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The Race for Solar

Light Trapping Innovation Lifts Solar Cell Efficiency To 45 Percent

December 3rd 2015

Solar Panels

Florida State University (FSU) researchers claim they are a step closer to making solar cells more effective at trapping and using light. In a paper published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Kenneth Hanson and his team have introduced a new strategy for generating more efficient solar cells. The team is composed of post-doctoral researcher Tanmay Banerjee and graduate students Sean Hill and Tristan Dilbeck.

Using the FSU process in an optimized solar cell the researchers claim they can increase the maximum efficiency from 33 percent to more than 45 percent.
“We’re looking not only for new materials but also new light harvesting processes to make solar cells better,” explained Hanson. Though solar cells have grown in popularity, they are still not widely used by the general public as an energy source due to their high cost and low efficiency. A typical solar cell, at maximum, converts less than 33 percent of light into electricity, so researchers have been working to find ways to surpass this limit and make cells more efficient. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Google's Project Sunroof Makes Solar Power Easier

August 19th 2015

Sunrise or Sunset

Google has announced its latest project - Project Sunroof - which is designed to make it easier for people to install solar panels in their homes. Using Google's mapping and computing resources, Project Sunroof offers users personalized roof analyses to help them calculate the best solar plan based on their individual roofs and locations. Once supplied with a user's address, the site provides user-specific data on the amount of usable sunlight that hits the roof per year, which parts of the house receive the most sunlight, the amount of space available on the home for solar panels, and the amount of money that could be saved by switching to solar.

The site takes into account the following data when computing its results: Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Israeli Nat Gas Committee Changes Rules

July 28th 2015


Members of the gas outline hearing committee met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, only two days before the Prime Minister plans to bring the outline to the government's approval and they told him that changes are needed in the outline. Committee members who ended the public hearing that lasted three weeks asked to launch a new round of talks with the gas companies.

Committee members explained that they think the outline should move forward, but with changes in the price issue and in the issue of reservoir development. The most significant change the committee members demand is the price.  The price that was set in the outline they think is too high and the monitoring mechanism is "too soft." They suggested two possible solutions: either lower the gas price or toughen the monitoring mechanism, so that the price will not rise dramatically in the coming years.

The committee members were also concerned by the Israeli dependency on a single gas pipe – the Tamar gas field pipe. As an answer for this problem, the committee suggested imposing more sanctions on the private companies if those do not develop the Leviathan gas field. An additional possibility that was raised after the hearing was to give more incentives to smaller companies so that they buy and develop the Tanin and the Karish gas fields. Netanyahu will meet the committee members again tonight. Meetings with the companies’ representatives may take place as early as tomorrow in order to promote the changes and bring them to the governments’ approval. Read more ..

After Fukushima

Fukushima Operator Did Not Act Preventively Against Tsunami

June 21st 2015

fukushima reactor smoke

The operator of Japan’s ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was aware of the need to improve the facility’s defences against tsunami more than two years before the March 2011 disaster but failed to take action, according to an internal company document.

The revelation casts doubt on claims by Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) that it had done everything possible to protect the plant, which suffered a triple meltdown after being struck by a towering tsunami.

The nuclear accident, the world’s worst since Chernobyl 25 years earlier, caused massive radiation leaks and forced the evacuation of more than 150,000 people, most of whom have yet to return to their homes.


The Race for EVs

General Motors Targets Tesla with EV Launches

June 9th 2015

Electric car Israel

GM has unveiled a concept version of the Bolt at this week's Detroit automotive show. The Chevy Bolt features a battery manufactured by South Korea’s LG Chem Ltd. and is targeting the company's rival EV maker, Tesla Motors' Model 3, which is a $35,000 electric car also scheduled to debut in 2017. The Bolt will be capable of driving four times farther than a Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid on a single charge.

“The Bolt EV concept is a game-changing electric vehicle designed for attainability, not exclusivity,” said General Motors CEO Mary Barra. “Chevrolet believes electrification is a pillar of future transportation and needs to be affordable for a wider segment of customers.”

