Boosting gas mileage by turning engine heat into electricity

"Thermoelectric Power Generation from Lanthanum Strontium Titanium Oxide at Room Temperature Through the Addition of Graphene" ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces

Automakers are looking for ways to improve their fleets’ average fuel efficiency, and scientists may have a new way to help them. In a report in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, one team reports the development of a material that could convert engine heat that’s otherwise wasted into electrical energy to help keep a car running — and reduce the need for fuels. It could also have applications in aerospace, manufacturing and other sectors.

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A new way to make laser-like beams using 1,000x less power

ANN ARBOR—With precarious particles called polaritons that straddle the worlds of light and matter, University of Michigan researchers have demonstrated a new, practical and potentially more efficient way to make a coherent laser-like beam.

They have made what's believed to be the first polariton laser that is fueled by electrical current as opposed to light, and also works at room temperature, rather than way below zero.

Those attributes make the device the most real-world ready of the handful of polariton lasers ever developed. It represents a milestone like none the field has seen since the invention of the most common type of laser – the semiconductor diode – in the early 1960s, the researchers say. While the first lasers were made in the 1950s, it wasn't until the semiconductor version, fueled by electricity rather than light, that the technology took off.

This work could advance efforts to put lasers on computer circuits to replace wire connections, leading to smaller and more powerful electronics. It may also have applications in medical devices and treatments and more.

The researchers didn't develop it with a specific use in mind. They point out that when conventional lasers were introduced, no one envisioned how ubiquitous they would become. Today they're used in the fiber-optic communication that makes the Internet and cable television possible. They are also in DVD players, eye surgery tools, robotics sensors and defense technologies, for example.

A polariton is part light and part matter. Polariton lasers harness these particles to emit light. They are predicted to be more energy efficient than traditional lasers. The new prototype requires 1,000 times less electricity to operate than its conventional counterpart made of the same material.

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Nuclear fusion milestone passed at US lab

By Paul Rincon

Science Editor, BBC News website

Researchers at a US lab have passed a crucial milestone on the way to their ultimate goal of achieving self-sustaining nuclear fusion.

Harnessing fusion - the process that powers the Sun - could provide an unlimited and cheap source of energy.

But to be viable, fusion power plants would have to produce more energy than they consume, which has proven elusive.

Now, a breakthrough by scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) could boost hopes of scaling up fusion.

NIF, based at Livermore in California, uses 192 beams from the world's most powerful laser to heat and compress a small pellet of hydrogen fuel to the point where nuclear fusion reactions take place.

The BBC understands that during an experiment in late September, the amount of energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel - the first time this had been achieved at any fusion facility in the world.

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The formula for turning cement into metal

BY TONA KUNZ

LEMONT, Ill. – In a move that would make the Alchemists of King Arthur’s time green with envy, scientists have unraveled the formula for turning liquid cement into liquid metal. This makes cement a semi-conductor and opens up its use in the profitable consumer electronics marketplace for thin films, protective coatings, and computer chips.

“This new material has lots of applications, including as thin-film resistors used in liquid-crystal displays, basically the flat panel computer monitor that you are probably reading this from at the moment,” said Chris Benmore, a physicist from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory who worked with a team of scientists from Japan, Finland and Germany to take the “magic” out of the cement-to-metal transformation. Benmore and Shinji Kohara from Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute/SPring-8 led the research effort.

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Biofuels patent marks milestone for Madison research hub

By Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel

C5-6 Technologies of Middleton and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center in Madison are celebrating a milestone - the awarding of the first patent from the center's next-generation biofuels research.

The patent covers research into a heat-resistant enzyme that is well suited to break down the sugars contained inside the cells of plants.

C5-6 is the renewable fuels arm of the Middleton biotech firm Lucigen. The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center was founded in 2007 as one of three national centers created by the U.S. Department of Energy to focus on research and development for bioenergy. The center was awarded $125 million over five years.

"It's a good technology and, as much as anything, it makes an important milestone in terms of the center," said David Pluymers, the center's intellectual property manager. "We've been at this for about 4½ years now. We went through a start-up phase and moved to a point where our labs really got rolling."

The Madison center's mission is to find and develop breakthrough technologies that can enable transportation fuels to be made affordably from plants that aren't also food sources. Examples of these nonfood biofuel sources, known as cellulosic biomass, include the corn stalks and switch grass.

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Scientists Create Piezoelectric Generators from Bacteriophage Thin Films

Scientists have created bacteriophage-based microelectronic devices that can generate enough electricity to power a liquid-crystal display (LCD) when subjected to mechanical force. The prototype piezoelectric devices are composed of engineered M13 bacteriophages that self-assemble into thin films.

Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley demonstrate the use of the thin films to generate power by layering multiple 1cm2 films between two electrodes and connecting the setup to an LCD. When pressure was repeatedly applied and released, the microgenerator produced up to 6 nA of current and 400 mV of potential, equivalent to about a quarter of the voltage of an AAA battery.

Seung-Wuk Lee, Ph.D., and colleagues say they hope that the proof-of-concept prototype will pave the way to the development of cheap virus-based microelectronic devices that generate power from everyday activities such as shutting doors or climbing stairs. They report their achievement in Nature Nanotechnology in a paper titled “Virus-based piezoelectric energy generation.”

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Nanotechnology could recover energy

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., April 17 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say a new technique could harvest energy from hot pipes or engine components to recover energy wasted in factories, power plants and cars.

Scientists at Purdue University say they've used nanotechnology techniques to coat glass fibers with a new "thermoelectric" material they developed.

When thermoelectric materials are heated on one side, electrons flow to the cooler side, generating an electrical current.

Fibers treated in this manner could be wrapped around industrial pipes in factories and power plants, as well as on car engines and automotive exhaust systems, to recapture much of the wasted energy, the researchers said.

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'Microgrids' energy storage project announced

Universities, businesses work together to make Wisconsin a leader

By Thomas Content of the Journal Sentinel

A new project aimed at making Wisconsin a national center of expertise for energy "microgrids" was announced Monday by a team that includes the state's four largest engineering schools and several large Milwaukee-area employers.

By using sophisticated new energy storage devices and battery systems, microgrid "energy islands" could function for some time off a main power grid if it were disrupted - and they also could maximize use of energy harnessed from renewable sources, such as solar and wind power.

Wisconsin companies are already working to develop technologies for advanced energy storage systems, including the state's largest company, Johnson Controls Inc., and one of its smallest ZBB Energy Corp. of Menomonee Falls. They see a market for using energy storage to overcome the challenges of renewable sources that stop making power when the sun sets or winds ease.

Military spending on microgrids is expected to grow fourfold between now and 2020, with Department of Defense spending alone expected to reach $1.6 billion by then, researchers at the market-research firm SB Energy said in a report this year.

