Sci/tech

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.

New maps reveal safe locations for wastewater injection
November 11, 2016 11:13 AM - Ker Than via Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

Stanford geophysicists have compiled the most detailed maps yet of the geologic forces controlling the locations, types and magnitudes of earthquakes in Texas and Oklahoma.

These new “stress maps,” published in the journals Geophysical Research Letters and Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, provide insight into the nature of the faults associated with recent temblors, many of which appear to have been triggered by the injection of wastewater deep underground.

“These maps help explain why injection-induced earthquakes have occurred in some areas, and provide a basis for making quantitative predictions about the potential for seismic activity resulting from fluid injection,” said study co-author Mark Zoback, the Benjamin M. Page Professor of Geophysics in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

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.

Study: Carbon-Hungry Plants Impede Growth Rate of Atmospheric CO2
November 8, 2016 04:47 PM - Dan Krotz via Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

New findings suggest the rate at which CO2 is accumulating in the atmosphere has plateaued in recent years because Earth’s vegetation is grabbing more carbon from the air than in previous decades.

That’s the conclusion of a multi-institutional study led by a scientist from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). It’s based on extensive ground and atmospheric observations of CO2, satellite measurements of vegetation, and computer modeling. The research is published online Nov. 8 in the journal Nature Communications.

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.

Impact of sea smell overestimated by present climate models
November 4, 2016 04:42 PM - Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research

The formation of sulfur dioxide from the oxidation of dimethyl sulfide (DMS) and, thus, of cooling clouds over the oceans seems to be overvalued in current climate models. This concludes scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research (TROPOS) from a model study on the effects of DMS on atmospheric chemistry. Until now, models considering only the oxidation in the gas phase describe merely the oxidation pathway and neglect important pathways in the aqueous phase of the atmosphere, writes the team in the journal PNAS. This publication contains until now the most comprehensive mechanistic study on the multiphase oxidation of this compound. The results have shown that in order to improve the understanding of the atmospheric chemistry and its climate effects over the oceans, a more detailed knowledge about the multiphase oxidation of DMS and its oxidation products is necessary. Furthermore, it is also needed to increase the accuracy of climate prediction.

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.

Colorado River's dead clams tell tales of carbon emission
October 28, 2016 04:09 PM - Blaine Friedlander via Cornell University

Scientists have begun to account for the topsy-turvy carbon cycle of the Colorado River delta – once a massive green estuary of grassland, marshes and cottonwood, now desiccated dead land.

“We’ve done a lot in the United States to alter water systems, to dam them. The river irrigates our crops and makes energy. What we really don’t understand is how our poor water management is affecting other natural systems – in this case, carbon cycling,” said Cornell’s Jansen Smith, a doctoral candidate in earth and atmospheric sciences.

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