eNews IntegrityResearchInstitute.org Nov.
Future Energy eNews IntegrityResearchInstitute.org Nov. 30, 2008
1) Biomass Butanol - The startup Cobalt Biofuels has raised $25 million for inexpensively producing biofuel
2) New Catalyst Turns Water into Hydrogen - MIT chemist could turn solar power into dominant fuel producer
3) Black Silicon is New, Cheaper, and More Sensitive - Improved visible and infrared absorption solar cell
4) Methanol Fuel Cell - Developed at MIT for cell phones and laptops has 50% more output
5) Zero Point Energy: The Fuel of the Future - Chapter 1 of book is reprinted by McGraw-Hill in a textbook on energy
6) Frontiers of Propulsion Science - New book provides a good reference on every theoretical type of propulsion
7) Amory Lovins is one of America's Best Leaders - Alternative energy expert in US News and World Report8) Integrity Research Institute's Annual Fund-Raising Appeal - Only once per year do we ask for your assistance
1) Cheaper Butanol from Biomass
Cobalt Biofuels, a startup based in Mountainview, CA, has developed a cheap way to make butanol from biomass. Last week, the company announced that it had raised $25 million to expand from a small laboratory-scale production to a pilot-scale plant that can produce about 35,000 gallons of fuel per year.
"Our models tell us it is a very low-cost process that can be competitive with anything on the market today," says Pamela Contag, the company's founder and CEO. The process is cheaper because it uses improved strains of bacteria to break down and ferment biomass, as well as improved equipment for managing fermentation and reducing water and energy consumption, she says.
Butanol could help increase the use of biofuels, since it doesn't have the same limitations as ethanol, the primary biofuel made in the United States. It has more energy than ethanol: a gallon of butanol contains about 90 percent as much energy as a gallon of gasoline, while ethanol only has about 70 percent as much. What's more, while ethanol requires special pipelines for shipping, butanol can be shipped in unmodified gasoline pipelines. And butanol can be blended with gasoline in higher percentages than ethanol without requiring modifications to engines.
Cobalt Biofuels joins a handful of other companies developing biobutanol. The biggest such effort comes in the form of a partnership between DuPont and BP: the companies plan to be selling commercial quantities of butanol made from sugar beets by 2010. Other companies developing biobutanol are Gevo, a startup based in Englewood, CO, that is commercializing advances from UCLA, and Tetravitae, based in Chicago, which is commercializing advances from the University of Illinois. In spite of their progress, Andy Aden, a research scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, CO, says that no company has demonstrated yet that it can make butanol cheap enough to compete in the market.
Cobalt Biofuels uses the bacteria Clostridium to break down components of plant matter, including cellulose, hemicellulose, and starch, and produce a combination of butanol, acetone, and ethanol. That is nothing new: Clostridium naturally produces these chemicals and was employed in the early 1900s to make butanol for use in solvents and to make acetone for explosives and other products. What's new, Contag says, is that a combination of fuel prices, government biofuel mandates, and the company's new technology have made butanol competitive as a fuel.
One of Cobalt Biofuels' key advances is a technique for genetically engineering strains of Clostridium so that they produce a luminescent protein whenever they produce butanol. "When the Clostridium are happy and producing butanol, they're also producing light," Contag says. When they're paired with light detectors, the company can quickly sort through new strains of the bacteria, as well as tailor their environment, to increase production. The company has further increased butanol production by engineering a bioreactor in which biomass flows in, the bacteria processes it, and a mixture of primarily butanol and water flows out.
While increasing the amount of butanol produced can decrease costs, two other factors are also important: the consumption of energy, and the consumption of water. Cobalt Biofuels has reduced both of these by 75 percent. To reduce energy, the company has licensed a new technology, called vapor compression distillation, for separating the butanol and water. The addition of pressure to the distillation process, together with the use of an effective heat exchanger that reduces wasted heat, lowers energy consumption. To reduce water use, the company has turned to proprietary water purification and recycling systems.
Eventually, the company plans to produce butanol using waste from paper manufacturing and sugar refining, as well as other sources, and then sell it as a fuel additive for reducing carbon monoxide emissions. As Cobalt Biofuels scales up production, it plans to sell the butanol as a substitute for gasoline.
