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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A set of new building technologies introduced by an alliance of Swiss companies makes it possible to heat and cool buildings without the emission of carbon dioxide. One initial key element of the system is a hybrid collector, built into the roof construction, that serves as a photovoltaic system delivering both solar power and heat that is fed to an underground accumulator.
Researchers report that wood-biochar supercapacitors can produce as much power as today’s activated-carbon supercapacitors at a fraction of the cost, and with environmentally friendly byproducts. In wood-biochar supercapacitors, the wood’s natural pore structure serves as the electrode surface, eliminating the need for advanced techniques to fabricate an elaborate pore structure. Wood biochar is produced by heating wood in low oxygen.
Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison researchers working at the intersection of basic and applied science focus on key factors like cost, environmental impacts and sometimes, color. Take, for example, asst. chemistry prof. Trisha Andrew: Researchers in her laboratory are developing next-generation solar cells using chromophores or, in lay terms, dyes.
The newest catalytic converters in diesel engines blast away a pollutant from combustion with the help of ammonia. Common in European cars, the engines exhaust harmless nitrogen and water. How they do this hasn't been entirely clear. Now, new research shows that the catalyst attacks its target pollutant in an unusual way, providing insight into how to make the best catalytic converters.
A formal partnership agreement to encourage collaborative research, build educational and workforce development programs and inform policy endeavors regarding renewable energy efforts has been signed by Sandia National Laboratories and Arizona State Univ. The move will facilitate multidisciplinary collaborations and help them secure research funding.
Bionic leaves that could produce fuels from nothing more than sunlight, water and carbon dioxide, with no byproducts other than oxygen, represent an ideal alternative to fossil fuels but also pose numerous scientific challenges. In a major advance, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed a method by which molecular hydrogen-producing catalysts can be interfaced with a semiconductor that absorbs visible light.
In the latest advance in efforts to find an inexpensive way to make hydrogen from ordinary water, scientists are reporting that powder from high-grade charcoal and other forms of carbon can free hydrogen from water illuminated with laser pulses.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Universal Smart Window (USW) Coating, constructed from an advance nanocrystal conducting oxide-base electrochromatic material embedded in a transition-metal-oxide matrix, is the first window coating to maximize thermal glare that enables dynamic control over heat-producing near-infrared radiation (NIR) and visible light from the sun independent of each other.
Lithium-ion battery separators prevent the anode and cathode layers from contacting each other, allowing cell potential to be maintained and safe operation of the battery. The SYMMETRIX HPX-F polymer-ceramic composite separator, developed by Porous Power Technologies and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, achieves this functionality while improving safety over conventional polyolefin membranes.