Energy


BedZED in Hackbridge, London. Credit: Tom Chance, CC BY-SA

By Melissa C. Lott, University College London

The primary goal of home energy efficiency initiatives might be to reduce total energy consumption, but these projects could have a negative impact on public health if we do not take care.

There is nothing inherently superior about natural gas from hydraulic fracturing - fracking - it has the same emissions as regular natural gas. But it is a lot lower than coal and does not have the political baggage of nuclear energy and that is why environmentalists lobbied for it over the last 40 years.

We live in a battery world - just visit any airport and see people huddled around a wall outlet to witness our battery culture. Yet batteries haven't made any real improvements in decades and that holds back electric cars and solar energy and laptop computers.

An old technology may finally have come of age that can help us enter the world of 21st century portable electricity - betavoltaics, a battery technology that generates power from radiation, has bee created using a water-based solution, and it might be the longer-lasting and more efficient nuclear battery we need.

"Nobody understands the cloud," shouts a character in a recent comedy about a couple trying to remove a private video from the Internet. 

In reality, the cloud is completely understandable, and it's one of few areas in climate where the emissions costs are also. And because it is quantifiable it can benefit from combinatorial optimization. the famous rucksack problem where a traveler has to try and fit everything in without leaving anything behind.

A strange thing happened during climate change policy debates: Advances in hydraulic fracturing - fracking - put trillions of dollars' worth of previously unreachable oil and natural gas within humanity's grasp, and using it led to reductions in CO2 in the United States.


There are numerous methods for maintaining electricity supply when renewables are in the grid. Credit: Johan Douma/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

By Anthony Vassallo, University of Sydney

The recent review of the Australian Renewable Energy Target has once again raised the issue of the “unreliability” of some renewable power sources such as wind and solar power.


Image credit:  FeeBeeDee via flickr http://bit.ly/1tyHJdD. Rights information: http://bit.ly/cGotEb. By: Laurel Hamers, Inside Science

(Inside Science) -- Today, ethanol is routinely made from the kernels of corn. Eventually, though, it may be made from the husks.

Starches like corn provide quick energy because they readily break down into simple sugars such as glucose. This structure also makes them easy to convert into bioethanol, an alternative to fossil fuels.

By Karin Heineman, Inside Science 

(Inside Science TV) – From powering homes, to cars to phones, people across the world use vast amounts of energy. And that consumption is only growing.

As energy needs increase, scientists are constantly on the hunt for new ways to meet the demand. A group of mechanical engineers may have found a new source: the ocean.

“Wave energy has the potential in the U.S. to power 50 million homes," said Marcus Lehmann, a mechanical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley.

So, Lehmann and his team at UC Berkeley have created a device that can capture the power of ocean waves.

Solar cells are the future but for now they are resource-intensive, expensive and not very efficient - but the researchers in a new study can help with those first two. To make a solar cell, machines etch nanoscale spikes into a silicon wafer in order to maximize its surface area and the amount of sunlight that can reach it.

Metal particles have been used as a catalyst in this process because etching is accelerated near metal particles. At first, gold was the metal of choice but that was never going to work in mass production so scientists found a way to switch to silver particles - much cheaper at around $20 per troy ounce but still not cost-effective enough for mass use, even in small amounts, when it comes to even a small, but typical for solar, 100MW facility.
Conventional photovoltaic technology uses large, heavy, opaque, dark silicon panels while  organic photovoltaic technology enables more translucent and more flexible solar panels in a range of colors to be manufactured.

But even silicon solar panels are not viable yet so for something to replace those, it will have to have greater efficiency, longer duration and low production cost - or at least some combination of those. Legacy solar panels have not improved in decades and policy makers are jaded by claims of how much money this will save.