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LEDs winning light race to save energy, the environment

September 5, 2012 10:23 am | News | Comments

Today's light-emitting diode light bulbs have a slight environmental edge over compact fluorescent lamps. And that gap is expected to grow significantly as technology and manufacturing methods improve in the next five years, according to a new report from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and U.K.-based N14 Energy Ltd.

Waste silicon gets new life in lithium-ion batteries

September 5, 2012 4:58 am | News | Comments

Researchers at Rice University and from Belgium have developed a way to make flexible components for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries from discarded silicon. The researchers created forests of nanowires from high-value but hard-to-recycle silicon. Silicon absorbs 10 time more lithium than the carbon commonly used in lithium-ion batteries.

Spinach power gets a major boost

September 4, 2012 9:17 am | News | Comments

Spinach power has just gotten a big boost. An interdisciplinary team of researchers at Vanderbilt University have developed a way to combine the photosynthetic protein that converts light into electrochemical energy in spinach with silicon, the material used in solar cells, in a fashion that produces substantially more electrical current than has been reported by previous "biohybrid" solar cells.

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Simulating the sun for photovoltaic research

September 4, 2012 6:10 am | News | Comments

Researchers at NIST's Physical Measurement Laboratory have devised a novel source of portable sunlight that may fill an urgent need in renewable energy research—namely, light sources that generate a near-perfect solar spectrum to be used in testing the performance and efficiency of photovoltaic materials.

Showing the way to improved water-splitting catalysts

September 4, 2012 5:05 am | News | Comments

Scientists and engineers are working to find a way to power the planet using solar-powered fuel cells. Such green systems would split water during daylight hours, generating hydrogen that could then be stored and used later to produce water and electricity. But robust catalysts are needed to drive the water-splitting reaction. Chemists at Caltech have determined the dominant mechanism for cobalt catalysts, a cheaper alternative to platinum catalysts.

Soaking up the sun

August 29, 2012 8:50 am | News | Comments

Solar panels, like those commonly perched atop house roofs or in sun-drenched fields, quietly harvesting the sun's radiant energy, are one of the standard-bearers of the green energy movement. But could they be better—more efficient, durable, and affordable? That's what engineers from Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania are trying to find out, with the aid of a little nanotechnology and a lot of mathematical modeling.

Discovery of plant gene lays groundwork for improved biofuel processing

August 28, 2012 5:43 am | News | Comments

Since 2007, researchers at the BioEnergy Science Center have partnered to figure out how to break down plants so that they easily release the simple sugars that can be processed into biofuels. It's a breakthrough that could make biofuels cost competitive with gasoline. Now, University of Georgia researchers who are part of the team have taken an important step toward that goal by identifying a previously uncharacterized gene that plays a major role in cell wall development of Arabidopsis plants.

Microgrids: So much more than backup energy

August 27, 2012 12:12 pm | News | Comments

Most Americans don't have to think much about energy reliability. We plug in a computer and it powers up; we flip a switch and the lights come on. While very reliable today. the U.S. electricity grid is old and has gone at least five decades without a significant technological upgrade. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is working with industry on one solution to help maintain a secure, reliable flow of energy: microgrids.

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Grants send engineers after flexible circuitry, self-assembly, and photosynthesis

August 27, 2012 4:02 am | News | Comments

During the next four years, research teams who have been the recipients of 15 innovation grants totalling $30 million from the National Science Foundation will pursue transformative, fundamental research in three emerging areas: flexible electronic systems that can interface with the body; self-folding materials and structures; and large-scale chemical production from photosynthesis.

Microwave ovens may help produce lower-cost solar energy technology

August 24, 2012 10:31 am | News | Comments

The same type of microwave oven technology that most people use to heat up leftover food has found an important application in the solar energy industry, providing a new way to make thin-film photovoltaic products with less energy. Engineers at Oregon State University have, for the first time, developed a way to use microwave heating in the synthesis of copper zinc tin sulfide, a promising solar cell compound.

Scientists produce hydrogen for fuel cells using inexpensive catalyst

August 23, 2012 7:01 am | News | Comments

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have produced hydrogen, a renewable energy source, from water using an inexpensive catalyst under industrially relevant conditions—using pH neutral water, surrounded by atmospheric oxygen, and at room temperature.

Engineers examine water-based methods for electricity generation

August 23, 2012 5:40 am | News | Comments

As the world's energy demands increase, Yale University researchers are examining alternative and sustainable power generation techniques. The researchers have published extensively on using engineered osmosis to address the growing demand for energy, and a recent paper in Nature examines three water-based methods for electricity generation and the challenges that must be met before they can be used for widespread application.

Researchers probe invisible vacancies in fuel cell materials

August 22, 2012 11:34 am | News | Comments

Knowing the position of missing oxygen atoms could be the key to cheaper solid oxide fuel cells with longer lifetimes. New microscopy research from Oak Ridge National Laboratory is enabling scientists to map these vacancies at an atomic scale.

