Marshall Medoff shares his work with Lesley Stahl. Photo Credit: 60 Minutes
Marshall Medoff will make you think twice about what is possible. The 81-year-old took an interest in the environment 25 years ago and decided he was going to take it upon himself to stop global warming. With no science background or financial support, Medoff took it upon himself to “save the world.” For more than a decade, he worked alone out of a garage at a storage facility, educating himself and working towards his goal; his solution, transform inedible plant life into environmentally friendly transportation fuels in a clean, cost-effective alternative.
“Cellulose is everywhere. I mean, there’s just so much cellulose in the world and nobody had managed to use any of it,” explained Medoff, as he chatted with correspondent Lesley Stahl on 60 minutes. “I said, ‘Wow, if I can break through this, we can increase the resources of the world maybe by a third or more.’ Who knows?” (more…)
Most take the world around them for granted, never expecting anything extraordinary out of what’s always proven to be, well, extra ordinary. According to Futurism, that’s what many felt about a methylene blue dye used to dye fabric in textile mills. Its remnants even considered a nuisance and a hazard, often making its way from the mill and into the environment, where it’s no easy task to clean up.
So researchers from the University at Buffalo began experimenting with the industrial dye, in an attempt to reuse the wasted material, turning the methylene blue wastewater into an environmentally safe material – in batteries.
Urban 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.
The fifth international Electrochemical Energy Summit recently took place during the 228th ECS Meeting. From environmental damage to economic implications to political involvement, the summit served as a forum for the top researchers in energy technology to discuss the most pressing issues in renewable energy and inspire technological solutions.
During the summit, we gathered some key speakers from energy research institutions across the U.S. to talk about challenges in energy storage, roadblocks for implementing renewables, and the role government plays in changing the energy infrastructure.
The podcast is moderated by ECS vice president Krishnan Rajeshwar, with guests David Wesolowski, The Fluid Interface Reactions, Structures and Transport (FIRST) Energy Frontier Research Center; M. Stanley Whittingham, NorthEast Center for Chemical Energy Storage (NECCES); Gary Rubloff, Nanostructures for Electrical Energy Storage (NEES) Energy Frontier Research Center; and Paul Fenter, Center for Electrochemical Energy Science (CEES).
The new, inexpensive catalyst could lead to the transformation of CO2 into green fuel. Image: Angewandte Chemie
On a global scale, carbon dioxide (CO2) is the number one contributor to dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing levels of CO2 accelerate the devastating effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and a higher global temperature. In order to reduce these emissions, researchers are tackling projects from the implementation of a clean energy infrastructure to scrubbing CO2 from the atmosphere. The researchers from the University of South Carolina are exploring even another innovative way to reduce CO2 emissions by turning the harmful byproduct into fuel.
The team, led by ECS member Xiao-Dong Zhou, is looking for a way to harness CO2 emissions that already exist in the environment and use green technologies to inject energy and produce fuel.
Making Green Fuels
While 100 percent renewable energy may be the ultimate answer for the energy infrastructure, it is difficult for industrialized countries that heavily depend on traditional combustion technologies to make that transition so rapidly. The implementation of wind and solar technologies on the large scale also raises question to grid efficiency, reliability, and storage.
One solution to this issue is by using technologies such as solar and wind to turn harmful CO2 emissions into clean, usable fuels.
When it comes to alternative energy solutions, many researchers are looking to fuel cells as a promising solution. With high theoretical efficiency levels and their environmentally friendly qualities, fuel cells could be an answer to both the energy crisis and climate issues. However, researchers are still looking at how to build a fuel cell so that it is not only efficient, but also cost effective.
Sadia Kabir, ECS student member and PhD student at the University of New Mexico, recently published a paper in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society detailing her novel work on graphene-supported catalysts for fuel cells. Kabir is moving from theory to proof with her new research, showcasing an efficient and economically viable fuel cell.
The research was compiled by an interdisciplinary team with representatives from the University of New Mexico, University of Portiers, and Franunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology.
Research into alternative sources of energy, such as solar and wind, are constantly growing and evolving. The science behind photovoltaics is improving constantly and wind turbines are producing more electrical energy than ever before. However, the question still stands of how we store and deliver this electrical energy to the grid. A few ECS members from Harvard University believe their new flow battery could answer that question.
Building off earlier research, the new and improve flow battery could offer a great solution for the reliability issue of energy sources such as wind and solar based on weather patterns. The batteries could store large amounts of electrical energy that can delivered to commercial and residential establishments even when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.
Communities are facing pressing water and sanitation issues across the globe. Recently, ECS tackled this issue through a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish the Science for Solving Society’s Problems Challenge. While ECS is working on a global level to encourage life-saving research in water and sanitation, researchers at Stanford University and working on innovative solutions to these issues in their own back yard.
The water infrastructure that is currently in place in many semiarid and highly populated regions is reaching its limit. When taking recent droughts and population booms into consideration, many communities are beginning to fear water shortages. However, environmental engineer and Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment Senior Fellow, Richard Luthy, believes that answer to this problem has been right in front of us all along.
“These are billion-dollar problems,” said Luthy. “Meeting water needs in the future is going to depend a lot on how we reuse water and what we do with stormwater.”
Capture and Reuse Stormwater
Luthy is currently looking at ways to capture and treat stormwater to assist in alleviating current water supply issues in densely populated, semiarid environments. The environmental engineer is proposing a stormwater capture center that would be situated on 50-acres of currently unused space. Not only could the treatment plant help secure water infrastructure and the needs of the community, but it could also help the environment.
With stormwater comes runoff. This runoff is contaminated with harmful chemicals and often makes its way into oceans and streams. By recovering and cleaning a large portion of the stormwater, researchers believe that we will see a decrease in water pollution due to runoff.
The revolutionary system can harvest energy from living plants for use in isolated villages. Image: Plant-e
A revolutionary system with the potential to affect global energy harvesting has recently been developed by a company called Plant-e. The system generates electricity from water-logged plants such as rice grown in patty fields to collect and distribute energy to all areas, even desolate villages.
“It’s based on the principle that plants produce more energy than they need,” said Marjolein Helder, co-founder of Plant-e. “The advantage of this system over wind or solar is that it also works at night and when there’s no wind.”
The science behind the Plant-e technology was conceptualized at Wageningen University in 2007, with the company’s establishment happening thereafter in 2009.
Simply find a plant growing in water and the Plant-e system can begin to harvest energy—whether that plant be rice growing in paddies or simply something growing in your garden.
“It’s just the beginning and lots of things still need to be greatly improved, but the potential is enormous,” said Jacqueline Cramer, professor of sustainable innovation at Utrecht University and former Dutch environment minister.
The modern environmental movement was born 45 years ago today. A small group of twenty-somethings with a passion for the environment rallied together to create a more earth-conscious society, establishing what has become known as Earth Day.
The original Earth Day focused primarily on the pollution issue, but this year’s Earth Day is heavily directed towards climate change and the energy infrastructure.