DOE News
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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2017-10-10 14:05:08
    • Article ID: 682626

    Solar-Powered Devices Made of Wood Could Help Mitigate Water Scarcity Crisis

    Low-cost, enviro-friendly devices use natural nanoengineering

    College Park, Md. — Engineers at the University of Maryland have created a new technological solution to the pressing global challenge of water scarcity by creating a suite of solar steam generation devices that are at once efficient, easily accessible, environmentally friendly, biodegradable, and extremely low cost.

    Inspired by the process by which water is carried through trees from roots to small pores on the underside of leaves, the UMD research team created several new ways in which water can be transported through wood, purifying it for safe use. Energy from the sun and a block of wood smaller than an adult’s hand are the only components needed to heat water to its steaming point in these devices.

    The global crisis of water scarcity is a pressing global challenge, and the situation is far worse in developing countries, where safe water is difficult to secure for 1 billion people.

    “Cost and manufacturing are key challenges in using the solar-steam technology for seawater desalination and for the first time, wood-based structures can potentially provide solutions,” said Liangbing Hu, UMD associate professor of materials science and engineering and the leader of the projects. Hu is interested in scaling up these devices for commercial use, which includes designing ways to easily manufacture the devices and bring down their cost. The team is racing other research groups to invent a successful solar steam generation device that is cost efficient and easy to use.  He is also a member of the University of Maryland Energy Research Center and the Maryland NanoCenter, where the devices were studied closely.

    The team is trying out a few twists on the basic idea of using a darkened surface on the wood to heat the water, then pulling it through the wood’s natural porous structures.

    Picture a bowl of unpurified water sitting in a sunny spot. On top of it floats a small block of wood about two inches by two inches. The side of the block facing up is darkened, to catch the sun's rays. As the sun heats the wood, the water below is drawn up through the wood’s natural channels. The hot dark surface evaporates the water, which can be condensed and distilled off. The salt or other contaminants are too heavy to evaporate, so they stay below.

    One design, as published in the journal Advanced Materials, uses carbon nanotubes -- tiny, naturally dark structures grown in a lab -- to coat one side of the wood and heat the water inside.  Another, described in the journal Advanced Energy Materials, uses metal nanoparticles to achieve the same results. Both of these designs are very efficient, but come with a higher cost to produce.

    Another innovative design involves carbonizing -- essentially, burning -- the top layer of wood to create a dark surface. The team tried this with the natural wood’s channels oriented up-and-down, just as they would be inside the tree (described in another paper, published today in Advanced Materials).

    By the same measure used to test solar cells’ efficiency, the team measured how efficient the solar steam generation devices are. The most efficient device was the burned-top wood, with 87% efficiency at ten suns of light. It was also the least expensive to produce, coming in at only $1 per square meter.

    Professor Siddhartha Das of UMD’s mechanical engineering department and his team studied the flow of water through the wood. Prof. Bao Yang, also of UMD’s mechanical engineering department, and his team contributed on thermal related measurement. A team from University of Wisconsin-Madison, headed by professor Zongfu Yu of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department, studied the light trapping in treated wood.

    Though they may not best the efficiency or cost lists, the other devices also have their advantages. The carbon nanotube-topped version is also flexible, because the component that makes wood stiff, lignin, was removed. It could be rolled into a tube. The device coated with metal nanoparticles showed a self-cleaning aspect when it was placed in salt water. During the day, the salt was too heavy to evaporate and was left behind. During the simulated night (12 hours without sunlight) the salt dissolved off the wet surface.

    "Highly Flexible and Efficient Solar Steam Generation Device"

    Advanced Materials

    June 12, 2017

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/adma.201701756

     
    "Plasmonic Wood for High-Efficiency Solar Steam Generation"

    Advanced Energy Materials

    September 28, 2017

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/aenm.201701028

     
    "Artificial Tree for High-Efficiency Water Extraction"

    Advanced Materials

    October 10, 2017

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/adma.201704107R1

     

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    Argonne multidisciplinary team develops new probe for battery research: Strength in numbers

    Argonne multidisciplinary team develops new probe for battery research: Strength in numbers

    An Argonne team has developed a powerful technique for probing in three dimensions the nanostructure for cathode materials of next-generation batteries. Such batteries could one day revolutionize energy storage for both transportation and the electric grid.

