Solar-powered Water Purifier

Water purificationIn an effort to purify water, researchers from the University at Buffalo are using carbon-dipped paper to make dirty water drinkable.

Those behind the research believe this new development could be a cheap and efficient way to address a global shortage in drinking water, specifically in developing areas.

(MORE: See what ECS members are doing to address global water and sanitation issues.)

“Using extremely low-cost materials, we have been able to create a system that makes near maximum use of the solar energy during evaporation,” says Qiaoqiang Gan, lead researcher. “At the same time, we are minimizing the amount of heat loss during this process.”

This from University at Buffalo:

The team built a small-scale solar still. The device, which they call a “solar vapor generator,” cleans or desalinates water by using the heat converted from sunlight. Here’s how it works: The sun evaporates the water. During this process, salt, bacteria, or other unwanted elements are left behind as the liquid moves into a gaseous state. The water vapor then cools and returns to a liquid state, where it is collected in a separate container without the salt or contaminants.

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Plastic treeNew technology that mimics the branches and leaves of a cottonwood tree can generate electricity with the help of the wind.

Researchers say that the new technology is not meant to be a replacement for wind turbines, but could offer an alternative electricity source for those looking for small, unobtrusive machines to transform wind into energy.

“The possible advantages here are aesthetics and its smaller scale, which may allow off-grid energy harvesting,” says Michael McCloskey, co-author of the study. “We set out to answer the question of whether you can get useful amounts of electrical power out of something that looks like a plant. The answer is ‘possibly,’ but the idea will require further development.”

On top of efficiency and affordability, consumers are also looking for alternative energy technologies to be aesthetically attractive, as demonstrated in Tesla’s solar roof.

According to McCloskey, cell phone towers in urban locations are sometimes camouflaged as trees to offer better aesthetic properties. The researchers believe that towers such as this, which already host fake leaves, could be greatly improved by implementing this technology to tap energy from the leaves and provide further functionality.

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“We all need to understand each other and what we can do together to benefit the greater community.”
-Way Kuo

Way Kuo is president of the City University of Hong Kong. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and a Foreign Member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and Russian Academy of Engineering.

He was the first foreign expert invited to discuss nuclear safety following the Fukushima incident. He argues that a holistic view of energy development is required, one that prioritizes the production and use of reliable energy sources over that of polluting and volatile ones. He maps out a policy that encourages and rewards the conservation of energy and efficiency in energy use.

You can meet Kuo in person at the 231st ECS Meeting this May in New Orleans, LA, where he will deliver the ECS Lecture, entitled “A Risk Look at Energy Development.”

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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HydrogenNew research led by ECS Fellow John Turner, researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, demonstrates a pioneering, efficient way to make renewable hydrogen.

Hydrogen has many highly sought after qualities when he comes to clean energy sources. It is a simple element, high in energy, and produces almost zero pollution when burned. However, while hydrogen is one of the most plentiful elements in the universe, it doesn’t occur naturally as a gas – instead, it’s always combined with other elements. That’s where efforts in water-splitting come in.

If researchers can effectively split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, new branches of hydrogen production could emerge.

Turner and his team are working on a method to boost the longevity of highly efficient photochatodes in photoelectrochemical water-splitting devices.

“Electrochemistry nowadays is really the key,” Turner told ECS during a podcast in 2015. “We have fuel cells, we have electrolyzers, and we have batteries. All of the things going on in transportation and storage, it all comes down to electrochemical energy conversion.”

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Catalysts

Image: MIT

The future of renewable energy heavily depends on energy storage technologies. At the center of these technologies are oxygen-evaluation reactions, which make possible such processes as water splitting, electrochemical carbon dioxide reduction, and ammonia production.

However, the kinetics of the oxygen-evolution reactions tend to be slow. But metal oxides involved in this process have catalytic activities that vary over several orders of magnitude, with some exhibiting the highest such rates reported to date. The origins of these activates are not well-understood by the scientific community.

A new study from MIT, led by 2016 winner of the Battery Division Research Award, Yang Shao-Horn, shows that in some of these catalysts, the oxygen does not only come from surrounding water molecules – some actually come from within the crystal lattice of the catalyst material itself.

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Waste waterA new study led by ECS member Haluk Beyenal reveals a novel type of cooperative photosynthesis with potential applications in waste treatment and bioenergy production.

