New photosynthesis machine is twice as efficient at creating hydrogen fuel

May 4, 2018 by  
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Researchers at the University of Michigan and McGill University in Montreal have created a device that uses sunlight to efficiently split fresh or salt water into hydrogen that may be used in fuel cells. The new machine, which mimics the process of photosynthesis , is capable of producing hydrogen fuel at twice the efficiency of previous technologies. Producing only water as an emission, hydrogen is the cleanest burning fuel. However, its production has historically not been environmentally friendly or energy efficient. This new device may change all that, paving the way to a cleaner energy future. “If we can directly store solar energy as a chemical fuel, like what nature does with photosynthesis, we could solve a fundamental challenge of renewable energy,” said lead researcher Zetian Mi . Unlike solar panels, which can only store energy if they are attached to a battery, the artificial photosynthesis device uses splits water to store solar energy as hydrogen fuel. Despite this fundamental difference from solar panels , the device is made from the same materials, such as silicon and gallium nitride, which is also found in LEDs. Related: Scientists create world’s first solar fuel reactor that works at night Small towers of gallium nitride generate an electric field to turn photons into free charges, which divide water into its two component elements, oxygen and hydrogen. In contrast with previous solar splitters, which had only reached 1 percent efficiency, Mi’s team managed to achieve a 3 percent solar-to-hydrogen efficiency. “Although the 3 percent efficiency might seem low, when put in the context of the 40 years of research on this process, it’s actually a big breakthrough,” Mi said. “Natural photosynthesis, depending how you calculate it, has an efficiency of about 0.6 percent.” The device, further developed, may even be able to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, potentially alleviating the impact of climate change . Via Futurity Images via Faqrul A. Chowdhury/McGill University

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New photosynthesis machine is twice as efficient at creating hydrogen fuel

Floating solar rig from Columbia University harvests hydrogen fuel from seawater

December 19, 2017 by  
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Engineers at Columbia University have created a “solar fuels rig,” which floats on the ocean, captures solar energy, then uses that energy to extract hydrogen from seawater. Hydrogen is a clean source of energy, though methods to extract it have often proven too costly or energy intensive to be viable. A typical hydrogen extraction system uses water electrolysis, in which H2 and O2 are separated by sending an electric current through water and divided by a membrane, which is usually very delicate. The new floating solar rig does not use a membrane, which makes it resilient enough to deploy on the open ocean . The lack of a membrane is an important design feature that facilitates a more effective extraction system. “Being able to safely demonstrate a device that can perform electrolysis without a membrane brings us another step closer to making seawater electrolysis possible,” said Jack Davis, co-author of a scientific paper on the device published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy . “These solar fuels generators are essentially artificial photosynthesis systems, doing the same thing that plants do with photosynthesis, so our device may open up all kinds of opportunities to generate clean, renewable energy .” Related: Affordable new device uses solar energy to produce hydrogen and electricity Rather than incorporate a membrane, the device uses an asymmetrical mesh structure in which electrodes, coated with a catalyst on one side, collect bubbles of either hydrogen or oxygen. Once the bubbles are large enough, they are pulled into separate collection chambers. Although the team has yet to test its design on actual seawater, they feel confident in the process. “We are especially excited about the potential of solar fuels technologies because of the tremendous amount of solar energy that is available,” said Daniel Esposito, lead researcher on the project. “Our challenge is to find scalable and economical technologies that convert sunlight into a useful form of energy that can also be stored for times when the sun is not shining.” Via New Atlas Images via Jack Davis/Columbia University, Justin Bui/Columbia University and Daniel Esposito/Columbia University

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Floating solar rig from Columbia University harvests hydrogen fuel from seawater

This Iowa home built across a ravine is heated and cooled by the earth

December 19, 2017 by  
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This naturally-ventilated residence spans a ravine in rural Iowa, providing expansive views of the surrounding forest . Architecture studio BNIM designed the Ravine Residence, which is geothermally cooled and heated, to connect its inhabitants to nature and provide optimum privacy using existing topography and vegetation. The house is tucked away in a heavily wooded area in rural Iowa that required a dramatic solution to address the ravine running down the middle of the site. The solution is a raised space the spans across the sloping elevation. The entrance and bedrooms are located on opposite banks, and the primary living areas serve as a bridge between the two sides. Related: Modern Corum Residence Rises Out of the Bucolic Iowa Countryside The clients commissioned BNIM to create a home which would offer privacy, but also offer a strong connection to the surrounding landscape. This requirement determined the articulation of the facades and volumes. Floor-to-ceiling glass on both the north and south sides of the living areas provides expansive views of the surrounding forest, creating a high level of transparency while utilizing the terrain and vegetation to shelter the interior spaces from outside views. The building has optimized solar orientation and shading, geothermal heating and cooling , enhanced natural ventilation , high performance windows, and advanced insulation techniques. + BNIM Via Dwell Photos by Kelly Callewaert | BNIM

