One step to Liquid Hydrocarbon Fuels from Thin Air

Dean Sigler Biofuels, Solar Power, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

University of Texas at Arlington chemists and engineers have converted carbon dioxide and water directly into useable liquid hydrocarbon fuels – in one step.  The “simple and inexpensive new sustainable fuels technology” used concentrated sunlight, high pressure and heat to remove CO2 from the air and even revert oxygen back into the system. Researchers demonstrated that a one-step conversion of carbon dioxide and water into liquid hydrocarbons and oxygen can be performed in a photothermochemical flow reactor operating at 180 to 200 degrees C and pressures up to six atmospheres. Brian Dennis, UTA professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and co-principal investigator of the project, explains, “We are the first to use both light and heat to synthesize liquid hydrocarbons in a …

Researchers Strike Battery Fools Gold on Two Continents

Dean Sigler Batteries, Electric Aircraft Materials, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

Better, Cheaper, Faster.  That was the mantra when your editor worked in the semiconductor manufacturing world.  Designs, processes and materials were all recalibrated constantly to enable the march toward those three goals.  And to some extent, constant repetition helped us achieve the ideal of Moore’s Law, the dictum that computer chips would double the number of transistors they contained every two years.  Transistor density in computer chips determines the level of performance they can achieve, and this doubling has yet to reach its end. Unfortunately, batteries haven’t doubled in performance every two years, but seem to follow an annual five-to-eight-percent increase in energy density.  This would mean, at best, that energy densities would double every nine years.  The Tesla Forum notes …

Corn Stalks and Cobs Into Clean Hydrogen

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

Hydrogen has several demerits in coming to the energy market.  A primary issue for H2 critics – that hydrogen requires more energy to produce than it gives back – may have been answered by Dr. Percival Zhang of Virginia Tech’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering, which is in both the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering.  We’ve covered his work before, usually in terms of turning corn into biofuels or in finding biological ways to produce hydrogen with low energy input. Part of his exploratory mandate comes from his ECHo cycle.  “I wish to suggest constructing the electricity-carbohydrate-hydrogen (ECHo) cycle… could meet four basic needs of humans: air, water, food and energy, while minimizing environmental …

Beating Plants at Their Own Game

Dean Sigler Diesel Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

Going to medical school to learn how to use bacteria to make gasoline may seem like a complicated process, but the developers of a new way of extracting biofuels from sunlight say it’s not.  You may remember Dr. Daniel Nocera’s efforts a few years ago to create a bionic leaf, a simple way to extract oxygen and hydrogen from water when the leaf in water was exposed to sunlight.  Several other such “water splitters” have achieved newsworthiness in the last few years, but each has the impediment of not delivering hydrogen in a readily useable way. Usually, any H2 produced has to be compressed, stored in hydrides, or encapsulated in some way to make it a viable fuel.  There is …

Copper Catalyst Makes Room Temperature Ethanol

Dean Sigler Diesel Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

We’ve written a great deal about ways of making so-called “bio-fuels,” those ethanol, methanol and even diesel substitutes that avoid the high toxicity and environmental harm of fossil fuels.  Often though, these substitutes require the diversion of foodstocks or the use of exotic catalysts and high energy inputs to trigger the appropriate mechanisms. Scientists as Stanford University may have found a way to use copper, though, to make ethanol without corn or other plants.  They’ve “created a copper-based catalyst that produces large quantities of ethanol from carbon monoxide gas at room temperature.” Matthew W. Kanan, Assistant Professor at Stanford, has been working toward this kind of biofuel production for many years.  His University profile contains the following: “The ability to …

Caging Hydrogen in Self-assembling Origami Structures

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

Let’s say that you’re really good at folding pieces of paper into miniature birds such as cranes, or life-size elephants, something origami artist Sipho Mabona did recently, starting with a 50-foot by 50-foot piece of paper (he had help from up to 40 others).   The paper elephant, including a metal subframe to support it, weighs over 500 pounds. How about using origami to trap hydrogen in a novel approach to storing energy for fuel cells?  Only, instead of paper, you might use sheets of graphene cleverly folded into cages no more than a few nanometers across – the opposite of the elephant in the art gallery.  Researchers at the University of Maryland’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Maryland NanoCenter, have …

5X Batteries? How About 70,000X Solar Cells?

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 2 Comments

Matt Shipman of North Carolina State University News Services reports on a connector that could allow stacking solar cells without losing voltage.  This stacking could allow cells to operate at solar concentrations of “70,000 suns worth of energy without losing much voltage as ‘wasted energy’ or heat.”  This could have tremendous implications improving the overall efficiency of solar energy devices and reducing the cost of solar energy production. Stacked solar cells live up to their name, simply being several cells stacked on one another, with their layering leading to up to 45-percent efficiency in converting solar energy into electricity.  So far, the big drawback has been the junctions between cells, which tend to waste the energy from the connected cells as …

Competition Heats Up in Lithium-Sulfur Batteries

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 3 Comments

Founded in October 2010, NOHMs Technologies has developed a battery based on lithium-sulfur chemistry.  In April 2013, the company was awarded a $500,000 Phase II SBIR Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to scale a novel low-cost manufacturing process for long-life sulfur cathode composite materials.   NOHMs (Nano Organic Hybrid Materials) will locate to and use facilities at the Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center and the University of Kentucky’s Spindletop Administration Building. NOHMs is developing electrode, electrolyte, and separator products as a 3-part solution for high-energy, low-cost, long-life, and safe batteries. NOHMs says its composite sulfur electrodes—carbon nanoparticles infused with sulfur developed at Cornell – can deliver a specific capacity of 550 mAh/g for hundreds of cycles. Next-generation cathode …

Engineered E. coli Mass Produce Key Precursors to Potent Biofuels

Dean Sigler Diesel Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

Hearing of E. coli outbreaks usually makes us reconsider our fast-food dining choices.  Other possible, friendlier uses for the pesky bacteria, though, could show the way to clean energy production, making a “gasoline-like biofuel,” according to Harvard Medical School and Wyss Institute researchers. According to Harvard’s news release, “New lines of engineered bacteria can tailor-make key precursors of high-octane biofuels that could one day replace gasoline, scientists at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School report in the June 24 online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “’The big contribution is that we were able to program cells to make specific fuel precursors,’ said Pamela …

Anti-freeze Could Lower Cost of Solar Cells

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

We’ve examined many attempts to make solar cells, batteries and fuel cells less expensive and to use abundant, easily found materials in their manufacture.  Engineers at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon may have crafted a process to manufacture budget solar cells with anti-freeze and relatively cheap metals as key components. Ethylene glycol, found in many automotive antifreeze products, acts as a low-cost solvent “that functions well in a ‘continuous flow’ reactor,” according to OSU, “an approach to making solar cells that cost less and avoid toxic compounds, while further expanding the use of solar energy.” The last sentence stopped your editor cold, since ethylene glycol is a neurotoxin, playing havoc with brains, livers and kidneys.  Reading the researchers’ paper published …