Bolt drivers will be able to select operating modes designed around preferred driving styles such as daily commuting and spirited weekend cruising, for uncompromising electric driving. The modes adjust accelerator pedal mapping, vehicle ride height and suspension tuning. The Bolt EV concept is also designed to support DC fast charging. Read more ..

The Race for Biogas

Backyard Unit Eats Trash to make Biofuel

May 21st 2015

Arab Vendor

When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited the sukkah of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin during the Jewish harvest holiday last October, he was treated to a demo of a machine the government has given to Bedouin families to convert organic waste into clean biogas for cooking, heating and lighting, as well as organic liquid crop fertilizer.

"He got very excited and told us, 'Millions of women and children die each year due to indoor smoke from open fires. This is just the thing they need. The UN should be purchasing these units!' recalls Ami Amir of HomeBioGas, which develops and manufactures a new class of anaerobic biodigesters to convert organic waste to clean renewable energy. He asked us to be in touch with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization to see where and when our systems could be deployed.” Read more ..

Energy and Security

Diminished U.S. Influence in Latin America and the Future of Petrocaribe

May 9th 2015

In 2014, the Atlantic Council, a Washington D.C. based think-tank, hosted a panel discussion, “Petrocaribe, Central America, and the Caribbean: Who Will Subsidize the Future?” regarding the Venezuelan-backed energy initiative and the corresponding potential for the United States to regain some of its reduced influence in the region. The event was in conjunction with the Atlantic Council’s recent report, “Uncertain Energy: The Caribbean’s Gamble with Venezuela.” Speakers included David Goldwyn, who co-authored the report; Jorge Piñón, Director of the Center of International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin; and Jed Bailey, who authored a pre-feasibility study that considered transitioning the region to liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Petrocaribe provides Venezuelan oil and oil products at preferential financing terms to 17 member states across the Caribbean and Central America. While the program has not experienced major problems since it was first created in 2005, its future is uncertain as Venezuela grapples with its own economic challenges, including high inflation and commodity shortages. The discussion centered largely on possible scenarios for the future and Washington’s potential role should Petrocaribe weaken. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Single Material Battery Safer, Simpler and More Efficient

May 6th 2015


Engineers at the University of Maryland have created a battery that is made entirely out of one material and claims to be capable of both moving electricity and storing it.

“To my knowledge, there has never been any similar work reported,” explained Dr. Kang Xu of the Army Research Laboratory, a researcher only peripherally related to the study. “It could lead to revolutionary progress in area of solid state batteries.”

Most batteries have at either end a layer of material for the electrodes which can help move ions through the electrolyte. Chunsheng Wang, a professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and his team have made a single material that incorporates the properties of both the electrodes and electrolyte.

“Our battery is 600 microns thick, about the size of a dime, whereas conventional solid state batteries are thin films - forty times thinner. This means that more energy can be stored in our battery,” said Fudong Han, the first author of the paper and a graduate student in Wang’s group. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Electric Vehicles Still Dependent on Driving Range

April 27th 2015

Electric car Israel

Though the sales figures of electric vehicles fall short of vendor’s expectations, the number of available models will continue to climb, Predicts market researcher Frost & Sullivan. Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) are rapidly gaining market share over battery electric vehicles – driving range continues to be the decisive factor for customers.

Currently, 70 % of all available electric vehicles are battery-electric vehicles (BEVs); 25% are PHEVs. Frost & Sullivan Automotive and Transportation analyst Prajot Sathe believes that within the next three to four years the share of PHEVs will grow which translates into a faster market growth for this category compared to BEVs. The reason Sathe sees a higher demand for vehicles with high driving range. As an example, the analyst quotes BMW’s i3 which is available as a pure BEV and with an optional range extender. The latter achieves clearly higher sales figures, the release suggests. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Can Iron Fluoride Triple Energy Storage?

April 22nd 2015

Laser burst

Researchers the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a novel X-ray imaging technique to study the electrochemical reactions in lithium-ion rechargeable batteries containing iron fluoride which can store three times the energy of existing batteries.

