Posts belonging to Category green power

Efficient, Low-Cost Catalyst To Produce Hydrogen

A nanostructured composite material developed at UC Santa Cruz has shown impressive performance as a catalyst for the electrochemical splitting of water to produce hydrogen. An efficient, low-cost catalyst is essential for realizing the promise of hydrogen as a clean, environmentally friendly fuel.

Researchers led by Shaowei Chen, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz, have been investigating the use of carbon-based nanostructured materials as catalysts for the reaction that generates hydrogen from water. In one recent study, they obtained good results by incorporating ruthenium ions into a sheet-like nanostructure composed of carbon nitride. Performance was further improved by combining the ruthenium-doped carbon nitride with graphene, a sheet-like form of carbon, to form a layered composite.

The bonding chemistry of ruthenium with nitrogen in these nanostructured materials plays a key role in the high catalytic performance,” Chen said. “We also showed that the stability of the catalyst is very good.”

Currently, the most efficient catalysts for the electrochemical reaction that generates hydrogen from water are based on platinum, which is scarce and expensive. Carbon-based materials have shown promise, but their performance has not come close to that of platinum-based catalysts.

In the new composite material developed by Chen’s lab, the ruthenium ions embedded in the carbon nitride nanosheets change the distribution of electrons in the matrix, creating more active sites for the binding of protons to generate hydrogen. Adding graphene to the structure further enhances the redistribution of electrons.

The new findings were published in ChemSusChem.


Thin And Highly Insulating Walls Lower Heating Costs

Better thermal insulation means lower heating costs – but this should not be at the expense of exciting architecture. A new type of brick filled with aerogel could make thin and highly insulating walls possible in the future – without any additional insulation layer.

The calculation is simple: the better a building is insulated, the less heat is lost in winter – and the less energy is needed to achieve a comfortable room temperature. No wonder, then, that the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) regularly raises the requirements for building insulation.

In order to achieve the same insulation values as a 165 mm thick wall of aerobricks, a wall of perlite bricks must be 263 mm thick – and a wall of non-insulating bricks even more than one meter!

Traditionally, the insulating layers are applied to the finished walls. Increasingly, however, self-insulating bricks are being used – saving both work steps and costs and opening up new architectural possibilities. Insulating bricks offer a workable compromise between mechanical and thermal properties and are also suited for multi-storey buildings. They are already available on the market in numerous models: some have multiple air-filled chambers, others have larger cavities filled with insulating materials such as pearlite, mineral wool or polystyrene. Their thermal conductivity values differ depending on the structure and filling material. In order to reach the insulation values of walls with seperate insulating layers, the insulating bricks are usually considerably thicker than normal bricks.

Empa researchers have now replaced Perlite in insulating bricks with Aerogel: a highly porous solid with very high thermal insulation properties that can withstand temperatures of up to 300°C (see box). It is not a novel material for the researchers: they have already used it to develop a high-performance insulating plaster which, among other things, allows historical buildings to be renovated energetically without affecting their appearance.

Together with his colleagues, Empa researcher Jannis Wernery from the research department «Building Energy Materials and Components» has developed a paste-like mixture of aerogel particles to be used as filler material for the brick. «The material can easily be filled into the cavities and then joins with the clay of the bricks», says Wernery. «The aerogel stays in the bricks – you can work with them as usual.» The «Aerobrick» was born.


New Robust Oilseed Crop Resists Drought

University of Copenhagen (Denmark) and the global player Bayer CropScience have successfully developed a new oilseed crop that is much more resistant to heat, drought and diseases than oilseed rape. The breakthrough is big and it will feature as cover story of the April issue of Nature Biotechnology.


Oilseed rape does not grow very well in warm and dry areas. We are very happy that we have succeeded in using a groundbreaking technology on a mustard plant, which is a close relative to rape. The result is an oilseed crop with improved agronomic traits that is tolerant to global warming. The new crop will enable cultivation in areas that today is not suitable for oilseed crops, such as the Western part of Canada, parts of Eastern Europe, Australia and India”, explains Professor Barbara Ann Halkier, Head of DynaMo Center of Excellence, University of Copenhagen, is one of the scientists who has worked on developing a new oilseed crop with better properties.

The mustard plant is similar to oilseed rape in many ways. It looks like a rape plant and its oil has the same attractive features with high content of mono– and polyunsaturated fatty acids e.g. omega-3 and -6 plus antioxidants and vitamins. However, it is also a lot more robust when grown under arid conditions and upon exposure to diseases. Mustard is therefore an obvious candidate to replace oilseed rape.

