Scientists have harnessed the principles of photosynthesis to develop a new way of producing hydrogen – in a breakthrough that offers a possible solution to global energy problems.The Independent reports
Scientists have harnessed the principles of photosynthesis to develop a new way of producing hydrogen – in a breakthrough that offers a possible solution to global energy problems.
The researchers claim the development could help unlock the potential of hydrogen as a clean, cheap and reliable power source.
Unlike fossil fuels, hydrogen can be burned to produce energy without producing emissions. It is also the most abundant element on the planet.
Hydrogen gas is produced by splitting water into its constituent elements – hydrogen and oxygen. But scientists have been struggling for decades to find a way of extracting these elements at different times, which would make the process more energy-efficient and reduce the risk of dangerous explosions.
In a paper published today in the journal Nature Chemistry, scientists at the University of Glasgow outline how they have managed to replicate the way plants use the sun’s energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen at separate times and at separate physical locations.
Experts heralded the “important” discovery yesterday, saying it could make hydrogen a more practicable source of green energy.
Professor Xile Hu, director of the Laboratory of Inorganic Synthesis and Catalysis at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, said: “This work provides an important demonstration of the principle of separating hydrogen and oxygen production in electrolysis and is very original. Of course, further developments are needed to improve the capacity of the system, energy efficiency, lifetime and so on. But this research already offers potential and promise and can help in making the storage of green energy cheaper.”
Until now, scientists have separated hydrogen and oxygen atoms using electrolysis, which involves running electricity through water. This is energy-intensive and potentially explosive, because the oxygen and hydrogen are removed at the same time.
But in the new variation of electrolysis developed at the University of Glasgow, hydrogen and oxygen are produced from the water at different times, thanks to what researchers call an “electron-coupled proton buffer”. This acts to collect and store hydrogen while the current runs through the water, meaning that in the first instance only oxygen is released. The hydrogen can then be released when convenient.
Because pure hydrogen does not occur naturally, it takes energy to make it. This new version of electrolysis takes longer, but is safer and uses less energy per minute, making it easier to rely on renewable energy sources for the electricity needed to separate the atoms.
Dr Mark Symes, the report’s co-author, said: “What we have developed is a system for producing hydrogen on an industrial scale much more cheaply and safely than is currently possible. Currently much of the industrial production of hydrogen relies on reformation of fossil fuels, but if the electricity is provided via solar, wind or wave sources we can create an almost totally clean source of power.”
Professor Lee Cronin, the other author of the research, said: “The existing gas infrastructure which brings gas to homes across the country could just as easily carry hydrogen as it currently does methane. If we were to use renewable power to generate hydrogen using the cheaper, more efficient decoupled process we’ve created, the country could switch to hydrogen to generate our electrical power at home. It would also allow us to significantly reduce the country’s carbon footprint.”
Nathan Lewis, a chemistry professor at the California Institute of Technology and a green energy expert, said: “This seems like an interesting scientific demonstration that may possibly address one of the problems involved with water electrolysis, which remains a relatively expensive method of producing hydrogen.”
Thaw point at Antarctic Peninsula
Summer ice is melting at a faster rate in the Antarctic Peninsula than at any time in the past 1,000 years, research has shown.
The evidence comes from a 364m ice core containing a record of freezing and melting over the previous millennium. Layers of ice in the core, drilled from James Ross Island, near the northern tip, indicate periods when summer snow on the ice cap thawed and then refroze.
Lead researcher Dr Nerilie Abram, from the Australian National University and British Antarctic Survey, said the melting there is now “at a level that is higher than at any other time over the last 1,000 years”.
- Plants Inspire New Cheap, Green Power (konterkariert.tumblr.com)
- Surprising findings on hydrogen production in green algae (sciencedaily.com)
- Breakthrough in hydrogen fuel production could revolutionize alternative energy market (esciencenews.com)
- Scientists Develop Wonder Nanomaterial that Can Produce Energy, Clean Water and Hydrogen (inhabitat.com)
Scientists have estimated that the heat released into the atmosphere from buildings, cars and factories could play a significant role in the warming – and the cooling – of locations in other countries.
