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[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

JCAP researchers propose artificial photosynthetic system for high-yield production of ethanol

November 09, 2015

A team at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Berkeley is proposing an artificial photosynthesis scheme for direct synthesis and separation to almost pure ethanol with minimum product crossover using saturated salt electrolytes.

In a paper in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, Professor Alexis Bell and postdoc Meenesh Singh describe the novel design of an integrated artificial photosynthetic system that continuously produces >90 wt% pure ethanol using a polycrystalline copper cathode and an IrO2 anode at a current density of 0.85 mA cm-2. The annual production rate of > 90 wt% ethanol using such a photosynthesis system operating at 10 mA cm-2 (12% solar-to-fuel (STF) efficiency) can be 15.27 million gallons per year per square kilometer, corresponding to 7% of the industrial ethanol production capacity of California, they suggest.

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Sandia team boosts hydrogen production activity by molybdenum disulfide four-fold; low-cost catalyst for solar-driven water splitting

October 07, 2015

A team led by researchers from Sandia National Laboratories has shown that molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), exfoliated with lithiation intercalation to change its physical structure, performs as well as the best state-of-the-art catalysts for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) but at a significantly lower cost. An open access paper on their study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

The improved catalyst has already released four times the amount of hydrogen ever produced by MoS2 from water. To Sandia postdoctoral fellow and lead author Stan Chou, this is just the beginning: “We should get far more output as we learn to better integrate molly with, for example, fuel-cell systems,” he said.

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Rice team demonstrates plasmonic hot-electron solar water-splitting technology; simpler, cheaper and efficient

September 05, 2015

Researchers at Rice have demonstrated an efficient new way to use solar energy for water splitting. The technology, described in a paper in the ACS journal Nano Letters, relies on a novel plasmonic photoelectrode architecture of light-activated gold nanoparticles that harvest sunlight to drive photocatalytic reactions by efficient, non-radiative plasmon decay into “hot carriers”—highly excited electrons.

In contrast to past work, the new architecture does not utilize a Schottky junction—the commonly used building block to collect hot carriers. Instead, the team observed large photocurrents from a Schottky-free junction due to direct hot electron injection from plasmonic gold nanoparticles into the reactant species upon plasmon decay.

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Joint IEA-NEA report details plunge in costs of renewable electricity; nuclear competitive with other baseload power sources

August 31, 2015

2010 and 2015 LCOE ranges for solar and wind technologies. Source: IEA/NEA. Click to enlarge.

The cost of producing electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar has been falling for several years. A new report, a joint project by the International Energy Agency and the Nuclear Energy Agency, provides in detail the contrasting costs for different power generation technologies around the world and shows that renewable sources can produce electricity at close to or even below the cost of new fossil fuel-based power stations, depending upon conditions such as resources and appropriate market and regulatory frameworks.

The report, Projected Costs of Generating Electricity: 2015 Edition, also shows that new nuclear power plants generate electricity more cheaply than other established “baseload” sources—mainly coal- and gas-fired power plants—over the full lifetime of facilities when financing costs are relatively low.

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JCAP team reports first complete “artificial leaf”; >10% solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency

August 28, 2015

Researchers at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) report the development of the first complete, efficient, safe, integrated solar-driven system—an “artificial leaf”—for splitting water to produce hydrogen. JCAP is a US Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Innovation Hub established at Caltech and its partnering institutions in 2010.

The new system has three main components: two electrodes—one photoanode and one photocathode—and a membrane. The photoanode uses sunlight to oxidize water molecules, generating protons and electrons as well as oxygen gas. The photocathode recombines the protons and electrons to form hydrogen gas. A key part of the JCAP design is the plastic membrane, which keeps the oxygen and hydrogen gases separate. If the two gases are allowed to mix and are accidentally ignited, an explosion can occur; the membrane lets the hydrogen fuel be separately collected under pressure and safely pushed into a pipeline.

