David Kirkpatrick

March 7, 2010

Carbon nanotubes open new area of energy research

Nanotechnology is revolutionizing how we see and deal with electricity, everything from storage to wiring. Now a team at MIT has discovered carbon nanotubes produce electricity in an entirely new way, opening a brand new area in energy research.

From the final link:

A team of scientists at MIT have discovered a previously unknown phenomenon that can cause powerful waves of energy to shoot through minuscule wires known as carbon nanotubes. The discovery could lead to a new way of producing electricity, the researchers say.

The phenomenon, described as thermopower waves, “opens up a new area of energy research, which is rare,” says Michael Strano, MIT’s Charles and Hilda Roddey Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, who was the senior author of a paper describing the new findings that appeared in  on March 7. The lead author was Wonjoon Choi, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering.

Like a collection of flotsam propelled along the surface by waves traveling across the ocean, it turns out that a thermal wave — a moving pulse of heat — traveling along a microscopic wire can drive electrons along, creating an electrical current.

The key ingredient in the recipe is carbon nanotubes — submicroscopic hollow tubes made of a chicken-wire-like lattice of carbon atoms. These tubes, just a few billionths of a meter () in diameter, are part of a family of novel carbon molecules, including buckyballs and graphene sheets, that have been the subject of intensive worldwide research over the last two decades.

February 11, 2010

ARPA-E funding future still cloudy

DARPA’s energy innovation cousin finally received funding last year and by all accounts has been a success. The current economy and the White House’s recent stance on holding the line on domestic spending could cut the legs out from under ARPA-E before it can ever start to hit its stride.

From the link:

A year after it first received funding, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) got high marks from the congressional committee that spearheaded its creation in its “first annual checkup.” In a hearing of the House committee on Science and Technology, the new agency, which is designed to promote the research, development and commercialization off “game-changing” energy technologies, received praise for quickly sorting through 3,700 applications to make 37 awards in its first round of funding. It also fine-tuned its awards process, with the second round of funding going into specific areas of research identified in a series of workshops. Some of the projects that ARPA-E funded have since attracted private support.

The agency’s fate, however, remains unclear. It’s funding so far has come from last year’s stimulus package, not the regular budget, and Congress denied its request for funds for the current fiscal year. The President’s 2011 budget includes nearly $300 million for the agency, but at a time when Congress is facing pressure to cut spending, that money might not make to the final budget.