Using computer models of how heat is transported around the globe, the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change says that waste heat from 86 urban centres in the northern hemisphere could in theory raise temperatures of parts of North America and northern Asia by as much as 1C.
The same models suggest that other parts of the northern hemisphere, notably Europe, could actually become cooler at certain times of the year by up to 1C as a result of the heat affecting the direction of high-altitude winds such as the jet stream.
- Waste heat – a bigger climate effect than once thought (ascendingstarseed.wordpress.com)
- Cities affect surrounding temperatures for thousands of miles (phys.org)
- Cities affect temperatures for thousands of miles (prn.fm)
- ‘Bingo!’ Wasted energy from cities explains a global warming mystery (science.nbcnews.com)
From ‘Forbes’ : So you got your new compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Now you’re wringing your hands over how to dispose of them so that you don’t unleash toxic mercury into the environment. An improvement? Or just another example of politicians and environmentalists trying to push us around?
Sure CFLs save electricity, but so do a lot of other efforts. In fact, in a new study (“Evaluating the energy consumed for water use in the United States“) University of Texas scientists Kelly Sanders and Michael Webber reveal the counterintuitive conclusion that water conservation could have an enormous impact on energy conservation.
Save water and you save energy. Here’s why.
The United States, uses 410 billion gallons of water every day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Think of all the energy expended in pumping that water, treating it, spraying it on crops, heating it for your shower, making it into ice, Coca-Cola, paper, and on and on. These core uses (what they refer to as direct water and steam services in the commercial, residential, industrial and power sectors) eat up 12.3 quadrillion BTU per year. That’s 12.6% of primary energy use in the United States, or the equivalent energy consumption of 40 million Americans.
Add in indirect water use, such as steam generated in coal-fired power plants to spin turbines to make electricity, and you tack on another 34.1 quadrillion BTU.
Together, the amount of energy tied to water consumption totals just under half of all the energy this country uses. So the connection is clear: cut down on water use and you cut down on energy use.
Where to focus? Well the breakdown of who uses how much water in what ways is kind of surprising. Residential use was just 7.2% and commercial use is 3.4%. The researchers found that for residential users heating water (showers, clothes washers, cooking, hot tubs, etc) accounted for 75% of water-related energy use. But because the residential share of the pie is relatively small, what we as individuals do doesn’t matter that much in the scheme of things.
Much bigger impacts? Irrigation of crops and golf courses and other landscaping takes up 31.2% of water consumption. While the biggest user is power generation, with 49% of all water use.
Getting all that water to fields can be expensive. In California, for instance, the energy cost of piping water between basins amounts to roughly 13,000 kwh per million gallons.
And consider the electricity that needs to be generated to move and heat all that water. Based on the efficiency rates of industrial boilers and power plants, the researchers figured that 58% of the total primary energy consumed for water-related purposes is “rejected” or lost as waste heat. Indeed, on the tiny residential scale think about how much energy is wasted when you heat up a whole kettle of water to make just one cup of tea. Expand that idea to the industrial scale and it’s easy to see how much energy is wasted in our aqua-economy.
- Study: Water takes more energy than lighting (fuelfix.com)
- 3 Easy Green Living Tips That Will Save You Money Now (livinggreenandsavingenergy.com)
- 13% of US’s Energy Goes to Collect, Prepare Water: Study – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- EIA Annual Energy Outlook: Growth in U.S. Energy Production Outstrips Consumption Growth (cleanedge.com)
- Fossil fuel production to hit record in 2012 (fuelfix.com)
- Americans use more efficient and renewable energy technologies (sciencedaily.com)
- Americans Used Less Energy in 2011, & More Renewable Energy (cleantechnica.com)
- Study: Water takes more energy than lighting (mysanantonio.com)
- Energy, Water and Fish: Biodiversity Impacts of Energy-Sector Water Demand in the United States Depend on Efficiency and Policy Measures (plosone.org)
- Top 4 Green Power Energy Conservation Tips (ipoweritgreen.blogspot.com)
Prime minister tells leaders at a world energy summit that the UK government has achieved its aim. Do you agree?