Microgrids will be set up at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2012 and at UW-Madison's new Wisconsin Energy Institute Building, scheduled to open in 2013, according to the initiative by the Center for Renewable Energy Systems. The Center aims to conduct applied research to help Wisconsin companies develop projects for the renewable energy and energy storage markets.

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Berkeley Scientists Discover Inexpensive Metal Catalyst for Generating Hydrogen from Water

Hydrogen would command a key role in future renewable energy technologies, experts agree, if a relatively cheap, efficient and carbon-neutral means of producing it can be developed. An important step towards this elusive goal has been taken by a team of researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California, Berkeley. The team has discovered an inexpensive metal catalyst that can effectively generate hydrogen gas from water.

“Our new proton reduction catalyst is based on a molybdenum-oxo metal complex that is about 70 times cheaper than platinum, today’s most widely used metal catalyst for splitting the water molecule,” said Hemamala Karunadasa, one of the co-discoverers of this complex. “In addition, our catalyst does not require organic additives, and can operate in neutral water, even if it is dirty, and can operate in sea water, the most abundant source of hydrogen on earth and a natural electrolyte. These qualities make our catalyst ideal for renewable energy and sustainable chemistry.”

Karunadasa holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division and UC Berkeley’s Chemistry Department. She is the lead author of a paper describing this work that appears in the April 29, 2010 issue of the journal Nature, titled “A molecular molybdenum-oxo catalyst for generating hydrogen from water.” Co-authors of this paper were Christopher Chang and Jeffrey Long, who also hold joint appointments with Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley. Chang, in addition, is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Hydrogen gas, whether combusted or used in fuel cells to generate electricity, emits only water vapor as an exhaust product, which is why this nation would already be rolling towards a hydrogen economy if only there were hydrogen wells to tap. However, hydrogen gas does not occur naturally and has to be produced. Most of the hydrogen gas in the United States today comes from natural gas, a fossil fuel. While inexpensive, this technique adds huge volumes of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Hydrogen can also be produced through the electrolysis of water – using electricity to split molecules of water into molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. This is an environmentally clean and sustainable method of production – especially if the electricity is generated via a renewable technology such as solar or wind – but requires a water-splitting catalyst.

Nature has developed extremely efficient water-splitting enzymes – called hydrogenases – for use by plants during photosynthesis, however, these enzymes are highly unstable and easily deactivated when removed from their native environment. Human activities demand a stable metal catalyst that can operate under non-biological settings.

Metal catalysts are commercially available, but they are low valence precious metals whose high costs make their widespread use prohibitive. For example, platinum, the best of them, costs some $2,000 an ounce.

“The basic scientific challenge has been to create earth-abundant molecular systems that produce hydrogen from water with high catalytic activity and stability,” Chang says. “We believe our discovery of a molecular molybdenum-oxo catalyst for generating hydrogen from water without the use of additional acids or organic co-solvents establishes a new chemical paradigm for creating reduction catalysts that are highly active and robust in aqueous media.”

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Stanford researchers find electrical current stemming from plants

Stanford engineers have generated electrical current by tapping into the electron activity in individual algae cells. Photosynthesis excites electrons, which can then be turned into an electrical current using a specially designed gold electrode. This study could be the first step toward carbon-free electricity directly from plants.

BY GWYNETH DICKEY

In an electrifying first, Stanford scientists have plugged into algae cells and harnessed a tiny electrical current. They found it at the very source of energy production – photosynthesis, a plant's method of converting sunlight to chemical energy. It may be a first step toward generating high-efficiency bioelectricity that doesn't give off carbon dioxide as a byproduct, the researchers say.

"We believe we are the first to extract electrons out of living plant cells," said WonHyoung Ryu, the lead author of the paper published in the March issue of Nano Letters. Ryu conducted the experiments while he was a research associate for mechanical engineering Professor Fritz Prinz.

The Stanford research team developed a unique, ultra-sharp nanoelectrode made of gold, specially designed for probing inside cells. They gently pushed it through the algal cell membranes, which sealed around it, and the cell stayed alive. From the photosynthesizing cells, the electrode collected electrons that had been energized by light and the researchers generated a tiny electrical current.

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Laser fusion test results raise energy hopes

By Jason Palmer

Science and technology reporter, BBC News

A major hurdle to producing fusion energy using lasers has been swept aside, results in a new report show.

The controlled fusion of atoms - creating conditions like those in our Sun - has long been touted as a possible revolutionary energy source.

However, there have been doubts about the use of powerful lasers for fusion energy because the "plasma" they create could interrupt the fusion.

An article in Science showed the plasma is far less of a problem than expected.

The report is based on the first experiments from the National Ignition Facility (Nif) in the US that used all 192 of its laser beams.

Along the way, the experiments smashed the record for the highest energy from a laser - by a factor of 20.

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Researchers create smaller and more efficient nuclear battery

Mizzou scientist develops a powerful nuclear battery that uses a liquid semiconductor

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Batteries can power anything from small sensors to large systems. While scientists are finding ways to make them smaller but even more powerful, problems can arise when these batteries are much larger and heavier than the devices themselves. University of Missouri researchers are developing a nuclear energy source that is smaller, lighter and more efficient.

"To provide enough power, we need certain methods with high energy density," said Jae Kwon, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at MU. "The radioisotope battery can provide power density that is six orders of magnitude higher than chemical batteries."

Kwon and his research team have been working on building a small nuclear battery, currently the size and thickness of a penny, intended to power various micro/nanoelectromechanical systems (M/NEMS). Although nuclear batteries can pose concerns, Kwon said they are safe.

"People hear the word 'nuclear' and think of something very dangerous," he said. "However, nuclear power sources have already been safely powering a variety of devices, such as pace-makers, space satellites and underwater systems."

His innovation is not only in the battery's size, but also in its semiconductor. Kwon's battery uses a liquid semiconductor rather than a solid semiconductor.

"The critical part of using a radioactive battery is that when you harvest the energy, part of the radiation energy can damage the lattice structure of the solid semiconductor," Kwon said. "By using a liquid semiconductor, we believe we can minimize that problem."

Kwon has been collaborating with J. David Robertson, chemistry professor and associate director of the MU Research Reactor, and is working to build and test the battery at the facility. In the future, they hope to increase the battery's power, shrink its size and try with various other materials. Kwon said that the battery could be thinner than the thickness of human hair. They've also applied for a provisional patent.

###

Kwon's research has been published in the Journal of Applied Physics Letters and Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry. In addition, last June, he received an "outstanding paper" award for his research on nuclear batteries at the IEEE International Conference on Solid-State Sensors, Actuators and Microsystems in Denver (Transducers 2009).

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Component of asphalt eyed as new fuel source

The pavement material that cars drive on may wind up in their fuel tanks as scientists seek ways of transforming asphaltenes -- the main component of asphalt -- into an abundant new source of fuel, according to the cover story in the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly newsmagazine.

