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The Lead

Getting the salt out

October 21, 2014 7:54 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The boom in oil and gas produced through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is seen as a boon for meeting U.S. energy needs. But one byproduct of the process is millions of gallons of water that’s much saltier than seawater, after leaching salts from rocks deep below the surface. Now researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in Saudi Arabia say they have found an economical solution for removing the salt from this water.

R&D 100 Award Video: Calcium Loop for Carbon Capture

October 20, 2014 9:07 am | by Lindsay Hock, Managing Editor | Videos | Comments

Carbon capture and sequestration isn’t only suitable for new power plants, but more essential in...

Researchers pump up oil accumulation in plant leaves

October 8, 2014 9:20 am | by Karen McNulty Walsh, Brookhaven National Laboratory | News | Comments

Increasing the oil content of plant biomass could help fulfill the nation's increasing demand...

Join the best of the best in innovation

October 1, 2014 8:57 am | by Lindsay Hock, Managing Editor | News | Comments

The 52nd annual R&D 100 Awards event will present a series of panel discussions featuring...

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Plant-based building materials may boost energy savings

September 23, 2014 2:04 pm | by Leslie Minton, Univ. of North Texas | News | Comments

Over a three-year period, Univ. of North Texas researchers developed and tested structured insulated panel building materials made from kenaf, a plant in the hibiscus family that is similar to bamboo. Kenaf fibers are an attractive prospect because they offer the same strength to weight ratio as glass fibers. The researchers found that the kenaf materials, including composite panels, provide up to 20% energy savings.

Artificial “beaks” collect water from fog: A drought solution?

September 18, 2014 1:20 pm | News | Comments

By opening and closing their beaks, shorebirds drive food-containing liquid drops into their throats. Researchers have mimicked this phenomenon by building simple, fog-collecting, rectangular “beaks” out of glass plates connected by a hinge on one side. Providing a large surface area where beads of fog condense, the “beak” improved collection rates over alternatives by up to 900 times.

Separating finely mixed oil and water

July 1, 2014 11:51 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Whenever there is a major spill of oil into water, the two tend to mix into a suspension of tiny droplets, called an emulsion, that is extremely hard to separate and can cause severe damage to ecosystems. A new membrane developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers can separate even these highly mixed fine oil-spill residues.

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EU project applies green tech to decontaminate soil

June 16, 2014 10:32 am | News | Comments

Soil pollution causes severe environmental and economic impacts, as well as risks for the human health and ecosystems. The closure of mining and industrial facilities in many sites across Europe has revealed large amounts of contaminated land with uncertain future uses. Decontaminating and recovering such soil is a long, complex and expensive process, which places a large burden on enterprises or public administrations.

How much fertilizer is too much for Earth's climate?

June 11, 2014 8:53 am | News | Comments

A study published by Michigan State Univ. researchers this week concludes that helping farmers around the globe apply more precise amounts of fertilizer nitrogen can combat climate change. The study uses data from around the world to show that emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas produced in soil following nitrogen addition, rise faster than previously expected when fertilizer rates exceed crop needs.

All-natural mixture yields promising fire retardant

June 6, 2014 9:29 am | News | Comments

A dash of clay, a dab of fiber from crab shells, and a dollop of DNA: This strange group of materials are actually the ingredients of promising green fire retardants invented by researchers at NIST. Applied to polyurethane foam, the bio-based coatings greatly reduced the flammability of the common furniture padding after it was exposed to an open flame.

Cleaning the air with roof tiles

June 4, 2014 3:08 pm | by Sean Nealon, UC Riverside | News | Comments

A team of students in California have created a roof tile coating that, when applied to an average-sized residential roof, breaks down the same amount of smog-causing nitrogen oxides per year as a car driven 11,000 miles. The inexpensive titanium dioxide-based coating removes up to 97% of smog-causing nitrogen oxides.

A more Earth-friendly way to make bright white cotton fabrics

May 29, 2014 7:44 am | News | Comments

With a growing number of consumers demanding more earth-friendly practices from the fashion world, scientists are developing new ways to produce textiles that could help meet rising expectations. They report in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research one such method that can dramatically reduce the amount of energy it takes to bleach cotton while improving the quality of the popular material.

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Electricity use slashed with efficiency controls for heating, cooling

May 23, 2014 1:13 pm | News | Comments

Commercial buildings could cut their heating and cooling electricity use by an average of 57% with advanced energy-efficiency controls, according to a year-long trial of the controls at malls, grocery stores and other buildings across the country. The study demonstrated higher energy savings than what was predicted in earlier computer simulations by the same researchers.

