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Fire ants inspire new process for storing and dissipating energy

February 7, 2014 10:49 am | News | Comments

U.S. Army-sponsored researchers have discovered a process for simultaneously storing and dissipating energy within structures that could lead to design rules for new types of active, reconfigurable materials. The study method was derived from an examination of how a species of South American fire ant collectively entangle themselves to form an active structure capable of changing state from a liquid to a solid when subject to applied loads.

Technique makes “biogasoline” from plant waste

February 4, 2014 9:08 am | News | Comments

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.

New energy research lab coming to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

January 30, 2014 8:50 am | News | Comments

Construction on a new energy research facility at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) will start this April. The project, valued at approximately $10 million, will build a facility that will house a broad variety of energy research and PNNL's campus sustainability program. Research there will focus on power grid reliability and resiliency, integration of renewable energy onto the grid and reducing energy use in buildings.

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Seafloor carpet catches waves to generate energy

January 29, 2014 7:37 am | by Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley | News | Comments

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.

Study: Active power control of wind turbines can improve power grid reliability

January 28, 2014 1:51 pm | News | Comments

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.

Solar cell technology captures high-energy photons more efficiently

January 24, 2014 8:38 am | News | Comments

Getting the blues is rarely a desirable experience—unless you’re a solar cell, that is. Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory and the Univ. of Texas at Austin have together developed a new, inexpensive material that has the potential to capture and convert solar energy—particularly from the bluer part of the spectrum—much more efficiently than ever before.

World’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system created in Iceland

January 23, 2014 1:54 pm | by Iqbal Pittalwala, Univ. of California, Riverside | News | Comments

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.

Engineer converts yeast cells into “sweet crude” biofuel

January 22, 2014 9:13 am | News | Comments

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.

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Researcher develops energy-dense sugar battery

January 21, 2014 11:34 am | News | Comments

A Virginia Tech research team has developed a battery that runs on sugar, using a non-natural synthetic enzymatic pathway that strip all charge potentials from the sugar. While other sugar batteries have been developed, this one has an energy density an order of magnitude higher than others, allowing it to run longer before needing to be refueled.

How to tap the sun’s energy through heat as well as light

January 20, 2014 7:43 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

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.

Project aims to produce liquid transportation fuel from methane

January 16, 2014 8:13 am | News | Comments

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.

Cobalt catalysts allow researchers to duplicate complicated steps of photosynthesis

January 13, 2014 4:19 pm | News | Comments

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.

Inverse opal structure improves thin-film solar cells

January 13, 2014 3:59 pm | by Emil Venere, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers have shown how to increase the efficiency of thin-film solar cells, a technology that could bring low-cost solar energy. The approach uses 3-D photonic crystals to absorb more sunlight than conventional thin-film cells. The synthetic crystals possess a structure called an inverse opal to make use of and enhance properties found in the gemstones to reflect, diffract and bend incoming sunlight.

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Researchers find simple, cheap way to increase solar cell efficiency

January 6, 2014 7:42 am | News | Comments

Researchers from North Carolina State Univ. and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have found an easy way to modify the molecular structure of a polymer commonly used in solar cells. Their modification can increase solar cell efficiency by more than 30%. Polymer-based solar cells have two domains, consisting of an electron acceptor and an electron donor material.

Chinese biologist seeks out productive biofuel sources

December 27, 2013 12:47 pm | News | Comments

In a recent achievement, Cui Qiu, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology, turned a few shy members of the Clostridium germ family into highly productive workers. Some chewed up wood fiber and churned out sugar, while others ate the sugar and made ethanol. These small creatures could bring huge changes to the world, Cui says.

Burning biomass pellets in China could lower mercury emissions

December 19, 2013 7:32 pm | News | Comments

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.

Team developing new monitoring tools for hydropower generation

December 19, 2013 8:52 am | News | Comments

A group of researchers at Carnegie Mellon Univ. is banking on the efficiency of an environmentally friendly alternative to large hydroelectric operations. Known as hydrokinetic or run-of-the-river power extraction, the new method harvests a small portion of kinetic energy in the river at multiple locations. They are building multi-scale hierarchical models for analyzing large-scale river networks, hydropower project placement, and control.

Harvesting electricity: Triboelectric generators capture wasted power

December 10, 2013 7:46 am | Videos | Comments

With one stomp of his foot, Zhong Lin Wang illuminates a thousand light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, with no batteries or power cord. The current comes from essentially the same source as that tiny spark that jumps from a fingertip to a doorknob when you walk across carpet on a cold, dry day. Wang and his research team have learned to harvest this power and put it to work.

Highly insulating windows are very energy efficient, though expensive

December 6, 2013 8:09 am | News | Comments

Highly insulating triple-pane windows keep a house snug and cozy, but it takes two decades or more for the windows to pay off financially based on utility-bill savings, according to a report by energy-efficiency experts at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). The report is based on a study at PNNL's Lab Homes, a pair of identical manufactured homes used to study energy efficiency.

Copper promises cheaper, sturdier fuel cells

November 22, 2013 11:01 am | News | Comments

Converting solar energy into storable fuel remains one of the greatest challenges of modern chemistry. Chemists have commonly tried to use indium tin oxide (ITO) because it has transparency, but it also expensive and rare. Researchers at Duke Univ. has created something they hope can replace ITO: copper nanowires fused in a see-through film.

Catalyst for business

November 21, 2013 9:37 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

After working at a software company for four years, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) alumnus Andrew Dougherty was itching to do something entrepreneurial in the energy industry. Browsing the Website of MIT’s $50K (now $100K) Entrepreneurship Competition, he found an exact match for his interests: an invention by MIT postdoctoral researcher Javier García-Martínez that used nanotechnology to improve the efficiency of oil refining.

Study could lead to paradigm shift in organic solar cell research

November 20, 2013 8:19 am | by Mike Shwartz, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Organic solar cells have long been touted as lightweight, low-cost alternatives to rigid solar panels made of silicon. Dramatic improvements in the efficiency of organic photovoltaics have been made in recent years, yet the fundamental question of how these devices convert sunlight into electricity is still hotly debated. Now a Stanford Univ. research team is weighing in on the controversy.

Holistic cell design leads to high-performance lithium-sulfur battery

November 20, 2013 7:54 am | News | Comments

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have demonstrated in the laboratory a lithium-sulfur battery that has more than twice the specific energy of lithium-ion batteries, and that lasts for more than 1,500 cycles of charge-discharge with minimal decay of the battery’s capacity. This is the longest cycle life reported so far for any lithium-sulfur battery.

Study uses neutron scattering, supercomputing to demystify biofuel production

November 14, 2013 7:23 am | News | Comments

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.

Enhancing microalgae growth to boost green energy production

November 7, 2013 7:00 am | News | Comments

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.

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