    Shake, rattle, roll: Turbulence found to disrupt the crucial magnetic fields in fusion energy devices

    Shake, rattle, roll: Turbulence found to disrupt the crucial magnetic fields in fusion energy devices

    Scientists at PPPL have discovered that turbulence may play an increased role in affecting the self-driven, or bootstrap, current in plasma that is necessary for tokamak fusion reactions.

    Bio-circuitry mimics synapses and neurons in a step toward sensory computing

    Bio-circuitry mimics synapses and neurons in a step toward sensory computing

    Researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Tennessee and Texas A&M University demonstrated bio-inspired devices that accelerate routes to neuromorphic, or brain-like, computing.

    Staircase to the stars: Turbulence in fusion plasmas may not be all bad

    Staircase to the stars: Turbulence in fusion plasmas may not be all bad

    Surprise discovery shows that turbulence at the edge of the plasma may facilitate production of fusion energy.

    Study shows a much cheaper catalyst can generate hydrogen in a commercial device

    Study shows a much cheaper catalyst can generate hydrogen in a commercial device

    SLAC and Stanford researchers have shown for the first time that a cheap catalyst can split water and generate hydrogen gas for hours on end in the harsh environment of a commercial electrolyzer - a step toward large-scale hydrogen production for fuel, fertilizer and industry.

    Unlocking the Biochemical Treasure Chest Within Microbes

    Unlocking the Biochemical Treasure Chest Within Microbes

    An international team of scientists lead by the Joint Genome Institute has developed a genetic engineering tool that makes producing and analyzing microbial secondary metabolites - the basis for many important agricultural, industrial, and medical products - much easier than before, and could even lead to breakthroughs in biomanufacturing.

    Scientists Pinpoint Cause of Harmful Dendrites and Whiskers in Lithium Batteries

    Scientists Pinpoint Cause of Harmful Dendrites and Whiskers in Lithium Batteries

    Scientists have uncovered a root cause of the growth of needle-like structures--known as dendrites and whiskers--that plague lithium batteries, sometimes causing a short circuit or failure. The defects are a major factor holding back the batteries from broader widespread use and further improvement.

    Argonne and University of Illinois to form hydrogen fuel cell coalition

    Argonne and University of Illinois to form hydrogen fuel cell coalition

    Argonne and University of Illinois announce intent to form the Midwest Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Coalition.

    Six Degrees of Nuclear Separation

    Six Degrees of Nuclear Separation

    For the first time, Argonne scientists have printed 3D parts that pave the way to recycling up to 97 percent of the waste produced by nuclear reactors. From left to right: Peter Kozak, Andrew Breshears, M Alex Brown, co-authors of a recent Scientific Reports article detailing their breakthrough. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

    Shaping nanoparticles for improved quantum information technology

    Shaping nanoparticles for improved quantum information technology

    Argonne researchers find that semiconductor nanoparticles in the shape of rings have attractive properties for quantum networking and computation.


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    Jefferson Lab Establishes New Fellowships in Nuclear Physics and Accelerator Science

    Jefferson Lab Establishes New Fellowships in Nuclear Physics and Accelerator Science

    The Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility is fostering innovation and growth in nuclear and accelerator physics by expanding its prestigious fellowship program for early career physicists. The lab is doubling the number of Nathan Isgur fellowships and is establishing a new fellowship in honor of Jefferson Lab's first director, Hermann A. Grunder.

    Barbara Jacak Receives 2019 Distinguished Scientist Fellow Award

    Barbara Jacak Receives 2019 Distinguished Scientist Fellow Award

    Barbara Jacak, director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Nuclear Science Division since 2015, has been named a 2019 Distinguished Scientist Fellow by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

    Two Brookhaven Lab Scientists Named DOE Office of Science Distinguished Fellows

    Two Brookhaven Lab Scientists Named DOE Office of Science Distinguished Fellows

    Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have garnered two out of five "Distinguished Scientists Fellow" awards announced today by the DOE's Office of Science. Theoretical physicist Sally Dawson, a world-leader in calculations aimed at describing the properties of the Higgs boson, and Jose Rodriguez, a renowned chemist exploring and developing catalysts for energy-related reactions, will each receive $1 million in funding over three years to pursue new research objectives within their respective fields.

    Department of Energy Announces Private-Public Awards to Advance Fusion Energy Technology

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced funding for 12 projects with private industry to enable collaboration with DOE national laboratories on overcoming challenges in fusion energy development. The awards are the first provided through the Innovation Network for Fusion Energy program (INFUSE).