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Berkeley Lab researchers advance hybrid bioinorganic approach to solar-to~chemicals conversion; 50% electrical-to-chemical, 10% solar-to-chemical efficiencies

August 25, 2015

A team of researchers at the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have hit a new milestone in their development of a hybrid bioinorganic system for solar-to-chemical energy conversion. (Earlier post.) The system first generates renewable hydrogen from water splitting using sustainable electrical and/or solar input and biocompatible inorganic catalysts. The hydrogen is then used by living cells as a source of reducing equivalents for conversion of CO2 to the value-added chemical product methane.

The system can achieve an electrical-to-chemical efficiency of better than 50% and a solar-to-chemical energy conversion efficiency of 10% if the system is coupled with state-of-art solar panel and electrolyzer, said Peidong Yang, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and one of the leaders of this study. A paper on their work is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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NSF to award $13M for fundamental engineering research on production of electricity and fuels

July 27, 2015

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET) has issued a funding opportunity announcement (PD 15-7644) for the award of an estimated $13,093,000 to support fundamental engineering research that will enable innovative processes for the sustainable production (and storage) of electricity and fuels.

Processes for sustainable energy production must be environmentally benign, reduce greenhouse gas production, and utilize renewable resources. Current topics of interest include:

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Saft Li-ion battery system to power ExoMars Rover; >€1M contract

July 09, 2015

ExoMars_rover _Copyright ESA_CP
ExoMars Rover. Click to enlarge.

Saft has signed a contract worth more than €1 million (US$1.1 million) from Airbus Defence and Space Ltd (UK) to develop, to qualify and to test a specific lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery system to power the ExoMars Rover vehicle. The Rover is the key component of the ExoMars Programme, run jointly by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. Thales Alenia Space Italia SpA is the ExoMars prime contractor.

The objective of the ExoMars Programme is to search for evidence of current or extinct life on the red planet as part of a branch of science called exobiology. The 300 kg (661 lbs) Rover will land on the surface of Mars before moving between a number of sites and drilling into the surface to capture samples for analysis by its onboard scientific instruments.

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Opinion: Why Buffett Bet A Billion On Solar: Miles Per Acre Per Year

June 29, 2015

by Henry Hewitt for

During the late innings of the ICE-age (as in the Internal Combustion Engine age) it has become clear that feeding gasoline and diesel to the next billion new cars is not going to be easy, or cheap. In China alone, 500 million new vehicles can be expected to jam the roads between now and 2030.

That may sound far-fetched, but considering annual sales have already made it to 25 million units per year (vs. around 17 million in the US—China became the top market in 2009), it only requires a 4 percent growth rate to reach that target in fifteen years.

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Ford partners with Haier, Trina Solar and Delta Electronics to launch MyEnergi Lifestyle in China

May 27, 2015

At Consumer Electronics Show Asia, Ford launched a strategic collaboration with Haier (home appliance), Trina Solar (solar power) and Delta Electronics (power management) to introduce MyEnergi Lifestyle (earlier post) to China, a holistic approach for lowering the energy costs and carbon footprint of Chinese families.

MyEnergi Lifestyle, designed to address China’s energy needs and air quality concerns, showcases how combining renewable energy sources, efficient home appliances and a plug-in vehicle can significantly reduce energy costs and carbon footprint. Ford introduced a MyEnergi Lifestyle collaboration for the US in 2013, working with Whirlpool, SunPower and Eaton.

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DOE to re-fund Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis with $75M for solar fuels R&D

April 29, 2015

The US Department of Energy announced $75 million in funding to renew the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), a DOE Energy Innovation Hub originally established in 2010 with the goal of harnessing solar energy for the production of fuel. (Earlier post.)

Under the renewal plan, the five-year-old center would receive funding for an additional five years of research, subject to Congressional appropriations. JCAP researchers are focused on achieving the major scientific breakthroughs needed to produce liquid transportation fuels from a combination of sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide, using artificial photosynthesis.

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SOLARJET demonstrates full process for thermochemical production of renewable jet fuel from H2O & CO2

April 28, 2015

The European consortium SOLARJET (Solar chemical reactor demonstration and Optimization for Long-term Availability of Renewable JET fuel) (earlier post) has experimentally demonstrated the entire process chain for the first production of renewable jet fuel via a thermochemical H2O/CO2-splitting cycle using simulated concentrated solar radiation.

