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A new kind of nanoscale rectenna (half antenna and half rectifier) can convert solar and infrared into electricity, plus be tuned to nearly any other frequency as a detector.

Right now efficiency is only one percent, but professor Baratunde Cola and colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech, Atlanta) convincingly argue that they can achieve 40 percent broad spectrum efficiency (double that of silicon and more even than multi-junction gallium arsenide) at a one-tenth of the cost of conventional solar cells (and with an upper limit of 90 percent efficiency for single wavelength conversion).

It is well suited for mass production, according to Cola. It works by growing fields of carbon nanotubes vertically, the length of which roughly matches the wavelength of the energy source (one micron for solar), capping the carbon nanotubes with an insulating dielectric (aluminum oxide on the tethered end of the nanotube bundles), then growing a low-work function metal (calcium/aluminum) on the dielectric and voila–a rectenna with a two electron-volt potential that collects sunlight and converts it to direct current (DC).

“Our process uses three simple steps: grow a large array of nanotube bundles vertically; coat one end with dielectric; then deposit another layer of metal,” Cola told EE Times. “In effect we are using one end of the nanotube as a part of a super-fast metal-insulator-metal tunnel diode, making mass production potentially very inexpensive up to 10-times cheaper than crystalline silicon cells.”

For commercialization, billions or even trillions of carbon-nanotube bundles could be grown side-by-side, ramping up the power output into the megaWatt range, after optimization for higher efficiency.

“We still have a lot of work to do to lower contact resistance which will improve the impedance match between the antenna and diode, thus raising efficiency,” Cola told us.”Our proof-of-concept was tuned to the near-infrared. We used infrared-, solar- and green laser-light and got efficiencies of less than one percent, but what was key to our demo was we showed our computer model matched our experimental results, giving us the confidence that we can improve the efficiency up to 40 percent in just a few years.”

For the future, Cola’s group has a three tiered goal–first develop sensor applications that don’t require high efficiencies, second to get the efficiency to 20 percent for harvesting waste heat in the infrared spectrum, then start replacing standard solar cells with 40 percent efficient panels in the visible spectrum. The team is also seeking suitable flexible substrates for applications that require bending.

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Schematic of the components making up the optical rectenna–carbon nanotubes capped with a metal-oxide-metal tunneling diode. (Credit: Thomas Bougher)
(Source: Georgia Tech)

 

Nature Nanotechnology – A carbon nanotube optical rectenna

An optical rectenna—a device that directly converts free-propagating electromagnetic waves at optical frequencies to direct current—was first proposed over 40 years ago, yet this concept has not been demonstrated experimentally due to fabrication challenges at the nanoscale. Realizing an optical rectenna requires that an antenna be coupled to a diode that operates on the order of 1 pHz (switching speed on the order of 1 fs).

Diodes operating at these frequencies are feasible if their capacitance is on the order of a few attofarads but they remain extremely difficult to fabricate and to reliably couple to a nanoscale antenna. Here we demonstrate an optical rectenna by engineering metal–insulator–metal tunnel diodes, with a junction capacitance of ∼2 aF, at the tip of vertically aligned multiwalled carbon nanotubes (∼10 nm in diameter), which act as the antenna. Upon irradiation with visible and infrared light, we measure a d.c. open-circuit voltage and a short-circuit current that appear to be due to a rectification process (we account for a very small but quantifiable contribution from thermal effects). In contrast to recent reports of photodetection based on hot electron decay in a plasmonic nanoscale antenna a coherent optical antenna field appears to be rectified directly in our devices, consistent with rectenna theory. Finally, power rectification is observed under simulated solar illumination, and there is no detectable change in diode performance after numerous current–voltage scans between 5 and 77 °C, indicating a potential for robust operation.

 

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A study conducted by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) indicates 2016 will be a banner year for U.S. solar installations.

The non-profit based in Washington D.C. predicts an estimated 119 percent increase this year due to tax incentives and price reductions.

First, Congress extended a 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit for all different types of solar projects through 2019. Plus, the price of panels has dropped by 67 percent since 2010, according to the report.

