Energy: New nanotech material could boost hydrogen fuel

This schematic shows high-capacity magnesium nanocrystals encapsulated in a gas-barrier polymer matrix to create a new and revolutionary hydrogen storage composite material. IMAGE BY JEFF URBAN.

New composite solves some of the challenges of storing enough hydrogen in a small space to make it useful as fuel for vehicles

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A new composite nanotech material may speed up the development of hydrogen-based energy by storing concentrated amounts of hydrogen and releasing it easily without the application of extreme heat.

Researchers at the  U.S. Department of Energy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said their new product is a major breakthrough in materials design for hydrogen storage, batteries and fuel cells.

The material consist of nanoparticles of magnesium metal sprinkled through a polymer related to Plexiglas. This pliable nanocomposite rapidly absorbs and releases hydrogen at modest temperatures without oxidizing the metal after cycling.

One of the key applications could be to use hydrogen as a fuel for vehicles, said Jeff Urban, deputy director of the Inorganic Nanostructures Facility at the Molecular Foundry, a Department of Energy nanoscience center and national user facility located at Berkeley Lab. Continue reading

Opinion: Forget oil, the answer is blowin’ in the wind

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New research aimed at answering engineering questions for significant offshore windpower generation; many coastal states could meet most of their demand

The world’s first full-scale floating wind turbine, assembled in the Åmøy Fjord near Stavanger, Norway, capable of producing 2.3 megawatts. The turbine is about 200 feet tall and is designed to be set up in water up to 2,500 feet deep. PHOTO FROM THE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.

By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is just the latest in a long list of signs that the age of oil is nearing an end. The simple fact is we can’t afford to continue poisoning the planet with gases that heat the atmosphere and toxic liquids that pollute rivers and oceans. As tragic as it is, the environmental disaster will help make even more people aware that our current energy path is not sustainable.

Earliest estimates for the cost of cleaning up the spill are in the range of $8 billion. What if that money had been invested in renewable energy before the spill?

Advocates of nuclear power also need to take heed, because they will one day face the same questions BP is facing now. As much as backers of nuclear energy would like us to believe — as they’ve convinced themselves — that they’ve resolved the engineering and technical challenges, they haven’t. It’s a lie. One day there will be a disaster involving a nuclear power plant, potentially with far worse consequences than the deadly oil slick spreading toward the Gulf Coast.

In the 52-page exploration plan and environmental impact study, BP repeatedly said  it was unlikely, or virtually impossible, for an accident to occur that would lead to a giant crude oil spill and serious damage to beaches, fish, mammals and fisheries.

How many times have we heard the same story from the energy kings?

How often have they been wrong?

It’s easy enough to point a finger and criticize our country’s energy policy, or the oil companies, but that doesn’t really get us anywhere. Much better to use this teachable moment to try and achieve a fundamental shift in public attitudes about energy by presenting realistic alternatives. Yes, we will need to continue using oil for the foreseeable future, but we can set very realistic goals of replacing energy generated by fossil fuels with wind power. Overall, the U.S. already has a goal of generating 20 percent if its electricity needs with wind power by 2030.

It’s time to get specific and break it down. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, many of the 30 U.S. states with coastline could meet most or all of their electricity needs with a mix of land-based and offshore wind turbines. And the coastal states use nearly 80 percent of the nation’s electricity, so there’s potential to take a big bite out of oil, coal and gas consumption. In fact, the states with the greatest need for more electricity are those that would benefit the most from increased offshore wind power generation. Continue reading

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