Category Archives: alternative energy

North Carolina Researchers Indicate How Water Based ‘Artificial Leaf’ Generates Electricity

Are you aware that a North Carolina State University staff showed that water gel-based solar devices (named: “artificial leaves”) can work like solar cells to create electricity?

The research has been released on-line within the Journal of Materials Chemistry by Doctor. Orlin Velev, an Invista Professor associated with Chemical and Bio-molecular Engineering.

The conclusions prove the idea for making solar cells that more closely mimic nature. They also have the possibility to be cheaper and more beneficial to our environment than the current standard silicon based solar cells.

The bendable units are composed of water-based gel infused along with light-sensitive molecules (like plant chlorophyll) coupled with electrodes coated by carbon elements, such as carbon nanotubes or graphite.

Graphene is the fundamental structural element of a number of carbon allotropes including graphite, carbon nanotubes and fullerenes. Graphene is a one-atom thick planar sheet of carbon atoms that are largely packed in a honeycomb crystal lattice. The title comes from graphite ene; graphite itself consists of numerous graphene sheets piled together.

The light-sensitive molecules get “excited” by the sun’s rays to make electricity, similar to plant molecules that get excited to synthesize sugars in order to grow.

Dr. Velev affirms that the research team hopes to “learn how to copy the materials by which nature harnesses solar energy.” Although manufactured light-sensitive molecules can be used, Velev says naturally derived products, like chlorophyll, are also effortlessly integrated in these devices because of their water-gel matrix.

Velev even imagines a future in which rooftops could be covered with soft sheets of similar electrical power-generating man-made-leaf solar cells. The concept of biologically inspired ‘soft’ products for generating electricity may possibly in the future provide an alternative for the present-day solid-state technologies.

About the Author: Colleen Mcguire produces for the solar fountains for the garden blog, her personal hobby blog focused on guidelines to help home owners to spend a smaller amount energy with solar energy.

Reference: Aqueous soft matter based pv devices. Journal of Materials Chemistry, 2011; DOI: http://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2011/JM/c0jm01820a

How To Power The Entire Country With Renewable Energy: Fun With Maps Edition

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So with Al Gore calling for 100% renewable energy in 10 years a lot of people might wonder where the heck we are going to get all that energy from (if we are not using coal/oil/gas). Well my friends take a gander. What you see below is where we are going to get all that energy.

As you can see America has some amazing wind resources. Most of the east coast, the great lakes, and the entire middle of the country are EXCELLENT wind resources. Many places in the west and even some places in the south west are commercially feasible sources. The upper mid-west has been called the Saudi Arabia of wind. There is enough wind going through there on a daily basis to power much of this country (if not all of it on some days). The real problem however is not space (anyone who has been there knows there is space), and it is not NIMBY land owners (the ranchers and farmers would love to get extra revenue from their lands) the problem is transmission.

There are few major cities in that area, and even fewer heavy duty low loss transmission lines. To tap this excellent resource the government would have to invest in transmission lines, or make it easy for private companies to do so. We have the technology, we have the turbines, we even have the market forces to make it happen. What we don’t have is a policy that encourages it. American could certainly use the jobs however…

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Cold Fusion Is Hot Again

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Twenty years ago it appeared, for a moment, that all our energy problems could be solved. It was the announcement of cold fusion – nuclear energy like that which powers the sun – but at room temperature on a table top. It promised to be cheap, limitless and clean. Cold fusion would end our dependence on the Middle East and stop those greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. It would change everything.

But then, just as quickly as it was announced, it was discredited. So thoroughly, that cold fusion became a catch phrase for junk science. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to oblivion – for many scientists today, cold fusion is hot again.

“We can yield the power of nuclear physics on a tabletop. The potential is unlimited. That is the most powerful energy source known to man,” researcher Michael McKubre told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.

McKubre says he has seen that energy more than 50 times in cold fusion experiments he’s doing at SRI International, a respected California lab that does extensive work for the government.

McKubre is an electro-chemist who imagines, in 20 years, the creation of a clean nuclear battery. “For example, a laptop would come pre-charged with all of the energy that you would ever intend to use. You’re now decoupled from your charger and the wall socket,” he explained.

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Sahara Solar Panels Can Power the Entire Europe

Constructing a large array of solar panels in the Sahara desert can provide enough electricity to supply all the power needs of the entire Europe, a research expert said this week.

“It [North Africa] could supply Europe with all the energy it needs,” Dr. Anthony Patt, a research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, in Austria, told scientists at this week’s climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. “The Sun is very strong there and it is very reliable.

