hydrogen tanks using materials from incinerated chicken feathers. There are many other R&D institutes studying ways to convert waste into energy.
Another type of research is using greenhouse gases as base material. Industrialization has increased the share of CO2 and CH4, which are the key greenhouse gases, in the air. Until now, capture and storage has been the focus of research but there is now research happening which focuses on the conversion of CO2 into an energy resource.
Battery research has emerged as a
prominent issue as electric mobility
has become a key focus.
The battery is under the spotlight as it replaces the role of the internal combustion engine in a combustion car. Since all future mobility devices have limited space for components, there is a limit to the size and volume of the battery pack. Currently, the heavy battery packs are compromising vehicles’ ranges and efficiency. We could vastly improve the overall performance of EVs if we succeeded in developing next-generation high-capacity batteries that are smaller and lighter. Materials technology holds the key to making this happen since cathodes and anodes account for over 60% of the battery weight. Lithium Transition Metal Oxide (LTMO), which is used in cathodes, is especially heavy. Effort is being made to develop a lithium air battery system, which would replace the LTMO with a combination of lighter materials such as carbon and air.
What is currently the focus of next
generation solar PV?
The current generation of solar PVs are made using silicon cells. Many find its blue or black color unappealing. The reason why they all look the same is because they all use silicon cells. We are working on ”solar ink” which could be used like the paint used in automobiles. The ultimate goal is developing materials capable of generating electricity using natural materials just like tree leaves that convert light into energy for growth.
What is the latest in fuel cell R&D?
One of the biggest challenges in reducing the cost of fuel cells is the use of platinum as a catalyst. Fuel cells used to be a niche product but demand has been increasing. The problem is that platinum is very expensive and its cost cannot be reduced by economies of scale. Fuel cell production is also relatively small in scale which makes it even more difficult to reduce manufacturing costs. Currently, we are focusing on ways to reduce the use of platinum in fuel cells because it is the biggest challenge.
What would be the key benefit of
next generation energy research for
A conventional vehicle has low energy efficiency in its fossil fuel use and generates environmental problems. I think this happened in part because energy companies and car companies have been operating as separate entities. I do not think they understood each other well, and that in many of the problems we face today. I think automobile companies can benefit significantly if they develop energy since it will allow them to make energy systems that are well suited for the energy.
Sustainable development is a must for companies to exist over hundreds of years. We must take a serious look at how the energy efficiency of automobiles can be improved. Currently, the production of electricity and hydrogen requires fossil fuels and therefore, at the moment, using gasoline or diesel can be most efficient. This means we have to improve the efficiency of EVs and FCEVs enough so that they are as efficient as cars powered using internal combustion engines. This is something we can do best since we have strong automotive research capacity.