“Iron fluoride has the potential to triple the amount of energy a conventional lithium-ion battery can store,” explained Song Jin, a UW–Madison professor of chemistry and Wisconsin Energy Institute affiliate. “However, we have yet to tap its true potential.”

Graduate student Linsen Li worked with Jin and other collaborators to perform experiments with a state-of-the-art transmission X-ray microscope at the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven. The researchers collected chemical maps from actual coin cell batteries filled with iron fluoride during battery cycling to determine how well they perform. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Solid State Thin Film Battery Market Takes Off Driven By Wireless Sensor Networks

April 13th 2015


Market research predicts that solid state thin film battery markets at $9 million in 2014 are forecast to reach $1.3 billion by 2021. Rapid growth toward the end of the forecast period is anticipated as technology improves the cost structure of the manufacturing. Solid state thin film batteries are ideal for powering energy harvesting applications. According the study, "Solid state electronics brings the same advantages to batteries as it has brought to all other industry segments it touches. Printed circuit board manufacturers are finding that they can achieve a rapid return on investment from substantially decreasing the energy costs associated with using storage by wave soldering the storage onto the boards during the manufacturing process."

The quality of energy storage is better with solid state thin film batteries. Data for thin film batteries using very thin substrates illustrate the longer cycle life that can be achieved. Applications include power bridging, permanent power, and wireless sensor networks. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Natural Gas Can be Good Fuel-- Just Find the "Super-Emitters"

April 12th 2015

Natural Gas Terminal

Gas likes to escape. That's bad news for the atmosphere when the gas in question is methane, the primary component in natural gas that is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. But burning natural gas results in half the greenhouse gas pollution than coal, making it appealing as fuel in an era of combating climate change.

Thanks to a bonanza of natural gas liberated from deep shales by new techniques, the U.S. is burning more and more of the fuel—and considering using more natural gas in more places, such as fuel for trucking. But if the amount of methane escaping is too high, such widespread use might prove a disaster for climate change. And that's why a group of scientists set out to better estimate how much methane is escaping in the U.S. To do that, they surveyed more than 200 sets of field measurements and scientific papers from the past 20 years to learn whether increasing use of natural gas could prove a climate boon or bane. Read more ..

The Edge of Solar

Record 40% Efficiency Achieved for Transparent Organic Solar Cells

April 8th 2015

Minneapolis skyline

Heliatek GmbH is claiming a new record in the efficiency of transparent solar cells.  The latest development allows transparency levels up to 40% with an efficiency of more than 7%. The company already holds the world record of 12% cell efficiency for opaque (non-transparent) organic solar cells.  

The latest generation of organic solar cells with a 40% light transparency have reached an efficiency record of 7.2%. The measurement follows standard testing conditions using a white background.  Heliatek has succeeded in generating an optimal energy conversion for transparent HeliaFilm. Currently, its opaque cells achieve 12% efficiency.  The 7.2% cells mirror the same efficiency, since the partial transparency allows the usage of 60% of the light for the energy harvesting. Depending on the application, the balance between light let through and electricity generated can be adjusted.  The production of transparent HeliaFilm is possible with the introduction of transparent conductive layers at the front- and back-side of the solar cells. Read more ..

The Edge of Solar

Solar Cell Achieves 24.4 percent Efficiency

April 1st 2015

Sunrise or Sunset

China's Trina Solar has collaborated the Australian National University's (ANU) Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems on the joint development of a new high efficiency solar cell which has achieved an efficiency of 24.4%.

Independently tested by Germany’s Fraunhofer CalLab the laboratory scale Interdigitated Back Contact (IBC) solar cell is now one of the most efficient solar cells ever tested.

Trina Solar funded the two-year research project, which involved contributions from Australian consultancy PV Lighthouse, and the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS).

The Chinese company is now developing a commercial version of the IBC cell, as well as an IBC PV module. In testing, Trina Solar’s commercial IBC cell has already achieved efficiency greater than 22% at laboratory scale. The company hopes to match the 24.4% level soon, ready in time for industrialized mass production. Read more ..

