Archive for February 2010
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You are browsing the archives of 2010 February.
The EPA and the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Lab are evaluating the feasibility of developing renewable energy production on Superfund, brownfields and former landfill or mining sites.
Superfund sites are the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites identified by EPA for cleanup due to the risk they pose to human health or the environment. Brownfields are properties at which expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence of contaminants. The EPA is investing more than $650,000 for the project that pairs EPA’s expertise on contaminated sites with the renewable energy expertise of NREL.
The project will analyze the potential development of wind, solar or small hydro development at 12 sites. The analysis will include determining the best renewable energy technology for the site, the optimal location for placement of the renewable energy technology on the site, potential energy generating capacity, the return on the investment, and the economic feasibility of the renewable energy projects.
The 12 sites are located in California, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
For fact sheets on each location, and more information on the RE-Powering America’s Land initiative, visit www.epa.gov/renewableenergyland.
Some of the sites under consideration for renewable energy projects have completed cleanup activities, while others may be in various stages of assessment or cleanup. Renewable energy projects on these sites will be designed to accommodate the site conditions.
Researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Oxford say that relatively simple methods of explaining chemical bond mechanisms typically taught at undergraduate levels turns out to be an accurate way to understand the arrangement of atoms on a oxide’s surface.
“For a long time we have not understood oxide surfaces,” said Laurence Marks, professor of materials science and engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern. “We only have had relatively simple models constructed from crystal planes of the bulk structure, and these have not enabled us to predict where the atoms should be on a surface.
“Now we have something that seems to work,” Marks said. “It’s the bond-valence-sum method, which has been used for many years to understand bulk materials. The way to understand oxide surfaces turns out to be to look at the bonding patterns and how the atoms are arranged and then to follow this method.”
These findings are published in Nature Materials.
According to a news release, NU graduate student James Enterkin matched the electron diffraction patterns from a strontium titanate surface with the patterns with scanning-tunneling microscopy images obtained by Bruce Russell at Oxford. Enterkin then combined these with density functional calculations and bond-valence sums, showing that those that had bonding similar to that found in bulk oxides were those with the lowest energy.
Ulrike Diebold, an expert in the investigation of metal oxide surfaces at the Institute of Applied Physics in Vienna, Austria, commented on the significance of this research in a separate article in Nature Materials. She writes, “This simple and intuitive, yet powerful concept [the bond-valence-sum method] is widely used to analyze and predict structures in inorganic chemistry. Its successful description of the surface reconstruction of SrTiO3 (110) shows that this approach could be relevant for similar phenomena in other materials.”
NU provides a fun 3D model of the surface of SrTiO3 (110) here. (Be sure to try to manipulated the model with your mouse.)
Today was Bloom Energy’s big media extravaganza and it seems like they were aiming for something on the order of what Apple or Microsoft would try to pull off. The stage was shared by big name politicians (Schwarzenegger and Powell) the online gods (Google and eBay), the movers and shakers in the investor class (Kleiner Perkings Caulfield & Byers and Morgan Stanley) and an impressive array of mega-brand customers (FedEx, Coca-Cola, Walmart, Staples and Bank of America).
Generally speaking this is all great stuff for those of us in the ceramics business. Incredible, really.
But what did anybody actually learn? Maybe that Bloom has a great marketing team? But, we already knew that was true based on Sunday’s exposure, courtesy of 60 Minutes.
What new information did we get about Bloom’s technology/engineering achievements and business plan? Not much.
It’s one thing to try to throw a coming-out party like Apple would. It’s another thing to pull it off when you have no track record of actually bringing an insanely great product to market at a price people are willing to pay, all while beating your competitors to the punch.
Some of the technology questions may be relatively easy. One expert tells me the ceramic electrolyte layer is is probably yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ), the green “ink” is NiO-YSZ serving as the anode (NexTech already offers an ink like this) and the black “ink” is a cathode layer made of lanthanum strontium manganite (LSM). What’s less clear is how Bloom solved stack expansion and seal problems that plague other SOFC makers. (Solved them in the sense that these units will perform reliably for years and years.)
But, Jonathan Fahey at Forbes, gets closer to the heart of the matter:
So while Bloom Energy may have some very promising technology to show off, we almost certainly will hear that its business hinges on a plan to lower the cost of its fuel cell by some large amount in some short period of time. It could be that Bloom Energy has the money and the brains to pull it off. Maybe it has already pulled it off. But if that business plan sounds familiar, it’s because that is the same refrain heard from solar companies, biofuels companies and fuel cell makers around the world.
[. . .]
It’s difficult to design components that can survive for decades in those conditions, especially the ancillary components that take the electricity out of the cell - for cheap. Then there’s the bugaboo of many a clean tech company: Designing a manufacturing process that can produce enough high quality devices to push costs down.
United Technologies produces a phosphoric acid fuel cell commercially and is working on a number of other fuel cell programs. Its fuel cell sells for $4,500 per kilowatt, and the company says it needs to get to $2,500 before it can be a real success
“We’ve figured out the durability problems,” says Mike Brown, a vice president at UTC Power, the United Technologies unit that makes fuel cells. “We haven’t figured out the cost problem yet.”
Fahey thinks that the unsubsidized cost of Bloom’s systems is about $9,000-$10,000 per kilowatt, so its not clear why Bloom’s units would be financially sucessful when UTC Power is struggling.
Robert Pazik and Constanze Lamprecht are two young researchers who separately work on methods of using nanoparticles as multifunctional drug delivery systems for diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Pazik, who works in chemistry at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science in Uppsala, uses nanoparticles that can be coated with therapeutic drug plus other chemicals that allows the particle to be anchored to a specific site or organ. Lamprecht, a physicist at the University of Linz in Austria, works with carbon nanotubes that can similarly be coated in targeting or therapeutic chemicals. Therapeutic drugs can also be inserted into the nanotubes. Pazik and Lamprecht also discuss the use of magnetic nanoparticle coatings that, when combined with a targeting material, can allow very selective heat treatment of tumor cell sites that also can be reactivated if cancer growth returns.
Pazik and Lamprecht were interviewed at the recent ICACC’10 meeting in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Their work is an example of nanophase drug delivery approaches, a topic that will be the cover story for the March issue of the Bulletin of The American Ceramic Society.
Run time: 9 minutes
Via press release, researchers at Oak Ridge National Lab working toward a low-cost DNA sequencing tool for medical diagnostics have proposed using a single-walled carbon nanotube to thread a single strand of DNA from one reservoir to another, analyzing and sequencing the DNA in the process.
In such a device, the negatively charged DNA material, which is immersed in an electrolytic fluid, is propelled through the nanotube by an electric field.
When the current flowing through the nanotube was measured, researchers were surprised by the current of electrolytic ions that was much higher than any prediction.
Arizona State University’s Predrag Krstic and former ORNL researcher Sony Joseph performed atomistic molecular and fluid dynamics simulations at the University of Tennessee’s National Institute for Computational Sciences, located at ORNL.
Krstic and Joseph, in a paper published with their Arizona State and Columbia collaborators in the Jan. 1, 2010, issue of Science, attributed the mysterious current surge to the “slipping” of water molecules through the perfect and hydrophobic inner surface of the carbon nanotube and to trapped electrical charge.
Understanding such phenomena is key to the development of these single-molecule-detection instruments that would be inexpensive enough to become common in doctor’s offices.
“This is an example of how the front of science is increasingly multidisciplinary, with contributions by experimentalists and theorists in atomic and solid-state physics, chemistry, biology and engineering,” says Predrag.