MIT researchers explore ancient firebrick technology to store energy

September 7, 2017 by  
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Firebricks – or bricks made with clay able to endure temperatures of 1,600 degrees Celsius – have been around for at least 3,000 years. Now Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are revisiting this ancient technology to potentially help us transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy . The researchers worked out a scheme where excess electricity , generated when the wind is blowing or sun is shining, could be converted into heat and stored in the firebricks for later use. The firebricks technology has existed since the time of the Hittites, according to MIT researchers, who want to draw on this old technology to help make carbon-free power sources competitive with fossil fuels. Right now, with solar and wind power , electricity prices can collapse to near zero when there’s high wind or solar output, making those clean energy installations unprofitable unless companies can store power. Related: Google wants to solve renewable energy storage with salt and antifreeze Their system, called Firebrick Resistance-heated Energy Storage, or FIRES, costs between one-tenth and one-fortieth as much as pumped hydroelectric systems or batteries . It works like this: electric resistance heaters convert that excess electricity to heat, which would be stored in a large mass of firebricks. If the firebricks are inside an insulated casing, they can store that heat for long periods of time. The heat could either be utilized for industrial processes or converted back to electricity later. Regis Matzie, retired Westinghouse Electric Chief Technical Officer, wasn’t involved with the research but told MIT the way electricity prices are determined in America yields to a “skewed electricity market [that] produces low or even negative prices when a significant fraction of electrical energy on the grid is provided by renewables.” He said FIRES could offer an innovative solution, but a demonstration would probably be needed to see if the method is indeed economical. The Electricity Journal published the MIT research online the end of August. The next step will be setting up full-scale prototypes in the real world, which lead author Charles Forsberg said could occur in 2020. He said they’re looking for the right customers – one example would be an ethanol refinery, since they use a lot of heat, located near a large wind farm . Via MIT News Images via U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Gary J. Rihn/Released and courtesy of the researchers

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MIT researchers explore ancient firebrick technology to store energy

Tips for sustainability-oriented entrepreneurs seeking capital

July 25, 2017 by  
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How do you balance “doing well” with “doing good” when it comes to raising money for startups? A new platform from MIT can help.

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Tips for sustainability-oriented entrepreneurs seeking capital

Will the power grid handle amped demand from EVs?

July 25, 2017 by  
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Pricing incentives can help match electric vehicle’s increasing electricity usage with power output.

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Will the power grid handle amped demand from EVs?

The next step in sustainable design: Bringing the weather indoors

July 25, 2017 by  
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New research points that building in harmony with nature improves employee health, attentiveness and productivity.

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The next step in sustainable design: Bringing the weather indoors

MIT researchers pioneer affordable way to turn waste heat into power

June 13, 2017 by  
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Steel and glass manufacturing generates large amounts of waste heat that’s not easy to capture – devices that do the job are either prohibitively expensive or don’t work in the requisite high temperatures. But a team of three Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have created a device that solves both issues at once. The high-temperature liquid thermoelectric device, which converts industrial waste heat into energy , could be a game-changer. Converting waste heat to electricity is often accomplished through solid-state thermoelectric devices, but at certain high temperatures they just don’t work, or are so expensive they can’t be used in much other than spaceships. In contrast, the MIT liquid thermoelectric device could pave the way for affordable conversion of waste heat into electricity. It includes a molten compound of tin and sulfur much cheaper than the solid-state bismuth telluride found in many commercial thermoelectric devices. That material is around 150 times more expensive than tin sulfide per cubic meter, according to MIT, and it only operates at temperatures of around 500 degrees Celsius. Related: Tiny thermophotovoltaic device harvests energy from infrared wavelengths The new MIT device, built by graduate student Youyang Zhao, operates at temperatures of 950 to 1,074 degrees Celsius. And as he changed the temperatures in which the device operated, he saw no significant performance drop. The researchers, however, don’t think most glass or steel plants would adopt the device simply to save the planet. But assistant professor of metallurgy Antoine Allanore, of whose research group Zhao is a part, said they might be interested if heat management could enable them to operate at even higher temperatures – allowing them to increase productivity or lengthen the lifespan of their equipment. According to MIT, thanks to the molten compounds in the new device, managing heat at high temperatures is now a possibility. The two scientists were joined by recent PhD graduate Charles Rinzler for a paper published by ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology . Via MIT News Images via Youyang Zhao and Denis Paiste/Materials Processing Center

