Energy

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory are employing some modern day alchemy in an effort to find a material with properties of rare and high-priced palladium. If they’re successful, it could remove a major roadblock from the path of hydrogen fuel-cell powered vehicles.

Hydrogen fuel-cell technology sounds almost too good to be true. You combine cheap and plentiful hydrogen and oxygen gas, the fuel cell generates electricity and the by-product is simply water. But it’s a little more involved.

In the debate over alternative energy resources, geothermal technology has received scant media attention. Advocates call it one of the cleanest, sustainable energy resources available. However, steep construction, equipment and drilling costs have prevented more widespread development of geothermal technology. An Ohio University hydrothermal systems expert is working to change that.


Geothermal power plants harness energy created by heat at the Earth's core. Credit: Dina Lopez/Ohio University

Plants can do it: they simply grab carbon dioxide out of the air and covert it into biomass. In this process, known as photosynthesis, the plants use light as their energy source. Chemists would also like to be able to use CO2 as a carbon source for their synthetic reactions, but it doesn’t work just like that. A team headed by Markus Antonietti at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces has now taken an important step toward this goal. As described in the journal Angewandte Chemie, they have successfully activated CO 2 for use in a chemical reaction by using a special new type of metal-free catalyst: graphitic carbon nitride.

Drilling is complete on an Alaskan North Slope well, cofunded by the Department of Energy, that could prove to be an important milestone in assessing America's largest potential fossil energy resource: gas hydrate.

Gas hydrate is an ice-like solid that results from the trapping of methane molecules - the main component of natural gas - within a lattice-like cage of water molecules. Dubbed the "ice that burns," this substance releases gaseous methane when it melts.

The size of the global gas hydrate resource is staggering, holding more ultimate energy potential than all other fossil fuels combined, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

A Georgia Tech physics group has discovered how and why the electrical conductance of metal nanowires changes as their length varies. In a collaborative investigation performed by an experimental team and a theoretical physics team, the group discovered that measured fluctuations in the smallest nanowires’ conductance are caused by a pair of atoms, known as a dimer, shuttling back and forth between the bulk electrical leads. Determining the structural properties of nanowires is a big challenge facing the future construction of nanodevices and nanotechnology. The paper appears in the January 26th issue of Physical Review Letters.


Colorized scanning electron micrograph of the device showing the two electrical leads.