Improving storage efficiency of energy from renewable sources

Friday, 18 December, 2020
sunset on a wind farm
A new Pathfinder project called NANOSTACKS wants to develop a novel screening method to find efficient fuel cells that rely on cheap materials.

NANOSTACKS  works on resolving difficulties, which occur when it comes to storage of electricity gained from non-fossils sources, such as solar or wind energy. The new approach could propose a new efficient system capable to store this energy in very large quantities and in high energy density.

The focus of the research is put on the so-called fuel cells. Fuel cells are electrochemical cells that convert the chemical energy of a fuel and an oxidizing agent into electricity through redox reactions. Currently, the energy efficiency of state-of-the-art fuel cells is far from ideal, as it allows only up to 35 % of the energy to be preserved when transformed from chemical to electrical energy). Another challenge is in the use of very expensive platinum electrodes for oxygen reduction. These characteristics limit the general use of fuel cells across the different industries.

The NANOSTACKS project wants to overcome these obstacles with a help of nanolayers, i.e. nanoscale layers built usually by two-dimensional or quasi two-dimensional materials. The NANOSTACKS team explains the idea as following:

“By printing nanolayers of different materials on top of each other, we should be able to generate diodes, separator membranes for batteries, charge separators for solar cells, LEDs, but also conductors or insulators. Together with a catalytic layer made of metal centres that is accessed by hydrogen, but not by catalyst-poisoning molecules, we have all the building blocks that are needed for a fuel cell.”

The main objective of the NANOSTACKS project is to propose a novel screening method to find efficient fuel cells that rely on cost-efficient materials. The new method will use a robot to print battery, fuel cell and LED materials as well as conductors, isolators and diodes, and screen some 15 000 twin nanostacks per glass slide for function.

“We think that this approach will accelerate materials research considerably. Certainly, a methanol-based fuel cell would be an especially important goal that could be tackled beyond the proposed project. The scientific, commercial, and societal impact of such an accelerated materials research could be immense, but it is a brand new approach that might fail,” continue the researchers.

NANOSTACKS is supported under the Horizon 2020 funding scheme and it runs for 48 months, from August 2020 until July 2024. The project is based on cooperation of research, academic and SME entities from Germany, Spain and Belgium. The coordinating institution is Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (Germany).

Background information

FET-Open and FET Proactive are now part of the Enhanced European Innovation Council (EIC) Pilot (specifically the Pathfinder), the new home for deep-tech research and innovation in Horizon 2020, the EU funding programme for research and innovation.