The discussion on climate has persisted for decades since we first discovered that there is a human-made influence on the environment. From then, many researchers have come together to finagle innovations that reduce our industrial carbon footprint.
Liang-shi Li at Indiana University and an international team of scientists discovered this novel way to recycle carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.
With the use of light or electricity, the molecule built by the team can convert the notorious greenhouse gas into carbon monoxide. The molecular leaf is the most efficient method of carbon reduction to date.
The carbon monoxide generated by this molecule could be reused as fuel. Burning carbon monoxide releases an abundance of energy as well as carbon dioxide.
Because converting carbon dioxide back into carbon monoxide requires as much energy as is released by burning carbon monoxide, this potential cycle has been largely one way, leading to a build-up of carbon dioxide.
The team’s work could lead to reducing this carbon dioxide build-up by making the conversion cycle more efficient and by harnessing solar power.
The molecule’s nanographene structure has a dark colour that absorbs large amounts of sunlight. The energy from the sunlight is then utilised by the molecule’s rhenium ‘engine’ to produce carbon monoxide from carbon dioxide.
The molecular leaf would help us tackle the greenhouse gas effects of carbon dioxide. Since the industrial revolution, we have raised the levels of carbon dioxide from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million in the last 150 years.
Scientists agree that there is a 95 percent probability that human-produced greenhouse gases have increased the Earth’s temperature over the past 50 years.
While Li is glad that his innovation is efficient at tackling greenhouse gases, he hopes to improve the molecular leaf by producing one that can survive in a non-liquid form.
The team is also looking for ways to replace the rhenium element with manganese, which is far more common and therefore much more affordable for reproduction.
Emerging markets are leapfrogging the developed world thanks to cheap panels.
A transformation is happening in global energy markets that’s worth noting as 2016 comes to an end: Solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity.
This has happened in isolated projects in the past: an especially competitive auction in the Middle East, for example, resulting in record-cheap solar costs. But now unsubsidized solar is beginning to outcompete coal and natural gas on a larger scale, and notably, new solar projects in emerging markets are costing less to build than wind projects, according to fresh data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
The chart below shows the average cost of new wind and solar from 58 emerging-market economies, including China, India, and Brazil. While solar was bound to fall below wind eventually, given its steeper price declines, few predicted it would happen this soon. 1
“Solar investment has gone from nothing—literally nothing—like five years ago to quite a lot,” said Ethan Zindler, head of U.S. policy analysis at BNEF. “A huge part of this story is China, which has been rapidly deploying solar” and helping other countries finance their own projects.
Half the Price of Coal
This year has seen a remarkable run for solar power. Auctions, where private companies compete for massive contracts to provide electricity, established record after record for cheap solar power. It started with a contract in January to produce electricity for $64 per megawatt-hour in India; then a deal in August pegging $29.10 per megawatt hour in Chile. That’s record-cheap electricity—roughly half the price of competing coal power.
“Renewables are robustly entering the era of undercutting” fossil fuel prices, BNEF chairman Michael Liebreich said in a note to clients this week.
Those are new contracts, but plenty of projects are reaching completion this year, too. When all the 2016 completions are tallied in coming months, it’s likely that the total amount of solar photovoltaics added globally will exceed that of wind for the first time. The latest BNEF projections call for 70 gigawatts of newly installed solar in 2016 compared with 59 gigawatts of wind.
The overall shift to clean energy can be more expensive in wealthier nations, where electricity demand is flat or falling and new solar must compete with existing billion-dollar coal and gas plants. But in countries that are adding new electricity capacity as quickly as possible, “renewable energy will beat any other technology in most of the world without subsidies,” said Liebreich.
Thursday’s BNEF report, called Climatescope, ranks and profiles emerging markets for their ability to attract capital for low-carbon energy projects. The top-scoring markets were China, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, South Africa, and India.
