Don't forget to register for our upcoming Seventh Conference on Future Energy which gives you the option of two conferences concurrently:
The registration fee for COFE7 will be going up to $200 on June 1st but the joint, double conference fee of $400 is the same as the ExtraOrdinary Technology conference fee and grants access to both conferences.
This month we have several extras for you. One of our readers, Gary Vesperman, has assembled his current edition of Gallery of Clean Energy Inventions (10).pdf which is quite extensive. Also controversial but worth mentioning is NASA's new development of a propellantless electromagnetic drive system: Next Big Future: Inventor Guido Fetta describes EMdrive related propellentless Cannae drive aka Q drive system.
Apparently what IRI has learned is that even though the published journal article indicates success in producing force with the Fetta design, NASA is hoping for at least ten times the power. Tune in next time for further developments
Also happening in June is the second International Conference on Nanotechnology, Nanomaterials and Thin Films for Energy Applications brings together academia, industry and policy-makers interested in the application of nanotechnology in the energy sector, and will address new materials and nanotechnologies for energy harvesting, production, storage, transfer and other applications.www.nanoenergy.co.uk
Nano Energy Manchester, UK June 1-3.June 2015.
Story #1 is quite exciting since Elon Musk will be penetrating the domestic market with his new solar batteries that can power your home and get more renewables onto the grid, as well as making it cheaper to power your electric car.
Story #2 offers the latest MIT breakthrough with bacteria that normally think for themselves but now are on the payroll for producing human fuel with sunlight. The goal of highly efficient artificial photosynthesis is a long-standing one and now genetically engineered E coli have been coaxed to make certain chemicals with solar energy. This is the first working example of such a direct interface between bacteria and semiconducting materials for artificial photosynthesis.
Story #3 is somewhat related biologically with plants being the center of attention for a wide range of nanobionic products that have enhanced ability to capture light for example and exhibit augmented technology. The possibilities of plant nanobionics are potentially far-reaching. Now we don't have to limit their applications to just our diet.
Story #4 is a big one that finally gives the public the long-term plans that NASA has for conquering the cosmos with fifteen projects that NASA wants to have funded through its Innovative Advanced Concepts Program. It is quite an exciting list of science projects, many of which are energy-related.
Story #5 is a real breakthrough that is great for California and the rest of the dehydrating earth with ORNL's effective desalination with graphene. In what we think is the simplest experiment one could imagine, they made a screen that has a pore size of 0.5-1 nm in size which is just big enough for the small H2O to pass through but not the bigger NaCl molecule and other organic ones too. This should be a school teacher's dream demo with plastic molecule toys to show how effective such a design is. The high pressure reverse osmosis nightmare seems to have been solved with graphene's high flow (high flux) possibilities now but the salt rejection needs to be improved slightly to be commercially useful.
Integrity Research Institute
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1) Tesla's Elon Musk Shows off Solar Batteries to Create a Revolution
By Chris Mooney, Washington Post, May 2, 2015
Late Thursday, the glitzy electric car company Tesla Motors, run by billionaire Elon Musk, ceased to be just a car company.
As widely expected, Tesla announced that it is offering a home battery product, which people can use to store energy from their solar panels or to backstop their homes against blackouts, and also larger scale versions that could perform similar roles for companies or even parts of the grid.
For homeowners, the Tesla Powerwall will have a power capacity of either 10 kilowatt hours or 7 kilowatt hours, at a cost of either $ 3,500 or $ 3,000. The company says these are the costs for suppliers and don't include the cost of installation and a power inverter, so customers could pay considerably more than that.
The battery, says Tesla, "increases the capacity for a household's solar consumption, while also offering backup functionality during grid outages."
At the same time, the company said it will producing larger batteries for businesses and utility companies - listing projects with Texas-based Oncor and Southern California Edison.
[Powering your home with batteries is going to get cheaper and cheaper]
The anticipation leading up to this announcement has been intense - words like "zeitgeist" are being used - which itself is one reason why the moment for "energy storage," as energy wonks put it to describe batteries and other technologies that save energy for later use, may finally be arriving. Prices for batteries have already been dropping, but if Tesla adds a "coolness factor" to the equation, people might even be willing to stretch their finances to buy one.
The truth, though, is Tesla isn't the only company in the battery game, and whatever happens with Tesla, this market is expected to grow. A study by GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association earlier this year found that while storage remains relatively niche - the market was sized at just $128 million in 2014 - it also grew 40 percent last year, and three times as many installations are expected this year.
