By: Naga Srujana Goteti, Rochester Institute of Technology; Eric Hittinger, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Eric Williams, Rochester Institute of Technology

Renewable grideCarbon-free energy: Is the answer blowing in the wind? Perhaps, but the wind doesn’t always blow, nor does the sun always shine. The energy generated by wind and solar power is intermittent, meaning that the generated electricity goes up and down according to the weather.

But the output from the electricity grid must be controllable to match the second-by-second changing demand from consumers. So the intermittency of wind and solar power is an operational challenge for the electricity system.

Energy storage is a widely acknowledged solution to the problem of intermittent renewables. The idea is that storage charges up when the wind is blowing, or the sun is shining, then discharges later when the energy is needed. Storage for the grid can be a chemical battery like those we use in electronic devices, but it can also take the form of pumping water up a hill to a reservoir and generating electricity when letting it flow back down, or storing and discharging compressed air in an underground cavern.

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By: Peter Hancock, University of Central Florida

Autonomous driverless carMuch of the push toward self-driving cars has been underwritten by the hope that they will save lives by getting involved in fewer crashes with fewer injuries and deaths than human-driven cars. But so far, most comparisons between human drivers and automated vehicles have been at best uneven, and at worst, unfair.

The statistics measuring how many crashes occur are hard to argue with: More than 90 percent of car crashes in the U.S. are thought to involve some form of driver error. Eliminating this error would, in two years, save as many people as the country lost in all of the Vietnam War.

But to me, as a human factors researcher, that’s not enough information to properly evaluate whether automation may actually be better than humans at not crashing. Their respective crash rates can only be determined by also knowing how many non-collisions happen. For human drivers is it one collision per billion chances to crash, or one in a trillion?

Assessing the rate at which things do not happen is extremely difficult. For example, estimating how many times you didn’t bump into someone in the hall today relates to how many people there were in the hallway and how long you were walking there. Also, people forget non-events very quickly, if we even notice them happening. To determine whether automated vehicles are safer than humans, researchers will need to establish a non-collision rate for both humans and these emerging driverless vehicles.

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ElectronsWhile tracking electrons moving through exotic materials, researchers have discovered intriguing properties not found in conventional, silicon-based semiconductors.

Unlike current silicon-based electronics, which shed most of the energy they consume as waste heat, the future is all about low-power computing. Known as spintronics, this technology relies on a quantum physical property of electrons—up or down spin—to process and store information, rather than moving them around with electricity as conventional computing does.

On the quest to making spintronic devices a reality, scientists at the University of Arizona are studying an exotic crop of materials known as transition metal dichalcogenides, or TMDs. TMDs have exciting properties lending themselves to new ways of processing and storing information and could provide the basis of future transistors and photovoltaics—and potentially even offer an avenue toward quantum computing.

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Charles HusseyCharles L. Hussey is Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Mississippi and professor of chemistry. He is a fellow of ECS and a recipient of the Society’s Max Bredig Award in Molten Salt and Ionic Liquid Chemistry. His scientific research with molten salts/ionic liquids has been directed at the electrochemistry and spectroscopy of d- and f-block elements, the electrodeposition of aluminum and corrosion-resistant aluminum-transition metal alloys, the electrodissolution of metals and alloys, and the electrochemical processing of spent nuclear fuel. Hussey was recently reappointed as technical editor of the Journal of The Electrochemical Society in the area of electrochemical/electroless deposition.

The Electrochemial Society: What has your experiences as a JES editor been like?

Charles Hussey: I was appointed as an associate editor in 2000 and continued in that role until 2011. As an associate editor, I handled manuscripts on all topics for JES and Electrochemical and Solid-State Letters. Handling a variety of topical manuscripts for JES and ESL was the job that needed to be done, and it was a very challenging and sometimes uncomfortable assignment, but also highly educational.

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By: Joshua M. Pearce, Michigan Technological University

SolarFalling costs for solar power have led to an explosive growth in residential, commercial and utility-scale solar use over the past decade. The levelized cost of solar electricity using imported solar panels – that is, the solar electricity cost measured over the life of the panels – has dropped in cost so much that it is lower than electricity from competing sources like coal in most of America.