Travel Safe

Lithium Battery Shipments on Passenger Planes Face Ban

March 13th 2015

Boeing 787

Boeing Co has declared that high-density packages of lithium batteries pose fire risks and should not be carried on passenger planes until safer methods for carrying them are developed. Boeing adds another voice to the growing clamour to stop bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries on passenger aircraft. This week Reuters quoted a Boeing statement as saying that the risk is "continually increasing (and) requires action to be taken".

Boeing is part of an industry group including other plane makers such as Bombardier Inc and Airbus Group NV , that found current firefighting systems on airliners cannot "suppress or extinguish a fire involving significant quantities of lithium batteries" thereby posing an "unacceptable risk" for the industry. Read more ..

The Race for Fusion

High-Powered Lasers Can Be Used to Deliver Fusion Energy

February 15th 2015

Laser burst

The power of the sun has edged a little closer to Earth. Under x-ray assault, the rapid implosion of a plastic shell onto icy isotopes of hydrogen has produced fusion and, for the first time, 170 micrograms of this superheated fusion fuel released more energy than it absorbed. Experimental shots of the 192 lasers at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have reproduced such fusion at least four times since September 2013. The advance offers hope that someday in the far future scientists might reliably replicate the power source of the sun and stars.
"This is closer than anyone's gotten before, and it's really unique to get out of the fuel as much energy as put in," says Livermore physicist Omar Hurricane, lead author of the paper. "We got more fusion energy out of the DT fuel than we put in to the DT fuel." Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Tesla Ready for Home Battery Storage

February 13th 2015

Trendy Kitchen

Tesla Motors Inc., is planning to use the company's lithium-ion battery technology to position itself as a frontrunner in the emerging energy-storage market. Tesla's Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said: “We are going to unveil the Tesla home battery, the consumer battery that would be for use in people’s houses or businesses fairly soon”. Musk said the product unveiling would occur within the next month or two.

“We have the design done, and it should start going into production in about six months or so,” explained Musk.  Residential energy-storage units are already being offered by SolarCity Corp., a solar-power company which also lists Musk as its chairman and biggest shareholder.  Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, USA, also makes larger stationary storage systems for businesses and utility clients. Read more ..

The Race for BioFuels

Flawed Studies Support Bio-Fuels as Eco-Friendly Alternatives

February 9th 2015

Click to select Image

Nearly all of the studies used to promote biofuels as climate-friendly alternatives to petroleum fuels are flawed and need to be redone, according to a University of Michigan researcher who reviewed more than 100 papers published over more than two decades.

Once the erroneous methodology is corrected, the results will likely show that policies used to promote biofuels—such as the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard and California's Low-Carbon Fuel Standard—actually make matters worse when it comes to limiting net emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide gas.

The main problem with existing studies is that they fail to correctly account for the carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere when corn, soybeans and sugarcane are grown to make biofuels, said John DeCicco, a research professor at U-M's Energy Institute. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

'Bullet-Proof' Kevlar Membrane for Batteries Boosts Safety

February 1st 2015


New battery technology from the University of Michigan should be able to prevent the kind of fires that grounded Boeing 787 Dreamliners in 2013.

The innovation is an advanced barrier between the electrodes in a lithium-ion battery.

Made with nanofibers extracted from Kevlar, the tough material in bulletproof vests, the barrier stifles the growth of metal tendrils that can become unwanted pathways for electrical current.

A U-M team of researchers also founded Ann Arbor-based Elegus Technologies to bring this research from the lab to market. Mass production is expected to begin in the fourth quarter 2016. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Truck Fuel Cells Reduce Idling Power

January 30th 2015

Volvo truck

Researchers of the Jülich research centre are developing a new type of fuel cells. Running on diesel fuel, it will be robust enough to serve as auxiliary power supply in large trucks. The research also represents a new type of collaboration between German and Austrian entities. With a power consumption of several kilowatts, large trucks consume as much electric energy as a multi-flat house. To supply HVAC, refrigeration plant, auxiliary heating or the driver's coffee machine the vehicles often let their engines idle on motorway stations or over night. Electric generators based on fuel cell, so called Auxiliary Power Units (APUs) could help saving energy and avoid noise and harmful exhaust fumes.