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MIT researchers pioneer affordable way to turn waste heat into power

MIT’s breakthrough liquid 3D printer creates furniture in vats of goo like Westworld

May 15, 2017 by  
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Remember those 3D-printed humanoid figures that emerge from white, viscous ooze in HBO’s Westworld ? MIT is doing exactly that – with furniture. They call it Rapid Liquid Printing, and it takes digital manufacturing to a whole new level where printed objects can grow and change on their own. Rapid Liquid Printing forgoes the layered approach and instead injects 3D-printed substances into a vat of gel that provides support as the shape hardens. Essentially, you could print a large piece of furniture into the gel, let it set, and pull it out fully formed in a matter of minutes. Related: MIT’s self-assembling chair is really cool, but totally useless (for now) The process was created in collaboration with Steelcase and MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, and it can utilize stronger materials than traditional 3D-printing , which is often weak and limited. Although it is only being used in a limited way right now, imagine how it could change the future of 3D-printing. Could our very own Westworld be far behind? + MIT Self Assembly Lab Via Apartment Therapy Images via MIT

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MIT’s breakthrough liquid 3D printer creates furniture in vats of goo like Westworld

Amazing plastic bottle architecture withstands earthquakes in Taipei

May 15, 2017 by  
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Plastic bottle architecture is fantastic at turning a problem into an eco-friendly opportunity. The amazing EcoARK in Taipei , Taiwan is one such example. Built from 1.5 million recycled plastic bottles, this massive pavilion is surprisingly strong enough to withstand the forces of nature—including fires and earthquakes! Designed by architect Arthur Huang, the nine-story $3 million USD pavilion is powered by solar energy and was built to the mantra of “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” Constructed for use as an exhibition hall during the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo, the EcoARK pavilion continues to spread its message of sustainability for seven years strong. Though Taiwan is home to one of the world’s most respected recycling programs, the country consumes a whopping 4.5 million PET bottles a year. To spread awareness about plastic waste, the Far Eastern Group , one of the world’s largest producers of PET products, commissioned architect and Miniwiz founder Arthur Huang to design and build the eco-friendly EcoARK. As the world’s first building of its kind, EcoARK is an incredible architectural feat. The key to the EcoARK design lay with polli-bricks, a hollow building block made of recycled PET developed by Miniwiz. The polli-bricks were manufactured from over a million recycled plastic bottles melted down into PET pellets and re-engineered into a new bottle-like shape. The blow-molded polli-bricks feature interlocking grooves that fit tightly together like LEGOs and only require a small amount of silicon sealant. Once assembled into flat rectangular panels, the polli-bricks are coated with a fire- and water-resistant film. The EcoARK’s curved and transparent facade is made up of these modular panels screwed and mounted onto a structural steel frame. Although the EcoARK weighs half as much as conventional buildings, it’s resistant to earthquakes and typhoons, and can withstand sustained winds up of to 130 kilometers per hour. Related: Basurama transforms landfill trash into playgrounds in Taipei Use of recycled plastic bottles isn’t the only eco-friendly feature of the EcoARK. The pavilion was built with low-carbon building techniques to maintain a zero-carbon footprint during operation. The building stays cool without air conditioning thanks to natural ventilation. The air inside the polli-bricks also provides insulation from heat and rainwater is collected and reused to cool the building. The polli-bricks’ transparency allows natural light to illuminate the interior during the day. Solar – and wind-powered systems generate the electricity needed to power 40,000 LEDs that light the building up at night. + Miniwiz Images © Lucy Wang

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Amazing plastic bottle architecture withstands earthquakes in Taipei

