Four emerging clean energy technologies you’ll be hearing more about


The European Commission’s European Innovation Council has awarded funding for research on four ‘radically new’ future clean energy technologies.

The funding under the new Pathfinder scheme for deep-tech research and innovation is aimed to support visionary ideas that may – or perhaps may not – translate into reality.

The four clean energy projects, which will run over the next three to four years, are focussed on clean energy production, power harvesting for sensors, energy recovery from waste heat and chemical energy storage.

HERMES – hydrogen-metal systems for clean energy

The HERMES project is revisiting the cold fusion concept, which emerged back in 1989 with the claimed discovery by the electrochemists Martin Fleischmann from Britain and Stanley Pons from France of excess heat production during electrolysis of heavy water (deuterium oxide) using a palladium electrode at room temperature.

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At the time, the discovery was thought to offer a pathway to cheap clean energy but the finding remained controversial due to lack of replicability. Recently interest in the topic has revived with the scientific advances of the intervening years.

HERMES intends to draw on these to study the effects of hydrogen and deuterium loaded in palladium at room and intermediate (up to about 800oC) temperatures. Such modern characterisation techniques also allow reproducibility.

“HERMES is a high risk/high reward project, but with aid of all the improved techniques and tools developed in the last 30 years, we believe that it is worth revisiting the topic,” says project coordinator Pekka Pejlo, Associate Professor in materials engineering at the University of Turku in Finland.

MetaVEH – power harvesting for smart sensors and systems

The MetaVEH project proposes to develop innovative lead-free electromechanical energy harvesting systems, which will potentially lead to the elimination of batteries in remote smart devices and structures, such as the smart grid.

Other outcomes would include reductions in human intervention and costs as well as the elimination of the chemical waste from batteries.

The proposal is that the mechanical core of the new harvesters will integrate lead-free piezoelectric patches based on new advanced multi-resonator designs. The technology is anticipated to dramatically increase both the energy available for harvesting and the operational bandwidth as compared with the current state of the art.

Potential applications include wearables and IoT devices and ultimately any systems that can be based on fully autonomous wireless sensors.

TPX-Power – energy recovery from waste heat

Waste heat generated by industry, transport, data processing and other energy intensive processes is a growing problem but is generally difficult, costly and inefficient to exploit.

The TPX-Power project aims to harness the thermodynamics of electroluminescence, near-field photon transport and photovoltaic energy production to convert the recent advances in thermophotonic cooling into a new heat engine technology. The near-field TPX heat engines use the superthermal emission from an electrically excited LED heated by waste heat to illuminate a PV cell kept at ambient temperature.

The technology is anticipated to nearly double the efficiency of combustion engines and provide a pollution-free and generic energy conversion process. In addition, the increased cooling requirements that often accompany waste heat will be eliminated.

“If successful, our project demonstrates and sets in motion the development of a cost and power efficient heat energy harvesting technology with unprecedented possibilities throughout the sectors where waste heat is produced,” says the TPX-Power team.

LICROX – solar fuel production via chemical energy storage

The LICROX project is focussed on applying to solar energy production the principles of photosynthesis, well known in nature in which light is converted into chemical energy in plants and other organisms.

Photoelectrochemical cells, which are analogous to photovoltaic cells, mimic photosynthesis but the current cells are inefficient and generally incorporate non-abundant or highly toxic elements.

The aim in LICROX is to develop a new type of photoelectrochemical cell with a triple set of complementary light absorbing elements incorporating molecular catalysts made of only abundant elements. Light trapping mechanisms that have been proven to be effective in boosting the light harvesting efficiency in thin film solar cells will be validated with best-in-class transition metal oxides in the cell.

“LICROX aims to provide a portable device that is easy to install and use in remote places to create a fuel for heating or for the generation of electricity,” says project coordinator, Antoni Llobet, professor in the Catalonia Institute of Chemical Research.

“It could be used in a range of circumstances like long term Arctic/Antarctic explorations, in poor countries with no electrification system in place or for charging the batteries of a fleet of vehicles for transport purposes.”

With success, the project should pave the way for a new scalable renewable energy technology that efficiently converts sunlight to stored chemical energy.