"I'm going to show you something I haven't showed anybody yet," said Daniel Nocera, a professor of chemistry at MIT, speaking this May to an auditorium filled with scientists and U.S. government energy officials. He asked the house manager to lower the lights. Then he started a video. "Can you see that?" he asked excitedly, pointing to the bubbles rising from a strip of material immersed in water. "Oxygen is pouring off of this electrode." Then he added, somewhat cryptically, "This is the future. We've got the leaf."
What Nocera was demonstrating was a reaction that generates oxygen from water much as green plants do during photosynthesis--an achievement that could have profound implications for the energy debate. Carried out with the help of a catalyst he developed, the reaction is the first and most difficult step in splitting water to make hydrogen gas. And efficiently generating hydrogen from water, Nocera believes, will help surmount one of the main obstacles preventing solar power from becoming a dominant source of electricity: there's no cost-effective way to store the energy collected by solar panels so that it can be used at night or during cloudy days.
Solar power has a unique potential to generate vast amounts of clean energy that doesn't contribute to global warming. But without a cheap means to store this energy, solar power can't replace fossil fuels on a large scale. In Nocera's scenario, sunlight would split water to produce versatile, easy-to-store hydrogen fuel that could later be burned in an internal-combustion generator or recombined with oxygen in a fuel cell. Even more ambitious, the reaction could be used to split seawater; in that case, running the hydrogen through a fuel cell would yield fresh water as well as electricity.
Storing energy from the sun by mimicking photosynthesis is something scientists have been trying to do since the early 1970s. In particular, they have tried to replicate the way green plants break down water. Chemists, of course, can already split water. But the process has required high temperatures, harsh alkaline solutions, or rare and expensive catalysts such as platinum. What Nocera has devised is an inexpensive catalyst that produces oxygen from water at room temperature and without caustic chemicals--the same benign conditions found in plants. Several other promising catalysts, including another that Nocera developed, could be used to complete the process and produce hydrogen gas.
Nocera sees two ways to take advantage of his breakthrough. In the first, a conventional solar panel would capture sunlight to produce electricity; in turn, that electricity would power a device called an electrolyzer, which would use his catalysts to split water. The second approach would employ a system that more closely mimics the structure of a leaf. The catalysts would be deployed side by side with special dye molecules designed to absorb sunlight; the energy captured by the dyes would drive the water-splitting reaction. Either way, solar energy would be converted into hydrogen fuel that could be easily stored and used at night--or whenever it's needed.
Nocera's audacious claims for the importance of his advance are the kind that academic chemists are usually loath to make in front of their peers. Indeed, a number of experts have questioned how well his system can be scaled up and how economical it will be. But Nocera shows no signs of backing down. "With this discovery, I totally change the dialogue," he told the audience in May. "All of the old arguments go out the window."
The Dark Side of Solar
Sunlight is the world's largest potential source of renewable energy, but that potential could easily go unrealized. Not only do solar panels not work at night, but daytime production waxes and wanes as clouds pass overhead. That's why today most solar panels--both those in solar farms built by utilities and those mounted on the roofs of houses and businesses--are connected to the electrical grid. During sunny days, when solar panels are operating at peak capacity, homeowners and companies can sell their excess power to utilities. But they generally have to rely on the grid at night, or when clouds shade the panels.
This system works only because solar power makes such a tiny contribution to overall electricity production: it meets a small fraction of 1 percent of total demand in the United States. As the contribution of solar power grows, its unreliability will become an increasingly serious problem.
If solar power grows enough to provide as little as 10 percent of total electricity, utilities will need to decide what to do when clouds move in during times of peak demand, says Ryan Wiser, a research scientist who studies electricity markets at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, CA. Either utilities will need to operate extra natural-gas plants that can quickly ramp up to compensate for the lost power, or they'll need to invest in energy storage. The first option is currently cheaper, Wiser says: "Electrical storage is just too expensive."
But if we count on solar energy for more than about 20 percent of total electricity, he says, it will start to contribute to what's called base load power, the amount of power necessary to meet minimum demand. And base load power (which is now supplied mostly by coal-fired plants) must be provided at a relatively constant rate. Solar energy can't be harnessed for this purpose unless it can be stored on a large scale for use 24 hours a day, in good weather and bad.
