MrSeb writes: "If you’ve not been tracking the thorium hype, you might be interested to learn that the benefits liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs) have over light water uranium reactors (LWRs) are compelling. Alvin Weinberg, who invented both, favored the LFTR for civilian power since its failures (when they happened) were considerably less dramatic — a catastrophic depressurization of radioactive steam, like occurred at Chernobyl in 1986, simply wouldn’t be possible. Since the technical hurdles to building LFTRs and handling their byproducts are in theory no more challenging, one might ask — where are they? It turns out that a bunch of US startups are investigating the modern-day viability of thorium power, and countries like India and China have serious, governmental efforts to use LFTRs. Is thorium power finally ready for prime time?"
MrSeb writes: "If you’ve gone shopping for a power supply any time over the last few years, you’ve probably noticed the explosive proliferation of various 80 Plus ratings. As initially conceived, an 80 Plus certification was a way for PSU manufacturers to validate that their power supply units were at least 80% efficient at 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% of full load. In the pre-80 Plus days, PSU prices normally clustered around a given wattage output. The advent of the various 80 Plus levels has created a second variable that can have a significant impact on unit price. This leads us to three important questions: How much power can you save by moving to a higher-efficiency supply, what’s the premium of doing so, and how long does it take to make back your initial investment? ExtremeTech investigates."
MrSeb writes: "An international team of engineers, physicists, and chemists have created the first fiber-optic solar cell. These fibers are thinner than human hair, flexible, and yet they produce electricity, just like a normal solar cell. The US military is already interested in weaving these threads into clothing, to provide a wearable power source for soldiers. In essence, the research team started with optical fibers made from glass — and then, using high-pressure chemical vapor deposition, injected n-, i-, and p-type silicon into the fiber, turning it into a solar cell. Functionally, these silicon-doped fiber-optic threads are identical to conventional solar cells, generating electricity from the photovoltaic effect. Whereas almost every solar cell on the market is crafted out of 2D, planar amorphous silicon on a rigid/brittle glass substrate, though, these fiber-optic solar cells have a 3D cross-section and retain the glass fiber’s intrinsic flexibility. The lead researcher, John Badding of Penn State University, says the team has already produced “meters-long fiber,” and that their new technique could be used to create “bendable silicon solar-cell fibers of over 10 meters in length.” From there, it’s simply a matter of weaving the thread into a fabric."
MrSeb writes: "A team of material scientists from Wake Forest University in North Carolina have developed plastic light bulbs that are shatterproof, flicker-free, and seem to last forever. Furthermore, these plastic bulbs are about twice as efficient as fluorescent bulbs, on-par with LED bulbs, and — perhaps best of all — they produce a color and quality of light that “can match the solar spectrum perfectly.” These new bulbs are based on field-induced polymer electroluminescent (FIPEL) technology, with a twist. FIPEL is a fairly old technology that involves running electricity through a conductive polymer called poly(vinylcarbazole) to produce light — but not enough light to be used as a light bulb. Now, by doping the polymer with carbon nanotubes, Wake Forest has increased the polymer’s luminance by about five times — and voila, we’re into light bulb territory."
MrSeb writes: "What could possibly be cooler than graphene or carbon nanotubes? Rice University’s new material that consists of forests of carbon nanotubes grown on sheets of graphene, of course! This graphene/nanotube hybrid is as awesome as it sounds, too; we’re talking about a material that might be the single best electrode interface possible, potentially revolutionizing both energy storage (batteries, supercapacitors) and electronics. This new material basically consists of a sheet of graphene, with carbon nanotubes up to a length of 120 microns (0.12mm) growing off it, which is really rather impressive at this scale. If we scaled it up to actual trees, they would rise into outer space. Most importantly, though, is that the bonds between the graphene and nanotubes are completely seamless — as far as electrons are concerned, there is absolutely no resistance when transitioning between graphene and nanotube. Why is this important? Because this hybrid material has a ridiculously vast surface area: A single gram of the new material has a surface area of 2,000 square meters (21,500 sq ft) — half an acre of the most conductive material in the world. When it comes to energy storage, there is a direct correlation between energy density and the surface area of the electrodes — this new graphene/nanotube hybrid could result in significantly smaller batteries, or larger batteries that can do more work. In testing, Rice University created a supercapacitor with the new material that matches “the best carbon-based supercapacitors that have ever been made,” which is impressive because “we’re not really a supercapacitor lab, and still we were able to match the performance because of the quality of the electrode.”"