Until now it has been an undefeatable challenge that mustard seeds are full of the bitter defense compounds that give mustard its characteristic flavor. Consequently, the protein-rich seed meal that remains after the oil is pressed out of the seeds is useless as animal feed,” adds Barbara Ann Halkier.

In close collaboration with Bayer CropScience – one of the major global players within plant biotechnology and breeding – she and other scientists from the DynaMo Center have found an original solution to this problem.


In 2025 Humanity Could Benefit From A Major New Source Of Clean Power

An international project to generate energy from nuclear fusion has reached a key milestone, with half of the infrastructure required now built. Bernard Bigot, the director-general of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter), the main facility of which is based in southern France, said the completion of half of the project meant the effort was back on track, after a series of difficulties. This would mean that power could be produced from the experimental site from 2025.

Nuclear fusion occurs when two atoms combine to form a new atom and a neutron. The atoms are fired into a plasma where extreme temperatures overcome their repulsion and forces them together. The fusion releases about four times the energy produced when an atom is split in conventional nuclear fission

The effort to bring nuclear fusion power closer to operation is backed by some of the world’s biggest developed and emerging economies, including the EU, the US, China, India, Japan, Korea and Russia. However, a review of the long-running project in 2013 found problems with its running and organisation. This led to the appointment of Bigot, and a reorganisation that subsequent reviews have broadly endorsed.

Fusion power is one of the most sought-after technological goals in the pursuit of clean energy. Nuclear fusion is the natural phenomenon that powers the sun, converting hydrogen into helium atoms through a process that occurs at extreme temperatures.

Replicating that process on earth at sufficient scale could unleash more energy than is likely to be needed by humanity, but the problem is creating the extreme conditions necessary for such reactions to occur, harnessing the resulting energy in a useful way, and controlling the reactions once they have been induced.

The Iter project aims to use hydrogen fusion, controlled by large superconducting magnets, to produce massive heat energy which would drive turbines – in a similar way to the coal-fired and gas-fired power stations of today – that would produce electricity. This would produce power free from carbon emissions, and potentially at low cost, if the technology can be made to work at a large scale.

For instance, according to Iter scientists, an amount of hydrogen the size of a pineapple could be used to produce as much energy as 10,000 tonnes of coal.


Nano-based Air Purifier Destroys Pollutants

Molekule, a San Francisco-based startup with a sleekly designed molecular air purifier started as an immigrant dream twenty years ago and ended up being named one of Time’s top 25 inventions of 2017. The inventor Yogi Goswami came up with the idea when his baby son Dilip started having a hard time breathing the air around him. Dilip suffered from severe asthma but no air purifier at the time seemed to work well enough to clean up indoor pollutants. Traditional HEPA filters simply trap a few pollutants but they don’t grab everything and they don’t break them down before releasing them back into the air.

So, Goswami the elder came up with a filter technology that could both suck up things like allergens, mold and bacteria and particles up to one-thousand times smaller than what a HEPA filter can catch using photo electrochemical oxidation (PECO) and nanotechnology to destroy the pollutants on a molecular level and eliminate the full spectrum of indoor air pollutants. The result? Clean, breathable air that even the most sensitive person can handle. Dilip and his sister Jaya Goswami patented the tech and founded Molekule to bring their father’s invention to the rest of us.

The company now ships a stylish $800, two-foot-tall cylinder with the patented filter inside. Sure, it’s a lot pricier than most filters out there but the company also offers financing at $67 a month. It was also instrumental in helping folks breathe during the Northern California wildfires this fall. Jaya mentioned Molekule’s inventory was completely depleted during that time and that the company couldn’t ship fast enough — the product is still backordered till January 3rd, 2018. So far Molekule has brought in just over $13 million in venture funding to keep it going.


How To Store Solar Energy In A Non-Electric Battery

Materials chemists have been trying for years to make a new type of battery that can store solar or other light-sourced energy in chemical bonds rather than electrons, one that will release the energy on demand as heat instead of electricity–addressing the need for long-term, stable, efficient storage of solar power.

Now a group of materials chemists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst led by Dhandapani Venkataraman, with Ph.D. student and first author Seung Pyo Jeong, Ph.D. students Larry Renna, Connor Boyle and others, report that they have solved one of the major hurdles in the field by developing a polymer-based system. It can yield energy storage density – the amount of energy stored – more than two times higher than previous polymer systems. Details appear in the current issue of Scientific Reports.