When it comes to renewable energy investment, emerging markets have taken the lead over the 35 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD), spending $154.1 billion in 2015 compared with $153.7 billion by those wealthier countries, BNEF said. The growth rates of clean-energy deployment are higher in these emerging-market states, so they are likely to remain the clean energy leaders indefinitely, especially now that three-quarters have established clean-energy targets.
Still, the buildup of wind and solar takes time, and fossil fuels remain the cheapest option for when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. Coal and natural gas will continue to play a key role in the alleviation of energy poverty for millions of people in the years to come.
But for populations still relying on expensive kerosene generators, or who have no electricity at all, and for those living in the dangerous smog of thickly populated cities, the shift to renewables and increasingly to solar can’t come soon enough.
System works by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container
Sun’s energy provides electricity for microwaves, so no fuel is needed
Researchers previously said this wouldn’t work in the vacuum of space
Engineers quietly revealed results of test to show otherwise on a forum
Warp drives that let humans zip around other galaxies may no longer belong purely in the realm of science fiction.
Nasa is believed to have been quietly testing a revolutionary new method of space travel that could one day allow humans to travel at speeds faster than light.
Researchers say the new drive could carry passengers and their equipment to the moon in as little as four hours. A trip to Alpha Centauri, which would take tens of thousands of years now, could be reached in just 100 years.
The system is based on electromagnetic drive, or EMDrive, which converts electrical energy into thrust without the need for rocket fuel.
HOW DOES AN EMDRIVE WORK?
The concept of an EmDrive engine is relatively simple. It provides thrust to a spacecraft by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container.
Solar energy provides the electricity to power the microwaves, which means that no propellant is needed.
Researchers previously believed this wouldn’t work in the vacuum of space, but Nasa has allegedly shown otherwise.
The implications for this could be huge. For instance, current satellites could be half the size they are today without the need to carry fuel.
Humans could also travel further into space, generating their own propulsion on the way.
According to classical physics, this should be impossible because it violates the law of conservation of momentum.
The law states that the momentum of a system is constant if there are no external forces acting on the system – which is why propellant is required in traditional rockets.
Researchers from the US, UK and China have demonstrated EMDrive over the past few decades, but their results have been controversial as no one has been exactly sure how it works.
Now, Nasa has built an EMDrive that works in conditions like those in space, according to users on forum NasaSpaceFlight.com.
A number of those discussing the plan on the technical forum claim to be Nasa engineers who are involved in the project.
The concept of an EmDrive engine is relatively simple. It provides thrust to a spacecraft by bouncing microwaves around in a closed container.Solar energy provides the electricity to power the microwaves, which means that no propellant is needed.
The implications for this could be huge. For instance, current satellites could be half the size they are today without the need to carry fuel.
Humans could also travel further into space, generating their own propulsion on the way.
When London-based Roger Sawyer came up with concept in 2000, the only team that took him seriously was a group of Chinese scientists.
In 2009, the team allegedly produced 720 millinewton (or 72g) of thrust, enough to build a satellite thruster. But still, nobody believed they had achieved this.
Last year, Pennsylvania-based scientist Guido Fetta and his team at Nasa Eagleworks published a paper that demonstrates that a similar engine works on the same principles.
Their model, dubbed Cannae Drive, produces much less thrust at 30 to 50 micronewtons – less than a thousandth of the output of some relatively low-powered ion thrusters used today.
On the NasaSpaceFlight.com, those allegedly involved in the project claim that the reason previous EmDrive models were criticised were that none of the tests had been carried out in a vacuum.
Physics says particles in the quantum vacuum cannot be ionised, so therefore you cannot push against it. But Nasa’s latest test is claimed to have shown otherwise.
‘Nasa has successfully tested their EmDrive in a hard vacuum – the first time any organisation has reported such a successful test,’ the researchers wrote.
‘To this end, Nasa Eagleworks has now nullified the prevailing hypothesis that thrust measurements were due to thermal convection.’
