New Platinum Could be Cheaper for More Efficient Fuel Cells

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Houston are talking about a new form of platinum that might be helpful in making cheaper, more efficient fuel cells. This work has been published in the April 25th issue of Nature Chemistry.

The team is trying to modify the platinum’s reactivity. This step will enable the researchers to cut back the quantity of platinum required by 80 percent. They are also quite positive about minimizing the quantity by another 10 percent. This will reduce the overall cost of the fuel cells. Nilsson says, “I think with a factor of ten, we’ll have a home run.”

Fuel cells work much like batteries. An anode gives out electrons and a cathode collects those electrons thus forming a circuit. So what is the difference between a fuel cell and a battery? Fuel cells use hydrogen and oxygen to complete their energy-producing reactions. The by-product is water and heat.

What metal is chosen for cathode is extremely important. Because some of the metals can’t break the oxygen molecule into atoms. And some bind strongly with oxygen so the important reactions don’t take place. Scientists are trying to attain a balance so that the number of oxygen bonds broken is maximized and the oxygen atoms attach feebly to the catalyst. Platinum helps the scientist in attaining that balance. It breaks the oxygen bonds but does not fasten to the free oxygen atoms too powerfully.


Grid Technology Comes to the iPhone and Sony PlayStation 3

Enabling Grids for E-sciencE (EGEE) is the world’s largest multi-disciplinary computing grid, supporting the research of thousands of scientists and bringing together to the processing power of hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide. The grid and the software that glues it all together, known as middleware, is designed to run on a widely diverse range of computers. Now, a team from Ireland has adapted the grid software gLite to run on the Play Station 3. An Italian group has been able to use the iPhone to access grid enabled digital repositories.

Since 2007 researchers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) have been collaborating on the computing challenge inherent in drug discovery, and so when in the latter half of 2008 Symbiosis Ltd introduced a PS3 port of their eHITS drug discovery, the TCD team began in early 2009 to look into adapting, or porting EGEE’s grid middleware, gLite, to the PS3 platform. Since then their PS3 cluster has grown to 16 machines, which they can use to investigate the interactions between possible drug candidates and the diseases they are trying to treat. What makes this possible are the seven Synergistic Processing Elements (SPEs) that give the machine its computational power at relatively low cost. These elements are designed especially to support the complex 3D vector calculations that enable graphic intensive gaming — but also happen to be ideally suited to the team’s drug discovery work.

Eamonn Kenny who is on the TCD team was delighted with how well received the work has been by EGEE, “EGEE represents a major platform for European science, and its impetus toward multi-platform support is extremely helpful.”

While the EGEE computing grid is known for supplying huge amounts of processing power, it also provides a framework that allows databases and other information sources to be interlinked easily. Teams looking to create global digital repositories can use the grid to give access to their resources to research communities from all over the world. With both smart phones and high speed 3G networks moving rapidly into the mainstream a group of researchers from INFN Catania and University of Catania in Sicily saw an opportunity for an application to allow people access to digital repositories wherever and whenever they want.

Using gLibrary, which is based on the gLite middleware, an organisation can organise, populate, browse, search and access libraries of digital objects that have been stored on a distributed grid system. Accessing these resources from a user’s home machine is quite straightforward but more problematic if the researcher is travelling. This is where smartphones and multi-media devices such as the iPhone and the upcoming iPad show their strengths. Devices of this type are designed for accessing information while on the move but can also handle different types of data, such as videos, audio files, images, documents, spreadsheets and many more.

Using the Catania team’s application, a user can browse the digital libraries stored on the grid from their iPhone, query and inspect all the objects’ metadata and simply tap the screen to download a copy the from the closest storage element. They can choose the closest source either by selecting a location from a list or by using the built-in GPS to calculate their current position. During the event, the browsing of digital repositories of ancient manuscripts (cultural heritage) and satellite data (earth science) created with gLibrary will be demonstrated.

Both of these projects use commercially available platforms to run or interface with EGEE’s software. This demonstrates the flexibility and portability of EGEE’s software as well as one of the real world applications for distributed 24/7 access to the digital repositories made possible by EGEE.

The resources currently coordinated by EGEE will be managed through the European Grid Infrastructure (EGI) from May 2010. In EGI each country’s grid infrastructure will be run by National Grid Initiatives. The adoption of this model will enable the next leap forward in research infrastructures to support collaborative scientific discoveries. EGI will ensure abundant, high-quality computing support for the European and global research community for many years to come.