He said that falling costs combined with recent technological advances has made it realistic to consider North Africa as Europe’s main source of imported energy.

“There is starting to be a growing number of cost estimates of both wind and concentrated solar power for north Africa… that start to compare favorably with alternative technologies. The cost of moving [electricity] long distances has really come down.”

Dr. Patt estimated that only a fraction of the Sahara, probably the size of a small country, needed to be covered with panels in order to extract enough energy to supply the whole of Europe.

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Renewable Energy Might Be Slow to Spur U.S. Economy

The renewable energy revolution President Obama wants to jump-start with stimulus money might be coming. But it’s going to take a while.

While Congress and Obama moved quickly to pass the stimulus legislation, corporate planning for the future is more measured. Any increase in green energy must overcome business and regulatory obstacles.

And businesses dominating the renewable energy arena are based outside the United States. Those companies will need to add or expand U.S. manufacturing before incentives in the stimulus package result in jobs for American workers.

“How real are the green jobs? Of course they’ll be some, but how real are they?” said David Garman, President George W. Bush’s Energy Department undersecretary from 2004 to 2007 and before that assistant secretary for renewables and energy efficiency. “It’s something that we’re just going to have to learn by doing.”

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More Efficient Solar Cells Thanks To CNT Films That Transmit Infrared Light

A thin film of carbon nanotubes is probably the most revolutionary material developed in the past twenty years and according to the scientists they haven’t “used” the material at its full potential and there is still a long way to go. Carbon nanotubes are useful in electronic displays, solar cells, and at other devices, but you should know that CNT thin films were used with light in the visible range. “Just in case” the scientists decided to explore their properties in infrared, and their results were very surprising.

The team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, tested single-walled carbon thin films in infrared and they noticed that they have the ability to transmit infrared waves. The infrared properties of the optically-transparent and electrically-conductive CNT thin films were investigated by physicists Liangbing Hu, David Hecht, and George Grüner from UCLA.

“This is the first time that the infrared properties of conductive CNT films are fully studied through measurement and calculations,” said Hu, co-author at the study.

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Solar Panel Drops to $1 per Watt: Is this a Milestone or the Bottom for Silicon-Based Panels?

A long-sought solar milestone was eclipsed on Tuesday, when Tempe, Ariz.–based First Solar Inc. announced that the manufacturing costs for its thin-film photovoltaic panels had dipped below $1 per watt for the first time. With comparable costs for standard silicon panels still hovering in the $3 range, it’s tempting to conclude that First Solar’s cadmium telluride (CdTe) technology has won the race. But if we’re concerned about the big picture (scaling up solar until it’s a cheap and ubiquitous antidote to global warming and foreign oil) a forthcoming study from the University of California–Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggests that neither material has what it takes compared to lesser-known alternatives such as—we’re not kidding—fool’s gold.

Even if the solar cell market were to grow at 56 percent a year for the next 10 years—slightly higher than the rapid growth of the past year—photovoltaics would still only account for about 2.5 percent of global electricity, LBNL researcher Cyrus Wadia says. “First Solar is great, as long as we’re talking megawatts or gigawatts,” he says. “But as soon as they have to start rolling out terawatts, that’s where I believe they will reach some limitations.”

Even the current rate of growth won’t be easy to sustain. Despite the buck-per-watt announcement, First Solar’s share price plummeted more than 20 percent on Wednesday, thanks to warnings from CEO Mike Ahearn about the effect of the credit crisis on potential solar customers—as much as 10 to 15 percent of current orders might default. He recently told analysts in a conference call that “as good as things look for the mid-term and beyond, the short-term outlook for the solar industry in our view has never looked more difficult.” (A transcript is available at SeekingAlpha.)

First Solar’s eventual goal is “grid parity,” a phrase that refers to making solar power cost the same as competing conventional power sources without subsidies. Right now the cost of making panels accounts for a little less than half the total cost of installation. The company estimates that it needs to get manufacturing costs down to $0.65 to $0.70 per watt, and other installation costs down to $1 a watt in order to reach grid parity—goals First Solar plans to reach by 2012.

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Scientists Create a New Biofuel From E. Coli

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As bacterium goes, E. coli is a public health scourge, but a lab favorite. It’s one of the most thoroughly studied microbes out there, and so one of the most easily manipulated for genetic engineering. Scientists can tweak its metabolic pathways to produce insulinmag-glass_10x10 Scientists Create a New Biofuel From E. Coli , antibiotics and anticancer drugs; they can increase its ability to make ethanol or even engineer it to manufacture hydrocarbons. But until now, they couldn’t push it to create something that didn’t exist naturally: long-chain alcohols.

