New stacked solar cell absorbs energy from almost the entire solar spectrum

July 13, 2017 by  
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Most traditional solar cells aren’t able to convert long-wavelength photons into electricity . A team of researchers led by Matthew Lumb at The George Washington University is hoping to change that in order to capture more power. They’ve designed a solar cell that can harvest just about all of the energy in the solar spectrum – and could become the world’s most efficient solar cell with an efficiency of 44.5 percent. The scientists created a prototype of their solar cell that differs from most others: they stacked multiple solar cells to create a single device that can capture nearly all the solar spectrum’s energy. And as opposed to the solar panels that adorn many rooftops , this new solar cell utilizes concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) panels that concentrate sunlight onto micro-scale cells using lenses. Related: SunPower nabs record for world’s most efficient rooftop solar panel The cell works something like a sieve for sunlight, as each layer absorbs a certain set of wavelengths, to capture nearly half of available energy – most traditional cells only capture around one quarter. Efficiency is one of the main goals of any researcher working on solar cells, and these scientists obtained what could be the highest efficiency in the world using materials based on gallium antimonide (GaSb) substrates. A technique called transfer-printing allows the tiny cells to be constructed with great precision. But this groundbreaking solar cell wasn’t cheap. Still, though the materials utilized were expensive, the scientists think the technique to build the cells is promising to show how efficient a solar cell could be. In the future they think a similar product could hit markets “enabled by cost reductions from very high solar concentration levels and technology to recycle the expensive growth susbtrates.” The journal Advanced Energy Materials published the research this week. 12 scientists from the United States Naval Research Laboratory and other American institutions collaborated with Lumb on the paper. Via Newswise Images via Matthew Lumb and Pixabay

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New stacked solar cell absorbs energy from almost the entire solar spectrum

Hyperloop One conducts first full-scale test of superfast transportation system

July 12, 2017 by  
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Before long, passengers will be able to travel at airline speeds for the price of a bus ticket to destinations around the world. How so? By boarding the Hyperloop One, which uses magnetic levitation technology to transport objects in a vacuum. The concept, which was first proposed by Elon Musk in 2013, is finally becoming a reality – today Hyperloop One announced that it has completed its first full-scale test. The company’s hyperloop vehicle reached 70 mph while pulling 2Gs on the test track. The Verge reports that the aerodynamic pod is 28 feet long and is made of structural aluminum and carbon fiber. It relies on electromagnetic propulsion and mag-lev technology to carry both human and cargo passengers at near supersonic speeds. The company wrote on its website , “The world is ready for a new mode of transportation that will change the way we live. We’re in the business of selling time, the most precious resource there is.” After Hyperloop One’s first full system test, co-founder Shervin Pishevar and chief engineer Josh Giegel appeared on CBS This Morning. A video of the low-speed test was also released to the public (above). Pishever described the test as the company’s “Kitty Hawk Moment” and said it is their “first in flight ” milestone. Related: Hyperloop One exhibits exciting first images of full-scale test track Hyperloop One is now entering its next phase of testing with a goal of reaching 250 mph. Eventually, it hopes to reach speeds up to 750 mph. The founders wrote, “We’re developing routes in five countries . The goal is to be moving cargo by 2020 and passengers by 2021.” + Hyperloop One Via Verge Images via Hyperloop One

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Make calls with light or radio signals thanks to first battery-free cellphone

