How energy harvesting tech could power wearables and the internet of things

(GigaOm) It’s all very well talking about the evolution of wearable computing and the internet of things, but something has to power these thin and/or tiny devices. For that reason, it’s a good thing that so many ideas are popping up in the field of energy harvesting and storage. Some of these ideas were on display this week at the Printed Electronics Europe 2013 event in Berlin, which took in a variety of sub-events including the Energy Harvesting & Storage Europe show. The concepts ranged from the practical to the experimental, so let’s start with the practical.

S.D. School of Mines: Generating sustainable hydrogen energy goal of splitting water molecules

Finding a way to exponentially double the hydrogen atoms to create a sustainable amount of hydrogen regeneration so that a new form of energy can be harvested is the ultimate goal of researchers at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. Rajesh Shende, PhD, and Jan Puszynski, PhD, of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, have been awarded a $299,975 NSF three-year grant to test high-temperature water splitting in multiple thermochemical cycles. Using thermally-stabilized redox materials, particularly ferrites, already the team has documented reliable multiple-cycle results, sparking hope that sustainable hydrogen energy through the use of thermal hydro-splitting will one day be feasible, says Shende. Just two other US. locations, and possibly a third, are conducting similar research, according to Shende. One of the aspects that makes the Mines experiments unique is that the group has successfully split water molecules during multiple cycles at significantly lower temperatures than other documented research efforts. While others have demonstrated thermochemical splitting at 800-1,500°C, the School of Mines has documented multiple cycles at 700-1,100°C, which could potentially lead to a more affordable large-scale effort.

Mainz scientists create new flexible mineral inspired by deep-sea sponges

(YouTube) Scientists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Germany have created a new synthetic hybrid material with a mineral content of almost 90 percent, yet extremely flexible. They imitated the structural elements found in most sea sponges and recreated the sponge spicules using the natural mineral calcium carbonate and a protein of the sponge. Natural minerals are usually very hard and prickly, as fragile as porcelain. Amazingly, the synthetic spicules are superior to their natural counterparts in terms of flexibility, exhibiting a rubber-like flexibility. The synthetic spicules can, for example, easily be U-shaped without breaking or showing any signs of fracture. This highly unusual characteristic, described by the German researchers in the current issue of Science, is mainly due to the part of organic substances in the new hybrid material. It is about ten times as much as in natural spicules. The synthetic material was self-assembled from an amorphous calcium carbonate intermediate and silicatein and subsequently aged to the final crystalline material. After six months, the synthetic spicules consisted of calcite nanocrystals aligned in a brick wall fashion with the protein embedded like cement in the boundaries between the calcite nanocrystals.

BBC: The ceramic used in bullet-stopping body armor

Ceramics could be the key to providing soldiers with lighter and more effective body armor, according to a British research team attracting interest from the Ministry of Defense. “Most people are familiar with ceramics in the house—your plates, mugs and possibly your toilet,” says material scientist Hywel Jones of Sheffield Hallam University. The ceramics he hopes to use in body armor are in some ways similar being hard, light and brittle, but they are specialized versions known as engineering or technical ceramics. Jones is working with Anthony Pick, a ceramics consultant to develop new armor materials. The work is being carried out by XeraCarb, a spin-out business created by Sheffield Hallam to take its technology into production. They have produced a low-density composite ceramic which is mainly silicon carbide. Its manufacture requires lower furnace temperatures than similar materials, making it more energy efficient and cheaper to produce.

Novel heating system could Improve electric car’s range: Prototype system can heat and cool without draining battery power.

(MIT Technology Review) Buyers considering an electric car must bear in mind that using battery-powered heating and air conditioning can decrease the car’s range by a third or more. But, a heating and cooling system being developed by researchers at MIT almost eliminates the drain on the battery. The researchers are working with Ford on a system that they hope to test in Ford’s Focus EV within the next two years. The work is being funded with a $2.7 million grant from the ARPA-E. The researchers describe their new device as a thermal battery. It uses materials that can store large amounts of coolant in a small volume. As the coolant moves through the system, it can be used for either heating or cooling. In the system, water is pumped into a low-pressure container, evaporating and absorbing heat in the process. The water vapor is then exposed to an adsorbant—a material with microscopic pores that have an affinity for water molecules. This material pulls the vapor out of the container, keeping the pressure low so more water can be pumped in and evaporated. This evaporative cooling process can be used to cool off the passenger compartment. As the material adsorbs water molecules, heat is released; it can be run through a radiator and dissipated into the atmosphere when the system is used for cooling, or it can be used to warm up the passenger compartment. The system requires very little electricity-just enough to run a small pump and fans to blow cool or warm air. Eventually the adsorbant can’t take in any more water, but the system can be “recharged” by heating the adsorbant above 200°C. This causes it to release the water, which is condensed and returned to a reservoir.

A look back: Four years with Dr. Chu

In honor of DOE Secretary Chu’s last day at the department, here’s a look back at his time overseeing important investments in science, innovation, and clean energy technologies that are making America more competitive and helping us win the race for a clean energy future. For more than four years, he has provided remarkable leadership in pursuing both President Obama’s nuclear security agenda as well as an all-of-the-above approach to energy that invests in clean energy, reduces our dependence on foreign oil, addresses the global climate crisis, and supports the clean energy jobs of the future.

2D germanium: Redesigned material could lead to lighter, faster electronics

The same material that formed the first primitive transistors more than 60 years ago can be modified in a new way to advance future electronics, according to a new study. Chemists at Ohio State University have developed the technology for making a one-atom-thick sheet of germanium, and found that it conducts electrons more than ten times faster than silicon and five times faster than conventional germanium. The material’s structure is closely related to that of graphene—a much-touted two-dimensional material comprised of single layers of carbon atoms. As such, graphene shows unique properties compared to its more common multilayered counterpart, graphite. Graphene has yet to be used commercially, but experts have suggested that it could one day form faster computer chips, and maybe even function as a superconductor, so many labs are working to develop it. Joshua Goldberger, assistant professor of chemistry at Ohio State, decided to take a different direction and focus on more traditional materials.In a paper published online in ACS Nano, he and his colleagues describe how they were able to create a stable, single layer of germanium atoms. In this form, the crystalline material is called germanane. Researchers have tried to create germanane before. This is the first time anyone has succeeded at growing sufficient quantities of it to measure the material’s properties in detail, and demonstrate that it is stable when exposed to air and water.