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Countdown to net zero

June 3, 2014 9:27 am | by Mark Bello, NIST | News | Comments

Heading into the final stretch of a year-long trial run, the experimental net-zero energy house at NIST in Gaithersburg, Md., must overcome an energy deficit of 154 kWhr—equivalent to about $20—during the month of June. The facility was designed to produce at least as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year.

A fuel cell for the home

June 3, 2014 6:58 am | News | Comments

Researchers in Europe have designed a new type of fuel cell that is much simpler and can be mounted on a wall and used in a home. Designed with heater manufacturer Vaillant, the compact and safe system is based on solid fuel cell technology and generates electricity and heat from natural gas. With an output of 1 kW, it provides the average current consumption for a four-person household.

Solar Impulse 2 makes maiden flight

June 2, 2014 9:20 am | Videos | Comments

A Swiss-made solar-powered aircraft has made a successful inaugural flight as its makers prepare for what they hope will be the first round-the-world solar flight. The aircraft spent 2 hours and 17 minutes in the air above western Switzerland early Monday. The Solar Impulse 2 is a bigger and better version of a single-seat prototype that first took flight five years ago and can theoretically stay airborne indefinitely.

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Study: Solar panel manufacturing is greener in Europe than China

May 30, 2014 8:42 am | by Louise Lerner, Argonne National Laboratory | News | Comments

Solar panels made in China have a higher overall carbon footprint and are likely to use substantially more energy during manufacturing than those made in Europe, said a new study from Northwestern Univ. and Argonne National Laboratory. The report compared energy and greenhouse gas emissions that go into the manufacturing process of solar panels in Europe and China.

Stabilizing common semiconductors for solar fuels generation

May 30, 2014 8:17 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Researchers are trying to develop solar-driven generators that can split water, yielding hydrogen gas that could be used as clean fuel. Such a device requires efficient light-absorbing materials that attract and hold sunlight to drive the chemical reactions involved in water splitting. Semiconductors are excellent light absorbers. However, these materials rust when submerged in the type of water solutions found in such systems.

Scientists pinpoint the creeping nanocrystals behind lithium-ion battery degradation

May 29, 2014 8:20 am | by Justin Eure, Brookhaven National Laboratory | News | Comments

Batteries don’t age gracefully. The lithium ions that power portable electronics cause lingering structural damage with each cycle of charge and discharge, making devices from smartphones to tablets tick toward zero faster and faster over time. To stop or slow this steady degradation, scientists must track and tweak the imperfect chemistry of lithium-ion batteries with nanoscale precision.

Laser system mimics sunlight to test solar cell efficiency

May 28, 2014 10:34 am | News | Comments

Researchers at NIST have developed a laser-based instrument that generates artificial sunlight to help test solar cell properties and find ways to boost their efficiency. The novel NIST system simulates sunlight well across a broad spectrum of visible to infrared light. More flexible than conventional solar simulators, the laser instrument can be focused down to a small beam spot and shaped to match any desired spectral profile.

Improving a new breed of solar cells

May 28, 2014 7:42 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Solar cell technology has advanced rapidly, as hundreds of groups around the world pursue more than two dozen approaches using different materials, technologies and approaches to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Now a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has set a new record for the most efficient quantum-dot cells.

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Graphene may make large scale electricity storage a reality

May 27, 2014 9:35 am | News | Comments

Soon after graphene’s isolation, early research already showed that lithium batteries with graphene in their electrodes had a greater capacity and lifespan than standard designs. At the Univ. of Manchester, U.K., where graphene was first isolated, researchers are working with more than 30 companies to advance technology in graphene-enabled energy storage, particularly in the area of lithium-ion batteries and supercapacitors.

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 concept to improve power production of wind turbines

May 23, 2014 12:46 pm | News | Comments

In a typical wind farm, the wind turbine located in the wakes of upstream turbines would experience a much different surface wind compared to the ones located upwind due to wake interferences. Scientists at Iowa State Univ. have completed a study on the effects of these relative rotation directions, using two tandem wind turbines as a model. They found a big difference in performance between co-rotating and counter-rotating turbines.

A robust source of information on marine energy, offshore wind projects

May 22, 2014 8:04 am | by Tom Rickey, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory | News | Comments

Wondering what the impact on killer whales might be from a turbine installed under the sea? Curious whether crabs and other crustaceans might be attracted to underwater cables carrying electricity to homes and businesses on the mainland? Interested in which country is harvesting the most energy from the world's oceans? The answers to these and many more lie with Tethys.