    Denisov Leads High Energy Physics at Brookhaven

    Denisov Leads High Energy Physics at Brookhaven

    Dmitri Denisov, a leading physicist and spokesperson of the DZero experiment, has been named Deputy Associate Lab Director for High Energy Physics at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory.

    Chemistry Postdoc Receives Battery500 Young Investigator Award

    Chemistry Postdoc Receives Battery500 Young Investigator Award

    Zulipiya Shadike, a postdoctoral fellow in the Chemistry Division at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, received a Young Investigator Award from the Battery500 Consortium, a DOE-sponsored consortium led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) that aims to improve electric vehicle batteries.

    Two Brookhaven Lab Scientists Named Fellows of the American Physical Society

    Two Brookhaven Lab Scientists Named Fellows of the American Physical Society

    The American Physical Society (APS) has elected two scientists from Brookhaven National Laboratory as 2019 APS fellows.

    Versatile physics leader Stefan Gerhardt elected an APS fellow

    Versatile physics leader Stefan Gerhardt elected an APS fellow

    Profile of physicist Stefan Gerhardt who has been elected a 2019 fellow of the American Physical Society.

    PNNL, Sandia, and Georgia Tech Join Forces in AI Effort

    PNNL, Sandia, and Georgia Tech Join Forces in AI Effort

    Scientists from DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, DOE's Sandia National Laboratories, and the Georgia Institute of Technology will collaborate on solutions to some of the most challenging problems in AI today, thanks to $5.5 million in funding from DOE.

    Argonne Receives More Than $1 Million for Quantum Information Science

    Argonne Receives More Than $1 Million for Quantum Information Science

    Argonne scientists receive $1.19 million from DOE for quantum research.


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    Tune in to Tetrahedral Superstructures

    Tune in to Tetrahedral Superstructures

    Shape affects how the particles fit together and, in turn, the resulting material. For the first time, a team observed the self-assembly of nanoparticles with tetrahedral shapes.

    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

    This study is the first to confirm dust particles pre-dating the formation of our solar system. Further study of these materials will enable a deeper understanding of the processes that formed and have since altered them.

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Future fusion reactors will require materials that can withstand extreme operating conditions, including being bombarded by high-energy neutrons at high temperatures. Scientists recently irradiated titanium diboride (TiB2) in the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) to better understand the effects of fusion neutrons on performance.

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

    In breast cancer screening, an imaging technique based on nuclear medicine is currently being used as a successful secondary screening tool alongside mammography to improve the accuracy of the diagnosis. Now, a team is hoping to improve this imaging technique.

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

    Scientists can use genetic information to measure if microbes in the environment can perform specific ecological roles. Researchers recently analyzed the genomes of over 6,000 microbial species.

    Even Hard Materials Have Soft Spots

    Even Hard Materials Have Soft Spots

    The Achilles Heel of "metallic glasses" is that while they are strong materials--even stronger than conventional steels--they are also very brittle. The initial failures tend to be localized and catastrophic. This is due to their random amorphous (versus ordered crystalline) atomic structure. Computer simulations revealed that the structure is not completely random, however, and that there are some regions in the structure that are relatively weak. Defects nucleate more easily in these regions, which can lead to failure. This understanding of the mechanical properties has led to a strategy for making the material stronger and less brittle.

    2-D Atoms Do the Twist

    2-D Atoms Do the Twist

    In the study, scientists demonstrated, for the first time, an intrinsically rotating form of motion for the atoms in a crystal. The observations were on collective excitations of a single molecular layer of tungsten diselenide. Whether the rotation is clockwise or counter-clockwise depends on the wave's propagation direction.

    Location, Location, Location... How charge placement can control a self-assembled structure

    Location, Location, Location... How charge placement can control a self-assembled structure

    For years, scientists have formed polymers using the interaction of charges on molecular chains to determine the shape, geometry, and other properties. Now, a team achieved precise and predictable control of molecular chains by positioning charges. Their method leads to particles with reproducible sizes.

    Cracking in Harsh Environments Needs Stress and Corrosion, But Not at the Same Time

    Cracking in Harsh Environments Needs Stress and Corrosion, But Not at the Same Time

    Alloys (metals combining two or more metallic elements) are typically stronger and less susceptible to cracking than pure metals. Yet when alloys are subjected to stress and a harsh chemical environment, the alloy can fail. The reason? Cracks caused by corrosion.

    Simultaneous Clean and Repair

    Simultaneous Clean and Repair

    Scientists have developed a novel and efficient approach to surface cleaning, materials transport, and repair.


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