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!

Renewable grideThe U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released a report Wednesday night on electricity markets and grid reliability, stating that the decline in coal and nuclear production has not impacted grid reliability, instead the rise in a diverse energy portfolio has increased the grid’s stability.

The study, commissioned by Energy Secretary Rick Perry in April, also states that coal plant closures across the country have been due to market pressure and competition from low-priced natural gas plants, not policy changes that support renewables such as wind and solar.

(MORE: Listen to our interview with former U.S. Energy Secretary and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu.)

“America is also fortunate to have a variety of fuel sources. We need to consider how to use each effectively while recognizing our differences and unique state and regional circumstances,” Perry says in the report’s cover letter. “We must utilize the most effective combination of energy sources with an ‘all of the above’ approach to achieve long-term, reliable American energy security.”

While the report does not state that there is a current concern with grid reliability, it does warn that future problems could arise if coal and nuclear plants continue to close at the current rate. Many environmental advocates cite this as a last-ditch effort for these companies to remain relevant in the energy landscape. However, the report does go on to highlight the role of renewables in developing a diverse energy infrastructure.


Wind TurbinesRenewable energy efforts around the world have grown exponentially over the past few years. Countries such as Japan have developed the world’s largest floating solar project, initiatives like Solar Hope are working to provide clean energy to sub-Saharan Africa, and Hawaii is leading the charge in the U.S. with its commitment to 100 percent clean energy by 2045. Now, the Netherlands has marked a new milestone in renewables by implementing a total of 2,200 wind turbines.

According to Dutch News, the turbines in the Netherlands produce enough energy to power 2.4 million households.

However, the 3,379 megawatts of power produced by the turbines is only a third of what the Netherlands needs to meet the European Unions’ energy 2023 energy targets. But Gijs van Kuik, head of the Wind Energy Institute at Delft University, believes that the Netherlands is still on track to meet these goals due to recent developments in offshore wind farms.

PlasticResearchers have taken a step toward the development of renewable plastics – a promising transformation from current plastics made from oil. The biodegradable material is possible due to the creation of a new catalyst.

Over the past 50 years, the global production of plastic has grown tremendously. According to World Watch Institute, over 299 trillion tons of plastic were produced in 2013. Unfortunately, as plastic production increases, recycling rates lag. Of the 299 trillion tons of plastic produced, between 22 and 43 percent made its way to landfills around the world, thereby wasting resources and negatively impacting the environment.

Biodegradable plastics could provide a potential solution to this issue. Currently, researchers are working to make the plastics – produced completely from renewable resources – match the price and performance of their petroleum-based counterparts.


Does this summer feel a little warmer than usual? Well, that’s because it is.

According to NASA, the first six months of 2016 have been the warmest half-year ever recorded. Pair that with the smallest monthly Artic Sea ice extent in that same period of time, and these two indicators give a grim image of the accelerating pace of climate change.

In a report, NASA states that the global temperature has increased by 2.4°F since record keeping began in the 1800s. Additionally, Artic Sea ice has been declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade.

“It has been a record year so far for global temperatures, but the record high temperatures in the Arctic over the past six months have been even more extreme,” says Walt Mkeier, a sea ice researcher with NASA. “This warmth as well as unusual weather patterns have led to the record low sea ice extents so far this year.”

If climate continues down this same path, the effects could be devastating for the world. However, electrochemical and solid state science may have some of the answers to mitigate climate change.


arpa-eThe U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has recently announced up to $30 million in funding for a new program that focuses on renewable energy to convert air and water into cost-competitive liquid fuels.

The program, titled Renewable Energy to Fuels through Utilization of Energy-dense Liquids (REFUEL), is aimed at developing technologies that use renewable energy to convert air and water into carbon neutral liquid fuels – which can be converted into hydrogen or electricity to provide power for sustainable transportation.

The majority of vehicles in the transportation sector depend on liquid fuels such as gasoline or diesel to operate. While liquid fuels are energy dense and can be stored for a long period of time, liquid fossil fuels emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the environment. These emissions account for over 20 percent of the U.S.’s total greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to the overall effects of climate change.


