A team of scientists at Stanford University have developed a revolutionary new electrocatalytic device that works like a human lung as it transforms water into a clean source of hydrogen fuel. Their research, published in the journal Joule, could improve the efficiency of existing clean energy technologies.
After air enters a human lung it passes through the alveolus, a membrane that extracts oxygen from air and sends it into the bloodstream. Yi Cui and his team of researchers at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, found that by mimicking this process with a pouch created out of a thick plastic film, water, and an electrode, they were able to increase electrocatalytic oxygen evolution and reduction by 32 percent, which increases the rate of chemical reactions used to produce hydrogen. Using a device that is 100 times thinner than a human hair, the team hopes to generate more hydrogen fuel – a clean energy source that has the potential to one day power everything from cars to smart phones.
Yi Cui’s team is now focusing on scaling-up their design by researching ways to increase the design’s tolerance of higher temperatures in an effort to make it more viable for commercial production. The team believes that by using nanoporous hydrophobic membranes capable of withstanding greater heat, they will be able to expand its potential applications. Jun Li, the study’s first author notes:
“The breathing-mimicking structure could be coupled with many other state-of-the-art electrocatalysts, and further exploration of the gas-liquid-solid three-phase electrode offers exciting opportunities for catalysis.”
This isn’t the first time Cui’s team has made a major breakthrough in the use of hydrogen fuel technology. In 2016, the Stanford engineers created arrays of silicon nanocones to trap sunlight and improve performance of solar cells made of bismuth vanadate.
“Nanocone structures have shown a promising light-trapping capability over a broad range of wavelengths,” Cui noted. “Each cone is optimally shaped to capture sunlight that would otherwise pass through the thin solar cell.”
The team’s breakthrough helped improve the production of hydrogen power and could help solve the problem of grid-scale energy storage by reducing corrosion in rechargeable zinc batteries in the future. Shougo Hitashi, the study’s lead author, explained:
“With our design, zinc ions are reduced and deposited on the exposed back surface of the zinc electrode during charging. Therefore, even if zinc dendrites form, they will grow away from the nickel electrode and will not short the battery.”
Unlike fossil fuels, the only byproduct of using hydrogen fuel is water. For this reason, scientists have researched hydrogen fuels for decades but have yet to find an economically viable process in which to produce it. Now, thanks to the research of Yi Cui and his team, the future of hydrogen energy is looking more promising.
As the global energy paradigm continues shifting away from fossil fuels toward clean and renewable energies, it is important to note that the economic viability of fossil fuels has been artificially propped up by governments that are beholden to corporate interests. According to a study published in the World Development journal, fossil fuel subsidies amounted to $5.3 trillion dollars in 2015, rising from $4.9 trillion in 2013. This amounts to 6.5 percent of global GDP. The Union of Concerned Scientists has also found that the hidden cost to human health is estimated at $74.6 billion a year.
The positive environmental impact of radical technologies like the Stanford team’s device cannot be understated. While lawmakers continue to pay lip service to the issue of global warming, this technology could drastically reduce the carbon footprint of the entire planet. Mountaintop coal removal is destroying entire swaths of land, oil sands developments are on track to causing the second fastest rate of deforestation, and hydraulic fracturing for oil & natural gas, also known as fracking, can require up to 15.8 million gallons of water per well.
In 2012, the total energy output from wind power alone in the United States surpassed 60 gigawatts, enough to power nearly 15 million homes. Meanwhile, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydro continue to be widely criticized as an inefficient means at meeting the nation’s energy demands. A promising new device called Triton is already challenging criticisms of tidal power. Triton, a device created by Oscilla Power, is estimated to be able to power one-third of the U.S. without the need for underwater motors or running parts. Through the use of revolutionary new technologies like the Stanford team’s device and Triton, we will soon be able to meet our energy needs without the use of fossil fuels.