In short, for solar to become a primary source of electricity, vast amounts of affordable storage will be needed. And today's options for storing electricity just aren't practical on a large enough scale, says Nathan Lewis, a professor of chemistry at Caltech. Take one of the least expensive methods: using electricity to pump water uphill and then running the water through a turbine to generate electricity later on. One kilogram of water pumped up 100 meters stores about a kilojoule of energy. In comparison, a kilogram of gasoline stores about 45,000 kilojoules. Storing enough energy this way would require massive dams and huge reservoirs that would be emptied and filled every day. And try finding enough water for that in places such as Arizona and Nevada, where sunlight is particularly abundant.
Batteries, meanwhile, are expensive: they could add $10,000 to the cost of a typical home solar system. And although they're improving, they still store far less energy than fuels such as gasoline and hydrogen store in the form of chemical bonds. The best batteries store about 300 watt-hours of energy per kilogram, Lewis says, while gasoline stores 13,000 watt-hours per kilogram. "The numbers make it obvious that chemical fuels are the only energy-dense way to obtain massive energy storage," Lewis says. Of those fuels, not only is hydrogen potentially cleaner than gasoline, but by weight it stores much more energy--about three times as much, though it takes up more space because it's a gas.
The challenge lies in using energy from the sun to make such fuels cheaply
and efficiently. This is where Nocera's efforts to mimic photosynthesis come in.
In real photosynthesis, green plants use chlorophyll to capture energy from sunlight and then use that energy to drive a series of complex chemical reactions that turn water and carbon dioxide into energy-rich carbohydrates such as starch and sugar. But what primarily interests many researchers is an early step in the process, in which a combination of proteins and inorganic catalysts helps break water efficiently into oxygen and hydrogen ions.
The field of artificial photosynthesis got off to a quick start. In the early 1970s, a graduate student at the University of Tokyo, Akira Fujishima, and his thesis advisor, Kenichi Honda, showed that electrodes made from titanium dioxide--a component of white paint--would slowly split water when exposed to light from a bright, 500-watt xenon lamp. The finding established that light could be used to split water outside of plants. In 1974, Thomas Meyer, a professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, showed that a ruthenium-based dye, when exposed to light, underwent chemical changes that gave it the potential to oxidize water, or pull electrons from it--the key first step in water splitting.
Ultimately, neither technique proved practical. The titanium dioxide couldn't absorb enough sunlight, and the light-induced chemical state in Meyer's dye was too transient to be useful. But the advances stimulated the imaginations of scientists. "You could look ahead and see where to go and, at least in principle, put the pieces together," Meyer says.
Over the next few decades, scientists studied the structures and materials in plants that absorb sunlight and store its energy. They found that plants carefully choreograph the movement of water molecules, electrons, and hydrogen ions--that is, protons. But much about the precise mechanisms involved remained unknown. Then, in 2004, researchers at Imperial College London identified the structure of a group of proteins and metals that is crucial for freeing oxygen from water in plants. They showed that the heart of this catalytic complex was a collection of proteins, oxygen atoms, and manganese and calcium ions that interact in specific ways.
"As soon as we saw this, we could start designing systems," says Nocera, who had been trying to fully understand the chemistry behind photosynthesis since 1984. Reading this "road map," he says, his group set out to manage protons and electrons somewhat the way plants do--but using only inorganic materials, which are more robust and stable than proteins.
Initially, Nocera didn't tackle the biggest challenge, pulling oxygen out from water. Rather, "to get our training wheels," he began with the reverse reaction: combining oxygen with protons and electrons to form water. He found that certain complex compounds based on cobalt were good catalysts for this reaction. So when it came time to try splitting water, he decided to use similar cobalt compounds.
Nocera knew that working with these compounds in water could be a problem,
since cobalt can dissolve. Not surprisingly, he says, "within days we realized
that cobalt was falling out of this elaborate compound that we made." With his
initial attempts foiled, he decided to take a different approach. Instead of
using a complex compound, he tested the catalytic activity of dissolved cobalt,
with some phosphate added to the water to help the reaction. "We said, let's
forget all the elaborate stuff and just use cobalt directly," he says.
The experiment worked better than Nocera and his colleagues had expected. When a current was applied to an electrode immersed in the solution, cobalt and phosphate accumulated on it in a thin film, and a dense layer of bubbles started forming in just a few minutes. Further tests confirmed that the bubbles were oxygen released by splitting the water. "Here's the luck," Nocera says. "There was no reason for us to expect that just plain cobalt with phosphate, versus cobalt being tied up in one of our complexes, would work this well. I couldn't have predicted it. The stuff that was falling out of the compounds turned out to be what we needed.
