Energy News ArticlesExcerpts of key news articles on energy
A few weeks before the tsunami struck Fukushima’s uranium reactors and shattered public faith in nuclear power, China revealed that it was launching a rival technology to build a safer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper network of reactors based on thorium. China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen a “thorium-based molten salt reactor system”. The liquid fuel idea was pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s. Chinese scientists claim that hazardous waste will be a thousand times less than with uranium. The system is inherently less prone to disaster. “The reactor has an amazing safety feature,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA engineer at Teledyne Brown and a thorium expert. “If it begins to overheat, a little plug melts and the salts drain into a pan. There is no need for computers, or the sort of electrical pumps that were crippled by the tsunami. The reactor saves itself,” he said. US physicists in the late 1940s explored thorium fuel for power. It has a higher neutron yield than uranium, a better fission rating, longer fuel cycles, and does not require the extra cost of isotope separation. The plans were shelved because thorium does not produce plutonium for bombs. As a happy bonus, it can burn up plutonium and toxic waste from old reactors, reducing radio-toxicity and acting as an eco-cleaner.
This week, scientists gathered at the American Chemical Society's spring meeting in San Francisco to turn the spotlight on a highly unorthodox path: the effect known as cold fusion. This year's session featured nearly 50 presentations - including reports on batteries and bacteria that appear to exhibit the cold-fusion effect. Back in 1989, cold fusion was heralded as a simple, inexpensive way to get a power-generating fusion reaction on a desktop. But when the experimental results couldn't be reproduced, the researchers were driven into obscurity [and] the term "cold fusion" became synonymous with quackery. Chemists, however, have kept up their interest in the effect. Rick Nebel [has headed] up a handful of researchers following the less-traveled path to fusion at EMC2 Fusion Development Corp. EMC2 recently created a buzz in the fusion underground by reporting on its Web site that it successfully completed a series of experiments to "validate and extend" earlier results. The company is now using a $7.9 million contract from the U.S. Navy to build a bigger test machine. Nebel and his colleagues are now seeking contributions to fund the development of what they say would be a 100-megawatt fusion plant - a "Phase 3" effort projected to cost $200 million and take four years. "Successful Phase 3 marks the end of fossil fuels," the Web site proclaims.
Note: For a powerful, reliable documentary showing how promising results from cold fusion were strongly suppressed, click here. For lots of reports from reliable sources of new energy developments, click here.
In the world of energy, the Holy Grail is a power source that's inexpensive and clean, with no emissions. Over 100 start-ups in Silicon Valley are working on it. One of them, Bloom Energy, is about to make public its invention: a little power-plant-in-a-box they want to put literally in your backyard. You'll generate your own electricity with the box and it'll be wireless. The idea is to one day replace the big power plants and transmission line grid. K.R. Sridhar ... says he knows it works because he originally invented a similar device for NASA. He really is a rocket scientist. He invented a new kind of fuel cell, which is like a very skinny battery that always runs. Sridhar feeds oxygen to it on one side, and fuel on the other. The two combine within the cell to create a chemical reaction that produces electricity. There's no need for burning or combustion, and no need for power lines from an outside source. "It's cheaper than the grid, it's cleaner than the grid." Twenty large, well-known companies have quietly bought and are testing Bloom boxes in California. The first customer was Google. Four units have been powering a Google datacenter for 18 months. They use natural gas, but half as much as would be required for a traditional power plant. John Donahoe, eBay's CEO, says its five boxes were installed nine months ago and have already saved the company more than $100,000 in electricity costs. eBay's boxes run on bio-gas made from landfill waste, so they're carbon neutral. "In five to ten years, we would like to be in every home." [Sridhar] said a unit should cost an average person less than $3,000.
Note: To watch the fascinating 60 Minutes video clip of this amazing invention, click here. For other CBS videos clips on the Bloom Box, click here. For astounding news on other new energy sources and inventions, click here and here.
