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.
Scientists Prove What Causes Aurora Borealis for the First Time
Since the dawn of time, humans have been mystified by what causes the aurora borealis or northern lights. However, a group of scientists have finally uncovered what causes the dazzling lightshow that has captivated people for so long.
Researchers at the University of Iowa have proven that the shimmering auroras are the result of powerful electromagnetic waves during geomagnetic storms, according to a newly published study.
According to the study, phenomena known as Alfven waves propel electrons toward Earth and cause the particles to produce the brilliant display of northern lights seen in the higher latitudes of our planet,
“Measurements revealed this small population of electrons undergoes ‘resonant acceleration’ by the Alfven wave’s electric field, similar to a surfer catching a wave and being continually accelerated as the surfer moves along with the wave,” Prof. Greg Howes, a co-author of the study, told CNN.
Scientists have long understood that the aurora was the likely result of electrons surfing across the electric field, at least since the theory was introduced in 1946 by Soviet scientist Lev Landau.
However, the University of Iowa professors were able to finally put the theory to the test through a simulation at a lab at the Large Plasma Device (LPD) in the Basic Plasma Science Facility of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Using a 20-meter-long chamber to simulate the magnetic field of the Earth through state-of-the-art magnetic field coils, scientists were able to generate plasma similar to that which exists in spac.
“Using a specially designed antenna, we launched Alfven waves down the machine, much like shaking a garden hose up and down quickly, and watching the wave travel along the hose,” said Howes.
While this didn’t result in the type of auroras we might see in the sky, “our measurements in the laboratory clearly agreed with predictions from computer simulations and mathematical calculations, proving that electrons surfing on Alfven waves can accelerate the electrons (up to speeds of 45 million mph) that cause the aurora,” Howes noted.
Scientists across the country were elated by the results of the experiment.
“I was tremendously excited! It is a very rare thing to see a laboratory experiment that validates a theory or model concerning the space environment,” said Patrick Koehn, a scientist in the Heliophysics Division of NASA.
“Space is simply too big to easily simulate in the lab,” he added.
Researchers are hopeful that a greater understanding will allow forecasters to better understand weather conditions in space.
Tiny Creature Frozen for 24,000 Years is Brought Back to Life
A microscopic creature has come back to life and reproduced asexually after 24,000 years of lying dormant in the permafrost of Siberia.
Russian scientists found the tiny freshwater creature, called the bdelloid rotifer, in the rich soil of the Alazeya river of Russia’s far northern Siberan region of Yakutia.
The multicellular organism is common throughout the world and is known to be extremely resilient, capable of surviving extreme cold, dryness, starvation and low oxygen.
While previous research found that it could survive a decade when frozen at -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit), the new study published by the journal Current Biology offers a stunning testimony of the survivability of the tiny animal – which is by far the longest survival period known of any creature in the world.
“Our report is the hardest proof as of today that multicellular animals could withstand tens of thousands of years in cryptobiosis, the state of almost completely arrested metabolism,” said Stas Malavin, an author of the study, in a statement.
Malavin’s Soil Cryology Lab in Pushchino, Russia, used a drilling rig to extract the miniscule organism from roughly a dozen feet below the remote Arctic location.
Once the ancient organism thawed, it reproduced on its own through a process of parthenogenesis. Researchers then found that it could withstand repeatedly being frozen and thawed dozens of times due to its innate processes of cell and organ protection.
“The takeaway is that a multicellular organism can be frozen and stored as such for thousands of years and then return back to life – a dream of many fiction writers,” Malavin said.
“Of course, the more complex the organism, the trickier it is to preserve it alive frozen and, for mammals, it’s not currently possible,” the scientist added. “Yet, moving from a single-celled organism to an organism with a gut and brain, though microscopic, is a big step forward.”
Researchers hope that the knowledge gleaned from studying the microscopic organism will bring further insights on how to preserve animals’ cells, tissues and organs – including those belonging to human beings.
China’s “Artificial Sun” Sets World Record Running At 120 MILLION Degrees For 101 Seconds
Chinese researchers have achieved a new world record after scientists developing an “artificial sun” ran the device on Friday at a record-shattering temperature of 120 million degrees Celsius for over 100 seconds.
The experiment was held at the Institute of Plasma Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ASIPP) in Hefei, China.
The exercise is a part of the China’s efforts to develop new clean energy sources through the development of next-generation nuclear fusion reactor technology.
Known as the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), the “Chinese artificial sun” managed to generate plasma temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds before scientists also realized a temperature of 160 million degrees Celsius for an additional 20 seconds.
The goal of EAST is to create Sun-like energy using deuterium, a hydrogen isotope that is plentiful in the ocean and can provide a steady flow of clean energy. According to estimates, one liter of seawater contains enough deuterium to produce energy equivalent to 300 liters of gasoline.
China hopes that it can replace fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas with the fusion energy in order to achieve carbon neutrality and a more ecological society.
“It’s a huge achievement in China’s physics and engineering fields. The experiment’s success lays the foundation for China to build its own nuclear fusion energy station,” ASIPP director Song Yuntao said, according to People’s Daily.
The EAST artificial sun is also part of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a joint effort by global scientists that includes the input of scientists from China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States.
Experts hope that if development proceeds at the current rate, successful nuclear fusion could be achieved within three decades.
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