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Printable batteries

Research News July 2009 

For a long time, batteries were bulky and heavy. Now, a new cutting-edge battery is revolutionizing the field. It is thinner than a millimeter, lighter than a gram, and can be produced cost-effectively through a printing process.

In the past, it was necessary to race to the bank for every money transfer and every bank statement. Today, bank transactions can be easily carried out at home. Now where is that piece of paper again with the TAN numbers? In the future you can spare yourself the search for the number. Simply touch your EC card and a small integrated display shows the TAN number to be used. Just type in the number and off you go. This is made possible by a printable battery that can be produced cost-effectively on a large scale. It was developed by a research team led by Prof. Dr. Reinhard Baumann of the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Electronic Nano Systems ENAS in Chemnitz together with colleagues from TU Chemnitz and Menippos GmbH. “Our goal is to be able to mass produce the batteries at a price of single digit cent range each,” states Dr. Andreas Willert, group manager at ENAS.

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Prototype Nokia phone recharges without wires

Pardon the cliche, but it's one of the holiest of Holy Grails of technology: Wireless power. And while early lab experiments have been able to "beam" electricity a few feet to power a light bulb, the day when our laptops and cell phones can charge without having to plug them in to a wall socket still seems decades in the future.

Nokia, however, has taken another baby step in that direction with the invention of a cell phone that recharges itself using a unique system: It harvest ambient radio waves from the air, and turns that energy into usable power. Enough, at least, to keep a cell phone from running out of juice.

While "traditional" (if there is such a thing) wireless power systems are specifically designed with a transmitter and receiver in mind, Nokia's system isn't finicky about where it gets its wireless waves. TV, radio, other mobile phone systems -- all of this stuff just bounces around the air and most of it is wasted, absorbed into the environment or scattered into the ether. Nokia picks up all the bits and pieces of these waves and uses the collected electromagnetic energy to create electrical current, then uses that to recharge the phone's battery. A huge range of frequencies can be utilized by the system (there's no other way, really, as the energy in any given wave is infinitesimal). It's the same idea that Tesla was exploring 100 years ago, just on a tiny scale.

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Flexible, transparent supercapacitors are latest devices from USC nanotube lab

<p>Flexible, transparent supercapacitors are latest devices from USC nanotube lab</p>

It is a completely transparent and flexible energy conversion and storage device that you can bend and twist like a poker card.

It continues a line of prototype devices created at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering that can perform the electronic operations now usually handled by silicon chips using carbon nanotubes and metal nanowires set in indium oxide films, and can potentially do so at prices competitive with those of existing technologies.

The device is a supercapacitor, a circuit component that can temporarily store large amounts of electrical energy for release when needed. A team headed by Chongwu Zhou describes it a newly-published paper on "Flexible and Transparent Supercapacitor based on Indium Nanowire / Carbon Nanotube Heterogeneous Films" in the journal Applied Physics Letters (Vol.94, Issue 4, Page 043113, 2009).

Its creators believe the device points the way to further applications, such as flexible power supply components in "e-paper" displays and conformable products.

The device stores an energy density of 1.29 Watt-hour/kilogram with a specific capacitance of 64 Farad/gram. By contrast, conventional capacitors usually have an energy density of less than 0.1 Wh/kg and a storage capacitance of several tenth millifarads.

Zhou, who holds the Jack Munushiun Early Career Chair at the USC Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, worked with USC graduate students Po-Chiang Chen and Sawalok Sukcharoenchoke, and post-doc Guozhen Shen.

The group incorporated metal oxide nanowires with carbon nanotubes (CNTs) to form heterogeneous films and further optimized the film thickness attaching on transparent plastic substrates to maintain the mechanical flexibility and optical transparency of the supercapacitors.

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Turning sunlight into liquid fuels

<p>Turning sunlight into liquid fuels</p>

Berkeley Lab researchers create a nano-sized photocatalyst for artificial photosynthesis.

<p>Turning sunlight into liquid fuels</p>

Berkeley, CA - For millions of years, green plants have employed photosynthesis to capture energy from sunlight and convert it into electrochemical energy. A goal of scientists has been to develop an artificial version of photosynthesis that can be used to produce liquid fuels from carbon dioxide and water. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have now taken a critical step towards this goal with the discovery that nano-sized crystals of cobalt oxide can effectively carry out the critical photosynthetic reaction of splitting water molecules.

"Photooxidation of water molecules into oxygen, electrons and protons (hydrogen ions) is one of the two essential half reactions of an artifical photosynthesis system - it provides the electrons needed to reduce carbon dioxide to a fuel," said Heinz Frei, a chemist with Berkeley Lab's Physical Biosciences Division, who conducted this research with his postdoctoral fellow Feng Jiao. "Effective photooxidation requires a catalyst that is both efficient in its use of solar photons and fast enough to keep up with solar flux in order to avoid wasting those photons. Clusters of cobalt oxide nanocrystals are sufficiently efficient and fast, and are also robust (last a long time) and abundant. They perfectly fit the bill."

Frei and Jiao have reported the results of their study in the journal Angewandte Chemie, in a paper entitled: "Nanostructured Cobalt Oxide Clusters in Mesoporous Silica as Efficient Oxygen-Evolving Catalysts." This research was performed through the Helios Solar Energy Research Center (Helios SERC), a scientific program at Berkeley Lab under the direction of Paul Alivisatos, which is aimed at developing fuels from sunlight. Frei serves as deputy director of Helios SERC.

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Scientists find new way to produce hydrogen

Scientists at Penn State University and the Virginia Commonwealth University have discovered a way to produce hydrogen by exposing selected clusters of aluminum atoms to water. The findings are important because they demonstrate that it is the geometries of these aluminum clusters, rather than solely their electronic properties, that govern the proximity of the clusters' exposed active sites. The proximity of the clusters' exposed sites plays an important role in affecting the clusters' reactions with water. The team's findings will be published in the 23 January 2009 issue of the journal Science.

"Our previous research suggested that electronic properties govern everything about these aluminum clusters, but this new study shows that it is the arrangement of atoms within the clusters that allows them to split water," said A. Welford Castleman Jr., Eberly Family Distinguished Chair in Science and Evan Pugh Professor in the Penn State Departments of Chemistry and Physics. "Generally, this knowledge might allow us to design new nanoscale catalysts by changing the arrangements of atoms in a cluster. The results could open up a new area of research, not only related to splitting water, but also to breaking the bonds of other molecules, as well."

The team, which also includes Penn State graduate students Patrick Roach and Hunter Woodward and Virginia Commonwealth University Professor of Physics Shiv Khanna and postdoctoral associate Arthur Reber, investigated the reactions of water with individual aluminum clusters by combining them under controlled conditions in a custom-designed flow-reactor. They found that a water molecule will bind between two aluminum sites in a cluster as long as one of the sites behaves like a Lewis acid, a positively charged center that wants to accept an electron, and the other behaves like a Lewis base, a negatively charged center that wants to give away an electron. The Lewis-acid aluminum binds to the oxygen in the water and the Lewis-base aluminum dissociates a hydrogen atom. If this process happens a second time with another set of two aluminum sites and a water molecule, then two hydrogen atoms are available, which then can join to become hydrogen gas (H2).