High-temperature fuel cells with solid electrolyte (Solid Oxide Fuel Cell or SOFC) could be commercially interesting, since they do not need platinum. By means of a reformer interposed between fuel tank and fuel cell, SOFCs can turn usual diesel fuel into electricity. Full-ceramics cell types are already quite mature, but they suffer from a critical drawback - their brittleness prevents their usage vehicles; they simply do not survive vibrations and shocks in their location in the vehicle floor for a very long time. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Can Kevlar Prevent Lithium-ion Battery Fires?

January 29th 2015

Boeing 787

University of Michigan researchers have used nanofibers extracted from Kevlar to develop a barrier between the electrodes in a lithium-ion battery that is capable of preventing the type of fires linked with the grounding of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

Kevlar, which is the material commonly used in bulletproof vests, was used to create the barrier that stifles the growth of metal tendrils that can become unwanted pathways for electrical current and a potential source of runaway fires in lithium-ion batteries.

The University of Michigan team of researchers also founded Ann Arbor-based Elegus Technologies to bring the research work from the lab to market. Mass production is expected to begin in the fourth quarter 2016. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Next Generation EV Batteries a Step Closer

January 14th 2015

Ford Focus electric

Chemistry Professor Linda Nazar and her research team at the Faculty of Science at the University of Waterloo claim to have discovered a material that maintains a rechargeable sulphur cathode which overcomes a hurdle to building a lithium-sulphur (Li-S) battery. The proposed lithium-sulphur battery technology, which is reported in recent issue of Nature Communications, can theoretically power an electric car three times further than current lithium-ion batteries for the same weight – at much lower cost.

“This is a major step forward and brings the lithium-sulphur battery one step closer to reality,” said Nazar, who also holds the Canada Research Chair in Solid State
Energy Materials.

The Race for EVs

Toyota Boosts Electric Driving: 5600 Fuel Cell Patents Open For Free Usage

January 7th 2015

Hydrogen fueling

In a move aiming at boosting acceptance of the fuel-cell technology for electric vehicles, carmaker Toyota has announced to release more than 5.600 patents related to this technology and allow interested parties to use them without charge.

Hydrogen-based fuel cells can serve as energy source for electrically driven vehicles. Like battery-driven cars, these vehicles are not emitting any exhaust gases locally; instead of CO2 and other gases all they emit is H2O - pure water. But unlike their battery-driven counterparts, fuel cell vehicles offer driving ranges comparable to conventional cars with gasoline engines. Many OEMs including Daimler and GM are investing heavily into fuel cell development and have plans to bring the technology to series maturity.

Fracking America

Hydraulic Natural Gas Fracking Linked to 'Felt' Earth Tremor in Ohio

January 6th 2015

A new study links the March 2014 earthquakes in Poland Township, Ohio to hydraulic fracturing that activated a previously unknown fault. The induced seismic sequence included a rare felt earthquake of magnitude 3.0, according to research published online by the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America (BSSA).

In March 2014, a series of five recorded earthquakes, ranging from magnitude 2.1 to 3.0, occurred within one kilometer (0.6 miles) of a group of oil and gas wells operated by Hilcorp Energy, which was conducting active hydraulic fracturing operations at the time. Due to the proximity of a magnitude 3.0 event near a well, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) halted operations at the Hilcorp well on March 10, 2014. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Boeing Faces Calls To Re-Design Lithium-Ion Batteries

January 2nd 2015

Boeing 787

Japan's civil aviation authority (JCAB) has called for Boeing to redesign the lithium ion batteries aboard the company's 787 aircraft. The JCAB advised Boeing to adopt proposed design changes and “implement them as soon as possible”. The JCABs call for a second battery redesign goes beyond the recommendations from two previous investigations about the 2013 battery incidents by the Japan Transportation Safety Board (JTSB) and the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The JCABs latest report calls for more action from Boeing.

Lithium ion batteries used on board 787s have been shown to be responsible for three reported cell venting events since January 2013.

The JCAB is calling for the battery redesign despite finding that two of the three protective layers from a May 2013 battery redesign worked as intended, and the safety of the aircraft was never at risk during the incident on 14 January 2014. Read more ..