SEIA’s investigation notes demand will grow in residential and commercial markets, but utility-scale installations will encompass 74 percent of the installations for 2016.

These factors could make solar installations an intriguing option for homeowners and businesses. Whole Foods agreed to a partnership with Solar City in which the alternative energy company will retrofit rooftop solar panels on 100 stores.

Fortune adds that electricity companies have nothing to worry about because solar energy only accounts for 1 percent of the nation’s power output.

By 2020, SEIA predicts solar power will grow to 3.5 percent.

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*** From the World Economic Forum (WEF)

Five videos to watch on International Women’s Day

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, here are five videos that highlight the struggle for gender parity.

I. The Global Gender Gap Report

The Global Gender Gap Index ranks over 140 economies according to how well they are leveraging their female talent pool, based on economic, educational, health-based and political indicators. With a decade of data, the 2015 edition of the Global Gender Gap Report– first published in 2006 – reveals patterns of change around the world.

II. Davos 2016 – Progress Towards Parity

At the Annual Meeting 2016 in Davos, an all-star panel gathered to discuss the challenges facing the journey towards gender parity. What are the opportunities to achieve progress towards parity as the demand on workforces and societies rapidly shift?

Panelists:
· Melinda Gates, Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USA.
· Jonas Prising, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ManpowerGroup, USA.
· Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer and Member of the Board, Facebook, USA.
· Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada.
· Zhang Xin, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, SOHO China, People’s Republic of China.

III. China 2015 – Parity Equals Performance

Moderated by Joe Palca, Science Correspondent at NPR, this session held at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2015 in Dalian, People’s Republic of China, addresses the gender gap in science and technology. Are companies missing out on female-led innovation in the digital economy?

Panelists include:
– Masako Egawa, Professor, Hitotsubashi University, Japan; Global Agenda Council on Japan
– Maria Pinelli, Global Vice-Chair, Strategic Growth Markets, EY, United Kingdom
– Jun Qin, Chairman, Tsinghua Holding Technological Innovation Co., People’s Republic of China; Young Global Leader
– Nina Tandon, President and Chief Executive Officer, EpiBone, USA

IV. Emma Watson

UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, delivered a stirring speech encouraging world and corporate leaders to take action for gender equality during the kickoff of a HeForShe programme launch during the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos on January 23rd, 2015.

V. Davos 2016: The Gender Impact on the Fourth Industrial Revolution

This issue briefing examined the degree and breadth of gender gaps across key industries and possible remedies to consider for each.
Speakers: – Mara Swan, Executive Vice-President, Global Strategy and Talent, ManpowerGroup, USA. – Theresa Whitmarsh, Executive Director, Washington State Investment Board, USA. – Saadia Zahidi, Head of Employment and Gender Initiatives, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.

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A ‘Green-er’ Clean Energy Earth?

In the latest edition of their annual letter published today, Bill and Melinda Gates argue that the world needs “an energy miracle,” and are willing to bet that such a breakthrough will arrive within 15 years.

 

Bill Gates cites scientists’ estimates that to avoid the worst effects of climate change the biggest carbon-emitting countries must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, and the world must more or less stop such emissions entirely by 2100. And that’s not going to happen if we continue on our current trajectory.

You can see Gates explain the equation in the Quartz video above.

Gates says he was stunned to discover how little research and development money is going toward breakthroughs in cheaper, scaleable clean-energy sources.Gates announced last year that he was committing $1 billion of his own money over five years to invest in clean-energy technology, and has been pushing governments to increase their funding.

To explain the need for a breakthrough in energy technology, he uses an equation (similar to the Kaya identity equation) that represents the factors determining how much carbon dioxide the world emits every year.

“Within the next 15 years, I expect the world will discover a clean-energy breakthrough that will save our planet and power our world.” Gates believes that cleaner options such as electric cars and LED lighting won’t bring down energy consumption enough to hit those climate-change goals. In fact, he doesn’t see any current clean-energy technology that will enable the world to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions by 2100, partly because it’s not consistent or inexpensive enough.