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This Iowa home built across a ravine is heated and cooled by the earth

Affordable new device uses solar energy to produce hydrogen and electricity

November 27, 2017 by  
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Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have advanced the field of hydrogen power by creating a hybrid device that uses solar energy to produce hydrogen and electricity in a cost-effective manner. “People need fuel to run their vehicles and electricity to run their devices,” said Richard Kaner, lead author of the study and a UCLA distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “Now you can make both fuel and electricity with a single device.” The new invention is a significant step forward in the quest to harness the power of hydrogen as a fuel source, particularly in transportation. “Hydrogen is a great fuel for vehicles: It is the cleanest fuel known, it’s cheap and it puts no pollutants into the air — just water ,” said Kaner, “and this could dramatically lower the cost of hydrogen cars.” In addition to positive and negative electrodes typically found in battery systems, the UCLA device includes an electrode with the ability to either store electrical energy or use it as a catalyst for water electrolysis, the process by which hydrogen and oxygen atoms are split from a water compound. To increase the device’s efficiency, the researcher team maximized the surface area upon which water makes contact. This additional surface area then allows greater production of hydrogen as well as increased energy storage. Related: New nanomaterial pulls hydrogen from seawater to power fuel cells Although commercial production of hydrogen has often proven to be costly and carbon intensive , the usage of ever-cheaper and clean solar power could change the game. The materials used in the UCLA device to create hydrogen, such as nickel, iron, and cobalt, are also significantly cheaper and more abundant than precious metals like platinum typically used in the process. Finally, the device, powered by the sun, is designed to be accessible even in isolated areas, thus increasing the viability of hydrogen as a fuel source for vehicles on long trips. Although the current model can be held in the palm of one’s hand, the principles behind the device may be applied at a greater scale. Via New Atlas / UCLA Images via Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

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Affordable new device uses solar energy to produce hydrogen and electricity

Stunning multi-level bamboo home stands deep in the mountains of Bali

November 27, 2017 by  
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We’ve always loved IBUKU’s beautiful bamboo structures , but their latest project, the Ananda House, is simply stunning. The private home, located in Sibang Gede, Bali, is made up of three multi-level bamboo towers embedded into Bali’s lush green vegetation. The bamboo buildings are designed to exist in harmony with the heavily-forested landscape – and they protect the surrounding vegetation as much as possible. While constructing the homes’ many balconies, IBUKU cut holes into the roofs’ overhangs in order to make way for the surrounding trees to grow. Related: Explore This Incredible Green Village in Bali Made Entirely From Bamboo A winding stone path bordered by terraced gardens leads to the entrance of each structure. The pavilion to the right houses the family room, which is a large space with an open-air terrace. At the heart of the living area is the kitchen, complete with a curving countertop made from slabs of locally-sourced river stone . The bedrooms are perched over the living space and designed to take advantage of natural light and ventilation. Each room has an east-facing private balcony that provides incredible views over the valley. To the back of the main building is a grotto pool whose design mimics the natural landscape, creating a fun, indoor-outdoor space. The master bedroom is located at the highest point of the structure. It’s a stunningly romantic space with a lookout tower at the top. The sleeping area is located on the first level, and an attached outdoor bathroom , complete with a monolithic bathtub, looks out over the valley. + IBUKU Via Archdaily

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Stunning multi-level bamboo home stands deep in the mountains of Bali

Self-sufficient hydrogen boat embarks on 6-year journey around the world

July 17, 2017 by  
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The world watched in anticipation as the groundbreaking Solar Impulse 2 plane circumnavigated the globe last year. Now, the “Solar Impulse of the Seas” has set sail, aiming to demonstrate in a fresh way that clean energy can power our world. Dubbed Energy Observer , the solar- , wind- , and hydrogen -powered catamaran will sail to 50 countries over the course of six years. Solar panels line the top of the Energy Observer, and two vertical axis wind turbines harness the power of the wind, but those aren’t the only energy sources that make this vessel self-sufficient . The boat is able to generate hydrogen from seawater thanks to an electrolysis system. That hydrogen, stored in tanks, will help the Energy Observer glide through the waves emissions-free. The project was started by French offshore racer Victorien Erussard, accompanied by French explorer and filmmaker Jérôme Delafosse. Related: Energy Observer to sail around the world using only solar, wind, and hydrogen fuel The Energy Observer is equipped with technologies like electric motors, lithium-ion batteries , and a hydrogen fuel cell . It’s around 100 feet long and 42 feet wide, with solar panels covering 1,400 square feet atop the catamaran. Built in 1983, the Energy Observer has already had a long career as a racing boat, but was recently christened earlier this month by France’s environment minister Nicolas Hulot. Energy Observer left Paris this past weekend with mayor Anne Hidalgo aboard. Erussard said on the boat’s website, “There is not one miracle solution to combat climate change : there are solutions which we must learn to operate together. That’s what we are doing with Energy Observer: allowing nature’s energies, as well as those of our society, to collaborate.” And though the boat draws on different technologies than the Solar Impulse 2, it apparently has the approval of pilot Bertrand Piccard , who was present at the christening ceremony. He said, “Energy Observer, just like Solar Impulse, makes exploration work for a better quality of life. We need to lead people towards the future by showing them solutions instead of depressing them.” You can track where the Energy Observer is here and find out more here . + Energy Observer Via ScienceAlert Images via Energy Observer ( 1 , 2 )

