Transparent solar collector to turn skyscrapers into power plants

We may soon be able to create electricity using the screens of our phones, windows in buildings and any other clear surface.

Researchers have created a ‘transparent’ surface that can capture light and convert it into electricity using solar technology.

The team, from Michigan State University, developed organic molecules that are able to take in waves of sunlight which are not visible to the human eye.

It is the first time that a transparent solar concentrator has been created.

Richard Lunt who worked on the research, said that the unique nature of the transparency means we may be able to incorporate it into our everyday lives and create energy from clear surfaces.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

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As the materials used do not absorb or emit any light that can be seen by the human eye, this means they appear transparent when we look at them.

Instead they rely on infrared light, which is guided to the edge of the material where it is converted to electricity by solar cells.

“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” explained Lunt. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared.”

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The previously developed coloured concentrators developed by MIT

However the future for the technology isn’t yet crystal clear as work needs to be done on improving the energy-producing efficiency.

Currently its solar conversion rate lies close to one percent, but the researchers believe they will be able to get it close to five percent when everything has been fully optimised.

At present coloured variations of the concentrator have efficiency levels of around seven percent.


Featured image and image one courtesy of the Michigan State Univeristy. Image two courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Domino's takes the lead in drone delivery

Domino's Pizza has carried out a demonstration of its pizza delivery drones in Auckland, New Zealand. “We’ve always said that it doesn’t make sense to have a 2-tonne machine delivering a 2-kilogram order,” said Domino’s CEO Don Meij in a statement.

Source: Fortune

Israel deploys self-driving military vehicles

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has revealed that it has deployed fully automated self-driving military vehicles to patrol the border of the Gaza Strip. According to reports, the IDF's also plans to place them alongside Israel's borders with Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

Source: The Mainichi

World's first self-driving taxis available in Singapore

Autonomous vehicle startup nuTonomy has beaten Uber, who plan to introduce autonomous cars in Pittsburgh in the next few weeks, to become the first company to offer a self-driving taxi service. The cars are available to select members of the public in Singapore.

Natural batteries to power ingestible medical devices

A group of researchers have claimed that non-toxic, edible batteries could one day be used to diagnose and treat disease. The team believe batteries made with melanin pigments, naturally found in the skin, hair and eyes would power ingestible devices.

Source: Phys.org

Columbia is using Lego-like architecture to house its urban poor

A company in Colombia is using interlocking LEGO-like bricks to build houses for a few thousand dollars per structure. The houses are made from recycled plastic blocks that are easy to use and require no construction experience to put together.

Source: Web Urbanist

Stem cell therapy may be able to reverse permanent brain damage

The damage suffered by stroke victims may be reversible thanks to a developing therapeutic technique. The new approach combines transplanted human stem cells with a special protein that stimulates neuron growth.

Source: Medical Xpress

Face transplant surgeons herald the dawn of “a new era in transplant surgery”

Surgeons for the firefighter Patrick Hardison, who last year underwent the most extensive face transplant in history, have heralded the dawn of a new era in transplant surgery after reporting extremely successful results from the procedure.

“We have entered a new era in transplant surgery,” said Dr Eduardo D Rodriguez, chair Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone and lead surgeon of the 100-strong team that performed the transplant.

“The work being done, not only in face transplantation, but also in areas like hand, uterine, and penile transplantation, is pushing the boundaries of medicine and surgery and opening up new avenues to restore the lives of people like Patrick. It’s a very exciting time.”

Hardison, a former volunteer firefighter from Mississippi, the US, underwent the face transplant in August 2015, having suffered severe burns to his face and neck during a firefighting attempt 14 years previously.

The surgery, which involved the most extensive soft tissue face transplant in history, was somewhat of a new frontier for the field, meaning it was difficult to predict how well Hardison would recover. However, his recovery has been remarkable, far exceeding what his surgeons expected.

“We are amazed at Pat’s recovery, which has surpassed all of our expectations,” said Rodriguez.

Patrick Hardison's recovery over the past year, from immediately post-surgery (top left) to the start of August 2016 (bottom right). Above: Hardison has his eyes examined as part of a checkup

Patrick Hardison’s recovery over the past year, from immediately post-surgery (top left) to the start of August 2016 (bottom right). Above: Hardison has his eyes examined as part of a checkup

Transplant patients often experience some form of rejection, however Hardison not shown any such signs. His transplanted eye lids and blinking mechanisms have also begun to work fully, ensuring his eyesight has been preserved – by no means guaranteed prior to the surgery.

