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MSU advances algae’s viability as a biofuel

February 26, 2014 10:05 am | News | Comments

Laboratory success doesn’t always translate to real-world success. A team of Michigan State Univ. scientists, however, has invented a new technology that increases the odds of helping algae-based biofuels cross that gap and come closer to reality. The environmental photobioreactor (ePBR) system is the world’s first standard algae growing platform, one that simulates dynamic natural environments.

Superabsorbing design may lower manufacturing cost of thin-film solar cells

February 26, 2014 7:42 am | by Matt Shipman, News Services, North Carolina State Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers from North Carolina State Univ. have developed a superabsorbing design that may significantly improve the light absorption efficiency of thin-film solar cells and drive down manufacturing costs. The superabsorbing design could decrease the thickness of the semiconductor materials used in thin-film solar cells by more than one order of magnitude without compromising the capability of solar light absorption.

Nanotechnology may be key to solar energy and energy storage

February 25, 2014 1:40 pm | News | Comments

A new study from the International Electrotechnical Commission and the Fraunhofer Institute in Europe has found that nanotechnology will bring significant benefits to the energy sector, especially to energy storage and solar energy. Improved materials efficiency and reduced manufacturing costs are just two of the real economic benefits that nanotechnology already brings these fields and that’s only the beginning.

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Team converts sugarcane to a cold-tolerant, oil-producing crop

February 24, 2014 11:23 am | by Diana Yates, Univ. of Illinois | News | Comments

A multi-institutional team reports that it can increase sugarcane’s geographic range, boost its photosynthetic rate by 30% and turn it into an oil-producing crop for biodiesel production. These are only the first steps in a bigger initiative that will turn the highly productive sugarcane and sorghum crop plants into even more productive, oil-generating plants.

New, inexpensive production materials boost promise of hydrogen fuel

February 24, 2014 8:36 am | by Chris Barncard, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Generating electricity is not the only way to turn sunlight into energy we can use on demand. The sun can also drive reactions to create chemical fuels, such as hydrogen, that can in turn power cars and trains. The trouble with solar fuel production is the cost of producing the sun-capturing semiconductors and the catalysts to generate fuel.

Sun powers complex cancer test for remote regions

February 21, 2014 8:19 am | by Blaine Friedlander, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

From the sun, a solution: Cornell Univ. and Weill Cornell Medical College researchers have remodeled an energy-intensive medical test, designed to detect a deadly skin cancer related to HIV infections, to create a quick diagnostic assay perfect for remote regions of the world. By harnessing the sun’s power and employing a smartphone application, medical technicians may now handily administer reliable assays for Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Nanopillars could improve conversion of heat to electricity

February 21, 2014 7:36 am | News | Comments

Univ. of Colorado Boulder scientists have found a creative way to radically improve thermoelectric materials, a finding that could one day lead to the development of improved solar panels and more energy-efficient cooling equipment. The technique, building an array of tiny pillars on top of a sheet of thermoelectric material, represents an entirely new way of attacking a century-old problem.

Microscopy system delivers real-time view of battery electrochemistry

February 19, 2014 3:17 pm | News | Comments

Using a new microscopy method, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) can image and measure electrochemical processes in batteries in real time and at nanoscale resolution. Scientists at ORNL used a miniature electrochemical liquid cell that is placed in a transmission electron microscope to study an enigmatic phenomenon in lithium-ion batteries called the solid electrolyte interphase.

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Research: U.K. failing to harness its bioenergy potential

February 19, 2014 10:26 am | by Aeron Haworth, Media Relations, The Univ. of Manchester | News | Comments

The U.K. could generate almost half its energy needs from biomass sources, including household waste, agricultural residues and home-grown biofuels by 2050, new research suggests. Scientists from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at The Univ. of Manchester found that the U.K. could produce up to 44% of its energy by these means without the need to import.

CASL, Westinghouse simulate neutron behavior in AP1000 reactor core

February 19, 2014 8:06 am | News | Comments

Scientists and engineers developing more accurate approaches to analyzing nuclear power reactors have successfully tested a new suite of computer codes that closely model neutronics, the behavior of neutrons in a reactor core. A team from Westinghouse used the Virtual Environment for Reactor Applications core simulator (VERA-CS) to analyze its AP1000 advanced pressurized water reactor (PWR).

Solar-induced hybrid fuel cell produces electricity directly from biomass

February 19, 2014 7:45 am | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Although low-temperature fuel cells powered by methanol or hydrogen have been well studied, existing low-temperature fuel cell technologies can’t directly use biomass as a fuel because of the lack of an effective catalyst system for polymeric materials. Now, researchers have developed a new type of low-temperature fuel cell that directly converts biomass to electricity with assistance from a catalyst activated by solar or thermal energy.

Study indicates improvements needed in handling methane emissions

February 19, 2014 7:23 am | News | Comments

A new study led by the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis says that the total impact of switching to natural gas depends heavily on leakage of methane during the natural gas life cycle, and suggests that more can be done to reduce methane emissions and to improve measurement tools which help inform policy choices.

