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What Are Some Discoveries at the Frontiers of Energy Research?

Leonard Kelley holds a bachelor's in physics with a minor in mathematics. He loves the academic world and strives to constantly explore it.

It has been postulated that if the ability to have practically free energy that is environmentally friendly is ever found that basic societal norms would be no more as our needs would be met. Whether or not this is true will be a question we will not have to deal with in our lifetimes (most likely). But that doesn’t stop us from trying to develop better energy systems capable of meeting our needs and wants. Here are but a few developments that may make energy independence a reality someday.

Bacterial Viral Power

Its seems like a weird concept from science fiction, but scientists from Indiana University found a way to take genetic material form bacteria, stuff it inside a viral shell, and has the ability to “catalyze the formation of hydrogen,” a critical component of utilizing water as a fuel source. The biomaterial, known as P22-Hyd, carries a special enzyme known as hydrogenase which comes from Escherichia coli. The enzyme takes the viral shell’s ability of easy replication to withdraw protons from water and releasing hydrogen gas in the process. As a bonus, the biomaterial is cheap and environmentally friendly because of its biological make-up and easy ability to create, as opposed to platinum which is a normal catalyst but obviously has several hurdles attached to it also (Fryling).


Artificial Photosynthesis

Making energy just like a plant does would be tremendously useful, especially for its environmental impact. It’s now a possibility thanks to work by Fernando Uribe-Romo (UCF) and his team who looked at metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), or a hexagonal structure involving a metallic center with organic outreaches. The team used titanium MOF with N-alkyl-2-aminotherephthalates which when in the presence of CO2 and the right frequency of light would actually change our gas into formate and formamides which are related forms of carbon that are used as solar fuels. The interesting feature here is that the light needed to trigger this event is in the blue visible portion of the spectrum, making it versatile as well as cheap. Also, like plants, it removes CO2 from the environment and that is always a great thing. If the set-up can be scaled up then someday this could be a game changer in both conservation as well as energy production (Kotala).

Cultivating from Seawater

The most common form of water on Earth has salt in it, and this presents problems from a hydrogen harvesting perspective. It’s expensive to deal with the rough conditions of the material and the salt is highly corrosive as well as a contaminant in our efforts. Enter Yang Yang (UCF) and team who developed a new photocatalyst to tackle this hurdle. Their material, titanium dioxide with small holes containing single-atom-layered molybdenum disulfide punched into it at the nanoscale, uses a wide range of the visible spectrum to power the reaction by using the sulfur’s properties of wider excitability. The sites then encourage the hydrogen to escape from the salt water and be released as a gas which can then be collected and used as fuel (Schlueb).

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Walking into New Energy Sources

We are constantly on the go, so wouldn’t it be great if we could extract as much out of our efforts as possible? Scientists from the Chinese University of Hong Kong have developed a way to collect energy that we make when our knee bends, all without any extra effort from the wearer of the device. To accomplish this, a macrofiber was employed. This special material creates energy anytime it is deformed. Knees are a perfect site for this because of the constant motion it is in while walking, and with a total weight of 307 grams it only requires the wearer to walk 2 to 6.5 kilometers per hour to generate 1.6 microwatts, perfect for “health monitoring equipment and GPS devices.” (Frum)

So there you go, just a small sample of the new ways we are developing energy harvesting and refinement. Who knows what will come out each day, so check back often for the latest updates on energy research.

Works Cited

Frum, Larry. “Harvesting energy from the human knee.” innovations-report, 17 Jul. 2019. Web. 22 Aug. 2019.

Fryling, Kevin. “IU scientists create ‘nano-reactor’ for the production of hydrogen biofuel.” innovations-report, 05 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Aug. 2019.

Kotala, Zenaida. “Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air.” innovations report, 26 Apr. 2017. Web. 21 Aug. 2019.

Schlueb, Mark. “New nanomaterial can extract hydrogen fuel from seawater.” innovations-report, 05 Oct. 2017. Web. 21 Aug. 2019.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Leonard Kelley

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