“Most significant is the lack of a rejection episode. We believe this has much to do with the methodical approach we took in the matching process to ensure that Patrick’s donor provided the most favourable match,” said Rodriguez. “Doing so also has allowed us to reduce the levels of certain medications that Pat takes to prevent rejection.”

The recovery has been so quick that the surgeons were able to commence a number of smaller procedures to complete the process considerably ahead of schedule. This included the removal of feeding and breathing tubes Hardison has relied on since his injury, as well as minor adjustments to his forehead, eyes, lips and chin.

Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the 100-strong team to perform the face transplant. Images courtesy of NYU Langone

Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the 100-strong team to perform the face transplant. Images courtesy of NYU Langone

Rodriguez and his colleagues have published extensive details of the case in a series of academic papers, allowing other surgeons to perform similar procedures in the future, and ultimately enabling face transplants to become a commonplace technique, rather than one worthy of international news coverage.

There have also been some efforts to improve access to such surgeries.

“Since last year’s face transplant, other initiatives have progressed,” explained Helen Irving, president and CEO of LiveOnNY, an organ recovery organisation operating in the greater New York Metropolitan area.

“To date, face transplants in the US have been supported, at least in part, by research funding. The US Department of Defense, in concert with transplant centers, is collaborating with insurance carriers to provide coverage for face transplantation. And here in New York, the state government is considering new legislation to strengthen opportunities for organ donation.”

Study finds biofuels are contributing to climate change, not mitigating it

Biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel are not anywhere near as environmentally friendly as previously thought.

A study by researchers at the University of Michigan, published today in the open-access journal Climactic Change, has found that biofuels actually increase the heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions responsible for global warming, despite their reputation for being a ‘clean’ fuel source.

It was previously thought that such fuels were carbon-neutral, based on the premise that the CO₂ they produce when burnt was balanced by the CO₂ the plants absorbed as they grew. However, this study has found that the crops’ CO₂ absorption only mitigated a fraction of its emissions.

Using extensive crop production data from the US Department of Agriculture, alongside data on fossil fuel production and vehicle emissions, the researchers found that during a time when biofuel use rapidly increased in the US, the biofuel crops’ CO₂ absorption only offset 37% of their emissions when burnt.

“This is the first study to carefully examine the carbon on farmland when biofuels are grown, instead of just making assumptions about it,” explained research professor and study lead author John DeCicco, from the University of Michigan Energy Institute.

“When you look at what’s actually happening on the land, you find that not enough carbon is being removed from the atmosphere to balance what’s coming out of the tailpipe.”

A vehicle owner tops up his car using the biofuel ethanol in Washington State, the US. The country has promoted biofuels as a green alternative for transport. Image courtesy of Carolina K. Smith MD / Shutterstock.com

A vehicle owner tops up his car using the biofuel ethanol in Washington State, the US. The country has promoted biofuels as a green alternative for transport. Image courtesy of Carolina K. Smith MD / Shutterstock.com

The findings have significant ramifications for climate change mitigation approaches, as biofuels have increasingly been used as a cleaner alternative to petroleum. In many parts of the world they form a vital part of government-backed plans to reduce carbon emissions; a role that may well need to be reconsidered now that such strong doubt has been cast on their effectiveness.

In the US, for example, they are recommended for transportation purposes by the US Renewable Fuel Standard, which has helped to spur growth in production in the country from 4.2 billion gallons in 2005 to 14.6 billion gallons in 2013.

The researchers have even gone so far as to argue biofuels are worse than other traditional fuel sources, due to the false sense of security they provide to policymakers.

“When it comes to the emissions that cause global warming, it turns out that biofuels are worse than gasoline,” said DeCicco.

“So the underpinnings of policies used to promote biofuels for reasons of climate have now been proven to be scientifically incorrect.”

Biofuels are often presented as environmentally friendly, such as in this concept image. This will now have to change as a result of the study's findings

Biofuels are often presented as environmentally friendly, such as in this concept image. This will now have to change as a result of the study’s findings

As a result of the shocking findings, the researchers are now recommending that policymakers reconsider their use of biofuels to mitigate climate change.

“Policymakers should reconsider their support for biofuels,” said DeCicco.

“This issue has been debated for many years. What’s new here is that hard data, straight from America’s croplands, now confirm the worst fears about the harm that biofuels do to the planet.”