Exploring Hydrocarbon Depletion
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HyperSolar, Inc. (OTCBB: HYSR), the developer of a breakthrough technology to produce renewable hydrogen and natural gas using water and solar power, today announced specific details of its plan for the development of the world’s first nanotechnology-based, zero-carbon process for the production of renewable hydrogen and natural gas.
“Our research and development to date gives us a high degree of confidence that our innovative process can achieve commercial viability,” said Tim Young, CEO of HyperSolar. “Starting with a negative value feedstock in the form of wastewater and operating in low cost reactors, we believe that our artificial photosynthesis process of extracting hydrogen from water will be cost effective.”
Unlike conventional expensive hydrogen technology that splits water molecules (H20) into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2), HyperSolar is using a low cost nanotechnology approach. By elegantly engineering the reaction kinetics toward H2 generation only with the help of wastewater, the HyperSolar nanoparticles function as one-way machines that detoxify wastewater, and produce clean water and pure hydrogen in the presence of sunlight. No other energy source is required, making this an extremely economical and commercially viable approach for the production of zero-carbon, renewable hydrogen.
Last month entrepreneurs, investors, corporate executives, and government officials gathered for the third annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit to discuss the future of energy technology. ARPA-E (which stands for Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy) is a new agency within the Department of Energy which funds potentially game changing energy technologies. Among the list of very distinguished speakers at the summit was Bill Gates.
During his remarks Gates spoke to the challenge of innovation in energy: “The problem with using IT and telecommunications as models for innovating in clean energy is that people underestimate the difficulty of the scientific work needed and how much time is needed for innovations to become adopted.”
What kind of breakthrough technologies are Bill Gates and ARPA-E funding? What other game changing energy technologies are on the horizon? There are five energy technology that show tremendous promise for the coming decades including nuclear power from nuclear waste; fuels made from carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight; plants engineered to produce gasoline; batteries that recharge in the air, and solar in space.
Scientists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and collaborators have developed a new catalyst that reversibly converts hydrogen gas and carbon dioxide to a liquid under very mild conditions. The work -- described in a paper published online March 18, 2012, in Nature Chemistry -- could lead to efficient ways to safely store and transport hydrogen for use as an alternative fuel.
Hydrogen is seen as an attractive fuel because it can efficiently be converted to energy without producing toxic products or greenhouse gases. However, the storage and transportation of hydrogen remain more problematic than for liquid hydrocarbon fuels. The new work builds on earlier efforts to combine hydrogen with carbon dioxide to produce a liquid formic acid solution that can be transported using the same kind of infrastructure used to transport gasoline and oil.
“This is not the first catalyst capable of carrying out this reaction, but it is the first to work at room temperature, in an aqueous (water) solution, under atmospheric pressure — and that is capable of running the reaction in forward or reverse directions depending on the acidity of the solution,” said Brookhaven chemist Etsuko Fujita, who oversaw Brookhaven’s contributions to this research.
“When the release of hydrogen is desired for use in fuel cells or other applications, one can simply flip the ‘pH switch’ on the catalyst to run the reaction in reverse,” said Brookhaven chemist James Muckerman, a co-author on the study. He noted that the liquid formic acid might also be used directly in a formic-acid fuel cell.
Margarethe wrote:Biofuels from sugarcane doesn't sound like a very good choice for sustainable resource of energy.
A proposal to only launch ultra thin and light inflatable mirrors (no power conversion, no energy storage, no lasers or masers to transmit the power etc...) and have them redirect sunlight to ground based solar farms at night. Efficiency is the ground based systems efficiency. Can be done at lower orbit 600 miles up with 12 or more satellites. Helps ground based solar get around the storage issue at night. Again best to do it to desert locations without clouds. Also away from places that want to do astronomy or have other impacts of turning the night into day. Just need to get astronomy into space and away from the light. Again get past a critical mass of space based power capability and infrastructure so that it is easy to make 500 MW of lasers for boosting skylon space planes to drive down costs to get to space.
