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  • richardmitnick 1:12 pm on March 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Energy, Eni, ,   

    From MIT: “A new era in fusion research at MIT” 

    MIT News

    MIT Widget

    MIT News

    March 9, 2018
    Francesca McCaffrey | MIT Energy Initiative

    MIT Energy Initiative founding member Eni announces support for key research through MIT Laboratory for Innovation in Fusion Technologies.


    A new chapter is beginning for fusion energy research at MIT.

    This week the Italian energy company Eni, a founding member of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), announced it has reached an agreement with MIT to fund fusion research projects run out of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC)’s newly created Laboratory for Innovation in Fusion Technologies (LIFT). The expected investment in these research projects will amount to about $2 million over the following years.

    This is part of a broader engagement with fusion research and the Institute as a whole: Eni also announced a commitment of $50 million to a new private company with roots at MIT, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), which aims to make affordable, scalable fusion power a reality.

    “This support of LIFT is a continuation of Eni’s commitment to meeting growing global energy demand while tackling the challenge of climate change through its research portfolio at MIT,” says Robert C. Armstrong, MITEI’s director and the Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT. “Fusion is unique in that it is a zero-carbon, dispatchable, baseload technology, with a limitless supply of fuel, no risk of runaway reaction, and no generation of long-term waste. It also produces thermal energy, so it can be used for heat as well as power.”

    Still, there is much more to do along the way to perfecting the design and economics of compact fusion power plants. Eni will fund research projects at LIFT that are a continuation of this research and focus on fusion-specific solutions. “We are thrilled at PSFC to have these projects funded by Eni, who has made a clear commitment to developing fusion energy,” says Dennis Whyte, the director of PSFC and the Hitachi America Professor of Engineering at MIT. “LIFT will focus on cutting-edge technology advancements for fusion, and will significantly engage our MIT students who are so adept at innovation.”

    Tackling fusion’s challenges

    The inside of a fusion device is an extreme environment. The creation of fusion energy requires the smashing together of light elements, such as hydrogen, to form heavier elements such as helium, a process that releases immense amounts of energy. The temperature at which this process takes place is too hot for solid materials, necessitating the use of magnets to hold the hot plasma in place.

    One of the projects PSFC and Eni intend to carry out will study the effects of high magnetic fields on molten salt fluid dynamics. One of the key elements of the fusion pilot plant currently being studied at LIFT is the liquid immersion blanket, essentially a flowing pool of molten salt that completely surrounds the fusion energy core. The purpose of this blanket is threefold: to convert the kinetic energy of fusion neutrons to heat for eventual electricity production; to produce tritium — a main component of the fusion fuel; and to prevent the neutrons from reaching other parts of the machine and causing material damage.

    It’s critical for researchers to be able to predict how the molten salt in such an immersion blanket would move when subjected to high magnetic fields such as those found within a fusion plant. As such, the researchers and their respective teams plan to study the effects of these magnetohydrodynamic forces on the salt’s fluid dynamics.

    A history of innovation

    During the 23 years MIT’s Alcator C-Mod tokamak fusion experiment was in operation, it repeatedly advanced records for plasma pressure in a magnetic confinement device. Its compact, high-magnetic-field fusion design confined superheated plasma in a small donut-shaped chamber.

    “The key to this success was the innovations pursued more than 20 years ago at PSFC in developing copper magnets that could access fields well in excess of other fusion experiments. The coupling between innovative technology development and advancing fusion science is in the DNA of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center,” says PSFC Deputy Director Martin Greenwald.

    In its final run in 2016, Alcator C-Mod set a new world record for plasma pressure, the key ingredient to producing net energy from fusion. Since then, PSFC researchers have used data from these decades of C-Mod experiments to continue to advance fusion research. Just last year, they used C-Mod data to create a new method of heating fusion plasmas in tokamaks which could result in the heating of ions to energies an order of magnitude greater than previously reached.

    A commitment to low-carbon energy

    MITEI’s mission is to advance low-carbon and no-carbon emissions solutions to efficiently meet growing global energy needs. Critical to this mission are collaborations between academia, industry, and government — connections MITEI helps to develop in its role as MIT’s hub for multidisciplinary energy research, education, and outreach.

    Eni is an inaugural, founding member of the MIT Energy Initiative, and it was through their engagement with MITEI that they became aware of the fusion technology commercialization being pursued by CFS and its immense potential for revolutionizing the energy system. It was through these discussions, as well, that Eni investors learned of the high-potential fusion research projects taking place through LIFT at MIT, spurring them to support the future of fusion at the Institute itself.

    Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi said, “Today is a very important day for us. Thanks to this agreement, Eni takes a significant step forward toward the development of alternative energy sources with an ever lower environmental impact. Fusion is the true energy source of the future, as it is completely sustainable, does not release emissions or waste, and is potentially inexhaustible. It is a goal that we are determined to reach quickly.” He added, “We are pleased and excited to pursue such a challenging goal with a collaborator like MIT, with unparalleled experience in the field and a long-standing and fruitful alliance with Eni.”

    These fusion projects are the latest in a line of MIT-Eni collaborations on low- and no-carbon energy projects. One of the earliest of these was the Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Center, established in 2010 at MIT. Through its mission to develop competitive solar technologies, the center’s research has yielded the thinnest, lightest solar cells ever produced, effectively able to turn any surface, from fabric to paper, into a functioning solar cell. The researchers at the center have also developed new, luminescent materials that could allow windows to efficiently collect solar power.

    Other fruits of MIT-Eni collaborations include research into carbon capture systems to be installed in cars, wearable technologies to improve workplace safety, energy storage, and the conversion of carbon dioxide into fuel.

    See the full article here .

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    The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the twenty-first century. We seek to develop in each member of the MIT community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.

