In today’s search for renewable energy sources, researchers are turning to the high-tech, from solar and hydrogen fuel cells, and the very low-tech. The latest example of a low-tech alternative comes from an age-old industry: paper. A new study reveals a sustainable way to turn the huge amounts of waste from paper production into solid fuel with the added bonus of diverting the sludge from overflowing landfills.
Rice Univ. synthetic biologist Ramon Gonzalez sees a near future in which Americans get enough clean transportation fuel from natural gas to help make the nation energy independent. As a program director with the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, he’s in a position to help make it happen.
Oil and gas remain primary power sources for both personal and industrial use worldwide. Extraction of these fuel resources from underground reservoirs involves complex geomechanical processes, and can result in subsidence of the ground over a reservoir. Since this occurrence can have an impact on the environment and affect the operability of extraction equipment, it needs to be accurately predicted and kept within safe limits.
Gasoline-like fuels can be made from cellulosic materials such as farm and forestry waste using a new process invented by chemists at the Univ. of California, Davis. The process could open up new markets for plant-based fuels, beyond existing diesel substitutes.
What do champion surfers who gathered at last week’s Mavericks Invitational have in common with a Univ. of California, Berkeley engineer? They all are looking to harness the power of big ocean waves. But the similarities end there. For assistant professor Reza Alam, an expert in wave mechanics, the seafloor “carpet” he is proposing will convert ocean waves into usable energy.
Wind energy experts have completed a comprehensive study to understand how wind power technology can assist the power grid by controlling the active power output being placed onto the system. They find that wind power can do this by adjusting its power output to enhance system reliability, using forms of active power control such as synthetic inertial control, primary frequency control and automatic generation control regulation.
If you are like millions of Americans and own a broad stock index fund, you own parts of Exxon Mobil, Peabody Energy and other companies that earn money selling oil, coal and other fossil fuels. For some, that's great. Fossil fuels give us light, keep us warm, help grow our food, deliver our products and jet us around the planet. Some companies are stable and profitable and offer consistent dividends that pad retirement accounts nicely.
In 2009, a borehole drilled at Krafla, northeast Iceland, as part of the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), unexpectedly penetrated into magma at only 2100 m depth, with a temperature of 900-1000 C. The borehole, called IDDP-1, essentially created the world’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system, and is now blowing superheated 450 C steam directly from a molten magma.
The diesel-burning locomotive, the workhorse of American railroads since World War II, will soon begin burning natural gas—a potentially historic shift that could cut fuel costs, reduce pollution and strengthen the advantage railroads hold over trucks in long-haul shipping. Rail companies want to take advantage of booming natural gas production that has cut the price of the fuel by as much as 50%.
Researchers at The Univ. of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering have developed a new source of renewable energy, a biofuel, from genetically engineered yeast cells and ordinary table sugar. This yeast produces oils and fats, known as lipids, that can be used in place of petroleum-derived products.
Researchers at North Carolina State Univ. have shown that a one-atom thick film of molybdenum sulfide (MoS2) may work as an effective catalyst for creating hydrogen. The work opens a new door for the production of cheap hydrogen. Hydrogen holds great promise as an energy source, but the production of hydrogen from water electrolysis currently relies in large part on the use of expensive platinum catalysts.
A new approach to harvesting solar energy, developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, could improve efficiency by using sunlight to heat a high-temperature material whose infrared radiation would then be collected by a conventional photovoltaic cell. This technique could also make it easier to store the energy for later use, the researchers say.
Using a plant-derived chemical, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have developed a process for creating a concentrated stream of sugars that’s ripe with possibility for biofuels. The research team has published its findings in Science, explaining how they use gamma valerolactone, or GVL, to deconstruct plants and produce sugars that can be chemically or biologically upgraded into biofuels.
How’s this for innovative: A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory-led team hopes to engineer a new enzyme that efficiently converts methane to liquid transportation fuel. Methane is the main component of natural gas and biogas from wastewater treatments and landfills. Another source is stranded natural gas, which is currently flared or vented at remote oil fields, and which represents an enormous unused energy resource.
In an effort to put to good use natural gas (methane) that might otherwise become pollution, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is collaborating with start-up company Calysta Energy on a new technology to convert natural gas to liquid fuel. The process involves taking natural gas from oil and gas operations, and converting it to methanol that can be used as a fuel or converted to other useful chemicals.
Humans have for ages taken cues from nature to build their own devices, but duplicating the steps in the complicated electronic dance of photosynthesis remains one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for chemists. Currently, the most efficient methods we have for making fuel from sunlight and water involve rare and expensive metal catalysts. However, that is about to change.
Researchers in Texas have designed a micro-windmill that generates wind energy and may become an innovative solution to cell phone batteries constantly in need of recharging. A single grain of rice could hold about 10 of these tiny windmills, and hundreds of them could be embedded in a sleeve for a cell phone.
Much of the naturally occurring radioactivity in fracking wastewater might be removed by blending it with another wastewater from acid mine drainage, according to a Duke Univ.-led study. Blending fracking wastewater with acid mine drainage also could help reduce the depletion of local freshwater resources by giving drillers a source of usable recycled water for the hydraulic fracturing process.
Researchers from North Carolina State Univ. and Johns Hopkins Univ. have found that an increase in the use of wind power generation can make the power grid more fragile and susceptible to disruptions. But the researchers didn’t just identify the problem; they have also devised a technique for coordinating wind power generation and energy storage in order to minimize the potential for such power disruptions.
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.