The closer the human mind gets to understanding and controlling quantum behavior of light and molecules, the more likely we are to enable an era of cheap abundant energy.
Now, thanks to work by a research team led by University of Toronto's Greg Scholes and Elisabetta Collini, we are a step closer to understanding (and controlling) how light moves along long carbon-based molecular chains to create an electrical charge.
Organic Electronics - Thin Film solar & OLEDs Their research could lead to advances in the emerging field of 'organic' electronics (carbon based electronics) that support thin film solar cells and batteries, and flexible transparent OLED display screens.
The group has focused on 'conjugated polymers' as a promising candidate for building efficient organic solar cells. These long chains repeat the same molecule patterns and can be maniuplated to mimic the properties of traditional silicon based semiconductors.
When these materials absorb light, the energy moves along the molecular chain ('polymer') ending in an electrical charge.
"One of the biggest obstacles to organic solar cells is that it is difficult to control what happens after light is absorbed: whether the desired property is transmitting energy, storing information or emitting light," Collini explained. "Our experiment suggests it is possible to achieve control using quantum effects, even under relatively normal conditions."
Humans being creating Quantum-mechanical mechanisms
Will OLED screens kill paper? Or converge to strengthen the human cultural bond with paper?
What if the future 'death' is not paper, but book inventory?
That is what 'on demand' printing businesses hope will be true. Their strategy is to target the problems of inventory (e.g. excees; 'long tail' demand), not paper.
The OnDemandBooks Espress Book Machine (EBM) can operate 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and produce over 60,000 books per year with minimum supervision. And HP is reported to be developing a massive MEMS printer that can deliver thousands of book pages per minute.
The key question is: when will 'on demand printing' come up from the bottom of the Hype Cycle.
The most successful players in the 'New Energy Economy' will be those who advance and profit from materials that enable cleaner interactions between molecules.
Even the 'greenest' consumers and markets will be stuck in a lower part of the value chain to countries and companies who dominate the Nanoscale Era of Science and Engineering. The future will shaped by those who become Masters of Molecules. So we pay close attention to investments by energy incumbents who are pushing forward around science.
'Pom Poms' to the Rescue? Nanoparticle Ionic Materials (NIMS) The performance qualities of elements such as carbon, iron, platinum (et al) change dramatically at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter). The KAUST-Cornell research will focus on a new material discovered at Cornell called Nanoparticle Ionic Materials (NIMS).
Researchers describe NIMS as: "pom-poms; that is, a squishy core made out of inorganic nanoparticles, and a hairy exterior called a corona that is made out of an organic polymer. This exterior can capture things such as carbon dioxide in a coal power plant, and the core can then be the catalyst to fix the carbon dioxide and convert it into something else, thereby preventing the building of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."
Once again, we are reminded that the future of energy will be shaped by materials scientists, and that nanoscale engineering gives us plenty of room to innovate around disruptive ideas.
Research teams from the U.S. Brookhaven National Laboratory, University of Delaware and Yeshiva University have announced the development of a new catalyst that could make ethanol-powered fuel cells feasible.
Rather than use next generation ethanol in a combustion engine, we can imagine a more efficient conversion into electricity via a fuel cell.
Fuel cells create electricity by breaking chemical bonds into hydrogen ions and electrons then completing the reaction with oxygen binding to hydrogen to create water.
Nano-catalysts break carbon bonds One of the challenges of (hydrogen rich) ethanol as a feedstock for fuel cells is the presence of carbon molecules.
“The ability to split the carbon-carbon bond and generate CO2 at room temperature is a completely new feature of catalysis,” says Brookhaven chemist Radoslav Adzic “There are no other catalysts that can achieve this at practical potentials.”
The 'nanostructured' catalyst achieves faster oxidation using the combination of platinum and rhodium atoms on carbon-supported tin dioxide nanoparticles. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the reaction but it is signficantly less than traditional combustion based conversion (and assuming more non-food crop biomass is planted it is 'carbon neutral'.)
“Ethanol is one of the most ideal reactants for fuel cells,” said Brookhaven chemist Radoslav Adzic. “It’s easy to produce, renewable, nontoxic, relatively easy to transport, and it has a high energy density. In addition, with some alterations, we could reuse the infrastructure that’s currently in place to store and distribute gasoline.”
Why catalysis is so important &Related Posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
Eco-Energy blogs seem to love stories about cleaner ways of making cement - which accounts for at least 5% global carbon dioxide emissions. Last year the viral story was a novel process developed by MIT students, and now Australian-based Zeobond is gaining a lot of attention. The company uses industry waste materials to reduce the environmental impact of cement material compounds.
Researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno have completed their first demonstration-scale project using an open pound algae to biofuel system.
Unlike most algae biofuels startups which use closed 'bioreactors', the Nevada-Enegis LLC project (not shown) is designed for open ponds that use a species of algae tolerant to cold-weather and salt basin environments.
The team announced the successful harvest of two 5,000-gallon ponds, and will continue to expand their test selection of algae species and engineering to improve performance.
Open pond systems are generally seen as a lower cost, low maintenance production platform, but have their own set of problems related to optimizing growing conditions.
Related posts on the future of bioenergy on The Energy Roadmap.com
The case for investing in a 'New Energy Economy' was just validated by one of the world's leading material solutions companies.
3M has announced the formal creation of its new Renewable Energy Division that will include two divisions dedicated to Energy Generation & Energy Management.