[Why your next home might be battery powered]
By 2019, GTM Research forecasts, the overall market will have reached a size of $ 1.5 billion.
"The trend is more and more players being interested in the storage market," says GTM Research's Ravi Manghani. Tesla, he says, has two unique advantages - it is building a massive battery-making "gigafactory" which should drive down prices, and it is partnered with solar installer Solar City (Musk is Solar City's chairman), which "gives Tesla access to a bigger pool of customers, both residential and commercial, who are looking to deploy storage with or without solar."
The major upshot of more and cheaper batteries and much more widespread energy storage could, in the long term, be a true energy revolution - as well as a much greener planet. Here are just a few ways that storage can dramatically change - and green - the way we get power:
1. Helping to integrate more renewables onto the grid.
Almost everybody focusing the Tesla story has homed in on home batteries - but in truth, the biggest impact of storage could occur at the level of the electricity grid as a whole. Indeed, GTM Research's survey of the storage market found that 90 percent of deployments are currently at the utility scale, rather than in homes and businesses.
That's probably just the beginning: A late 2014 study by the Brattle Group, prepared for mega-Texas utility Oncor, found that energy storage "appears to be on the verge of becoming quite economically attractive" and that the benefits of deploying storage across Texas would "significantly exceed costs" thanks to improved energy grid reliability. Oncor has proposed spending as much as $ 5.2 billion on storage investments in the state. California, too, hasdirected state utilities to start developing storage capacity - for specifically environmental reasons.
For more power storage doesn't just hold out the promise of a more reliable grid - it means one that can rely less on fossil fuels and more on renewable energy sources like wind and, especially, solar, which vary based on the time of day or the weather. Or as a 2013 Department of Energy report put it, "storage can 'smooth' the delivery of power generated from wind and solar technologies, in effect, increasing the value of renewable power."
"Storage is a game changer," said Tom Kimbis, vice president of executive affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association, in a statement. That's for many reasons, according to Kimbis, but one of them is that "grid-tied storage helps system operators manage shifting peak loads, renewable integration, and grid operations." (In fairness, the wind industry questions how much storage will be needed to add more wind onto the grid.)
Consider how this might work using the example of California, a state that currently ramps up natural gas plants when power demand increases at peak times, explains Gavin Purchas, head of the Environmental Defense Fund's California clean energy program.
In California, "renewable energy creates a load of energy in the day, then it drops off in the evening, and that leaves you with a big gap that you need to fill," says Purchas. "If you had a plenitude of storage devices, way down the road, then you essentially would be able to charge up those storage devices during the day, and then dispatch them during the night, when the sun goes down. Essentially it allows you to defer when the solar power is used."
This will be appealing to power companies, notes Purchas, because "gas is very quick to respond, but it's not anywhere near as quick as battery, which can be done in seconds, as opposed to minutes with gas." The consequences of adding large amounts of storage to the grid, then, could be not only a lot fewer greenhouse gas emissions, but also better performance.
2. Greening suburban homes and, maybe, their electric cars, too.
Shifting away from the grid to the home, batteries or other forms of storage have an equally profound potential, especially when paired with rooftop solar panels.
Currently, rooftop solar users are able to draw power during the day and, under net metering arrangements, return some of it to the grid and thus lower their bills. This has led to a great boom in individual solar installations, but there's the same problem here as there is with the grid as a whole: Solar tapers off with the sun, but you still need a lot of power throughout the evening and overnight.
But storing excess solar power with batteries, and then switching them on once the solar panels stop drawing from the sun, makes a dramatic difference. Homes could shift even further away from reliance on the grid, while also using much more green power.
Moreover, they'd also be using it at a time of day when its environmental impact is greater. "If you think about solar, when it's producing in the middle of the day, the environmental footprint is relatively modest," explains Dartmouth College business professor Erin Mansur. That's because at this
time of day, Mansur explains, solar is more likely to be displacing electricity generated from less carbon intensive natural gas. "But if you can shift some of that to the evening ... if you can save some to the middle of the night, it's more likely to be displacing coal," says Mansur.
Some day, perhaps, some of the sun-sourced and power could even be widely used to recharge electric vehicles like Teslas - which would solve another problem. According to a much discussed 2012 paper by Mansur and two colleagues, electric vehicles can have a surprisingly high energy footprint despite their lack of tailpipe emissions because they are often charged over night, a time when the power provided to the grid (said to be "on the margin") often comes from coal.
But if electric vehicles could be charged overnight using stored power from the sun, that problem also goes away.
