Welcome to the August 2016 installment of the Direct Energy Buzz! In this edition, we will head outside to get some fresh air into our lungs and commune with nature! We’ll examine some solar-powered camping gear, the power potential of an artificial leaf to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2), and how new technology might dissolve future electronic trash.
Powering the Great Outdoors
While many people enjoy their summer vacations camping in national parks or remote forests, fewer and fewer leave their electronic devices at home. Even though the National Geographic now offers free downloads of United States Geological Survey quad maps for any hiking trail in the US, most folks intent on navigating the wilds of the continent prefer using their smartphone’s GPS system.
But this begs the question: “What happens when you need to charge it and you’re half a day’s hike from your vehicle?”
Introducing flexible solar recharging pads! A number of these are already on the market, but Powerfilm’s LightSaver Max caught our eye because it’s thin, lightweight, has an on-board 15,600 mAh battery, and even if you shoot holes in the panel, it will still put out power.
The convenience of the on-board battery means you can charge your devices when you want to — even when the panel is rolled up and stowed in your backpack. Just connect a USB cable from it to your device, and you’re set. The panel is also sensitive and efficient enough that it collects energy in shade or partial sun.
Can Carbon Dioxide Turn Over a New Leaf?
Leaves do a wonderful thing with CO2. Using photosynthesis, they turn this gas into chemical energy to grow. But the problem with CO2 is that there’s a lot of it in the atmosphere, and it’s a very stable molecule that doesn’t break down on its own. The only large-scale way of converting CO2 into water and other compounds is through photosynthesis.
But what if you could take CO2 and convert it into a useable fuel?
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (with computational assistance from Argonne National Labs) have figured out how to do just that by developing an artificial leaf that uses sunlight, water, and tungsten diselenide as a catalyst to convert CO2 to CO (carbon monoxide), which is more reactive.
Once you have CO, you can easily turn it into methanol (CH3OH) or possibly into methane (CH4) or a product that is called “syn gas.” The tungsten catalyst works more than 1,000 times more efficiently and cheaply than other metals. If this technology can be added to emission systems on power plants, there’s a potential it could reduce and recycle the CO2 waste stream into other products.
A Potential Solution to the Electronic Waste Problem
Electronic printed circuit boards (PCB’s) made of plastics or epoxy have been a major chunk of the world’s growing electronic waste (e-waste) problem. For the past few years, however, as the electronic components have decreased in size and weight, the idea of making the PCBs thinner and from organic soluble materials has been getting attention — especially among biomedical device makers. Known as “transient electronics,” they are a class of devices that can completely dissolve within a programmed period of time.
But one of the snags has centered on batteries. Last week in Ames, IA, Professor Reza Montazami announced the development of a self-destructing, lithium-ion battery capable that delivers 2.5 volts (for 15 minutes) and then dissolves if dropped in water. The battery is made of layers of degradable polymer composite wrapped in a polyvinyl alcohol-based polymer. It functions normally when kept dry, but once it’s exposed to water, the polymer swells, breaking apart the electrodes, and then dissolves away in 30 minutes.
With more than 3 billion household dry cell batteries discarded in the United States each year contributing to mercury, cadmium, and other heavy metals in landfills, dissolvable batteries offer a novel solution to obsolete tech and other forms of e-waste.
Do you have a topic you’d like to see us address in a future installment of the Direct Energy Buzz? Tell us in the comments!