Its superfast, supersecret oil trading software was called the Hammer. And if the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is right, the name fit well with an intricate scheme that allowed commodity traders in Chicago working for Optiver, a little-known company based in Amsterdam, to put their orders first in line and subtly manipulate the price of oil to the company’s advantage. Transcripts and taped conversations of actions that took place in 2007 ... reveal the secretive workings of high-frequency trading, a fast-growing Wall Street business. Critics say this high-speed form of computerized trading, which is used in a wide range of financial markets, enables its practitioners to profit at other investors’ expense. Traders in the Chicago office of Optiver openly talked among themselves of “whacking” and “bullying up” the price of oil. But when called to account by officials of the New York Mercantile Exchange, they described their actions as just “providing liquidity.” In July 2008, the commission charged Optiver with manipulating the price of oil; negotiations over a settlement continue. The Securities and Exchange Commission has opened up an investigation into high-speed-trading practices, in particular the ability of some of the most powerful computers to jump to the head of the trading queue and — in a fraction of a millisecond — capture the evanescent trading spread before the rest of the market does.
Note: This and other reports likely show only the tip of the iceberg of how prices of key stocks and commodities are manipulated. For a great collection of reports from major media sources on the schemes and tricks used by financial corporations, click here.
Regulators had long classified a private Swiss energy conglomerate called Vitol as a trader that primarily helped industrial firms that needed oil to run their businesses. But when the Commodity Futures Trading Commission examined Vitol's books last month, it found that the firm was in fact more of a speculator, holding oil contracts as a profit-making investment rather than a means of lining up the actual delivery of fuel. Even more surprising to the commodities markets was the massive size of Vitol's portfolio -- at one point in July, the firm held 11 percent of all the oil contracts on the regulated New York Mercantile Exchange. The discovery revealed how an individual financial player had gained enormous sway over the oil market without the knowledge of regulators. Other CFTC data showed that a significant amount of trading activity was concentrated in the hands of just a few speculators. The CFTC ... now reports that financial firms speculating for their clients or for themselves account for about 81 percent of the oil contracts on NYMEX, a far bigger share than had previously been stated by the agency. That figure may rise in coming weeks as the CFTC checks the status of other big traders. Some lawmakers have blamed these firms for the volatility of oil prices, including the tremendous run-up that peaked earlier in the summer. "It is now evident that speculators in the energy futures markets play a much larger role than previously thought, and it is now even harder to accept the agency's laughable assertion that excessive speculation has not contributed to rising energy prices," said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.).
MIT professor Daniel G. Nocera has long been jealous of plants. He desperately wanted to do what they do--split water into hydrogen and oxygen and use the products to do work. That, he figures, is the only way we humans can solve our energy problems; enough energy pours down from the sun in one hour to power the planet's energy needs for a year. Nocera's discovery [is] a cheap and easy way to store energy that he thinks will be used to change solar power into a mainstream energy source. Plants catch light and turn it into an electric current, then use that energy to excite catalysts that split water into hydrogen and oxygen during what is called photosynthesis' light cycle. The energy is then used during the dark cycle to allow the plant to build sugars used for growth and energy storage. Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera's lab, focused on the water-splitting part of photosynthesis. They found cheap and simple catalysts that did a remarkably good job. They dissolved cobalt and phosphate in water and then zapped it with electricity through an electrode. The cobalt and phosphate form a thin-film catalyst around the electrode that then use electrons from the electrode to split the oxygen from water. The oxygen bubbles to the surface, leaving a proton behind. A few inches away, another catalyst, platinum, helps that bare proton become hydrogen. The hydrogen and oxygen, separated and on-hand, can be used to power a fuel cell whenever energy is needed.
Hedge funds and big Wall Street banks are taking advantage of loopholes in federal trading limits to buy massive amounts of oil contracts, ... helping to push oil prices to record highs. The federal agency that oversees oil trading, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, has exempted these firms from rules that limit speculative buying. The CFTC has also waived regulations over the past decade on U.S. investors who trade commodities on some overseas markets, freeing those investors to accumulate large quantities of the future oil supply by making purchases on lightly regulated foreign exchanges. Over the past five years, investors have become such a force on commodity markets that their appetite for oil contracts has been equal to China's increase in demand over the same period, said Michael Masters, a hedge fund manager who testified before Congress on the subject last month. The commodity markets, he added, were never intended for such large financial players. Commodities have become especially enticing to investors as the credit crisis has roiled other investment opportunities such as stocks and debt-related securities. The recent flood of investment money has transformed the markets for oil, as well as uranium, wheat, cotton and other goods, into a volatile realm that some insiders call the Wild West of Wall Street. Michael Greenberger, a professor at the University of Maryland and former CFTC commissioner, said there were loopholes the agency could close without much effort. "There's smoke here, and the CFTC hasn't wanted to look if there's a fire," he said. "But these are dark markets. They don't even know who's doing the trading."