Venkataraman and Boyle say that previous high energy storage density achieved in a polymeric system was in the range of 200 Joules per gram, while their new system is able to reach an average of 510 Joules per gram, with a maximum of 690. Venkataraman says, “Theory says that we should be able to achieve 800 Joules per gram, but nobody could do it. This paper reports that we’ve reached one of the highest energy densities stored per gram in a polymeric system, and how we did it.”


Thermoelectric Power Generation

Thermoelectric (TE) materials could play a key role in future technologies. Although the applications of these remarkable compounds have long been explored, they are mostly limited to high-temperature devices. Recently, researchers at Osaka University, in collaboration with Hitachi, Ltd., developed a new TE material with an improved power factor at room temperature. Their study, published in Physica Status Solidi RRL, could help bring these materials out of the high-temperature niche and into the mainstream.

TE materials display the thermoelectric effect: apply heat on one side, and an electric current starts to flow. Conversely, run an external current through the device, and a  temperature gradient forms; i.e., one side becomes hotter than the other. By interconverting heat and electricity, TE materials can be used as either power generators (given a heat source) or refrigerators (given a power supply).

The ideal TE material combines high electrical conductivity, allowing the current to flow, with low thermal conductivity, which prevents the temperature gradient from evening out. The power generation performance mainly depends on the “power factor,” which is proportional to both electrical conductivity and a term called the Seebeck coefficient.

Unfortunately, most TE materials are often based on rare or toxic elements,” according to study co-author Sora-at Tanusilp. “To address this, we combined silicon – which is common in TE materials – with ytterbium, to create ytterbium silicide [YbSi2]. We chose ytterbium over other metals for several reasons. First, its compounds are good electrical conductors. Second, YbSi2 is non-toxic. Moreover, this compound has a specific property called valence fluctuation that make it a good TE material at low temperatures.


Virgin Hyperloop One’s System Over 240 mph (387 km/h)

In a recent test, Virgin Hyperloop One‘s system beat all previous speed records, hitting nearly 387 kilometers per hour (240 miles per hour). With Richard Branson now in their corner, the company could dominate the future of hyperloop transportation. On December 18, Virgin Hyperloop One announced the completion of third phase testing on the DevLoop, the world’s first full-scale hyperloop test site. During these tests, the system clocked a lightning-fast speed of nearly 387 kmh (240 mph), breaking the 355 kmh (220 mph) hyperloop speed record set by Elon Musk’s hyperloop in August.

During this phase of testing, the company experimented with using a new airlock that helps test pods transition between atmospheric and vacuum conditions. By combining magnetic levitation, extremely low aerodynamic drag, and the level of air pressure experienced at 200,000 feet above sea level, the system proved that it is capable of reaching airline speeds over long distances.


The recent phase three testing continues to prove the incredible persistence and determination of our DevLoop team — the close to 200 engineers, machinists, welders, and fabricators who collaborated to make hyperloop a reality today,” Josh Giegel, Virgin Hyperloop One’s co-founder and chief technology officer, stated in a press release announcing the new hyperloop speed record.


Gilded fuel cells boost electric car efficiency

To make modern-day fuel cells less expensive and more powerful, a team led by Johns Hopkins chemical engineers has drawn inspiration from the ancient Egyptian tradition of gilding. Egyptian artists at the time of King Tutankhamun often covered cheaper metals (copper, for instance) with a thin layer of a gleaming precious metal such as gold to create extravagant masks and jewelry. In a modern-day twist, the Johns Hopkins-led researchers have applied a tiny coating of costly platinum just one nanometer thick—100,000 times thinner than a human hair—to a core of much cheaper cobalt. This microscopic marriage could become a crucial catalyst in new fuel cells that generate electric current to power cars and other machines.

The new fuel cell design would save money because it would require far less platinum, a very rare and expensive metal that is commonly used as a catalyst in present-day fuel-cell electric cars. The researchers, who published their work earlier this year in Nano Letters, say that by making electric cars more affordable, this innovation could curb the emission of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from gasoline– or diesel-powered vehicles.

This technique could accelerate our launch out of the fossil fuel era,” said Chao Wang, a Johns Hopkins assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and senior author of the study. “It will not only reduce the cost of fuel cells. It will also improve the energy efficiency and power performance of clean electric vehicles powered by hydrogen.”

