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Researchers use real-world data to model the effect of more solar on the grid

October 13, 2014 8:41 am | by Louise Lerner, Argonne National Laboratory | News | Comments

American electrical utilities do a pretty fantastic job of getting us electricity when we need it. In 2006, the power was out on average for just 0.03% of the year in the U.S. But right now, this system depends on getting most of its power from coal, nuclear and gas plants: big, dependable power plants that can be turned on and off when needed.

Satellite sees hot spot of methane in U.S. Southwest

October 10, 2014 9:14 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

A surprising hot spot of the potent global-warming gas methane hovers over part of the southwestern U.S., according to satellite data. That result hints that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies considerably underestimate leaks of methane, also called natural gas. While methane isn't the most plentiful heat-trapping gas, scientists worry about its increasing amounts and have had difficulties tracking emissions.

Hybrid materials could smash the solar efficiency ceiling

October 9, 2014 8:57 am | News | Comments

Researchers have developed a new method for harvesting the energy carried by particles known as “dark” spin-triplet excitons with close to 100% efficiency, clearing the way for hybrid solar cells which could far surpass current efficiency limits. To date, this type of energy transfer had only been shown for “bright” spin-singlet excitons.

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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 for renewable energy feedstocks. But many of the details of how plant leaves make and break down oils have remained a mystery. Now a series of detailed genetic studies conducted at Brookhaven National Laboratory reveals previously unknown biochemical details about those metabolic pathways.

Charge transport jamming in solar cells

October 7, 2014 2:08 pm | News | Comments

Conventional silicon solar cells could have an inexpensive competitor in the near future. Researchers in Europe have examined the working principle of a cell where an organic-inorganic perovskite compound acts as a light absorber. The scientists observed that charge carriers accumulate in a layer in these photovoltaic elements. If this jam can be dissolved, the already considerable efficiency of these solar cells could be further improved.

Research shows how giant clams harness the sun

October 3, 2014 9:39 am | News | Comments

Beneath the waves, many creatures sport iridescent structures that rival what scientists can make in the laboratory. A research team has now shown how giant clams use these structures to thrive, operating as exceedingly efficient, living greenhouses that grow symbiotic algae as a source of food. This understanding could have implications for alternative energy research, paving the way for new solar panels or improved ways to grow biofuel.

Batteries included: A solar cell that stores its own power

October 3, 2014 9:07 am | by Pam Frost Gorder, Ohio State Univ. | News | Comments

The world’s first “solar battery”, invented by researchers at Ohio State Univ., is a battery and a solar cell combined into one hybrid device. Key to the innovation is a mesh solar panel, which allows air to enter the battery, and a special process for transferring electrons between the solar panel and the battery electrode. Inside the device, light and oxygen enable different parts of the chemical reactions that charge the battery.

Stressed out: Research sheds new light on why rechargeable batteries fail

October 2, 2014 8:18 am | by Marcia Goodrich, Michigan Technological Univ. | News | Comments

Drawn relentlessly by their electrical charges, lithium ions in a battery surge from anode to cathode and back again. Yet, no one really understands what goes on at the atomic scale as lithium ion batteries are used and recharged. Using transmission electron microscopy, researchers are now glimpsing what can happen to anodes as lithium ions work their way into them. The “atomic shuffling” these ions perform leads to rapid anode failure.

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World's first bullet train, made in Japan, turns 50

October 1, 2014 10:23 am | by Emily Wang and Ken Moritsugu, Associated Press | News | Comments

It was, retired Japanese railway engineer Fumihiro Araki recalls, "like flying in the sky." Zipping cross-country in a super-high-speed train has become commonplace in many countries these days, but it was unheard of when Japan launched its bullet train between Tokyo and Osaka 50 years ago Wednesday.

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 today’s top technological minds revealing their secrets for innovation. Draw inspiration from these leading experts as they discuss technology-driven strategies for transforming your ideas into excellence.

Platinum meets its match in quantum dots from coal

October 1, 2014 8:31 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Graphene quantum dots created at Rice Univ. grab onto graphene platelets like barnacles attach themselves to the hull of a boat. But these dots enhance the properties of the mothership, making them better than platinum catalysts for certain reactions within fuel cells.

Cheap hydrogen fuel from the sun, without rare metals

September 30, 2014 1:27 pm | by Emmanuel Barraud, EPFL | Videos | Comments

Michael Grätzel’s laboratory in Switzerland is producing hydrogen fuel from sunlight and water. By combining a pair of solar cells made with a mineral called perovskite and low cost electrodes, scientists have obtained a 12.3% conversion efficiency from solar energy to hydrogen, a record using earth-abundant materials as opposed to rare metals.

Scientists improve microscopic batteries with homebuilt imaging analysis

September 29, 2014 12:26 pm | News | Comments

In a rare case of having their cake and eating it too, scientists from NIST and other institutions have developed a toolset that allows them to explore the complex interior of tiny, multi-layered batteries they devised. It provides insight into the batteries’ performance without destroying them, which results in both a useful probe for scientists and a potential power source for micromachines.