The team found that the aluminum clusters react differently when exposed to water, depending on the sizes of the clusters and their unique geometric structures. Three of the aluminum clusters produced hydrogen from water at room temperature. "The ability to produce hydrogen at room temperature is significant because it means that we did not use any heat or energy to trigger the reaction," said Khanna. "Traditional techniques for splitting water to produce hydrogen generally require a lot of energy at the time the hydrogen is generated. But our method allows us to produce hydrogen without supplying heat, connecting to a battery, or adding electricity. Once the aluminum clusters are synthesized, they can generate hydrogen on demand without the need to store it."

Khanna hopes that the team's findings will pave the way toward investigating how the aluminum clusters can be recycled for continual usage and how the conditions for the release of hydrogen can be controlled. "It looks as though we might be able to come up with ways to remove the hydroxyl group (OH-) that remains attached to the aluminum clusters after they generate hydrogen so that we can reuse the aluminum clusters again and again," he said.

The team plans to continue their research with a goal of refining their new method. This research was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

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Argonne scientists prove unconventional superconductivity in new iron arsenide compounds

Inelastic neutron scattering is sensitive to sign of superconducting gap

ARGONNE, Ill. (Jan. 9, 2009) — Scientists at U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory used inelastic neutron scattering to show that superconductivity in a new family of iron arsenide superconductors cannot be explained by conventional theories.


"The normal techniques for revealing unconventional superconductivity don't work with these compounds," physicist Ray Osborn said. "Inelastic neutron scattering is so far the only technique that does."

Conventional superconductivity can be explained by a theory developed by Bardeen, Cooper and Schrieffer (BCS) in 1957. In BCS theory, electrons in a superconductor combine to form pairs, called Cooper pairs, which are able to move through the crystal lattice without resistance when an electric voltage is applied. Even when the voltage is removed, the current continues to flow indefinitely, the most remarkable property of superconductivity, and one that explains the keen interest in their technological potential.

Normally, electrons repel each other because of their similar charge, but, in superconductors, they coordinate with vibrations of the crystal lattice to overcome this repulsion. But scientists don't believe the vibrational mechanism in the iron arsenides is strong enough to make them superconducting. This has led theorists to propose that this superconductivity has an unconventional mechanism, perhaps like high-temperature copper-oxide superconductors. Some iron arsenides are antiferromagnetic, rather than superconducting, so magnetism rather than atomic vibrations might provide the electron glue.

In BCS superconductors, the energy gap between the superconducting and normal electronic states is constant, but in unconventional superconductors the gap varies with the direction the electrons are moving. In some directions, the gap may be zero. The puzzle is that the gap does not seem to vary with direction in the iron arsenides. Theorists have argued that, while the size of the gap shows no directional dependence in these new compounds, the sign of the gap is opposite for different electronic states. The standard techniques to measure the gap, such as photoemission, are not sensitive to this change in sign.

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LED street lights expand Ruud Lighting’s market

By THOMAS CONTENT

tcontent@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Aug. 5, 2008

Sturtevant - Energy-saving lighting that could help cities in Alaska to Australia save on the cost of electricity in street lights is creating global growth opportunities for Ruud Lighting Inc.

Ruud Lighting on Tuesday celebrated a new energy-saving street light fixture coming off the assembly line. The street light fixtures will soon be installed on several streets in Racine, Mayor Gary Becker said.

Ruud Lighting’s Beta Lighting division is seeing increased interest in LED technology because of demands to reduce costs through energy efficiency and to avoid the use of hazardous materials, such as mercury, in energy-efficient light fixtures, said Alan Ruud, company president.

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New method extracts oxygen from water with minimal energy, potentially boosting efforts to develop solar as a 24-hour energy source

July 31, 2008

Using a surprisingly simple, inexpensive technique, chemists have found a way to pull pure oxygen from water using relatively small amounts of electricity, common chemicals and a room-temperature glass of water.

Because oxygen and hydrogen are energy-rich fuels, many researchers have proposed using solar electricity to split water into those elements--a stored energy source for when the sun goes down. One of the chief obstacles to that green-energy scenario has been the difficulty of producing oxygen without large amounts of energy or a high-maintenance environment.

Now, Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemist Daniel Nocera and his postdoctoral student Matthew Kanan have discovered an efficient way to solve the oxygen problem. They announced their findings July 31, 2008, online in the journal Science.

"The discovery has enormous implications for the large scale deployment of solar since it puts us on the doorstep of a cheap and easily manufactured storage mechanism," said Nocera. "The ease of implementation means that this discovery will have legs. I have great faith in my chemistry, materials science and engineering colleagues in the community to drive this discovery hard and hopefully their work, along with our continued studies will yield viable technologies within 10 years."

While a home-based energy source using this technique could be a decade away, the breakthrough is a major step forward.

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MIT opens new 'window' on solar energy

Cost effective devices expected on market soon

Elizabeth A. Thomson, News Office
July 10, 2008

 

Imagine windows that not only provide a clear view and illuminate rooms, but also use sunlight to efficiently help power the building they are part of. MIT engineers report a new approach to harnessing the sun's energy that could allow just that.

The work, to be reported in the July 11 issue of Science, involves the creation of a novel "solar concentrator." "Light is collected over a large area [like a window] and gathered, or concentrated, at the edges," explains Marc A. Baldo, leader of the work and the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering.

As a result, rather than covering a roof with expensive solar cells (the semiconductor devices that transform sunlight into electricity), the cells only need to be around the edges of a flat glass panel. In addition, the focused light increases the electrical power obtained from each solar cell "by a factor of over 40," Baldo says.

Because the system is simple to manufacture, the team believes that it could be implemented within three years--even added onto existing solar-panel systems to increase their efficiency by 50 percent for minimal additional cost. That, in turn, would substantially reduce the cost of solar electricity.

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Tiny buckyballs squeeze hydrogen like giant Jupiter

Carbon cages can hold super-dense volumes of nearly metallic hydrogen

Hydrogen could be a clean, abundant energy source, but it's difficult to store in bulk. In new research, materials scientists at Rice University have made the surprising discovery that tiny carbon capsules called buckyballs are so strong they can hold volumes of hydrogen nearly as dense as those at the center of Jupiter.

The research appears on the March 2008 cover of the American Chemical Society's journal Nano Letters.

"Based on our calculations, it appears that some buckyballs are capable of holding volumes of hydrogen so dense as to be almost metallic," said lead researcher Boris Yakobson, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Rice. "It appears they can hold about 8 percent of their weight in hydrogen at room temperature, which is considerably better than the federal target of 6 percent."