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  • richardmitnick 12:59 pm on March 9, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Energy, Gasification, Horizon Magazine, Turning landfill into energy   

    From Horizon: “Turning landfill into energy” 



    07 March 2018
    Jon Cartwright

    Advanced gasification methods can turn any waste except metal and rubble into fuel for electricity. Credit – Pixabay/ Prylarer

    Landfill is both ugly and polluting. But a new breed of technology promises to make it a thing of the past, transforming a huge portion of landfill material into clean gas.

    It’s thanks to a process called gasification, which involves turning carbon-based materials into gas by heating them to a high temperature but without burning them. The gas can be stored until it is needed for the generation of electricity.

    According to its developers, advanced gasification can be fed by plastic, biomass, textiles – just about anything except metal and rubble. Out of the other end comes syngas – a clean, easily combustible gas made up of carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

    The basics of the technology are old. Back in the 19th century, gasification plants existed in many of Europe’s major cities, turning coal into coal gas for heating and lighting.

    Gasification waned after the discovery of natural gas reserves early last century. Then in the past 20 years or so, it had a small renaissance, as gasification plants sprung up to process waste wood.

    In a new, advanced implementation, however, a much broader range of materials can be processed, and the output gas is much cleaner. ‘Gasification is clearly gaining a lot of traction, but we’ve taken it further,’ said Jean-Eric Petit of French company CHO Power, based in Bordeaux.


    Gasification involves heating without combustion. At temperatures greater than 700°C, a lot of hydrocarbon-based materials break down into a gas of carbon monoxide and hydrogen – syngas – which can be used as a fuel.

    For materials such as wood, this is relatively straightforward. Try it with other hydrocarbon materials, and especially hard-to-recycle industrial waste, however, and the reaction tends to generate pollutants, such as tar.

    But tar itself is just a more complex hydrocarbon. That is why Petit and his colleagues have developed a higher temperature process, at some 1200°C, in which even tar is broken down.

    The result is syngas, which, unline other thermal processes, does not create dangerous pollutants. In fact, it is high-quality enough to be fed directly into high-efficiency gas engines, generating electricity with twice the efficiency of the steam turbines used with conventional gasification, says Petit.

    CHO Power has already built an advanced gasification plant in Morcenx, France, which converts 55,000 tonnes of wood, biomass and industrial waste a year into 11 megawatts of electricity.

    In December the EU announced that the company will receive a €30 million loan from the European Investment Bank to construct another plant in the Thouarsais area of France.

    The company is not the first to attempt advanced gasification on a commercial scale. But, said Petit: ‘We think we’re the first to crack it.’

    CHO Power’s gasification plants still need to have waste delivered to them. Hysytech, a company in Torino, Italy, however, plans to bring gasification to industry’s door.

    The idea is to build a small gasification plant, processing at least 100 kilos per hour of waste, next to any industrial plant that deals with hydrocarbon materials – a textiles or plastics manufacturer, for instance.

    Then, any waste the industrial plant generates can be turned straight into syngas for electricity generation on site, avoiding the emissions associated with transporting waste to a distant gasification plant.

    The gas produced by CHO Power’s gasification process is refined at 1,200°C in their turboplasma facility (left) so that it can be used in a gas engine (right) to generate electricity. Credit – CHO Power


    The problem is that, historically, gasification on this scale has cost too much to be in an industry’s interests. But Hysytech believes it has made small-scale gasification cost effective, by developing a novel reactor known as a fluidised bed.

    When waste materials are fed into this reactor, a fluid is passed through them to create an even temperature and to allow the gas to leave easily. If the materials need a lot of time to turn to gas, they remain in the reactor until they are gasified, but the fluid can be sped up if the materials turn to gas quickly.

    The result, for smaller plants at least, is a more efficient and cost-effective process. ‘Our system is designed and built to operate year-round with a good efficiency, easy operation and little maintenance,’ said Andrés Saldivia, Hysytech’s head of business development.

    Hysytech has built a pilot plant that has about one-tenth the envisaged output, processing 10 kilos of waste an hour into syngas. Currently, its engineers are constructing a full-sized demo plant that will include an additional power-to-gas system, to link the gasification to surplus energy from wind turbines and solar panels so the energy is not wasted.

    With this additional system, the surplus energy is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Using a carbon source, this hydrogen is then converted into methane, which can be used like everyday natural gas.

    ‘Our goal is to have it ready for the market (by) 2019,’ said Saldivia.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:03 am on March 4, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chronobiology, , Energy, Light polution of the Earth, Most of the growth came from developing nations,   

    From popsci: “Light pollution is getting worse” 


    Popular Science

    November 27, 2017 [Just now in social media.]
    Rachel Feltman

    Do not go gently into that goodnight, night! Depositphotos.

    Goodbye darkness, my old friend.

    According to a study published last week in Science Advances, the world is getting brighter. And not in a ‘my future’s so bright I gotta wear shades’ kinda way. The future’s so bright that we should probably all be wearing eyeshades to bed, and turning some lights off while we’re at it.

    “We’re losing more and more of the night on a planetary scale,” Kip Hodges, a member of Science Advances‘ editorial board, said during a teleconference on the paper. “Earth’s night is getting brighter.”

    The data comes from satellite observations made each October from 2012 through 2016. Researchers scanned these sky-by-night shots to see how much artificial light shone through the darkness around the world, and how the brightness changed over time.

    India in 2012. NASA/NOAA.

    They report an increase in artificially-lit areas of about 2.2 percent per year. The total radiance growth—the extent to which the brightness of those lights increased—was about the same.

    Unsurprisingly, most of the growth came from developing nations. It makes sense that countries beginning to thrive in industry would require additional outdoor lighting as cities start to spring up. In fact, light pollution increase can be tied pretty reliably to a growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

    According to previous research, the study notes, humans tend to use about as much artificial light as .07 percent of their country’s GDP will pay for. As GDP surged in countries within South America, Africa, and Asia, so did their use of artificial lighting.