The Energy Generation Division will develop materials for solar, wind, geothermal and biofuel solutions such as films, tapes, coatings, encapsulants, sealants and adhesives to reduce costs and improve performance.
The Energy Management Division will focus on thermal efficiences (e.g. film efficiencies), membranes for energy storage devices (e.g. fuel cells, batteries) and other applications for the Automotive, Commercial Building and Residential market segments.
New Energy Economy depends on Advanced Nanostructured Materials This is big news for the cleantech sector. Energy is about interactions between light, molecules, metals, and heat. The only way to build a 'green' economy is to advance materials that make these interactions cleaner and lower cost.
3M has the resources to fundamentally change the performance-price points of cleantech materials. And it is a corporate stamp of approval on the idea that we must begin to move beyond extracting ancient stored energy (coal, oil and natural gas) and shift towards producing and storing energy using renewable resources that make clean electrons and clean molecules.
Reducing the amount of water needed to grow crops and prevent massive desertification could dramatically reduce the need for energy used in producing fertilizers, irrigation and desalination.
Hydrophobic Sand Nanowerk has featured a story written by Derek Baldwin of Xpress News on the development and use of layers of hydrophobic (water resistant) sand that prevents water from evaporating to keep it closer to the root systems.
The nano-coated sand could be used as a sub-layer for farming, urban landscaping, and a wide range of eco-friendly industrial applications like oil spills.
The proprietary coating process was developed by UAE-based DIME Hydrophobic Materials working with German scientist Helmut F. Schulze. The product's performance has been verified by a German materials testing agency (without details on coating's own environmental impact or longevity) and is now in pilot projects in the United Arab Emirates. Visit: Photo Gallery/Pankaj Sharma
Titanium 'Nanostructures' - Electrons & Hydrogen Boston College researchers have demonstrated a novel titanium nanostructure with expanded surface area for greater efficiency in the transport of electrons that could be tapped to split water to store solar energy in the form of hydrogen.
The team led by Professor Dunwei Wang will continue to improve overall efficiencies, but there is no doubt that they have advanced the 'relatively new science of water splitting' using semiconductor catalysts to separate and store hydrogen and oxygen.
The 'nanostructure' combined titanium disilicide (TiSi2) to absorb a wider spectrum of solar light, with a coating of titanium dioxide which is known to split water using ultraviolet light.
"The current challenge in splitting water involves how best to capture photons within the semiconductor material and then grab and transport them to produce hydrogen," Wang says. "For practical water splitting, you want to generate oxygen and hydrogen separately. For this, good electrical conductivity is of great importance because it allows you to collect electrons in the oxygen-generation region and transport them to the hydrogen-generation chamber for hydrogen production."
Why Nanoscale Matters: Remembering this is a Transition, not a Crisis I think it is important to recognize that we have not run out of options in creating and storing clean forms of energy. It's just that the old set of solutions cannot get us to to where we need to go!
We don't need to go to the mall. Trying to appeal to consumers to 'buy green' will not get us there. It is a superficial strategy that falls flat against global realities of expanding demand for energy.
We don't need to go to oil and coal fields. Continuing to extract energy from the Earth won't get us there. We are seeing limits to growth with conventional oil production, leaving only carbon heavy alternatives.
Where we need to go is down to the molecular ('nano') level of energy interactions, and then reimagine new ways to capture and store energy based on a new understanding of what is really happening!
Environmental and Energy advocacy group Bellona has released an interactive tool for understanding geo-engineering based CO2 capture and storage (CCS) technology designed to reduce power plant based emissions. The tool describes the engineering solutions for carbon capture, as well as point source carbon emissions based around the world.
Human beings have mastered the brute-force era of ‘energy by engineering’ where we’ve pulled stored energy from the Earth locked up as coal, oil and natural gas. But we are just beginning to achieve a more Zen-like ability to manipulate molecules that we harness and store ourselves.
Energy is about the interaction of molecules. And the way human beings can create cleaner energy interactions is by designing materials at the nanoscale to achieve unprecedented performance. Surface area is a key piece to this puzzle.
One Gram = One Football Field = How many molecules? Now, imagine holding a material in your hand that was made up of tiny nano-sized ‘cages’ that could hold gas molecules like hydrogen and carbon. Now imagine a gram of this material having the surface area of a football field. How many hydrogen or carbon molecules could you fit in that space? We don't yet know what practical storage systems might yield. This is a big question for energy researchers.
A research team led by University of Michigan’s Adam Matzger has created a novel nanoporous material known as UMCM-2 (University of Michigan Crystalline Material-2) that could claim the world record for surface area with more than 5,000 square meters per gram.
"Surface area is an important, intrinsic property that can affect the behavior of materials in processes ranging from the activity of catalysts to water detoxification to purification of hydrocarbons," Matzger said. That means we can design high surface area materials to scrub carbon leaving cleaner hydrogen bonds, or desalinate water using less energy.
Until recently the threshold for surface area was 3,000 square meters per gram. Then in 2004, a U-M team that included Matzger reported development of a material known as MOF-177 (metal-organic frameworks) that has the surface area of a football field.
"Pushing beyond that point has been difficult," Matzger said, but apparently not impossible using a new method of coordination copolymerization. If it's hard to get your head around, just think: Building Legos wth Molecules! That's a Big Idea!