The Department of Energy has devoted more than $1 billion to developing technologies for hydrogen-powered automobiles, including technologies to cost-effectively store hydrogen for use in cars. Hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe, and it is very difficult to store in bulk. For hydrogen cars to be competitive with gasoline-powered cars, they need a comparable range and a reasonably compact fuel system. It's estimated that a hydrogen-powered car with a suitable range will require a storage system with densities greater than those found in pure, liquid hydrogen.

Yakobson said scientists have long argued the merits of storing hydrogen in tiny, molecular containers like buckyballs, and experiments have shown that it's possible to store small volumes of hydrogen inside buckyballs. The new research by Yakobson and former postdoctoral researchers Olga Pupysheva and Amir Farajian offers the first method of precisely calculating how much hydrogen a buckyball can hold before breaking.

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Finding the right mix

Device to analyze fuel may jumpstart start-up

By KATHLEEN GALLAGHER
kgallagher@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Feb. 3, 2008

A small Milwaukee start-up that's attracted strong interest from local angel investing groups is launching its first product, a biodiesel analyzer, at a national industry conference.

A year after spinning its proprietary technology out of Marquette University's engineering school, Paradigm Sensors LLC has five full-time and two contracted employees, and is bringing to market a hand-held sensor that judges the quality of biodiesel fuel.

The $5,000 device is about the size of a cordless phone. It tests for total glycerin, methanol, acid number and the percentage of biodiesel fuel in a blend, said Robert Young, Paradigm's president and chief executive officer.

The sensor emits electric frequencies to measure the electrochemical responses of liquids using a technology called impedance spectroscopy. The device was to make its debut Sunday at the National Biodiesel Board Expo in Orlando, Fla.

"It really is a potential paradigm-shift technology," said Herb Zien, senior vice president of Trigen Cos. in Boston, chairman of Paradigm's board and an investor in the company. "This device can perform onsite, in real time, as compared to having measurements on these oils that go to the lab and take some time to get results back."

The only other way to get the information that Paradigm's device delivers in minutes is to send fuel to a lab, which is expensive and can take several days, said investor George Mosher.

Mosher, Zien and one other member of Wauwatosa-based Silicon Pastures recently invested a total of $150,000 in Paradigm Sensors. That investment brought to $540,000 the amount of money Paradigm has raised, Young said.

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Feeling the Heat: Berkeley Researchers Make Thermoelectric Breakthrough in Silicon Nanowires

Energy now lost as heat during the production of electricity could be harnessed through the use of silicon nanowires synthesized via a technique developed by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) at Berkeley. The far-ranging potential applications of this technology include DOE’s hydrogen fuel cell-powered “Freedom CAR,” and personal power-jackets that could use heat from the human body to recharge cell-phones and other electronic devices.

“This is the first demonstration of high performance thermoelectric capability in silicon, an abundant semiconductor for which there already exists a multibillion dollar infrastructure for low-cost and high-yield processing and packaging,” said Arun Majumdar, a mechanical engineer and materials scientist with joint appointments at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley, who was one of the principal investigators behind this research.

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Stanford's nanowire battery holds 10 times the charge of existing ones

BY DAN STOBER

Stanford researchers have found a way to use silicon nanowires to reinvent the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power laptops, iPods, video cameras, cell phones, and countless other devices.

The new version, developed through research led by Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, produces 10 times the amount of electricity of existing lithium-ion, known as Li-ion, batteries. A laptop that now runs on battery for two hours could operate for 20 hours, a boon to ocean-hopping business travelers.

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State seeks new breed of biofuel

Papermakers, researchers lead the way in development

By THOMAS CONTENT and JOEL DRESANG
tcontent@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Dec. 8, 2007

Seventh part in an occasional series

Wisconsin already leads the nation in making electricity from cow manure. Now it hopes to tap its farm and forest resources to develop the next generation of biofuels in the race to curb global warming emissions.

Cars and trucks are the second-leading contributor of greenhouse gas emissions after coal-fired power plants, so around the state, efforts are under way to juice up production of renewable fuels.

But the main renewable fuel in Wisconsin and other states today - ethanol derived from corn kernels - doesn't yield big savings in greenhouse gas emissions because so much petroleum is needed to grow corn and refine it into ethanol.

The quest to find a better fuel has led Madison researchers and northern Wisconsin papermakers to hatch plans to make alternative fuels out of all sorts of materials, from wood chips in the paper sector to switchgrass or poplar trees.

The growing list of potential fuel sources can be summed up as ABC - anything but corn.

"While the state may not be able to match Silicon Valley as a high-tech leader, it could be the Cellulose Prairie and Forest for biopower and biofuels," environmental consultant Brett Hulsey wrote in a recent report.

The fuels being developed hold the dual promises of reducing dependence on imported oil and curtailing emissions of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas.

"So much of the attention has been on corn ethanol," said Judy Ziewacz, executive director of the Wisconsin Office of Energy Independence. "And I've been trying to get the message out there for the state, 'No, we've got other feedstock.'

"The paper industry and the forestry industry are going to be big players," she said. "They need to be."

Biofuels that aren't made from corn kernels won a big boost last week when the U.S. House of Representatives approved a renewable fuels standard as part of an energy bill that also requires new cars to get significantly better gas mileage. The energy bill stalled Friday in the U.S. Senate, however.

Interest in next-generation ethanol, known as cellulosic ethanol, is percolating because of the federal government's goal to produce 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels by 2017, said Masood Akhtar, president of the nonprofit consulting firm CleanTech Partners Inc. in Middleton. The energy bill in Congress is aiming for 36 billion gallons by 2022.

"All the experts that we talk with, they agree that corn-based ethanol can't meet that goal," he said. Competition with feed mills has caused a handful of corn ethanol plants to close recently, Akhtar said, underscoring the advantage of energy crops that aren't eaten.

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Report: Ease nuclear power plant construction

A preliminary report to the Governor 's Task Force on Global Warming calls for repealing the state 's so-called moratorium on nuclear power plant construction.

Initial recommendations from a work group on electricity generation include a call to drop a requirement, passed by the Wisconsin Legislature more than 20 years ago, that no new nuclear plants can be built until a permanent site is established to store their radioactive waste.

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Engineers perfecting hydrogen-generating technology

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Researchers at Purdue University have further developed a technology that could represent a pollution-free energy source for a range of potential applications, from golf carts to submarines and cars to emergency portable generators.

The technology produces hydrogen by adding water to an alloy of aluminum and gallium. When water is added to the alloy, the aluminum splits water by attracting oxygen, liberating hydrogen in the process. The Purdue researchers are developing a method to create particles of the alloy that could be placed in a tank to react with water and produce hydrogen on demand.