    But while developed nations such as the U.S. appeared more stable in satellite images (sometimes even becoming slightly dimmer) there’s still reason to worry. The satellite used in the study can’t actually pick up all visible wavelengths of light. It can see the red, orange, and yellow light of older bulbs, but the blue light of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) doesn’t show up in the picture.

    LEDs are wildly more efficient than older sources of light, and last for much longer, so many cities and individuals have made the switch in recent years to cut costs and help the environment. The researchers worry that their results indicate a “rebound effect,” where the increased use of efficient LEDs is being offset by more widespread light pollution in general, often from older, less efficient bulbs. Photos taken from the International Space Station, which pick up all visible wavelengths, show cities shifting from yellow to blue in hue.

    ISS Flies Over the Mediterranean. ESA flight engineer Tim Peake captured this image of Earth while flying over the Mediterranean Sea on January 25, 2016.

    Meanwhile, urban sprawl is pushing those bright borders out farther and farther.

    It might not be as immediately deadly as air pollution, but light pollution can harm many forms of life. For humans, the burgeoning field of chronobiology—the study of how our sleep and wake cycles affect our health—suggests that artificial light, especially of the blue variety, can trigger wakefulness when our bodies should be preparing for a good night’s sleep. Excessive exposure to nighttime light is now linked to everything from cancer to obesity.

    “Inside light is just terrible for you,” Susan Golden, director of the University of California at San Diego’s Center for Circadian Biology, told PopSci several months ago. “It is making us all sick.”

    To make matters worse, the increasing encroachment of artificial light on the outside world is hurting other organisms, too. Humans are fighting our entire evolutionary history by turning on lights and staring at screens after sunset, but at least most of us can choose to draw the blackout curtains and ban phones from the bedroom. The animals that live in and around our cities don’t have the same luxury, and it’s impossible to know just how badly light pollution might affect them.

    But while light pollution might be more insidious than smog, it’s also much easier to fix.

    “Usually when we think of how humanity messes with environment, it’s a costly thing to fix or reverse,” Kevin Gaston from the University of Exeter told the BBC. “For light, it’s just a case of directing it where we need it and not wasting it where we don’t.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 6:12 am on October 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A sharp rise in the content of sediments, , , Energy, , Hydroelectric power plants, LMH-EPFL's Laboratory for Hydraulic Machines, Of all the electricity produced in Switzerland 56% comes from hydropower, One of the aims of Switzerland’s 2050 Energy Strategy is to increase hydroelectric production, SCCER-SoE-Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research - Supply of Electricity   

    From EPFL: “Hydroelectric power plants have to be adapted for climate change” 

    EPFL bloc

    École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne EPFL

    Clara Marc

    © 2017 LMH – Grande Dixence dam. This hydroelectric power complex generates some 2 billion kWh of power per year
    Of all the electricity produced in Switzerland, 56% comes from hydropower. The life span of hydroelectric plants, which are massive and expensive to build and maintain, is measured in decades, yet the rivers and streams they depend on and the surrounding environment are ever-changing. These changes affect the machinery and thus the amount of electricity that can be revised. EPFL’s Laboratory for Hydraulic Machines (LMH) is working on an issue that will be very important in the coming years: the impact of sediment erosion on turbines, which are the main component of this machinery. The laboratory’s work could help prolong these plants’ ability to produce electricity for Switzerland’s more than eight million residents.

    One of the aims of Switzerland’s 2050 Energy Strategy is to increase hydroelectric production. The Swiss government therefore also needs to predict the environment in which these power plants will operate so that the underlying technology can keep pace with changing needs and future conditions. “In Switzerland, the glaciers and snow are melting more and more quickly. This affects the quality of the water, with a sharp rise in the content of sediments,” says François Avellan, who heads the LMH and is one of the study’s authors. “The sediments are very aggressive and erode the turbines.” This undermines the plants’ efficiency, leaves cavities in the equipment and leads to an increase in vibrations – and in the frequency and cost of repairs. To top things off, the turbines’ useful life is reduced. Under the umbrella of the Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research – Supply of Electricity (SCCER-SoE) and with the support of the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI), EPFL has teamed up with General Electric Renewable Energy in an effort to better understand and predict the process of sediment erosion. The aim is to lengthen the hydropower plants’ life span through improved turbines and more effective operating strategies.

    Tiny particles with an outsized impact

    One of the challenges facing researchers in the field of hydropower is that they cannot run experiments directly on power plants because of the impact and cost of a plant’s outage. They must therefore limit their investigations to simulations and reduced-scale physical model tests. In response to this challenge, the LMH has come up with a novel multiscale computer model that predicts sediment erosion in turbines with much greater accuracy than other approaches. The results have been published in the scientific journal Wear. “Sediment erosion, like many other problems in nature, is a multiscale phenomenon. It means that behavior observed at the macroscopic level is the result of a series of interactions at the microscopic level,” says Sebastián Leguizamón, an EPFL doctoral student and lead author of the study. “The sediments are extremely small and move very fast, and their impact lasts less than a microsecond. On the other hand, the erosion process we see is gradual, taking place over the course of many operating hours and affecting all the turbine.”

    A multiscale solution

    The researchers therefore opted for a multiscale solution and modeled the two processes involved in erosion separately. At the microscopic level, they focused on the extremely brief impact of the minuscule sediments that strike the turbines, taking into account parameters such as the angle, speed, size, shape – and even composition – of the slurry. At the macroscopic level, they looked at how the sediments are transported by water flow, as this affects the flux, distribution and density of sediments reaching the walls of the turbine flow passages. The results were then combined in order to develop erosion predictions. “It’s not possible to study the entire process of erosion as a whole. The sediments are so small and the period of time over which the process takes place so long that replicating the process would take hundreds of years of calculations and require a computer that doesn’t exist yet,” says Leguizamón. “But the problem becomes manageable when you decouple the different phases.”

