Radiative Sky Cooling Used To Generate Electricity

Radiative sky cooling occurs wherever there are ground and a sky. A surface facing the sky will eventually eject some of its heat, and that rejection takes the form of thermal radiation. A UCLA team has figured out a way to take the temperatures differences from this process and turn it into electricity.

Using parts purchased at a hardware store, the team built a proof-of-concept device for under $30. In their testing, the team was able to generate 25 milliwatts per square meter, which could power a single LED light bulb. The researchers think that with better equipment they could generate 0.5 watts per square meter, this would be enough to charge a smartphone or a whole room filled with LED lights.

Although these devices output modest levels of electricity, it’s an intriguing renewable energy resource that works at night.


Invention Converts Carbon Dioxide Into Liquid Fuel

Scientist lead by Haotian Wang from Rice University have invented an electrocatalysis reactor that turns carbon dioxide into pure liquid fuel. The reactor produces formic acid, which is an energy carrier. According to Wang, “It’s a fuel-cell fuel that can generate electricity and emit carbon dioxide — which you can grab and recycle again.” Currently, the reactor energy conversion efficiency is about 42%, meaning almost half of the energy can be stored in formic acid as a liquid fuel. Depending on the situation Wang suggested the reactor could be easily retooled to produce acetic acid, ethanol or propanol fuels.  Read the full article to learn more.

A Nuclear Energy Option That Gets Overlooked

Renewable energy is currently the biggest thing in energy production. With our energy needs growing every year, we will need to look at more options than just solar and wind. An option that is controversial but can produce high levels of power is nuclear. Today’s nuclear plants are far more advanced than the plants of the 1980s, however, many people still remember the incidents at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and most recently Fukushima.

A Thorium plant would be a different type of nuclear plant than what people are familiar with.

What is Thorium? According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA):

“Thorium is a naturally-occurring, slightly radioactive metal discovered in 1828 by the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius, who named it after Thor, the Norse god of thunder. It is found in small amounts in most rocks and soils, where it is about three times more abundant than uranium. Soil contains an average of around 6 parts per million (ppm) of thorium. Thorium is very insoluble, which is why it is plentiful in sands but not in seawater, in contrast to uranium…”

Aside from being plentiful at least 3 times more availability than uranium, thorium has some distinct advantages. Thorium reactors can produce efficiency levels as high as 98%. Current nuclear technologies can achieve an efficiency rate of about 5% with its fuel. When it comes to safety, thorium reactors can self-regulate their temperature levels. Should the reactor overheat for some reason, then the reaction that is generated begins to slow down on its own. Compared to traditional nuclear reactors, thorium reactors would eliminate the need for large scale storage of spent fuel.


Getting Energy From Mixing Freshwater and Seawater

Stanford researchers have developed a new battery that gets its energy from mixing freshwater and seawater also known as “blue energy“. The researchers tested a prototype battery by flushing it with alternating hourly exchanges of wastewater effluent from the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant and seawater collected nearby from Half Moon Bay. After over 180 cycles the battery maintained a 97 percent effectiveness in capturing the gradient energy.

This technology can work anyplace that freshwater and saltwater intermix, wastewater treatment plants offer some unique opportunities. Wastewater treatment requires a lot of energy, approximately three percent of the U.S. electrical consumption. By using this new battery technology, the wastewater treatment plants would not only be energy independent but also provide essential health service in times of a power outage. It is estimated that globally wastewater treatment plants can provide about 18 gigawatts of power, that’s enough to power 15 million homes.

The battery’s large scale potential is considered far more feasible than other technologies due to its small footprint, simplicity, constant energy generation, and lack of instruments to control charge and voltage. The next step for the researchers is to see how a system performs with multiple batteries working simultaneously.


World’s Most Powerful Tidal Turbine

In an announcement Tuesday, the world’s most powerful tidal turbine manufacturing contract has been awarded to the Scotland-based TEXO Group. Construction on the Orbital O2 will take place at the TEXO Groups quayside facilities in the city of Dundee.

The Orbital O2 will be a 73-meter long floating superstructure that supports two 1 megawatt turbines on each side and will have a rotor diameter of 20 meters. It’s scheduled operation will be sometime in 2020.

