Top Energy Science Breakthroughs in 2008 for Materials Science

December 27 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2009   Rating: 1

silicon lithium battery

How do you build an 'sustainable' economy for 9 billion people? 

Reinvent how we make, recycle and re-use metals, wood, glass, plastic and biomaterials that go into everyday products.

Who can enable the 'new energy economy'?  Our bet is on the Scientist, not the Consumer.

While some get excited over 'green products' like solar powered backpacks, better lightbulbs and organic cotton yoga mats, most notions of 'eco-friendly' products fall drastically short of what will be needed to meet the demands of adding another 3 billion people to the planet by 2050.

We need to reinvent the whole concept of 'Industrialism' to create new methods for producing materials using less energy and 'resources' in fundamentally new ways.

List of 2008 Stories in Energy Materials Science

New Material Could Drop Cost of Carbon Capture
Georgia Tech scientists have developed a new zeolite material could separate the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, out of coal plants' smokestacks.

New Nanomaterial Makes Plastic Stiffer, Lighter And Stronger
Michigan State University researchers have developed a nanomaterial that makes plastic stiffer, lighter and stronger and could result in more fuel-efficient airplanes and cars as well as more durable medical and sports equipment.

Argonne breakthrough may revolutionize ethylene production
Argonne National Laboratory researchers may revolutionize the production of the world's most commonly produced organic compound, ethylene using a high-temperature membrane that can produce ethylene from an ethane stream by removing pure hydrogen.

Major breakthrough in catalyst for cleaner 'green' petrochemical materials
Researchers from Boston College and MIT have created a new catalyst that could reduce the negative environmental impact of hydrocarbon or ‘petrochemical’ derived materials found in everyday products. The new catalyst is used in a very common and energy intensive process known as olefin metathesis.

Chemists advance new theory to support next generation cleantech materials
A team of Oregon University researchers led by Dr Marina Guenza, using data collected by European materials researchers, has developed a theory that could end the confusion over molecule behavior in the creation of polymer materials.

Research breakthrough for mass producing thin sheets of carbon (graphene)
Researchers at the California NanoSystems Institute have developed a process to mass produce atom thick sheets of carbon known as graphene.  Graphene sheets are arguably the strongest possible material in the universe based on bonding properties of all known elements. But what makes them very special is how carbon sheets interact (or don’t interact) with electrons, hydrogen atoms and photons. They have uses as electrodes for solar cells, ‘sandwiches’ for solid hydrogen storage, backpanels for sensors, and as the anode electrode material in lithium batteries and fuel cells.

Ultra light and strong metal foam uses less energy
North Carolina State University researchers led by Afsaneh Rabiei have developed a high-performance metal foam material that uses less energy during production, yet provides a high level of safety in the event of a collision. The material has a higher strength-to-density ratio than any metal foam ever been reported.

Future of 'Green Chemistry': Researchers watch gases react with catalysts [Video]
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have taken the first-ever glimpse of nanoscale catalysts in action. Catalysts speed up chemical reactions. At the most basic level shape matters. To improve performance we can design catalysts at the ‘nanoscale’ (billionth of the meter) to change properties of low cost abundant elements rather than rely on expensive precious metals. At the nanoscale we design higher surface area to increase chances of molecules reacting, and we can design shapes so that they have high selectivity to deal with a certain type of molecules (e.g. capturing sulfur, releasing hydrogen).

Tiny piezoelectric devices convert motion into electricity
Researchers at Georgia Tech University have developed a new type of small-scale electric power generator able to produce alternating current (AC) through the repeated stretching and releasing of zinc oxide wires held with in a flexible plastic substrate that can be incorporated into almost any material. This new type of piezoelectric generator can produce up to 45 millivolts by converting nearly seven percent of the mechanical energy applied directly to the zinc oxide wires into electricity. A complex array of these devices could be used to charge sensors or low power embedded MEMS devices.

Texas A&M researchers advance self powered (piezeoelectric) devices
Texas A&M Professor Tahir Cagin believes that piezeoelectric materials, that convert motion into electric currents could be closer to applied applications thanks to their recent design breakthrough. (Not Image shown)

Turning car exhaust heat into electricity
Researchers in Germany have developed a thermoelectric generator that converts car exhaust heat into electricity.   (Sixty percent of the heat generated from car engines is wasted through the exhaust system.)

New nano technique significantly boosts boiling efficiency
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers believe that adding an invisible layer of nanomaterials to the bottom of a metal vessel can lower the energy required to bring water to boil or to cool computer chips

Comment Thread (2 Responses)

  1. As a general comment, it’s not so much that we need a new kind of industrial revolution, we just need another one. They all have a different character. You could even call the advent of the stone, bronze and iron ages little industrial revolutions of their own, and in each of them, materials were so important that they lended their name to the age.

    There’s an argument for us being in an industrial revolution now, but it’s difficult for us to see right now because we’re in it (I doubt 18th century londoners living in poverty would have been very enthusiastic about an “industrial revolution”).

    Our age in fact has a dynamism and speed which exceeds those of the past. Over the next couple of decades we will see some remarkable materials, for two principle reasons. 1/ Computational surface/bulk physics calculations (e.g. density functional theory) allow us to predict the properties of or design new materials with exponentially growing ability 2/ New nanoscale technologies allow the manipulation of individual atoms or clusters of atoms so that we can tailor make materials from the bottom up to have the properties we desire them to. I’ve even seen research which uses genetic algorithms to design new materials.

    These two factors are resulting in a range of smart materials or materials with remarkable properties that will have applications in electronics, energy storage and catalysis such as those applications you examined in detail in your excellent article. So in some ways, the concept of “industrialism” is being constantly redefined. Even one new material can change an entire industry for good, and there’s certainly enough research to raise a few eyebrows, even among the pessimists.

    Also note the interesting circular nature of materials research with regards to computing (using computers to design new materials for computing – an example of a cause of acceleration).

    Posted by: CptSunbeam   December 29, 2008
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  2. Well said Captain… Thanks… G-

    Posted by: Garry Golden   December 30, 2008
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