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Self-sufficient hydrogen boat embarks on 6-year journey around the world

6 groundbreaking examples of tech innovations inspired by biomimicry

March 29, 2017 by  
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Da Vinci was definitely on to something when he observed birds and copied their forms to create his own wings for flight. Although biomimicry wasn’t ultimately successful in helping Da Vinci achieve flight , it has a solid track record for getting engineers, thinkers, and inventors to approach problems in design and technology by returning to nature and its processes. Here are six examples of how observing and imitating nature lead to designs that can improve issues in the modern world. Wind turbine with hummingbird wings Wind turbines typically incorporate a pinwheel shape, but a breakthrough design from Tyer Wind has cleverly tapped into the gravity-defying hovering abilities of hummingbirds . While it may look like these feather-light birds are furiously flapping their wings in a linear fashion, they actually use a figure eight configuration. The design for this new turbine uses wings instead of traditional rotating blades to turn energy from wind into green electricity through 3-D Aouinian Kinematics . Cactus water collector After observing certain cacti ’s ability to collect and store water particles from fog, students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago were inspired to create Dewpoint , a design with real-world applications beyond the desert. By recreating a cactus’s prong-like spines and attaching them to a panel that can absorb, collect, and efficiently save water, the team is beginning to explore water security possibilities for a world that is increasingly facing drought, desertification, and disappearing water sources. Stable and durable bridge Anyone who has ever watched a little leaf on a tree take hit after hit from wind or pelting rain (or perhaps a child with a stick) and still persist knows that surprising hidden strength can be found in many of Mother Nature’s designs. Wanda Lewis has been studying that idea for 25 years, looking specifically at how examining the ways that fragile elements in nature respond to external forces and stress can benefit the structure of a modern, man-made bridge . Lewis developed a mathematical model for bridge design that would take into consideration modern stressors such as traffic and extreme weather conditions. Lewis’s “form-finding” would enable the creation of bridges that are safer, more durable, and long-lasting  by using a previously elusive optimal arch. Related: Biomimicry keeps hope alive despite the new regime Light-sensitive robot caterpillar What may look like a tiny piece of wavy plastic (or perhaps a miniaturized piece of bacon) is actually a robot that can carry loads up to 10 times larger than itself . With caterpillars as inspiration, physics researchers in Poland created this 15 millimeter long critter which is crafted from light-sensitive Liquid Crystalline Elastomers. Mimicking the wave-like motions of a moving caterpillar, this soft robot can also go up a slope or squeeze into a small space. Watch this little robot move in a surprisingly meditative video. Artificial leaf Artificial photosynthesis has been around for over a century, but Caltech’s Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis has found a way to mimic the natural process and safely, effectively, and affordably produce and store energy using the sun . The group’s artificial leaf consists of two electrodes (one that generates hydrogen gas, the other that generates oxygen gas), as well as a plastic membrane that keeps the collected gases separate. The Caltech crew is working on scaling up the design, but their innovation shows promise for creating a system that uses only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to produce hydrogen fuels that can be utilized as needed. Avian-inspired train It’s a bird…it’s a train…it’s kind of both: a bullet train  whose design was partially inspired by features of an owl and a kingfisher . Engineer, general manager of the tech development department for Japan’s bullet trains , and avid bird-watcher Eiji Nakatsu wanted to make his trains both faster and quieter . He first employed his observations about the noise-dampening feather parts of an owl to reduce the sound effects of the trains as they whizzed through neighborhoods and tunnels. Later, he observed that the streamlined shape of the kingfisher’s bill could be used in a new train design to further reduce noise (including a persistent sonic boom effect) and decrease necessary fuel amounts, all while reducing travel time.