By manipulating E. coli to produce alcohols with up to eight carbon atoms, James Liao and his colleagues at the University of California-Los Angeles recently introduced a new twist to the field of biofuels research. Long-chain alcohols overcome some of the traditional limitations of ethanol, which has only two carbon atoms. They have both high-energy density—on par with gasoline—and low water solubility, so they are compatible with existing infrastructure.

“Long-chain alcohols can be directly used in automobiles or aircraft,” Liao says. “Unlike E85, which requires retrofitted vehicles, [they] can be used without vehicle modification.”

The current research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Dec. 8, builds on work Liao published in the journal Nature last January. The Nature study demonstrated that E. coli can metabolize glucose into branched chain alcohols with four or five carbon atoms—and do so in higher yields (for isobutanol, 86 percent of the theoretical maximum) that will be necessary for large-scale biofuels production.

Alcohols with six to eight carbon atoms in each molecule could only be generated by pioneering a whole new metabolic pathway—a nonnatural one, created by chemically synthesizing amino acidsmag-glass_10x10 Scientists Create a New Biofuel From E. Coli that allow the microbe to manufacture alcohols longer than what would be naturally possible.

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MIT Researcher Mimics Photosynthesis To Turn Water Into Hydrogen And Oxygen

A MIT researcher has demonstrated a reaction which resembles the photosynthesis process that plants make each day which means that from now on solar power could be deployed at world scale. Using catalysts developed by the chemist, he showed a video where oxygen was generated from water, just like plants do it in photosynthesis.

“I’m going to show you something I haven’t showed anybody yet,” said Daniel Nocera, the MIT chemist. After the lights were tuned off, he pointed to the video and asked – “Can you see that?” Then he explained – “Oxygen is pouring off of this electrode. This is the future. We’ve got the leaf.” This means that the most difficult obstacle was overcame as from now on we efficiently produce hydrogen gas by splitting water thanks to his catalysts.

This is very important as solar power could be deployed at worldwide and it could remove our dependence on fossil fuels. Solar power cannot replace oil with solar panels as solar cells are not very efficient and the sun doesn’t shine all day long. All this can change now, and we could use the catalysts and light to split water to generate hydrogen fuel which could power our cars. Also, according to Nocera, the catalysts could split seawater and if the hydrogen will be processed in a fuel cell then it will produce fresh water.

During recent history many scientists tried to get energy from the sun by resembling photosynthesis and their attempts were successful. The problem is that this process requires high temperatures, expensive catalysts, and harsh alkaline solutions, so it cannot be deployed at world-scale. Well, this will change as Nocera’s catalysts are cheap and they split water in oxygen and hydrogen at room temperature.

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New solar cell material achieves almost 100% efficiency, could solve world-wide energy problems

Researchers at Ohio State University have accidentally discovered a new solar cell material capable of absorbing all of the sun’s visible light energy. The material is comprised of a hybrid of plastics, molybdenum and titanium. The team discovered it not only fluoresces (as most solar cells do), but also phosphoresces. Electrons in a phosphorescent state remain at a place where they can be “siphoned off” as electricity over 7 million times longer than those generated in a fluorescent state. This combination of materials also utilizes the entire visible spectrum of light energy, translating into a theoretical potential of almost 100% efficiency. Commercial products are still years away, but this foundational work may well pave the way for a truly renewable form of clean, global energy.

Traditional solar cell materials use a property called fluorescence to gather electricity. Energy from the sun strikes whatever material they are made of resulting in a momentary “dislodging” of electrons into an excited state. The excited electrons exist due to a property called fluorescence. They last only a dozen or so picoseconds (trillionths of a second) in this state, which is also called a “singlet state.” The many picosecond dwell there is fairly typical among traditional solar cell material in use today.

The new material, which was accidentally discovered using supercomputers to determine possible theoretical molecular configurations, causes not only fluorescing electrons in the singlet state to be created, but also phosphorescing electrons in what’s called a “triplet state.”

These triplet state electrons remain in their excited state of phosphorescence for scores of microseconds (up to about 200 microseconds, or 0.0002 seconds). With such a long lasting state of free electron flow, their ability to be captured is theoretically significantly greater than existing technologies.

And if the research team’s current efforts (of using only a few molecules of the hybrid materials suspended in a liquid solution) can be extended into practical real-world scales, then products yielding nearly 100% solar efficiency may soon be achievable.

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