July 6, 2017 by  
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Imagine never having to charge your smartphone ever again. We may be one step closer to that battery-free future with new research from University of Washington engineers. They made a phone capable of calling people drawing on light or ambient radio signals. Associate professor Shyam Gollakota said they think it could be the “first functioning cellphone that consumes almost zero power .” No, it’s not magic – the University of Washington’s battery-free cellphone can function on just a few microwatts of power it harvests from RF signals coming from a base station around 31 feet away, or from light via a minute solar cell that’s about the size of a grain of rice. The team constructed their prototype from off-the-shelf components and have already used it to make Skype calls. Related: MIT’s New Battery-Free Chip Captures Energy From Light, Heat, And Vibrations at the Same Time The cellphone prototype is able to run on such low power in part because the team got rid of the step to convert analog signals into digital data – a process that sucks up a lot of power in modern cellphones. Their battery-free phone can make use of small vibrations from the speaker or microphone that come when a person is talking or listening while making a call. According to a university press release, “An antenna connected to those components converts that motion into changes in standard analog radio signal emitted by a cellular base station. This process essentially encodes speech patterns in reflected radio signals in a way that uses almost no power.” The team designed their own base station to receive and transmit radio signals. But that technology could be embedded in cell towers or even Wi-Fi routers in the future. Research associate Vamsi Talla said if every home has a Wi-Fi router – as many already do – “you could get battery-free cellphone coverage everywhere.” The research was recently published in the Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable, and Ubiquitous Technologies . The team plans to keep working on the technology to increase the operating range and encrypt conversations. They also aim to stream video on battery-free cellphones. + Battery Free Phone Via the University of Washington Images via Mark Stone/University of Washington

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Make calls with light or radio signals thanks to first battery-free cellphone

Pollution cuts solar energy production by up to 35%

June 29, 2017 by  
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We may be sabotaging our efforts to generate clean energy . New research from a team led by Duke University found polluted air may be reducing our solar energy output – by 25 percent. And areas with some of the highest investment in solar power are those impacted the most: China , the Arabian Peninsula, and India . Dust and airborne particles may be harming our ability to generate as much solar energy as we can. Duke University engineering professor Michael Bergin said, “My colleagues in India were showing off some of their rooftop solar installations, and I was blown away by how dirty the panels were. I thought the dirt had to affect their efficiencies, but there weren’t any studies out there estimating the losses. So we put together a comprehensive model to do just that.” Related: Students Create Award-Winning Robot That Cleans Solar Panels Joined by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar (IITGN) and the University of Wisconsin at Madison , Duke University scientists found pollution accumulation is indeed impacting solar energy output. They measured the decrease in energy from IITGN’s solar panels as they got dirtier. Each time the panels were cleaned after several weeks, the researchers noted a 50 percent boost in efficiency. China, India, and the Arabian Peninsula are the areas of the world impacted the most. Even if their panels are cleaned monthly, they still could be losing 17 to 25 percent of solar energy production. And if the cleanings happen every two months, the losses are 25 or 35 percent. Reduced output costs countries not just in electricity but money as well. Bergin said China could lose tens of billions of dollars yearly, “with more than 80 percent of that coming from losses due to pollution.” He pointed out we’ve known air pollution is bad for health and climate change , but now we know it’s bad for solar energy as well – all the more reason for politicians to adopt emissions controls. The research was published online this month by the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters . Via Duke University Images via Duke Engineering on Twitter and Pexels

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Pollution cuts solar energy production by up to 35%

ThyssenKrupp unveils world’s first cable-free, horizontal-vertical elevator

June 28, 2017 by  
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The elevator was invented over 160 years ago, and engineering firm ThyssenKrupp evidently thinks it’s time to shake things up a bit. They’ve designed the MULTI : a rope-less horizontal-vertical system that’s drawn comparisons to Willy Wonka’s crazy sideways-moving elevator. And now they’ve brought their designs from paper into the real world at an 807-foot-high test tower in Rottweil, Germany . ThyssenKrupp’s technology allows multiple elevator cabins to run in a loop – “like a metro system inside a building,” according to the firm. And no cables or ropes are necessary; the cars move due to a magnet -based drive system as might be found in Maglev trains. The test tower boasts 12 test shafts, with cars that can travel as rapidly as 59 feet per second. Related: This Italian elevator transports passengers vertically and horizontally The MULTI system has numerous benefits over the traditional elevator. ThyssenKrupp Elevator AG CEO Andreas Schierenbeck said in a statement, “We believe MULTI is a genuine game-changer that will truly transform the way people move, work, and live in our built environment. It will reduce waiting times for passengers and take up significantly less space within the building.” Add to that a reduced carbon footprint – the system uses as much as 60 percent less peak energy than traditional elevators. ThyssenKrupp said their system has no height limitations, and as it can move sideways and vertically it opens up new architectural possibilities. This is crucial because as more people move to the world’s cities , the design of high-rise buildings will make an impact on a city’s carbon emissions . These benefits aren’t without their costs. The new system is reportedly almost five times more expensive than conventional elevators, so adoption of the new design could take a while. But ThyssenKrupp already has its first customer: OVG Real Estate . The MULTI system will be installed in Berlin in their East Side Tower, which could be finished in 2019. + ThyssenKrupp MULTI Via ThyssenKrupp and New Atlas Images via ThyssenKrupp ( 1 , 2 )