MrSeb writes: "Two European theoretical physicists have shown that it may be possible to build a near-perfect, entangled quantum battery. In the future, such quantum batteries might power the tiniest of devices — or provide power storage that is much more efficient than state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery packs. In a quantum system, some quantum states have energy that can be extracted, reducing the system to a passive, neutral energy state. Robert Alicki of the University of Gdansk in Poland, and Mark Fannes of the University of Leuven in Belgium, theorize that it should be possible to build a quantum battery that is full of energy-rich quantum states — and then, somehow, recharge it when you run out of juice. Better yet, the physicists also theorize that quantum entanglement could be used to create an even more efficient quantum battery. In essence, Alicki and Fannes say that you can link together any number of quantum batteries, allowing you to extract all of the stored energy in one big gulp. Their research paper goes on to say that with enough entanglement, these batteries would be perfect — with no energy lost/wasted during charge or discharge."
MrSeb writes: "With the incessant warnings to stock water and food for Hurricane Sandy, little was said about caring for what has become an essential part of nearly everyone’s lives — personal technology. Smartphones and computers are as much of a lifeline for most of us as land lines and light bulbs. A depressing number of people found themselves with dead cellphones and unusable computers within hours of the storm reaching their area, while in most cases a few simple precautions would have saved the day. ExtremeTech runs through some easy and fairly cheap tips, to keep your smartphone, internet connection, and other electronic lifelines up and running during a disaster, such as Hurricane Sandy."
MrSeb writes: "If a recent US patent is anything to go by, Apple may be working on an iBattery — a universal charging system for mobile devices and peripherals; a system that can recharge everything from wireless keyboards to smartphones to Kindles. Apple’s patent, titled “Battery charging system for mobile and accessory device,” outlines a simple setup: You have a host machine (a PC), an iBattery, and a variety of devices that can accept power from the iBattery. You would charge the iBattery inside the host system (which in this case looks to be an iMac with battery slots down the side), and then you plug the iBattery into your keyboard, mouse, or smartphone when they need recharging. In essence, the iBattery would be just like one of those “emergency” smartphone chargers with a couple of AA batteries inside — but aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves, though? Don’t we already have a universal charging standard in the form of USB?"
MrSeb writes: "Dutch hardware hacker, Emile Nijssen (nickname Mux), claims he has built the world’s most efficient high-end desktop computer: An Intel Core i5-3570K with 16GB of RAM, 64GB SSD, and other assorted bits, that consumes just 5.9 watts when idling and 74.5 watts at full load. Your desktop PC, by comparison, draws around 30 watts while idle and 150 watts at full load. How does one go about building a 5.9-watt computer? Well, fortunately Mux is one of those hardware hackers who takes lots of photos, produces his own illustrative diagrams and graphs, and records everything that he does in minute detail. In essence, though, Mux does two very cool things: He undervolts the CPU, and then he actually modifies the motherboard with various voltmods and efficiency tweaks to reduce the power consumption even further."
MrSeb writes: "LG Chem, a member of the LG conglomerate/chaebol and one of the largest chemical companies in the world, has devised a cable-type lithium-ion battery that’s just a few millimeters in diameter, and is flexible enough to be tied in knots, worn as a bracelet, or woven into textiles. The underlying chemistry of the cable-type battery is the same as the lithium-ion battery in your smartphone or laptop — there’s an anode, a lithium cobalt oxide (LCO) cathode, an electrolyte — but instead of being laminated together in layers, they’re twisted into a hollow, flexible, spring-like helix. flexible batteries have been created before — but they’ve all just standard, flat, laminated batteries made from sub-optimum materials, such as polymers. As such, as they have very low energy density, and they’re only bendy in the same way that a thin sheet of plastic is bendy. LG Chem’s cable-type batteries have the same voltage and energy density as your smartphone battery — but they’re thin and highly flexible to boot. LG Chem has already powered an iPod Shuffle for 10 hours using a knotted 25cm length of cable-type battery."