Note: For revealing reports on financial corruption and criminality from major media sources, click here.
Toyota Prius owners tend to be a proud lot since they drive the fuel-efficient hybrid gas-electric car that's ... one of the hottest-selling vehicles in America. A few, however, felt that good was not good enough. They've made "improvements" even though the modifications voided parts of their warranties. Why? Five words: one hundred miles per gallon. "We took the hybrid car to its logical conclusion," [Felix] Kramer says, by adding more batteries and the ability to recharge by plugging into a regular electrical socket at night. Compared with the Prius' fuel efficiency of 50 mpg, plug-in hybrids use half as much gasoline by running more on cleaner, cheaper, domestic electricity. These trendsetters monkeyed with the car ... to make a point: If they could make a plug-in hybrid, the major car companies could, too. Kramer ... and a cadre of volunteers formed the California Cars Initiative (online at calcars.org). They added inexpensive lead-acid batteries ... giving the car over 100 mpg in local driving and 50 to 80 mpg on the highway. The cost of conversion is about $5,000 for a do-it-yourselfer. Several small companies like EnergyCS ... started doing small numbers of conversions for fleets and government agencies using longer-lasting, more energy-dense lithium-ion batteries. Kramer hired EnergyCS to convert his Prius and reported on a typical day of driving. Compared with driving his Prius before the conversion, he ... spewed out two-thirds less greenhouse gases at a total cost of $1.76 for electricity and gasoline, instead of the $3.17 it would have required on gasoline alone. People want plug-in hybrids but can't get them. Dealers don't sell them yet, and the few conversion services cater to fleets.
Note: For a video and educational package to guide those who want to build a 100 mpg car, see www.eaa-phev.org. For why the car companies with their massive budgets haven't developed cars like this, click here.
Within five years, solar power will be cheap enough to compete with carbon-generated electricity. In a decade, the cost may have fallen so dramatically that solar cells could undercut oil, gas, coal and nuclear power by up to half. Anil Sethi, the chief executive of the Swiss start-up company Flisom, says he looks forward to the day - not so far off - when entire cities in America and Europe generate their heating, lighting and air-conditioning needs from solar films on buildings with enough left over to feed a surplus back into the grid. The secret? A piece of dark polymer foil, as thin a sheet of paper. It is so light it can be stuck to the sides of buildings. It can be mass-produced in cheap rolls like packaging - in any colour. The "tipping point" will arrive when the capital cost of solar power falls below $1 (51p) per watt, roughly the cost of carbon power. The best options today vary from $3 to $4 per watt - down from $100 in the late 1970s. Mr Sethi believes his product will cut the cost to 80 cents per watt within five years, and 50 cents in a decade. "We don't need subsidies, we just need governments to get out of the way and do no harm," he said. Solar use [has] increased dramatically in Japan and above all Germany, where Berlin's green energy law passed in 2004 forces the grid to buy surplus electricity from households at a fat premium. The tipping point in Germany and Japan came once households [understood] that they could undercut their unloved utilities. Credit Lyonnais believes the rest of the world will soon join the stampede. Needless to say, electricity utilities are watching the solar revolution with horror.
Note: Why is this inspiring, important news getting so little press coverage? And why not more solar subsidies? For a possible answer, click here. And for an amazing new energy source not yet reported in the major media which could make even solar energy obsolete, click here.