New fossil-fuel-free process makes biodiesel sustainable

May 21, 2014 1:58 pm | News | Comments

A new fuel-cell concept from Michigan State Univ. allows biodiesel plants to eliminate the creation of hazardous wastes while removing their dependence on fossil fuel from their production process. The platform, which uses microbes to glean ethanol from glycerol and has the added benefit of cleaning up the wastewater, should give producers the opportunity to reincorporate the ethanol and the water into the fuel-making process.

Britain launches $17 million science prize

May 20, 2014 9:33 am | News | Comments

Britain is offering 10 million pounds (almost $17 million) to whoever can solve one of humanity's biggest scientific challenges. What’s the challenge? Organizers said Monday the public would vote on which of six challenges the prize should tackle, ranging from reversal of paralysis to making air travel environmentally friendly.

Writing is on the wall for air pollution thanks to air-cleansing poem

May 15, 2014 12:23 pm | News | Comments

A poet and a scientist at the Univ. of Sheffield in the U.K. have collaborated to create a catalytic poem called “In Praise of Air”. The poem is printed on material containing a formula invented at the university which is capable of removing nitrogen oxide from the atmosphere. According to its developers, the cheap technology could also be applied to billboards and advertisements alongside congested roads to cut pollution.

Nanocellulose sponges to combat oil pollution

May 6, 2014 11:10 am | News | Comments

A new, absorbable material could be of assistance in future oil spill accidents. A chemically modified nanocellulose sponge, the light material developed at a research laboratory in Europe absorbs the oil spill, remains floating on the surface and can then be recovered. The absorbent can be produced in an environmentally friendly manner from recycled paper, wood or agricultural by-products.

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Energy breakthrough uses sun to create solar energy materials

April 4, 2014 3:32 pm | News | Comments

In a recent advance in solar energy, researchers have discovered a way to tap the sun not only as a source of power, but also to directly produce the solar energy materials that make this possible.               

Nanostructures show promise for efficient LEDs

April 4, 2014 3:05 pm | News | Comments

Nanostructures half the breadth of a DNA strand could improve the efficiency of light emitting diodes (LEDs), especially in the “green gap,” a portion of the spectrum where LED efficiency plunges.               

Recovering metals and minerals from waste

March 13, 2014 9:15 am | News | Comments

Scarcity of clean water is one of the most serious global challenges. In its spearhead program, a research center in Finland developed energy-efficient methods for reuse of water in industrial processes and means for recovering valuable minerals and materials from waste for recycling. Toward this purpose, rapid membrane-based tools were developed for identification of environmental pollutants.

Huge U.S. thermal plant opens as industry grows

February 14, 2014 11:43 am | by Brian Skoloff and Michael R. Blood, Associated Press | News | Comments

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which sprawls across roughly 5 square miles of federal land near the California-Nevada border, formally opened on Feb. 13 after years of regulatory and legal tangles ranging from relocating protected tortoises to assessing the impact on Mojave milkweed and other plants. The plant, the world’s largest of its type, will test a balance between conservation and green energy growth.

Research reveals give-and-take of urban temperature mitigating technologies

February 13, 2014 1:41 pm | News | Comments

Greenhouse-gas induced warming and megapolitan expansion are both significant drivers of our warming planet, but how well adaptation technologies, such as cool roofs and green roofs, perform remains uncertain. Now, a team of researchers has begun exploring the relative effectiveness of some of the most common adaptation technologies aimed at reducing warming from urban expansion.

New catalytic converter could cut fuel consumption, car manufacturing costs

January 29, 2014 10:27 am | News | Comments

A new catalytic converter developed in the U.K. could cut fuel consumption and manufacturing costs significantly. Tests suggest that the new prototype, which uses up to 80% less rare metal than a conventional converter, could reduce fuel consumption in a standard vehicle by up to 3%. Metals such as platinum now account for 60 to 70% of the cost of the component.

Jet-propelled wastewater treatment

December 19, 2013 7:55 pm | News | Comments

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart have developed a new method for the active degradation of organic pollutants in solution by using swimming microengines. These tiny “engines” are made from platinum and iron and are highly efficient in removing organic pollutants from water using hydrogen peroxide.

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.

Food-tech startups aim to replace eggs and chicken

December 9, 2013 1:35 pm | by Terence Chea, Associated Press | News | Comments

Funded by prominent Silicon Valley investors and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Hampton Creek Foods seeks to disrupt a global egg industry that backers say wastes energy, pollutes the environment, causes disease outbreaks and confines chickens to tiny spaces. The company, which just started selling a mayonnaise made without eggs, is part of a new generation of so-called food-tech ventures that aim to change the way we eat.

Next generation of biofuels is still years away

November 14, 2013 12:54 pm | by Jonathan Fahey, Associated Press | News | Comments

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.

Prairies vanish in the U.S. push for green energy

November 13, 2013 11:15 am | by Chet Brokaw and Jack Gillum, Associated Press | News | Comments

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.

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