The research details a unique metabolic process observed for the first time in a pair of bacteria, which could be used to engineer microbial communities. Beyenal and his team honed in on a bacterium known as Prosthecochloris aestaurii, which is able to photosynthesize by using sunlight and elemental sulfur or hydrogen sulfide.

This from Washington State University:

The researchers noticed that P. aestuarii tended to gather around a carbon electrode, an electricity conductor that they were operating in Hot Lake. The researchers isolated and grew P. aestuarii and determined that, similar to the way half of a battery works, the bacterium is able to grab electrons from a solid electrode and use them for photosynthesis. The pink-colored Geobacter sulfurreducens meanwhile, is known for its ability to convert waste organic matter to electricity in microbial fuel cells. The bacterium is also used in environmental cleanup.

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BiofuelBiofuels have become a promising potential alternative for traditional fossil fuels. However, producing biofules only make sense if the greenhouse gasses emitted are less than other means of producing energy.

According to new research, sugarcane and nepiegrass could be two of the most promising candidates for biofuel production due to their ability to isolate more carbon dioxide in the soil than is lost in the atmosphere.

Sugarcane and nepiegrass both have large carbon-storing root biomass that can offset the carbon dioxide emitted during cultivation. To test this, researchers observed these plants in Hawaii over a two year period, measuring both the above- and below-ground biomass and resulting greenhouse gas flux.

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France Builds First Solar Road

Solar roadRecent trends in solar technology have led to transforming mundane surface to energy harvesting powerhouses. First, Elon Musk proposed his new solar roof. Now, rural France is taking a page from that book with the recent paving of paths with solar panels.

The solar road is part of the Wattway projects, which aims to pave nearly 3,000 roadways with solar panel tiles.

According to reports, the 1 kilometer road will produce 767 kWh hours of electricity every day. Because the panels are flat, the amount of energy produced is limited. However, the energy generated is enough to power an average family home for one year.

“We are still experimenting with Wattway,” says Jean-Charles Broizat, CEO of Wattway, in a statement. “Building an application site of this magnitude is a real opportunity for our innovation. This application site has enabled us to improve our process of installing photovoltaic panels as well as their manufacture, in order to optimize our solution as best as possible.”

What is Blue Energy?

Blue energyWater and energy are inextricably linked. The two have shared a long technological and symbolic connection, which has led to what researchers in the field call the energy/water nexus.

The energy/water nexus refers to the relationship between the water used for energy production and the energy consumed to extract, purify, and deliver water. During the PRiME 2016 meeting in October, researchers from across the globe gathered together for the Energy/Water Nexus: Power from Saline Solutions symposium to discuss emerging technologies and how the interplay between water and energy could affect society now and in the future.

“It’s very hard to say energy and not say water in the same sentence. They are completely interconnected systems,” says Andrew Herring, co-organizer of the symposium and Colorado School of Mines professor. “You cannot have clean water without energy, and to have clean water, you have to have energy.”

Some of the most common research topics in the water/energy nexus are water purification, desalination, and cooling efforts to create energy sources. However, there is another subcategory of this field that is overlooked but could play a vital role in the development of future technologies: blue energy.

Potential of blue energy

The concept of blue energy – otherwise known as osmotic power – was developed upon the realization that through electrochemistry, researchers can create a concentration cell with salt water on one side and fresh water on the other, which results in a novel way to power devices.

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Flow batteryA team of researchers at Case Western Reserve University is building a flow battery prototype to provide cleaner, cheaper power.

The team, co-led by ECS member Bob Savinell, is working to scale up the technology in order develop a practical, efficient energy storage device that can store excess electricity and potentially augment the grid in light of a shift toward renewables.

With a $1.17 million federal grant, the team has started to build a 1-kilowatt prototype with enough power to run various, high-powered household devices for six hours.

“Intermittent energy sources, such as solar and wind, combined with traditional sources of coal and nuclear power, are powering the grid. To meet peak demand, we often use less-efficient coal or gas-powered turbines,” says Savinell, ECS Fellow and editor of the Journal of The Electrochemical Society. “But if we can store excess energy and make it available at peak use, we can increase the overall efficiency and decrease the amount of carbon dioxide emitted and lower the cost of electricity.”

One of the biggest barriers preventing the large-scale use of electrochemical energy storage devices has been the cost. To address this, Savinell and his team have been developing the flow battery with cheaper materials, such as iron and water.

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