The Race for LEDs

The Big Lie about LED Lighting

January 1st 2015

LED bulb

I've had it with LED lamps. The world has been told that LEDs are the future, in part because they are economically the right form of long-term lighting, and there are environmental benefits as a great aside. Well, maybe the environmental argument is true, but the economical one is not.

My wife has converted a substantial amount of our home lighting, as well as our holiday decoration lighting, to LED bulbs. Despite all this investment, I have yet to experience the primary benefit of long life. This made me sit down recently and ask myself why.

As it turns out, the answer is quite simple. The lifetime is not a function of the LED, but rather the total circuit solution.

Figure 1 shows the schematic for an incandescent light bulb. As I once read in a college textbook, the analysis of this circuit is left to the reader.

Contrast the Figure 1 schematic with the Figure 2 schematic that shows an offline LED lamp schematic minus the LEDs. As I'll show soon, there is no need to analyze the Figure 2 circuit operation. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Energy Department Inspector Blocked From Probing Dismissal Of Hanford Engineer

December 18th 2014

Nuclear Waste

When nuclear engineer Donna Busche was fired in February from her job managing safety at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, she complained that it was a reprisal for her repeated warnings that the government and its contractors were ignoring serious safety risks there.

Energy Department inspector general Gregory Friedman took the allegations seriously enough to open an investigation after the department asked him to in March. But on Monday, his office announced in an exceptionally brief report that it had been blocked from conducting its work by the refusal of primary Hanford contractor Bechtel National Inc., as well as Bechtel subcontractor and Busche’s employer, URS Energy and Construction Inc., to turn over 4,540 documents.

Those documents included emails that referenced Ms. Busche during the period just before her firing, according to Tara Porter, a spokeswoman for the inspector general.


Oil Addiction

Don't Get Used to Cheap Oil

December 13th 2014


The recent slump in oil prices has sent gasoline prices below $3 a gallon, leading many Americans to believe that our energy predicament is a vestige of the past. Decades of anxiety over our dependency on Middle Eastern oil with all its economic and geopolitical trappings are giving way to a new era of complacency in our energy discourse. This growing exuberance might diminish public appetite for the newly elected Congress and the Obama Administration to pursue energy policies aimed at breaking oil's stronghold over our transportation sector. After all, if it ain't broke, why fix it? But such a euphoric mindset could lead to painful consequences down the road.

In the life of every commodity there are periods of ups and downs. Oil is no different. Just like a combination of circumstances – a stronger dollar, increased supply from the U.S. and Libya, and tapering demand in the developed world - have brought about the recent price drop, a different set of drivers can lead to the exact opposite outcome. A cut in OPEC production, trouble in one or more major oil exporting countries, or a slowdown in North American production due to lower prices could reverse the recent trend, sending oil prices back to the three digit level. Predicting future prices is a loser's game but even optimists would concur that any one of these three scenarios has a good chance of materializing in the foreseeable future. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

World Record Achieved for Sunlight to Electricity Efficiency

December 8th 2014

Solar researchers at Australia's New South Wales University have converted over 40% of the sunlight hitting a solar system into electricity, the highest efficiency ever reported.

The record efficiency was achieved in outdoor tests in Sydney, before being independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at their outdoor test facility in the United States.

The work was funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and supported by the Australia-US Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics (AUSIAPV).

"This is the highest efficiency ever reported for sunlight conversion into electricity," UNSW Scientia Professor and Director of the Advanced Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) Professor Martin Green said. Read more ..

Nuclear Safeguards

Improve Nuclear Power Plant Safety, and Brew a Better Cup of Tea

December 4th 2014

Taking inspiration from nature, researchers in the United Kingdom have created a versatile model to predict how stalagmite-like structures form in nuclear processing plants – as well as how lime scale builds up in kettles.

“It’s a wonderful example of how complex mathematical models can have everyday applications,” said Dr Duncan Borman, from the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Leeds, a co-author of the study.

The main aim of the research, which is published in print today in the journal Computers & Chemical Engineering, is to reduce the number of potentially harmful manual inspections of nuclear waste containers.