The solar-to-fuel energy conversion efficiency was 1.72%, without sensible heat recovery. A total of 291 stable redox cycles were performed, yielding 700 standard liters of syngas of composition 33.7% H2, 19.2% CO, 30.5% CO2, 0.06% O2, 0.09% CH4, and 16.5% Ar, which was compressed to 150 bar and further processed via Fischer–Tropsch synthesis to a mixture of naphtha, gasoil, and kerosene. Their paper is published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

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LG Chem and Eguana partner on Li-ion residential energy storage system for North America

April 23, 2015

Eguana Technologies, a supplier of power control and conversion solutions for distributed energy storage systems and Li-ion manufacturer LG Chem have combined their technologies under a multi-year agreement to deliver a certified, fully integrated energy storage system (ESS) Eguana calls “AC Battery”. The modular system is targeted as a residential product, but also has the potential to be aggregated for small commercial and industrial (C&I) end-users.

Basic product capacity is 6.4 kWh. Eguana designed the package around LG Chem’s battery modules and supplies its Bi-Direx inverter and controls subassembly. The low voltage design enables high-capacity batteries to operate in lower power ratings needed for decentralized systems (i.e. residential rooftop solar). Eguana has also worked with Germany-based Sonnenbatterie on a similar ESS solution.

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Research facility in Dresden produces first batch of Audi e-diesel; sunfire’s power-to-liquid technology

April 21, 2015

A pilot plant in Dresden has started production of the synthetic fuel Audi e-diesel using water, CO2 and green power—i.e., power-to-liquid (PtL). After a commissioning phase of just four months, the research facility in Dresden started producing its first batches of high‑quality diesel fuel a few days ago. (Earlier post.)

The energy technology company sunfire is Audi’s project partner and the plant operator. The CO2 used is currently supplied by a biogas facility. In addition, initially a portion of the CO2 needed is extracted from the ambient air by means of direct air capturing, a technology of Audi’s Zurich‑based partner Climeworks.

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University of Adelaide team exploring novel configuration for solar hybridized coal-to-liquids process

April 13, 2015

Simplified flowsheet of the proposed solar hybridized coal- to-liquids (SCTL) process with the proposed solar hybridized dual fluidized bed (SDFB) gasifier. Credit: ACS, Guo et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide (Australia) are proposing a novel configuration of a hybridized concentrated solar thermal (CST) dual fluidized bed (DFB) gasification process for Fischer–Tropsch liquids (FTL) fuels production. In their investigation of the process, reported in a paper in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels, they used lignite as the feedstock (Solar hybridized coal to liquids, SCTL), although the process could also be used with biomass.

Although fuel products produced via the Fischer-Tropsch process are high quality (free of sulfur, nitrogen and other contaminants found in petroleum-derived products), and coal is a plentiful and low-cost feedstock, the very high greenhouse gas emissions from coal-to-liquids production processes are a major barrier. As one approach to reducing the overall carbon intensity of FT fuels, there is growing interest in introducing concentrated solar power as a heat source into the gasification process.

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UC Berkeley hybrid semiconductor nanowire-bacteria system for direct solar-powered production of chemicals from CO2 and water

April 10, 2015

Researchers at UC Berkeley have developed an artificial photosynthetic scheme for the direct solar-powered production of value-added chemicals from CO2 and water using a two-step process involving a biocompatible light-capturing nanowire array with a direct interface with microbial systems.

As a proof of principle, they demonstrated that, using only solar energy input, such a hybrid semiconductor nanowire–bacteria system can reduce CO2 at neutral pH to a wide array of chemical targets, such as fuels, polymers, and complex pharmaceutical precursors A paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Nano Letters.

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Global investment in renewable power reached $270.2B in 2014, ~17% up from 2013; biofuel investment fell 8% to 10-year low

April 06, 2015

Global investment in renewable power and fuels (excluding large hydro-electric projects) was $270.2 billion in 2014, nearly 17% higher than the previous year, according to the latest edition of an annual report commissioned by the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) Division of Technology, Industry and Economic (DTIE) in cooperation with Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance and produced in collaboration with Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

This marked the first annual increase in dollar commitments to renewables—excluding large hydro—for three years, and brought the total up to just 3% below the all-time record of $278.8 billion set in 2011. The increase reflected several influences, according to the report, including a boom in solar installations in China and Japan—totalling $74.9 billion between those two countries—and a record $18.6 billion of final investment decisions on offshore wind projects in Europe.