All of which contributes to a larger vision outlined recently by a team of researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability in which suburban homeowners, who can install rooftop solar combined with batteries and drive electric vehicles, start to dramatically reduce their carbon footprints - which have long tended to be bigger in suburbia, due in part to the need for long commutes - and also their home energy bills.
[How solar power and electric cars could make suburban living awesome again]
Granted, it's still a vision right now, rather than a reality for the overwhelming number of suburbanites - but energy storage is a key part of that vision.
3. Helping adjust to smart energy pricing
And there's another factor to add into the equation, which shows how energy storage could further help homeowners save money.
For a long time, economists have said that we need "smart" or "dynamic" electricity pricing - that people should be charged more for power at times of high energy demand, such as in the afternoon and early evening, when the actual electricity itself costs more on wholesale markets. This would lead to lower prices overall, but higher prices during peak periods. And slowly, such smart pricing schemes are being introduced to the grid (largely on a voluntary basis).
But if you combine "smart" pricing with solar and energy storage, then homeowners have another potential benefit, explains Ravi Manghani of GTM Research. They could store excess power from their solar panels during the day, and then actually use it in the evening when prices for electricity go up - and avoid the higher cost. "There's an economic case to store the excess solar generation and use it during evening hours," explains Manghani by email. (For more explanation, see here.)
Notably, if there are future reductions in how much money solar panel owners can make selling excess power back to the grid - and that's one thing the current pushback against net metering wants to achieve - then energy storage comes in and gives panel owners a new way for using that power.
"Storage increases the options," explains Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association. "It's an enabling technology for solar. It allows customers to meet more scenarios economically."
So in sum - cheaper, more easily available energy storage helps at the scale of the power grid, and also at the level of our homes, to further advantage cleaner, renewable energy. So if the economics of storage are finally starting to line up - and its business side to ramp up - that can only be good news for the planet.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated (based on a report from GTM Research) that the energy storage market grew 400 percent in 2014 and was sized at $ 139 million - and expected to be worth $1.4 billion in 2019. Those figures have been updated, and the correct figures are 40 percent, $ 128 million, and $ 1.5 billion.
2) Bacteria Produces Fuel with Sunlight
By Mike Orcutt, MIT Technology Review, May 2015
Researchers say combining bacteria with nanoscale semiconductors opens a new path toward efficient artificial photosynthesis.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, say that by combining nanoscale materials with bacteria, they have opened the door to a new way of designing systems that could efficiently turn carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight into useful organic compounds-similar to what plants do through photosynthesis. Down the road, they say, the system could become a commercially viable way to produce high-value chemicals like drug precursors used by the pharmaceutical industry, or to store renewable energy in the form of liquid fuels.
The goal of highly efficient artificial photosynthesis is a long-standing one, and there are many approaches to the problem, all of which face scientific hurdles (See "Sun + Water = Fuel" and "A Greener 'Artificial Leaf'"). One general approach is to rely on micro?rganisms called electrotrophs, which can be coaxed, through the application of electricity, to make certain chemical building blocks.
The new system is the first one in which semiconductors, which are capable of both capturing solar energy and transmitting electricity to the microbes, have been directly combined with bacteria, says Peidong Yang, a professor of chemistry and materials science at the University of California, Berkeley, and an inventor of the system. Previous similar systems have relied on bulky solar panels to provide renewable electricity (see "Making Diesel from CO2 and Sunlight"). In this case, semiconducting nanowires capture energy from sunlight and pass electrons to electrotrophic bacteria, which are nestled within the wires. The electrotrophs use the electrons to turn carbon dioxide and water into useful chemical building blocks. Those are then passed to genetically engineered E. coli, which in turn make a wide range of products.
This is the first working example of such a direct interface between bacteria and semiconducting materials for artificial photosynthesis, says Yang. He and his colleagues demonstrated that the system could make butanol, a polymer used in biodegradable plastics, and three pharmaceutical precursors. It could in principle be used to make many other products, including chemicals that are valuable in relatively small volumes-unlike fuel, which must be produced at a very large scale to be economical.
The new system is about as efficient as natural photosynthesis at using the energy in sunlight, says Yang. That's not enough for the process to be commercially viable, but he says new semiconductor materials his group is currently working with should make the process more competitive. "Efficiency is something we can improve in the near future," he says.
