Pressure Retarded Osmosis (PRO)

Pressure retarded osmosis (PRO) is a method of producing renewable energy from two streams of a different salinity.
Credit: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

When the River Meets the Sea” may very well be a John Denver song circa 1979, but it is also an intersection with the potential to generate a significant amount of power. According to a team of mechanical engineers at MIT, when river water collides with sea water, there exists the potential to harness a significant amount of renewable energy.

This from Phys.org:

The researchers evaluated an emerging method of power generation called pressure retarded osmosis (PRO), in which two streams of different salinity are mixed to produce energy. In principle, a PRO system would take in river water and seawater on either side of a semi-permeable membrane. Through osmosis, water from the less-salty stream would cross the membrane to a pre-pressurized saltier side, creating a flow that can be sent through a turbine to recover power.

Read the full article here.

According to calculations by Leonardo Banchik, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, a PRO system could potentially power a coastal wastewater-treatment plant by taking in seawater and combining it with treated wastewater to produce renewable energy.

Although more research needs to be done to see in what applications the PRO system is economically viable, Banchik sees the huge potential of this method.

“Say we’re in a place that could really use desalinated water, like California, which is going through a terrible drought,” Banchik says. “They’re building a desalination plant that would sit right at the sea, which would take in seawater and give Californians water to drink. It would also produce a saltier brine, which you could mix with wastewater to produce power.”

Learn more about new devlopments in osmosis via ECS’s Digital Library.

Solar Energy Without Blocking the View

Solar Concentrator

The solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight.
Credit: Yimu Zhao

A team of researchers at Michigan State University has developed a new type of solar concentrator that can harvest energy when placed over a window without blocking the view.

The new development is called the transparent luminescent solar concentrator and it has the potential to be used on buildings, cell phones, and any other device that has a flat, clear surface.

This from Science Daily:

Research in the production of energy from solar cells placed around luminescent plastic-like materials is not new. These past efforts, however, have yielded poor results – the energy production was inefficient and the materials were highly colored.

Read the full article here.

The transparent luminescent solar concentrator is still in the beginning of its development – yielding a solar conversion efficiency just close to one percent. However, Richard Lunt of MSU’s College of Engineering believes the concentrator will reach efficiencies beyond five percent when fully optimized.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

ECS will have a symposium at the upcoming meeting in Cancun dealing with solar fuels and the utilization of solar energy. Find out more about the meeting and sign-up for early bird registration today!

Electrochemical Detector

The device vibrates the test strip to mix the sample and reagent runs an electric current through it, and spits out the results on the screen.
Credit: Stephanie Mitchell

The researchers at Harvard University have devised a new portable device that has the ability to perform an abundance of medical tests – all thanks to electrochemistry.

“By applying a small amount of electricity to a drop of blood mixed with a reagent, the device can gauge glucose levels. The same goes for heavy metals in water, malaria antigens in blood, and sodium in urine,” researchers explained.

The beauty of the device lies in its simplicity and affordability. The total manufacturing costs comes in at $25, making it accessible to many. It also has an audio-out port, which allows users to transmit their readings via a cellphone to an online server.

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Lead-acid car batteries

According to engineers at MIT, we can recycle them to make long-lasting, low-cost solar panels. Credit: Christine Daniloff

The old lead-acid battery in your car may not be as useless or environmentally dangerous as was once thought. In fact, these batteries may be the answer to creating a cheap source of green energy.

According to engineers at MIT, old lead-acid batteries can be recycled and easily converted into long-lasting, low-cost solar panels. So far, the solar cells in the panels have yielded promising results – achieving over 19 percent efficiency in converting sunlight to useable electricity.

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We all know the health risks that cigarette smoking can lead to, but with over one billion smokers internationally – according to the researchers at the World Health Organization (WHO) – smoking cigarettes has also become an environmental issue. However, a group of scientists in South Korea have discovered a way to transform this waste into a positive by converting the cigarette butts into green energy in a one-step process.

This from Smithsonian:

In a recent paper in the journal Nanotechnology, the researchers demonstrated a one-step process for turning used cigarette filters (the main component of butts) into a material that can be used to store energy in supercapacitors—components that can be used alongside batteries in the electrical grid, consumer electronics and electric vehicles.

