Barack Obama Announces Another $1.2 billion for Energy R&D

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Monday, President Obama announced that money would be provided for research at the national laboratories for the Department of . Additionally, grants will be available for those wishing to do research in renewable energy. Areas such as wind, solar, biofuels and hydrogen will be encouraged. Even nuclear energy and questions about storing carbon dioxide underground will be eligible for grant under the new rules. The funding is in addition to tax credits and spending approved in the recently passed .

Some of the technologies and companies that are like to benefit from energy R&D funding include:

* Serious Materials, which uses energy efficient materials to make drywall.an energy-draining process of mixing raw materials in a wet slurry and then using outside energy to dry it, the company has a recipe that makes use of chemicals — and their reactions — for the drying heat necessary.

* Solyndra, a solar power start-up. This company is receiving the first Department of Energy loan given out in years. Instead of using silicon, Solyndra manufactures soalr cells out of copper, indium, gallium and selenide (CIGS) and shapes them into cylinders that are placed on panels. The efficiency of Solyndra’s solar panels is between 12 an 14 percent — a number boosted by a special reflective coating on the roof below the panel.

* 1366 Technologies is on a quest to make solar energy cheaper than coal. The company is associated with Emanuel Sachs, who is on leave from MIT right now. The company claims it cracked the $1 barrier using cadmium telluride for its thin-film cells. But further advances in chemistry and physics are needed to reach that sort of cost-efficiency using silicon.

* Winsupply, a company that offers geothermal, wind and solar equipment, could use tax credits and other funding to make its products more widely available.

* Universities might also receive some funding. MIT is one of the hottest places right now for developing technology that can boost energy efficiency. Additionally, projects like those at different universities to use LED lights as wi-fi access points could also bring energy use dollars to higher education institutions languishing due to the economic crisis.

The biggest needs in green technology R&D involve using scientific breakthroughs to make renewable energy cost-efficient. Until science and technology can give us energy that costs less than fossil fuels, renewable/ will be limited. But this funding may put energy R&D on that track.

© 2009 PhysOrg.com

Kamal Meattle: How to grow your own fresh air

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Researcher Kamal Meattle shows how an arrangement of three common houseplants, used in specific spots in a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air.

A Better Biofuel Bug

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A tiny microbe found in the Chesapeake Bay is the focus of intense study for a biotech startup in College Park, MD. Zymetis has genetically modified a rare, cellulose-eating bacterium to break down and convert cellulose into sugars necessary to make ethanol, and it recently completed its first commercial-scale trial. Earlier this year, the company ran the modified microbe through a series of tests in large fermenters and found that it was able to convert one ton of cellulosic plant fiber into sugar in 72 hours. The trial, researchers say, illustrates the organism’s potential in helping to produce ethanol cheaply and efficiently at industrial scales. Zymetis is now raising the first round of venture capital to bring the technology to commercial applications.

Scott Laughlin, CEO of Zymetis, says that for the past two years the company’s scientists have worked to retool and pump up the tiny organism. The microbe’s main advantage is its ability to naturally combine two major steps in the ethanol process, which the company says could considerably slash the high costs of producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass like switchgrass, wood chips, and paper pulp. The company is running the organism through a series of trials to study how the system could be applied at an industrial scale.

Ethanol production from cellulosic sources is an expensive multistage process. The cellulosic feedstock is first pretreated with heat and chemicals to break down the material’s tough cell walls. Expensive manufactured enzymes are then added to the mix to convert purified cellulose into glucose, which is then treated with yeast that turns the sugars into ethanol. As a result, scientists and several startup companies are developing improved microbes that could accomplish several of these steps, thus making the resulting biofuels more competitive with fossil fuels.

Toward that goal, Laughlin says that the company has developed an ethanol-producing system that revolves around a microbe that quickly and efficiently combines the first two steps of the conventional ethanol process. “It has the ability to break down whole plant material, and it excretes enzymes that break down cellulose, [which works] very well in solution,” says Laughlin.

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Saul Griffith: Inventing a super-kite to tap the energy of high-altitude wind

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