However, Nasa’s official site says that: ‘There are many ‘absurd’ theories that have become reality over the years of scientific research.
‘But for the near future, warp drive remains a dream,’ in a post updated last month.
Elon Musk claims at launch that two billion large batteries could provide enough electricity to meet the world’s needs
The electric car company Tesla has announced its entry into the energy market, unveiling a suite of low-cost solar batteries for homes, businesses and utilities, “the missing piece”, it said, in the transition to a sustainable energy world.
The batteries, which will retail at $3,500 in the US, were launched on Thursday at a Tesla facility in California by the company’s ambitious founder, Elon Musk, who heralded the technology as “a fundamental transformation [in] how energy is delivered across the earth”.
Wall-mounted, with a sleek design, the lithium-ion batteries are designed to capture and store up to 10kWh of energy from wind or solar panel. The reserves can be drawn on when sunlight is low, during grid outages, or at peak demand times, when electricity costs are highest.
The smallest “Powerwall” is 1.3m by 68cm, small enough to be hung inside a garage on or an outside wall. Up to eight batteries can be “stacked” in a home, Musk said, to applause from investors and journalists at the much-anticipated event.
The batteries will initially be manufactured at the electric car company’s factory in California, but will move production to its planned “gigafactory” in Nevada when it opens in 2017.
The Nevada facility will be the largest producer of lithium-ion batteries in the world, and it is hoped its mass-production scale will help to bring down costs even further.
It is not the only battery storage system on the market, but the Powerwall boasts a relatively high storage capacity, a competitive price, and the heft of investment and excitement generated by Musk’s vision.
The entrepreneur, who helped to invent the online payment system, PayPal, has also founded a private space company, Space X, and is experimenting with a high-speed public transportation system called Hyperloop.
Musk also unveiled a larger “Powerpack”, a 100kWh battery block to help utilities smooth out their supply of wind and solar energy – which is generated intermittently – or to pump energy into the grid when demand soars.
He said on Thursday about two billion Powerpacks could store enough electricity to meet the entire world’s needs. “That may seem like an insane number,” he said. “But this is actually within the power of humanity to do.”
Deutsche Bank estimates sales of battery storage systems for homes and businesses could yield as much as $4.5bn in revenue for Tesla. The energy storage industry is expected to grow to $19bn by 2017, according to research firm IHS CERA.
Tesla is currently taking orders for the systems, with the first units expected to shift in August.
Scientists have a new efficient way of producing hydrogen fuel from sunlight and water. By combining a pair of solar cells made with a mineral called perovskite and low cost electrodes, scientists have obtained a 12.3 percent conversion efficiency from solar energy to hydrogen, a record using Earth-abundant materials as opposed to rare metals.
When an electrical current is applied, water splits into hydrogen and oxygen.
The race is on to optimize solar energy’s performance. More efficient silicon photovoltaic panels, dye-sensitized solar cells, concentrated cells and thermodynamic solar plants all pursue the same goal: to produce a maximum amount of electrons from sunlight. Those electrons can then be converted into electricity to turn on lights and power your refrigerator.
At the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces at EPFL, led by Michael Grätzel, where scientists invented dye solar cells that mimic photosynthesis in plants, they have also developed methods for generating fuels such as hydrogen through solar water splitting.
To do this, they either use photoelectrochemical cells that directly split water into hydrogen and oxygen when exposed to sunlight, or they combine electricity-generating cells with an electrolyzer that separates the water molecules.
By using the latter technique, Grätzel’s post-doctoral student Jingshan Luo and his colleagues were able to obtain a performance so spectacular that their achievement is being published today in the journal Science. Their device converts into hydrogen 12.3 percent of the energy diffused by the sun on perovskite absorbers — a compound that can be obtained in the laboratory from common materials, such as those used in conventional car batteries, eliminating the need for rare-earth metals in the production of usable hydrogen fuel.
