Breakthrough in Hydrogen Fuel Production Could Revolutionize Alternative Energy Market
A team of Virginia Tech researchers has discovered a way to extract large quantities of hydrogen from any plant, a breakthrough that has the potential to bring a low-cost, environmentally friendly fuel source to the world.
“Our new process could help end our dependence on fossil fuels,” said Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering. “Hydrogen is one of the most important biofuels of the future.”
Zhang and his team have succeeded in using xylose, the most abundant simple plant sugar, to produce a large quantity of hydrogen that previously was attainable only in theory. Zhang’s method can be performed using any source of biomass.
The discovery is a featured editor’s choice in an online version of the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie, International Edition.
This new environmentally friendly method of producing hydrogen utilizes renewable natural resources, releases almost no zero greenhouse gasses, and does not require costly or heavy metals. Previous methods to produce hydrogen are expensive and create greenhouse gases.
The U.S. Department of Energy says that hydrogen fuel has the potential to dramatically reduce reliance of fossil fuels and automobile manufactures are aggressively trying to develop vehicles that run on hydrogen fuel cells. Unlike gas-powered engines that spew out pollutants, the only byproduct of hydrogen fuel is water. Zhang’s discovery opens the door to an inexpensive, renewable source of hydrogen.
Read more at ScienceDaily
Trees Used to Create Recyclable, Efficient Solar Cell
Solar cells are just like leaves, capturing the sunlight and turning it into energy. It’s fitting that they can now be made partially from trees.
Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University researchers have developed efficient solar cells using natural substrates derived from plants such as trees. Just as importantly, by fabricating them on cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) substrates, the solar cells can be quickly recycled in water at the end of their lifecycle.
The technology is published in the journal Scientific Reports, the latest open-access journal from the Nature Publishing Group.
The researchers report that the organic solar cells reach a power conversion efficiency of 2.7 percent, an unprecedented figure for cells on substrates derived from renewable raw materials. The CNC substrates on which the solar cells are fabricated are optically transparent, enabling light to pass through them before being absorbed by a very thin layer of an organic semiconductor. During the recycling process, the solar cells are simply immersed in water at room temperature. Within only minutes, the CNC substrate dissolves and the solar cell can be separated easily into its major components.
Georgia Tech College of Engineering Professor Bernard Kippelen led the study and says his team’s project opens the door for a truly recyclable, sustainable and renewable solar cell technology.
Read more at ScienceDaily.
USDA Announces Grants to Help Farms and Ranches Build Resilience to Drought
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the award of $5.3 million in Conservation Innovation Grants to develop approaches and technology that will help producers adapt to extreme climate changes that cause drought. These grants will fund projects benefiting several states that were significantly impacted by last year’s drought. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. Today’s announcement is one part of the department’s efforts to strengthen the rural economy.
“USDA is working diligently to help American farmers and ranchers rebound from last year’s drought and prepare for future times of climatic extremes,” Vilsack said. “Conservation Innovation Grants are an excellent way to invest in new technology and approaches that will help our farmers, ranchers and rural communities be more resilient in the future.”
The grants will address drought-related issues, such as grazing management, warm season forage systems, irrigation strategies and innovative cropping systems.
Recipients plan to evaluate innovative, field-based conservation technologies and approaches, leading to improvements like enhancing soil’s ability to hold water, evaluating irrigation water use and installing grazing systems that are more tolerant to drought.
Read more at Seedstock.com
To Help Small Farmers Meet City’s Demand, Online Startup Directly Connects Local Farms to Buyers
Farmers Web is an 18-month-old start-up that aims to link local farms with local buyers through a wholesale “management tool,” and vibrant online marketplace that allows you to “shop and sell local online, anytime.”
The brainchild of co-founder and CEO, Jennifer Goggin, Farmers Web was born in downtown Manhattan from decidedly non-bucolic roots.
“I went into finance after college (Columbia University–political science), but my heart just wasn’t in it,” Goggin said. “So we decided that promoting small agriculture was something we could grab hold of.”
What Farmers Web (Goggin and two colleagues who were long-time friends) aims to do is connect small to mid-size farmers within 300 miles of New York City directly with buyers, obviating the need for a middleman wholesaler.
Suppliers outside of the city cannot always deal directly with the multitude of restaurants, institutions and small grocers that usually make their purchases from a wholesale market in lower Manhattan. And those buyers cannot always take the time to research local farmers within delivery distance.
Farmers Web connects suppliers and buyers through an online website that lets participating farmers show what produce is available and at what price, and buyers can shop from the ease of their desktop. Farmers Web provides the service for a five percent transaction commission and there is no signup or subscription fee.
Goggin said that contributing to a sustainable living zeitgeist was definitely part of their effort.
“No one was doing anything like this,” she said. “We were starting from scratch and it took more than a year to build the initial website. The coding is difficult.”
But she was acutely aware of the limited options Manhattan shops and restaurants had when it comes to “going green” by narrowing the carbon footprint of supplier to buyer. Most restaurants haven’t the time or manpower to track basic inventories and rely on wholesale centers in the city. Farmers Web allows them the luxury of shopping a multitude of suppliers, as well as exotic offerings and artisanal specialties, found through the site’s search engine.
Read more at Seedstock.com