The use of football-shaped 'Carbon 60' fullerene molecules, or 'Bucky Balls', could change how we look at the quantum flow of electricity over long distance transmission lines as well as within medical equipment and 'molecular electronics'.
Shape Matters: Carbon Buckyballs 'Squeezing' Electrons Liverpool Professor Matt Rosseinsky explains: "Superconductivity is a phenomenon we are still trying to understand and particularly how it functions at high temperatures. Superconductors have a very complex atomic structure and are full of disorder. We made a material in powder form that was a non-conductor at room temperature and had a much simpler atomic structure, to allow us to control how freely electrons moved and test how we could manipulate the material to super-conduct."
Professor Kosmas Prassides, from Durham University, said: "At room pressure the electrons in the material were too far apart to super-conduct and so we 'squeezed' them together using equipment that increases the pressure inside the structure. We found that the change in the material was instantaneous – altering from a non-conductor to a superconductor. This allowed us to see the exact atomic structure at the point at which superconductivity occurred."
The Obama Administration is following through on a major campaign promise: funding basic energy science.
Do you want Hope? (Or maybe long term optimism!)
Stop looking for 'short term' solutions and quick fixes to global energy challenges. We need disruptive breakthroughs that enable new energy systems and business models.
Start with basic science.
A Good Day for Energy Science Today, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science announced that it will invest $777 million in Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) over the next five years as we attempt to 'accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to build a new 21st-century energy economy'. The 46 new multi-million-dollar EFRCs [PDF list] will be established at universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms across the United States with partnerships extending around the globe.
The EFRCs will focus on a wide range of projects (PDF) 'ranging from solar energy and electricity storage to materials sciences, biofuels, advanced nuclear systems, and carbon capture and sequestration' and will engage 'nearly 700 senior investigators and employ, on a full- or part-time basis, over 1,100 postdoctoral associates, graduate students, undergraduate students, and technical staff.'
Getting Serious about CleanTech Industries Building a Bridge to Molecules: A Nano-Bio Energy Age The 'Cleantech' Industry vision promoted by entrepreneurs, activists and political leaders is not likely to be based on technologies and energy systems that exist today. (Translation: We are at the beginning of this new era of energy. And it is not likely to be an extension of the past or present!)
How do you create cleantech industries?
Be the economy that launches the Industrial Age of Nanoscale Molecular Engineering.
Learn how to manipulate carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, light, enzymes and metals at the nanoscale (1 billionth of a meter)- and you have the new 21st century drivers of economic growth.
Nanoscale materials science and Bio energy sciences are growing into giant new industry sectors that will dwarf today's major industry sectors. Science is the foundation for real green collar jobs of the future.
Smart Money - Right Time, Right Ideas, Right Teams Funding Basic Science not Mystery Science- Nano is no Joke!
60 Minutes recently aired a program on the future of coal power featuring Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers (an advocate of longer term 'Cathedral Thinking' carbon reduction) and leading climate scientist James Hansen (an advocate of a moratorium on building coal plants).
The CBS report was solidly mainstream in framing coal as central to the conversation on energy, environment and global economic development- but it failed to move the conversation beyond ideas that have existed for several decades.
Time for Big Ideas, not Big Battles Coal is the world's fastest growing source of energy due largely to growth outside the United States. And despite all the rapid growth rates expected with wind and solar, coal is likely to gain global market share in the years ahead.
So this is not just a conversation about US policy and US-based utilities! And there is no way to just 'wish' coal away. We must develop low cost carbon solutions that can be applied around the world within existing power plants. And everyone agrees - these low cost solutions do not exist today!
CBS Producers missed an opportunity to introduce more advanced non-geoengineering strategies to carbon neutralization and left viewers stuck at ringside watching the same old 'pro' vs 'anti' battle.
Carbon's Molecular Dance between Oxygen and Hydrogen Carbon is a 'sticky' molecule that interchangeably binds with oxygen and hydrogen based on its journey through biochemical pathways or via human induced energy conversion (e.g. power plants and combustion engine).
Human beings have a choice to approach carbon solutions through geo-engineering (shoving it underground), or as bio-engineers who can bind carbon with hydrogen for use as a hydrocarbon fuel (for transportation or onsite electricity generation) or a bio-feestock for industrial applications. CBS viewers would have been better off understanding the long-term view of carbon rather than watch a debate without a viable solution. (Continue Reading Below).
The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena should get bonus points for including an Energy 101 presenation at its recent 2009 Summit: Expanding the Vision of Sustainable Mobility. Most conferences about energy and the environment skip science altogether leaving their audiences without a firm grounding in energy science. Case in point? Oil does not come from dinosaurs. The 'fossil' in 'fossil fuels' refers to a geological period, not the ancient remains of mammals.
UC Davis Geology Professor Kenneth Verosub reminds us that oil (a 'hydrocarbon') is the result of bioenergy. Ancient diatoms (shelled algae) that used light to bind carbon and hydrogen that died and then with help of geological processes became a viable 'fuel' for humanity. [Video]
Futurist Patrick Dixon predicts that
widespread emotional pressure will fuel a $40 trillion industry
dedicated to the reduction of carbon emissions.
“We will see a 10x or even a 100x increase in the emotional
pressure on governments to take action on every aspect of global
warming,” says Dixon, “It will affect the decisions consumers make.
It will affect the opinions that they hold. It will affect the
image of multi-nationals, and I’m not just talking about oil
companies – I’m talking about banks … shipping companies …
airlines. Every company in the world will be called on to justify
its carbon footprint.”
If the near-term future validates Dixon’s opinions then we’re
bound to witness great economic disruption that sucks a great deal
of market cap from established companies and infuses it into the
entities that can provide the most cost-effective solutions.