Imagine being able to use electricity to power your car — even if it's not an electric vehicle. Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have for the first time demonstrated a method for converting carbon dioxide into liquid fuel isobutanol using electricity.
Today, electrical energy generated by various methods is still difficult to store efficiently. Chemical batteries, hydraulic pumping and water splitting suffer from low energy-density storage or incompatibility with current transportation infrastructure.
In a study published March 30 in the journal Science, James Liao, UCLA's Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Chair in Chemical Engineering, and his team report a method for storing electrical energy as chemical energy in higher alcohols, which can be used as liquid transportation fuels.
"The current way to store electricity is with lithium ion batteries, in which the density is low, but when you store it in liquid fuel, the density could actually be very high," Liao said. "In addition, we have the potential to use electricity as transportation fuel without needing to change current infrastructure."
Liao and his team genetically engineered a lithoautotrophic microorganism known as Ralstonia eutropha H16 to produce isobutanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol in an electro-bioreactor using carbon dioxide as the sole carbon source and electricity as the sole energy input.
SMU Geothermal energy expert David Blackwell gave a Capitol Hill briefing Tuesday, March 27, on the growing opportunities for geothermal energy production in the United States, calling "unconventional" geothermal techniques a potential game changer for U.S. energy policy.
Blackwell began his presentation by debunking the common misperception that geothermal energy is always dependent on hot fluids near the surface – as in the Geysers Field in California. New techniques are now available to produce electricity at much lower temperatures than occur in a geyser field, he said, and in areas without naturally occurring fluids. For example, enhanced geothermal energy systems (EGS) rely on injecting fluids to be heated by the earth into subsurface formations, sometimes created by hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
Blackwell noted the potential for synergy between geothermal energy production and the oil and gas industry, explaining that an area previously "fracked" for oil and gas production (creating an underground reservoir) is primed for the heating of fluids for geothermal energy production once the oil and gas plays out.
The SMU geothermal energy expert called these "unconventional" geothermal techniques a potential game changer for U.S. Energy policy. Geothermal energy is a constant (baseload) source of power that does not change with weather conditions, as do solar and wind-powered energy sources. Blackwell noted that SMU's mapping shows that unconventional geothermal resources "are almost everywhere."
An energy-hungry Earth is in need of transformational and sustainable energy solutions, experts say.
For decades, researchers have been appraising the use of power-beaming solar-power satellites. But the projected cost, complexity and energy economics of the notion seemingly short-circuited the idea.
Now, a unique new approach has entered the scene, dubbed SPS-ALPHA, short for Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large PHased Array. Leader of the concept is John Mankins of Artemis Innovation Management Solutions of Santa Maria, Calif.
Mankins provided a detailed overview of the power-beaming concept here during the 2012 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts meeting March 27-29.
"The current project will provide a detailed analytical understanding of the SPS-ALPHA concept, with supporting experiments," Mankins said. "The needed next steps are to develop a working prototype of one or more of the modules and demonstrate the assembled system in the field. Over the next several years, the goal is to realize a low-Earth orbit flight test of the system," he concluded.
Where have we heard that last bit before?As the world moves toward greater use of low-carbon and zero-carbon energy sources, a possible bottleneck looms, according to a new MIT study: the supply of certain metals needed for key clean-energy technologies.
The biggest challenge is likely to be for dysprosium: Demand could increase by 2,600 percent over the next 25 years, according to the study. Neodymium demand could increase by as much as 700 percent. Both materials have exceptional magnetic properties that make them especially well-suited to use in highly efficient, lightweight motors and batteries.
A single large wind turbine (rated at about 3.5 megawatts) typically contains 600 kilograms, or about 1,300 pounds, of rare earth metals.
Currently, China produces 98 percent of the world’s rare earth metals, making those metals “the most geographically concentrated of any commercial-scale resource,” Kirchain says.
