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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    AI for Plant Breeding in an Ever-Changing Climate

    AI for Plant Breeding in an Ever-Changing Climate

    In this Q&A, Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Dan Jacobson talks about his team's work on a genomic selection algorithm, his vision for the future of environmental genomics, and the space where simulation meets AI.

    A New Parallel Strategy for Tackling Turbulence on Summit

    A New Parallel Strategy for Tackling Turbulence on Summit

    A team at Georgia Tech created a new turbulence algorithm optimized for the Summit supercomputer. It reached a performance of less than 15 seconds of wall-clock time per time step for more than 6 trillion grid points--a new world record surpassing the prior state of the art in the field for the size of the problem.

    Modeling Every Building in America Starts with Chattanooga

    Modeling Every Building in America Starts with Chattanooga

    An ORNL team used the Titan supercomputer to model every building serviced by the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga--all 178,368 of them--and discovered that EPB could potentially save $11-$35 million per year by adjusting electricity usage during peak critical times.

    Climate Change Expected to Shift Location of East Asian Monsoons

    Climate Change Expected to Shift Location of East Asian Monsoons

    More than a billion people in Asia depend on seasonal monsoons for their water needs. The Asian monsoon is closely linked to a planetary-scale tropical air flow which, according to a new study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will most likely shift geographically as the climate continues to warm, resulting in less rainfall in certain regions.

    Nuclear warheads? This robot can find them

    Nuclear warheads? This robot can find them

    PPPL and Princeton University are developing a unique neutron-detector robot for arms control and nuclear security purposes. The robot recently passed a key neutron-detection test.

    Deep neural networks speed up weather and climate models

    Deep neural networks speed up weather and climate models

    A team of environmental and computation scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory are collaborating to use deep neural networks, a type of machine learning, to replace the parameterizations of certain physical schemes in the Weather Research and Forecasting Model, an extremely comprehensive model that simulates the evolution of many aspects of the physical world around us.

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    New AI Model Tries to Synthesize Patient Data Like Doctors Do

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    Scientists Explore Egyptian Mummy Bones With X-Rays and Infrared Light to Gain New Insight on Ancient Life

    Scientists Explore Egyptian Mummy Bones With X-Rays and Infrared Light to Gain New Insight on Ancient Life

    Experiments at Berkeley Lab are casting a new light on Egyptian soil and ancient mummified bone samples that could provide a richer understanding of daily life and environmental conditions thousands of years ago. In a two-monthslong research effort that concluded in late August, two researchers from Cairo University in Egypt brought 32 bone samples and two soil samples to study using X-ray and infrared light-based techniques at the Lab's Advanced Light Source.

    Etalumis 'Reverses' Simulations to Reveal New Science

    Etalumis 'Reverses' Simulations to Reveal New Science

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    Deep Learning Expands Study of Nuclear Waste Remediation

    Deep Learning Expands Study of Nuclear Waste Remediation

    A research collaboration between Berkeley Lab, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Brown University, and NVIDIA has achieved exaflop performance with a deep learning application used to model subsurface flow in the study of nuclear waste remediation


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    ORNL to host 13 teams for DOE CyberForce Competition

    ORNL to host 13 teams for DOE CyberForce Competition

    Oak Ridge National Laboratory will give college students the chance to practice cybersecurity skills in a real-world setting as a host of the Department of Energy's fifth collegiate CyberForce Competition on Nov. 16.

    Argonne nuclear engineer J'Tia Hart selected to Crain's Chicago Business "40 Under 40"

    Argonne nuclear engineer J'Tia Hart selected to Crain's Chicago Business "40 Under 40"

    Argonne nuclear engineer J'Tia Hart has been named to Crain's Chicago Business's "40 Under 40" list, which recognizes young leaders in a variety of fields.

    Lab-Wide Stormwater Capture, Transportation Savings and Clean-Up Efforts Win Federal Recognition

    Lab-Wide Stormwater Capture, Transportation Savings and Clean-Up Efforts Win Federal Recognition

    Argonne National Laboratory has won a regional Federal Green Challenge award for conserving resources and saving taxpayers' money.

    PPPL wins $70,000 in project funding from DOE for entrepreneurship

    PPPL wins $70,000 in project funding from DOE for entrepreneurship

    The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for two projects to encourage entrepreneurship and mentor and encourage potential entrepreneurs.

    Brookhaven-Commonwealth Fusion Energy Project Wins DOE Funding

    Brookhaven-Commonwealth Fusion Energy Project Wins DOE Funding

    Brookhaven's Superconducting Magnet Division will partner with industry to develop and characterize superconducting power cables.

    U.S. Department of Energy to Hold Fifth CyberForce Competition(tm)

    U.S. Department of Energy to Hold Fifth CyberForce Competition(tm)

    Going on its fourth year, DOE's CyberForce Competition(tm) on Nov. 15-16 will give teams of cybersecurity students and professionals the opportunity to compete and refine their skills in real-time at 10 national laboratories across the U.S.

    Daniel Gruen awarded 2019 Panofsky Fellowship at SLAC

    Daniel Gruen awarded 2019 Panofsky Fellowship at SLAC

    Daniel Gruen's work on how massive objects bend light from distant galaxies is aimed at unraveling some of the greatest mysteries of modern physics: What is dark matter? What is dark energy, and how is it accelerating the expansion of the universe?

    DOE Announces FY 2020 Small Business Innovation Research Funding Opportunity

    The Department of Energy (DOE) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs issued its FY 2020 Phase II Release 1 Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) with approximately $97 million in available funding.

    Research effort by Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago results in R&D 100 Award

    Research effort by Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago results in R&D 100 Award

    A joint effort by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago has led to a prestigious R&D 100 Award and is expected to bring an innovation closer to market so it ultimately can be used in many industrial applications.

    Department of Energy Awards Fermilab Funding for Next-Generation Dark Matter Research

    Department of Energy Awards Fermilab Funding for Next-Generation Dark Matter Research

    The U.S. Department of Energy announced that it has awarded scientists at its Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory funding to boost research on dark matter, the mysterious substance that makes up an astounding 85% of the matter in the universe.


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    Harvesting Energy from Light using Bio-inspired Artificial Cells

    Harvesting Energy from Light using Bio-inspired Artificial Cells

    Scientists designed and connected two different artificial cells to each other to produce molecules called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

    Engineering Living Scaffolds for Building Materials

    Engineering Living Scaffolds for Building Materials

    Bone and mollusk shells are composite systems that combine living cells and inorganic components. This allows them to regenerate and change structure while also being very strong and durable. Borrowing from this amazing complexity, researchers have been exploring a new class of materials called engineered living materials (ELMs).

    Excavating Quantum Information Buried in Noise

    Excavating Quantum Information Buried in Noise

    Researchers developed two new methods to assess and remove error in how scientists measure quantum systems. By reducing quantum "noise" - uncertainty inherent to quantum processes - these new methods improve accuracy and precision.

    How Electrons Move in a Catastrophe

    How Electrons Move in a Catastrophe

    Lanthanum strontium manganite (LSMO) is a widely applicable material, from magnetic tunnel junctions to solid oxide fuel cells. However, when it gets thin, its behavior changes for the worse. The reason why was not known. Now, using two theoretical methods, a team determined what happens.

    When Ions and Molecules Cluster

    When Ions and Molecules Cluster

    How an ion behaves when isolated within an analytical instrument can differ from how it behaves in the environment. Now, Xue-Bin Wang at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory devised a way to bring ions and molecules together in clusters to better discover their properties and predict their behavior.

    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.


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