Monday, March 26, 2012

Nuclear power plants can produce hydrogen to fuel the 'hydrogen economy'


The long-sought technology for enabling the fabled "hydrogen economy" — an era based on hydrogen fuel that replaces gasoline, diesel and other fossil fuels, easing concerns about foreign oil and air pollution — has been available for decades and could begin commercial production of hydrogen in this decade, a scientist reported here today.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Small clique of nations found to dominate global trading web of food, water


It's not easy, or economically feasible, to ship freshwater across the globe. But when scientists use food as a proxy for that water - taking into account how much crops are irrigated and livestock are fed - they can get a glimpse of the flow of freshwater between countries. When one research group studied this "virtual water network," they found that the interconnectedness between countries has almost doubled over the last two decades - potentially lending some resiliency to the water trade. Still, a handful of nations control a majority of the freshwater flow, and some regions, including much of Africa, are left out of the trading loop.


Monday, March 12, 2012

New Material Can Scrub Carbon Dioxide Right Out of the Air at Unprecedented Rates


Smokestacks Salim Virji via Flickr

If cleaning carbon dioxide from the atmosphere was easy, we'd already be doing it. But carbon capture has proven to be a tough technology to feasibly roll out on a grand scale, and that means all the things we do that produce carbon dioxide emissions--which seems to be just about everything these days--are still roughly as bad for the planet as they were several years ago. That's a problem in a warming world, and one that a team of researchers may have just found a solution for via an inexpensive polymeric material.

Reporting their findings in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the team (which includes a Nobel laureate in chemistry) descirbes a new solid material based on polyethylenimine that can be used to capture carbon dioxide at the source--be that an industrial smokestack or a car's exhaust pipe--under real-world conditions where the air contains moisture.

That last part is important. Previous methods of scrubbing CO2 from the air have enjoyed varying degrees of success (usually under controlled conditions), but none has been particularly effective in the presence of humidity. The new material, which is inexpensive and readily available, has shown some of the highest carbon dioxide removal rates of any material ever tested in the presence of humidity.

It's also reusable. After capturing carbon, the material also gives it up easily so it can be sequestered or recycled through the manufacture of other substances. The polyethylenimine material can then also be reused over and over again to capture more carbon dioxide. Used to line smokestacks or even out in the open atmosphere, the material could blunt the impact of all of those things we humans do that are contributing to the carbon glut in the atmosphere.

[Science Daily]


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bright is the new black: New York roofs go cool


On the hottest day of the New York City summer in 2011, a white roof covering was measured at 42 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the traditional black roof it was being compared to, according to a study including NASA scientists that details the first scientific results from the city's unprecedented effort to brighten rooftops and reduce its "urban heat island" effect.


New Microbial Fuel Cells Could Turn Sewage Plants Into Power Plants [Monster Machines]


New Microbial Fuel Cells Could Turn Sewage Plants Into Power PlantsMicrobial fuel cells are notoriously inefficient. Electrodialysis systems are notoriously expensive. However if you combine the two and add some poo, they can turn waste water into a viable power source. The future of green energy is brown.

A research team at Penn State announced a proof of concept device that can generate 0.9 kilowatt-hours of electricity per kilogram of organic waste. The device combines a microbial fuel cell (MFC) with a reverse electrodialysis system—which separates ions in a series of membranes. On their own, MFC's can only generate a relatively weak current, while the electrodialysis system's multiple membranes are expensive. But by combining them, "we overcame the limitations of the fuel cell and synergistically generated energy for the reverse electrodialysis system," said Professor Bruce Logan or Penn State.

In addition, the MFC's in the proof of concept also act as a final cleaning stage in the waste water treatment process. Treatment plants that consume, on average, 1.2kWh per kilogram of waste, can actually produce a positive amount of current while continuing to perform their conventional function. "We certainly could take care of the whole water system: the treating and pumping of water, which currently requires substantial amounts of power," said Logan. "We also treated the organic matter much faster."

The secret, says Logan, lies in the fuel source for the reverse electrodialysis—ammonium bicarbonate. This compound reportedly is much more efficient than the saltwater normally employed. Between the ammonium bicarbonate and the addtiion of the MFC's, the team was able to reduce the number of reverse electrodialysis membranes from 20 pairs to five.

The system is still in prototyping and is currently being tweaked to maximize power generation. Logan hopes to eventually use the devices to help the, "Two billion people in the world who need sanitation, including one billion who need access to clean water." [Inhabitat - Guardian - Science]

Image: the AP


This Enormous Mass Of Floating Antarctic Algae Can Be Seen From Space


Algae Bloom Antarctica

An enormous algae bloom off the coast of Antarctica is so huge and colorful that it can easily be seen from space.

A stunning photo of the monster algae bloom was released March 4 by the Australian Antarctic Division.