This high efficiency provides stiff competition for other techniques used to convert solar energy. But this method has several advantages over others:
“Both the perovskite used in the cells and the nickel and iron catalysts making up the electrodes require resources that are abundant on Earth and that are also cheap,” explained Jingshan Luo. “However, our electrodes work just as well as the expensive platinum-based models customarily used.”
On the other hand, the conversion of solar energy into hydrogen makes its storage possible, which addresses one of the biggest disadvantages faced by renewable electricity — the requirement to use it at the time it is produced.
“Once you have hydrogen, you store it in a bottle and you can do with it whatever you want to, whenever you want it,” said Michael Grätzel. Such a gas can indeed be burned — in a boiler or engine — releasing only water vapor. It can also pass into a fuel cell to generate electricity on demand. And the 12.3% conversion efficiency achieved at EPFL “will soon get even higher,” promised Grätzel.
More powerful cells
These high efficiency values are based on a characteristic of perovskite cells: their ability to generate an open circuit voltage greater than 1 V (silicon cells stop at 0.7 V, for comparison).
“A voltage of 1.7 V or more is required for water electrolysis to occur and to obtain exploitable gases,” explained Jingshan Luo. To get these numbers, three or more silicon cells are needed, whereas just two perovskite cells are enough. As a result, there is more efficiency with respect to the surface of the light absorbers required. “This is the first time we have been able to get hydrogen through electrolysis with only two cells!” Luo adds.
The profusion of tiny bubbles escaping from the electrodes as soon as the solar cells are exposed to light say it better than words ever could: the combination of sun and water paves a promising and effervescent way for developing the energy of the future.
Jingshan Luo, Jeong-Hyeok Im, Matthew T. Mayer, Marcel Schreier, Mohammad Khaja Nazeeruddin, Nam-Gyu Park, S. David Tilley, Hong Jin Fan, and Michael Grätzel. Water photolysis at 12.3% efficiency via perovskite photovoltaics and Earth-abundant catalysts. Science, 26 September 2014: 1593-1596 DOI:10.1126/science.1258307
Researchers have developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through the window. It is called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator and can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a flat, clear surface.
Solar power with a view: MSU doctoral student Yimu Zhao holds up a transparent luminescent solar concentrator module.
A team of researchers at Michigan State University has developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through the window.
It is called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator and can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a clear surface.
And, according to Richard Lunt of MSU’s College of Engineering, the key word is “transparent.”
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.
“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” said Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.”
The solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight.
“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,” he said.
The “glowing” infrared light is guided to the edge of the plastic where it is converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.
“Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” Lunt said.
One of the benefits of this new development is its flexibility. While the technology is at an early stage, it has the potential to be scaled to commercial or industrial applications with an affordable cost.
“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.”
Lunt said more work is needed in order to improve its energy-producing efficiency. Currently it is able to produce a solar conversion efficiency close to 1 percent, but noted they aim to reach efficiencies beyond 5 percent when fully optimized. The best colored LSC has an efficiency of around 7 percent.
The research was featured on the cover of a recent issue of the journal Advanced Optical Materials.
Other members of the research team include Yimu Zhao, an MSU doctoral student in chemical engineering and materials science; Benjamin Levine, assistant professor of chemistry; and Garrett Meek, doctoral student in chemistry.
Solar power could soon be used directly in the manufacturing of new solar cells, making production of a key chemical require zero energy.
“This approach should work and is very environmentally conscious,” Chih-Hung Chang, Oregon State University chemical engineering professor and lead author on the study, told The Daily Fusion. The study, published in the journal Royal Society of Chemistry Advances, found that the sun could be used to create copper indium diselenide ink, a promising solar material. Its efficiency at converting solar energy is high, around 20 percent, and should be capable of improving even more. This ink can already be produced especially inexpensively and quickly, and because it is extremely thin, could potentially be used to coat structures or even windows without getting in the way.