An important potential advantage of this particular design, besides the light-capturing nanowire array, is that it can be used in the presence of oxygen, says Eric Toone, a professor of biochemistry and chemistry at Duke University and former director of ARPA-E's electrofuels program, which focuses on developing technologies that use electrotrophic organisms to make fuel (the program funded Yang's group while Toone was at the helm). The well-studied bacteria Yang's group used cannot naturally tolerate oxygen, which has made the organism difficult to use at a large scale, says Toone. In the new design, says Yang, the nanowires "protect" the bacteria from oxygen.
Still, microbe-based systems face significant challenges because the bacteria must be kept alive, and even at best they don't live very long. And compared with chemical catalysts, bacteria are slow "engines," says Nate Lewis, a professor of chemistry at Caltech.
Indeed, Yang says his team's ultimate goal is a synthetic system that is more stable than the bacteria-based system. But at the moment, he says, there are no better catalysts than bacteria for converting carbon dioxide into useful compounds. He and his colleagues are now looking closely at the way in which the semiconducting materials transfer electrons to the microbes. Investigating this semiconductor-bacteria interface could yield useful insights toward the design of a synthetic catalyst that could replace the bugs.
3) Turning Plants into Technology
By Michael Strano, Juan Pablo Giraldo, Physics World, May 2015,
Nanomaterials are being used to give plants novel and augmented functions, with potential applications ranging from self-healing materials to living electronics
Nanobionic plant: An Arabidopsis plant with carbon nanotubes inside its leaves could have an enhanced capability to capture light and thus act as a photonic biochemical detector. (Juan Pablo Giraldo)
Imagine that you were to visit a distant planet and find its surface blanketed with sophisticated machines. These machines sense and respond to their environment, diagnose and repair themselves, and create their own fuel from their surroundings. As a technology-savvy earthling, you would be incredulous to learn that the only value seen in such machines was to grind them up, process and eat them - yet this is precisely what we do every day. Plants on Earth possess all of these diverse functions and more, but only now are we beginning to consider the potential of plants for new technologies.
The nascent field of "plant nanobionics" seeks to harness known properties of plants to augment or reinvent human technology. By treating living plants as technological platforms we can learn how to integrate nanoparticles with plant-based materials to impart novel functions to devices. Sensors in the form of plants could sample their environment through transpiration and report the result via radio-frequency signals, for example, or we can imagine self-repairing, plant-based photonic devices that serve as communications networks. Plants even have their own power source - photosynthesis, which has the added benefit of consuming carbon dioxide - and are made of cheap materials that are naturally recyclable.
The possibilities of plant nanobionics are potentially far-reaching. A world in which materials repair themselves using sunlight or where buildings in cities act as active carbon sinks would be transformative. Nanoelectronic devices parasitically wired and integrated into a plant's internal machinery could draw power, store energy and communicate sensory information relating to water stress, chemical exposure, nutrient stress or ambient illumination. How realistic is this vision? While there are definite limitations to plant nanobionics, this is a new field with much unexplored territory and scope for surprise.
Consider photosynthesis from an engineering perspective. A plant chloroplast (the photosynthetic engine of the organism) can produce sugars at an average rate of 40 ?g per square centimetre per hour. That is equivalent to 10% of the energy stored in a watch battery each day - not enough to power your smartphone or tablet, but sufficient to drive an active radio-frequency identification circuit to export information, an electrochemical sensor to generate information, or a luminescent beacon for signalling.
The stems of plants, which transport sap from the roots to the leaves via a bundle of conduits each being 10-100 ?m across, are another natural engineering marvel that could be exploited for devices. The electrolyte-containing conduits have an electrical conductivity of 0.5 millisiemens per centimetre, which is more than 30 times higher than that of silicon at room temperature, therefore providing channels for parallel communications from the ground to the tips of leaves.
Furthermore, pressure drops induced in the xylem from evaporating water inside leaves can reach values of more than -3 MPa. This is similar in magnitude to the pressure drops that power the entire field of microfluidic devices, which today are typically provided by bulky external pumps.
These are just a few examples that reveal the potential of plants as engineering materials, but there is much more infrastructure within the plant that could be tapped for applications. Plant nanobionics is distinct from the now well-established field of biomimetics, in which engineers learn from natural systems to create new synthetic materials, because it seeks to incorporate living plants into the final device. In plant systems, the use of nanotechnology for this purpose has no precedent.
Working at the intersection of plant physiology and nanotechnology, we became interested in plant nanobionics in 2010 thanks to a research project in which we studied plant self-repair mechanisms during photosynthesis. Our goal was to mimic such repair in synthetic devices, and we successfully built self-assembled photo-electrochemical devices by combining carbon nanotubes into a plant's photosystem. However, the project motivated us to investigate whether we could exploit existing functions of the plant's natural machinery - such as self-repair and the conversion of solar energy into fuels - to create high performance, self-repairing solar cells.