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Researchers discover new uses for high-tech alloy

August 22, 2012 8:30 am | News | Comments

Materials scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, Etrema Products Inc., and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division have developed new ways to form a high-tech metal alloy which promise new advances in sensing and energy harvesting technologies.

Engineering students build U.K.'s first hydrogen-powered locomotive

August 22, 2012 5:06 am | News | Comments

Engineering students and staff at the University of Birmingham have designed and built a prototype hydrogen-powered locomotive, the first of its kind to operate in the U.K. The narrow gauge locomotive is a hybrid design, combining a hydrogen fuel cell and lead acid batteries similar to the ones used in cars.

Self-charging power cell converts, stores energy in single unit

August 22, 2012 3:39 am | News | Comments

Researchers have developed a self-charging power cell that directly converts mechanical energy to chemical energy, storing the power until it is released as electrical current. By eliminating the need to convert mechanical energy to electrical energy for charging a battery, the new hybrid generator-storage cell uses mechanical energy more efficiently than systems using separate generators and batteries.

Teaching a microbe to make fuel

August 21, 2012 3:23 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A humble soil bacterium called Ralstonia eutropha has a natural tendency, whenever it is stressed, to stop growing and put all its energy into making complex carbon compounds. Now scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have taught this microbe a new trick: They've tinkered with its genes to persuade it to make fuel—specifically, a kind of alcohol called isobutanol that can be directly substituted for, or blended with, gasoline.

Genetically engineered algae for biofuel pose potential risks

August 20, 2012 8:53 am | News | Comments

Algae are high on the genetic engineering agenda as a potential source for biofuel, and they should be subjected to independent studies of any environmental risks that could be linked to cultivating algae for this purpose, two prominent researchers say. The researchers argue that ecology experts should be among scientists given independent authority and adequate funding to explore any potential unintended consequences of this technological pursuit.

Researchers find material for cleaner-running diesel vehicles

August 17, 2012 3:23 am | News | Comments

Engineers at a company co-founded by a University of Texas at Dallas professor have identified a material that can reduce the pollution produced by vehicles that run on diesel fuel. The material, from a family of minerals called oxides, could replace platinum, a rare and expensive metal that is currently used in diesel engines to try to control the amount of pollution released into the air.

Sunflowers inspire more efficient solar power system

August 16, 2012 4:38 am | News | Comments

A field of young sunflowers will slowly rotate from east to west during the course of a sunny day, each leaf seeking out as much sunlight as possible as the sun moves across the sky through an adaptation called heliotropism. It's a clever bit of natural engineering that inspired imitation from a University of Wisconsin-Madison electrical and computer engineer, who has found a way to mimic the passive heliotropism seen in sunflowers for use in the next crop of solar power systems.

Future increases in U.S. natural gas exports not as large as thought

August 15, 2012 8:42 am | News | Comments

Amid policy debate over potential liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from the United States, a new paper from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy predicts the long-term volume of exports from the U.S. will not likely be very large. The paper also argues that the impact on U.S. domestic natural gas prices will not be large if exports are allowed by the U.S government.

Nanostructures to realize hydrogen's energy potential

August 15, 2012 6:40 am | News | Comments

For the first time, engineers at the University of New South Wales have demonstrated that hydrogen can be released and reabsorbed from a promising storage material, overcoming a major hurdle to its use as an alternative fuel source. The researchers have synthesized nanoparticles of a commonly overlooked chemical compound called sodium borohydride and encased these inside nickel shells.

An intriguing twist in the structure of a cobalt oxide catalyst

August 15, 2012 5:41 am | by David Lindley | News | Comments

Hydrogen is a clean fuel, producing only water vapor when it burns. But generating hydrogen in large quantities and in a "green" fashion is not straightforward. Biological photosynthesis includes an efficient reaction step that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen with the help of catalysts that have been used as models for synthetic catalysts. Working at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, a team of scientists has determined the structure of one such catalyst, a complex cobalt oxide.

Physics researcher develops nanoparticle coating for solar panels

August 13, 2012 11:37 am | News | Comments

A University of Houston researcher has developed a nanoparticle coating for solar panels that makes it easier to keep the panels clean, which helps maintain their efficiency and reduces the maintenance and operations costs. The coating has successfully undergone testing at the Dublin Institute for Technology and will undergo field trials being conducted by an engineering firm in North Carolina.

Advance made in generating electricity from wastewater

August 13, 2012 9:43 am | News | Comments

Engineers at Oregon State University have made a breakthrough in the performance of microbial fuel cells that can produce electricity directly from wastewater, opening the door to a future in which waste treatment plants not only will power themselves, but will sell excess electricity.

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