Read the full article here.

While it is unlikely that the supercapacitors will match the storage abilities of chemical-based batteries any time soon, the scientists are optimistic about the potential of this process. With trillions of cigarette butts being tossed out each year, there is no shortage of materials to build billions of supercapacitors.

Find out more about the evolving science of supercapacitors in ECS’s Digital Library.

Tattoo That Harvests Energy from Persperation

Biobattery Tattoo

The biobattery tattoo that can create power through perspiration. Credit: Joseph Wang

Power through perspiration. That is the idea behind the new temporary tattoo that can store and generate electrical energy from your own sweat.

This new method was announced at the American Chemical Society meeting by Dr. Wenzhao Jia of the University of California, San Diego.

According to Jia’s explanation of the device in the journal Angewante Chemie, the temporary tattoo essentially acts as a sensor that measures the body’s lactate levels, which are the chemicals naturally present in sweat. From there, an enzyme in the sensor strips electrons from, which generates an electrical current. The current is then stored in a battery that is also built into the sensor.

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Using Hemp to Store Energy

“People ask me: why hemp? I say, why not?”

That is what Dr. David Mitlin said about the new discovery in bio-waste that has been published in the journal ACS Nano, according to BBC.

Mitlin and his team presented their findings at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco, where it was explained how waste fibres from hemp can be transformed into high performance energy storage devices.

The hemp – which is legal to grow due to the absence of THC – is producing supercapacitors that are at least on par with the graphene, which is known to be the industry’s gold standard.

Dr. Mitlin and his researchers primary focusing on taking produces that are considered waste and evolving them into something applicable and with high value.

This from BBC:

But the leftover bast fibre – the inner bark – typically ends up as landfill. Dr Mitlin’s team took these fibres and recycled them into supercapacitors – energy storage devices which are transforming the way electronics are powered.

Read the full article here.

If you’re interested in Dr. Mitlin’s research, take a look at this article that he published with ECS.

Sensors

Sensors detect and measure changes in position, temperature, light, etc. and they are necessary to turn billions of objects into data-generating “things” that can report on their status, and in some cases, interact with their environment.

With countless companies adopting the ever growing technology that is the Internet of Things (IoT), it is expected to grow to a multitrillion-dollar market by the year 2020.

The basic concept of IoT is to bring as many things into the digital fold as possible and create an ultimate sense of interconnection through hardware and software – but most importantly, through sensors.

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Working with Stuff

DuPont Logo

Or … Better living through working with more stuff.

This is from the Summer 2014 edition of Interface which should have just arrived in your real-world mailbox. It’s Petr Vanysek’s “From the Editor” piece.

I think that I will need to change what I do. No, I am not thinking of quitting electrochemistry and opening a kennel for German shepherds. I like chemistry and I do not see eliminating it from my life, but the college freshmen students would probably prefer to see it, at least in the name, all gone. Now, it seems, that even the analytical chemistry specialty is in peril.

You see, I am going to give a recruitment talk at a chemistry department at one of the Wisconsin universities. This is how it works: our department sends neighboring schools fliers describing our PhD program and offers to send a professor to give a seminar presentation. The host department gets a free seminar out of it and our department may entice some students to apply to our graduate program. Even if nobody applies right there and then, the departments keep in touch, which is always nice. In preparation for the trip I offered a few topics I could discuss, all electrochemical, and I asked which would be the most appreciated by the students. The guidance I got was frank and disheartening. “For some reason,” the instructor in charge wrote, “the word ‘Analytical’ seems to cause student aversion – thus I’d counsel against its use in a title.”

Electrochemistry at U.S. chemistry departments is traditionally part of the analytical chemistry curriculum, so how long can I hide the fact that I am a chemist and an analytical one at that? The more pressing question is, what can we do about it? There are possibly two reasons why the present student population does not care much for chemistry. One goes back to their parents and grandparents. Larry Faulkner in his tribute to Bard and Goodenough, pointed out how the DuPont slogan “Better Living Through Chemistry,” adopted in 1935, lost the “through chemistry” in 1982.

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