The bloom hugs the coast of eastern Antarctica and has been present since mid-February. Marine glaciologist Jan Lieser of the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center (ACE) in Australia said in a statement that the event is remarkable.

"We know that algal blooms are a natural occurrence down south —it's just a part of the Southern Ocean," Lieser told Australian website The Conversation. "But I've never seen one on this scale before. It's been going on for about 15 days now, so it's maybe about two-thirds or three-fourths of the way through the cycle.”

The bloom stretches about 124 miles (200 kilometers) east to west and 62 miles (100 km) north to south. The image of this gigantic bloom was taken by the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) instrument aboard NASA's Earth-orbiting Terra satellite; together with the Aqua satellite, Terra views Earth's entire surface every one to two days, acquiring data in several wavelengths of light.

On Feb. 27, MODIS spotted another Antarctic phytoplankton bloom, this one off the coast of the Princess Astrid Coast.

Algae blooms like these are triggered when a combination of sunlight and nutrients create fertile conditions. In the Southern Ocean, iron is the limiting nutrient, according to ACE. When iron concentrations are high enough, algae blooms follow.

This particular bloom is thought to be made up of phaeocystis, a single-celled algae well-known in polar areas. Algae also live on land in the Antarctic, sometimes in concentrations high enough to color snow banks red, green and orange. Australian research vessel Aurora Australis is venturing near the Antarctic bloom so scientists can collect samples of the algae.

Algae is the base of the ocean food chain, and in the Southern Ocean, as is the case elsewhere, they take up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as they photosynthesize and grow. But massive blooms occasionally cause trouble. Some species of algae produce neurotoxins that are deadly. Humans who eat shellfish that have fed on Alexandrium catanella, the algae responsible for "red tides," can die of paralytic shellfish poisoning.

Some researchers even suspect that algae poisoning contributed to all five of Earth's great mass extinctions, which killed off between half and 90 percent of all animal species when they occurred. According to this controversial theory, there were increased levels of algae in at least four of the five mass extinctions in Earth's history. A cataclysmic event such as a volcanic eruption or asteroid impact could have stressed the algae, causing them to release more toxins and further harm the ecosystem. 

You can follow LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Scientists Create 230-Percent Efficient LED Bulbs [Lighting]


Scientists Create 230-Percent Efficient LED BulbsLight bulbs have always required more electricity than they need to produce light because the energy conversion process—changing electricity to light—was inefficient. But an MIT research team has just shown that an LED can actually give off more light than what it consumes in electricity.

Incandescent bulbs are the poster child of inefficient energy conversion. The devices heated a filament with an electrical current which not only produced light, but a lot of waste heat as well. Fluorescent bulbs, CFL's, and even conventional LED's all generate the same waste heat to varying (albeit much smaller) degrees but none has ever reached 100-percent efficiency—a mark known as "unity efficiency."

The team from MIT posited that while the bulbs energy requirements decrease at an exponential rate (halving the voltage reduces the input power by a factor of four), the lumen output would decrease linearly (halve the voltage and the lumens drop by half as well). This means that at some point, the amount of lumens the bulb is emitting would be more than the amount of energy spent—essentially "free" light.

Granted, this point occurs only when using minuscule amounts of electricity to power incredibly dim bulbs. In their experiments, the team was able to generate 69 picowatts of light from just 30 picowatts of energy. They did so by harnessing waste heat, which is caused by vibrations in the bulb's atomic lattice, to compensate for the losses in electrical power. The device also reacts to ambient heat in the room to increase its efficiency and power the bulb.

This process cools the bulb slightly and could eventually be employed to manufacture "cold" bulbs that don't generate any heat, only light. And, since the same physical mechanism from these tiny bulbs can be applied to any LED, they likely will be. [Physics via Physorg]

Image: Kristina Postnikova / Shutterstock


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Giant Airbags Could Protect Japanese Houses from Earthquakes [Video]


Giant Airbags Could Protect Japanese Houses from EarthquakesAs Japan continues to rebuild after last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami, one company has developed an ingenious new method to protect homes from the shaking—let them ride it out on a cushion of air.

The method, developed by Air Danshin Systems Inc., the method is radically different than conventionally employed dampers and band isolation systems. When the quake strikes, it activates a sensor on the property. This sensor then activates a large air compressor that forces air into a bag situated in the home's foundation. As pressure builds, the home will levitate 3cm and gently ride out the shaking, safe from the tremors below. Homeowners can also steady the home as it floats by using an indoor air valve. As the shaking subsides, the house settles back upon its foundation.

The system is currently being installed in 88 homes across Japan. The system is also being considered for larger structures and more important structures—including government buildings, office high-rises, and life-size Gundam statues. [Air Danshin via Inhabitat]

Giant Airbags Could Protect Japanese Houses from Earthquakes