alternate energy (4)

Exciton Surfing...


Surfing excitons: Cambridge’s Alexander Sneyd with the transient-absorption microscopy set-up. (Courtesy: Alexander Sneyd)

Topics: Alternate Energy, Applied Physics, Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Solar Power

Organic solar cells (OSCs) are fascinating devices where layers of organic molecules or polymers carry out light absorption and subsequent transport of energy – the tasks that make a solar cell work. Until now, the efficiency of OSCs has been thought to be constrained by the speed at which energy carriers called excitons to move between localized sites in the organic material layer of the device. Now, an international team of scientists led by Akshay Rao at the UK’s University of Cambridge has shown that this is not the case. What is more, they have discovered a new quantum mechanical transport mechanism called transient delocalization, which allows OSCs to reach much higher efficiencies.

When light is absorbed by a solar cell, it creates electron-hole pairs called excitons and the motion of these excitons plays a crucial role in the operation of the device. An example of an organic material layer where light absorption and transport of excitons takes place is in a film of well-ordered poly(3-hexylthiophene) nanofibers. To study exciton transport, the team shone laser pulses at such a nanofiber film and observed its response.

Exciton wave functions were thought to be localized due to strong couplings with lattice vibrations (phonons) and electron-hole interactions. This means the excitons would move slowly from one localized site to the next. However, the team observed that the excitons were diffusing at speeds 1000 times greater than what had been shown for similar samples in previous research. These speeds correspond to a ground-breaking diffusion length of about 300 nm for such crystalline films. This means energy can be transported much faster and more efficiently than previously thought.

Exciton ‘surfing’ could boost the efficiency of organic solar cells, Rikke Plougmann, Physics World

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Topics: Alternate Energy, Climate Change, Nuclear Power, Thorium

The Royal Society of Chemistry: Thorium (named for a certain Marvel character).

If China’s experimental reactor is a success it could lead to commercialization and help the nation meet its climate goals.

Scientists are excited about an experimental nuclear reactor using thorium as fuel, which is about to begin tests in China. Although this radioactive element has been trialed in reactors before, experts say that China is the first to have a shot at commercializing the technology.

The reactor is unusual in that it has molten salts circulating inside it instead of water. It has the potential to produce nuclear energy that is relatively safe and cheap, while also generating a much smaller amount of very long-lived radioactive waste than conventional reactors.

Construction of the experimental thorium reactor in Wuwei, on the outskirts of the Gobi Desert, was due to be completed by the end of August — with trial runs scheduled for this month, according to the government of Gansu province.

Thorium is a weakly radioactive, silvery metal found naturally in rocks, and currently has little industrial use. It is a waste product of the growing rare-earth mining industry in China and is, therefore, an attractive alternative to imported uranium, say researchers.

China prepares to test thorium-fueled nuclear reactor, Smriti Mallapaty, Nature

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Power Density...


Optimal size: wind farm efficiency drops as installations become bigger. (Courtesy: iStock/ssuaphoto)

Topics: Alternate Energy, Climate Change, Existentialism, Global Warming, Green Tech, Thermodynamics

Optimizing the placement of turbines within a wind farm can significantly increase energy extraction – but only until the installation reaches a certain size, researchers in the US conclude. This is just one finding of a computational study on wind turbines’ effects on the airflow around them, and consequently the ability of nearby turbines – and even nearby wind farms – to extract energy from that airflow.

Wind power could supply more than a third of global energy by 2050, so the researchers hope their analysis will assist in better designs of wind farms.

It is well known that the efficiencies of turbines in a wind farm can be significantly lower than that of a single turbine on its own. While small wind farms can achieve a power density of over 10 W/m2, this can drop to a little as 1 W/m2 in very large installations The first law of thermodynamics dictates that turbines must reduce the energy of the wind that has passed through them. However, turbines also inject turbulence into the flow, which can make it more difficult for downstream turbines to extract energy.

“People were already aware of these issues,” says Enrico Antonini of the Carnegie Institution for Science in California, “but no one had ever defined what controls these numbers.”

Optimal size for wind farms is revealed by computational study, Tim Wogan, Physics World

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The Power of ASM...



Topics: Alternate Energy, Applied Physics, Atomic-Scale Microscopy, Nanotechnology




When Ondrej Krivanek first considered building a device to boost the resolution of electron microscopes, he asked about funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. “The response was not positive,” he says, laughing. He heard through the grapevine that the administrator who held the purse strings declared that the project would be funded “over his dead body.”     


“People just felt it was too complicated, and that nobody would ever make it work,” says Krivanek. But he tried anyway.  After all, he says, “If everyone expects you to fail, you can only exceed expectations.”


The correctors that Krivanek, Niklas Dellby, and other colleagues subsequently designed for the scanning transmission electron microscope did exceed expectations. They focus the microscope’s electron beam, which scans back and forth across the sample like a spotlight and make it possible to distinguish individual atoms and to conduct chemical analysis within a sample. For his pioneering efforts, Krivanek shared The Kavli Prize in nanoscience with the German scientists Harald Rose, Maximilian Haider, and Knut Urban, who independently developed correctors for conventional transmission electron microscopes, in which a broad stationary beam illuminates the entire sample at once.


Electron microscopes, invented in 1931, long-promised unprecedented clarity, and in theory could resolve objects a hundredth the size of an atom. But in practice, they rarely get close because the electromagnetic lenses they use to focus electrons deflected them in ways that distorted and blurred the resulting images.


The aberration correctors designed by both Krivanek’s team and the German scientists deploy a series of electromagnetic fields, applied in multiple planes and different directions, to redirect and focus wayward electrons. “Modern correctors contain more than 100 optical elements and have software that automatically quantifies and fixes 25 different types of aberrations,” says Krivanek, who co-founded a company called Nion to develop and commercialize the technology.


That level of fine-tuning allows microscopists to fix their sights on some important pursuits, such as producing smaller and more energy-efficient computers, analyzing biological samples without incinerating them, and being able to detect hydrogen, the lightest element, and a potential clean-burning fuel.


The Vast Potential of Atomic-Scale Microscopy, Ondrej Krivanek, Scientific American



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