Bio-Batteries, A Step Closer to Clean Energy

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Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) are a step closer to enhancing the generation of clean energy from bacteria.

 

A recently published report shows how electrons hop across otherwise electrically insulating areas of bacterial proteins, and that the rate of electron transfer is dependent on the orientation and proximity of electrically conductive ‘stepping stones’.

 

The hope is that this natural process can be used to improve ‘bio batteries’ which may be used to produce energy for portable technology such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops, powered by human or animal waste.

 

Unlike humans, many microorganisms can, survive without oxygen. Some bacteria survive by ‘breathing rocks’, especially minerals or iron. They derive their energy from the combustion of fuel molecules that have been taken into the cell’s interior.

 

A side product of this reaction is a flow of electricity that can be directed across the bacterial outer membrane and delivered to rocks in the natural environment, or to graphite electrodes in fuel cells.

 

This means that the bacteria can release electrical charge from inside the cell into the mineral, much like the neutral wire in a household plug.

 

The researchers looked at proteins called ‘multi-haem cytochromes’ contained in ‘rock breathing’ bacteria such as species of Shewanella.

 

Lead researcher Professor Julea Butt, from UEA’s School of Chemistry and School of Biological Sciences said, “These bacteria can generate electricity in the right environment.”

 

“We wanted to know more about how the bacterial cells transfer electrical charge — and particularly how they move electrons from the inside to the outside of a cell over distances of up to tens of nanometres.

 

“Proteins conduct electricity by positioning metal centres — known as haems — to act in a similar way to stepping stones by allowing electrons to hop through an otherwise electrically insulating structure. This research shows that these centres should be considered as discs that the electrons hop across.

 

“The relative orientation of neighbouring centres, in addition to their proximity, affects the rates that electrons move through the proteins.

 

“This is an exciting advance in our understanding of how some bacterial species move electrons from the inside to the outside of a cell and helps us understand their behaviour as robust electron transfer modules.

 

“We hope that understanding how this natural process works will inspire the design of bespoke proteins which will underpin microbial fuel cells for sustainable energy production.”

 

The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and performed in collaboration with researchers at University College London, UK and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, USA.

 

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First Battery to Store Solar Power is a Major Breakthrough in Renewable Energy

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Is it a solar cell or a rechargeable battery? Both! The patent-pending device invented at The Ohio State University is the world’s first solar battery.

 

In the October 3, 2014 issue of the journal Nature Communications, the Ohio State researchers reported, they succeeded in combining a battery and a solar cell into one hybrid device.

 

The key to the innovation is a mesh solar panel, which allows air to enter the battery, and a special process for transferring electrons between the solar panel and the battery electrode. Light and oxygen inside the device, allow different parts of the chemical reactions that charge the battery.

 

Professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio State, Dr. Yiying Wu said the university will license the solar battery to industry, which will help reduce the costs of renewable energy.

 

“The state of the art is to use a solar panel to capture the light, and then use a cheap battery to store the energy,” Wu said. “We’ve integrated both functions into one device. Any time you can do that, you reduce cost.” Wu believes that the device will bring costs down by 25 percent.

 

The invention also solves a longtime problem in solar energy efficiency, by eliminating the loss of electricity that normally occurs when electrons have to travel between a solar cell and an external battery. Usually, only 80 percent of the electrons that emerge from a solar cell make it into a battery.

 

With this new design, light is converted into electrons inside the battery, so nearly 100 percent of the electrons are saved. The design of the battery takes some of its idea from a battery that Wu and doctoral student Xiaodi Ren previously developed.

 

The pair invented a high-efficiency air-powered battery that discharges by a potassium and oxygen chemical reaction. The design won the $100,000 clean energy prize from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2014, and researchers formed a technology spin-off company called KAir Energy Systems, LLC to develop it.

“Basically, it’s a breathing battery,” Wu said. “It breathes in air when it discharges, and breathes out when it charges.”

 

For this new study, the researchers wanted to combine a solar panel with a battery similar to the KAir. The challenge they faced was that solar cells are normally made of solid semiconductor panels, which would block air from entering the battery.