Historically, production of these metals has increased by only a few percent each year, with the greatest spurts reaching about 12 percent annually. But much higher increases in production will be needed to meet the expected new demand, the study shows.
While the raw materials exist in the ground in amounts that could meet many decades of increased demand, Kirchain says the challenge comes in scaling up supply at a rate that matches expected increases in demand.
The latest effort from James Cameron has all the earmarks of a science fiction movie -- but in real life.
The movie director has joined Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt in backing Planetary Resources, a mysterious company that promises to "create a new industry and a new definition of 'natural resources.'"
It's not entirely clear what the company does, but according to a press release uncovered by MIT's Technology Review, Planetary Resources "will overlay two critical sectors -- space exploration and natural resources - to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP." The Technology Review suggests the company is proposing mining operations involving asteroids.
The list of big-league backers include a commercial space entrepreneur, a former NASA Mars mission manager, and a planetary scientist and veteran NASA astronaut, as well as former Microsoft Chief Software Architect Charles Simonyi and Ross Perot Jr, son of the former presidential candidate.
Solar power from space could be a valuable source of renewable energy, thanks to an innovative research.
Researchers at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, have already tested equipment that would provide a platform for solar panels to collect the energy and allow it to be transferred back to earth through microwaves or lasers.
This unique development would provide a reliable source of power and allow valuable energy to be sent to remote areas in the world, providing power to disaster zones or outlying areas that are difficult to reach by traditional means.
"Space provides a fantastic source for collecting solar power and we have the advantage of being able to gather it regardless of the time of the day or indeed the weather conditions," said Massimiliano Vasile, mechanical and aerospace engineer at Strathclyde, who is leading the research, according to a university statement.
"In areas like the Sahara desert where quality solar power can be captured, it becomes very difficult to transport this energy to areas where it can be used. However, our research is focusing on how we can remove this obstacle and use space-based solar power to target difficult to reach areas," Vasile said.
"By using either microwaves or lasers we would be able to beam the energy back down to earth, directly to specific areas. This would provide a reliable, quality source of energy and would remove the need for storing energy coming from renewable sources on ground as it would provide a constant delivery of solar energy," said Vasile.
"Initially, smaller satellites will be able to generate enough energy for a small village but we have the aim, and indeed the technology available, to one day put a large enough structure in space that could gather energy that would be capable of powering a large city," Vasile said.
Researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory and the Notre Dame Radiation Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame used ultrafast spectroscopy to see what happens at the subatomic level during the very first stage of photosynthesis. “If you think of photosynthesis as a marathon, we’re getting a snapshot of what a runner looks like just as he leaves the blocks,” said Argonne biochemist David Tiede. “We’re seeing the potential for a much more fundamental interaction than a lot of people previously considered.”
While different species of plants, algae and bacteria have evolved a variety of different mechanisms to harvest light energy, they all share a feature known as a photosynthetic reaction center. Pigments and proteins found in the reaction center help organisms perform the initial stage of energy conversion.
These pigment molecules, or chromophores, are responsible for absorbing the energy carried by incoming light. After a photon hits the cell, it excites one of the electrons inside the chromophore. As they observed the initial step of the process, Argonne scientists saw something no one had observed before: a single photon appeared to excite different chromophores simultaneously.
The result of the study could significantly influence efforts by chemists and nanoscientists to create artificial materials and devices that can imitate natural photosynthetic systems. Researchers still have a long way to go before they will be able to create devices that match the light harvesting efficiency of a plant.
The price of solar cells has been gliding downward for decades. Now this trend could get a shove from an improvement to a more than 20-year-old solar technology that captures light with dye molecules, an approach that's never managed to catch on.
The advance is "one of the most important breakthroughs in dye cells in the last several years," says Thomas Mallouk, a chemist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, who was not involved in the study.
Eighty percent of the market for solar cells is taken up by cells made from crystalline silicon wafers, which convert about 20% of the energy in incoming sunlight into electricity. Most of the rest of the market consists of "thin film" cells made from different semiconducting alloys that can be cheaper to produce but require toxic or rare elements.