 

Gates has personally invested in next-generation nuclear power technology, which he describes as “a very promising path.” He is also backing efforts to improve battery technology, so that energy from intermittent clean sources such as solar and wind can be stored affordably at large scale for use over time. “I think we need to pursue many different paths,” says Gates in an interview with Quartz.

 

And he’s betting on relatively fast progress. “Within the next 15 years,” Gates predicts in his letter, “I expect the world will discover a clean-energy breakthrough that will save our planet and power our world.”

** Re-Posted from the World Economic Forum

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GoPro-Funded Startup’s Tech Turns Seawater into Hydrogen

Joi Scientific held a forum on Tuesday at its Kennedy Space Center-based headquarters in Florida to discuss its technology that can convert saltwater into a hydrogen power source.

Founder and CEO Traver Kennedy didn’t elaborate on the specific procedure his technology uses to create hydrogen,writes Fortune.  He told the audience the process would be similar to something that “happens in nature,” but could potentially produce “hydrogen on demand” whenever a customer wants it.

A successful launch of Joi’s technology could create a new paradigm for energy innovation. Scientists have concluded that the extraction process of transforming hydrogen into water can be expensive and take up a considerable amount of energy, but Joi said his technology’s process would be different,reports the Orlando Sentinel.

The company recently raised a $5M investment from the Woodman Family Trust, a fund led by Dean Woodman. He’s the father of Nick Woodman, founder and CEO of popular camera provider GoPro. 

Joi will use the money to kick-start the commercialization process, reports Fortune. Kennedy told the publication he started discussions with manufacturers a year ago about licensing agreements to help these partners “incorporate it into their gear to make hydrogen to power fuel cells, burners, and boilers.”

Kennedy plans on installing his technology into a few projects later this year.

Fourth Industrial Revo 012016 AAEAAQAAAAAAAAZqAAAAJGM1YzM0NGYxLWIxZTMtNGYyNi1iMjIyLTM1MjUwNDRjYjIyYQFulvia Montresor, Director, World Economic Forum ~ From intelligent robots and self-driving cars to gene editing and 3D printing, dramatic technological change is happening at lightning speed all around us.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is being driven by a staggering range of new technologies that are blurring the boundaries between people, the internet and the physical world. It’s a convergence of the digital, physical and biological spheres. It’s a transformation in the way we live, work and relate to one another in the coming years, affecting entire industries and economies, and even challenging our notion of what it means to be human.

So what exactly are these technologies, and what do they mean for us?

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Computing capabilities, storage and access

Between 1985 and 1989, the Cray-2 was the world’s fastest computer. It was roughly the size of a washing machine. Today, a smart watch has twice its capabilities.

As mobile devices become increasingly sophisticated, experts say it won’t be long before we are all carrying “supercomputers” in our pockets. Meanwhile, the cost of data storage continues to fall, making it possible keep expanding our digital footprints.

Today, 43% of the world’s population are connected to the internet, mostly in developed countries. The United Nations has set the goal of connecting all the world’s inhabitants to affordable internet by 2020. This will increase access to information, education and global marketplaces, which will empower many people to improve their living conditions and escape poverty. Imagine a world where everyone is connected by mobile devices with unprecedented processing power and storage capacity!

If we can achieving the goal of universal internet access and overcome other barriers such as digital illiteracy, everybody could have access to knowledge, and all the possibilities this brings.

Big Data

Each time you run a Google search, scan your passport, make an online purchase or tweet, you are leaving a data trail behind that can be analysed and monetized.

Thanks to supercomputers and algorithms, we can make sense of massive amounts of data in real time. Computers are already making decisions based on this information, and in less than 10 years computer processors are expected to reach the processing power of the human brain. This means there’s a good chance your job could be done by computers in the coming decades. Two Oxford researchers, Carl Bendikt Frey and Michael A Osborne, estimated that 47% of American jobs are at high risk of automation.

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A survey done by the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Software & Society shows people expect artificial intelligence machines to be part of a company’s board of directors by 2026.