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BASF and Floatility partner on ultra-lightweight solar-powered electric scooter: 12kg e-floater

March 26, 2015

BASF and Floatility have partnered for the development of an ultra-lightweight and solar-powered electric scooter. Weighing less than 12 kilograms (26.5 lbs) and consisting of more than 80% composite and plastic materials from BASF, the scooter will give commuters the sensation of floating and thus has been named ‘e-floater’. The e-floater is designed to bridge the gap on the last mile between home or city center and the nearest public transport.

BASF will provide versatile plastic materials and support the project with its extensive development capabilities. Molding multiple parts to create complex shapes with plastic materials enables design freedom and the streamlined construction of the ‘e-floater’.

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UW-Madison team develops novel hydrogen-producing photoelectrochemical cell using solar-driven biomass conversion as anode reaction

March 11, 2015

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed an innovative hydrogen-producing photoelectrochemical cell (PEC), using solar-driven biomass conversion as the anode reaction. In a paper in the journal Nature Chemistry, the duo reports obtaining a near-quantitative yield and 100% Faradaic efficiency at ambient conditions without the use of precious-metal catalysts for this reaction, which is also thermodynamically and kinetically more favorable than conventional water oxidation at the anode. They thus demonstrated the utility of solar energy for biomass conversion (rather than catalysts) as well as the feasibility of using an oxidative biomass conversion reaction as an anode reaction in a hydrogen-forming PEC.

Chemistry Professor Kyoung-Shin Choi and postdoc Hyun Gil Cha said that their results suggest that solar-driven biomass conversion can be a viable anode reaction that has the potential to increase both the efficiency and the utility of PECs constructed for solar-fuel production.

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Harvard hybrid “bionic leaf” converts solar energy to liquid fuel isopropanol

February 10, 2015

Scientists from a team spanning Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Medical School and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have developed a scalable, integrated bioelectrochemical system that uses bacteria to convert solar energy into a liquid fuel. Their work integrates water-splitting catalysts comprising earth-abundant components with wild-type and engineered Ralstonia eutropha bacteria to generate biomass and isopropyl alcohol. An open access paper describing their work is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Pamela Silver, the Elliott T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at HMS and an author of the paper, calls the system a bionic leaf, a nod to the solar water-splitting artificial leaf invented by the paper’s senior author, Daniel Nocera, the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University. (Earlier post.)

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HZB researchers characterize efficient manganese catalyst for artificial photosynthesis

January 22, 2015

Scientists at the Helmholtz Center for Materials and Energy (HZB) in collaboration with the School of Chemistry and ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science at Monash University, Australia, have precisely characterized the electronic states of a manganese (Mn) water-splitting catalyst for artificial photosynthesis.

The team led by Professor Emad Aziz, head of the HZB Institute “Methods for Material Development“ and Professor Leone Spiccia from Monash University investigated the changes in the local electronic structure of the Mn  3d orbitals of a Mn catalyst derived from a dinuclear MnIII complex during the water oxidation cycle using X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) and resonant inelastic X-ray scattering (RIXS) analyses.

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IRENA report finds renewable power costs at parity or below fossil fuels in many parts of world

January 17, 2015

The cost of generating power from renewable energy sources has reached parity or dropped below the cost of fossil fuels for many technologies in many parts of the world, according to a new report released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The report, “Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2014”, concludes that biomass, hydropower, geothermal and onshore wind are all competitive with or cheaper than coal, oil and gas-fired power stations, even without financial support and despite falling oil prices. Solar photovoltaic (PV) is leading the cost decline, with solar PV module costs falling 75% since the end of 2009 and the cost of electricity from utility-scale solar PV falling 50% since 2010.