In vivo fluorescent imaging of a plant that has been integrated with single-walled carbon nanotubes (red), showing their presence in (clockwise, from top left): the leaf, near leaf veins, parenchyma cells and chloroplasts. (Nature Materials)
Last year we reported a series of new techniques that allow nanoparticles to be delivered and localized within living plants and plant organelles, and we were able to demonstrate several novel functions that could emerge as a result (Nature Materials 13 400). Using extracted spinach chloroplasts and leaves from Arabidopsis plants, we found that single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) augment both the light reactions of photosynthesis and biochemical detection functions in these species. Furthermore, we discovered that, under certain conditions, SWCNTs can be made to assemble within the chloroplast's photosynthetic machinery, which has proven to be a powerful enabling technique.
Surprisingly, SWCNTs that are thousands of times longer than the thickness of a lipid bilayer penetrate the outer lipid envelopes of chloroplasts and are left trapped on the inside. Wrapped in highly charged molecules, the SWCNTs assemble within the chloroplast photosynthetic machinery via a mechanism we call lipid exchange envelope penetration (LEEP): the SWCNTs become coated with lipids that form the chloroplast envelopes, pulling nanotubes in as the membrane repairs itself and thereby trapping them inside. LEEP could potentially be used to make many new types of hybrid photosynthetic materials in plants, including those that absorb light at wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum or those that have chemo-protective capabilities against photo-damage. We demonstrated that SWCNTs can enhance the rates of photo-induced electron transport both in chloroplasts extracted from the plant-cell host and in leaves of living plants by up to 30% relative to controls.
The delivery of SWCNTs to living plants was performed by infiltration through the stomata, which are the pores that control gas exchange between leaves and the atmosphere. We also exploited this mechanism to deliver nano-sized particles of cerium oxide (known as "nanoceria") inside chloroplasts, significantly reducing the levels of reactive oxygen species to values 28% lower than in control chloroplasts. Nanoceria particles act catalytically as potent scavengers of these damaging molecules, a bit like supercharged vitamin C, thus protecting the chloroplast protein complexes and significantly extending the lifetime of the plant.
We also showed that plants assembled with carbon nanotubes can act as chemical sensors that communicate by fluorescent signalling. These nanobionic plants report changes in the concentration of nitric oxide (a plant-signalling molecule and environmental pollutant) by modulating the near-infrared emission of nanoparticle sensors embedded within the leaf lamina. The modified plants are able to respond within seconds of exposure and are capable of detection sensitivities below one part per million in aqueous media. We envision such nanobionic plants replacing more expensive inorganic sensors based on electronics and plastics for the detection of explosives or environmental pollutants, for instance.
The discovery that SWCNTs can assemble within a plant's photosynthetic machinery raises the possibility of biocompatible electrodes patterned within and on the surfaces of leaves and stems. These could be interfaced with plant tissues to produce electrical circuits for computation, electrochemical detection of molecules inside the plant, or external communication. This merging of synthetic and natural infrastructures is one of the central visions of plant nanobionics. A laccase-glucose oxidase electrode pair, for example, creates a biofuel cell that could syphon off stored glucose to electrically power the circuits. This could allow the circuit to monitor the plant's photosynthetic output directly by quantifying the sugars that are the main products of photosynthesis.
Monitoring other plant signals is similarly intriguing. Abscisic acid, for instance, is a hormone produced by roots in response to dry soil conditions that controls plant transpiration by closing the stomatal aperture. We can therefore imagine nanoelectronic circuits that respond to plant chemical signals and control the water content of their environment, for example by generating a radio-frequency signal that activates an irrigation device in response to water stress.
We can even consider incorporating plant systems directly into our own building materials to provide added functionality. Since chloroplasts can perform the basic function of converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugars even when they are removed from a living plant cell, materials containing transplanted chloroplasts could potentially capture unwanted carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. For this to be possible, however, we first need to prevent the natural degradation of the "naked" chloroplasts caused by reactive oxygen species and other mechanisms when they are removed from the plant cell. At the Massachussetts Institute of Technology we have recently been working on the concept of a "hyperstable chloroplast" as an engineering material, perhaps based on chemo-protective nanoparticles such as nanoceria.