Artificial leaf jumps developmental hurdle

February 18, 2014 11:00 am | News | Comments

In a recent early online edition of Nature Chemistry, Arizona State Univ. scientists, along with colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory, have reported advances toward perfecting a functional artificial leaf. Designing an artificial leaf that uses solar energy to convert water cheaply and efficiently into hydrogen and oxygen is one of the goals of BISfuel.

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Pomegranate-inspired design solves problems for lithium-ion batteries

February 18, 2014 8:46 am | News | Comments

An electrode designed like a pomegranate—with silicon nanoparticles clustered like seeds in a tough carbon rind—overcomes several remaining obstacles to using silicon for a new generation of lithium-ion batteries, say its inventors at Stanford Univ. and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

A battery small enough to be injected, energetic enough to track salmon

February 18, 2014 8:36 am | News | Comments

Scientists have created a microbattery that packs twice the energy compared to current microbatteries used to monitor the movements of salmon through rivers in the Pacific Northwest and around the world. The battery, a cylinder just slightly larger than a long grain of rice, is certainly not the world's smallest battery, as engineers have created batteries far tinier than the width of a human hair. 

Huge U.S. thermal plant opens as industry grows

February 14, 2014 11:43 am | by Brian Skoloff and Michael R. Blood, Associated Press | News | Comments

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which sprawls across roughly 5 square miles of federal land near the California-Nevada border, formally opened on Feb. 13 after years of regulatory and legal tangles ranging from relocating protected tortoises to assessing the impact on Mojave milkweed and other plants. The plant, the world’s largest of its type, will test a balance between conservation and green energy growth.

Study: America's natural gas system is leaky and in need of a fix

February 14, 2014 8:05 am | by Mark Golden, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

The first thorough comparison of evidence for natural gas system leaks confirms that organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have underestimated U.S. methane emissions generally, as well as those from the natural gas industry specifically.

Research reveals give-and-take of urban temperature mitigating technologies

February 13, 2014 1:41 pm | News | Comments

Greenhouse-gas induced warming and megapolitan expansion are both significant drivers of our warming planet, but how well adaptation technologies, such as cool roofs and green roofs, perform remains uncertain. Now, a team of researchers has begun exploring the relative effectiveness of some of the most common adaptation technologies aimed at reducing warming from urban expansion.

Study: Renewable energy won’t fix Abu Dhabi’s consumption problem

February 13, 2014 1:15 pm | News | Comments

Abu Dhabi’s recent expensive renewable energy venture will neither allow the United Arab Emirates to forgo construction of conventional energy generation, nor will it provide more than a token reduction in carbon-emissions growth, according to a new paper from Rice Univ.’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Possible explanation for light-degradation silicon solar cells

February 13, 2014 10:19 am | by Ralf Butscher, Helmholtz Center | News | Comments

An undesired effect in thin film amorphous silicon solar cells has puzzled the scientific community for the last 40 years. This effect, known as light-induced degradation, is responsible for reducing solar cell efficiency over time. Researchers in Germany have recently demonstrated that tiny voids within the silicon network are partly responsible for 10 to 15% efficiency loss as soon as they are used.

NIF experiments show initial gain in fusion fuel

February 12, 2014 1:28 pm | by Breanna Bishop, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

Ignition has long been considered the "holy grail" of inertial confinement fusion science. A key step along the path to ignition is to have "fuel gains" greater than unity, where the energy generated through fusion reactions exceeds the amount of energy deposited into the fusion fuel. Though ignition remains the ultimate goal, the milestone of achieving fuel gains greater than one has been reached for the first time ever on any facility.

Report: Plastic shopping bags make a fine diesel fuel

February 12, 2014 1:15 pm | by Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

Plastic shopping bags, an abundant source of litter on land and at sea, can be converted into diesel, natural gas and other useful petroleum products, researchers report. The conversion produces significantly more energy than it requires and results in transportation fuels that can be blended with existing ultra-low-sulfur diesels and biodiesels. Other products, such as natural gas and gasoline also can be obtained from shopping bags.

NREL report finds similar value in two concentrating solar technologies

February 12, 2014 10:04 am | News | Comments

Parabolic troughs and dry-cooled towers deliver similar value for concentrating solar power (CSP) plants, despite different solar profiles, a new report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has found. The report found that the value of delivered energy of dry-cooled tower and parabolic trough CSP plants, integrated with thermal energy storage, are quite similar.

Waste from age-old paper industry becomes new source of solid fuel

February 12, 2014 9:47 am | News | Comments

In today’s search for renewable energy sources, researchers are turning to the high-tech, from solar and hydrogen fuel cells, and the very low-tech. The latest example of a low-tech alternative comes from an age-old industry: paper. A new study reveals a sustainable way to turn the huge amounts of waste from paper production into solid fuel with the added bonus of diverting the sludge from overflowing landfills.

Roots to shoots: Hormone transport in plants deciphered

February 11, 2014 8:32 am | News | Comments

Plant growth is orchestrated by a spectrum of signals from hormones within a plant. A major group of plant hormones called cytokinins originate in the roots of plants, and their journey to growth areas on the stem and in leaves stimulates plant development. Though these phytohormones have been identified in the past, the molecular mechanism responsible for their transportation within plants was previously poorly understood. Until now.

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