 

This lead to doctoral student Mingzhe Yu designing a permeable mesh solar panel from titanium gauze, a flexible fabric upon which he grew vertical rods of titanium dioxide like blades of grass. Air passes freely through the gauze while the rods capture sunlight.

 

During charging, light hits the mesh solar panel and creates electrons. Inside the battery, electrons are involved in the chemical decomposition of lithium peroxide into lithium ions and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the air, and the lithium ions are stored in the battery as lithium metal after capturing the electrons.

 

When the battery discharges, it chemically consumes oxygen from the air to re-form the lithium peroxide. An iodide additive in the electrolyte acts as a “shuttle” that carries electrons, and transports them between the battery electrode and the mesh solar panel. The use of the additive represents a distinct approach on improving the battery performance and efficiency, the team said.

 

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How You Benefit From Solar Energy

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Taking advantage of the Sun’s light to supply your home with electricity helps to reduce your electricity bills and your carbon footprint. Whether it’s summer or winter, throughout the year, Australia bakes under the unyielding rays of the sun.

 

On average, Australia experiences more solar radiation per square kilometre than anywhere else. The sun provides Australia with 10,000 times more energy annually than what is used by the country in a year. Solar panels enable the use of this incredibly abundant, renewable source of energy.

 

Solar panels allow the harnessing of the Sun’s energy and convert it into electricity that can readily be used in the home to power all of its appliances. Comprised of photovoltaic (PV) cells, the panels are usually mounted on the home’s roof and situated in a way to maximise their exposure to the Sun’s light.

 

Aside from powering electrical products, solar energy can also be used to warm water and to heat your home. Heating water accounts for up to a third of a typical home’s electricity bill.

 

Financial benefits of solar panels

A home solar power system’s initial start-up and set-up costs should be looked at as an investment that pays for itself over time.

 

Obviously, as you create your own energy, you use less from the country’s power grid, which saves on your monthly electric bills. However, when your solar panels generate more electricity than your home requires, in most cases, you can sell the excess electricity back to the power grid.

 

Helping the planet

You can also greatly reduce your carbon footprint by installing a solar power system on your home. Solar energy is green, clean and renewable, unlike traditional sources of electricity from the grid. Solar panels don’t release any greenhouse gasses and they don’t pollute the air. Even the amount of energy used to produce the solar panels themselves is minimal.

 

What you need to know before investing in solar panels

Doing your research and getting advice from the professionals at Captain Green Solar can help you make an informed decision about solar panels. Here are just a few things you should consider before making the change to solar energy:

 

  • Your solar power system’s efficiency depends on the type of panels you have installed, the size of your system and where your home is located.
  • The efficiency of your system and how much electricity your home uses will determine home how much electricity you use from the power grid.
  • For your solar power system to be worthwhile your home’s roof can’t be shaded, you need to be able to maximize the Sun’s rays.

Solar power is an excellent way to save money year round and help the planet by reducing your carbon footprint.

By 2018, an Expected 50% of all Australian Homes will Convert to Solar Power

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A new report claims that new battery technology could make it possible for Australian homes to generate and store solar-powered energy more inexpensively than traditional electricity suppliers by 2018.

 

A report by The Climate Council, a non-government organisation, found that improvements in battery technology may make solar energy cheaper than purchasing it within the next three years and could allow half of the nation to live “off the grid”.

 

Australia already boasts the highest number of household solar panel use in the world. About 15 percent of homes contain solar panels. This is roughly double the rate in Belgium, which is the second highest usage.

 

Solar power usage has lead to a large savings of electricity for the 1.4 million households who have installed them, but only about 500 people currently have batteries to store the leftover solar power.

 

The Climate Council claims that the cost of producing lithium-ion batteries will fall “dramatically” in the coming years and that each battery’s capacity will grow 50-fold within the decade.

 

The report states “By 2018, going off-grid by installing battery storage could be cost-competitive with staying connected as the price of battery storage falls and grid electricity remains expensive.”

 

“Together with rooftop solar, battery storage presents an opportunity for Australian households to use a much greater proportion of the solar photovoltaic electricity they generate and minimise the need to purchase expensive electricity from the grid.”