    Adapting to the future

    With conclusive results in hand, the LMH has now moved on to the next phase, which consists in characterizing the materials used in the turbines. Following this step, the researchers will be able to apply the new model to existing hydroelectric facilities. The stakes are global when it comes to retrofitting turbines in response to climate change, as hydropower accounts for 17% of the world’s electricity production. Turbines offer little leeway and have to operate in a wide range of environments – including monsoon regions and anything from tropical to alpine climates. If turbines are to last, changes will have to be made to both their underlying design and how they are operated. “While I was evaluating a hydro plant in the Himalayas, my contacts there told me that if a turbine made it through more than one monsoon season, that was a success!” says Avellan.

    This study is part of CTI project No. 17568.1 PFEN-IW GPUSpheros. It was conducted in conjunction with General Electric Renewable Energy under the umbrella of the Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research – Supply of Electricity (SCCER-SoE).

    A multiscale model for sediment impact erosion simulation using the finite volume particle method, Sebastián Leguizamón, Ebrahim Jahanbakhsh, Audrey Maertens, Siamak Alimirzazadeh and François Avellan. Science Direct.

    See the full article here .

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    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society.

  • richardmitnick 1:41 pm on October 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Energy, , Using University of Michigan buildings as batteries   

    From University of Michigan: “Using University of Michigan buildings as batteries” 

    U Michigan bloc

    University of Michigan

    September 21, 2017 [hiding your light under a bushel?]
    Dan Newman

    How a building’s thermal energy can help the power grid accommodate more renewable energy sources.

    Connor Flynn, an energy engineer with the Energy Management team, helps Aditya Keskar, a master’s student in electrical and computer engineering, retrieve data from a campus building’s HVAC system.
    No image credit.

    Michigan researchers and staff are testing how to use the immense thermal energy of large buildings as theoretical battery packs. The goal is to help the nation’s grid better accommodate renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

    For power grids, supply must closely track demand to ensure smooth delivery of electric power. Incorporating renewable energy sources into the grid introduces a large degree of unpredictability to the system. For example, peak solar generation occurs during the day, while peak electricity demand occurs in the evening. Because of this, California, the leading solar producer in the U.S., has had to pay other states to take excess electricity off of its grid, and at other times simply wasted potential electricity by disconnecting solar panels.

    As renewable sources become more prevalent, so does the unpredictability and mismatched supply and demand, creating a growing problem in how to keep better control of both.

    To address this, and help demand for electricity react to the variability of supply from renewable energy sources, an MCubed project is testing how buildings store energy.

    The team consisted originally of project leader Johanna Mathieu, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), Ian Hiskens, Vennema Professor of Engineering and professor of EECS, and Jeremiah Johnson, formerly an assistant professor at the School of Natural Resources and Environment and now an associate professor at North Carolina State University. Additionally, Dr. Sina Afshari, former postdoctoral researcher, helped set up the project on campus.

    “The goal is to utilize a building as a big battery: dump energy in and pull energy out in a way that the occupants don’t know is going on and the building managers aren’t incurring any extra costs. That’s the holy grail,” Hiskens said. “You wouldn’t have to buy chemical batteries and dispose of them a few years later.”

    Commercial buildings, like those around campus, use massive Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems to keep occupants comfortable. Large buildings require a vast amount of energy to heat and cool, and their HVAC systems consume around 20% of the electricity generated in the United States.

    However, the large building size also means any short-term changes in a thermostat will not be felt. This means a building can cut or increase power to its HVAC for a short time to help a power grid match supply and demand, while the building’s temperature remains unchanged.

    Aditya Keskar downloads data from another campus building’s HVAC system.

    Aditya Keskar, who is pursuing his masters in electrical engineering and computer science, has been working with staff to test these short-term changes in HVAC power consumption in three campus buildings.

    “We’ve had immense support from the Plant Operations team and building managers. They’ve helped us gather baseline data over months, and implement the tests,” Keskar said. “With their help, we were able to make short-term adjustments to their HVAC system with no change in the actual temperature, and no complaints from building occupants.”

    If there is a surplus of supply on the grid due to heavy wind production, for example, a building automation system (BAS), which controls an HVAC system, could automatically lower its thermostat settings in the summer and increase its energy use for fifteen minutes, and then raise the thermostat to balance the extra energy consumed. This action would soak up some of the excess electricity and help to maintain equilibrium on the grid.

    If darker skies reduce the usual solar production, a BAS could raise its thermostat setting in the summer and decrease its energy use immediately, then lower the thermostat to balance the extra energy consumed.

    See the full article here .

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    U MIchigan Campus

    The University of Michigan (U-M, UM, UMich, or U of M), frequently referred to simply as Michigan, is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States. Originally, founded in 1817 in Detroit as the Catholepistemiad, or University of Michigania, 20 years before the Michigan Territory officially became a state, the University of Michigan is the state’s oldest university. The university moved to Ann Arbor in 1837 onto 40 acres (16 ha) of what is now known as Central Campus. Since its establishment in Ann Arbor, the university campus has expanded to include more than 584 major buildings with a combined area of more than 34 million gross square feet (781 acres or 3.16 km²), and has two satellite campuses located in Flint and Dearborn. The University was one of the founding members of the Association of American Universities.

    Considered one of the foremost research universities in the United States,[7] the university has very high research activity and its comprehensive graduate program offers doctoral degrees in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) as well as professional degrees in business, medicine, law, pharmacy, nursing, social work and dentistry. Michigan’s body of living alumni (as of 2012) comprises more than 500,000. Besides academic life, Michigan’s athletic teams compete in Division I of the NCAA and are collectively known as the Wolverines. They are members of the Big Ten Conference.

