a) Schematic illustration of energy storage process of succulent plants by harnessing solar energy with a solar cell, and the solar cell converts the energy into electricity that can be store in APCSCs of succulent plants, and then utilized by multiple electrical appliances. b–d) The energy is stored in cactus under sunlight by solar cell and then power light strips of Christmas tree for decoration.

Succulents Into Supercapacitors

Researchers in Beijing have discovered a way to turn succulents into supercapacitors to help store energy. While previous research has found ways to store energy in plants, it often required implants or other modifications to the plant itself to function. These foreign components might be rejected by the plant or hamper its natural functions leading to its premature death.

This new method takes an aloe leaf, freeze dries it, heats it up, then uses the resulting components as an implant back into the aloe plant. Since it’s all aloe all the time, the plant stays happy (or at least alive) and becomes an electrolytic supercapacitor.

Using the natural electrolytes of the aloe juice, the supercapacitor can then be charged and discharged as needed. The researchers tested the concept by solar charging the capacitor and then using that to run LED lights.

This certainly proposes some interesting applications, although we think your HOA might not be a fan. We also wonder if there might be a way to use the photosynthetic process more directly to charge the plant? Maybe this could recharge a tiny robot that lands on the plants?

Liquid Metal Battery Goes Into Production

The news is rife with claims of the next great thing in clean energy generation, but most of these technologies never make it to production. Whether that’s due to cost issues, production, or scalability, we’re often teased with industry breakthroughs that never come to fruition. Multi-layered solar panels, wave and tidal energy, and hydrogen fuel cells are all things that are real but can’t seem to break through and overtake other lower cost, simpler, and proven technologies. One that seems to be bucking this trend is the liquid metal battery, which startup Ambri is putting into service on the electrical grid next year.

With lithium ion battery installations running around $405 per kilowatt-hour, Ambri’s battery technology is already poised to be somewhat disruptive at a cost of about half that. The construction method is simpler than lithium as well, using molten metal electrodes and a molten salt electrolyte. Not only is this more durable, it’s also not flammable and is largely immune to degradation over time. The company’s testing results indicate that after 20 years the battery is expected to still retain 95% of its capacity. The only hitch in scaling this technology could be issues with sourcing antimony, one of the metals needed for this type of construction.

Even though Ambri can produce these batteries for $180 to $250 per kilowatt-hour, they need to get the costs down to about $20 for the technology to be cost-competitive with “base load” power plants (an outdated term in itself). They do project their costs to come down significantly and hit this mark by 2030, which would put electrical grids on course to be powered entirely by renewables. Liquid metal batteries aren’t the only nontraditional battery out there trying to solve this problem, though. Another promising interesting energy storage technology on the horizon is phase-change materials.

We Can’t Switch To Electric Cars Until We Get More Copper

Reducing emissions from human activity requires a great deal of effort in many different sectors. When it comes to land transport, the idea is generally to eliminate vehicles powered by combustion engines and replace them with electric vehicles instead. At a glance, the job is simple enough. We know how to build EVs, and the technology is getting to the point where they’re capable of replacing traditional vehicles in many applications.

Of course, the reality is not so simple. To understand the problem of converting transportation to electric drive en masse, you have to take a look at the big numbers. Focus in on the metrics of copper, and you’ll find the story is a concerning one. 

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