Energy

A New Way to Image Solar Cells in 3-D
November 15, 2016 11:48 AM - Dan Krotz via Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Next-generation solar cells made of super-thin films of semiconducting material hold promise because they’re relatively inexpensive and flexible enough to be applied just about anywhere.

Researchers are working to dramatically increase the efficiency at which thin-film solar cells convert sunlight to electricity. But it’s a tough challenge, partly because a solar cell’s subsurface realm—where much of the energy-conversion action happens—is inaccessible to real-time, nondestructive imaging. It’s difficult to improve processes you can’t see.

Now, scientists from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a way to use optical microscopy to map thin-film solar cells in 3-D as they absorb photons.

30% of Global Electricity Already Prepping For Rapid Decarbonization
November 14, 2016 09:04 AM - Tina Casey , Triple Pundit

A full 30 percent of the world’s electricity generation comes under the umbrella of just nine energy companies, and they have just joined forces to ramp up technology investments aimed at decarbonization. The global, collaborative effort was announced earlier this week by the companies’ nonprofit organization, the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership.

To be clear, the decarbonization announcement leaves plenty of wiggle room for “clean” coal and natural gas, at least in the near future. However, a look at the group’s sole U.S. member, American Electric Power, demonstrates that a Republican administration cannot stop the global transition to low and zero-carbon electricity.

Solar Cells Get Boost with Integration of Water-Splitting Catalyst onto Semiconductor
November 10, 2016 09:50 AM - Sarah Yang via Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Scientists have found a way to engineer the atomic-scale chemical properties of a water-splitting catalyst for integration with a solar cell, and the result is a big boost to the stability and efficiency of artificial photosynthesis.

Led by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), the project is described in a paper published this week in the journal Nature Materials.

Human health risks from hydroelectric projects
November 9, 2016 09:25 AM - Leah Burrows via Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

In a new study, Harvard University researchers find over 90 percent of potential new Canadian hydroelectric projects are likely to increase concentrations of the neurotoxin methylmercury in food webs near indigenous communities. 

The research forecasts potential human health impacts of hydroelectric projects and identifies areas where mitigation efforts, such as removing the top layer of soil before flooding, would be most helpful. The works uses factors such as soil carbon and reservoir design to forecast methylmercury increases for 22 hydroelectric reservoirs under consideration or construction in Canada.

Major advance in solar cells made from cheap, easy-to-use perovskite
November 8, 2016 10:38 AM - University of California, Berkeley

Solar cells made from an inexpensive and increasingly popular material called perovskite can more efficiently turn sunlight into electricity using a new technique to sandwich two types of perovskite into a single photovoltaic cell.

Perovskite solar cells are made of a mix of organic molecules and inorganic elements that together capture light and convert it into electricity, just like today’s more common silicon-based solar cells. Perovskite photovoltaic devices, however, can be made more easily and cheaply than silicon and on a flexible rather than rigid substrate. The first perovskite solar cells could go on the market next year, and some have been reported to capture 20 percent of the sun’s energy.

Solar-panel picnic tables and bus stops? Students starting a 'solar-cell revolution'
November 3, 2016 05:01 PM - Todd Hollingshead via Brigham Young University

A group of BYU engineering students wants to start a solar-cell revolution.

Led by mechanical engineering professor John Salmon, the students hope to trigger energy change by installing solar cells in public locations you wouldn’t think of, such as:

  • Bus stops
  • Park picnic tables and benches
  • Cafeterias and restaurants
  • Car window shades
  • Stadium Seats
  • Blinds

Can Radioactive Waste be Immobilized in Glass for Millions of Years?
November 3, 2016 11:26 AM - Todd B. Bates via Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

How do you handle nuclear waste that will be radioactive for millions of years, keeping it from harming people and the environment?

It isn’t easy, but Rutgers researcher Ashutosh Goel has discovered ways to immobilize such waste – the offshoot of decades of nuclear weapons production – in glass and ceramics.

Goel, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is the primary inventor of a new method to immobilize radioactive iodine in ceramics at room temperature. He’s also the principal investigator (PI) or co-PI for six glass-related research projects totaling $6.34 million in federal and private funding, with $3.335 million going to Rutgers.

See How Arctic Sea Ice Is Losing Its Bulwark Against Warming Summers
October 28, 2016 03:33 PM -

Arctic sea ice, the vast sheath of frozen seawater floating on the Arctic Ocean and its neighboring seas, has been hit with a double whammy over the past decades: as its extent shrunk, the oldest and thickest ice has either thinned or melted away, leaving the sea ice cap more vulnerable to the warming ocean and atmosphere.

“What we’ve seen over the years is that the older ice is disappearing,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This older, thicker ice is like the bulwark of sea ice: a warm summer will melt all the young, thin ice away but it can’t completely get rid of the older ice. But this older ice is becoming weaker because there’s less of it and the remaining old ice is more broken up and thinner, so that bulwark is not as good as it used to be.”

New biochar model scrubs CO2 from the atmosphere
October 28, 2016 02:08 PM - Melissa Osgood via Cornell University

New Cornell University research suggests an economically viable model to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to thwart global warming.

The researchers propose using a “bioenergy-biochar system” that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in an environmental pinch, until other removal methods become economically feasible and in regions where other methods are impractical. Their work appeared in the Oct. 21 edition of Nature Communications.

Food and Energy Demand Drives 58 Percent Decline in Global Wildlife Populations
October 28, 2016 07:16 AM - Lorin Hancock, World Wildlife Fund

Global populations of vertebrates -- mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish -- have declined by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012, states a new report from World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Animals living in the world’s lakes, rivers, and freshwater systems have experienced the most dramatic population declines, at 81 percent. Because of human activity, the report states that without immediate intervention global wildlife populations could drop two-thirds by 2020.

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