A Fossil Fuel-Free Industrial Revolution

While coal combustion energized James Watt’s steam engine, it is seldom acknowledged that other sources of energy were also known at the time. As recently as the late 1800s, electricity could be generated for a myriad of applications through the use of waterwheels and windmills. The fact that these technologies were contemporaries of the now-dominant internal combustion engine suggests that non-fossil energy technologies were equally poised to become globally widespread. But could the technological revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries have happened without the use of fossil fuels and the rampant burning-down of forests?
See full article at Advanced Science News.

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Congratulations to Dr. Pavani Cherukupally, Wei Sun and co-authors on your publication in Nature Sustainability

In their paper, “Surface-engineered sponges for recovery of crude oil microdroplets from wastewater”, Cherukupally and Sun et al. report an innovative surface engineered sponge that combines surface chemistry, pH-responsive surface charge, and micro-nano roughness that allows for upwards of 92% of crude oil to be adsorbed under ambient conditions. Their work constitutes a new framework for developing surface engineered sponges that addresses the variable pH-responsive wetting behaviour of crude oil and further demonstrates the environmental remediation potential of adsorptive recovery through sponge technology.
See full story at Nature Sustainability.

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Sunshine Not Moonshine – Happy Hour with Carbon Dioxide

Many novel chemistry and engineering approaches now exist that enable CO2 to be recycled into a cornucopia of products ranging from plastics and pharmaceuticals, to fertilizers and concrete, and even aviation and clean diesel fuels. One particularly innovative, and perhaps less conventional solution, to have recently emerged is an eco-friendly vodka made from CO2 and H2O. This concept has been realized through The Air Company, a legal distillery and start-up company located and operating out of Brooklyn, run by two young entrepreneurs, Stafford Sheehan and Gregory Constantine.
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Gigawatt Electricity Storage Using Water and Rocks

The dominant technology for the large-scale storage and retrieval of electricity is pumped hydro – electrical energy. In this approach, electricity is converted to gravitational potential energy by moving water uphill and is then retrieved by allowing the water to flow downhill through a turbine. However, a new concept in gravity storage eliminates the need for hills and simply uses water pumps to hydraulically lift massive rocks in an underground shaft. The acquired potential energy is reclaimed as electricity by discharging the water under pressure though a turbine.
See full article at Advanced Science News.

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Beyond Haber-Bosch: Non-Equilibrium Photocatalysis

A recent report in which the thermodynamic equilibrium limit of the Haber-Bosch synthesis of ammonia was, for the first time, surmounted by the action of light, and could change the prevailing view of what is possible and not possible in the field of catalysis. A hetero-nanostructured photocatalyst, Fe-TiO2-xHy, which contains both a high and low-temperature site in a single structure has been demonstrated to overcome the thermodynamic equilibrium limit of the ammonia synthesis. This is possible because the exothermic ammonia synthesis process is thermodynamically favored though kinetically sluggish at low temperature; however, the exact opposite prevails at high temperature.
See full article at Advanced Science News.

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Climate Change Will Require Heavy Lifting

As the global hunger for electricity grows and the transition to solar and wind accelerates, electricity storage capacity is urgently needed to handle the challenges of scale and intermittency. Concrete solutions are needed to solve the large-scale electricity storage problem for both daily and seasonal applications, and it’s going to require some heavy lifting. A new generation of gravity batteries have emerged based on the lifting and lowering massive concrete weights. The solution may prove a viable option for storing and releasing grid scale electrical energy over periods as short as seconds to as long as months, which would represent a significant step towards renewable energy utilization.
See full article at Advanced Science News.

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A Whale of a Solution to Climate Change

Strategies to enhance the carbon capacity of the terrestrial and oceanic sinks tend to focus on landscapes – forest canopy, soil composition, and sea water chemistry. However, we must not neglect the role of animals in maintaining the natural carbon cycle. As it turns out, whales have the capacity to absorb enormous amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Estimates place the carbon sequestering capacity of a whale to be similar to around 1000 trees with an average whale capturing up to 33 tons of CO2 over its 60-year lifetime, centuries. Efforts to re-establish whale populations, together with large scale reforestation, therefore offer a surprisingly impactful solution to meeting global emission targets.
See full article at Advanced Science News.

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Congratulations to Hong Wang et al. on their publication in Advanced Science, “Heterostructure Engineering of a Reverse Water Gas Shift Photocatalyst”

The paper describes a heterostructure engineering strategy that enables the gas-phase, photocatalytic, heterogeneous hydrogenation of CO2 to CO with high performance metrics. The catalyst is comprised of indium oxide nanocrystals (In2O3-x(OH)y) nucleated and grown on the surface of niobium pentoxide nanorods. Materials characterization demonstrates that the Nb2O5 support in the In2O3-x(OH)y@Nb2O5 heterostructure increases the number of oxygen vacancies and lengthens the excited state charge carrier lifetimes in the attached In2O3-x(OH)y nanocrystals, which results in a 44-fold higher conversion rate than pristine In2O3-x(OH)y selective conversion of CO2 to CO as well as long-term operational stability. Overall, the results of this study bode well for the general applicability of the heterostructure engineering approach for optimizing the performance of photocatalytic heterogeneous CO2 conversion reactions.
See full article at Advanced Science.

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SF6 Worries – The Most Potent and Persistent Greenhouse Gas

It is not well known, but the most potent greenhouse gas is, surprisingly, neither carbon dioxide nor methane, but a colorless, odorless, and inert gas known as sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). With a global warming potential 23,900 times that of CO2 and being synthetic in nature (it is not absorbed on destroyed naturally), rising SF>6 concentrations are of major concern. Currently, electrical utilities and equipment are responsible for consuming 80% of the 10 000 tons of SF6 produced every year, an amount which is growing with the increasing global production and demand for renewable forms of energy, such as wind and solar. Can chemists and engineers rise to the challenge of solving the looming SF6 problem?

See full article at Advanced Science News.

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Congratulations to Young and co-authors on their article in JACS

Atomically precise heterostrucutures present chemically interesting active sites for catalysis but are often expensive and/or challenging to synthesize. In this article, we report a synthetic strategy to conformally coating Cu atoms onto the surface of Pd/HyWO3-x by anchoring Cu(I)OtBu to the Brønsted acidic protons of the bronze. It was observed that just 0.2 at.% of Cu was able to increase the catalytic performance of CO2 hydrogenation to CO by 500%. This metal anchoring method enables atom precise modification of the surfaces of metal oxide nanomaterials for catalytic applications, circumventing the need for complex and expensive atomic layer deposition processes.

See full article at Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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