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Artificial leaf jumps developmental hurdle

February 18, 2014 11:00 am | News | Comments

In a recent early online edition of Nature Chemistry, Arizona State Univ. scientists, along with colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory, have reported advances toward perfecting a functional artificial leaf. Designing an artificial leaf that uses solar energy to convert water cheaply and efficiently into hydrogen and oxygen is one of the goals of BISfuel.

Pomegranate-inspired design solves problems for lithium-ion batteries

February 18, 2014 8:46 am | News | Comments

An electrode designed like a pomegranate—with silicon nanoparticles clustered like seeds in a tough carbon rind—overcomes several remaining obstacles to using silicon for a new generation of lithium-ion batteries, say its inventors at Stanford Univ. and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

A battery small enough to be injected, energetic enough to track salmon

February 18, 2014 8:36 am | News | Comments

Scientists have created a microbattery that packs twice the energy compared to current microbatteries used to monitor the movements of salmon through rivers in the Pacific Northwest and around the world. The battery, a cylinder just slightly larger than a long grain of rice, is certainly not the world's smallest battery, as engineers have created batteries far tinier than the width of a human hair. 

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Scientists find new path to loss-free electricity

February 13, 2014 2:06 pm | News | Comments

Superconductor “recipes” are frequently tweaked by swapping out elements or manipulating the valence electrons to strike the perfect conductive balance. Most high-temperature superconductors feature only one orbital impacting performance. But what about introducing more complex configurations? Now, Brookhaven National Laboratory’s physicists have combined atoms with multiple orbitals and precisely pinned down their electron distributions.

Report: Plastic shopping bags make a fine diesel fuel

February 12, 2014 1:15 pm | by Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

Plastic shopping bags, an abundant source of litter on land and at sea, can be converted into diesel, natural gas and other useful petroleum products, researchers report. The conversion produces significantly more energy than it requires and results in transportation fuels that can be blended with existing ultra-low-sulfur diesels and biodiesels. Other products, such as natural gas and gasoline also can be obtained from shopping bags.

Method evaluates response to oxidation in live cells

February 12, 2014 9:56 am | News | Comments

Researchers at NIST have developed a new method for accurately measuring a key process governing a wide variety of cellular functions that may become the basis for a health checkup for living cells. The NIST technique measures changes in a living cell's internal redox (reduction-oxidation) potential, a chemistry concept that expresses the favorability of reactions in which molecules or atoms either gain or lose electrons.

Waste from age-old paper industry becomes new source of solid fuel

February 12, 2014 9:47 am | News | Comments

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.

Molecular collisions now imaged better than ever

February 11, 2014 1:45 pm | News | Comments

Molecular physicists in The Netherlands have produced images of the changes in direction of colliding nitrogen monoxide molecules (NO) with unprecedented sharpness. By combining a Stark decelerator with advanced imaging techniques, they were able to obtain very high resolution images of the collision processes. The finding sheds light on the wave nature of molecules by imaging what previously had only been theorized.

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Oil composition boost makes hemp a cooking contender

February 11, 2014 8:24 am | News | Comments

Scientists in the U.K. have reported the development of hemp plants with a dramatically increased content of oleic acid. The new oil profile results in an attractive cooking oil that is similar to olive oil in terms of fatty acid content but has a much longer shelf life as well as greater heat tolerance and potentially more industrial applications. This could make hemp a more attractive break crop for cereal farmers.

Is natural gas a solution to mitigating climate change?

February 11, 2014 8:18 am | by Cynthia Eller, California Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Methane, a key greenhouse gas, has more than doubled in volume in Earth's atmosphere since 1750. Its increase is believed to be a leading contributor to climate change. But where is the methane coming from? Research by a California Institute of Technology atmospheric chemist suggests that losses of natural gas—our "cleanest" fossil fuel—into the atmosphere may be a larger source than previously recognized.

Researchers make breakthrough in battery technology

February 10, 2014 1:09 pm | News | Comments

Materials experts in Ireland have developed a new germanium nanowire-based anode that has the ability to greatly increase the capacity and lifetimes of lithium-ion batteries. The typical lithium-ion battery on the market today is based on graphite, which has a relatively low capacity for energy storage. Restructuring the germanium replacement material into nanowires produces a stable, porous battery material.

Key photosynthetic substance present on Earth before atmospheric oxygen

February 7, 2014 11:19 am | News | Comments

A team of researchers led by Virginia Tech and Univ. of California, Berkeley, scientists has discovered that a regulatory process that turns on photosynthesis in plants at daybreak likely developed on Earth in ancient, methane-producing microbes 2.5 billion years ago, long before oxygen became available. The research opens new scientific areas in the fields of evolutionary biology and microbiology.