However, the Trump administration on Jan. 22 announced a 30 percent tariff on solar panel imports into the U.S. This decision is expected to slow both the deployment of large-scale solar farms in the United States and the rate of American solar job growth (which is 12 times faster than the rest of the economy). The tariff increases the cost of solar panels by about 10 to 15 cents per watt. That could reduce utility-scale solar installations, which have come in under $1 per watt, by about 11 percent.

The tariffs may lead China and other countries to appeal the move with the World Trade Organization. But could innovations in solar power compensate for tariffs on panels?

In my research, I have found that one solar technology – previously largely ignored because of low-cost photovoltaics, or PV, panels – could make a comeback: the humble mirror, or booster reflector, as it is known in the technical literature.

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Focus IssuesSubmission Deadline: February 14, 2018

The ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology (JSS) Focus Issue on Semiconductor-Based Sensors for Application to Vapors, Chemicals, Biological Species, and Medical Diagnosis is currently accepting manuscripts.

This JSS focus issue aims to cover various active or passive semiconductor devices for gas, chemical, bio and medical detection, with the focus on silicon, GaN, dichalcogenides/oxides, graphene, and other semiconductor materials for electronic or photonic devices. The scope of contributed articles includes materials preparation, growth, processing, devices, chemistry, physics, theory, and applications for the semiconductor sensors. Different methodologies, principles, designs, models, fabrication techniques, and characterization are all included. Integrated systems combine semiconductor sensors, electric circuit, microfluidic channels, display, and control unit for real applications such as disease diagnostic or environmental monitoring are also welcome.

Topics of interest include, but not limited, to the following:

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GrapheneNew graphene printing technology can produce electronic circuits that are low-cost, flexible, highly conductive and water repellent, researchers report.

The nanotechnology “would lend enormous value to self-cleaning wearable/washable electronics that are resistant to stains, or ice and biofilm formation,” according to the new paper.

“We’re taking low-cost, inkjet-printed graphene and tuning it with a laser to make functional materials,” says Jonathan Claussen, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State University, an associate of the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, and the corresponding author of the paper in the journal Nanoscale.

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Elsevier Making Deals?

South Korean universities have successfully negotiated a better pricing deal from publishing giant Elsevier, according to a report from Science Magazine. This deal comes after a standoff between the consortium of hundreds of institutions and the publisher, where database access contracts were refused due to exorbitant price increases.

Earlier this month as Elsevier threated to cut access to ScienceDirect, a database containing content from over 3,500 academic journals, the two parties came to an agreement of a subscription price hike of between 3.5 and 3.9 percent, instead of the initial 4.5 percent as pushed by Elsevier.

“We want Elsevier to abolish the minimum flat rate system, in which our universities have to pay for digital content that nobody reads,” Lee Chang Won, secretary general of the Korea University & College Library Association, told Science Magazine.

South Korea’s pushback against Elsevier follows the trend of many similar efforts still underway in Germany, including Projekt DEAL. While over 200 German institutions have already canceled their Elsevier subscriptions in protest of skyrocketing prices, the publisher has still not terminated access, looking to continue negations.

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By: Joshua D. Rhodes, University of Texas at Austin

Solar panelsEditor’s note: On Jan. 22, 2018, the Trump administration announced plans to impose punitive duties on solar panels imported from abroad. This decision came in response to a complaint filed by two solar companies, but much of the industry opposes the action, which trade groups say will increase the cost of solar projects and depress demand. To illustrate what’s at stake, energy scholar Joshua Rhodes provides some context on the U.S. solar industry and its opportunities and challenges.

How big is the U.S. solar industry, and what is its growth trajectory?

The U.S. solar industry generated US$154 billion in economic activity in 2016, including direct sales, wages, salaries, benefits, taxes and fees. Its revenues have grown from $42 million in 2007 to $210 million in 2017.

About 25 percent of total new power plant capacity installed in 2017 came from solar. Total installed U.S. solar capacity is over 50 gigawatts – the equivalent generating capacity of 50 commercial nuclear reactors.

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Researchers have found a way to get electrons to travel much farther than was previously thought possible in materials for organic solar cells. This advance could make these solar cells much more useful than inorganic alternatives.

“For years, people had treated the poor conductivity of organics as an unavoidable fact, and this shows that that’s not always the case,” says research leader Stephen Forrest, professor of engineering at University of Michigan.

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