Cambridge, MIT Chasing Room-Temperature Hydrogen

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 1 Comment

News from Cambridge University shows some promise for inexpensive production of hydrogen, an elusive process considering the lightest element in creation is also the most common, said to make up 90 percent of the visible universe.  On earth, it readily combines with oxygen to form water, a handy thing to have around for the benefit of our species. Getting hydrogen out of the water so that we can burn it in our cars and airplanes is a frustrating process, though, often requiring more energy for the extraction than can be obtained from its combustion. According the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “To make [hydrogen] usable in fuel cells or otherwise provide energy, we must expend energy or modify another energy source …

A Layer of Graphene, A Layer of Nanowires…

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

Combine nano-anything with graphene, and that seems to describe most of what’s driving physics and chemistry laboratories at our major universities.  The blog reported last week on Princeton researchers who’ve created a thin, flexible solar cell that absorbs 96-percent of received light and draws energy from off-axis and varied wavelengths of light. MIT researchers, too, have created a thin, flexible solar cell, but one based on layers of flexible graphene sheets, each coated with a layer of nanowires.  Besides flexibility, these sheets offer transparency, enabling their use on windows as well as other surfaces. David Chandler, reporting for MIT states that the new cells may prove to be far less expensive than today’s silicon equivalents, which require high-purity silicon that undergoes crystallization …

There’s Light at the End of the Funnel

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Solar cells are relatively inefficient at gathering the total range of sunlight’s spectrum that falls on them every day.  Trying to find a way to capture more than a single wavelength or narrow band of the solar light, scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and at Peking University in China propose putting a strain on solar cells, creating a spatially varying bandgap that would react to more of the colors in light and thus give off more electricity.  Changing the bandgap in a solar collector’s material enables excitation of electrons from not just visible light, but from energy sources such as infrared radiation. This has the potential to increase the cell’s energy output enormously since most of the sun’s …

Spinach, Photosynthesis, and Solar Energy

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Spinach is the Rodney Dangerfield of the vegetable kingdom, and despite the best efforts of nutritionists, Popeye, and school lunch ladies to boost its respect levels, goes unwanted by many. But not by the team at Vanderbilt University who have combined it with silicon in a “biohybrid” solar cell. According to Vanderbilt’s David Cliffel, associate professor of chemistry, “This combination produces current levels almost 1,000 times higher than we were able to achieve by depositing the protein on various types of metals. It also produces a modest increase in voltage.” Cliffel collaborated on the project with Kane Jennings, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “If we can continue on our current trajectory of increasing voltage and current levels, we could …

Fixed Wings Find Their Way

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Dynamic presentations by Sebastian Thrun and Nicholas Roy have alerted and informed CAFE Foundation’s Electric Aircraft Symposia attendees of highly sophisticated efforts to allow autonomous full-size automobiles and miniature helicopters to navigate through or over unfamiliar terrain. Using clues from lasers, infrared sensors, inertial guidance systems and sometimes GPS coordinates, the vehicles use control algorithms to guide themselves around obstacle-strewn courses. As noted in Science Daily and the The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s press office this week, “Dozens of research teams have competed in a series of autonomous-helicopter challenges posed by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI); progress has been so rapid that the last two challenges have involved indoor navigation without the use of GPS.” Mini-copters have …

The Artificial Leaf

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Daniel Nocera, Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy and professor of chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has caused a stir in the scientific community and attracted press attention including a recent feature article in the May 14 New Yorker. MIT’s own press release makes it sound all too simple and immediately appealing. “The artificial leaf — a silicon solar cell with different catalytic materials bonded onto its two sides — needs no external wires or control circuits to operate. Simply placed in a container of water and exposed to sunlight, it quickly begins to generate streams of bubbles: oxygen bubbles from one side and hydrogen bubbles from the other. If placed in a container that has a barrier to …

MIT Solar Findings Mirror Those of 13 Year Old’s Tree Research

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 1 Comment

A recent report from MIT, replete with computer algorithms and graduate level insights, made your editor dip back into a story about a young naturalist who saw a model in nature that could lead to more efficient solar arrays.  Both produced works of genius and give us hope for some real breakthroughs in solar power deployment. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced that, “Innovative 3-D designs from an MIT team can more than double the solar power generated from a given area,” and suggested that models of their new approach, “show power output ranging from double to more than 20 times that of fixed flat panels with the same base area.” Jeffrey Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Career Development Associate …

Better Batteries: Wrap It in Seaweed

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MIT’s Technology Review reported last September that researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Clemson University had formulated a way to keep silicon anodes in lithium batteries from cracking under the strain of expending and contracting while they charge and discharge. They added a “binding agent and food additive derived from algae” that is in turn derived from seaweed. This enables the anode to charge and discharge at an eight times greater rate than an equivalent carbon anode without breaking down, a common problem for “raw” silicon. Environmentally friendly, the manufacturing processes for this type of anode are claimed to be clean and inexpensive. According to the Technology Review, “Lithium-ion batteries store energy by accumulating ions at the anode; …

Matters of Note for the Green Flight Expo

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One humanitarian business organization that will display at the Green Flight Expo following the completion of that seven-day event uses the type of technology the CAFE Foundation espouses for carrying medicines and supplies to remote parts of the third world that otherwise do not easily permit transport of any kind. Matternet’s slogan, “Lifting the Rising Billion” refers to those living primarily in Africa and is explained in their statement of belief.  “By increasing the access to reliable transportation for people living in poverty, we will enable them to find a sustainable path out of poverty. “We will connect people from geographically isolated communities to local and global markets through the Matternet.”  This credo applies to poor communities throughout the world, …

Cambridge Crude and Range Euphoria

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants 1 Comment

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists have announced what they claim is a “Significant advance in battery architecture [that] could be breakthrough for electric vehicles and grid storage.”    According to a story by David L. Chandler from the MIT News Office, the new battery system is lightweight and inexpensive, and could make recharging “as quick and easy as pumping gas into a conventional car.” Seemingly requiring some active components within the battery, this “semi-solid flow cell” pumps solid particles suspended in a carrier liquid which form the cathodes and anodes through the system.  According to the MIT news item, “These two different suspensions are pumped through systems separated by a filter, such as a thin porous membrane.”  Mechanically more …