Plants have derived their energy from the sun for millions of years, so it’s about time we tap into the expertise of these vegetative powerhouses. According to a report released Friday, scientists are now exploring “artificial leaves” as an alternative to solar panels.
The leaf-like devices mimic photosynthesis—the process by which plants use sunlight to produce energy. They are comprised of a water-based gel (synthetic chlorophyll) that contains carbon-coated electrodes and light-sensitive molecules. Sunlight stimulates the molecules within the “leaves” to produce electricity, says Dr. Orlin Velev, the study’s lead researcher and a Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University.
Scientists hope the bendable solar cells will someday provide a less expensive and more environmentally friendly alternative to the solid, silicon-based panels currently dominating the market. Veley envisions sheets of the bendable cells on the roofs of houses, but says such technology is not yet available.
The artificial leaves are still impractical, but initial findings are promising. Veley’s research team hopes to improve upon the cells’ efficiency and regeneration capabilities. And perhaps someday the solar cells that power our houses will be as efficient as the houseplants we put in our windowsills.
The “Great” that describes lakes Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Eerie and Superior obviously refers to their size, but with climate change, scientists fear it may be a less accurate descriptor of their water quality.
A team of 27 researchers from the University of Michigan and collaborating institutions received a $5 million grant this week from the National Science Foundation to find how climate change will affect the Great Lakes.
Climate change research typically focuses on the amount and availability of water, but Anne Michalak, an associate professor at the University, will lead the investigation to determine its effects on water quality.
Their approach is multidisciplinary, exploring the interplay of climate, hydrology, ecology, and social systems. The main focus is land use, which, on a regional scale, has a larger impact on the climate than greenhouse gases. Land use is affected by population, agriculture, and extreme weather events anticipated in conjunction with climate change.
The Great Lakes basin is home to 10 percent of the U.S. population. Water here is essential to the region, providing drinking water, agricultural irrigation, and water-based recreation. The importance of these waters extends beyond the basin, though, comprising 84 percent of North America’s surface freshwater.
Feeding the tummies, gas tanks, and livestock of an ever-growing world population is coming at the expense of the world's tropical forests. This is the conclusion of a recent study by researchers at Stanford who found that 80 percent of new cropland developed between 1980 and 2000 in the tropics—half a million square miles—came from cutting down tropical forests.
Such deforestation sends carbon into the atmosphere, and lots of it. "The tropical forests store more than 340 billion tons of carbon, which is 40 times the total current worldwide annual fossil fuel emissions,” says Holly Gibbs, the study’s lead researcher. “If we continue cutting down these forests, there is a huge potential to further contribute to climate change."
Researchers are encouraged that in recent years much of this land was cleared by corporate agribusiness rather than small, individual farmers. Agribusiness has been more responsive to the global market and consumer demands, reducing farmland expansion and instead boosting production on lands already in agricultural use.
Crop yields have since increased, and the density of cattle grazing has been upped 5 or 6 fold in some areas. Such improved land use practices offer greater resource efficiency, said Gibbs, as well as hope for the future of sustainable farming.
At storytime, the children usually ask the questions. After reading a book about flying fish to his kids, though, Haecheon Choi, a mechanical engineer at Korea’s Seoul National University, was the inquisitive one.
Choi was intrigued by the gliding ability of these aquatic creatures whose versatile fins are also used as wings for out of water travel. Flying fish can remain airborne for 40 seconds at a time, covering distances up to 400 meters at speeds nearing 70 km/h. With the help of a colleague, Choi set out to test such impressive in-flight aerodynamics.
Choi caught, dried, and stuffed five flying fish, which he then fitted with sensors. Choi launched the fish through a wind tunnel to simulate flight, and measured the resulting forces on the fish’s fins and bodies.
As published Friday in The Journal of Experimental Biology, Choi found that the fins accelerate the airflow towards the fish’s tail, much like a jet. The resulting glide is greater than that of insects and comparable to certain birds. For the aptly named flying fish, being a fish out of water apparently isn’t so debilitating after all.
As a low-fat source of protein, tofu in your diet may cut the risk of heart disease. Now, tofu protein in your wood flooring may actually help cut the risk of cancer.
A soy protein found in tofu is now being tested as an alternative to petroleum in adhesives used for composite wood furniture, cabinets, and flooring. Wood composites—a blend of wood particles and glue—have become the standard for interior wood products over the last century.
Most adhesives are petroleum-based. But with the rising cost of petroleum and the increasing scrutiny about its negative effects on human health and the environment, though, the stage may be set for alternatives.
Protein-based adhesives currently comprise less than five percent of the wood composite market, according to Charles Frihart, a research chemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Products Laboratory. He predicts an increase in soy-based adhesives in the future. “Several technologies and environmental factors,” Frihart explains, “have led to a resurgence of protein, especially soy flour, as an important adhesive for interior plywood and wood flooring.”
Scientists have developed a variety of soy polymer glues that now perform as well as their petroleum-based counterparts in high temperature and water exposure tests but lack the carcinogenic formaldehyde vapors.