Calling all physicists
Such visions might at first seem a bridge too far. Plant nanobionics requires interdisciplinary research teams and strong collaboration between plant scientists and nanotechnology researchers to make it reality, but there is a wealth of scientific knowledge and technological potential to be gained on the way towards this goal. Enhancing crop yields and the productivity of algae biofuel, or creating novel hybrid photovoltaic and optical communication materials, are already widely studied technological goals. But some applications, such as authentic plant cyborg tissue, require completely new avenues of exploration.
There are many different scientific and engineering challenges for plant nanobionics in the decade ahead. We have shown that nanoparticles introduced to a plant can be trafficked to the chloroplasts in leaves via vascular infusion, but what about directing other nanoparticles to other plant organs or tissues to boost or introduce additional functions? Does a given nanoparticle with particular properties and coatings affect its transport within the plant? Such questions are still poorly understood, but will help to develop plant biocompatible circuits and optical communication materials.
To bridge the world of electronics and plants, we also need to understand the physical limitations imposed by the plant. We have to determine, for example, how electromagnetic interactions within and between nanomaterials affect the way that visible, infrared or radio-frequency waves interact with living plants. As with every new technology, safety studies should also be thoroughly conducted before taking nanobionic plants outside the laboratory. Nanotoxicity studies demonstrate that the behaviour of nanomaterials in living tissue depends a lot on the surface chemistry, aspect ratio, nanoparticle size and other properties. While studies in this area will help engineers to design additional biocompatible materials for the plant interface, many nanobionic applications - such as those designed to replace or enhance silicon, plastic and metal devices for communications, photonics or self-powered systems - do not involve ingestible nanoparticles.
There are seemingly endless opportunities and challenges in using nanotechnology to enhance and exploit the diverse functions of plants. One certainty, however, is that plant nanobionics requires the engagement of multidisciplinary teams of plant biologists, chemists, engineers and physicists alike.
Michael Strano is a chemical engineer and Juan Pablo Giraldo is a plant physiologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, email@example.com
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4) 15 Projects that NASA Wants to Change from Science Fiction to Science Fact
By Mika Mikinnon, Space.com May 5, 2015
The projects funded by NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program sound more like a list of science fiction dreams than plausible research, yet that's exactly what they are. These 15 projects just received $100,000 to explore how feasible they can be.
Several of the projects involve innovative uses for small, compact, low-cost satellites called CubeSats that can carry limited payloads, or rely on alternative energy sources to reduce dependence on nuclear power for space exploration.
1. Wind-Powered Drone Pairs For More Efficient Atmospheric Research Platforms
The Virtual Flight Demonstration of Stratospheric Dual-Aircraft Platform will link a pair of glider drones with a cable as they soar around the stratosphere, providing a long-term atmospheric platform. Led by William Engblom at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the project will deploy aircraft powered by wind shear that get an extra boost from solar films and possibly even a wind turbine. The aircraft will be paired at different altitudes (up to a kilometer apart) so they're in significantly different wind regimes. The upper glider, SAIL, provides lift and aerodynamic thrust, while the lower aircraft, BOARD, provides upwind force. This should give a substantial power boost over traditional solar aircraft, allowing for multi-year stationkeeping and long-term platforms for earth observation or communication.
2. New Liquid Capture For More Efficient Air Scrubbing
Keeping air clean is a major problem in contained environments like space stations and submarines. The Thirsty Walls - A new paradigm for air revitalization in life support project is being developed under the direction of John Graf at NASA Johnson Space Center to swap out forced-air systems with liquid capture instead. Forced air is annoying because it's complicated, requires a lot of moving parts, restricts airflow, and in microgravity, also require heavy, inefficient removal beds. Early-generation liquid capture systems required gas permeable membranes, which were both slow and tended to get poisoned over time. This new technology uses capillary fluid mechanics to directly expose cabin air as passive "curtains" that don't require high pressure or high flow velocity. It's also a step up from submarine systems, replacing Monoethanolamine with ionic liquid as the CO2 capture for better power efficiency.
3. Pulsar-Based Navigation System For Deep Space Missions
The A Tall Ship and a Star to Steer Her By is being developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Michael Hecht. Along with joining the list of absurd astronomy acronyms with Differential Deployable Autonomous Radio Navigation, or DARN, the project wants to use radio observations of quasars, pulsars, and masers as navigational beacons for deep space missions. If it works, this could be the interplanetary version of GPS for navigation. For this early phase, the project is just putting together a catalogue of sources and design concept for how to run a technology demonstration mission.