A very reputable, very careful group of scientists at the University of Los Angeles ... has initiated a fusion reaction using a laboratory device that's not much bigger than a breadbox, and works at roughly room temperature. This time, it looks like the real thing. The whole trick with fusion is you've got to get protons close enough together for the strong force to overcome their electrical repulsion and merge them together into a nucleus. Instead of using high temperatures and incredible densities to ram protons together, the scientists at UCLA cleverly used the structure of an unusual crystal. Crystals are fascinating things; the atoms inside are all lined up in a tightly ordered lattice, which creates the beautiful structure we associate with crystals. Stressing the bonds between the atoms of some crystals causes electrons to build up on one side, creating a charge difference over the body of the crystal. Instead of using intense heat or pressure to get nuclei close enough together to fuse, this new experiment used a very powerful electric field to slam atoms together. This experiment has been repeated successfully and other scientists have reviewed the results. For the time being, don't expect fusion to become a readily available energy option. The current cold fusion apparatus still takes much more energy to start up than you get back out. But it really may not be long until we have the first nuclear fusion-powered devices in common use.
What's at stake, they say, is no less than the future of automotive technology, a practical solution for driving fast and fun with no direct pollution whatsoever. GM agrees that the car in question, called the EV1, was a rousing feat of engineering that could go from zero to 60 miles per hour in under eight seconds with no harmful emissions. The market just wasn't big enough, the company says, for a car that traveled 140 miles or less on a charge before you had to plug it in like a toaster. Some 800 drivers once leased EV1s, mostly in California. After the last lease ran out in August, GM reclaimed every one of the cars, donating a few to universities and car museums but crushing many of the rest. Enthusiasts discovered a stash of about 77 surviving EV1s behind a GM training center in Burbank and last month decided to take a stand. Mobilized through Internet sites and word of mouth, nearly 100 people pledged $24,000 each for a chance to buy the cars from GM. On Feb. 16 the group set up a street-side outpost of folding chairs that they have staffed ever since in rotating shifts, through long nights and torrential rains, trying to draw attention to their cause. GM refuses to budge. Toyota is aware of a growing fad among do-it-yourselfers who put a new battery in their Prius so it can be plugged in at home and then travel about 20 miles on electric power alone.
Note: Why would GM simply crush cars for which people are willing to pay $24,000? For a possible answer to this important question, click here. To learn how to convert a Toyota Prius to get 100 mpg, click here.
The U.S. Air Force is quietly spending millions of dollars investigating ways to use a radical power source -- antimatter, the eerie "mirror" of ordinary matter -- in future weapons. The most powerful potential energy source presently thought to be available to humanity, antimatter is a term normally heard in science-fiction films. But antimatter itself isn't fiction. During the Cold War, the Air Force funded numerous scientific studies of the basic physics of antimatter. Following an initial inquiry from The Chronicle this summer, the Air Force forbade its employees from publicly discussing the antimatter research program. Still, details on the program appear in numerous Air Force documents distributed over the Internet prior to the ban. It almost defies belief, the amount of explosive force available in a speck of antimatter. One millionth of a gram of positrons contain as much energy as 37.8 kilograms (83 pounds) of TNT. A simple calculation, then, shows that about 50-millionths of a gram could generate a blast equal to the explosion ... in Oklahoma City in 1995. Officials at Eglin Air Force Base initially agreed enthusiastically to try to arrange an interview with ... Kenneth Edwards, director of the "revolutionary munitions" team at the Munitions Directorate at Eglin. "We're all very excited about this technology," spokesman Rex Swenson [said] in late July. But Swenson backed out in August after he was overruled by higher officials in the Air Force and Pentagon. Reached by phone in late September, Edwards repeatedly declined to be interviewed. His superiors gave him "strict instructions not to give any interviews personally. "I'm sorry about that -- this (antimatter) project is sort of my grandchild."
What’s good news for those concerned with climate change, and bad news for electric utilities? That’s grid parity. It exists when an alternative energy source generates electricity at a cost matching the price of power from the electric grid. As grid parity becomes increasingly common, renewable energy could transform our world and slow the effects of climate change. Advances in solar panels and battery storage will make it more realistic for consumers to dump their electric utility, and power their homes through solar energy. A 2013 Deutsche Bank report said that 10 states are currently at grid parity: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Vermont. Germany, Spain, Portugal and Australia have reached grid parity. This shift has benefited from a dramatic drop in the price of solar panels, which dropped 97.2 percent from 1975 to 2012. As solar energy gets cheaper, traditional electric utilities are doing the opposite. The cost of maintaining the electric grid has gotten more expensive, but reliability hasn’t improved. If customers leave electric utilities, it starts a downward spiral. Fewer customers will mean higher rates, which encourages remaining customers to jump ship for a solar-battery system. Energy upstarts are led by forward thinkers with disruptive track records and eyes on society’s big problems.
