Frontiers in Energy Research: September 2011

September 2011

The 3 R’s of Energy

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Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. The 3R’s. This mantra defines the conservation movement around the world. The first Earth Day in 1970 catapulted conservation and the 3R’s into the spotlight. Americans rallied for clean air and water, which drove government policies. As conservation efforts expanded, new programs were advocated: the 1990’s saw strong efforts to promote recycling, the 2000’s focused on climate change and clean energy, and the 2010’s look to science to improve the way energy is generated, stored and used.

Research Highlights

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    A New Picture of Static Charging

    Scientists at the Non-equilibrium Energy Research Center, NERC, are challenging the conventional view of how static electricity exchanges between materials when brought into contact. They show that polymer surfaces possess a mosaic of static charge domains with positive and negative regions as opposed to a uniform surface of just one charge type. The work, led by Bartosz Grzybowski at Northwestern University and director of the NERC, was published in Science.
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    Screaming Fast

    Electrocatalysts that are efficient, fast and affordable at generating chemical fuels are a critical element for a renewable energy economy. Scientists at the Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis have reported an important discovery towards this goal, a molecular nickel-based catalyst that produces hydrogen at over 100,000 times a second.
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    Determining the Fate of Photosynthesis

    In the quest to harness solar energy for fuel, the Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center studies the highly efficient process of photosynthesis, aiming to create next-generation energy-harvesting devices. PARC researchers showed that altering one small protein completely rearranges the hundreds of other proteins that comprise the light-harvesting network. These studies provide the first clues about the role of protein organization in trapping of solar energy.
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    Three-Dimensional Modeling Takes on Solar Device Challenges

    Imagine reducing time to model materials systems by a factor of 1000 or more. Remarkably, researchers with the Center on Nanostructuring for Efficient Energy Conversion did just that by developing a novel analytical method. The team used this method to compare solar cell energy conversion efficiencies for various material structures.
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    Increasing Predictability in Thorium-based Fuels

    The uranium-based nuclear fuel cycle has a strong legacy in the United States — we first learned about controlling chain reactions during the Manhattan Project, and uranium has since become the prime choice for fuel in nuclear reactors. With concerns of proliferation and long-term storage ever-present, scientists in the Materials Science of Actinides Energy Frontier Research Center are looking in another direction: thorium-based fuels.
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    A Simpler Way To An Efficient Solar Cell

    A new method for preparing titanium dioxide thin-film electrodes yields efficient solar cells and greatly reduces the number of fabrication steps. The films are highly transparent, making them ideal for use in dye-sensitized solar cells where maximum light penetration to the photosensitive dye is critical. When coupled with the popular ruthenium-based molecular dye, N719, the electrodes produce high photocurrent densities (17.7 mA cm-2) and have a light-to-electrical energy conversion efficiency of 9.6%, about 1.4 times greater than photoelectrodes prepared using commercial titanium dioxide particles.
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    Drawing a Biomass Catalytic Roadmap

    The catalytic chemistry of biomass has for decades been a black box from which biofuels and chemicals emerge. Now, researchers from the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation have developed a combined experimental and computational method that can determine the fundamental reaction steps involved in producing biofuels. This research is the first step toward designing custom catalysts for biofuel production.
Disclaimer: The opinions in this newsletter are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views or position of the Department of Energy.

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