Forest emissions, wildfires explain why ancient Earth was so hot

February 6, 2014 8:53 am | by Kevin Dennehy , Yale Univ. | News | Comments

The release of volatile organic compounds from Earth’s forests and smoke from wildfires 3 million years ago had a far greater impact on global warming than ancient atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a new Yale Univ. study finds. The research provides evidence that dynamic atmospheric chemistry played an important role in past warm climates, underscoring the complexity of climate change and the relevance of natural components.

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Graphene “sandwich” improves imaging of biomolecules

February 5, 2014 12:56 pm | by Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago | News | Comments

By sandwiching a biological molecule between sheets of graphene, researchers at the Univ. of Illinois at Chicago have obtained atomic-level images of the molecule in its natural watery environment. Researchers typically rely on relatively thick windows of silicon nitrate to protect specimens in a vacuum environment of an electron microscope, but the atomically-thin graphene sheets promise a major improvement.

Approach helps identify new biofuel sources that don’t require farmland

February 5, 2014 12:41 pm | News | Comments

While the debate over using crops for fuel continues, scientists are now reporting a new, fast approach to develop biofuel in a way that doesn’t require removing valuable farmland from the food production chain. Their method, which could be employed for other targets, uses atomic force microscopy and a tunable laser source to examine the fuel-producing potential of a soil bacterium known for making antibiotics.

Team develops rapid smartphone-based mercury testing and mapping

February 5, 2014 8:59 am | by Matthew Chin, UCLA | News | Comments

A team of engineers from the Univ. of California, Los Angeles has developed a smartphone attachment and application to test water for the presence of mercury, a toxic heavy metal. The new platform could significantly reduce the time and cost of the testing, and it could be particularly useful in regions with limited technological resources.

Off-the-shelf materials lead to self-healing polymers

February 4, 2014 2:06 pm | News | Comments

Look out, super glue and paint thinner. Thanks to new dynamic materials developed at the Univ. of Illinois, removable paint and self-healing plastics soon could be household products. Other self-healing material systems have focused on solid, strong materials, but this new study uses softer elastic materials made of polyurea, one of the most widely used classes of polymers in consumer goods such as paints, coatings, elastics and plastics.

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.

A disc brake for molecules

February 3, 2014 8:50 am | News | Comments

Nitrogen molecules travel at a speed of more than 1,700 km/hr at room temperature, which means the particles are much too fast for many experiments and applications. However, physicists have now found a rather simple way to slow down polar molecules to about 70 km/hr: centrifugal force. The new method makes it possible to produce relatively large quantities of cold molecules in a continuous flow.

New catalyst converts greenhouse gases into chemicals

January 31, 2014 11:02 am | by Karen B. Roberts, Univ. of Delaware | News | Comments

A team of researchers at the Univ. of Delaware has developed a highly selective catalyst capable of electrochemically converting carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide with 92% efficiency. The carbon monoxide then can be used to develop useful chemicals. The exceptionally high activity of the new electrocatalyst is due to its extremely large and highly curved internal surface.

Identifying chemical, physical traits of fallout

January 30, 2014 7:55 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers have begun to develop a technique that provides a practical approach for looking into the complex physical and chemical processes that occur during fallout formation following a nuclear detonation. Post-detonation nuclear forensics relies on advanced analytical techniques and an understanding of the physio-chemical processes associated with a nuclear detonation to identify the device type.

River of hydrogen seen flowing through space

January 28, 2014 9:11 am | News | Comments

Using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), astronomer D.J. Pisano from West Virginia Univ. has discovered what could be a never-before-seen river of hydrogen flowing through space. This very faint, very tenuous filament of gas is streaming into the nearby galaxy NGC 6946 and may help explain how certain spiral galaxies keep up their steady pace of star formation.

Computer power clicks with geochemistry

January 28, 2014 8:10 am | News | Comments

Sandia National Laboratories is developing computer models that show how radioactive waste interacts with soil and sediments, shedding light on waste disposal and how to keep contamination away from drinking water. Researchers have studied the geochemistry of contaminants such as radioactive materials and toxic heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and cadmium. But laboratory testing of soils is difficult.

Engineers teach old chemical new tricks to make cleaner fuels, fertilizers

January 27, 2014 2:03 pm | News | Comments

Researchers from two continents have engineered an efficient and environmentally friendly catalyst for the production of molecular hydrogen (H2), a compound used extensively in modern industry to manufacture fertilizer and refine crude oil into gasoline. The new method can product industrial quantities of hydrogen without emitting carbon into the atmosphere.

New boron nanomaterial may be possible

January 27, 2014 1:53 pm | News | Comments

Graphene, a sheet of carbon one atom thick, may soon have a new nanomaterial partner. In the laboratory and on supercomputers, chemical engineers have determined that a unique arrangement of 36 boron atoms in a flat disc with a hexagonal hole in the middle may be the preferred building blocks for “borophene.”

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