The gallium is a critical component because it hinders the formation of an aluminum oxide skin normally created on aluminum's surface after bonding with oxygen, a process called oxidation. This skin usually acts as a barrier and prevents oxygen from reacting with aluminum. Reducing the skin's protective properties allows the reaction to continue until all of the aluminum is used to generate hydrogen, said Jerry Woodall, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue who invented the process.

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Paper battery offers future power

Flexible paper batteries could meet the energy demands of the next generation of gadgets, says a team of researchers.

They have produced a sample slightly larger than a postage stamp that can release about 2.3 volts, enough to illuminate a small light.

But the ambition is to produce reams of paper that could one day power a car.

Professor Robert Linhardt, of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said the paper battery was a glimpse into the future of power storage.

The team behind the versatile paper, which stores energy like a conventional battery, says it can also double as a capacitor capable of releasing sudden energy bursts for high-power applications.

While a conventional battery contains a number of separate components, the paper battery integrates all of the battery components in a single structure, making it more energy efficient.

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Biotech breakthrough could end biodiesel's glycerin glut: Rice engineers find way to make ethanol, valuable chemicals from waste glycerin

With U.S. biodiesel production at an all-time high and a record number of new biodiesel plants under construction, the industry is facing an impending crisis over waste glycerin, the major byproduct of biodiesel production. New findings from Rice University suggest a possible answer in the form of a bacterium that ferments glycerin and produces ethanol, another popular biofuel.

"We identified the metabolic processes and conditions that allow a known strain of E. coli to convert glycerin into ethanol," said chemical engineer Ramon Gonzalez. "It's also very efficient. We estimate the operational costs to be about 40 percent less that those of producing ethanol from corn."

Gonzalez said the biodiesel industry's rapid growth has created a glycerin glut. The glut has forced glycerin producers like Dow Chemical and Procter and Gamble to shutter plants, and Gonzalez said some biodiesel producers are already unable to sell glycerin and instead must pay to dispose of it.

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UW to be site of bioenergy center

State Journal staff, wires

UW-Madison will be the site of one of three bioenergy research centers designed to find new ways to turn plants into fuel, officials said Monday.

The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center on UW-Madison's campus, along with centers in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and near Berkeley, Calif., were described by the Department of Energy as three startup companies with $125 million each in capital, said two officials with knowledge of the grants, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official announcement had not yet been made. They will involve numerous universities, national laboratories and private companies as partners.

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UW-Madison engineers develop higher-energy liquid-transportation fuel from sugar

MADISON -- Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and combine it with water molecules and sunshine to make carbohydrate or sugar. Variations on this process provide fuel for all of life on Earth.

Reporting in the June 21 issue of the journal Nature, University of Wisconsin-Madison chemical and biological engineering Professor James Dumesic and his research team describe a two-stage process for turning biomass-derived sugar into 2,5-dimethylfuran (DMF), a liquid transportation fuel with 40 percent greater energy density than ethanol.

The prospects of diminishing oil reserves and the threat of global warming caused by releasing otherwise trapped carbon into the atmosphere have researchers searching for a sustainable, carbon-neutral fuel to reduce global reliance on fossil fuels. By chemically engineering sugar through a series of steps involving acid and copper catalysts, salt and butanol as a solvent, UW-Madison researchers created a path to just such a fuel.

Currently, ethanol is the only renewable liquid fuel produced on a large scale," says Dumesic. "But ethanol suffers from several limitations. It has relatively low energy density, evaporates readily, and can become contaminated by absorption of water from the atmosphere. It also requires an energy-intensive distillation process to separate the fuel from water."

Not only does dimethylfuran have higher energy content, it also addresses other ethanol shortcomings. DMF is not soluble in water and therefore cannot become contaminated by absorbing water from the atmosphere. DMF is stable in storage and, in the evaporation stage of its production, consumes one-third of the energy required to evaporate a solution of ethanol produced by fermentation for biofuel applications.

Dumesic and graduate students Yuriy Román-Leshkov, Christopher J. Barrett and Zhen Y. Liu developed their new catalytic process for creating DMF by expanding upon earlier work. As reported in the June 30, 2006, issue of the journal Science, Dumesic's team improved the process for making an important chemical intermediate, hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), from sugar.

Industry uses millions of tons of chemical intermediates, largely sourced from petroleum or natural gas, as the raw material for many modern plastics, drugs and fuels.

The team's method for making HMF and converting it to DMF is a balancing act of chemistry, pressure, temperature and reactor design. Fructose is initially converted to HMF in water using an acid catalyst in the presence of a low-boiling-point solvent. The solvent extracts HMF from water and carries it to a separate location. Although other researchers had previously converted fructose to HMF, Dumesic's research group made a series of improvements that raised the HMF output and made the HMF easier to extract. For example, the team found that adding salt (NaCl) dramatically improves the extraction of HMF from the reactive water phase and helps suppress the formation of impurities.

In the June 21, 2007, issue of Nature, Dumesic's team describes its process for converting HMF to DMF over a copper-based catalyst. The conversion removes two oxygen atoms from the compound lowering the boiling point, the temperature at which a liquid turns to gas, and making it suitable for use as transportation fuel. Salt, while improving the production of HMF, presented an obstacle in the production of DMF. It contributed chloride ions that poisoned the conventional copper chromite catalyst. The team instead developed a copper-ruthenium catalyst providing chlorine resistance and superior performance.

Dumesic says more research is required before the technology can be commercialized. For example, while its environmental health impact has not been thoroughly tested, the limited information available suggests DMF is similar to other current fuel components.

"There are some challenges that we need to address," says Dumesic, "but this work shows that we can produce a liquid transportation fuel from biomass that has energy density comparable to petrol."

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Scientist attempts to patent building blocks of life

Plans to create first artificial living being

Kelly Patterson, Ottawa Citizen; CanWest News Service

Published: Saturday, June 09, 2007

A leading U.S. scientist has applied to patent the world's first man-made life form.

Hailed as the biggest, most controversial genetics breakthrough since the cloning of Dolly the sheep, Dr. Craig Venter -- the scientist who led the private-sector race to map the human genome -- says his research team has figured out which genes provide the bare essentials for life. Now he wants the commercial rights to their use.

Venter plans to cobble together synthetic versions of these genes to create the world's first artificial living being, a bacterium called mycoplasma laboratorium which could then be programmed to convert sunlight into eco-friendly fuels such as hydrogen or ethanol.

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Aluminum foil lamps outshine incandescent lights

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Researchers at the University of Illinois are developing panels of microcavity plasma lamps that may soon brighten people’s lives. The thin, lightweight panels could be used for residential and commercial lighting, and for certain types of biomedical applications.

“Built of aluminum foil, sapphire and small amounts of gas, the panels are less than 1 millimeter thick, and can hang on a wall like picture frames,” said Gary Eden, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the U. of I., and corresponding author of a paper describing the microcavity plasma lamps in the June issue of the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics.