According to the European Commission, ocean energy could potentially contribute around 10% of the EU’s power demand by 2050.

A New Dimension For Solar Power

Fraunhofer researchers are currently working on textile-based solar cells, which can be used to complement traditional solar panels that are found on homes and buildings. Some examples of where this technology can be useful are semitrailers that produce the electricity needed to power cooling systems or other onboard equipment, truck tarps that help power the vehicle while underway, and office blinds that help to reduce the power consumption of the building.

Right now according to Dr. Lars Rebenklau, group manager for system integration and electronic packaging at Fraunhofer IKTS, the textile-based solar cells have an efficiency of between 0.1 and 0.3 percent. In a follow-up project, he and the team are seeking to push this over the five percent mark, at which point the textile-based solar cells would prove commercially viable. If everything goes according to plan the team believes the first textile-based solar cells could be ready in around five years.


Grid-Level Renewable Energy Storage By Rethinking An Older Battery Technology

Renewable energy such as solar is a great source of power in the morning and mid afternoon, but drops in power output in the late afternoon into the evening. Currently utility companies have to compensate by firing up coal and natural gas production. The answer to clean grid energy storage may just lie in an older battery technology.

Flow batteries have been operating consistently for decades, but have struggled to gain a broad foothold in commercial and municipal operations due in part to their enormous size, high operating costs and comparably low voltage. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a low-cost high-performance battery by re-examining flow battery chemistry.

The researchers found that by combining organic binding agents with chromium ions in order to stabilize a potent electrolyte was the key. This binding agent known as “PDTA” allows the battery cells to supply 2.13 volts, which is almost double the operational average for a traditional flow battery.

PDTA is a spinoff of EDTA, an agent that is found in hand soap and food preservatives, which makes it non-toxic, easy to get, and affordable. It also has a relatively neutral pH of 9, unlike other battery types which use highly corrosive acids.

The next step for the researchers is to continue optimizing their system, to expand the cycle life of the battery.


A Sustainable Way To Turn Food Waste Into Energy

An Israel company, HomeBiogas has taken sustainability to a new level. They have created a portable system that transforms food waste into cooking gas and fertilizer. The system works by using bacteria to breakdown food scraps, which can be almost anything fruits, vegetables, and even meats. As the bacteria breaks down the food it produces biogas that’s collected at the top of the system, the system is able to store 700 liters of biogas. The biogas can be used for cooking, hot water, and electricity generation. Another byproduct of the process is a liquid fertilizer which can be used in the garden.

According to the company, an average family’s daily food waste is enough to produce 2-3 hours worth of biogas. With an estimated 1 billion pounds of food wasted or lost every year, this is an amazing alternative with great benefits.


A Flag That Generates Power

A team of researchers at The University of Manchester is the first to create a flag that can simultaneously harvest wind and solar power. The flag is made of flexible piezoelectric strips and flexible photovoltaic cells. Piezoelectric strips allow the flag to generate power through movement, while the photovoltaic cells capture the power of the sun.

The goal of this technology is to have a cheap sustainable energy collection solution and have little or no maintenance. Currently the flag is capable of powering small portable electronics that operate in micro-Watt to milli-Watt power range. The researchers hope to develop the technology further so that it can support more power-demanding applications such as charging-stations for mobile devices.


Desalination the Energy Efficient Way

Desalination is the process of removing salt from sea water to get clean drinking water. The problem with the process is that it requires a lot of energy which is why this process is mainly used in oil rich places like the Middle East.

A new system created by researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia could change that, as it uses solar power to purify water.

The system uses conventional solar panels, with a twist. In their testing the team realized that the PV panels generate a lot of heat.

The team decided to use that heat by building a stack of water channels, separated by porous hydrophobic membranes and heat conduction layers. These layers were attached to the bottom of the PV panels. Heat from the panels would vaporize seawater in the top channel, cross through the porous membrane, and then finally condense as fresh water in the third channel. This process is able to generate 1.64 liters/hr (0.433 gallons/hr) of water per square meter of solar panel surface.