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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, several pilot plants of solar cells, small wind power plants, lithium-ion batteries, and power electronics are under construction to demonstrate how load peaks in the grid can be balanced and what regenerative power supply by an isolated network may look like in the future.
SPI Solar announced that it has completed construction and successfully interconnected two large-scale solar energy facility (SEF) projects in Greece. A 2-MW development in Evros and a 4.4-MW SEF in Orestiada were completed and interconnected by July 26th.
The Barnett Shale is a geological formation in North Texas bearing a large amount of natural gas that was difficult to recover prior to recent technological advances such as hydraulic fracturing. A geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin analyzed seismic data over a two-year period and has found that while proving any one earthquake was caused by drilling is impossible, a connection between earthquake frequency and fracking does exist.
A new study of renewable energy’s technical potential finds that every state in the nation has the space and resource to generate clean energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory produced the study, which looks at available renewable resources in each state and establishes an upper-boundary estimate of development potential.