Digital Health

Analyzing medical data collated from different populations and demographics enables researchers to understand patterns and connections in diseases and identify which conditions improve the effectiveness of certain treatments and which don’t.

Big data will help to reduce costs and inefficiencies in healthcare systems, improve access and quality of care, and make medicine more personalized and precise.

In the future, we will all have very detailed digital medical profiles … including information that we’d rather keep private. Digitization is empowering people to look after their own health. Think of apps that track how much you eat, sleep and exercise, and being able to ask a doctor a question by simply tapping it into your smartphone.

In addition, advances in technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9, which unlike other gene-editing tools, is cheap, quick and easy to use, could also have a transformative effect on health, with the potential to treat genetic defects and eradicate diseases.

The digitization of matter

3D printers will create not only cars, houses and other objects, but also human tissue, bones and custom prosthetics. Patients would not have to die waiting for organ donations if hospitals could bioprint them. In fact, we may have already reached this stage: in 2014, doctors in China gave a boy a 3D-printed spine implant, according to the journal Popular Science.

The 3D printing market for healthcare is predicted to reach some $4.04 billion by 2018. According to a survey by the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Software and Society, most people expect that the first 3D printed liver will happen by 2025. The survey also reveals that most people expect the first 3D printed car will be in production by 2022.

Three-dimensional printing, which brings together computational design, manufacturing, materials engineering and synthetic biology, reduces the gap between makers and users and removes the limitations of mass production. Consumers can already design personalized products online, and will soon be able to simply press “print” instead of waiting for a delivery.

The Internet of Things (IOT)

Within the next decade, it is expected that more than a trillion sensors will be connected to the internet. If almost everything is connected, it will transform how we do business and help us manage resources more efficiently and sustainably. Connected sensors will be able to share information from their environment and organize themselves to make our lives easier and safer. For example, self-driving vehicles could “communicate” with one another, preventing accidents.

By 2020 around 22% of the world’s cars will be connected to the internet (290 million vehicles), and by 2024, more than half of home internet traffic will be used by appliances and devices.

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Home automation is also happening fast. We can control our lights, heating, air conditioning and security systems remotely, but how much longer will it be before sensors are able to detect crumbs under the table and tell our automated vacuum cleaners to tidy up? The internet of things will create huge amounts of data, raising concerns over who will own it and how it will be stored. And what about the possibility that your home or car could be hacked?

Blockchain

Only a tiny fraction of the world’s GDP (around 0.025%) is currently held on blockchain, the shared database technology where transactions in digital currencies such as the Bitcoin are made. But this could be about to change, as banks, insurers and companies race to work out how they can use the technology to cut costs.

A blockchain is essentially a network of computers that must all approve a transaction before it can be verified and recorded. Using cryptography to keep transactions secure, the technology provides a decentralized digital ledger that anyone on the network can see.

Before blockchain, we relied on trusted institution such as a bank to act as a middleman. Now the blockchain can act as that trusted authority on every type of transaction involving value including money, goods and property. The uses of blockchain technology are endless. Some expect that in less than 10 years it will be used to collect taxes. It will make it easier for immigrants to send money back to countries where access to financial institutions is limited.

And financial fraud will be significantly reduced, as every transaction will be recorded and distributed on a public ledger, which will be accessible by anyone who has an internet connection.

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Source: Financial Times

Wearable internet

Technology is getting increasingly personal. Computers are moving from our desks, to our laps, to our pockets and soon they will be integrated into our clothing. By 2025, 10% of people are expected to be wearing clothes connected to the internet and the first implantable mobile phone is expected to be sold.

Implantable and wearable devices such as sports shirts that provide real-time workout data by measuring sweat output, heart rate and breathing intensity are changing our understanding of what it means to be online and blurring the lines between the physical and digital worlds.

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The potential benefits are great, but so are the challenges. These devices can provide immediate information about our health and about what we see, or help locate missing children. Being able to control devices with our brains would enable disabled people to engage fully with the world. There would be exciting possibilities for learning and new experiences.

But how would it affect our personal privacy, data security and our personal relationships? In the future, will it ever be possible to be offline anymore?