MrSeb writes: "Bioengineers at Oregon State University (OSU) have developed a microbial fuel cell that can treat waste water — and generate significant amounts of electricity at the same time. The microbial fuel cell (MFC) works much like a normal fuel cell, but it uses waste water as a fuel (instead of hydrogen or ethanol), and specially-crafted bacteria act as a catalyst (instead of platinum). In the case of this fuel cell, developed by Hong Liu and her OSU colleagues, waste water comes into the fuel cell (at the anode), and bacteria oxidizes the organic compounds, producing spare electrons that flow to the cathode — creating electricity. The anode and cathode are separated by a membrane that only clean water can pass through, purifying the waste water. All told, the MFC produces two kilowatts of power per cubic meter of bioreactor volume — not a huge amount, but apparently 10 to 50 times more power electricity than other MFCs on the market. Compare this MFC with conventional "activated sludge," which has been the standard method of treating water for almost 100 years. In the US alone, according to OSU, water treatment makes up 3% of the country's total power consumption."
MrSeb writes: "Researchers at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara have created the first highly transparent, flexible, plastic solar cells. The new solar cell is almost 70% transparent to visible light — and if you're wondering how something can be both transparent and absorb light... in this case, the polymer solar cell (PSC) only absorbs infrared light, but lets visible light pass through it. The secret sauce in this transparent PSC is silver nanowires within the polymer. These nanowire electrodes are conductive and flexible, and after being coated with titanium dioxide nanoparticles they are also photovoltaic. Most importantly, though, these nanowires can be laid down using a solution process — basically, to turn a big roll of polymer into a solar cell, all you have to do is immerse it in a vat of titanium dioxide-coated silver nanowires, cure it, and voila. Moving forward, we now have transparent lithium-ion batteries, transparent non-volatile memory, transparent computer circuits made out of graphene, and transparent LCD displays. Throw in a power source — this transparent solar cell — and we’re getting mighty close to a transparent computer."
MrSeb writes: "Hold onto your hat/life partner/gonads: Scientists in Germany have created small, zeolite pellets that can store up to four times more heat than water, loss-free for “lengthy periods of time.” In theory, you can store heat in these pellets, and then extract exactly the same amount of heat after an indeterminate amount of time. Zeolites (literally “boil stones”) aren’t exactly new: The term was coined in 1756 by Axel Cronstedt, a Swedish mineralogist who noted that some minerals, upon being heated, release large amounts of steam from water that had been previously adsorbed. For the last 250 years, scientists have tried to shoehorn this process in a heat storage system — and now, the Fraunhofer Institute, working with industrial partners, has worked out how to do it."
MrSeb writes: "Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have created a harmless, genetically-modified virus that’s piezoelectric — in other words, it generates electricity when pressure is applied. This virus might eventually find its way into piezoelectric generators in the sole of your shoe, which would generate electricity (for your smartphone, or a network of sensors) while you walk. The concept of piezoelectric energy harvesting is hardly new, but according to Berkeley Lab the materials used to make piezoelectric devices are toxic, and are thus no good for internal use or for consumer-facing applications (such as the aforementioned shoe-sole power generator). The The M13 bacteriophage (literally “bacteria devourer”) virus, however, is: piezoelectric, harmless to humans, easy to genetically modify, and readily aligns itself into an orderly film — and, being a virus, it readily replicates itself millions of times, so you don’t need to worry about running out of juice at an inopportune moment. It’s also worth bearing in mind that a self-assembling piezoelectric generator is rather desirable — especially in today’s world, where mass production of genetically modified viruses is a lot easier than rearranging individual atoms with a scanning tunneling microscope. Byung Yang Lee, one of the scientists behind the discovery, says, “We’re now working on ways to improve on this proof-of-principle demonstration piezoelectric materials based on viruses could offer a simple route to novel microelectronics in the future.”"
MrSeb writes: "Seriously: electric airplanes — they’re about to take off. Technically, though, the four-passenger carbon fiber aircraft isn’t really an electric plane but more of a plug-in hybrid plane, much like the Chevrolet Volt. Whatever it is, the Volta Volare aeronautics company of Portland, Oregon says the plane can travel 300 miles on battery power, then a 1.5-liter gasoline engine engages and extends the plane’s range to 1,000 miles. The company sees the plane being attractive for its low cost of operation and its environmental friendliness. Aviation gasoline (avgas) is typically leaded fuel, which has been gone from motor vehicle fuel since the 1980s. On a 200-mile trip in a comparable four-passenger gas-engine private plane, you’d burn $80 worth of avgas, while the electricity to carry the GT4 200 miles would cost only $20 — nice savings, but perhaps a little inconsequential when the plane itself is expected to cost around $500,000. Testing begins this spring on the Volta Volare GT4."