Scientists intensify probe for alternative energy sources

Renewable-energy-• Breakdown plant material without chemicals for first time
• Unlock key to turning wastewater and sewage into power
• Optimise biofuel production from algae using carbon dioxide emissions
• Propose novel ocean-current turbine design for 24/7 power

As the scarcity of petrol products bits harder and the supply of electricity gets worse in the country due to over dependence on fossil fuels, scientists are intensifying investigation into alternative and renewable sources of energy.

Several studies have shown that the combustion of fossil fuels does not just drive the world’s energy production, but it also emits carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases.

In recent years, researchers have worked to cultivate alternative, renewable energy sources, including using algae-based systems.

For the first time, researchers managed to break down raw biomass – plant material – without using chemicals.The scientists in their findings published in the journal Nature Communications said it produced record amounts of clean liquid hydrocarbon fuel, and is an important development in a shift towards renewable energy.

In plants, the woody material that is used to produce fuel consists of three components – cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.
Lignin is a challenge to the production of biofuels, as it is difficult to break down and convert into useful fuel. Lignin requires high levels of energy or the use of corrosive chemicals, which means up to a third of plant material can go to waste.

The scientists stewed a catalyst – made up of the metal complex niobium phosphate, with small particles of platinum dotted across the surface – with raw wood sawdust for 20 hours at 190°C, and under high pressure.

The results show that the catalyst was able to directly break down and convert the lignin, which could help convert biomass into fuel.

Also, scientists have unlocked the key to turning wastewater and sewage into power thereby maximizing the amount of electricity that can be generated from the wastewater flushed down the toilet.

The new study published in Scientific Reports speaks to a growing sustainability movement to capture energy from existing waste to make treatment facilities more energy-efficient.

Also, a team, last week, reported in ACS’ journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research an optimized way of producing biofuel from algae that also removes carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the environment.

Algae-based biorefineries only need nutrients, water, sunlight and CO2 to run. The aim of these systems is to produce cleaner energy in the form of biodiesel, methane or ethanol. However, current configurations are costly both in terms of money and energy.

To address this issue, Eusiel Rubio-Castro and colleagues developed a mathematical model to determine the optimal design of an algae-based biorefinery where flue gases from different industrial facilities are used as raw materials.

Meanwhile, an interdisciplinary team of scientists has worked out a way to make electric vehicles that are not only carbon neutral, but carbon negative, capable of actually reducing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide as they operate.

The recipe for converting carbon dioxide gas into batteries is described in the paper titled “Carbon Nanotubes Produced from Ambient Carbon Dioxide for Environmentally Sustainable Lithium-Ion and Sodium-Ion Battery Anodes” published in the March 2 issue of the journal ACS Central Science.

Also, researchers at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University Japan (OIST) have proposed a novel ocean-current turbine design.

Ocean currents are another source of power, comparable to fossil fuels in terms of consistency and reliability, and at the same time, clean and renewable.

In the journal, Renewable Energy, the Quantum Wave Microscopy Unit at OIST proposed a design for a submerged marine turbine to harness the energy of the Kuroshio Current, flowing along the Japanese coast. his design is especially suitable for regions regularly devastated by storms and typhoons, such as Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines. The turbine operates in the middle layer of the current, 100 m below the surface, where the waters flow calmly and steadily, even during strong storms.

However, unlike conventional energy sources, like coal or oil, the supply and demand of renewable energy are, to a large extent, unpredictable because they are affected by the natural fluctuations in the power source itself. This poses a number of difficulties in calculating how much renewable energy will be available for consumer needs at any given time.

A team of researchers, led by Prof. Mahesh M. Bandi of the OIST wanted to explore some of these scientific problems involved in the fluctuations of renewable energy and how to better predict energy outputs. The team recently published their results in the New Journal of Physics.

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