Krishnan Rajeshwar

Krishnan Rajeshwar, ECS senior vice president and co-founder of UTA’s Center for Renewable Energy, Science and Technology

New research headed by ECS senior vice president Krishnan Rajeshwar has developed “green fuels” to power cars, home appliances, and even impact critical energy storage devices.

Solar fuels addressing global issues

Rajeshwar’s research works to address critical global and environmental issue by creating an inexpensive way to generate fuel from harmful emissions such as carbon dioxide.

(MORE: Read additional publications by Rajeshwar.)

The University of Texas at Arlington professor and 35 year ECS member has developed a novel high-performing material for cells that harness sunlight to split carbon dioxide and water into usable fuels like methanol and hydrogen gas.

From harmful to helpful

“Technologies that simultaneously permit us to remove greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide while harnessing and storing the energy of sunlight as fuel are at the forefront of current research,” Rajeshwar said. “Our new material could improve the safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of solar fuel generation, which is not yet economically viable.”

(MORE: Read the full study as published in ChemElectroChem Europe.)

This from University of Texas at Arlington:

The new hybrid platform uses ultra-long carbon nanotube networks with a homogeneous coating of copper oxide nanocrystals. It demonstrates both the high electrical conductivity of carbon nanotubes and the photocathode qualities of copper oxide, efficiently converting light into the photocurrents needed for the photoelectrochemical reduction process.


Energy on This Old House

Ask This Old HouseMy DVR told me to watch this and it was right.

I love This Old House and Ask This Old House. They did a 30 minute home energy special this past week that, whether the show producers knew it or not, shows off electrochemistry and solid state science in the most practical terms.

Richard and Kevin take a trip to Germany to discover how the country has become a world leader in energy efficiency. They find answers in the mechanical rooms of a home and a bed and breakfast. Plus, Kevin and Ross head to Texas to install a residential wind turbine in Texas.

Dinia, who is ECS's graphic designer, helping register attendees at the 228th ECS Meeting

Dinia, who is ECS’s graphic designer, helping register attendees at the 228th ECS Meeting

I should have guessed Germany would be the focus for energy after attending the 228th ECS Meeting in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago. For the first time we brought along one of our staff members, Dinia, who is German. It seemed like she was talking to every other attendee in her native language. I had no idea how many German speakers we had at our meetings.

The wind turbine part of the show from Texas is equally interesting and equally electrochemical.

You’ll be hearing a lot more about energy and electrochemistry/solid state science. The Electrochemical Energy Summit was part of the 228th ECS Meeting. We interviewed seven major players in the alternative energy field in between their talks. They made the point repeatedly that electrochemistry is at the forefront of energy production and the sustainability of our planet. There is a video in the works on the topic.

Watch the energy episode of Ask This Old House.

Harry Atwater is working on the forefront of alternative energy technologies. From his research in solar fuels to his innovation in photovoltaics, Atwater’s work addresses the energy crisis and strives to provide a more secure, sustainable future.

Currently, Atwater is the Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP). You can catch Atwater at the fifth international ECS Electrochemical Energy Summit, taking place October 12th through the 14th 2015 in Phoenix, AZ.

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


Top 5 Less Recognized Renwable Energy Sources

When we think of renewable energy, our minds typically tend toward solar and wind power. However, there are other promising energy sources that commonly fly under the radar. The Guardian recently highlighted five alternative energy sources that have the potential to see great growth in upcoming years and transform the energy landscape as we know it.

Ocean Power
With ocean waters covering more than 70 percent of our plants surface, it only makes sense to harness the energy it naturally produces. Ocean current and waves could be used to drive electric generators and produce an abundant amount of consistent energy. Typically, ocean energy is broken down into four categories: deep water source cooling, tidal power, wave power, and marine current.

The catch? Salt water causes corrosion, which raises an issue when developing a device to capture this energy. The biggest roadblock engineers are currently facing is how to develop an energy harnessing device that makes ocean power commercially viable. With the right scale of development, this from of energy could be at the forefront of a renewable future.

Essentially, biomass transforms living things or the waste they produce into electricity. Currently, biomass accounts for 12 percent of the country’s renewable energy generation. While burning the fuel produces CO2, proponents of this source believe it will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions due to the growth of plants that produce the energy, which remove the CO2 from the atmosphere.


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