Top Science Breakthroughs in 2008: Novel Energy Systems

December 29 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 3

Edison Light

"Whether you think you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right." - Henry Ford

The worst thing we can do when thinking about the future of energy is to look at possible solutions and simply extrapolate today's technologies and scientific assumptions forward about what 'is' or 'isn't possible'.

There is still a lot we do not know about the basics of energy systems dealing with photons, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, enzymes and metals.  Our current first phase efforts to design nanoscale materials used in energy production, conversion and storage are certain to yield systems that will change how we live in the world in the decades ahead.

Remember, only a century ago, coal and wood were king, magical 'electric' light intimidated the general public, only a few could see the potential of oil, rockets and nuclear science were beyond our imagination, and the vision of a tens of millions of 'horseless carriages' reshaping the urban landscape was a ridiculous proposition.

So what seemingly novel ideas could shape the next century?

List of 10+ Novel Energy Stories from 2008:

Blacklight Energy from ‘hydrinos’
Earlier this Fall we reported on the independent verification of BlackLight’s novel method of capturing tremendous amounts of energy released when powder containing hydrogen atoms reacts with a catalyst to drop its energy state into hydrinos.

Modeling How Electric Charges Move
Brookhaven Lab researchers are learning how to control the movement of electrons on the molecular and nanometer scales.

MIT announces breakthrough in fusion, but Holy Grail of energy 'still decades away'
MIT researchers believe they may have solved one of the most challenging problems how to propel the hot plasma (an electrically charged gas) around inside the donut-shaped reactor chamber so that the chamber doesn't lose its heat of millions of degrees to the cooler vessel walls.

Thermoelectric materials based on 'nano cages' capture waste heat
Thermoelectric materials can convert waste heat into electricity, or use electricity for cooling systems. Researchers at the University of Århus, Risø-DTU and the University of Copenhagen Niels Bohr Institute stand jointly behind new data, published in Nature Materials, that describes thermoelectric materials that could lead to breakthrough practical applications in improving engines, industrial machines, and also advance eco-friendly cooling systems for refrigeration and electronics.

Researchers advance understanding of electrons & superconductive material
Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have figured out a previously unknown phenomena of electron pairings used in high-temperature superconductor materials that could carry electrical current across great distances with minimal loss

Brookhaven Lab researchers develop material with 2D superconductivity
Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory (US DoE) have developed a material that could advance our understanding of superconductivity and lead to more efficiency electrical transmission lines. The material appears to be a superconductor but only in two dimensions, and at a higher temperature than ordinary 3-D superconductivity.  The material is based on an unusual pattern of charge and magnetism “stripes” that many researchers long assumed as incompatible with superconductivity.

Researchers watch electrons as molecules change shape
Research teams
from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Canada’s Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences have watched electrons rearrange themselves as molecules changes shape like a Slinky. The team shot a laser across a molecule of dinitrogen tetraoxide, or N2O4, to map the electron energy levels of the molecule as it changed shape.

Energy implications of 'nano-confined' water
Water molecules are central to most energy systems on this planet. Yet when we direct them through tiny nanotubes (a billionth of a meter in diameter) strange things happen to their behavior that might someday have implications for designing new energy systems.  Last month Indian researchers developed models that applied carbon nanotubes in filtering ‘viruses, bacteria, toxic metal ions, and large noxious organic molecules’. While there is some healthy skepticism over the real world application of nanotubes in water filtration, there is still much that we still do not know about the wide ranging implications of water molecules passing through nanotubes.  Now researchers at the University of North Carolina believe they have found new behavior of water molecules confined to passing through hallow carbon nanotubes made from rolled up graphene or single layer sheets of carbon molecules. One of the key factors of behavior is temperature.

Selective membranes of carbon nanotubes
Lawrence Livermore scientists have developed carbon nanotubes that can in a basic way selectively pass a number of different materials.

Secrets from within planets pave way for cleaner energy
Research that has provided a deeper understanding into the centre of planets could also provide the way forward in the world's quest for cleaner energy.  An international team of scientists, led by the University of Oxford, working alongside researchers at the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) Central Laser Facility, has gained a deeper insight into the hot, dense matter found at the centre of planets and as a result, has provided further understanding into controlled thermonuclear fusion.

Scientists Create Device to Remove Carbon Directly from the Air
University of Calgary researchers have developed a method to capture carbon dioxide directly from the air.  “At first thought, capturing CO2 from the air where it’s at a concentration of 0.04 per cent seems absurd, when we are just starting to do cost-effective capture at power plants where CO2 produced is at a concentration of more than 10 per cent,” says Keith, Canada Research Chair in Energy and Environment.

Putting The Squeeze On Nitrogen For High Energy Materials
Nitrogen atoms often travel in pairs and are among the strongest chemical bonds in nature.  ‘Researchers from the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory report changes in the melting temperature of solid nitrogen at pressures up to 120 gigapascals (more than a million atmospheres) and temperatures reaching 2,500° Kelvin (more than 4000° Fahrenheit). These results, plus observed changes in the structure of solid nitrogen at high pressures, could lead to new high energy nitrogen- or hydrogen-based fuels in the future.’

Wonder in carbon-land
The University of Oxford, the Nottingham researchers are using carbon nanocages and cylindrical carbon nanotubes to trap individual atoms or molecules and to create unique materials.

Reverse osmosis using carbon nanotubes
Adding nanoparticles to a water purifying membrane can double its efficiency, according to a startup company based in Los Angeles. With global water usage on the increase and fresh water in limited supply, the company, NanoH2O, says its novel approach could make such purification technology a viable solution to a growing problem.

Powering the Planet research begins
We still do not know how photosynthesis works at the molecular level.  Now a five-year $20 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Chemical Bonding Center (CBC) will support a project called "Powering the Planet," with the goal of efficiently and economically converting solar energy and water into hydrogen and oxygen fuels.

Science News / Turning CO2 Into Chalk And Sand
A new technique could make carbon sequestration economical on a large scale, while producing useful materials on the side. ‘Dirk Van Essendelft, a chemical engineer at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, described the method on August 19 in Philadelphia during a meeting of the American Chemical Society. He proposed a new way to mix CO2 with a type of mineral called serpentine, producing sand and another common mineral similar to chalk.’

Nanomaterial turns radiation directly into electricity
'Liviu Popa-Simil, former Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear engineer and founder of private research and development company LAVM and Claudiu Muntele, of Alabama A&M University, US, say transforming the energy of radioactive particles into electricity is more effective. The materials they are testing would extract up to 20 times more power from radioactive decay than thermoelectric materials.’

Strange molecule in the sky cleans acid rain, scientists discover
Scientists at Purdue and Pennsylvania universities have discovered an atmospheric molecule that is essential to the breakdown of pollutants in the atmosphere.

Secrets from within planets pave way for cleaner fusion energy
An international team of scientists, led by the University of Oxford, have gained a deeper insight into the hot, dense matter found at the center of planets and as a result, has provided further understanding into controlled thermonuclear fusion.


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