  • richardmitnick 10:51 am on September 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Borrowing from nature to tap the power of the sun, , Energy, EU Horizon   

    From EU Horizon: “Borrowing from nature to tap the power of the sun” 



    29 September 2017
    Julianna Photopoulos

    By using knowledge of plant photosynthesis we could soon develop new forms of renewable energy through artificial leaves. Image credit – Dr Vincent Artero

    An artificial leaf that can harvest energy from the sun faster than a natural one could lead to a new generation of renewable energy and medical technologies.

    Over hundreds of millions of years, evolution has refined a process that allows plants to use the sun’s energy to turn carbon dioxide and water into the sugary fuel they need to grow.

    The elegant series of biochemical reactions involved in this process are some of the fundamental building blocks of life on this planet.

    But now scientists have beaten nature at its own game by creating a semi-artificial leaf that incorporates some of the components honed by evolution to produce a device that is up to six times more efficient.

    ‘When the natural components of photosynthesis are incorporated in artificial devices, these devices outperform the electron transfer ability found in the natural environment,’ said Dr Nicolas Plumeré, a chemist at the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany.

    He and his colleagues, as part of the EU-funded PHOTOTECH project, used a protein found in real leaves that is responsible for transporting electrons during photosynthesis to create their semi-artificial leaf.

    ‘Under light, a protein found in natural leaves or algae can produce about 50 high-energy electrons every second,’ explained Dr Plumeré. ‘When this same protein is incorporated into artificial leaves, up to 300 high-energy electrons are produced every second.’

    Dr Plumeré hopes this approach could eventually deliver new, simple and cheap solar-cell technologies — also known as photovoltaic cells — based on photosynthesis, although he warns the technology is still years away from finding commercial applications.

    ‘Large-scale green photovoltaics could simply be painted on a wall to collect solar energy directly at their point of use,’ he said. The technology could also be used to power tiny medical devices, such as sensors implanted in contact lenses to monitor biomarkers in tears.

    As the protein needed for the devices can be obtained from algae, it can be produced at a low cost compared to the rare earth metals needed for current solar panel cells.

    ‘These photosynthetic materials can be grown on wastewater and the chemical elements necessary for their assembly are infinitely available,’ said Dr Plumeré. ‘As such, they open a great promise for future devices for sustainable energy harvesting, which themselves can be fabricated in a sustainable manner.’

    Producing devices that can generate renewable energy in an environmentally friendly way can play a key role in helping to replace the planet’s dependance on polluting fossil fuels. But the intermittent nature of such renewable energy sources makes this task difficult. How, for example, can the lights be kept on when solar cells do not produce electricity at night?

    Splitting water

    The answer lies in storing the energy produced by such renewable sources, although to date, modern batteries and other storage options offer only a limited ability to do this. But scientists believe photosynthesis may also provide a solution here too.

    ‘The most effective way to store renewable energy is to produce a fuel such as hydrogen,’ said Dr Vincent Artero, a chemist at the Grenoble Alpes University and CEA-Grenoble, France. ‘As solar energy is the most abundant renewable energy, why not develop a process that directly captures sunlight and transforms it into fuel?’

    Dr Artero and his team have copied the metabolism of some algae that use solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Funded by the EU’s European Research Council, the PhotocatH2ode project is aimed at incorporating bio-inspired dyes and catalysts into a photo-electrochemical cell, producing a kind of artificial leaf that can generate hydrogen from sunlight and water.

    ‘Our approach uses molecular components, such as dyes, to absorb sunlight and catalysts to achieve hydrogen production, immobilised on transparent electrodes.’ said Dr Artero. ‘This work opens new horizons for the development of novel hydrogen production technologies.’

    Mimicking nature

    But understanding how algae, plants and bacteria can convert light energy on a molecular level could lead to even more efficient artificial light-harvesting systems. A team working on the EU-funded ENLIGHT project is developing new theoretical and computational models to unravel how these complex yet unique systems work.

    ‘In these organisms, light-harvesting is the first, fundamental step of photosynthesis,’ said Professor Benedetta Mennucci, a chemist at the University of Pisa in Italy, who is leading ENLIGHT. ‘The developed models can now be applied to different types of organisms to understand if nature has optimised some specific features — common to all systems — that can be mimicked in artificial ones.’

    This work could prove crucial in driving an emerging area of research: solar-driven chemistry. This aims to mimic nature by using solar energy directly for the production of fuels, chemicals and materials.

    ‘We could replace all our current methods for producing fuels and commodity chemicals with new ones that use water, nitrogen and carbon dioxide as the starting materials, along with light or renewable electricity as the energetic input,’ said Dr Artero. ‘This would be a revolution for Europe.’

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:04 am on September 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Energy, High-tech mirror-like optical surface, Stanford professor tests a cooling system that works without electricity,   

    From Stanford: “Stanford professor tests a cooling system that works without electricity” 

    Stanford University Name
    Stanford University

    September 4, 2017
    Taylor Kubota

    Stanford scientists cooled water without electricity by sending excess heat where it won’t be noticed – space. The specialized optical surfaces they developed are a major step toward applying this technology to air conditioning and refrigeration.

    A fluid-cooling panel designed by Shanhui Fan, professor of electrical engineering at Stanford, and former research associates Aaswath Raman and Eli Goldstein being tested on the roof of the Packard Electrical Engineering Building. This is an updated version of the panels used in the research published in Nature Energy. (Image credit: Aaswath Raman)

    It looks like a regular roof, but the top of the Packard Electrical Engineering Building at Stanford University has been the setting of many milestones in the development of an innovative cooling technology that could someday be part of our everyday lives. Since 2013, Shanhui Fan, professor of electrical engineering, and his students and research associates have employed this roof as a testbed for a high-tech mirror-like optical surface that could be the future of lower-energy air conditioning and refrigeration.