 

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The Canadian government is failing when it comes to reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, and isn’t on track to meet reduction goals set for 2020 and 2050, according to professor and environmental analyst Mark Jaccard, of Simon Fraser Univ.

CanadaEmissionsx250“I find that in the nine years since its promise to reduce Canadian emissions 20% by 2020 and 65% by 2050, the Canadian government has implemented virtually no policies that would materially reduce emissions,” he writes in his climate policy report card. “The 2020 target is now unachievable without great harm to the Canadian economy.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in 2009, changed the 2020 target from 20% to 17% of 2005’s emissions, which was 749 Mt. In 2014, the country produced 726 Mt of carbon dioxide.

Emissions have been steadily increasing since 1990, fluctuated between 2005 and 2008 and notably declined in 2009, according to the Canadian government. Since then, emissions have been slightly rising.

Jaccard credits the global recession of 2008 and 2009 with the cause of temporary reductions in Canada’s emissions. Additionally, Ontario reduced its emissions by 80% after closing or converting its coal-fired power plants over a 10-year period, between 2004 and 2014. According to Jaccard, this was possible due to coal providing only 25% of Ontario’s electricity.

Speaking with The Globe and Mail, a spokesperson for Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Canada has a proven track record in reducing greenhouse emissions, including a major investment in clean energy in Ottawa.

“The Harper government did pass regulations to phase out traditional coal-fired power, but those won’t have an impact for the next 10 to 15 years,” the media outlet reports. “As well, Ottawa has matched U.S. moves to impose increasingly tough fuel efficiency standards on vehicle, but, again, those regulations will yield little result before 2020.”

Exploring reasons behind inactivity regarding regulations, Harper suggests the dynamic between immediate costs and long-term benefits may deter politicians from imposing regulations. Further, some may view the issue as to much for a single country to handle, and will stave off action until a near-universal global effort occurs.

For Canada, “a failing grade is obviously the result,” Jaccard writes.

Drone for Trees 12970826404_59ff05e8a8_o Hear the words “drone fleet” and innovative environmentalism probably doesn’t leap immediately to mind. BioCarbon Engineering wants to change that.

The UK-based environmental tech firm believes that, by using drones, they’ll be able to repopulate Earth’s rapidly dwindling forest coverage at the astonishing rate of one billion trees per year. It’s an ambitious goal – one with little, if any, precedent in terms of sheer scale.

There are a variety of tree-planting techniques, including planting by hand and delivering dry seeds by air. However, hand-planting is slow and expensive, and spreading dry seeds results in low uptake rates.

Our solution balances these two methods. First, by planting germinated seeds using precision agriculture techniques, we increase uptake rates. Second, our scalable, automated technology significantly reduces the manpower requirements and costs. Finally, our mapping UAVs will also provide invaluable intelligence on planting patterns, landscape design and appropriate timing.

Speaking with Wired, CEO Lauren Fletcher explains: “Global deforestation is happening at an industrial scale. Governments and organisations [sic] are spending billions planting trees, but the standard method of hand-planting can’t keep up.”

UAE Drones for Good England from zee on Vimeo.

To achieve their billion-tree-per-year goal, BioCarbon Engineering divides their reforestation plans into three distinct phases: First, the drones engage in aerial mapping to create detailed three-dimensional terrain models. They then begin “precision planting” by shooting seed pods that have been “pregerminated and covered in a nutritious hydrogel” into the soil. Finally, drones monitor tree growth over the course of a number of “planting audits,” designed to track the reforrestation progress.

image via youtube screen capture

According to Fletcher, the scale and speed with which drones are able to complete work usually done by hand (a two-person team could, he estimates, could plant thirty six thousand trees in a single day) means reforestation using his method might cost as little as 15% of traditional planting.

BioCarbon Engineering was a heavily speculated upon entry in this past winter’s United Arab Emirates-sponsored “Drones For Good” competition, but ultimately lost in the final round. Still, the company presents a tantalizing direction for the emerging drone industry: One where decades of environmentally damaging deforestation are rolled back by boots on the ground, and bots in the skies.


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