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Eviation Aircraft unveils all-electric aircraft with 600-mile range

June 23, 2017 by  
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Though flying via airplane is a fast and fun way to travel, it is one of the least environmentally-friendly methods to do so. That may soon change, however, as Eviation Aircraft (a member of NASA’s on-demand mobility program) recently unveiled the first prototype of an all-electric aircraft that has a range of up to 600 miles (965 km). Presented at the 52nd International Paris Air Show, the prototype could be ready to move into certification and commercialization as soon as next year. “At a time when we are more connected than ever, our mobility options must adapt to reflect this new, efficient future,” said Omer Bar-Yohay, CEO of Eviation Aircraft, in a statement. “Whether it is zero emissions , low-cost trip from Silicon Valley to San Diego, or Seoul to Beijing, our all-electric aircraft represents a chance for people to move with the speed and impact our global economy now demands.” The electric aircraft could potentially fly six to nine passengers, in addition to two crew members on long distances. With the intention to commercialize the plane by 2018, Eviation by far has the most aggressive timeline of any company intent on producing an electric plane. Due to the energy density of batteries, electric air transport has been limited. However, the company says it has developed a new aluminum-air battery that will make it possible for consumers to fly without harming the environment . Related: eGenius Plane Sets World Record for Electric Aircraft Speed “Based on an aerial application of  Phinergy Ltd’s Aluminum air battery, coupled with a high power rechargeable battery buffer, and managed by a clever mission specific power analytic algorithm, EViation’s energy system is unique. Providing a true solution to both energy density and utilization, at a cost that beats gas, and with zero emissions,” said Eviation Aircraft. Rather than compete with traditional aviation companies, Eviation will position itself as an Uber-like on-demand transport service. Mark Moore, Uber Engineering Director of Aviation, commented on the Eviation  technology : “We are witnessing a new age in aviation as advances in energy storage and aircraft design bring electric, on-demand air transit within reach. Our focus at Uber is in galvanizing the ecosystem necessary for urban VTOL electric vehicles to thrive for 20-60 mile trips that can provide massive time savings over ground transportation for long trips in cities. In parallel, we are encouraged to see bold new players like Eviation tackling challenges in different sectors using electric aviation; these players will help catalyze demand for new battery and rapid recharging technologies that are crucial to enable electric flight.” Via Elektrek Images via  Eviation Aircraft , Pixabay

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Eviation Aircraft unveils all-electric aircraft with 600-mile range

France aims to roll out world’s first autonomous high-speed trains within 7 years

June 16, 2017 by  
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High-speed trains in France could soon be driverless, if the country’s national railway operator SNCF has anything to say about it. They aim to test what they call drone trains in 2019, with the hope the TGV trains could start running around four years after that. SNCF President Guillaume Pepy said if the project is successful, they will be the world’s first operator to run a high-speed autonomous train. Here’s how high-speed autonomous trains would work: sensors would equip the high-speed drone train, which currently travel at up to 320 kmh (200 mph), to run smoothly across tracks in France. The technology would help the trains detect obstacles and brake automatically. The train could also be piloted remotely, although a conductor would still be present at least initially in case of emergency. The onboard drivers would also manage opening and closing of doors. Related: China unveils train that travels on ‘virtual tracks’ SNCF said they’re not working on the technology to reduce their staff. They told French publication FranceInfo there will always be a need for a human onboard. SNCF adjoint director Matthieu Chabanel likened the drone trains to autopilot systems aboard an airplane , telling FranceInfo, “On high-speed, we are aiming for automation in the sense of automatic steering as in aircraft. In aircraft, you always have a driver, fortunately, but you have an automatic steering system.” Through the drone trains, SNCF hopes to ramp up the frequency and speed of TGV trips, especially around Paris . They think automated trains could increase the number of trips between the country’s capital and Lyon by 25 percent. FranceInfo reported a team of ten people is devoted to the project, and they are collaborating with research institutions and other rail companies like Alstom. The first prototype tests would transport goods, with passengers possibly hopping aboard around 2023. Via The Verge and FranceInfo Images via Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia

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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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Desert Twins produce water through condensation in driest place on Earth

May 29, 2017 by  
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One in 10 people on Earth lack access to safe water , which is why artist Ap Verheggen has been working so hard to address water scarcity over the last decade or so. He and the rest of the SunGlacier team, invited by the Dutch Ministry of Defense, recently tested their idea of making water from thin air in what they describe as the driest, hottest place on the planet: the Sahara Desert . They were able to accomplish the feat solely with the power of the sun and a bit of basic physics. Take a closer look at their groundbreaking Desert Twins , designed specifically for this project, after the jump. From an ice-making leaf in the desert to a solar-powered desert waterfall , SunGlacier has pioneered creative, artistic approaches to the lack of water in Earth’s dry areas. They recently made water from air in Mali with the solar-powered Desert Twins, two devices built for the Sahara Desert test. One device makes water, the other houses an energy unit. Condensation enables the devices to create water. Related: Produce your own water from thin air with SunGlacier’s solar-powered DC03 But it’s much harder to pull water from air in the Sahara than it is in the Netherlands, where SunGlacier is based. According to the team, air in Mali on a summer day only has around half the water vapor of a dry summer day in the Netherlands. They faced several days of challenges as they tinkered with their devices, adding insulation and re-configuring cooling air streams before they finally succeeded in producing any water. The team knew their design could operate in ideal conditions, but the Mali success shows it can work just about anywhere in the world. SunGlacier says their device is “probably the world’s first artificial water well to work entirely off the grid .” SunGlacier intends to keep improving their technology, and say in the future they plan to focus on cleaning and enriching water with salts and minerals, and water storage. Their goal is to build a machine that is able to operate without electricity or a liquid water source, much like a well. + SunGlacier Via SunGlacier Images courtesy of SunGlacier

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Desert Twins produce water through condensation in driest place on Earth

New autopilot software update improves performance and feel of Tesla cars

May 26, 2017 by  
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Tesla may be the most valuable car company in the United States, but they are still raising the bar for autonomous vehicles. The company has been working to improve their software , and their new Autopilot update comes with relaxed speed restrictions that make driving on undivided roads and off highways even better. Tesla recently began pushing a new software update for cars with the second generation Autopilot. The new update allows cars to zoom along up to speeds of 90 miles per hour (mph), but also threw out the old limit of 35 mph for off-highway driving and aligned it with the old speed restrictions on the first generation Autopilot, which is five mph greater than the speed limit detected. If the Model S doesn’t detect a speed limit, the restriction is 45 mph. Related: Did Tesla Autopilot predict an upcoming accident before it actually happened? Vice president of Autopilot software Chris Lattner said on Twitter the performance and feel of the car is much improved. It appears Autosteer now is on par with the feature in the first generation Autopilot, according to Electrek – they said Autopilot 2.0 didn’t show signs of progress as Tesla moved away from using Mobileye technology and started using their own computer vision. Elon Musk said his company saw “a bit of a dip” after they unexpectedly transitioned away from Mobileye. But Electrek said it appears they’ve now largely overcome the issue. Musk said in a conference call, “…we had to basically recreate all the Mobileye functionality in about six months – which we did.” Electrek said Tesla has been better utilizing front-facing cameras on their vehicles. Handling around curves and turns looks better with the new update, as does driving on roads that aren’t divided and have little markings. Whether or not the car detects speed limits could be an issue; Electrek suggested that feature could be improved in future updates. YouTube user Tesla Trip took a spin with the new software and posted a 23 minute video showing the excellent handling on roads with few markings; you can check it out here . Via Electrek ( 1 , 2 ) Images via screenshot

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