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Archive for March 30, 2011

Dousing Flames with Electricity

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

“It’s certainly an established fact that electricity can cause fires, but today a group of Harvard scientists presented their research on the use of electricity for fighting fires.

In a presentation at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, Dr. Ludovico Cademartiri told of how they used a unique device to shoot beams of electricity at an open flame over one foot tall.

Almost immediately, he said, the flame was extinguished.

On a larger scale, such a system would minimize the amount of water that needed to be sprayed into burning buildings, both saving water and limiting water damage to those buildings.”

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Making Fuel from Water Using Sunlight

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

“Nearly all the energy we use on this planet starts out as sunlight that plants use to knit chemical bonds. Now, for the first time, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge have created a potentially cheap, practical artificial leaf that does much the same thing—providing a potentially limitless source of energy that’s easy to tap.

The new device is a silicon wafer about the shape and size of a playing card coated on either side with two different catalysts. The silicon absorbs sunlight and passes that energy to the catalysts to split water into molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen is a fuel that can be either burned or used in a fuel cell to create electricity, reforming water in either case. This means that in theory, anyone with access to water can use it to create a cheap, clean, and available source of fuel.

“It’s spectacular,” says Robert Grubbs, a chemist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who saw the presentation here yesterday at the biannual meeting of the American Chemical Society. “There’s still obviously a long way to go” to make the new device into a rugged, real-world technology, Grubbs says. But the approach is important because its potential low cost could make it widely available. It “has a chance of being scalable,” Grubbs says.”

Is Japan Fighting a Losing Battle?

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Highly radioactive water is now being detected outside the containment area at Fukushima, experts have warned. Photograph: Tepco/AFP/Getty Images

“The radioactive core in a reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor, experts say, raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site.

The warning follows an analysis by a leading US expert of radiation levels at the plant. Readings from reactor two at the site have been made public by the Japanese authorities and Tepco, the utility that operates it.

Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima, told the Guardian workers at the site appeared to have “lost the race” to save the reactor, but said there was no danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe.”