Chinese Military Satellite Smashed by Russian Rocket in “Major Confirmed Orbital Collision”
In an incident that is likely illustrative of things to come, Chinese military satellite 1-02 was smashed after it appears to have collided into the debris from a disintegrating Russian rocket.
The collision, which occurred earlier this year, shows the increasing danger of space junk such as satellite parts and other miscellaneous jetsam littering the Earth’s orbit. An estimated 8,000 metric tons of space debris pose the risk of destroying functional equipment such as weather forecasting systems, telecoms and GPS systems – and even manned space travel missions – if the problem isn’t reined in.
The fate of the Chinese satellite was uncovered by Harvard astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell.
The breakup of Yunhai 1-02 was initially reported by the U.S. Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron (18SPCS). However, it wasn’t until recently that McDowell found out what caused the breakup.
The astrophysicist soon found that it was destroyed by space junk that originated from a Russian Zenit-2 rocket that had launched a spy satellite in 1996. On Aug. 14, McDowell found a strange entry in a database on Space-Track.org: “Collided with satellite.”
“This is a new kind of comment entry — haven’t seen such a comment for any other satellites before,” McDowell tweeted.
“A quick analysis of the TLEs show that Yunhai 1-02 (44547) and [the debris object] passed within 1 km of each other (so within the uncertainty of the TLEs) at 0741 UTC Mar 18, exactly when 18SPCS reports Yunhai broke up,” he added, noting that this “looks to be the first major confirmed orbital collision in a decade.”
However, the Yunhai satellite still remains functional and is transmitting radio signals, notes Space.com.
The incident shows the growing likelihood of such collisions in the high-traffic, littered near-Earth orbital zone.
“Collisions are proportional to the square of the number of things in orbit,” McDowell explained. “That is to say, if you have 10 times as many satellites, you’re going to get 100 times as many collisions.”
He added: “So, as the traffic density goes up, collisions are going to go from being a minor constituent of the space junk problem to being the major constituent. That’s just math.”
A worst-case scenario of such collisions is known as the “Kessler Syndrome,” and describes the possibility of one collision setting in motion a chain of collisions. Such a disaster was the premise of the 2013 film “Gravity.”
One hopes that things don’t reach that point.
In the meantime, however, there have been a number of initiatives meant to tackle the growing problem of space debris, such as the ELSA-d spacecraft launched in a demonstration mission earlier this year.
Boston Dynamics Drops New Video Of 5-Foot Atlas Humanoid Robot Effortlessly Doing Parkour
Robot maker Boston Dynamics has released new video of its two-legged Atlas robot effortlessly completing a parkour obstacle course, offering a new display of its humanoid machines’ unsettling repertoire.
In the video, a pair of Atlas robots can be seen leaping over large gaps, vaulting beams, and even performing backflips. The robot can even be seen jumping over a board while using its arm to remain steady.
While the display seems like anything but “free” running – as the original developers of parkour had envisioned – the routine does seem like an impressive, if terrifying, display of effective coding that took months to perfect, according to the Hyundai-owned robotics firm.
“It’s not the robot just magically deciding to do parkour, it’s kind of a choreographed routine, much like a skateboard video or a parkour video,” said Atlas control lead Benjamin Stephens.
See for yourself:
Unlike its robotic dog Spot, which controversially hit New York City streets last year before being pulled, Atlas isn’t a production robot. Instead, it’s a research model meant to see how far the limits of robotics can be pushed.
In the past, Boston Dynamics has displayed the robot’s feats with videos of Atlas jogging and even busting out some cool dance moves.
Team lead Scott Kuindersma said in a statement that in about two decades, we can expect to coexist with robots that move “with grace, reliability, and work alongside humans to enrich our lives.”
Until then, some of us will continue to reserve our right to feel a bit queasy about the prospect of people being chased down by these skilled free-running (and dancing) machines.
South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash
What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?
It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.
The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.
The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.
“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”
The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.
Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.
Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.