Exciting new material uses solar energy to remove man-made dye pollutants from water


June 29, 2017

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A novel composite material has been developed by scientists in the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Swansea University which shows promise as a catalyst for the degradation of environmentally-harmful synthetic dye pollutants, which are released at a rate of nearly 300,000 tonnes a year into the world’s water.

This novel, non-hazardous photocatalytic material effectively removes dye pollutants from water, adsorbing more than 90 % of the dye and enhancing the rate of dye breakdown by almost ten times using visible light.

The researchers, led by Dr. Charles W. Dunnill and Dr. Daniel Jones at the Energy Safety Research Institute in Swansea University, reported their discovery in the Nature open access journal Scientific Reports.

By heating the reaction mixture at high pressures inside a sealed container, the composite is synthesized by growing ultra-thin “nanowires” of tungsten oxide on the surface of tiny particles of tantalum nitride. As a result of the incredibly small size of the two material components – both the tantalum nitride and tungsten oxide are typically less than 40 billionths of a metre in diameter – the composite provides a huge surface area for dye capture.

The material then proceeds to break the dye down into smaller, harmless molecules using the provided by sunlight, in a process known as “photocatalytic degradation”. Having removed the harmful dyes, the catalyst may simply be filtered from the cleaned water and reused.

While the photocatalytic degradation of dyes has been investigated for several decades, it is only relatively recently that researchers have developed materials capable of absorbing the visible part of the solar spectrum – other materials, such as titanium dioxide, are also able to break down dyes using solar energy, but their efficiency is limited as they only absorb higher energy, ultra-violet light. By making use of a much greater range of the spectrum, materials such as those used by the ESRI team at Swansea University team are able to remove pollutants at a far superior rate.

Both of the materials used in the study have attracted significant interest in recent years. Tungsten oxide, in particular, is considered one of the most promising materials for a range of photocatalytic applications, owing to its high electrical conductivity, chemical stability and surface activity, in addition to its strong light absorbance. As a low band-gap semiconductor, tantalum nitride is red in colour due to its ability to absorb almost the entire spectrum of , and therefore extracts a high amount of energy from sunlight to power the degradation processes.

However, the true potential of the two materials was only realised once they were combined into a single composite. Due to the exchange of electrons between the two materials, the test dye used within the study was broken down by the composite at around double the rate achieved by tantalum nitride on its own, while alone was shown to be incapable of dye degradation. In contrast to other leading photocatalytic materials, many of which are toxic to both humans and aquatic life, both parts of the composite are classed as non-hazardous .

The scientists responsible for the study believe that their research provides just a taster of the material’s potential. “Now that we’ve demonstrated the capabilities of our composite, we aim to not just improve on the material further, but to also begin work on scaling up the synthesis for real-world application.” said Dr. Jones. “We’re also exploring its viability in other areas, such as the photocatalysed splitting of water to generate hydrogen.”

Solar accounts for 30 percent of new energy in U.S. so far this year

By Bret Fanshaw

June 8, 2017

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WASHINGTON, DC – A new analysis released today by SEIA/GTM Research shows that solar remains a growing part America’s energy mix so far in 2017, accounting for 30 percent of new energy capacity installed.

California, North Carolina and Arizona rank as the top three states for solar installations during that time.

The report comes as President Trump withdraws the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement and as dozens of state and local leaders double down on their commitments to climate action and renewable energy.

According to SEIA, the U.S. now has nearly 15 times more solar energy capacity installed than in 2010, with enough solar to power the equivalent of over 8.7 million homes and reduce 55 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually.

The solar industry is expected to nearly triple in the next five years, as demand for clean energy grows and costs continue to fall.

The data comes from the quarterly U.S. Solar Market Insight Report by SEIA/GTM Research.

Environment America solar program coordinator Bret Fanshaw released the following statement in reaction to today’s report:

“The data released today is clear: solar power continues to boom across America.

“If state and local leaders keep stepping up their commitments to solar power, our country’s health and environment will benefit from cleaner air, water and a safer climate.

“These figures also show that even while President Trump withdraws from the Paris Climate Agreement and unwisely rolls back American commitments to act on climate change, state and local governments, businesses and institutions stand ready to ramp up renewable energy at record speed.

“In order to reach 100 percent renewable energy, we can and must continue the wave of solar adoption currently underway in our communities.

“We urge state and local leaders across the nation to stand with us for a clean, bright solar future.”

Prince Secretly Donated Thousands To Help Solar Power Startups

By Tod Perry

June 6, 2017

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It’s been a little over a year since the world lost Prince, but his influence is still strong as ever and not just in the world of music. It was recently revealed that Prince anonymously gave $250,000 to support solar energy entrepreneurship—a generous cash infusion that ultimately led to Powerhouse, a for-profit incubator that links solar entrepreneurs with investors. Prince’s interest began after a conversation with Obama’s former green jobs advisor and current CNN commentator, Van Jones.

He asked ‘If I have a quarter million dollars, what can I do with it?’ ” Jones said in an interview. “My wife said he should put solar panels all over Oakland.” Since Powerhouse was established in 2013 in Oakland, California, it’s helped over 43 clean energy startups create $52 million in revenue, raised $287 million in capital, and generated over 240 million megawatts of solar energy.

Nearly half of the companies backed by Powerhouse were founded by minorities and women, far beyond the industry norm. These companies include: BrightCurrent, PVComplete, UtilityAPI, and Hot 4 Solar. Prince’s investment is even more important now, given the harsh political climate in Washington. The Trump administration is expected to propose a 70 percent budget cut to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. In 2018, the cut would slash up to $1.45 billion from its current $2.09 billion budget.

Prince and Jones also collaborated on the #YesWeCode initiative that works to help young people of color enter the tech industry. The initiative was inspired by the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. “I was talking to Prince and he said, ‘You know, every time people see a young black man wearing a hoodie, they think, he’s a thug. But if they see a young white guy wearing a hoodie they think, oh that might be Mark Zuckerberg. That might be a dot-com billionaire,’” Jones recalled. “I said, ‘Well, yeah, Prince that’s true, but that’s because of racism.’ And he said, ‘No, it’s because we have not produced enough black Mark Zuckerbergs. That’s on us.’”

[Correction: An earlier version of this article stated Prince’s anonymous donation was $25 million. The correct amount is $250,000. The post has been updated for accuracy.]