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6 groundbreaking examples of tech innovations inspired by biomimicry

Build your own tiny home or treehouse with these stackable wooden micro-units

March 29, 2017 by  
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If you’ve ever wanted to build your own tiny home or treehouse , this wild design might give you some ideas. These self-contained wooden living units can be stacked both vertically or horizontally to create the shelter of your dreams. Ofis Arhitekti teamed up with C+C, C28 and AKT and contractor Permiz to develop the basic unit to comfortably hold two people, and they’re presenting a vertical version, which is also available for purchase, at the 2017 Milan Design Week this April. The Living Unit has a timber frame structure reinforced with plywood boards on both sides. As a single unit, it can be fixed to the ground either by steel anchors or removable concrete cubes. Small and versatile, the structure can cater to different programmatic needs for two. They are easy to transport, and pretty much anyone can combine them in a variety of custom configurations. Related: 7 new micro-cabins in Colorado provide superior insulation in extreme weather The basic unit includes a double bed, wardrobe and a dining table, with the possibility of expanding it to include a small bathroom and kitchenette. Users can combine two or more cabins to create larger structures that can easily fit 4 to 6 people. The architects used natural and sustainable materials , offering flexibility in the choice of finishes, making sure to keep the design lightweight in order to facilitate ease of transportation. This allows the cabin to adapt to different locations, functions and climates. + Ofis Arhitekti

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Build your own tiny home or treehouse with these stackable wooden micro-units

Ingenious cardboard and bamboo emergency shelters by Shigeru Ban pop up in Sydney

March 29, 2017 by  
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Pritzker Prize -winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is widely known and respected for his 20 year career in designing groundbreaking buildings from cardboard, paper and other unexpected materials , as well as his humanitarian efforts in designing emergency shelters for natural disasters , such as the Nepal Earthquake and the tsunami which hit Southeast Asia . To celebrate the architect’s long dedication to humanitarian design, two of his signature disaster relief shelters have been erected in the Courtyard Garden of Sydney’s Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF). Although disaster housing design has advanced by leaps and bounds due to the burgeoning refugee crises, Ban has made a long career of building structures out of locally-sourced and recycled materials – including cardboard tubes, bamboo and recycled milk crates. The structures currently on display at the SCAF are two of his signature designs made of cardboard. The first was designed for the 1995 Kobe earthquake and is constructed from vertical rows of cardboard tubes. The second design, which was made after the 2016 Ecuador earthquake , also has a cardboard frame, but is clad in bamboo. Related: Shigeru Ban will reuse earthquake rubble to build Nepal relief shelters In addition to the two shelters on display in the courtyard, visitors can also see scales of the architect’s additional work on the interior. The exhibit includes some of Ban’s most well-known designs including the amazing Cardboard Cathedral built in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2013. Although Ban has a diverse architectural profile, affordable disaster shelters will always be what drives his inspiration: “Architects mostly work for privileged people, people who have money and power,” he explains. “Power and money are invisible, so people hire us to visualize their power and money by making monumental architecture. I love to make monuments, too, but I thought perhaps we can use our experience and knowledge more for the general public, even for those who have lost their houses in natural disasters.’” + Shigeru Ban Architects Photography by Brett Boardman, courtesy of the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation

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Ingenious cardboard and bamboo emergency shelters by Shigeru Ban pop up in Sydney

California defies Trump with tough emissions rules

March 29, 2017 by  
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California is shaping up to be the thorn in President Donald Trump’s side that Texas was during former President Barack Obama’s time in the White House — mounting legal challenges to Trump’s attacks on environmental regulations and strengthening the state’s own environmental rules. The latest volley came Friday when the California Air Resources Board finalized its rules for vehicle emissions through the year 2025. The standards for the years 2022-2025 would slash tailpipe emissions a third, from about 36 miles per gallon today to 54 mpg in 2025. The fight with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt over fuel efficiency standards isn’t just about California. Currently, Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia have all adopted California’s greenhouse gas regulations. Related: California introduces its own 100% renewable energy bill The board also reaffirmed a rule requiring automakers to accelerate the adoption of zero emission and low emission vehicles in California — fully electric, fuel cell and plug-in hybrid. The rule calls for more than a million zero emissions vehicles on the road by 2025, a significant increase from the about 250,000 clean cars traversing the state today. A Bloomberg editorial backing California over Trump on car emissions, while acknowledging a better way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to impose a carbon tax or at least a higher gas tax, says that tougher fuel-economy standards are the way to go: “Unless he’s willing to fight for a smarter policy, Trump should do the country a favor and leave the existing rules alone.” Via Autoblog Image 1 , 2 via Wikimedia

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California defies Trump with tough emissions rules

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