Researchers have developed a type of “smart paper” that can conduct electricity and detect water.

The paper, laced with conductive nanomaterials, can be employed as a switch, turning on or off an LED light, or as an alarm system indicating the absence or presence of water.

In cities and large-scale manufacturing plants, a water leak in a complicated network of pipes can take tremendous time and effort to detect, as technicians must disassemble many pieces to locate the problem.

The American Water Works Association indicates that nearly a quarter-million water line breaks occur each year in the United States, costing public water utilities about $2.8 billion annually.

The smart paper could simplify the process for discovering detrimental leaks.

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GridResearchers from Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have successfully created food out of electricity and carbon dioxide, which they hope could one day be used to help solve world hunger.

According to reports, the single-cell protein can be produced wherever renewable energy is available, with uses ranging from food to animal feed.

“In practice, all the raw materials are available from the air. In the future, the technology can be transported to, for instance, deserts and other areas facing famine,” co-author of the research, Juha-Pekka Pitkanen, said in a statement. “One possible alternative is a home reactor, a type of domestic appliance that the consumer can use to produce the needed protein.”

The researchers achieved this result by exposing those raw materials and putting them in a small “protein reactor.” After exposing it to electrolysis, chemical decomposition occurs. After about two weeks, one gram of powder made of 50 percent protein and 25 percent carbohydrate.

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By: William Bentley, University of Maryland and Gregory Payne, University of Maryland

CellsMicroelectronics has transformed our lives. Cellphones, earbuds, pacemakers, defibrillators – all these and more rely on microelectronics’ very small electronic designs and components. Microelectronics has changed the way we collect, process and transmit information.

Such devices, however, rarely provide access to our biological world; there are technical gaps. We can’t simply connect our cellphones to our skin and expect to gain health information. For instance, is there an infection? What type of bacteria or virus is involved? We also can’t program the cellphone to make and deliver an antibiotic, even if we knew whether the pathogen was Staph or Strep. There’s a translation problem when you want the world of biology to communicate with the world of electronics.

The research we’ve just published with colleagues in Nature Communications brings us one step closer to closing that communication gap. Rather than relying on the usual molecular signals, like hormones or nutrients, that control a cell’s gene expression, we created a synthetic “switching” system in bacterial cells that recognizes electrons instead. This new technology – a link between electrons and biology – may ultimately allow us to program our phones or other microelectronic devices to autonomously detect and treat disease.

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Static Electricity’s Tiny Sparks

By: Sebastian Deffner, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Static electricityStatic electricity is a ubiquitous part of everyday life. It’s all around us, sometimes funny and obvious, as when it makes your hair stand on end, sometimes hidden and useful, as when harnessed by the electronics in your cellphone. The dry winter months are high season for an annoying downside of static electricity – electric discharges like tiny lightning zaps whenever you touch door knobs or warm blankets fresh from the clothes dryer.

Static electricity is one of the oldest scientific phenomena people observed and described. Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus made the first account; in his sixth century B.C. writings, he noted that if amber was rubbed hard enough, small dust particles will start sticking to it. Three hundred years later, Theophrastus followed up on Thales’ experiments by rubbing various kinds of stone and also observed the “power of attraction.” But neither of these natural philosophers found a satisfactory explanation for what they saw.

It took almost 2,000 more years before the English word “electricity” was first coined, based on the Latin “electricus,” meaning “like amber.” Some of the most famous experiments were conducted by Benjamin Franklin in his quest to understand the underlying mechanism of electricity – which is one of the reasons why his face smiles from the US$100 bill. People quickly recognized electricity’s potential usefulness.

Of course, in the 18th century people mostly made use of static electricity in magic tricks and other performances. For instance, Stephen Gray‘s “flying boy experiment” became a popular public demonstration: He’d use a Leyden jar to charge up the youth, suspended from silk cords, and then show how he could turn book pages via static electricity, or lift small objects just using the static attraction.

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The landscape of Bangladesh is lined with tin huts and a practically invisible energy grid. Over 70 percent of the country’s population lives without power, and in a location that approaches 45°C (113°F) in the summer months, that could mean unbearable and dangerous living conditions.

