Energy

Increased competition and the global economic crisis have cast clouds upon the Western European solar energy market. Falling polysilicon and solar module prices have the potential to cement China's role as a solar manufacturing hub.

Scientists in California are reporting use of a first-of-its-kind approach to craft genetically engineered microbes with the much-sought ability to transform switchgrass, corn cobs, and other organic materials into methyl halides — the raw material for making gasoline and a host of other commercially important products.

The new bioprocess could help pave the way for producing biofuels from agricultural waste, easing concerns about stress on the global food supply from using corn and other food crops. Their study is scheduled for the May 20 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society
Rising shale gas production in the United States and Canada as well as potential natural gas supplies from Iraq could be pivotal in curbing Russia's ability to organize an "energy weapon" against European consumers, according to a new study released today by Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. 

The study, "Russia and the Caspian Basin in the World Energy Balance," examines Russia's evolving energy relations with its Caspian neighbors, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the West and considers potential scenarios for Russian and Caspian oil and natural gas strategies.
Biofuels such as ethanol offer an alternative to petroleum for powering our cars, but growing energy crops to produce them can compete with food crops for farmland, and clearing forests to expand farmland will aggravate the climate change problem. How can we maximize our "miles per acre" from biomass? Researchers writing in Science magazine say the best bet is to convert the biomass to electricity, rather than ethanol. They calculate that, compared to ethanol used for internal combustion engines, bioelectricity used for battery-powered vehicles would deliver an average of 80% more miles of transportation per acre of crops, while also providing double the greenhouse gas offsets to mitigate climate change.
An international team of scientists has determined the structure of the chlorophyll molecules in green bacteria that are responsible for harvesting light energy. The team's results one day could be used to build artificial photosynthetic systems, such as those that convert solar energy to electrical energy.
A research team from Northeastern University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has discovered that a residue of a process used to build arrays of titania nanotubes (that wasn’t even previously noticed), plays an important role in improving the performance of the nanotubes in solar cells that produce hydrogen gas from water. Their results indicate that by controlling the deposition of potassium on the surface of the nanotubes, engineers can achieve significant energy savings in a promising new alternate energy system.
Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have discovered a potential chink in the armor of fibers that make the cell walls of certain inedible plant materials so tough. The insight ultimately could lead to a cost-effective and energy-efficient strategy for turning biomass into alternative fuels.

In separate papers published today in Biophysical Journal and recently in an issue of Biomacromolecules, Los Alamos researchers identify potential weaknesses among sheets of cellulose molecules comprising lignocellulosic biomass, the inedible fibrous material derived from plant cell walls. The material is a potentially abundant source of sugar that can be used to brew batches of methanol or butanol, which show potential as biofuels.

Engineers at Oregon State University say they have discovered a way to use ancient life forms, diatoms, to create one of the newest technologies for solar energy - systems that may be surprisingly simple to build compared to existing silicon-based solar cells.

Diatoms are tiny, single-celled marine life forms have existed for at least 100 million years and are the basis for much of the life in the oceans, but they also have rigid shells that can be used to create order in a natural way at the extraordinarily small level of nanotechnology.   They are also a key part of the marine food chain and help cycle carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

Chemists reported development of what they termed the first economical, eco-friendly process to convert algae oil into biodiesel fuel — a discovery they predict could one day lead to U.S. independence from petroleum as a fuel.

One of the problems with current methods for producing biodiesel from algae oil is the processing cost, and the New York researchers say their innovative process is at least 40 percent cheaper than that of others now being used. Supply will not be a problem: There is a limitless amount of algae growing in oceans, lakes, and rivers, throughout the world.

Another benefit from the "continuously flowing fixed-bed" method to create algae biodiesel, they add, is that there is no wastewater produced to cause pollution. 
You may soon be able to say goodbye to batteries for your Blackberry or cell phone.  Instead, they will get power from just a wave of your hand.

In research presented at the ACS meeting in Salt Lake City, scientists describe technology that converts mechanical energy from body movements or even the flow of blood in the body into electric energy that can be used to power a broad range of electronic devices without using batteries.