A new solution for storing hydrogen fuel for alternative energy

May 21, 2014 2:13 pm | News | Comments

An international team of researchers have figured out a new way of storing and releasing hydrogen by making a unique crystal phase of a material containing lithium, boron and the key ingredient, hydrogen. To check how they could get the hydrogen back out of the material, the scientists heated it and found that it released hydrogen easily, quickly and only traces of unwanted by-products.

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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.

A new way to harness waste heat

May 21, 2014 7:55 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Vast amounts of excess heat are generated by industrial processes and by electric power plants; researchers around the world have spent decades seeking ways to harness some of this wasted energy. Most such efforts have focused on thermoelectric devices, solid-state materials that can produce electricity from a temperature gradient, but the efficiency of such devices is limited by the availability of materials.

Planting the “SEEDS” of solar technology in the home

May 20, 2014 2:35 pm | News | Comments

In an effort to better understand what persuades people to buy photovoltaic systems for their homes, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are gathering data on consumer motivations that can feed computer models and thus lead to greater use of solar energy. A primary goal of the project is to help increase the nation’s share of solar energy in the electricity market from its current share of less than .05% to at least 14% by 2030.

Team visualizes complex electronic state

May 19, 2014 7:35 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A material called sodium manganese dioxide has shown promise for use in electrodes in rechargeable batteries. Now a team of researchers has produced the first detailed visualization—down to the level of individual atoms—of exactly how the material behaves during charging and discharging, in the process elucidating an exotic molecular state that may help in understanding superconductivity.

Roadmap shows how to improve lignocellulosic biofuel biorefining

May 16, 2014 8:00 am | by Brett Israel, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

When making cellulosic ethanol from plants, one problem is what to do with a woody agricultural waste product called lignin. The old adage in the pulp industry has been that one can make anything from lignin except money. A new review article in Science points the way toward a future where lignin is transformed from a waste product into valuable materials such as low-cost carbon fiber for cars or bio-based plastics.

Silly Putty material inspires better batteries

May 16, 2014 7:56 am | by Sean Nealon, UC Riverside | News | Comments

Using a material found in Silly Putty and surgical tubing, a group of researchers at the Univ. of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering have developed a new way to make lithium-ion batteries that will last three times longer between charges compared to the current industry standard. The innovation involves the development of silicon dioxide nanotube anodes.

High-flying turbine produces more power

May 15, 2014 7:40 am | by Rob Matheson, MIT News Office | News | Comments

For Altaeros Energies, a startup launched out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the sky’s the limit when it comes to wind power. Founded by alumni Ben Glass and Adam Rein, Altaeros has developed the world’s first commercial airborne wind turbine, which uses a helium-filled shell to float as high as a skyscraper and capture the stronger, steadier winds available at that altitude.

Scientists unleash highest-energy beam ever at Jefferson Lab

May 14, 2014 2:22 pm | News | Comments

The Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has achieved the final two accelerator commissioning milestones needed for approval to start experimental operations following its first major upgrade. In the early hours of May 7, the machine delivered its highest-energy beams ever, 10.5 billion electron-volts through the entire accelerator.

In the wake of high-profile battery fires, a safer approach emerges

May 14, 2014 9:36 am | News | Comments

As news reports of lithium-ion battery (LIB) fires in Boeing Dreamliner planes and Tesla electric cars remind us, these batteries, which are in everyday portable devices, like tablets and smartphones, have their downsides. Now, scientists have designed a safer kind of lithium battery component that is far less likely to catch fire and still promises effective performance.

Ames Lab creates multifunctional nanoparticles for cheaper, cleaner biofuel

May 13, 2014 7:31 am | News | Comments

Scientists at Ames Laboratory have developed a nanoparticle that is able to perform two processing functions at once for the production of green diesel, an alternative fuel created from the hydrogenation of oils from renewable feedstocks like algae. The method is a departure from the established process of producing biodiesel, which is accomplished by reacting fats and oils with alcohols.

Getting more electricity out of solar cells

May 8, 2014 8:00 am | by Nancy W. Stauffer, MIT Energy Initiative | News | Comments

When sunlight shines on today’s solar cells, much of the incoming energy is given off as waste heat rather than electrical current. In a few materials, however, extra energy produces extra electrons—behavior that could significantly increase solar-cell efficiency. A team has now identified the mechanism by which that phenomenon happens, yielding new design guidelines for using those special materials to make high-efficiency solar cells.

Driverless car test site gets industry partners

May 6, 2014 10:21 am | by David Runk, Associated Press | News | Comments

General Motors, Ford and Toyota are joining the Univ. of Michigan in establishing a testing site for driverless cars that will simulate a cityscape, and will work with the school to help make such vehicles commercially viable, officials announced Tuesday. The Michigan Mobility Transformation Center's 32-acre testing site near the Ann Arbor school's North Campus is scheduled to be completed this fall.

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