Enter the zero-electricity cooler: Eco-Cooler. Built with re-purposed bottles, the panels use the simple concept that as hot air passes through the wide end of the bottle, it will cool as it is compressed and pushed out of the narrow end into the home. So far, families have seen temperature drops of five degrees after using the devices.

“After initial tests, blueprints of the Eco-Cooler were put up online for everyone to download for free.” Sayed Gousul Alam Shaon, managing partner of the project said in a release. “Raw materials are easily available, therefore, making Eco-Coolers a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly solution.”

Making Music through Tesla Coils

Musicians ArcAttack are bringing new meaning to the genre of electronic music with their rendition of Europe’s “Final Countdown” rendered through the hums of the infamous Tesla coils.

In order to produce the fury of sound and electricity, the band rigged their instruments to the frequencies of electrical current coursing through the coils. The resulting sparks can cause vibrations through the air at predetermined frequencies.

From Trash to (Energy) Treasure

Image: Liz West

Image: Liz West

It doesn’t matter how green you thumb is, there will always be fruits and vegetables in your garden that just don’t quite make it. The same concept goes for commercial farms, where farmers accumulate tons of fruit and vegetable waste every year.

In fact, the state of Florida alone produces an estimated 369,000 tons of waste from tomatoes each year. But what if you could turn that waste into electricity?

That’s exactly what one team comprised of researchers from South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Princeton University, and Florida Gulf Coast University are doing.

In order to produce the electricity, the team developed a microbial electrochemical cell that can use tomato waste to generate electric current.

“We have found that spoiled and damaged tomatoes left over from harvest can be a particularly powerful source of energy when used in a biological or microbial electrochemical cell,” says Namita Shrestha, a graduate student working on the project.

This from Tree Hugger:

The bacteria in the fuel cell trigger an oxidation process that releases electrons which are captured by the fuel cell and become a source of electricity. The tomatoes have proven to be a potent energy source. The natural lycopene in the tomatoes acts as a mediator to encourage electricity generation and the researchers say that while waste material usually performs poorly compared to pure chemicals in fuel cells, the waste tomatoes perform just as well or better.

Read the full article.

While their first trial resulted in just 0.3 watts of electricity per 10 milligrams of tomato waste, the researchers believe that more trials will result in improved electricity generation.

New Tire Harnesses Heat to Power Your Car

The tire can generate energy from friction and heat. However, Goodyear has yet to describe the materials to be used.Image: YouTube/Goodyear

The tire can generate energy from friction and heat. However, Goodyear has yet to describe the materials to be used.
Image: YouTube/Goodyear

There’s no question that engineers and manufacturers around the world are moving away from the fuel-based car to the electric vehicle. In order to make these cars possible, they must improve in efficiency. Now, one company is looking outside the box for the answer to electric car sustainability.

Goodyear has just announced the concept of their new tire, which will harvest heat in a variety of ways to help power electric vehicles. The new BH-03 tire is poised to be able to absorb heat while static due to the ultra-black texture of the tire, as well as take advantage of the natural occurrence of friction as the tire moves.

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Making Poop Potable

The OmniProcessor is the ultimate example of that old expression: one man's trash is another man's treasure.Image: YouTube/Gates Notes

The OmniProcessor is the ultimate example of that old expression: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Image: YouTube/Gates Notes

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is working to turn poop into drinking water with this ingenious new machine.

As part of their effort to improve sanitation in poor countries, the Gates Foundation has helped give flight to an OmniProcessor that burns human waste to produce water and electricity.

How does it work? Check out the video to see the process.

But here’s the big question – why do we need to turn waste into drinking water and electricity?

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Helping Medicine with Graphene Quantum Dots

Researchers from the University of Sydney have recently published their findings that quantum dots made of graphene can improve bio-imaging and LEDs.

The study was published in the journal Nanoscale, where the scientists detailed how activating graphene quantum dots produced a dot that would shine nearly five times bright than the conventional equivalent.

Essentially, the dots are nano-sized semiconductors, which are fluorescent due to their surface properties. However, this study introduces the utilization of graphene in the quantum dot, which produces an extra-bright dot that has the potential to help medicine.

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