 

The Climate Council report predicts that half of Australian households will adopt a AU$10,000 battery system with a payback on initial outlay of 10 years. The phasing out of FITs across Australia is convincing a growing number of homeowners to invest in battery storage technology in order to maximize the value of their solar power technology.

 

“Anyone who has PV on their roof knows they’re paid a fraction, maybe a tenth, of what it costs them to buy power off the grid,” Claims Andrew Stock of the Climate Council. “If they have a tool, a battery, that can allow them to store the surplus power during the day and use it at night, it means they’re going to get greater control than they already have over their power bill.”

 

The report also found that this new technology has some of the existing network operators nervous, with some companies actively altering how they price power in an attempt to discourage the adoption of the combination, solar power and storage, a move Stock called “perverse”.
Battery systems, coupled with PV, can actually help networks get much better use out of their assets by smoothing out the demand on the grid. That should mean that network companies don’t need to invest anywhere near as much at adding capacity in the future, and they get better use of their existing capacity.”

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Clean Energy

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Researchers claim a new technique could transform smelly, air-polluting landfill gas into a fuel cell that can generate clean energy for homes, offices and hospitals. The advance would convert methane gas into hydrogen, an efficient, clean form of energy.

 

The researchers report is part of the 248th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.

 

Hydrogen has recently received a lot of attention as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, when burned. In comparison, Hydrogen only emits water vapor when it is burned. This is why some companies are developing hydrogen fuel cells for automobiles and homes.

 

One excellent way to accomplish this, is to convert another greenhouse gas, methane, to hydrogen by reacting it with carbon dioxide. And the unsightly landfills are excellent sources of these gases, microbes living in the waste produce large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide as a by-product.

 

However, researchers have been faced with challenges while trying to bring this idea to reality. One big problem has been, finding a proper catalyst, says Fabio B. Noronha, PhD., who is with the National Institute of Technology in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

 

A catalyst is a substance that speeds up processes that would otherwise occur slower. In this case, researchers are using catalysts to help turn methane and carbon dioxide into hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The problem is that carbon, which forms as a contaminant during the process, deposits onto the catalyst.

 

“The heart of the process for the production of hydrogen from landfill gas is the catalyst, and this can be disrupted by the presence of carbon,” Noronha explains. “Because of carbon deposition, the catalyst loses the capacity to convert the landfill gases into hydrogen.”

 

He says that to solve this problem, his team developed a new catalyst material that removes the carbon as soon as it is formed. This approach was based on the automotive catalysts developed in the past to control car and truck emissions, he adds. The material is a perovskite-type oxide supported on ceria, which is a component of ceramics.
Currently, the researchers are working on the reaction in the laboratory, however, the new, highly stable catalyst should be ideal for commercialization. As a step in that direction, the team plans to test it on a larger scale using material from a local landfill, says Noronha.

 

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New Innovative Substance to be used in Solar Cells and Flexible Electronics

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Physicists at the University of Kansas have created an innovative substance from two different atomic sheets that interlock like Lego toy bricks. The researchers said the new material, made of a layer of graphene and a layer of tungsten disulfide, could be used in solar cells and flexible electronics.

 

Hsin-Ying Chiu, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, and graduate student Matt Bellus created the new material using “layer-by-layer assembly” as a versatile bottom-up nanofabrication technique.

 

Then, Jiaqi He, a visiting student from China, and Nardeep Kumar, a graduate student who now has moved to Intel Corp., investigated how electrons move between the two layers through ultrafast laser spectroscopy in KU’s Ultrafast Laser Lab, supervised by Hui Zhao, associate professor of physics and astronomy.

 

“To build artificial materials with synergistic functionality has been a long journey of discovery,” Chiu said. “A new class of materials, made of the layered materials, has attracted extensive attention ever since the rapid development of graphene technology. One of the most promising aspects of this research is the potential to devise next-generation materials via atomic layer-level control over its electronic structure.”

 

According to the researchers, the approach is to design synergistic materials by combining two single-atom thick sheets, for example, acting as a photovoltaic cell as well as a light-emitting diode, converting energy between electricity and radiation. However, combining layers of atomically thin material is a thorny task that has flummoxed researchers for years.