This new process would go the extra step and make its production entirely energy-neutral, faster, and cheaper. “Our system can synthesize solar energy materials in minutes compared to other processes that might take 30 minutes to two hours,” Chang told The Daily Fusion. “This gain in operation speed can lower cost.”
The experiments used artificial sunlight to allow for precise temperature control and uniformity, but the process should work with real sunlight as well. The process should also be possible using molten salt batteries to store daytime sunlight and keep going even when the sun goes down, as in Arizona’s Solana solar plant.
Photograph of leaves in the sunshine Quantum mechanics in action Physicists in the UK claim to have shown unambiguously that the high efficiency of photosynthesis is driven at least partly by a purely quantum-mechanical phenomenon. Their work could lead to discoveries of other quantum processes in biology, or help in the development of new and better technologies for harvesting solar energy. Arguably the most important chemical reaction on Earth, photosynthesis allows a plant to harness sunlight by converting carbon dioxide and water into energy-rich carbohydrates. For the most part, this takes place in chlorophyll molecules, which are arranged such that neighbouring molecules have different energy levels. When light shines on one of these molecules, an electron is momentarily excited before passing its energy over to a nearby molecule with a slightly lower energy level. In this way, energy can flow “downhill” from energy level to energy level, via different routes, until it reaches a reaction centre where actual photosynthesis occurs. Scientists had previously assumed that the energy moves downhill in a random walk – an incoherent “hopping” between energy levels. But this mechanism does not explain how solar energy is transferred so quickly to a reaction centre, which allows photosynthesis to proceed with energy efficiencies of 95% or more. In recent years, various theoretical and experimental studies have suggested that quantum mechanics plays a role, by transporting energy in a wave-like manner. But for all the results, an explanation based on classical physics could never be ruled out, according to Alexandra Olaya-Castro and Edward O’Reilly of University College London (UCL) in the UK. Quantized vibrations Olaya-Castro and O’Reilly claim to have uncovered the first unambiguous evidence for quantum effects by doing a theoretical study of the vibrational motion of chromophores – colour-producing molecules such as chlorophyll. Drawing inspiration from the field of quantum optics, where specialist techniques have been developed for characterizing the quantum-mechanical nature of light, the researchers showed that the absorption of a photon of sunlight generates an electronic excitation, the energy of which matches a collective vibration of two chromophores. So long as this vibrational energy is greater than the surrounding thermal energy, the researchers say, then a quantum of energy can be exchanged from one chromophore to the other. Olaya-Castro and O’Reilly knew that this energy exchange was purely a quantum effect when they tried to plot a probability distribution of fluctuations in the occupation of the vibrational mode and found that these variations were too small to allow a classical description. “This unambiguously demonstrated that the phenomenon described has no classical analogue,” says O’Reilly. “I’m happy to see this paper published – it’s a breakthrough,” says Gregory Scholes, a chemist at the University of Toronto who has studied the quantum effects of photosynthesis. “There has been a lot of debate in the literature and at meetings lately about the interplay of vibrations – which [we] assumed to confer only classical effects – and electronic coherence in light harvesting. This new work takes the debate to a new level by showing that it is precisely this interplay that makes the system function quantum mechanically!” “Non-trivial quantum effects” Scholes adds that the UCL work “points the way” to experiments that directly detect the signatures of quantum effects. Moreoever, says Olaya-Castro, such quantum signatures might not only be found in photosynthesis: specific vibrational motions are also thought to be involved in other biological processes such as vision, smell and enzyme reactions. “Our results suggest that a careful inspection of the dynamics and fluctuations of these ‘good vibrations’ of molecules in their excited states could benchmark a common principle for non-trivial quantum effects in biology,” she adds. The understanding of photosynthesis is particularly important, however, because of the need to develop methods of harnessing solar energy. “The research on quantum effects in biology has the potential to provide invaluable insights on how to achieve robust, quantum-enhanced energy transfer,” says Olaya-Castro.