Like conventional fluorescent lights, microcavity plasma lamps are glow-discharges in which atoms of a gas are excited by electrons and radiate light. Unlike fluorescent lights, however, microcavity plasma lamps produce the plasma in microscopic pockets and require no ballast, reflector or heavy metal housing. The panels are lighter, brighter and more efficient than incandescent lights and are expected, with further engineering, to approach or surpass the efficiency of fluorescent lighting.

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Madison's Virent Energy teams up with Shell Oil

Jeff Richgels —  5/24/2007 1:01 pm

 

A unit of giant Shell Oil wants to use Madison-based Virent Energy Systems' technology to create hydrogen fueling stations.

A network of hydrogen stations akin to traditional gas stations will be needed if the world is to move to hydrogen cars.

A major hurdle in developing stations is that hydrogen is very difficult to transport and store, but Virent's "BioForming" technology that converts biomass into hydrogen -- as well other fuels and chemicals -- offers a way around that issue.

Virent and Shell Hydrogen LLC will work to develop fueling stations that feature Virent's technology, meaning the biomass would be transported to the stations and converted into hydrogen on site.

"These systems would be sized for the volume of hydrogen that would be dispensed at a fueling station," said Mary Blanchard, Virent director of marketing and strategy.

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New Waste Vegetable Oil Recycling And Distribution Center Combined With New Technology Promises To Save Wisconsin Businesses Thousands In Fuel Costs While Helping The Environment.

 Coulee Region Biofuels of Blair along with their sister group, PrairieFire Biofuels of Madison, today are proud to announce the opening of the new Coulee Region Biofuels Recycling and Distribution Center in Blair, Wisconsin. The new facility hosted an open house this morning that was attended by dozens of businesses and individuals interested in alternative fuels.

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Hydrogen breakthrough could open the road to carbon-free cars

A new breakthrough in hydrogen storage technology could remove a key barrier to widespread uptake of non-polluting cars that produce no carbon dioxide emissions.

UK scientists have developed a compound of the element lithium which may make it practical to store enough hydrogen on-board fuel-cell-powered cars to enable them to drive over 300 miles before refuelling. Achieving this driving range is considered essential if a mass market for fuel cell cars is to develop in future years, but has not been possible using current hydrogen storage technologies.

The breakthrough has been achieved by a team from the Universities of Birmingham and Oxford and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, under the auspices of the UK Sustainable Hydrogen Energy Consortium (UK-SHEC). UK-SHEC is funded by the SUPERGEN (Sustainable Power Generation and Supply) initiative managed and led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Fuel cells produce carbon-free electricity by harnessing electrochemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen. However, today's prototype and demonstration fuel-cell-powered cars only have a range of around 200 miles. To achieve a 300 mile driving range, an on-board space the size of a double-decker bus would be needed to store hydrogen gas at standard temperature and pressure, while storing it as a compressed gas in cylinders or as a liquid in storage tanks would not be practical due to the weight and size implications.

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Coulee Region Bio-Fuels LLC, Opens Wisconsin’s First Vegetable Oil Recycling And Distribution Center

The landmark Coulee Region Biofuels Recycling and Distribution Center in Blair, Wisconsin will hold an Open House and Product Demonstration on Wednesday, May 23, 2007. This open house will reveal a collaboration of three of the region’s leaders in biofuel technology. Taavi McMahon and David Dudley of the PrairieFire Biofuels Co-op and John Feyen of Arcade Pumping have formed an LLC named Coulee Region Biofuels. Matt Fisher, Project Manager at INOV8 International, has been instrumental in the development of the project because of INOV8’s role as a leader in alternate fuels combustion technology. John Feyen of Coulee Region Bio-Fuels is pleased to show the Coulee Region this new facility that will have the ability to collect, recycle and distribute an environmentally friendly alternate fuel source for businesses in the Coulee Region. There are two types of burners that have the ability to use this fuel and they both come from the Coulee Region corporation INOV8 International of La Crosse. One of the burners is the patented Multi-fuel burner capable of burning waste and straight vegetable oil and virtually any combustible oil that has BTU value. The other is the patent-pending Dual-fuel burner that truly burns two different fuels at the same time, a ground breaking, industry first. There will be demonstrations of the entire process from collection of the oil to the different appliances and burners that use it. Please take the time to come and see a new way to save as well as be environmentally friendly.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 – 10:00 AM
Coulee Region Bio-Fuels Collection and Distribution Center
509 4th St., Blair, Wisconsin
(At the intersection of Highways 53 and 95)
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UW is finalist for biofuel grant

HEATHER LaROI 608-252-6143
UW-Madison is on the short list for a major federal grant to study new strategies for generating biofuels.

The U.S. Department of Energy is expected to invest $125 million over five years at each of two or possibly three new bioenergy research centers, starting as early as this year.

If UW-Madison's bid gets final approval, the grant would fund the start of the proposed Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center on campus.

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Driving Biodiesel Through Wisconsin

With gasoline prices on the rise, a group of Madison biodiesel supporters headed to Evansville to voice support for alternative, plant-based fuels.

The caravan congregated at the Prairie Fire Bio-Fuels Co-op on East Washington Avenue in Madison, which sells bio-diesel. Bio-diesel can be processed locally from vegetable oil and runs on a standard diesel engine. Locally, biodiesel is processed most commonly from soybeans, a source that supports local farmers.

One Middleton woman said she even scrapped her plans to buy a hybrid vehicle, opting for a new diesel car instead.

"We are convinced that that's the next direction we are going to go as a family as well," said Susan Wiegel of Middleton. "We're convinced that we are going to have a diesel vehicle and that we can use biodiesel fuel."

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Rapid-fire pulse brings Sandia Z method closer to goal of high-yield fusion reactor

Revolutionary circuit fires thousands of times without flaw

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An electrical circuit that should carry enough power to produce the long-sought goal of controlled high-yield nuclear fusion and, equally important, do it every 10 seconds, has undergone extensive preliminary experiments and computer simulations at Sandia National Laboratories' Z machine facility.

Z, when it fires, is already the largest producer of X-rays on Earth and has been used to produce fusion neutrons. But rapid bursts are necessary for future generating plants to produce electrical power from sea water. This had not been thought achievable till now.

Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory.

How does it work?

An automobile engine that fired one cylinder and then waited hours before firing again wouldn't take a car very far.

Similarly, a machine to provide humanity unlimited electrical energy from cheap, abundant seawater can't fire once and quit for the day. It must deliver energy to fuse pellets of hydrogen every 10 seconds and keep that pace up for millions of shots between maintenance — a kind of an internal combustion engine for nuclear fusion. That's so, at least, for the fusion method at Sandia National Laboratories' Z machine and elsewhere known as inertial confinement.

But, unable to produce fusion except episodically, the method has been overshadowed by the technique called magnetic confinement — a method that uses a magnetic field to enclose a continuous fusion reaction from which to draw power.