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How to make a “perfect” solar absorber

September 29, 2014 8:08 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The key to creating a material that would be ideal for converting solar energy to heat is tuning the material’s spectrum of absorption just right: It should absorb virtually all wavelengths of light that reach Earth’s surface from the sun—but not much of the rest of the spectrum, since that would increase the energy that is reradiated by the material, and thus lost to the conversion process.

Researcher works to predict electric power blackouts before they happen

September 26, 2014 8:34 am | by Katie Jones, Oak Ridge National Laboratory | News | Comments

The largest power outage in U.S. history, the 2003 Northeast blackout, began with one power line in Ohio going offline and ended with more than 50 million people without power throughout the Northeast and the Canadian province of Ontario. Despite the apparent failure of the electric grid during such cascading events, blackouts aren’t necessarily grid failures.

On the road to artificial photosynthesis

September 26, 2014 8:04 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

The excessive atmospheric carbon dioxide that is driving global climate change could be harnessed into a renewable energy technology that would be a win for both the environment and the economy. That is the lure of artificial photosynthesis in which the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide is used to produce clean, green and sustainable fuels. 

How LIMS is Essential in the Biofuels Industry

September 25, 2014 10:26 am | by Colin Thurston, Director of Product Strategy, Thermo Fisher Scientific | Thermo Fisher Scientific | Articles | Comments

As U.S. energy imports dramatically drop it would appear that renewables investment is in jeopardy, including the biofuels market. There’s some evidence to support this; but if declining or stalled investment is predicated on the limited potential of existing technology, much of which still relies on biomass, the biofuels industry may, in fact, be undergoing a natural transition instead of a decline.

GE to give Penn State $10M for gas drilling center

September 25, 2014 10:09 am | by Kevin Begos, Associated Press | News | Comments

Penn State Univ. said Wednesday that General Electric Co. will give the school up to $10 million to create a new center for natural gas industry research. GE said the money will support research projects, equipment, and undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral fellowships at The Center for Collaborative Research on Intelligent Natural Gas Supply Systems. the money will be donated over the next five years and earmarked for different uses.

Building the framework for the future of biofuels

September 25, 2014 9:47 am | by Joe Kullman, Arizona State Univ. | News | Comments

For more than five years, Amy Landis, an engineering professor at Arizona State Univ.,  has led research that is revealing the potential rewards of developing large-scale biofuels production, as well as the potential drawbacks we would face in the effort. According to Landis, lands damaged by industrial waste or other pollutants could be restored sufficiently to support agriculture for growing bioenergy crops.

New tool predicts economic impacts of natural gas stations

September 25, 2014 8:47 am | by Louise Lerner, Argonne National Laboratory | News | Comments

Researchers at the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE)’s Argonne National Laboratory announced a new tool for analyzing the economic impacts of building new compressed natural gas fueling stations. Called JOBS NG, the tool is freely available to the public. Mostly made up of methane, compressed natural gas is an alternative fuel for cars and trucks that can offer greenhouse gas benefits over gasoline.

Report quantifies financial impacts of customer-sited photovoltaics on electric utilities

September 25, 2014 8:39 am | by Allan Chen, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

A new report prepared by analysts from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examines the potential impacts of customer-sited solar photovoltaics on electric utility profitability and rates. The report shows that these impacts can vary greatly depending upon the specific circumstances of the utility and may be reduced through a variety of regulatory and ratemaking measures.

Search for better biofuels microbes leads to the human gut

September 25, 2014 8:14 am | by Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

Scientists have scoured cow rumens and termite guts for microbes that can efficiently break down plant cell walls for the production of next-generation biofuels, but some of the best microbial candidates actually may reside in the human lower intestine, researchers report. Their studyis the first to use biochemical approaches to confirm the hypothesis that microbes in the human gut can digest fiber.

Biochar alters water flow to improve sand, clay

September 25, 2014 8:00 am | by David Ruth, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

As more gardeners and farmers add ground charcoal, or biochar, to soil to both boost crop yields and counter global climate change, a new study by researchers at Rice Univ. and Colorado College could help settle the debate about one of biochar’s biggest benefits: the seemingly contradictory ability to make clay soils drain faster and sandy soils drain slower.

Wind energy proposal would light Los Angeles homes

September 24, 2014 10:59 am | by Michael R. Blood and Mead Gruver, Associated Press | News | Comments

Finding an economical way to store renewable energy from wind or the sun has proved challenging. An alliance of four companies say they have found an answer and are proposing an $8 billion power project that would start with turbines on a huge wind farm in Wyoming and end with enough electricity for over 1 million households in Southern California. The key link is an underground energy storage site carved out of a massive salt formation.

Study: Solar energy-driven process quickly reclaims tailings ponds

September 24, 2014 8:52 am | News | Comments

Cleaning up oil sands tailings has just gotten a lot greener thanks to a novel technique developed by Univ. of Alberta civil engineering professors that uses solar energy to accelerate tailings pond reclamation efforts by industry. Instead of using ultraviolet lamps as a light source to treat the water affected by oil sands processes, sunlight alone treats just as efficiently but at a much lower cost.

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