    Research published in 2014 [Nature] first showed the cooling capabilities of the optical surface on its own. Now, Fan and former research associates Aaswath Raman and Eli Goldstein, have shown that a system involving these surfaces can cool flowing water to a temperature below that of the surrounding air. The entire cooling process is done without electricity.

    “This research builds on our previous work with radiative sky cooling but takes it to the next level. It provides for the first time a high-fidelity technology demonstration of how you can use radiative sky cooling to passively cool a fluid and, in doing so, connect it with cooling systems to save electricity,” said Raman, who is co-lead author of the paper detailing this research, published in Nature Energy Sept. 4.

    Together, Fan, Goldstein and Raman have founded the company SkyCool Systems, which is working on further testing and commercializing this technology.

    Sending our heat to space

    Radiative sky cooling is a natural process that everyone and everything does, resulting from the moments of molecules releasing heat. You can witness it for yourself in the heat that comes off a road as it cools after sunset. This phenomenon is particularly noticeable on a cloudless night because, without clouds, the heat we and everything around us radiates can more easily make it through Earth’s atmosphere, all the way to the vast, cold reaches of space.

    “If you have something that is very cold – like space – and you can dissipate heat into it, then you can do cooling without any electricity or work. The heat just flows,” explained Fan, who is senior author of the paper. “For this reason, the amount of heat flow off the Earth that goes to the universe is enormous.”

    Although our own bodies release heat through radiative cooling to both the sky and our surroundings, we all know that on a hot, sunny day, radiative sky cooling isn’t going to live up to its name. This is because the sunlight will warm you more than radiative sky cooling will cool you. To overcome this problem, the team’s surface uses a multilayer optical film that reflects about 97 percent of the sunlight while simultaneously being able to emit the surface’s thermal energy through the atmosphere. Without heat from sunlight, the radiative sky cooling effect can enable cooling below the air temperature even on a sunny day.

    “With this technology, we’re no longer limited by what the air temperature is, we’re limited by something much colder: the sky and space,” said Goldstein, co-lead author of the paper.

    The experiments published in 2014 were performed using small wafers of a multilayer optical surface, about 8 inches in diameter, and only showed how the surface itself cooled. Naturally, the next step was to scale up the technology and see how it works as part of a larger cooling system.

    Putting radiative sky cooling to work

    For their latest paper, the researchers created a system where panels covered in the specialized optical surfaces sat atop pipes of running water and tested it on the roof of the Packard Building in September 2015. These panels were slightly more than 2 feet in length on each side and the researchers ran as many as four at a time. With the water moving at a relatively fast rate, they found the panels were able to consistently reduce the temperature of the water 3 to 5 degrees Celsius below ambient air temperature over a period of three days.

    This photo from 2014 shows the reflectivity of the mirror-like optical surface Fan, Raman and Goldstein have been researching, which allows for daytime radiative sky cooling by sending thermal energy into the sky while also blocking sunlight. The people in this photo (left to right) are Linxiano Zhu, PhD ‘16, co-author of the [Nature], Fan and Raman. (Image credit: Norbert von der Groeben)

    The researchers also applied data from this experiment to a simulation where their panels covered the roof of a two-story commercial office building in Las Vegas – a hot, dry location where their panels would work best – and contributed to its cooling system. They calculated how much electricity they could save if, in place of a conventional air-cooled chiller, they used vapor-compression system with a condenser cooled by their panels. They found that, in the summer months, the panel-cooled system would save 14.3 megawatt-hours of electricity, a 21 percent reduction in the electricity used to cool the building. Over the entire period, the daily electricity savings fluctuated from 18 percent to 50 percent.

    Right now, SkyCool Systems is measuring the energy saved when panels are integrated with traditional air conditioning and refrigeration systems at a test facility, and Fan, Goldstein and Raman are optimistic that this technology will find broad applicability in the years to come. The researchers are focused on making their panels integrate easily with standard air conditioning and refrigeration systems and they are particularly excited at the prospect of applying their technology to the serious task of cooling data centers.

    Fan has also carried out research on various other aspects of radiative cooling technology. He and Raman have applied the concept of radiative sky cooling to the creation of an efficiency-boosting coating for solar cells. With Yi Cui, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford and of photon science at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Fan developed a cooling fabric.

    “It’s very intriguing to think about the universe as such an immense resource for cooling and all the many interesting, creative ideas that one could come up with to take advantage of this,” he said.

    Fan is also director of the Edward L. Ginzton Laboratory, a professor, by courtesy, of applied physics and an affiliate of the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy.

    This work was funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) of the Department of Energy.

    See the full article here .

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    Leland and Jane Stanford founded the University to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Stanford opened its doors in 1891, and more than a century later, it remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today’s complex world. Stanford, is an American private research university located in Stanford, California on an 8,180-acre (3,310 ha) campus near Palo Alto. Since 1952, more than 54 Stanford faculty, staff, and alumni have won the Nobel Prize, including 19 current faculty members

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  • richardmitnick 1:40 pm on August 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Energy, , , World's Biggest Solar Thermal Power Plant Just Got Approved in Australia   

    From Science Alert: “World’s Biggest Solar Thermal Power Plant Just Got Approved in Australia” 


    Science Alert

    16 AUG 2017

    Crescent Dunes near Las Vegas, the blueprint for the new plant. Credit: Solar Reserve.

    The onward march of renewables continues: an Australian state government has greenlit the biggest solar thermal power plant of its kind in the world, a 150-megawatt structure set to be built in Port Augusta in South Australia.

    As well as providing around 650 construction jobs for local workers, the plant will provide all the electricity needs for the state government, with some to spare – and it should help to make solar energy even more affordable in the future.