“We were approached by the National Nuclear Laboratory and Sellafield Ltd to solve the problem of predicting the shapes that precipitates from nuclear process solutions can form in containment chambers,” said Dr Borman.

Study co-author Professor Daniel Lesnic from the School of Mathematics at the University of Leeds, added: “Our first thought was to find a suitable analogy in nature. At first we looked at how lava flows from a volcano to the ocean, but the formation of stalagmites in caves mimics the process much more closely.

“Geologists have well-established models for the formation of stalagmites. So we are taking models from one field of science and applying them to a completely different discipline.” Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Are Quantum Dot Solar Cells Commercially Viable?

November 29th 2014

Test Tubes

A Korean research team has developed a technology which produces highly-efficient inverted colloidal quantum dot solar cells and could pave the way to a new generation of cheaper solar cells. The solar cells claim an optical conversion efficiency of 4.31 percent, which is a 1.7-fold increase from the 2.47 percent efficiency of conventional quantum dot solar batteries.

The research team, which comprised Professor Kim Jin-young, Professor Park Jong-nam from the Interdisciplinary School of Green Energy at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and student Kim Gi-hwan, claims to have manufactured highly-efficient solar cells by synthesizing zinc oxide in liquid state, and coating the synthesized material at the top of a quantum dot. The new solar cells should have a high energy conversion efficiency and be less expensive to make than conventional inorganic solar cells. Read more ..

The Problem with Coal

Will China Really Cut Coal?

November 28th 2014


According to Hu Tao, an ecologist and environmental economist who directs the China program at the World Wildlife Fund, not much has changed. On his recent visit to a coal-fired power plant, the scrubber was turned off for “inspection,” he explained at a talk at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum on November 24. How often were such machines inspected, Tao inquired? Well, if no one from the government was visiting, the plant manager told him, the machine is turned off every day.

That is the current context for China’s recent decree that the country will never consume more than 4.2 billion metric tons of coal per year, the action following a historic agreement with the U.S. to begin to combat climate change. Already, caps on the amount of coal a given locality can burn seem to have dropped coal’s share of total energy in China for the first time in the 21st century, though overall it has tripled since 2000. “The vast majority of China’s CO2 emissions are a result of coal combustion,” said Jake Schmidt, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program at the CEF event. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

New Light Shed on Nuclear Reactor Fuel Behavior During Severe Events

November 24th 2014

Click to select Image

A new discovery about the atomic structure of uranium dioxide will help scientists select the best computational model to simulate severe nuclear reactor accidents.

Using the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility, researchers from DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory, along with Materials Development, Inc., Stony Brook University, and Carnegie Institution of Washington, found that the atomic structure of uranium dioxide (UO2) changes significantly when it melts.

UO2 is the primary fuel component in the majority of existing nuclear reactors, but little is known about the molten state because of its extremely high melting point. Until now, the extremely high temperature and chemical reactivity of the melt have hindered studies of molten UO2. This lack of fundamental information has made it difficult to evaluate issues associated with the interaction of molten UO2 with a reactor's zirconium cladding and steel containment vessel. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Graphene/Nanotube Hybrid Improves Flexible Solar Cells

November 18th 2014

Click to select Image

Rice University scientists have invented a novel cathode that may make cheap, flexible dye-sensitized solar cells practical.

The Rice lab of materials scientist Jun Lou created the new cathode, one of the two electrodes in batteries, from nanotubes that are seamlessly bonded to graphene and replaces the expensive and brittle platinum-based materials often used in earlier versions.

The discovery was reported online in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

Dye-sensitized solar cells have been in development since 1988 and have been the subject of countless high school chemistry class experiments. They employ cheap organic dyes, drawn from the likes of raspberries, which cover conductive titanium dioxide particles. Read more ..

Edge of Microtechnology

A New Method of Transfering Thin Semi-conductor Films onto Substrates for Photonic Devices

November 13th 2014

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new way to transfer thin semiconductor films, which are only one atom thick, onto arbitrary substrates, paving the way for flexible computing or photonic devices. The technique is much faster than existing methods and can perfectly transfer the atomic scale thin films from one substrate to others, without causing any cracks.