 

“A big challenge of this approach is that, most materials don’t connect together because of their different atomic arrangements at the interface — the arrangement of the atoms cannot follow the two different sets of rules at the same time,” Chiu said.

 

“This is like playing with Legos of different sizes made by different manufacturers. As a consequence, new materials can only be made from materials with very similar atomic arrangements, which often have similar properties, too. Even then, the arrangement of atoms at the interface is irregular, which often results in poor qualities.”

 

The use of layered materials, like the ones developed by the KU researchers, provide a solution for this problem. The new material features two layers where each atomic sheet is composed of atoms bound strongly with their neighbors.

 

Unlike the conventional materials formed by atoms that are strongly bound in all directions, the two atomic sheets are themselves only weakly linked to each other by the so-called van der Waals force, the same attractive phenomenon between molecules that allows geckos to stick to walls and ceilings.

 

“There exist about 100 different types of layered crystals — graphite is a well-known example,” Bellus said. “Because of the weak interlayer connection, one can choose any two types of atomic sheets and put one on top of the other without any problem. It’s like playing Legos with a flat bottom. There is no restriction. This approach can potentially produce a large number of new materials with combined novel properties and transform the material science.”


The research groups led by Chiu and Zhao are trying to apply this Lego approach to other materials. For example, by combining two materials that absorb light of different colors, they can make materials that react to diverse parts of the solar spectrum.

 

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Major Increase in Production of Hydropower Expected this Decade

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A major increase in the construction of hydropower dams is underway, mainly in developing countries and emerging economies. Since this trend is expected to double global electricity production from hydropower, it could reduce the number of our last remaining large free-flowing rivers by about 20 percent and pose a serious threat to freshwater biodiversity.

 

A new database has been developed to support decision making on sustainable modes of electricity production. It was presented this month at the international congress, Global Challenges:  Achieving Sustainability hosted by the University of Copenhagen.

 

The increasing demand for electricity from renewable sources has kick-started the hydropower development into a new era. Following a period of a flattening trend, an unprecedented number of dams for electricity production is currently under construction or planned worldwide.

 

However, this boom is occurring, primarily, in developing countries and emerging economies in South America, Southeast Asia and Africa, that also hold some of the world’s most important sites for freshwater biodiversity.

 

“Hydropower is an integrated part of transitioning to renewable energy and currently the largest contributor of renewable electricity. However, it is vital that hydropower dams do not create a new problem for the biodiversity in the world’s freshwater systems, due to fragmentation and the expected changes in the flow and sediment regime. That is why we have compiled available data on future expected hydropower dams — to form a key foundation for evaluating where and how to build the dams and how to operate them sustainably,” says Prof. Dr. Christiane Zarfl (now Universität Tübingen) who, together with her colleagues, performed the study at the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) in Berlin. She is presenting the database today at the congress Global Challenges: Achieving Sustainability.

 

Electricity capacity may double with hydropower

Renewable energy currently accounts for 20 percent of the global electricity production, with hydropower contributing 80 percent of the total shares. An expected 3700 major dams may more than double the total electricity capacity of hydropower to 1,700 GW within the next two decades.

 

Considering all the planned dams, China will remain the global leader in hydropower dam construction, although their share of total future global hydropower production will decline from currently 31 to 25 percent, due to increases in other parts of the world.

 

The largest total number of new dams in South America will be in the Amazon and La Plata basins, whereas the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin (mainly India and Nepal) and the Yangtze basin in China will face the highest dam construction in Asia.

 

“When building new dams, it is important to follow a systematic management approach that considers the ecological, social, and economic consequences of multiple dams within a river basin,” says Prof. Dr. Klement Tockner, head of IGB, who is leading the Institute´s research activities on sustainable hydropower development.


“We expect to launch the database in BioFresh, the platform for global freshwater biodiversity and hope to see our results as a valuable reference basis for scientists and decision makers in supporting sustainable hydropower development,” says Prof. Dr. Christiane Zarfl.

 

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