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Imagine a new, potent generation of solar panels capable of producing unlimited amounts of energy, using only sunshine and algae. This could be possible, thanks to a breakthrough made by researchers from the University of Cambridge, documented in a Nature Energy 2018 article. They were able to split water into its components, oxygen and hydrogen, using what is known as semi-artificial photosynthesis. The procedure has ... never been used to generate large amounts of energy due to expensive and toxic catalysts necessary for the reaction. Photosynthesis [is] the process plants use to convert sunlight into energy. Oxygen is a byproduct of photosynthesis when water absorbed by plants is “split.” Most of the oxygen on Earth is here because of this photochemical reaction. Hydrogen ... is also produced this way. Now, by combining algae and man-made components, researchers have been able to bypass both natural inefficiency and the use of toxic reactants. This was achieved by enabling a dormant process in algae that uses a special enzyme (hydrogenase) to reduce water into hydrogen and oxygen. Katarzyna Sokol, a researcher on the project ... explains: "Hydrogenase is an enzyme present in algae that is capable of reducing protons into hydrogen. During evolution, this process has been deactivated because it wasn’t necessary for survival, but we successfully managed to bypass the inactivity to [split] water into hydrogen and oxygen."
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The sprawling, gated campus of the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands (ECN) sits on a spit of land about an hour north of Amsterdam. In a nearby control room, engineers ... were working on one of clean energy’s intransigent problems: how to turn waste into electricity without producing more waste. Decades ago, scientists discovered that when heated to extreme temperatures, wood and agricultural leftovers, as well as plastic and textile waste, turn into a gas composed of underlying chemical components. The resulting synthetic gas, or “syngas,” can be harnessed as a power source, generating heat or electricity. But gasified waste has serious shortcomings: it contains tars, which clog engines and disrupt catalysts, breaking machinery, and in turn, lowering efficiency and raising costs. This is what the Dutch technology is designed to fix. The MILENA-OLGA system, as they call it, is a revolutionary carbon-neutral energy plant that turns waste into electricity with little or no harmful byproducts. The MILENA-OLGA process ... is 11 percent more efficient than most existing energy-from-waste plants and over 50 percent more efficient than incinerators of a comparable scale. The process also emits zero wastewater and produces no particulates or other pollutants. Just 4 percent of the original material is left over as inert white ash, which can be used to make cement.
Note: A similar technology was developed and implemented over 10 years ago, as detailed in this Popular Science article. Why wasn't this amazing invention widely reported and used? Explore a treasure trove of concise summaries of incredibly inspiring news articles which will inspire you to make a difference.
Costa Rica’s new president has announced a plan to ban fossil fuels and become the first fully decarbonised country in the world. Carlos Alvarado, a 38-year-old former journalist, made the announcement ... during his inauguration. "Decarbonisation is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first," Mr Alvarado said. Symbolically, the president arrived at the ceremony in San Jose aboard a hydrogen-fuelled bus. Last month, Mr Alvarado said the Central American country would begin to implement a plan to end fossil fuel use in transport by 2021 – the 200th year of Costa Rican independence. "When we reach 200 years of independent life we will take Costa Rica forward and celebrate ... that we've removed gasoline and diesel from our transportation,” he promised during a victory speech. Costa Rica already generates more than 99 per cent of its electricity using renewable energy sources. Costa Rica’s push towards clean energy faces no large-scale backlash, in part because the country has no significant oil or gas industry. But demand for cars is rising, as is use of other transport systems, and that may prove one of the biggest challenges in meeting the new goal. Transport is today the country’s main source of climate changing emissions.