"Now we want to understand it," he continues. "I want to know why the hell cobalt in this thin film is so active. I may be able to improve it or use a different metal that's better." At the same time, he wants to start working with engineers to optimize the process and make an efficient water-splitting cell, one that incorporates catalysts for generating both oxygen and hydrogen. "We were really interested in the basic science. Can we make a catalyst that works efficiently under the conditions of photosynthesis?" he says. "The answer now is yes, we can do that. Now we've really got to get to the technology of designing a cell."
Catalyzing a Debate
Nocera's discovery has garnered a lot of attention, and not all of it has been flattering. Many chemists find his claims overstated; they don't dispute his findings, but they doubt that they will have the consequences he imagines. "The claim that this is the answer for artificial photosynthesis is crazy," says Thomas Meyer, who has been a mentor to Nocera. He says that while Nocera's catalysts "could prove technologically important," the advance is "a research finding," and there's "no guarantee that it can be scaled up or even made practical."
Many critics' objections revolve around the inability of Nocera's lab setup to split water nearly as rapidly as commercial electrolyzers do. The faster the system, the smaller a commercial unit that produced a given amount of hydrogen and oxygen would be. And smaller systems, in general, are cheaper.
The way to compare different catalysts is to look at their "current density"--that is, electrical current per square centimeter--when they're at their most efficient. The higher the current, the faster the catalyst can produce oxygen. Nocera reported results of 1 milliamp per square centimeter, although he says he's achieved 10 milliamps since then. Commercial electrolyzers typically run at about 1,000 milliamps per square centimeter. "At least what he's published so far would never work for a commercial electrolyzer, where the current density is 800 times to 2,000 times greater," says John Turner, a research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO.
Other experts question the whole principle of converting sunlight into
electricity, then into a chemical fuel, and then back into electricity again.
They suggest that while batteries store far less energy than chemical fuels,
they are nevertheless far more efficient, because using electricity to make
fuels and then using the fuels to generate electricity wastes energy at every
step. It would be better, they say, to focus on improving battery technology or
other similar forms of electrical storage, rather than on developing water
splitters and fuel cells. As Ryan Wiser puts it, "Electrolysis is [currently]
inefficient, so why would you do it?"
The Artificial Leaf
Michael Grätzel, however, may have a clever way to turn Nocera's discovery to practical use. A professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, Switzerland, he was one of the first people Nocera told about his new catalyst. "He was so excited," Grätzel says. "He took me to a restaurant and bought a tremendously expensive bottle of wine."
In 1991, Grätzel invented a promising new type of solar cell. It uses a dye containing ruthenium, which acts much like the chlorophyll in a plant, absorbing light and releasing electrons. In Grätzel's solar cell, however, the electrons don't set off a water-splitting reaction. Instead, they're collected by a film of titanium dioxide and directed through an external circuit, generating electricity. Grätzel now thinks that he can integrate his solar cell and Nocera's catalyst into a single device that captures the energy from sunlight and uses it to split water.
If he's right, it would be a significant step toward making a device that, in many ways, truly resembles a leaf. The idea is that Grätzel's dye would take the place of the electrode on which the catalyst forms in Nocera's system. The dye itself, when exposed to light, can generate the voltage needed to assemble the catalyst. "The dye acts like a molecular wire that conducts charges away," Grätzel says. The catalyst then assembles where it's needed, right on the dye. Once the catalyst is formed, the sunlight absorbed by the dye drives the reactions that split water. Grätzel says that the device could be more efficient and cheaper than using a separate solar panel and electrolyzer.
Another possibility that Nocera is investigating is whether his catalyst can be used to split seawater. In initial tests, it performs well in the presence of salt, and he is now testing it to see how it handles other compounds found in the sea. If it works, Nocera's system could address more than just the energy crisis; it could help solve the world's growing shortage of fresh water as well.
Artificial leaves and fuel-producing desalination systems might sound like grandiose promises. But to many scientists, such possibilities seem maddeningly close; chemists seeking new energy technologies have been taunted for decades by the fact that plants easily use sunlight to turn abundant materials into energy-rich molecules. "We see it going on all around us, but it's something we can't really do," says Paul Alivisatos, a professor of chemistry and materials science at the University of California, Berkeley, who is leading an effort at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to imitate photosynthesis by chemical means.
But soon, using nature's own blueprint, human beings could be using the sun "to make fuels from a glass of water," as Nocera puts it. That idea has an elegance that any chemist can appreciate--and possibilities that everyone should find hopeful.