MIT unveils new solar 3D printer that can build houses on other planets

April 27, 2017 by  
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Some people dismissed 3D-printing in its early days as a novelty, but these days the technology is coming into its own and researchers at MIT have just taken it to the next level. They’ve created a robot that can print the entire basic structure of a building. This is particularly exciting because it could change the way we construct buildings, making the process faster and less costly. Using the new technology, a builder could customize a structure to fit the desires and site requirements of any space. Along with allowing for a wider variety of materials and a variation in material density, it could mean that someday we can construct buildings that we wouldn’t be able to today using traditional methods. Related: A 10K tiny house 3D-printed in 24 hours The technology includes a vehicle with one large robotic arm with a second smaller, more precise arm at the end. The truck also has a scoop, so that the truck can help prepare the building area and pick up building materials on its own, meaning you could create rammed-earth walls using on-site materials with the same system that you use to print the structure. MIT says the system can be powered electrically with solar panels, which means it could be used in remote areas or even on other planets. MIT showed the technology off by building a 12-foot high, 50-foot wide dome out of foam-insulation framework. The entire structure was completed in just 14 hours. “The construction industry is still mostly doing things the way it has for hundreds of years,” said engineering graduate Steven Keating, who worked on the project. This robot is intended to move things into the future. + MIT

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MIT unveils new solar 3D printer that can build houses on other planets

MIT researchers unveil ultralight material 10 times stronger than steel

January 10, 2017 by  
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Researchers at MIT have found a way to make one of the world’s strongest materials even stronger . Graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon that gets its strength from a unique honeycomb structure, was made even more durable by compressing and fusing it into a 3D sponge-like configuration. The ultralight material has a density of just five percent, but could be as much as 10 times stronger than steel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIcZdc42F0g A two-dimensional sheet of graphene measures one atom in thickness but is known as one of the strongest materials in the world. Using a combination of heat and pressure, a team of MIT researchers led by Markus Buehler, head of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), was able to produce an even stronger version which resembles the form of some corals and microscopic creatures called diatoms, both of which have enormous surface area by volume but are lightweight due to their porous structure. Similarly, the 3D form of graphene has shown to be even stronger than its two-dimensional form. Related: New graphene super batteries charge up in seconds and last virtually forever “Once we created these 3D structures, we wanted to see what’s the limit—what’s the strongest possible material we can produce,” said Zhao Qin, a CEE research scientist and one of the study’s co-authors. “One of our samples has five percent the density of steel, but 10 times the strength.” The potential applications for graphene are nearly endless. The super-strong, lightweight material can be used in ultra-fast charging supercapacitors to create batteries that last essentially forever, can improve the energy efficiency of desalination processes , and can even help solar panels convert more energy into usable electricity. Graphene is very expensive, though, so researchers are continuing to work on ways to enhance its value by bolstering its strength. The research results were published this week in the journal Science Advances. Via MIT Images via Melanie Gonick/MIT and Zhao Qin

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MIT researchers unveil ultralight material 10 times stronger than steel

Scientists figured out how to make water freeze at boiling temperatures

November 30, 2016 by  
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When water, in its liquid form, is confined within carbon nanotubes, it takes on some amazing new properties. Researchers at MIT have discovered that water trapped inside carbon nanotubes can actually freeze at the high temperatures that would normally bring it to a rolling boil . Previous research has long shown that the boiling and freezing points of water change when it is confined to small spaces, but those temperature variations usually hover around 10C. The introduction of carbon nanotubes has changed the game significantly. Carbon nanotubes are tube-like structures with a diameter measured in nanometers, which are equal to one-billionth of a meter or about 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. The carbon nanotubes used during the MIT experiments were just slightly larger in diameter than the width of a few water molecules. Because water confined within the carbon nanotubes can take on a solid frozen state at a much higher temperature than in other vessels, the discovery could lead to inventions such as ice-filled wires, which could exist at room temperature. Related: MIT uses carbon nanotubes to boost lithium battery power 10x In order to better understand how water molecules behave when trapped in such small spaces, the research team used carbon nanotubes of different diameters, noting that even a tiny fraction of difference in size translated into different phase change temperature points. Nanotubes ranging from 1.05 nanometers to 1.06 nanometers resulted in a difference of tens of degrees around the apparent freezing point, something that surprised the research team. Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor in Chemical Engineering at MIT, is one of five contributing authors on the research . “If you confine a fluid to a nanocavity, you can actually distort its phase behavior,” he said. “The effect is much greater than anyone had anticipated.” The research was recently published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Via New Atlas Images via Cloudzilla/Flickr and MIT

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