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Germany has spent $200 billion over the past two decades to promote cleaner sources of electricity. That enormous investment is now having an unexpected impact - consumers are now actually paid to use power on occasion, as was the case over the weekend. Power prices plunged below zero for much of Sunday and the early hours of Christmas Day on ... a large European power trading exchange, the result of low demand, unseasonably warm weather and strong breezes that provided an abundance of wind power on the grid. Such “negative prices” are not the norm in Germany, but they are far from rare, thanks to the country’s effort to encourage investment in greener forms of power generation. Prices for electricity in Germany have dipped below zero ... more than 100 times this year alone. Several countries in Europe have experienced negative power prices, including Belgium, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland. But Germany’s forays into negative pricing are the most frequent. At times, Germany is able to export its surplus electricity to its neighbors, helping to balance the market. Still, its experiences of negative prices are often longer, and deeper, than they are in other countries. In one recent example, power prices spent 31 hours below zero during the last weekend of October. At one point, they dipped as low as minus €83, or minus $98, per megawatt-hour, a wholesale measure. Anyone who was able to hook up for a large blast of electricity at that time was paid €83 per unit for the trouble.
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The Hellisheidi geothermal power plant situated on the mid-Atlantic ridge, is the newest and largest geothermal plant in Iceland - a country that heats 90% of its homes using geothermal water. The plant has now become the first in history to capture carbon dioxide from ambient air, using a system of fans and filters, and then store it in bedrock 700 metres down. There the gas reacts with basaltic rock and forms solid minerals, creating a permanent storage solution, and turning Hellisheidi into a negative emissions site. The EU-funded project [is] capable of capturing 50 metric tons of CO2 each year. Christoph Gebald, Founder and CEO at Climeworks, said: “The potential of scaling-up our technology in combination with CO2 storage, is enormous. Our plan is to offer carbon removal to individuals, corporates and organizations as a means to reverse their non-avoidable carbon emissions.′ It also costs $600 per ton of carbon dioxide, a figure they are hoping to reduce to $100 per ton. Iceland currently runs 100% of it’s electricity from renewable sources.
General Motors will start selling a tiny electric car in China this week that will cost about $5,300 after national and local electric vehicle incentives. For that sort of price, the Baojun E100 is no Cadillac, of course. The two-seat car's wheelbase - the distance from the center of the front wheels to the center of the rear wheels - is just 63 inches. Prices for the car start at RMB 93,900, or about $14,000, before incentives. The E100, which is Baojun's first electric car, is powered by a single 39-horsepower electric motor and has a top speed of 62 miles an hour. The E100 can drive about 96 miles on a fully charged battery. Baojun is a mass-market car brand from General Motors' SAIC-GM-Wuling joint venture in China. It's China's eighth most popular car brand. More than 5,000 people have already registered to buy the first 200 vehicles, according to GM. Another 500 vehicles will be made available this week, and buyers will be chosen on a first-come-first-served basis, a GM spokesperson said. Sales will initially be limited to the Guanxi region of southern China, but GM plans to sell the car more widely in China. A GM spokesperson declined to say exactly how many it expects to sell. China is the largest automotive market in the world, and its government is making a big push for electric cars. Already, China accounts for 40% of all electric cars sold worldwide, according to the International Energy Agency.
It’s often smarter to borrow from nature than reinvent the wheel. That was the approach of researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, and convert it into an efficient, inexpensive fuel. The result: an artificial leaf that turns CO2 into fuel, "at a cost comparable to a gallon of gasoline" could render fossil fuel obsolete, according to the researchers. The “leaf” is one of a growing number of inventions that mimic photosynthesis to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere, and convert it into new, sustainable forms of energy to power our world. “The new solar cell is not photovoltaic - it’s photosynthetic,” said [the study’s lead author] Amin Salehi-Khojin. “Instead of producing energy in an unsustainable one-way route from fossil fuels to greenhouse gas, we can now reverse the process and recycle atmospheric carbon into fuel using sunlight." The concept of reduction reaction - converting CO2 into a burnable form of carbon - isn’t new. But scientists previously relied on silver and other expensive precious metals to break gas into storable energy. UIC researchers took a different approach. When light strikes the "leaf," hydrogen and carbon monoxide bubble from the cathode, while free oxygen and hydrogen ions are released from the anode. Leafs could be spread throughout a solar farm, or used in smaller applications, the researchers said.
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