A third class of solar cells, first developed in 1991 by researchers in Switzerland, are the cheapest to make and are more than 12% efficient. These cells, known as dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), consist of millions of tightly packed titanium dioxide nanoparticles, each coated by a single layer of dye molecules. The titanium dioxide-dye combo is then bathed in an electrically conductive liquid containing mobile ions called an electrolyte.
When photons of light strike these cells, they energize electrons in the dye. These energized electrons immediately hop to the titanium dioxide particles and then to an electrode, where they enter an electrical circuit to provide power. That leaves electron vacancies in the dye molecules, which are filled by less-energized electrons from the electrolyte, which in turn are replenished by electrons from a counter electrode.
Multi-walled carbon nanotubes riddled with defects and impurities on the outside could replace some of the expensive platinum catalysts used in fuel cells and metal-air batteries, according to scientists at Stanford University. Their findings are published in the May 27 online edition of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
For the study, the Stanford team used multi-walled carbon nanotubes consisting of two or three concentric tubes nested together. The scientists showed that shredding the outer wall, while leaving the inner walls intact, enhances catalytic activity in nanotubes, yet does not interfere with their ability to conduct electricity.
"A typical carbon nanotube has few defects," said Yanguang Li, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford and lead author of the study. "But defects are actually important to promote the formation of catalytic sites and to render the nanotube very active for catalytic reactions."
In fuel cells and metal-air batteries, platinum catalysts play a crucial role in speeding up the chemical reactions that convert hydrogen and oxygen to water. But the partially unzipped, multi-walled nanotubes might work just as well, Li added. "We found that the catalytic activity of the nanotubes is very close to platinum," he said. "This high activity and the stability of the design make them promising candidates for fuel cells."
Hypersolar’s system goes even farther down the size spectrum, using tiny particles consisting of a nanoscale solar device and a protective plastic coating.
The particles float in water, and the coating enables them to function in hostile environments including sea water, wastewater or stormwater runoff. That gives the system a leg up on conventional hydrogen systems, which require purified water.
The reaction takes place at ambient temperatures, so it can take place in a low-cost glass vessel or even an ordinary plastic bag. For the proof of concept prototype, Hypersolar used a baggie placed in wastewater from a pulp and paper mill.
A little help from hydrogen friends
Hypersolar recently partnered up with the UC-Santa Barbara College of Engineering to bring the technology closer to commercial development, with a focus on using municipal and industrial wastewater as feedstocks. Potentially, the system could be scaled up to form sprawling hydrogen “farms.”
Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) have identified a catalyst that provides the same level of efficiency in microbial fuel cells (MFCs) as the currently used platinum catalyst, but at 5% of the cost.
Since more than 60% of the investment in making microbial fuel cells is the cost of platinum, the discovery may lead to much more affordable energy conversion and storage devices.
The material – nitrogen-enriched iron-carbon nanorods – also has the potential to replace the platinum catalyst used in hydrogen-producing microbial electrolysis cells (MECs), which use organic matter to generate a possible alternative to fossil fuels.
"Fuel cells are capable of directly converting fuel into electricity," says UWM Professor Junhong Chen, who created the nanorods and is testing them with Assistant Professor Zhen (Jason) He. "With fuel cells, electrical power from renewable energy sources can be delivered where and when required, cleanly, efficiently and sustainably."
The scientists also found that the nanorod catalyst outperformed a graphene-based alternative being developed elsewhere. In fact, the pair tested the material against two other contenders to replace platinum and found the nanorods' performance consistently superior over a six-month period.
The nanorods have been proved stable and are scalable, says Chen, but more investigation is needed to determine how easily they can be mass-produced. More study is also required to determine the exact interaction responsible for the nanorods' performance.