The government has achieved its aim of being the “greenest ever”, David Cameron has said on, in his first significant remarks on the environment since reaching office.
“When I became prime minister I said I would aim to have the greenest government ever and this is exactly what we have,” he told energy ministers from the world’s leading nations at a summit in London.
Cameron said he “passionately believed” the growth of renewable energy was vital to the UK’s future. “I believe renewable energy can be among our cheapest energy sources within years not decades,” he said. But he warned: “We need to make it financially sustainable.”
The intervention was much anticipated after repeated negative remarks from George Osborne last year that “endless social and environmental goals” were a burden on business.
Cameron said: “Renewables are now the fastest growing energy source on the planet and I am proud that Britain has played a leading role at the forefront of this green energy revolution. Renewable energy is not just good for our environment but good business too.” He said renewable energy had a “vital part to play”, alongside “nuclear energy, cleaner coal, oil and gas – including shale gas – and carbon capture and storage.”
But, citing the pressure high gas prices were placing on businesses and households, he added: “We have to get costs [of renewables] down. We don’t just need green energy, we need cheaper energy too.” Apparently alluding to the changes to subsidies for solar power which the industry claims has sapped confidence and led to 6,000 lost jobs, Cameron said: “When we have made a commitment to a project, we will always honour it in full.”
But business groups and environmental campaigners labelled the seven minutes of remarks a “failure of leadership”, a “damp squib” and accused him of “taking a leaf out of the chancellor’s ‘green agenda is a burden’ book.”
“The prime minister could have sent a clear message that the UK is open for green business and sent a clear signal to investors, especially after two years of silence,” said Mark Kenber, chief executive of the Climate Group. “He did not. Instead he effectively reiterated the false dichotomy between ‘non-affordable’ renewables and ‘affordable’ fossil fuels. Today the PM sided with those in his government that feel that the green agenda is a ‘burden’. It is not only a failure of leadership, it is nothing short of neglect of Britain’s economy and future.”
David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, which took Cameron on his “husky-hugging” trip to the Arctic in 2006, said: “We were led to expect a keynote speech, only for it to be suddenly downgraded; what we got today was a damp squib.”
Caroline Flint, Labour’s shadow energy and climate change secretary said: “Investment in clean energy has fallen, meaning that jobs and growth that should be coming to this country are now going overseas. The Clean Energy Ministerial, with businesses and investors flying in from all over the world, was the perfect opportunity to bring new jobs and industries to the UK. The fact that Cameron can’t even be bothered to make a proper speech shows the government has missed yet another open goal.”
But Rhian Kelly, director for business environment at the CBI, said: “The prime minister’s intervention, underlining the economic and environmental potential of the green economy, will help to repair investor confidence following recent policy uncertainty.”
Cameron cited a series of new announcements, including the first investments made by the green investment bank – a collaboration of renewable companies called Norstec to maximise the use of wind energy from the North Sea – and research funding to bring down the cost of offshore wind. He also mentioned recent investments in wind and biomass plants totalling £350m.
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat energy and climate change secretary, said: “Over time as policies are rolled out and experienced I think people really will credit this government with being greenest ever. You can see PM’s personal commitment to this.” A recent poll found that just 2% of the public thought Cameron was leading the greenest government ever.
Craig Bennett, policy and campaigns director at Friends of the Earth, said: “The PM is right to recognise the necessity of developing a cleaner future, but he must show real leadership. It’s time Cameron gave us chapter and verse for achieving a low-carbon economy, not just a few notes in the margin. Over 85% of the public want the UK to develop our huge renewable power potential.”
