South Korean Scientists Develop New, More Efficient Method of Producing Hydrogen

by Gage Taylor

Inspired by the way plants convert sunlight into energy, scientists at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea have developed a new type of photoelectrode that boosts the ability of solar water-splitting to produce hydrogen, an essential process in the development of hydrogen as a fuel source. The special photoelectrode is capable of absorbing a high percentage of visible light from the sun and then using it to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The multilayered photoelectrode has a two-dimensional hybrid metal-dielectric structure that consists of three layers: gold film, ultrathin TiO2 (titanium dioxide), and gold nanoparticles. According to the team’s study published last month in Nano Energy, this structure shows high light absorption, which in turn significantly enhances its photocatalytic applications. Continue reading

Swedish Research Project Proposes Electric Car Batteries… Made of Wood?

by Gage Taylor

These days, it seems rare that a week passes where we don’t hear about some new kind of exotic or outlandish approach to electric car construction. With technology moving at a breakneck pace and interest in the field at an all-time high, concerns over range, power delivery, and cost are to be expected. But where most announcements seem to revolve around nanotechnology or other synthetic materials, a team of researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden announced this week that they’d constructed a small-scale model of an electric vehicle battery pack made from wood. By developing a new carbon-fiber material which has lignin, a natural polymer found in nearly every dry-land plant on earth, as its main ingredient, they’ve made a big step toward cheaper, more energy-dense batteries. Continue reading

Global Developments in Algaculture Point Toward a Bright Future

by Gage Taylor

With the global petroleum industry currently bottoming out, algaculture, the farming of algae to convert CO2 to ethanol, has never looked more appealing. Compared to other methods of biofuel production (corn, for example), it produces more oil and doesn’t put pressure on land use. However, since the amount of oil that can actually be used from a standard ton of algae is only around 28%, it’s far from the most cost-effective method available. There’s also the additional problem of removing CO2 contaminants before the process can even begin, which is currently accomplished through a high-energy, high-cost process. However, developments in Australia and the US are working to make algaculture viable. Continue reading

Microsoft’s Project Natick Seeks To (Literally) Put Big Data Underwater

by Gage Taylor

Microsoft Research’s New Experiences and Technologies wing (NExT) recently went public with Project Natick, a data center enclosed in a steel capsule designed to rest on the ocean floor. In theory, if developed at a commercial scale, the concept could represent a massive step forward for data storage, as these centers are more easily deployed, reduce consumer latency (due to their proximity to the most populated regions of the earth, the coasts), and save money on air conditioning and cooling compared to traditional server farms. It may also answer the growing energy demands of the tech world, as Microsoft is attempting to pair the system with either a wind or hydropower system to generate electricity. This could mean that no new energy would be added to the ocean, and as a result, there would be no overall heating, a conclusion supported by the early research. Continue reading

Masdar Institute Research Shows UAE Sand Capable of Storing Solar Energy

by Gage Taylor

A research project known as “Sandstock” at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has successfully demonstrated that desert sand from the UAE can be used in concentrated solar power (CSP) facilities to store thermal energy up to 1000°C. Replacing traditional heat storage materials, such as synthetic oil and molten salts, with an inexpensive material like sand could potentially represent a major step forward in plant efficiency due to increased working temperature (and, naturally, lower costs). Continue reading