The work was published in March in the journal Advanced Materials ("Nitrogen-Enriched Core-Shell Structured Fe/Fe3C-C Nanorods as Advanced Catalysts for Oxygen Reduction Reaction").
SOLAR panels get better and cheaper with every passing year. In one way, though, they are still pretty primitive. They work only with light that falls in the visible part of the spectrum. Yet 40% of the solar energy that reaches the Earth is in, or very close to, the infra-red. A cell that could harvest such radiation would be a boon to the solar-power business, but building one has proved difficult. Now, though, as they report in Advanced Materials, a group of researchers led by Michael Strano at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have figured out how to do it.
When the silicon in a standard solar cell is struck by sunlight, it releases electrons that can be sent off to generate electrical power. Other substances react in the same way to light of other frequencies. Researchers have, for example, known for several years that carbon nanotubes, tiny cylinders of pure carbon, will release electrons when stimulated by infra-red light.
That discovery led to much experimentation, but little progress. The chief difficulty lies in the process used to make the tubes. This actually produces a mixture of two different sorts: ones that have metal-like properties and ones that are semiconducting. Solar cells need the semiconducting variety. Metallic ones poison the process and must be removed before a cell can work properly.
Until now, researchers wishing to do that have been forced to play a tedious game of pick-up-sticks, selecting the semiconducting nanotubes one by one and then sticking them in place with glue. It is possible to make a solar cell this way, but it is time-consuming and expensive. Worse, the chemical instability of the glue means such cells tend to break down rapidly.
Dr Strano, however, has made use of a new manufacturing process that uses a polymer gel that has an affinity for semiconducting nanotubes, but not metallic ones. He is thus able to extract large amounts of semiconducting tubes from a mixture. That done, he deposits them in a 100 nanometre-thick layer on top of a piece of glass, to which their bulk causes them to stick without the need for glue. The whole thing is then topped with a layer of buckminsterfullerene, a form of carbon in which the atoms are organised as spheres. This conducts away the electricity produced by the nanotubes.
The result is not exactly efficient. It transforms only around 0.1% of the infra-red light thrown at it into electricity. But Dr Strano and his colleagues are nonetheless jubilant. After all, 0.1% is a big step up from nothing at all, and most existing solar technologies began with similarly poor efficiencies that were improved gradually over the course of time.
Moreover, the new technology has one big benefit. Though the carbon nanotubes absorb infra-red light, they are almost totally transparent to the visible variety. This means that, if and when they become commercially viable, they can be laid over traditional silicon cells to produce a device that converts a far larger fraction of the incident sunlight into electricity. And that really would be a boon.
Barring the sudden resurrection of the Concorde, humans won’t get to experience ultra-high speed air transportation anytime soon. If that ever changes, it may be thanks to the Boeing X-51--an experimental plane that can go up to 3,600 mph--three times faster than the Concorde. That’s fast enough to go from Los Angeles to New York City in under an hour. And this week, it will be tested in the real world.
The unmanned plane, which looks like it emerged from a vintage sci-fi novel, is "airbreathing"--meaning it operates using onboard hydrogen fuel and oxygen pulled from the atmosphere. The compression of the two gases gives the plane enough thrust to travel at hypersonic speeds.
Like many major technological innovations, the X-51 program is a military effort, created as a partnership between the United States Air Force, DARPA, NASA, Boeing, and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. Today’s test will see the plane attached to the wing of a B-52 bomber, flying from Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert to a point 50,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean. There is no final land-based destination; the plane is supposed to fly at Mach 6 (hypersonic speeds) for 330 seconds before dropping into the ocean. If it works, it will be the longest that a plane has ever flown at that speed.
The X-51 is intended for use as a stealth military aircraft--one that can potentially travel with weapons at high speeds. But there are obvious civilian applications further down the line. "Once the military proves out the concept, hypersonic transport becomes a step closer to reality," explained Dora Musielak, an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Texas at Arlington, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. And when hypersonic transport becomes a viable option, the world will get a whole lot smaller.
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