Kevin Bullis is Technology Review's Energy Editor.
3) Black Silicon
Silicon's ability to absorb light and produce electric current has made it the material of choice for light sensors and solar cells. Yet about half of the light from the sun--red light and most of the infrared--passes right through silicon.
Light trap: Treating silicon with short, intense
femtosecond laser pulses in the presence of sulfur creates tiny cones on its
surface. The rough, sulfur-infused surface is an excellent light trap, capturing
nearly all of the sun’s light, including the parts of the spectrum that pass
through normal silicon.
SiOnyx, a startup based in Beverly, MA, is making a new type of silicon material, dubbed black silicon, which captures nearly all of the sun's light. "It is basically a sponge for light, both visible and infrared," says CEO Stephen Saylor. The material uses the light more effectively, generating hundreds of times more current than conventional silicon. The company, which has licensed technology developed at Harvard University, also claims that the material makes it possible to use less silicon for light sensors, making the devices cheaper, smaller, and lighter.
Saylor says that the highly sensitive light detectors made from black silicon would have many advantages. In medical x-ray imaging, he says, "if you have a very high-sensitivity detector, you could lower the radiation dose of x-rays to get that image." Because the detectors pick up extremely low light signals, they could be used for in vitro imaging, night-vision goggles, and light sensors in digital cameras. Low-light applications currently use more exotic and expensive gallium arsenide.
The material could also be used to make infrared detectors, a new application for silicon. Infrared detectors, used in fiber-optic telecommunications, astronomy, and security systems, are made of gallium arsenide and other materials that are difficult and expensive to process in addition to containing toxic chemicals such as lead and mercury. "Black silicon extends the technology that we know extremely well and makes it usable in a region of spectrum where it wasn't useful before," says Eric Mazur, a professor of applied physics at Harvard, who discovered the material in his lab. "I really believe it's a new class of materials, just as semiconductors were a new class of materials 60 years ago." Mazur cofounded SiOnyx in 2006 with his then graduate student James Carey, now the company's chief science officer.
The company makes the material by putting conventional silicon in a chamber full of sulfur hexafluoride gas and bombarding it with short, intense pulses from a femtosecond laser. This roughens the surface by creating millions of tiny cones on it. The rough layer is about 300 nanometers thick and infused with sulfur atoms.
This thin surface layer does all the light capturing. Conventional silicon devices use 0.5-millimeter-thick silicon. Black-silicon devices would use hundreds of times less silicon, which would cut costs, Saylor points out. The thin devices would also be easier to incorporate into an integrated circuit.
Researchers at SiOnyx and Harvard are still investigating why black silicon produces much more current than does normal silicon when exposed to the same light. The theory is that this happens because of a mechanism called photoconductive gain. In regular silicon, each photon will knock loose only one electron to contribute to electric current. But in the new material, each photon sends multiple electrons cruising through the circuit, boosting the current 200 to 300 times. "We believe this is really the first time photonic gain has been seen in silicon," Saylor says.
The material's potential for photovoltaic solar cells remains to be seen. In a light detector, an external voltage is applied to the silicon. When a photon hits the material, it knocks loose an electron. The voltage sweeps the electron out into an external electric circuit to produce current. But photovoltaic materials have to create a voltage in response to light. It is not clear if black silicon can be coaxed into doing that efficiently, says MIT mechanical-engineering professor Tonio Buonassisi.
Buonassisi is now exploring the material for photovoltaic applications. He and his group are trying to understand the atomic structure of the material so that they can harness it to make a solar cell. The material's high absorbance makes it a promising candidate. "This is a very interesting material, and it certainly is intriguing for solar cells . . . although a lot of the mysteries have yet to be unraveled," Buonassisi says.
SiOnyx, meanwhile, is developing a black-silicon fabrication process. Saylor says that the company wants to develop a scalable way to make uniform black-silicon wafers. Then it plans to license the manufacturing method to companies that make silicon light detectors and solar cells.
4) Fuel-Cell Power-Up
Methanol is a promising energy source for fuel cells because it is a liquid at room temperature, so it's easier to manage than hydrogen. But so far, its commercial applications have been limited. One reason has to do with the properties of the proton-conducting membranes at the heart of fuel-cell technology.