Depending on the timing and pacing of such a shift, and the
efficacy of the new technologies and methods that hit the market,
it seems we could experience anything ranging from a depression to
Maybe it’s time to start hording those precious solar cells,
bury your money in a pit, or just live it up!
“With NASDAQ OMX Commodities, our intent is to create a global leader in energy derivatives and carbon products,” said Bob Greifeld, Chief Executive Officer of NASDAQ OMX. “Combining Nord Pool’s footprint in the commodities market with NASDAQ OMX’s global distribution capabilities and customer base puts us in a unique position to create a financial center for energy related derivatives. As one company we can meet our customers’ demands for trading in multiple asset classes, allowing us to grow liquidity in both existing and new markets.”
Chinese researchers have discovered that by sending current through sheets of carbon nanotubes they can create sound.
“Shoushan Fan and his research team at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, working with colleagues at Beijing Normal University, created a thin sheet by roughly aligning many 10-nanometer-diameter carbon nanotubes. When they sent an audio frequency current through the sheet, they discovered it acted as a loudspeaker.” -New Scientist
Carbon nanotubes have been touted the world over as invaluable in many technological projects such as efficient solar cells, localized medication delivery and even in larger structures such as the planned space elevator if that ever takes off. But this is the first experiment in using nanotubes as a replacement for traditional speakers.
[If you roll these sheets up, you form a ‘carbon nanotube’, or break them apart and bind with other compounds to form ‘nanoparticles’. These are the three basic shapes of nanoscale materials. Master these components and the next stage is creating functional mechanical nano-machines!]
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.
Why is this important to the future? Energy components designed at the nanoscale
Before we can apply graphene sheets to commercial applications we must find lower cost methods of mass production. This breakthrough is a significant milestone. According to researcher Matthew Allen “These graphene sheets are by far the largest produced, and the method allows great control over deposition. Chemically converted graphene can now be studied in depth through a variety of electronic tests and microscopic techniques not previously possible.”
Call it 'clean coal' or 'cleaner coal' -- the idea is still the same. Stop carbon from binding with oxygen (CO2) and floating up into the atmosphere.
How do you do it? 1) Think like an engineer Sequester the carbon by pumping it underground
2) Design new plants Capture energy via 'gasification' (instead of combustion)
3) Think like a biologist Retrofit coal plants with bioreactors that pull emissions into tanks of carbon-fixing algae and bacteria that bind carbon with hydrogen to form useful forms of energy (hydrocarbon chains biofuels)
Of the three carbon strategies, bioenergy (algae/bacteria) has the most potential as a 'game-changing' solution. But it is also the hardest to talk about since systems are not tested commercially.
The Battle Ahead We should not kid ourselves about the dynamics of this coal conversation. It is likely to get ugly as industry and activists try to demonize each other and paint their own version of 'reality'. There are no simple, short term quick fixes. What could happen depends on how the fight evolves around the focus of:
- emotions vs science - coal energy inside the United States vs China - present day challenges or exploring and enabling future solutions - engineeing solutions, or biosolutions - compromise, regulatory frameworks, or lawsuits
The Players- Industry, Activitists, and Entrepreneurs
The Institute will focus on global energy and climate issues by expanding the number of faculty and graduate research positions across the entire spectrum of energy science and engineering from photovoltaics to carbon sequestration.
The center is the result of a team of funders led by energy Executive Jay Precourt, who donated $50 million, and a $40 million gift from Thomas Steyer and Kat Taylor who supported the creation of the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy.
Stanford intends to expand global partnerships but it is clearly a big win for the State of California as it attempts to build a 'cleantech' hub of talent, IP, and companies involved in the 21st century energy systems.
FueCellMarkets is reporting on a $30 million Phase II contract to expand testing of Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) coal syngas power generation. This type of stationary fuel cell converts coal derived gas via electrochemical processes to produce electricity and heat. The result of this scalable non-combustion method is higher efficiency and signficantly lower carbon emissions.
Advancing Global Carbon Solutions Coal is not going away anytime soon. In fact, its global market share is growing as the primary source of energy for electricity generation.
Cheaper solar and wind does not, by default, mean less coal in a world economy expected to double energy production in the decades ahead. Coal is already embedded into global power grids, and it is not going to disappear overnight.
If we expect to address carbon emissions, we have to do more than develop alternatives. We need scalable carbon solutions that move us beyond the age of combustion conversion and harmful release of emissions.
While coal will never be 'clean', there are cleaner ways of converting it that result in significantly less carbon emissions. We have written extensively about algae, but fuel cells offer another path forward.
Fuel Cells, Coal Gas, & a Post Combustion Era of Energy Conversion
Austin, Texas based Graphene Energy has raised $500,000 to expand its vision of bringing graphene-based ultracapacitors to market. Capacitors are a class of energy storage devices that hold physical charges of electricity.
The company hopes that their use of nanoscale designed carbon graphene sheets will improve ultracapacitor performance to support the shift towards electrive drive vehicles powered by the integration of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors. Together these three energy storage devices provide all the demands of electric vehicles - regenerative energy capture, scaling up, and bursts.
The Strongest Material in the Universe Graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice. Graphene has unique electro-, structural and mechanical properties, and is arguably the strongest known material in the universe given the combination of all known elements. For energy researchers, graphene is a new platorm for creating lower cost and more efficient components including: high surface area electrodes for energy storage devices, and backbone foundations for solar cells.
Carbon Graphene is closely related carbon nanotubes that are used to increase surface area of materials used in batteries, fuel cells, and solar cells. But graphene sheets have their own unique performance properties and have emerged as a very 'hot' area of research across a range of disciplines including advanced electronics (transistors & memory) and biotechnology.