4. Rocket Fuels That Can Be Mined In Space
The In-Space Manufacture of Storable Propellants wants to solve a basic problem: how to provide propellent for space missions without wasting yet more propellent while getting that propellent into space. Instead of shipping propellent from Earth into orbit, Principle Investigator is John Lewis of Deep Space Industries is trying to find ways to manufacture propellent in space. A major challenge with rocket fuel is to make it storable so it only explodes upon request: we use a hydrazine fuel with a N2O4 oxidizer. The problem with mining volatiles from Near-Earth Asteroids is a lack nitrogen, so the proposal will need to develop an alternate suitable storable oxidizing agent.
5. Tiny CubeSats To Poke At The Composition Of Asteroids And Comets
Joseph Wang is leading the charge on the CubeSat with Nanostructured Sensing Instrumentation for Planetary Exploration, a project mixing the excitement of cheap, tiny CubeSats with our growing expertise at landing on comets and asteroids. The key part of the project are cheap, lightweight, compact, disposable sensors being developed at the University of Southern California and the University of Utah that can detect 74 trace elements to the nearest part per billion (ppb). If the TiO2 nanotube sensing platform can be successfully integrated into CubeSats, they open up the possibility of being able to ground-truth our remote sensing of the composition of the small rocky and icy bodies of our solar system.
6. Mini-Seismic Surveys To Investigate The Interior Structure Of Asteroids
The Seismic Exploration of Small Bodies project tickles my geophysical heart by bringing seismic surveys to tiny lumps of rock and ice in deep space. Under Jeffrey Plescia at Johns Hopkins University, the project will combine micro-seismometers developed at Arizona State University with CubeSats to create impactors to investigate the interiors of asteroids and comets. The concept is very simple: drop at least one micro-seismometer on the target's surface, then smack it with a projectile as a seismic energy source to produce a known signal. The seismic data could be interpreted using the same inversion techniques as seismic surveys here on Earth, providing data on the seismic velocity (thus interior structure) of asteroids and comets.
7. Directed Energy Propulsion for Interstellar Exploration
Wants to up our game with interstellar exploration by advancing the next generation of deep space probes. Phil Lubin's research group at the University of California at Santa Barbara is looking at pairing directed energy propulsion with wafer-scale spacecraft to create tiny probes propelled by phased arrays of lasers. The miniature satellites will be designed to supplement the long-range remote sensing currently done by orbital telescopes. While initially interplanetary explorers, the wafer satellites could theoretically be boosted to relativistic speeds and be our first interstellar probes.
8. Rocket-Powered Hopper To Explore Neptune's Moon Triton
The DEEP IN Directed Energy Propulsion for Interstellar Exploration wants to up our game with interstellar exploration by advancing the next generation of deep space probes. Phil Lubin's research group at the University of California at Santa Barbara is looking at pairing directed energy propulsion with wafer-scale spacecraft to create tiny probes propelled by phased arrays of lasers. The miniature satellites will be designed to supplement the long-range remote sensing currently done by orbital telescopes. While initially interplanetary explorers, the wafer satellites could theoretically be boosted to relativistic speeds and be our first interstellar probes.
9. Submarine Squid To Explore The Oceans Of Europa
The development of the Soft-Robotic Rover with Electrodynamic Power Scavenging is being led by Mason Peck of Cornell University. The soft, squid-inspired robot would be the first submarine rover to explore another planet. The planned power systems are all about taking advantage of the local environment: the tentacles will harvest power from changing magnetic fields. In turn, the tentacles will power electrolysis to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen gas. The gas will be used to inflate the squid, changing its shape to propel it through fluids. Europa is the most famous watery moon that could be explored by this squid, but it could also work on other moons of Jupiter and Saturn that have liquid lakes or oceans.
10. Robot Swarm To Explore Lunar Shadows For Volatile Elements
The CRICKET: Cryogenic Reservoir Inventory by Cost-Effective Kinetically Enhanced Technology being developed by Jeffrey Plesia at Johns Hopkins University is all about bouncing around the darkest slivers of the moon. A small herd of robots will explore perpetually shadowed regions on the lunar poles for water and other volatile elements. The swarms consist of three roles: a swarm of crickets to hop, crawl, and roll whike exploring the shadows; a carrier hive to collect data, navigate, provide power, and disperse the crickets on the surface; and an orbiting queen to deliver the robots and provide communication. The robots are all extensions of existing technology, although these particular variants will carry spectrographs, lamps, heating elements, and whiskers to characterize the volatiles.