On one side of a methanol fuel cell, a catalyst causes methanol and water to react, yielding carbon dioxide, protons, and free electrons. The protons pass through a membrane to a separate compartment, where they combine with oxygen from air to form water. The electrons, which can't cross the membrane, are forced into wires, generating a current that can be used to power electronic devices.
The more protons cross the membrane, the more power is generated. But the polymers that conduct protons well also tend to let the methanol solution into the other compartment. The resulting loss of fuel lowers the cells' power output. To limit such "methanol crossover," researchers have to either use polymers that don't conduct protons as well or make thicker membranes. But both of those options decrease efficiency, too.
In work published last spring in Advanced Materials, Hammond used an elegant, inexpensive process to reduce methanol crossover in a commercial fuel-cell membrane, increasing the efficiency of a methanol fuel cell by more than 50 percent. "What we've done is generate a very thin film that actually prevents the permeation of methanol but at the same time allows a rapid rate of proton transport," says Hammond. Encouraged by this success, her team is now working to build such membranes from scratch, which could make them less expensive.
A Modified Process
A layer-by-layer assembly technique is the key to Hammond's membranes. In earlier work, her team altered a membrane made of Nafion, a polymer manufactured by DuPont that is commonly used in fuel cells. It conducts protons well but also permits some methanol leakage, and it's relatively expensive to make.
To begin the new process, Avni Argun, a postdoc in the lab and lead author on the Advanced Materials paper, mounts a specially treated silicon disc in a lab hood and starts the disc slowly rotating. Facing the membrane are four sprayer nozzles. Each nozzle is connected to a separate container. One contains a positively charged polymer solution and one a negatively charged polymer solution; two hold water.
Argun starts the sprayer system, which mists the disc with the positive solution for a few seconds, then with a water rinse, then with the negatively charged polymer, and finally with water again. A two-layer film forms within about 50 seconds. The thickness of this "bilayer" depends on the polymers and can range from 3 to 50 nanometers. In about six hours, the sprayer can apply between 400 and 600 bilayers, creating a membrane about 20 micrometers thick. The membrane described in Advanced Materials was made up of three bilayers on top of a Nafion membrane, adding only 260 nanometers to its thickness. By using a combination of positive and negative polymers, the researchers maintained Nafion's high conductivity while reducing its methanol crossover.
Other researchers have tried to reduce membrane permeability by using new polymers or blending two different polymers. Blending often doesn't work well, though, because polymers with different structures tend to separate, making the membrane less stable. With the layer-by-layer assembly process--common in other areas of materials science--"we combine two different materials, but on a nanometer-length scale so they're really intermingled," Hammond says.
After the membrane dries, Argun carefully peels it off the disc and tests its permeability and electrical resistance, which allows him to calculate its conductivity. With a large clip, he fastens the membrane between a plastic chip and a base that holds platinum wires that will measure resistance. After putting the assembly in a sealed plastic box that allows him to control temperature and humidity, he manipulates the membrane using a pair of gloves that reach through the box and into the chamber. Most membranes perform better under high temperature and humidity, so both conditions must be noted. Argun connects the assembly to an external analyzer to test the membrane's resistance. Measuring its permeability is more straightforward; he simply notes the amount of methanol that diffuses through it over a specific amount of time.
If a membrane fares well in these initial tests, Argun couples it to a positive and a negative electrode (where the electricity-producing reactions take place) to see how it would perform in an actual fuel cell. He places the electrodes--two black, circular carbon cloths studded with particles of platinum and a metal alloy--on either side of the membrane. Then he sandwiches the whole apparatus inside an insulating gasket that looks like thin cardboard. Finally, he seals the unit using a hot press.
Graduate student Nathan Ashcraft takes over from here. Ashcraft puts the membrane-electrode assembly into an active fuel cell, into which air and methanol are carefully pumped. Two square slabs of steel, about the size of slices of bread, make up the outside of the cell; they contain heaters that allow Ashcraft to precisely control the temperature of the reaction. Between the steel slabs, two gold-plated electrodes sandwich graphite blocks with small channels etched into them. Ashcraft places the membrane-electrode assembly between the blocks and secures it with screws. He then pumps methanol and air through the channels to either side of the assembly. He measures and records the resulting current, along with the system's temperature.
Hammond's team has not yet devised a completely new membrane that conducts as well as Nafion. However, "we feel like we're very close," she says. The team is also experimenting with membrane thickness; if a membrane is too thin, it will tear in the fuel cell, but thicker membranes don't conduct protons as well. The membrane that the lab ends up with will probably be about 50 micrometers thick, Ashcraft says. Hammond also plans to try building membranes that incorporate additional polymers.
