Water

Microbe could make biofuels hot

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: July 5, 2011   View Article

A record-breaking microbe that thrives while munching plant material at near boiling temperatures has been discovered in a Nevada hot spring, researchers announced in a study published today.

Scientists are eyeing the microbe’s enzyme responsible for breaking down cellulose — called a cellulase — as a potential workhouse in the production of biofuels and other industrial processes.

Science explodes at African lake

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: June 28, 2011   View Article

The depths of Africa’s Lake Kivu harbor untold quantities of carbon dioxide and methane gases that could provide abundant electricity to millions of Rwandans and Congolese settling along its shores. But those gases could suddenly release, killing everything in and around the lake.

“Understanding whether you can find scenarios that would lead to something like that, a catastrophic release of gas, is of course important,” Anthony Vodacek, a remote sensing scientist at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, told me on Monday.

Is Arctic ice thinning?

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: June 22, 2011   View Article

Scientists have long used satellite imagery to illustrate the shrinking extent of the Arctic sea ice. Now they’ve got satellite data that will provide regular updates on whether the ice is getting thinner as well.

The first ice thickness map from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat spacecraft was released Tuesday at an air show in Paris. It was compiled with data collected in January and February.

The map shows, for example, the ice is thickest near the North Pole and off the coasts of Greenland and northeastern Canada. It thins as it stretches out towards Alaska and Russia.

Solar hot water with a jolt

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: May 4. 2011   View Article

With the aid of nanotech materials, scientists have engineered a new way to convert the sun’s heat into electricity that is roughly eight times more efficient than previously reported solar thermoelectric devices.

What’s more, the device could be added to existing solar water heaters, giving people a jolt of electricity to power their gadgets along with warm bath water, noted Gang Chen, an engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“We just changed the existing system a little bit,” he told me today. “Then we generate electricity and supply hot water.”

Fill’er up – with hydrogen?

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: May 2, 2011   View Article

Scientists have found and tested an abundant and inexpensive catalyst needed to make hydrogen fuel from sunlight and water, a necessary step on the road to the elusive clean, green hydrogen economy.

The new catalyst — molybdenum sulfide— is an alternative to platinum, an expensive and rare catalyst used to convert single ions of hydrogen split off from water into hydrogen gas.

“That’s the very neat thing here, it is quite inexpensive and abundant,” Jens Norskov, a chemical engineer with the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University, told me Monday.

The dream of a hydrogen economy stems from the fact that hydrogen is an energy dense and clean fuel — upon combustion, it releases water. The problem is that most hydrogen is produced from natural gas in a process that releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

Fill’er up – with hydrogen?

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: May 2, 2011   View Article

Scientists have found and tested an abundant and inexpensive catalyst needed to make hydrogen fuel from sunlight and water, a necessary step on the road to the elusive clean, green hydrogen economy.

The new catalyst — molybdenum sulfide— is an alternative to platinum, an expensive and rare catalyst used to convert single ions of hydrogen split off from water into hydrogen gas.

Is algae biofuel too thirsty?

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: April 14, 2011   View Article

Biofuel produced from algae, essentially pond scum, has long titillated green energy boosters as a potential big time player in the U.S. renewable fuels portfolio. Now, a-first-of-its-kind look at industrial-scale freshwater farming of algae suggests it could indeed make a sizeable dent in U.S. oil imports, but drain water resources.

Specifically, the U.S. could produce enough of the algae-derived fuel to eliminate 48 percent of the fuel it currently imports for transportation needs, according to researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. But doing so would require 5.5 percent of the land area in the lower 48 states and consume about three times the water currently used to irrigate crops.

“The water use is significant,” Mark Wigmosta, a hydrologist at the lab who led the study, told me today.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach