PhotosynthesisResearchers have traced the paths of three water channels in an ancient photosynthetic organism—a strain of cyanobacteria—to provide the first comprehensive, experimental study of how that organism uses and regulates water to create energy.

The finding advances photosynthesis research but also presents an advance in green fuels research.

Photosynthesis is the chemical conversion of sunlight into chemical energy via an electron transport chain essential to nearly all life on our planet. All plants operate by photosynthesis, as do algae and certain varieties of bacteria.

‘Damage trails’

To convert sunlight into a usable form of energy, photosynthetic organisms require water at the “active site” of the Photosystem II protein complex. But the channels through which water arrives at the active site are difficult to measure experimentally. Reactive oxygen species are produced at the active site and travel away from it, in the opposite direction as water, leaving a “damage trail” in their wake.

“We identified the damaged sites in Photosystem II using high-resolution mass spectrometry and found that they reveal several pathways centered on the active site and leading away from it all the way to the surface of the complex,” says lead study author Daniel A. Weisz, a postdoctoral researcher in biology at Washington University in St. Louis.

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By: Joshua M. Pearce, Michigan Technological University

EnergyWithin the next month, energy watchers expect the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to act on an order from Energy Secretary Rick Perry that would create new pricing rules for certain power plants that can store fuel on site to support grid resilience. This initiative seeks to protect coal-fired and nuclear power plants that are struggling to compete with cheaper energy sources.

Perry’s proposed rule applies to plants that operate in regions with deregulated power markets, where utilities normally compete to deliver electricity at the lowest price. To qualify, plants would have to keep a 90-day fuel supply on site. Each qualified plant would be allowed to “recover its fully allocated costs.”

In other words, plant owners would be able to charge enough to cover a range of costs, including operating costs, costs of capital and debt, and investor returns. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Neil Chatterjee has stated that the extra money to keep coal and nuclear plants running “would come from customers in that region, who need the reliability.”

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Matt Murbach

Matthew Murbach, co-founder of Battery Informatics, Inc.

Matthew Murbach, founding president of the ECS student chapter at the University of Washington (UW) and motivating force behind the launch of the ECS Data Sciences Hack Day, has been named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the area of energy. According to Forbes, Murbach was recognized for his work “to commercialize battery management breakthroughs to enable faster charging, finer control over degradation and longer lifetimes.”

Murbach is co-founder of Battery Informatics, Inc. and a PhD student in chemical engineering at the University of Washington. Murbach’s PhD research is exploring new ways to diagnose the state of health in batteries, a critical and expensive asset in the emerging low carbon energy economy.

Battery Informatics is a next-generation battery management company focused on capturing the maximum value of energy storage through software solutions. The company is licensing UW intellectual property to extract the maximum value from these battery assets over the whole battery lifecycle. Just this month, they are flipping the switch on their first customer installation.

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ECS Lecture with Steven Chu

The ECS Lecture during the 232nd ECS Meeting in National Harbor, MD, was delivered by Steven Chu. Chu is currently the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular & Cellular Physiology at Stanford. Previously, he served as U.S. Secretary of Energy under President Obama and was the co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution to laser cooling and atom trapping.

Chu’s ECS Lecture, “The Role of Electrochemistry in our Transition to Sustainable Energy,” focused on the risks society is facing due to changing climate, the evolving energy landscape, and the role of electrochemistry in providing critical technological advances.

During his lecture, Chu outlined the risks that modern society faces, which demand technological innovation to provide solutions. Namely, Chu stated that the rising climate poses significant risks to the global community. According to Chu, the Earth has warmed by an alarming one degree Celsius since 1975.

“One degree Celsius does not sound like a lot, but just a couple of degrees warmer would make a dramatic difference,” Chu said. “If the Earth does warm by two degrees Celsius, Boston will be underwater.”

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Carbon dioxideAfter remaining steady for three years, global fossil fuel emissions are rising again and may increase again next year. But improved energy efficiency and a booming renewables market may offer a bit of a silver lining.

“This year’s result is discouraging, but I remain hopeful,” says Rob Jackson, professor at the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences at Stanford University and chair of the Global Carbon Project, which released a series of reports in Environmental Research Letters.

“In the US, cities, states, and companies have seized leadership on energy efficiency and low-carbon renewables that the federal government has abdicated.”

The report appears with data published simultaneously in an Earth System Science Data Discussions paper led by Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia, who is also part of the Global Carbon Project.

Together, they forecast that global fossil fuel emissions will reach a record 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2017, with total emissions reaching a record 41 billion tons, including deforestation. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration reached 403 parts per million in 2016, and is expected to increase by 2.5 parts per million in 2017.

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GridEngineers have developed a 4-in-1 smart utilities plant that produces electricity, water, air-conditioning, and heat in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way.

The eco-friendly system harvests waste energy and is suitable for building clusters and underground cities, especially those in the tropics.

“Currently, significant amount of energy is required for the generation of electricity, water, air-conditioning, and heat. Running four independent processes also result in extensive energy wastage, and such systems take up a huge floor area,” says Ernest Chua, associate professor in the mechanical engineering department at National University of Singapore Faculty of Engineering.

“With our smart plant, these processes are carefully integrated together such that waste energy can be harvested for useful output. Overall, this novel approach could cut energy usage by 25 to 30 percent and the 4-in-1 plant is also less bulky.

“Users can also enjoy cheaper and a more resilient supply of utilities.”

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By: Gunnar W. Schade, Texas A&M University

FrackingUrban air pollution in the U.S. has been decreasing near continuously since the 1970s.

Federal regulations, notably the Clean Air Act passed by President Nixon, to reduce toxic air pollutants such as benzene, a hydrocarbon, and ozone, a strong oxidant, effectively lowered their abundance in ambient air with steady progress.

But about 10 years ago, the picture on air pollutants in the U.S. started to change. The “fracking boom” in several different parts of the nation led to a new source of hydrocarbons to the atmosphere, affecting abundances of both toxic benzene and ozone, including in areas that were not previously affected much by such air pollution.

As a result, in recent years there has been a spike of research to determine what the extent of emissions are from fracked oil and gas wells – called “unconventional” sources in the industry. While much discussion has surrounded methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, less attention has been paid to air toxics.

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Transitioning to 100% Renewable

On the latest episode of the Science Vs podcast, host Wendy Zukerman takes a look at renewable energy in the United States. Through research and interviews with scientists across the board, Zukerman poses the ultimate question: Can the U.S. go 100 percent renewable by 2050?

Listen to Mark Delucchi, Christopher Clack, and David Connolly as they navigate the renewable energy debate and discuss the role of renewables.

PS: Want more science podcasts? Check out the nearly 70 epiosdes of the ECS Podcast!

Using unique design and building methods, researchers have created a prototype for an ultra-thin, curving concrete roof that will also generate solar power.

The self-supporting, doubly curved shell roof has multiple layers: the heating and cooling coils and the insulation are installed over the inner concrete layer. A second, exterior layer of the concrete sandwich structure encloses the roof, onto which builders install thin-film photovoltaic cells.

Philippe Block, a professor of architecture and structures at ETH Zurich, and Arno Schlüter, a professor of architecture and building systems, led the team. They want to put the new lightweight construction to the test and combine it with intelligent and adaptive building systems.

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Our guest today, James Fenton, is the director of the Florida Solar Energy Center at the University of Central Florida – the nation’s largest and most active state-supported renewable energy and energy efficiency institute.

Fenton is also the current secretary of the ECS Board of Directors.

Listen to the podcast and download this episode and others for free through the iTunes Store, SoundCloud, or our RSS Feed. You can also find us on Stitcher.

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