Paula Hammond holds a piece of a fuel-cell membrane made using a
layer-by-layer assembly technique. This method allows her to produce membranes
that increase the power output of methanol fuel cells, making them more viable
as an alternative to batteries for small electronics such as cell phones.
|>||Watch Hammond give an overview of fuel-cell research and her work and discuss the potential applications for methanol fuel cells.|
|>||See how the fuel-cell membranes are made.|
5) Zero Point Energy is the Fuel of the Future says McGraw-Hill
Thomas Valone, Integrity Research Institute Press Release, Nov. 29, 2008, http://www.integrityresearchinstitute.org/ZPENERGY.html
Zero point energy book is chosen by McGraw-Hill Publishing Company to be reprinted in part in the new college textbook, Taking Sides: Energy and Society edited by Thomas Eatson to be published in December, 2008. Chapter 1 of the book, Zero Point Energy: The Fuel of the Future by Thomas Valone, will be included in the textbook, along with links to two lectures by the author. This event helps ensure that the student population will have an opportunity to learn about the most important energy plenum in the universe.
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I appreciate your permission to use your article in our Taking Sides book. I would like to get a copy of or link to the two lectures you mention below. I’ll review those with our academic editor for this Taking Sides book and consider providing them as ancillary material on the book’s website.
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7 ) America's Best Leaders: Amory Lovins, Energy Scientist
BOULDER, COLO.—Amory Lovins is leading a group of donors through the garagelike workshop of Hybrids Plus, a Boulder-based company he admires that converts Toyota Priuses and Ford Escapes into plug-in hybrids. A lively disagreement breaks out over the future of the automobile. One man, who identifies himself as an engineer, claims that making engines more efficient could have a bigger, quicker impact on oil use than all-electric vehicles. A second man disagrees, saying electric vehicles are the most promising option for reducing oil dependency.
The response is typical Lovins. For decades, he has been arguing—in journals, at conferences, to big-name CEOs and Pentagon officials, and, for that matter, to anyone who will listen—that the inefficient use of natural resources is one of the main culprits behind the country's energy problems. The best way to fix it, he believes, is to show people that they can make money by adopting energy-efficient technologies. In a characteristic argument, Lovins says that less than 10 percent of the energy in gasoline is actually used to propel a car forward. The rest gets lost somewhere in the process.
To many Americans, energy efficiency is still a somewhat hazy goal. Even the most green-conscious politicians prefer to talk about ways of harnessing new sources of energy—whether offshore oil or wind or solar—than about how to better use existing supplies. Among the media, "almost all of the consideration is to supply," not conservation, says Lovins.
Because of recent concerns about shrinking oil supplies and volatile energy prices, Lovins, 61, is attracting new praise. But his basic approach is an old one. Twenty-six years ago, he founded RMI, a nonpartisan consulting outfit that calls itself a "think and do tank"—one part idea factory, one part laboratory. Since then, Lovins and his staff, which has grown to nearly 100 people, have worked with more than 80 Fortune 500 companies, from Chevron to Texas Instruments, as well as state governments and the U.S. military. He also has written 29 books, including 2004's Winning the Oil Endgame.
"Global weirding." In person, Lovins has a dry, somewhat sarcastic sense of humor. He calls climate change "global weirding" and refers to roofs without solar panels as "obligatory stupid dark" surfaces. He speaks quickly, and his regular use of statistics in conversation attests to his training, years ago, as a physicist. His research at RMI, in fact, has yielded breakthroughs on everything from lightweight fiber composites (to improve fuel efficiency in cars and airplanes) to hybrid electric drive systems and led to four spinoff companies.
Though much of the debate over climate change and energy today is shrouded in partisan politics, Lovins prefers to think of himself as "transideological," choosing to work with people he believes have the potential to serve, along with their projects, as models for the rest of the country.
In 2006, for example, RMI partnered with Wal-Mart to boost the fuel efficiency of the retailer's truck fleet. "When Wal-Mart came to us," he says, "we had a lot of internal discussion, because they have big issues," notably the company's history of labor problems. "But we decided if we worked only with perfect companies, we wouldn't get anything done." The collaboration has proved fruitful. Wal-Mart is now working to retrofit its 6,800 trucks with designs developed by RMI that should allow its fleet to go from getting 6 miles a gallon to between 16 and 18 miles a gallon by 2015, saving about $500 million annually.
