For millions of homes, plants, wood and other types of “biomass” serve as an essential source of fuel, especially in developing countries, but their mercury content has raised flags among environmentalists and researchers. Scientists are now reporting that among dozens of sources of biomass, processed pellets burned under realistic conditions in China emit relatively low levels of the potentially harmful substance.
Researchers at Purdue Univ. have successfully tested the conversion of large particles of pinewood char in a gasification process, a step necessary for the mass production of synthetic liquid fuel from recalcitrant biomass. The results stemmed from a series of experiments using a new facility at Purdue's Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories aimed at learning precisely how biomass is broken down in reactors called gasifiers.
Blending ethanol into fuel to cut air pollution from vehicles carries a hidden risk that toxic or even explosive gases may find their way into buildings. The problems would likely occur in buildings with cracked foundations that happen to be in the vicinity of fuel spills. Vapors that rise from contaminated groundwater can be sucked inside; and, once there, trapped pools of methane could ignite and toxic hydrocarbons causing health issues.
The energy industry includes a broad array of companies, ranging from multinational oil and gas firms to large and small technology firms. Reducing costs of production is a large driver of R&D in the energy space, and materials development and advanced materials integration are increasingly important in shaping the industry’s R&D investment.
The first long-term U.S. field trials of Miscanthus x giganteus reveal that its exceptional yields, though reduced somewhat after five years of growth, are still more than twice those of switchgrass, a perennial grass used as a bioenergy feedstock. Miscanthus grown in Illinois also outperforms even the high yields found in earlier studies of the crop in Europe, the researchers found.
A chemical system developed by researchers at the Univ. of Illinois at Chicago can efficiently perform the first step in the process of creating syngas, gasoline and other energy-rich products out of carbon dioxide. A novel “co-catalyst” system using inexpensive, easy-to-fabricate carbon-based nanofiber materials efficiently converts carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide, a useful starting material for synthesizing fuels.
Splitting water into its components, two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, is an important first step in achieving carbon-neutral fuels to power our transportation infrastructure. Now, North Carolina State Univ. researchers and colleagues from the Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have shown that a specialized coating technique can make certain water-splitting devices more stable and more efficient.
Scientists have charted a significant signaling network in a tiny organism that's big in the world of biofuels research. The findings about how a remarkably fast-growing organism conducts its metabolic business bolster scientists' ability to create biofuels using the hardy microbe Synechococcus, which turns sunlight into useful energy.
In leaves, two proteins are responsible for photosynthesis, and they perform the conversion of carbon dioxide into oxygen and biomass very efficiently. Scientists have now harnessed this capability by embedding these proteins into complex molecules developed in the laboratory. Their bio-based solar cell creates electron current instead of biomass.
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories will use their expertise in protein expression, enzyme engineering and high-throughput assays as part of a multiproject, $34 million effort by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy aimed at developing advanced biocatalyst technologies that can convert natural gas to liquid fuel for transportation.
In deciding how best to meet the world’s growing needs for energy, the answers depend crucially on how the question is framed. Looking for the most cost-effective path provides one set of answers; including the need to curtail greenhouse gas emissions gives a different picture. Adding the need to address looming shortages of fresh water, it turns out, leads to a very different set of choices.
The first trickle of fuels made from agricultural waste is finally winding its way into the nation's energy supply. But the full benefits of this fuel source remain many years away, and ethanol, which was meant to be a stop-gap until non-food sources of fuel were found, has been far more damaging to the environment than the government predicted.
Researchers studying more effective ways to convert woody plant matter into biofuels have identified fundamental forces that change plant structures during pretreatment processes used in the production of bioenergy. Experimental techniques including neutron scattering and x-ray analysis with supercomputer simulations revealed unexpected findings about what happens to water molecules trapped between cellulose fibers.
Across the Dakotas and Nebraska, more than 1 million acres of the Great Plains are giving way to cornfields as farmers transform the wild expanse that once served as the backdrop for American pioneers. This expansion of the Corn Belt is fueled in part by America's green energy policy, which requires oil companies to blend billions of gallons of corn ethanol into their gasoline.
A computational method to quantify the adsorption of gas by porous zeolites should help labs know what to expect before they embark upon slow, costly experiments, according to researchers at Rice Univ. The new method created by engineers in Rice’s Multiscale Materials Modeling Lab accurately calculated the ability of two zeolites, small cage-like molecules with enormous surface area, to trap and store gas molecules.
Japan switched on the first turbine at a wind farm 20 km (12 miles) off the coast of Fukushima, feeding electricity to the grid tethered to the tsunami-crippled nuclear plant onshore. The wind farm near the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant is to eventually have a generation capacity of 1 GW from 143 turbines.
Using inexpensive materials configured and tuned to capture microwave signals, researchers at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering have designed a power-harvesting device with efficiency similar to that of modern solar panels. The device wirelessly converts the microwave signal to direct current voltage capable of recharging a cell phone battery or other small electronic device.
A groundbreaking nanoparticle system which stimulates the growth of microalgae has been developed by a team of Australian scientists. The technique creates an optical nanofilter that enhances the formation and yield of algae photopigments, namely chlorophyll, by altering the wavelengths of light absorbed by the algae.
Playing pop and rock music improves the performance of solar cells, according to new research. The high frequencies and pitch found in pop and rock music cause vibrations that enhanced energy generation in solar cells containing a cluster of 'nanorods', leading to a 40 percent increase in efficiency of the solar cells.
Many efforts to smooth out the variability of renewable energy sources have focused on batteries, which could fill gaps lasting hours or days. But Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Charles Forsberg has come up with a much more ambitious idea: He proposes marrying a nuclear power plant with another energy system, which he argues could add up to much more than the sum of its parts.
What does the coastal community of Bolinas, Calif., have in common with the impoverished island nation of Haiti? The surprising answer is a fledgling sanitation strategy whereby human waste is composted into nutrient-rich fertilizer, all supported by research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientist Gary Andersen.
A new physics model developed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute shows that changing air flows can transfer energy to wind turbines from both above and below the blades. According to the researchers, many wind turbine array studies overlook the fact that important airflow changes occur inside the array.
Congress should minimally modify—and not, as petroleum-related interests have increasingly lobbied for, repeal—the Renewable Fuel Standard (RSF), the most comprehensive renewable energy policy in the U.S., according to a new paper from two Univ. of Illinois researchers. In the study, the researchers argue that RFS mandates merely ought to be adjusted to reflect current and predicted biofuel commercialization realities.
Renewable sources like sun and wind aren’t always productive. But waves in the ocean are never still, prompting Georgia Institute of Technology scientists to find a way to produce energy by making use of contact electrification between a patterned plastic nanoarray and water. They have introduced an inexpensive and simple prototype of a triboelectric nanogenerator that could be used to produce energy and as a chemical or temperature sensor.
The number of patents issued for renewable-energy technologies has risen sharply over the last decade, according to new research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Santa Fe Institute. The study shows that investments in research and development, as well as in the growth of markets for these products, have helped to spur this dramatic growth in innovation.