When it comes to biofuels, corn leads the all-important category of biomass yield. However, focusing solely on yield comes at a high price, scientists say. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers show that looking at the big picture allows other biofuel crops, such as native perennial grasses, to score higher as viable alternatives.
Humans have for ages taken cues from nature to build their own devices, but duplicating the steps in the complicated electronic dance of photosynthesis remains one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for chemists. Currently, the most efficient methods we have for making fuel from sunlight and water involve rare and expensive metal catalysts. However, that is about to change.
Researchers have shown how to increase the efficiency of thin-film solar cells, a technology that could bring low-cost solar energy. The approach uses 3-D photonic crystals to absorb more sunlight than conventional thin-film cells. The synthetic crystals possess a structure called an inverse opal to make use of and enhance properties found in the gemstones to reflect, diffract and bend incoming sunlight.
Researchers in Texas have designed a micro-windmill that generates wind energy and may become an innovative solution to cell phone batteries constantly in need of recharging. A single grain of rice could hold about 10 of these tiny windmills, and hundreds of them could be embedded in a sleeve for a cell phone.
It's known that electric vehicles could travel longer distances before needing to charge and more renewable energy could be saved for a rainy day if lithium-sulfur batteries can just overcome a few technical hurdles. Now, a novel design for a critical part of the battery has been shown to significantly extend the technology's lifespan, bringing it closer to commercial use.
Lithium batteries, with their exceptional ability to store power per a given weight, have been a major focus of research to enable use in everything from portable electronics to electric cars. Now researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brookhaven National Laboratory have found a whole new avenue for such research: the use of disordered materials, which had generally been considered unsuitable for batteries.
Much of the naturally occurring radioactivity in fracking wastewater might be removed by blending it with another wastewater from acid mine drainage, according to a Duke Univ.-led study. Blending fracking wastewater with acid mine drainage also could help reduce the depletion of local freshwater resources by giving drillers a source of usable recycled water for the hydraulic fracturing process.
The number of countries possessing the makings of a nuclear bomb has dropped by almost one-quarter over the past two years, but there remain "dangerous weak links" in nuclear materials security that could be exploited by terrorist groups with potentially catastrophic results, according to a U.S. study released Wednesday.
By replacing platinum with molybdenum in photoelectrochemical cells, scientists from two Swiss labs have developed a cheaper and scalable technique that can greatly improve hydrogen production through water splitting as a means of storing solar energy.
The debate over exporting liquefied natural gas is intensifying as the Energy Dept. considers an array of applications to ship the fuel to Japan, India and other countries where prices are far higher than in the United States. Some large manufacturers that use natural gas say the department is moving too quickly to approve gas exports, pushing the U.S. into a "danger zone" that could raise prices and harm the economy.
Researchers have developed a simple, effective and relatively inexpensive technique for removing lignin from the plant material used to make biofuels, which may drive down the cost of biofuel production. Lignin, nature’s way of protecting plant cell walls, is difficult to break down or remove from biomass. However, that lignin needs to be extracted in order to reach the energy-rich cellulose that is used to make biofuels.
According to a new study by Univ. of California, Berkeley researchers, population-dense cities contribute less greenhouse-gas emissions per person than other areas of the country, but these cities’ extensive suburbs essentially wipe out the climate benefits. Suburbs account for about 50% of all household emissions in the United States.
Researchers from North Carolina State Univ. and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have found an easy way to modify the molecular structure of a polymer commonly used in solar cells. Their modification can increase solar cell efficiency by more than 30%. Polymer-based solar cells have two domains, consisting of an electron acceptor and an electron donor material.
Researchers from North Carolina State Univ. and Johns Hopkins Univ. have found that an increase in the use of wind power generation can make the power grid more fragile and susceptible to disruptions. But the researchers didn’t just identify the problem; they have also devised a technique for coordinating wind power generation and energy storage in order to minimize the potential for such power disruptions.
In a recent achievement, Cui Qiu, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology, turned a few shy members of the Clostridium germ family into highly productive workers. Some chewed up wood fiber and churned out sugar, while others ate the sugar and made ethanol. These small creatures could bring huge changes to the world, Cui says.
America's newest, most expensive coal-fired power plant is hailed as one of the cleanest on the planet, thanks to government-backed technology that removes carbon dioxide and keeps it out of the atmosphere. But once the carbon is stripped away, it will be used to do something that is not so green at all. It will extract oil.
For millions of homes, plants, wood and other types of “biomass” serve as an essential source of fuel, especially in developing countries, but their mercury content has raised flags among environmentalists and researchers. Scientists are now reporting that among dozens of sources of biomass, processed pellets burned under realistic conditions in China emit relatively low levels of the potentially harmful substance.
A group of researchers at Carnegie Mellon Univ. is banking on the efficiency of an environmentally friendly alternative to large hydroelectric operations. Known as hydrokinetic or run-of-the-river power extraction, the new method harvests a small portion of kinetic energy in the river at multiple locations. They are building multi-scale hierarchical models for analyzing large-scale river networks, hydropower project placement, and control.
Researchers at Purdue Univ. have successfully tested the conversion of large particles of pinewood char in a gasification process, a step necessary for the mass production of synthetic liquid fuel from recalcitrant biomass. The results stemmed from a series of experiments using a new facility at Purdue's Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories aimed at learning precisely how biomass is broken down in reactors called gasifiers.
The sound vibrations that make up music can make solar panels work harder, according to new research, and pop music performs better than classical. Scientists showed that high pitched sounds like those common in pop and rock music caused the greatest improvement in the solar cells' power output, increasing it by up to 40%.
Engineers have created a continuous chemical process that produces useful crude oil minutes after they pour in harvested algae—a verdant green paste with the consistency of pea soup. The research by engineers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory was reported in Algal Research. A biofuels company, Utah-based Genifuel Corp., has licensed the technology and is working with an industrial partner to build a pilot plant using the technology.
Blending ethanol into fuel to cut air pollution from vehicles carries a hidden risk that toxic or even explosive gases may find their way into buildings. The problems would likely occur in buildings with cracked foundations that happen to be in the vicinity of fuel spills. Vapors that rise from contaminated groundwater can be sucked inside; and, once there, trapped pools of methane could ignite and toxic hydrocarbons causing health issues.
Researchers are developing a new kind of geothermal power plant that will lock away unwanted carbon dioxide underground and use it as a tool to boost electric power generation by at least 10 times compared to existing geothermal energy approaches. The technology to implement this design already exists in different industries, so the researchers are optimistic that their new approach could expand the use of geothermal energy in the U.S.
Researchers have tuned coherence in organic nanostructures due to the surprise discovery of wave-like electrons in organic materials, revealing the key to generating long-lived charges in organic solar cells. By using an ultra-fast camera, scientists have observed the very first instants following the absorption of light into artificial, organic nanostructures and found that charges formed rapidly and separated quickly over long distances.
A unique solar panel design made with a new ceramic material points the way to potentially providing sustainable power cheaper, more efficiently, and requiring less manufacturing time. It also reaches a four-decade-old goal of discovering a bulk photovoltaic material that can harness energy from visible and infrared light, not just ultraviolet light.