His supporters span the political spectrum. There are the usual environmentalists, of course, like ones overheard at a recent RMI conference comparing how many miles per gallon their Priuses get. But he also draws praise from business leaders and military officials concerned about profits and national security. At one talk in Denver, Lovins was joined by Democratic Mayor John Hickenlooper, a liberal alternative-energy advocate, and by former CIA Director James Woolsey, who advised John McCain's presidential campaign on energy.
Part of Lovins's appeal, supporters say, is his genuine interest in building consensus. In 2002, he was disheartened by Washington's conventional approach to energy policy, which he once likened to "a bunch of hogs at a trough, jostling to gobble their fill." So, he summoned to Colorado about two dozen disparate energy experts from the public and private sectors and told them to come up with a comprehensive energy plan based on their areas of agreement. Their blueprint, which focuses on increasing energy efficiency, has been endorsed by oil companies, top climate-change scientists, and many senior lawmakers—though Congress, as a whole, still remains stubbornly gridlocked.
Over the years, Lovins has accumulated a fair share of critics, particularly those who say that his heavy emphasis on energy efficiency is shortsighted, because energy savings from efficiency tend to be outpaced by increases in consumption. Lovins, however, prefers the perspective of Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter, who coined the phrase "creative destruction." Old innovations, he wrote, are "destroyed" by newer, more efficient ones, in a self-repeating process. Lovins clearly sees himself at the front of the latest creative wave.
8) Annual Fund-Raising Appeal for Integrity Research Institute
Thomas Valone, Integrity Research Institute, Nov. 30, 2008 http://partners.guidestar.org/controller/searchResults.gs?action_gsReport=1&partner=networkforgood&npoId=100035694
Integrity Research Institute (IRI) launches the Annual Fund-Raiser Appeal in order to boost funding for its three major programs. Donations can be earmarked for the Bioenergetics, Future Energy, or the Propulsion Program on the Guidestar.org donation website. You may also consider a membership in IRI as another way to support this essential work.
IRI is dedicated to researching scientific integrity in the emerging energy sciences, specifically in the program areas of energy, propulsion and bioenergetics. As the IRI Laboratory opened in 2008, the developments in these areas have moved forward dramatically, with several investors making on-site visits to discuss major funding options. The Electric Clothes Project is a highlight of the Bioenergetics Program, which also includes the Premier 3000 and the Premier Junior products. The Spiral Magnetic Motor Project and the Zero Bias Diode Project are the major projects in the Energy Program, while the Electrokinetic Impulse Project is the major project in the Propulsion Program, as reviewed in the journal article, Empirical Approach to Electrogravitics and Electrokinetics for Aviation and Space Travel (online pdf reprint) presented to the 2008 Joint Propulsion Conference in Hartford, CT.
The Bioenergetics Program is reviewed online and in a book published by Integrity Research Institute, entitled, Bioelectromagnetic Healing: A Rationale for Its Use.
The Future Energy Program is reviewed online and in a book published by Integrity Research Institute entitled, The Future of Energy: An Emerging Science by Thomas Valone.
The Propulsion Program is primariliy presented in the Electrogravitics and Electrokinetics Project as reviewed in the two books on the subject, Electrogravitics Systems, Volume I and Electrogravitics II, both edited by Thomas Valone.
You may also want to see the one hour TeslaTech conference ZPE lecture online video which is a popular introduction to the subject of "zero point energy" and how it can be used.
You might also be interested in the Omni Art Salon audio podcast interview on this subject under the title, "Zero point energy and more with Dr. Tom Valone"
The latest podcast interview was on Progressive Radio Network with Jim Turner in October, 2008 on the topic of "How to Control Inertia for Future Space Travel" http://media.podcastingmanager.com/7/6/7/1/4/148422-141767/Media/600136.turner102408.mp3
The most recent video interview is by Conscious Media Network http://www.consciousmedianetwork.com/members/tvalone.htm "Interview with Tom Valone on Alternative Energy".
There is also a text-only interview with David Houle which is posted on his futurist website under the title, "Leading Scientists and Thinkers on Energy -- Thomas F. Valone".
Please consider a donation of any amount online through the secure service provided by Guidestar.org to help IRI during the Annual Fund-Raiser Appeal. Thank you!
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