    Work on the AU$650 million (US$510 million) plant is getting underway next year and is slated to be completed in 2020, adding to Australia’s growing list of impressive renewable energy projects that already cover solar and tidal.

    “The significance of solar thermal generation lies in its ability to provide energy virtually on demand through the use of thermal energy storage to store heat for running the power turbines,” says sustainable energy engineering professor Wasim Saman, from the University of South Australia.

    “This is a substantially more economical way of storing energy than using batteries.”

    Solar photovoltaic plants convert sunlight directly into electricity, so they need batteries to store excess power for when the Sun isn’t shining; solar thermal plants, meanwhile, use mirrors to concentrate the sunlight into a heating system.

    A variety of heating systems are in use, but In this case, molten salt will be heated up – a more economical storage option than batteries – which is then used to boil water, spin a steam turbine, and generate electricity when required.

    The developers of the Port Augusta plant say it can continue to generate power at full load for up to 8 hours after the Sun’s gone down.

    The Crescent Dunes plant in Nevada will act as the blueprint for the one in Port Augusta, as it was built by the same contractor, Solar Reserve. That site has a 110-megawatt capacity.

    Renewable energy sources now account for more than 40 percent of the electricity generated in South Australia, and as solar becomes a more stable and reliable provider of energy, that in turn pushes prices lower.

    Importantly, the cost of the new plant is well below the estimated cost of a new coal-fired power station, giving the government another reason to back renewables. The cost-per-megawatt of the new plant works out about the same as wind power and solar photovoltaic plants.

    But engineering researcher Fellow Matthew Stocks, from the Australian National University, says we still have “lots to learn” about how solar thermal technologies can fit into an electric grid system.

    “One of the big challenges for solar thermal as a storage tool is that it can only store heat,” says Stocks. “If there is an excess of electricity in the system because the wind is blowing strong, it cannot efficiently use it to store electrical power to shift the energy to times of shortage, unlike batteries and pumped hydro.”

    Authorities say 50 full-time workers will be required to operate the plant, using similar skills to those needed to run a coal or gas station. That will encourage workers laid off after the region’s coal-fired power station was closed down last year.

    Solar thermal has been backed to the tune of AU$110m ($86m) of equity provided by the federal government.

    And as renewables become more and more important to our power grids, expect to see this huge solar thermal plant eventually get eclipsed by a bigger one.

    “This is first large scale application of solar thermal generation in Australia which has been operating successfully in Europe, USA and Africa,” says Saman.

    “While this technology is perhaps a decade behind solar PV generation, many future world energy forecasts include a considerable proportion of this technology in tomorrow’s energy mix.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:32 am on August 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A copper catalyst that converts carbon dioxide into ethanol, , , , Energy, How do you make ethanol without growing corn?,   

    From Stanford: “How do you make ethanol without growing corn?” 

    Stanford University Name
    Stanford University

    June 20, 2017 [Delayed waiting for a link to the science paper.]
    Mark Shwartz

    SLAC scientist Christopher Hahn sees his reflection in a copper catalyst that converts carbon dioxide into ethanol. | Image credit: Mark Shwartz.

    Most cars and trucks in the United States run on a blend of 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent ethanol, a renewable fuel made primarily from fermented corn. But producing the 14 billion gallons of ethanol consumed annually by American drivers requires millions of acres of farmland.

    A recent discovery by Stanford University scientists could lead to a new, more sustainable way to make ethanol without corn or other crops. This technology has three basic components: water, carbon dioxide and electricity delivered through a copper catalyst. The results are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “One of our long-range goals is to produce renewable ethanol in a way that doesn’t impact the global food supply,” said study principal investigator Thomas Jaramillo, an associate professor of chemical engineering at Stanford and of photon science at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

    “Copper is one of the few catalysts that can produce ethanol at room temperature,” he said. “You just feed it electricity, water and carbon dioxide, and it makes ethanol. The problem is that it also makes 15 other compounds simultaneously, including lower-value products like methane and carbon monoxide. Separating those products would be an expensive process and require a lot of energy.”

    Scientists would like to design copper catalysts that selectively convert carbon dioxide into higher-value chemicals and fuels, like ethanol and propanol, with few or no byproducts. But first they need a clear understanding of how these catalysts actually work. That’s where the recent findings come in.

    Copper crystals

    For the PNAS study, the Stanford team chose three samples of crystalline copper, known as copper (100), copper (111) and copper (751). Scientists use these numbers to describe the surface geometries of single crystals.

    “Copper (100), (111) and (751) look virtually identical but have major differences in the way their atoms are arranged on the surface,” said Christopher Hahn, an associate staff scientist at SLAC and co-lead lead author of the study. “The essence of our work is to understand how these different facets of copper affect electrocatalytic performance.”

    In previous studies, scientists had created single-crystal copper electrodes just 1-square millimeter in size. For this study, Hahn and his co-workers at SLAC developed a novel way to grow single crystal-like copper on top of large wafers of silicon and sapphire. This approach resulted in films of each form of copper with a 6-square centimeter surface, 600 times bigger than typical single crystals.

    Catalytic performance

    To compare electrocatalytic performance, the researchers placed the three large electrodes in water, exposed them to carbon dioxide gas and applied a potential to generate an electric current.

    The results were clear. When the team applied a specific voltage, the electrodes made of copper (751) were far more selective to liquid products, such as ethanol and propanol, than those made of copper (100) or (111).

    Ultimately, the Stanford team would like to develop a technology capable of selectively producing carbon-neutral fuels and chemicals at an industrial scale.

    “The eye on the prize is to create better catalysts that have game-changing potential by taking carbon dioxide as a feedstock and converting it into much more valuable products using renewable electricity or sunlight directly,” Jaramillo said. “We plan to use this method on nickel and other metals to further understand the chemistry at the surface. We think this study is an important piece of the puzzle and will open up whole new avenues of research for the community.”

    See the full article here .