11. Supercooling Materials To Provide Radiation Sheilding And Energy Storage
NASA Kennedy Space Center's Robert Youngquist is the principle investigator for Cryogenic Selective Surfaces, a project to develop surfaces for extreme passive cooling. By creating materials with with wavelength-dependent emissivity and absorption properties, the research team is hoping they can create new cryogenic storage and large-scale superconducting systems that can be used in deep space for galactic cosmic radiation shielding or energy storage. The prototype materials have been tested on Earth to cool to -50?C below ambient temperatures, but could theoretically work much better in a vacuum.
12. Sunlight-Drills To Capture And Mine Asteroids For Water
The APIS (Asteroid Provided In-Situ Supplies): 100MT Of Water from a Single Falcon 9 is the idea of Joel Sercel of ICS Associates Inc to fix the problem of how to find usable water in space in an affordable, accessible manner. The team hopes that they can wrap asteroids in bags, then use optical mining to concentrate sunlight to drill into them. The project is designed to be lightweight and compact enough that all the equipment can be loaded unto a single rocket launch (Falcon 9 or equivalent), harnessing the technology of the Asteroid Redirect Mission to capture a target and trap outgassing water released during optical mining.
13. WindBots To Explore The Cloudy Skies Of Gas Giants
The WindBots: persistent in-situ science explorers for gas giants is exactly what it says on the label: a project to create autonomous robots that can investigate the atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, or Neptune. Under the guidance of Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Adrian Stoica, the project is hoping to design robots that can directly harvest energy locally, allowing them to persistently explore their assigned gas giant. That same technology could theoretically be applied to other planetary robotic explorers, reducing their reliance on expensive nuclear energy.
14. Deformable Mirrors Shaped By Magnetic Fields
Melville Ulmer at Northwestern University is partnering with researchers at the University of Illinois to investigate the feasibility of creating shapable telescope mirrors with magnetic fields.Aperture: A Precise Extremely large Reflective Telescope Using Re-configurable Elements is a concept that combines a flying magnetic write head with magnetic smart material coating the back of a mirror, creating a deformable reflecting membrane. Earlier iterations of the concept ran into problems with distorting the mirror outside of correctable error-bounds, and creating a mirror that can keep its shape for long periods of time.
15. New Type Of Lens To Reduce The Cost Of Large Telescopes
One of the most expensive things about building telescopes is developing beautiful, flawless lenses to focus light. Nelson Tabirian is leading the Thin-Film Broadband Large Area Imaging System project at BEAM Engineering for Advanced Measurements Co. to apply their waveplate lens technology to creating a new type of light-weight, economical thin film lens. The waveplate lenses and mirrors could theoretically be used to build telescopes with a far larger aperture than currently feasible under current technology and economic considerations, leading to a new generation of ultra-enormous telescopes. The technology uses techniques developed for laser communication to correct chromatic aberrations, permitting submicroradian angular radiation.
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5) Using Graphene For Desalination
By Matthew Chalmers Physics World, May 2015
A team at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the US has demonstrated desalination technology using free-standing, porous graphene membranes. Seawater desalination is usually performed via reverse-osmosis polymer-based filters, which require significant pressure to push water from one side to the other.
By offering a more porous and thinner membrane, explains study co-leader Shannon Mark Mahurin of the ORNL, graphene could increase the flux and achieve the same purification rate with a smaller membrane area. "That all serves to reduce the amount of energy that it takes to drive the process," he says.
Water molecules are too big to pass through graphene's fine mesh, so the team made holes using a silicon-nitride stencil and an oxygen plasma that knocked carbon atoms out of the 2D hexagonal lattice.
The resulting membrane allowed water - but not salt ions - to penetrate, with the optimum pore size for effective desalination found to be 0.5-1 nm (Nature Nanotechnology 10.1038/nnano.2015.37). "It's a huge advance," says Mahurin. "The flux through the current graphene membranes was at least an order of magnitude higher than [that through] state-of-the-art reverse-osmosis polymeric membranes."
Menachem Elimelech of Yale University in the US, who was not involved in the study, says that the challenge for graphene-based membranes is to scale them up to larger areas, and warns that seawater desalination demands a salt-rejection level of greater than 99.9%.
"This work represents progress in the development of graphene-based desalination membranes, but it shows a much lower salt rejection," Elimelech told Physics World. "It is now well known that high-flux membranes will not reduce the energy of seawater desalination because the transport of water through the membrane is governed to a large degree by the osmotic pressure, and further graphene membranes will need to be tested under hydraulic pressures, as in real operation."
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