“There is a tendency to focus on the costs of renewables as opposed to the benefits,” said Martin Wright, chairman of the Renewable Energy Association. “Renewables give us energy independence, they are totally sustainable and over the long term they will provide low cost energy and, above all, price stability. They represent a tremendous business opportunity now.”
- Green energy vital, says David Cameron (independent.co.uk)
- David Cameron commits to wind farms (telegraph.co.uk)
- Cameron to praise Britain’s leadership over renewable energy (bfreenews.com)
- Green energy ‘must be affordable’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Cameron’s missed opportunity to create Green jobs and lower energy bills (liberalconspiracy.org)
- ‘Hypocrite’ … ? British Prime Minister to host clean energy summit (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Green energy ‘cheap within years’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Green energy pledge from Cameron (yorkshirepost.co.uk)
- Cameron’s downgrading of environment policy bodes ill for the future (leftfootforward.org)
- Could ‘floating wind turbines’ solve UK’s energy crisis? (telegraph.co.uk)
An interesting development in the British coalition – campaigning that it is ‘greener than green’, yet cutting funds – begs the question : What is David Cameron really pro-environment?
From The Independent on Sunday : David Cameron’s attack on solar power subsidy will destroy the industry, say critics, as London prepares for international conference
The third Clean Energy Ministerial conference, featuring more than 20 ministers from the world’s leading and emerging economies, will take place in London later this month in what No 10 hopes will position the UK as a global leader in renewable power and build on the Prime Minister’s claim to lead the “greenest government ever”.
The conference will take place just weeks after the introduction of a new feed-in tariff for solar power generation in the UK, which campaigners warn will kill off the booming sector, with 5,000 job losses.
Last month, the Government lost a Supreme Court battle over its failure to consult on halving the subsidy for solar power from 43.3p to 21p per hour in December, allowing homeowners and businesses to carry on benefiting from the old rate until this month. But from 1 April, solar power carries the new 21p rate and further cuts to the subsidy are planned.
Howard Johns, spokesman for the Cut Don’t Kill campaign, said: “The industry is already starting to stagnate, but this passing of the 21p mark is a brutal moment.
“People from the industry have stopped being invited to meetings with ministers. It seems highly hypocritical for David Cameron to host a summit on clean energy while presiding over this cut.”
In an apparent snub to the British solar power industry, the Government has not invited anyone from the sector to the conference, which will take place at Lancaster House, London, on 25-26 April. Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, will host the event alongside his US counterpart, Steven Chu.
But Solar Century, one of the largest UK solar firms, has been invited to attend by Mr Chu’s department.
The meeting is the third annual Clean Energy Ministerial, with 23 nations taking part, including the US, China and India. The 23 nations account for 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 90 per cent of investment in clean energy. The aim of the conference is to improve collaboration between nations on global projects, as well as driving “public-private engagement to support clean energy deployment”.
Last year The IoS published an article about opposition to the subsidy cuts, with a coalition of 55 individuals and groups warning the Prime Minister will “strangle at birth” Britain’s booming solar panel industry by halving the tariff overnight.
The High Court ruled it was unlawful to cut the subsidy without warning. Last month, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling, and anyone who generates electricity through solar panels was able to claim the higher subsidy to the end of March.
Ministers have blamed the popularity of the feed-in tariff on their decision to cut the rate, insisting that it was too expensive to sustain.
Downing Street and the Department for Energy and Climate Change declined to comment yesterday.
- 80% of UK Farms Want Solar Roofs By 2013 (evoenergy.co.uk)
- Solar power to generate majority of electricity by 2060 (evoenergy.co.uk)
- Will Austerity Derail Europe’s Clean-Energy Movement? (time.com)
- 2010 Pro-Solar Billboard Goes Viral Two Years Later (treehugger.com)
- The Guardian reports on the Feed-in Tariff (evoenergy.co.uk)