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    Leland and Jane Stanford founded the University to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Stanford opened its doors in 1891, and more than a century later, it remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today’s complex world. Stanford, is an American private research university located in Stanford, California on an 8,180-acre (3,310 ha) campus near Palo Alto. Since 1952, more than 54 Stanford faculty, staff, and alumni have won the Nobel Prize, including 19 current faculty members

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  • richardmitnick 2:55 pm on August 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Climate policies study shows Inland Empire economic boon, Energy, ,   

    From UC Berkeley: “Climate policies study shows Inland Empire economic boon” 

    UC Berkeley

    UC Berkeley

    August 3, 2017
    Jacqueline Sullivan

    UC Berkeley researchers found that the proliferation of renewable energy plants — like the San Gorgonio Pass wind farm shown above — is responsible for over 90 percent of the direct benefit of California’s climate and clean energy policies in the Inland Empire. (iStock photo).

    According to the first comprehensive study of the economic effects of climate programs in California’s Inland Empire, Riverside and San Bernardino counties experienced a net benefit of $9.1 billion in direct economic activity and 41,000 jobs from 2010 through 2016.

    Researchers at UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education and the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at Berkeley Law report that many of these jobs were created by one-time construction investments associated with building renewable energy power plants. These investments, they say, helped rekindle the construction industry, which experienced major losses during the Great Recession.

    When accounting for the spillover effects, the researchers report in their study commissioned by nonpartisan, nonprofit group Next 10, that state climate policies resulted in a total of $14.2 billion in economic activity and more than 73,000 jobs for the region during the same seven years.

    Study focal points

    Inland Empire residents are at especially high risk for pollution-related health conditions. This hazy view from a Rancho Cucamonga street attests to the region’s smog problem. (Photo by Mikeetc via Creative Commons).

    Because smog in San Bernardino and Riverside counties is consistently among the worst in the state, residents are at especially high risk of pollution-related health conditions.

    “California has many at-risk communities — communities that are vulnerable to climate change, but also vulnerable to the policy solutions designed to slow climate change,” said Betony Jones, lead author of the report and associate director of the Green Economy Program at UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.

    In the Inland Empire, per capita income is approximately $23,000, compared to the state average of $30,000, and 17.5 percent of the residents of Riverside and San Bernardino counties live below the poverty line, compared to 14.7 percent of all Californians.

    The Net Economic Impacts of California’s Major Climate Programs in the Inland Empire study comes out right after the state’s recent decision to extend California’s cap-and-trade program, and as other states and countries look to California as a model.


    After accounting for compliance spending and investment of cap-and-trade revenue, researchers found cap and trade had net economic impacts of $25.7 million in San Bernardino and Riverside counties in the first four years of the program, from 2013 to 2016.

    That includes $900,000 in increased tax revenue and net employment growth of 154 jobs through the Inland Empire economy. When funds that have been appropriated but have not yet been spent are included, projected net economic benefits reach nearly $123 million, with 945 jobs created and $5.5 million in tax revenue.

    Proliferation of renewables

    The researchers found that the proliferation of renewable energy plants is responsible for over 90 percent of the direct benefit of California’s climate and clean energy policies in the Inland Empire. As of October 2016, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties were home to more than 17 percent of the state’s renewable generation capacity, according the California Energy Commission.

    Researchers found that altogether, renewables like the solar panels pictured above, contributed more than 60,000 net jobs to the regional economy over seven years. (iStock photo)

    “Even after accounting for construction that would have taken place in a business-as-usual scenario, new renewable power plants created the largest number of jobs in the region over the seven-year period, generating 29,000 high-skilled, high-quality construction jobs,” said Jones.

    The authors compared the jobs created in the generation of renewable electricity with those that would have been created by maintaining natural gas electricity generation. “While renewables create fewer direct jobs, the multiplier effects are greater in the Inland Empire economy,” Jones said. “Altogether, renewable generation contributed over 60,000 net jobs to the regional economy over seven years.”

    Rooftop solar, energy efficiency programs

    The report looks at the costs and benefits of the California Solar Initiative, the federal renewables Investment Tax Credit, and investor-owned utility energy efficiency programs, which provide direct incentives for solar installation and energy efficiency retrofits at homes, businesses and institutions. These programs provided about $1.1 billion in subsidies for distributed solar and $612 million for efficiency in the Inland Empire between 2010 and 2016.

    While researchers calculated benefits for these two programs separately, they identified the costs of these programs to electricity ratepayers together. When the benefits are weighed against these costs, the total net impact of both programs resulted in the creation of more than 12,000 jobs and $1.68 billion across the economy over the seven years studied.

    The report’s authors suggest that officials and/or policymakers:

    Develop a comprehensive program for transportation, the greatest challenge facing in California’s climate goals;
    Expand energy efficiency programs to reduce energy use in the existing building and housing stock while reducing energy costs and creating jobs and economic activity;
    Ensure that the Inland Empire receives appropriate statewide spending based on its economic and environmental needs;
    Develop transition programs for workers and communities affected by the decline of the Inland Empire’s greenhouse gas-emitting industries.

    “California continues to demonstrate leadership on climate and clean energy, and results like these show that California’s models can be exported,” said Ethan Elkind, climate director at the UC Berkeley Center for Law, Energy and the Environment.

    Noel Perry, founder of Next 10, said the report gives policymakers and stakeholders the concrete data needed to weigh policy options and investments in the Inland Empire and beyond.

    See the full article here .

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    Founded in the wake of the gold rush by leaders of the newly established 31st state, the University of California’s flagship campus at Berkeley has become one of the preeminent universities in the world. Its early guiding lights, charged with providing education (both “practical” and “classical”) for the state’s people, gradually established a distinguished faculty (with 22 Nobel laureates to date), a stellar research library, and more than 350 academic programs.

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