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Caltech team proposes taxonomy for solar fuels generators; different approaches to converting sunlight to chemical fuels

December 22, 2014

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology are proposing a nomenclature and taxonomy for solar fuels generators—devices that harness energy from sunlight to drive the synthesis of chemical fuels. A number of different approaches to this technology are being pursued, many of which can be differentiated by the physical principles on which they are based, according to the Caltech team, led by Dr. Nathan Lewis.

In an open-access paper published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, Dr. Lewis and colleagues outlined their method of using the source of the asymmetry that separates photogenerated electronics and holes as the basis for their taxonomy. They identify three basic device types: photovoltaic cells, photoelectrochemical cells, and photoelectrosynthetic particulate/molecular photocatalysts.

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California makes first investments in $100M energy research & development program; also biogas and H2

December 11, 2014

The California Energy Commission approved its first $10 million to fund Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) research and development (R&D) projects during its monthly business meeting today. The Commission also approved grants for the operation of a hydrogen fueling station, biofuel production, geothermal exploration and rooftop solar for schools.

EPIC is a multi-year, research investment program focused on electricity-related innovations, finding new energy solutions and bringing clean energy ideas to the marketplace. The program’s 2012-2014 plan calls for investing $330 million between 2014 and 2015 in innovative technologies that provide benefits to electric ratepayers served by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. The seven awards approved will fund applied R&D projects that will develop utility-scale renewable energy generation technologies.

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New efficient catalytic system for the photocatalytic reduction of CO2 to hydrocarbons

December 04, 2014

Photocatalytic reduction products formed on various catalysts. The Au3Cu@STO/TiO2 array (red arrow) was the most reactive photocatalyst in this family to generate hydrocarbons from diluted CO2. Kang et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers from Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) and TU-NIMS Joint Research Center, Tianjin University, China have developed a new, particularly efficient photocatalytic system for the conversion of CO2 into CO and hydrocarbons. The system, reported in a paper in the journal Angewandte Chemie, may be a step closer to CO2-neutral hydrocarbon fuels.

More than 130 kinds of photocatalysts have been investigated to catalyze CO2 reduction; of those, strontium titanate (SrTiO3, STO) and titania (TiO2) are two of the most investigated materials. The research team headed by Dr. Jinhua Ye decided to use both, and devised a heteromaterial consisting of arrays of coaxially aligned STO/TiO2 nanotubes.

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Toshiba targeting practical implementation of conversion of solar energy and CO2 to feedstock and fuel in 2020s

December 03, 2014

Mechanism of the technology. Source: Toshiba. Click to enlarge.

Toshiba Corporation has developed a new technology that uses solar energy directly to generate carbon compounds from carbon dioxide and water, and to deliver a viable chemical feedstock or fuel with potential for use in industry. Toshiba introduced the technology at the 2014 International Conference on Artificial Photosynthesis (ICARP2014) on 26 November.

The long-term goal of the research work is to develop a technology compatible with carbon dioxide capture systems installed at facilities such as thermal power stations and factories, utilizing carbon dioxide to provide stockable and trailerable energy. Towards this, Toshiba said it will further improve the conversion efficiency by increasing catalytic activity, with the aim of securing practical implementation in the 2020s.

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Researchers develop free-standing nanowire mesh for direct solar water-splitting to produce H2; new design for “artificial leaf”

The mesh with BiVO4 nanowire photoanode for water oxidation and Rh-SrTiO3 nanowire photocathode for water reduction produces hydrogen gas without an electron mediator. Credit: ACS, Liu et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers from UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore have developed a new technology for direct solar water-splitting—i.e., an “artificial leaf” to produce hydrogen—based on a nanowire mesh that lends itself to large-scale, low-cost production. A paper describing their work is published in the journal ACS Nano.

In the design, semiconductor photocatalysts are synthesized as one-dimensional nanowires, which are assembled into a free-standing, paper-like mesh using a vacuum filtration process from the paper industry. When immersed in water with visible light irradiation (λ ≥ 400 nm), the mesh produces hydrogen gas. Although boosting efficiency remains a challenge, their approach—unlike other artificial leaf systems—is free-standing and doesn’t require any additional wires or other external devices that would add to the environmental footprint.

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