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.
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.