In their journal article, the authors tipped their hats to the ancient Egyptian artisans who used a similar plating technique to give copper masks and other metallic works of art a lustrous final coat of silver or gold.The idea,” Wang said, “is to put a little bit of the precious treasure on top of the cheap stuff.”

He pointed out that platinum, frequently used in jewelry, also is a critical material in modern industry. It catalyzes essential reactions in activities including petroleum processing, petrochemical synthesis, and emission control in combustion vehicles, and is used in fuel cells. But, he said, platinum’s high cost and limited availability have made its use in clean energy technologies largely impractical—until now.


Flying MotorBikes For Dubai Police

Dubai Police, already home to Lamborghini patrol cars and android officers, has decided to take to the skies in what can only be described as a flying motorbike.


The vehicle, called the Scorpion and designed by Russian tech company Hoversurf, relies on four propellers to stay airborne, with the rider crouched precariously close to the exposed blades. Capable of 40 mph and a travel time of 25 minutes, the single-seat craft, which can carry 600 lbs, can also operate autonomously.

After appearing at tech shows earlier this year, Dubai Police has decided to add one to its list of cutting-edge gadgets, all part of the force’s “smart city” plans.

Unveiled at Dubai’s Gitex Technology show, the Scorpion was presented alongside a new electric motorbike concept by Japanese firm Mikasa — firmly rooted to the ground, but with a top speed of 124 mph according to the police and looking like something out of the film “Tron.”

Budweiser Orders 40 Tesla Electric Trucks

The list of companies placing orders for Tesla Semi electric trucks keeps growing weeks after the unveiling event last month. Now Anheuser-Busch, the brewer behind Budweiser, announced that it ordered 40 Tesla Semi trucks. Last week, DHL confirmed an order of 10 trucks – bringing the tally to just over 200 Tesla Semi trucks. The brewer says that it will include the electric trucks in its distribution network as part of its commitment to reduce its operational carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2025. Considering the size of their distribution network, they say that it would be the equivalent of removing nearly 500,000 cars from the road globally each year.

At Anheuser-Busch, we are constantly seeking new ways to make our supply chain more sustainable, efficient, and innovative. This investment in Tesla semi-trucks helps us achieve these goals while improving road safety and lowering our environmental impact,” commented James Sembrot, Senior Director of Logistics Strategy.

Tesla Semi is actually only one part of Anheuser-Busch’s effort to modernize its fleet. They also confirmed orders from Nikola Motors for their battery/fuel cell hydrogen trucks and Uber’s Otto autonomous trucks.

Last year, Uber’s Otto completed its first shipment by self-driving truck with an autonomous beer run with Budweiser.


3D-Printed Plastic Objects Connect To The Internet Without Any Electronics

Researchers from the University of Washington (UW) have developed 3D-printed plastic objects that can connect to the internet without any electronics or batteries. The researchers found a way to 3D-print plastic objects that can absorb or reflect ambient WiFi signals and send data wirelessly to any WiFi receiver like a smartphone or router.

Possible use cases include an attachment for laundry detergent that can sense when soap is running low, or a water sensor that notifies your smartphone when there is a leak.

As the UW explains in its news release, the researchers “replaced some functions normally performed by electrical components with mechanical motion activated by springs, gears, switches and other parts that can be 3-D printed — borrowing from principles that allow battery-free watches to keep time.” The scientists found that those mechanical motions can trigger gears and springs that connect to an antenna, all within the object.
The team opens new approach: “Can objects made of plastic materials be connected to smartphones and other Wi-Fi devices, without the need for batteries or electronics? A positive answer would enable a rich ecosystem of ‘talking objects3D printed with commodity plastic filaments that have the ability to sense and interact with their surroundings. Imagine plastic sliders or knobs that can enable rich physical interaction by dynamically sending information to a nearby Wi-Fi receiver to control music volume and lights in a room. This can also transform inventory management where for instance a plastic detergent bottle can self-monitor usage and re-order supplies via a nearby Wi-Fi device.
Such a capability democratizes the vision of ubiquitous connectivity by enabling designers to download and use our computational modules, without requiring the engineering expertise to integrate radio chips and other electronics in their physical creations. Further, as the commoditization of 3D printers continues, such a communication capability opens up the potential for individuals to print highly customized wireless sensors, widgets and objects that are tailored to their individual needs and connected to the Internet ecosystem