The electrical circuit emerging from the technological hills may change the balance between these systems. Tagged as "revolutionary" by ordinarily conservative researchers, it may close the gap between the two methods.

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New solar panel design traps more light

By GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press Writer

Sunlight has never really caught fire as a power source, mostly because generating electricity with solar cells is more expensive and less efficient than some conventional sources.

But a new solar panel unveiled this month by the Georgia Tech Research Institute hopes to brighten the future of the energy source.

The difference is in the design. Traditional solar panels are often flat and bulky. The new design features an array of nano-towers — like microscopic blades of grass — that add surface area and trap more sunlight.

"It allows more opportunities for the photon to hit the part of the cell that creates electricity," said Jud Ready, the senior research engineer who invented the panel.

And that has resulted in a big jump in current generated. Ready said the three-dimensional panels produce about 60 times more than traditional solar cells.

But current is only half the equation. To generate electricity, a cell has to churn out voltage as well.

And so far, that's where Ready's invention has fallen short. There's still too much resistance within the cell to produce the type of electricity that's needed. But he said he'll now focus on reworking the interface to smooth out the kinks.

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Ethanol research looks at soybean

NATHAN LEAF 608-252-6126
Over the past few years, ethanol plants have sprung up all over Wisconsin and much of the Midwest as the biofuel has been touted as the solution to America's energy woes. And so far, corn has been the undisputed king.

 

C5-6 Technologies of Middleton is working to change the landscape of the biofuel industry. It plans to do this with newly developed enzymes - proteins that catalyze chemical reactions - that will not only make production of corn ethanol more efficient but also expand the raw materials, or feedstocks, that can be used to create the fuel.

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New developments in 'artificial photosynthesis'

Inspired by nature, scientists explore pathways to clean, renewable solar fuel

CHICAGO, IL -- Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory are trying to design catalysts inspired by photosynthesis, the natural process by which green plants convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbohydrates. The goal is to design a bio-inspired system that can produce fuels like methanol, methane, and hydrogen directly from water and carbon dioxide using renewable solar energy. Four Brookhaven chemists will discuss their research on this so-called "artificial photosynthesis" at the 233rd National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

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With cellulosic ethanol, there is no food vs. fuel debate according to MSU scientist

CHICAGO — As more and more corn grain is diverted to make ethanol, there have been public concerns about food shortages. However, ethanol made from cellulosic materials instead of corn grain, renders the food vs. fuel debate moot, according to research by a Michigan State University ethanol expert.

Bruce Dale, an MSU chemical engineering and materials science professor, has used life cycle analysis tools, which include agricultural data and computer modeling, to study the sustainability of producing biofuels – fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel that are made from renewable resources.

Dale will present his findings today at the American Chemical Society annual meeting in Chicago.

"We grow animal feed, not human food in the United States," Dale said. "We could feed the country's population with 25 million acres of cropland, and we currently have 500 million acres. Most of our agricultural land is being used to grow animal feed. It's a lot simpler to integrate animal feed production into cellulosic ethanol production than it is to integrate human food production. With cellulosic ethanol, the 'food vs. fuel' debate goes away."

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New 'biofuel cell' produces electricity from hydrogen in plain air

CHICAGO, March 26 —A pioneering “biofuel cell” that produces electricity from ordinary air spiked with small amounts of hydrogen offers significant potential as an inexpensive and renewable alternative to the costly platinum-based fuel cells that have dominated discussion about the “hydrogen economy” of the future, British scientists reported here today.

The research was presented at the week-long 233rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.

Fraser Armstrong, Ph.D., described how his research group at Oxford University built the biofuel cell with hydrogenases — enzymes from naturally occurring bacteria that use or oxidize hydrogen in their metabolism. The cell consists of two electrodes coated with the enzymes placed inside a container of ordinary air with 3 percent added hydrogen.

That is just below the 4 percent danger level at which hydrogen becomes an explosion hazard. The research established for the first time that it is possible to generate electricity from such low levels of hydrogen in air, Armstrong said.

Prototype versions of the cell produced enough electricity to power a wristwatch and other electronic devices. Armstrong foresees advanced versions of the device as potential power sources for an array of other electronic products that only require low amounts of power.

“The technology is immensely developable,” Armstrong said. “We are at the tip of a large iceberg, with important consequences for the future, but there is still much to do before this generation of enzyme-based fuel cells becomes commercially viable. The idea of electricity from hydrogen in air, using an oxygen-tolerant hydrogenase is new, although other scientists have been investigating enzymes as electrocatalysts for years. Most hydrogenases have fragile active sites that are destroyed by even traces of oxygen, but oxygen tolerant hydrogenases have evolved to resist attack.”

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Biodiesel for school buses

Dane County and the Wisconsin Soybean Program provided the money and students at Wright Middle School provided the science in the unveiling Thursday of a plan to reimburse school districts for using biodiesel fuel in their buses.

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Soybean ethanol may accelerate

Enzymes could help turn crop into biofuel, increase output from corn, too

By RICK BARRETT
rbarrett@journalsentinel.com
Posted: March 20, 2007

In a modern form of alchemy, research is under way to turn soybeans into ethanol, a biofuel that's become a form of liquid gold for corn farmers.

The research, from a Middleton biotech company, could pump billions of dollars into the nation's soybean farms, which already are prolific suppliers of food products, livestock feed and soy oil used for biodiesel fuel.

"It's cutting-edge technology. There's nothing else like it," said Bob Karls, executive director of the Wisconsin Soybean Program.

Making ethanol from soybeans also could relieve some of the pressure on corn, the current most popular U.S. biofuel feedstock.

The Bush administration wants the U.S. to produce 35 billion gallons a year of ethanol and other alternative fuels, such as soybean-based biodiesel, by 2017. That would be a five-fold increase over current requirements and would require a massive increase in domestic corn production.

State officials have said they would like about 25% of our liquid fuel to come from renewable sources by 2025, a huge increase.

Some of the latest biofuel research comes from C5-6 Technologies, a Middleton firm that's developing enzymes to make ethanol from soybeans and also increase efficiency in ethanol production from corn.

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MIT: Lack of fuel may limit US nuclear power expansion

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Limited supplies of fuel for nuclear power plants may thwart the renewed and growing interest in nuclear energy in the United States and other nations, says an MIT expert on the industry.

Over the past 20 years, safety concerns dampened all aspects of development of nuclear energy: No new reactors were ordered and there was investment neither in new uranium mines nor in building facilities to produce fuel for existing reactors. Instead, the industry lived off commercial and government inventories, which are now nearly gone. worldwide, uranium production meets only about 65 percent of current reactor requirements.

That shortage of uranium and of processing facilities worldwide leaves a gap between the potential increase in demand for nuclear energy and the ability to supply fuel for it, said Dr. Thomas Neff, a research affiliate at MIT's Center for International Studies.

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