At issue are molybdenum sulfide (MoS2) thin films that are only one atom thick, first developed by Dr. Linyou Cao, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State. MoS2 is an inexpensive semiconductor material with electronic and optical properties similar to materials already used in the semiconductor industry. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

The Sun Sets on Mexico's PEMEX Oil Monopoly

November 2nd 2014

Oil well

In July, the Mexican Congress is set to pass secondary legislation to further transform Mexico’s energy division. For the first time in the 76 years since President Lázaro Cárdenas nationalized the industry, the private sector will be able to share in the wealth of Mexico’s oil. Though the international community is eagerly awaiting the chance to partake in the riches of Mexican oil, the domestic community is more skeptical of the pending changes. The Mexican Constitution guarantees state control over Mexico’s natural resources, and profits from state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) make up a third of the country’s tax revenues.

Therefore, the country’s oil has special significance for most Mexicans. To many, control of this vital natural resource is equated with national sovereignty and the self-sufficiency of the Mexican state. Accordingly, it seems that the country’s energy policy may prove to be the most contentious of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s reform initiatives. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Switching to High Octane Gasoline Saves Money and Fuel

November 1st 2014

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If the majority of light-duty vehicles in the United States ran on higher-octane gasoline, the automotive industry as a whole would reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 35 million tons per year, saving up to $6 billion in fuel costs, according to a new analysis by MIT researchers.

In a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the team considered a scenario in which fuel is manufactured under a redefined octane rating — the measure of a gasoline’s ability to resist engine knocking during combustion.

Currently in the United States, a car’s octane rating is based on the antiknock index (AKI) — a specification for fuel composition that is determined by a standard research octane number (RON) and a motor octane number (MON). The resulting octane ratings for today’s car engines typically range from 87 (regular fuel) to 93 (premium, or high-octane, fuel) — numbers that are commonly displayed at the pump. The higher the octane rating, the more resistant the fuel is to knocking. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

New Solar Power Material Converts 90 Percent Captured Light to Heat

October 29th 2014

A multidisciplinary engineering team at the University of California, San Diego developed a new nanoparticle-based material for concentrating solar power plants designed to absorb and convert to heat more than 90 percent of the sunlight it captures. The new material can also withstand temperatures greater than 700 degrees Celsius and survive many years outdoors in spite of exposure to air and humidity. Their work, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot program, was published recently in two separate articles in the journal Nano Energy.

By contrast, current solar absorber material functions at lower temperatures and needs to be overhauled almost every year for high temperature operations.

 "We wanted to create a material that absorbs sunlight that doesn't let any of it escape. We want the black hole of sunlight," said Sungho Jin, a professor in the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Energy Harvesting Gesture Recognition

October 26th 2014

Eye biometrics

Gesture control for electronics could soon become an alternative to touchscreens and sensing technologies that consume a lot of power and only work when users can see their smartphones and tablets. University of Washington computer scientists have built a low-cost gesture recognition system, called "AllSee," that runs without batteries and lets users control their electronic devices hidden from sight with simple hand movements. It uses existing TV signals as both a power source and the means for detecting a user's gesture command.

"This is the first gesture recognition system that can be implemented for less than a dollar and doesn't require a battery," said Shyam Gollakota, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering. "You can leverage TV signals both as a source of power and as a source of gesture recognition." Read more ..

The Race for Biofuel

Watchdog Sues EPA Over Renewable Fuel Mandate

October 23rd 2014

E85 Pump

A watchdog group is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to release communications with the oil industry over the 2014 renewable fuel mandate.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a lawsuit on Wednesday over the agency’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request for records relating to the mandate, which sets the amount of biofuels refiners must blend into the nation’s fuel supply.

CREW cited a Reuters report that The Carlyle Group and Delta Airlines lobbied members of Congress and the administration to reduce the amount of ethanol and other biofuels that must be blended for 2014. The EPA denied a request for expedited review and has been slow to release the documents, CREW says. Read more ..

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