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Water into Hydrogen Fuel to recycle waste energy.

Materials scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have taken the help of piezoelectric effect to harness random energy available in the atmosphere to turn water into usable hydrogen fuel. It might prove a simple, efficient method to recycle waste energy. The research team is led by Huifang Xu, who is a UW-Madison geologist and crystal specialist. They took nanocrystals of zinc oxide and barium titanate. These two nanocrystals were put in water. When these crystals received ultrasonic vibrations, the nanofibers flexed and catalyzed a chemical reaction. This whole process resulted in splitting the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.

“This study provides a simple and cost-effective technology for direct water splitting that may generate hydrogen fuels by scavenging energy wastes such as noise or stray vibrations from the environment,” the authors write in a new paper, published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters. “This new discovery may have potential implications in solving the challenging energy and environmental issues that we are facing today and in the future.”

The researchers, led by UW-Madison geologist and crystal specialist Huifang Xu, grew nanocrystals of two common crystals, zinc oxide and barium titanate, and placed them in water. When pulsed with ultrasonic vibrations, the nanofibers flexed and catalyzed a chemical reaction to split the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.

But scientists didn’t utilize this electrical energy straightaway. They use this energy in breaking the chemical bonds in water to split oxygen and hydrogen. Xu explains, “This is a new phenomenon, converting mechanical energy directly to chemical energy.” Xu calls it a piezoelectrochemical (PZEC) effect. Why it seems that scientists are beating around the bush? Because chemical energy of hydrogen fuel is more stable than the electric charge. Storage of hydrogen fuel is easy and would not lose potency over time.

With the right technology, Xu foresees this method to be utilized where small amount of power is needed. Now we can imagine charging a cell phone while taking our morning walk or we can enjoy cool breeze that can power street lights. Xu says, “We have limited areas to collect large energy differences, like a waterfall or a big dam. But we have lots of places with small energies. If we can harvest that energy, it would be tremendous.”

Researchers found how to improve hydrogen storage

An international team of researchers has identified a new theoretical approach that may one day make the synthesis of hydrogen fuel storage materials less complicated and improve the thermodynamics and reversibility of the system.

Many researchers have their sights set on hydrogen as an alternative energy source to fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal that contain carbon, pollute the environment and contribute to global warming. Known to be the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen is considered an ideal energy carrier — not to mention that it’s clean, environmentally friendly and non-toxic. However, it has been difficult to find materials that can efficiently and safely store and release it with fast kinetics under ambient temperature and pressure.

The team of researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University; Peking University in Beijing; and the Chinese Academy of Science in Shanghai; have developed a process using an electric field that can significantly improve how hydrogen fuel is stored and released.

“Although tremendous efforts have been devoted to experimental and theoretical research in the past years, the biggest challenge is that all the existing methods do not meet the Department of Energy targets for hydrogen storage materials. The breakthrough can only be achieved by exploring new mechanisms and new principles for materials design,” said Qiang Sun, Ph.D., research associate professor with the VCU team, who led the study.

“We have made such an attempt, and we have proposed a new principle for the design of hydrogen storage materials which involves materials with low-coordinated, non-metal anions that are highly polarizable in an applied electric field,” he said.

“Using an external electric field as another variable in our search for such a material will bring a hydrogen economy closer to reality. This is a paradigm shift in the approach to store hydrogen. Thus far, the efforts have been on how to modify the composition of the storage material. Here we show that an applied electric field can do the same thing as doped metal ions ,” said Puru Jena, Ph.D. , distinguished professor in the VCU Department of Physics.

“More importantly, it avoids many problems associated with doping metal ions such as clustering of metal atoms, poisoning of metal ions by other gases, and a complicated synthesis process. In addition, once the electric field is removed, hydrogen desorbs, making the process reversible with fast kinetics under ambient conditions,” he said.

The team found that an external electric field can be used to store hydrogen just as an internal field can store hydrogen due to charge polarization caused by a metal ion.

“This work will help researchers create an entirely new way to store hydrogen and find materials that are most suitable. The challenge now is to find materials that are easily polarizable under an applied electric field. This will reduce the strength of the electric field needed for efficient hydrogen storage,” said Jena.

The research is published online in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and will be highlighted in the front section of the print edition, “In this Issue.”

The research is based on a 1992 published polarization theory by Jena, the late B.K. Rao, a former professor of physics at VCU, and their student, J.Niu.

This work is supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Foundation of National Laboratory for Infrared Physics, the National Grand Fundamental Research 973 Program of China, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

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