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The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things or IoT is an exciting concept that could thoroughly transform the way people around the world live. The idea behind it aims to connect humans to one another, humans to objects, objects to objects, and even animals to humans and objects through the Internet. There are of course crucial technological challenges before this amazing idea can become prevalent around the world.

Efficient Energy Use

Several domains could benefit from the scheme if it becomes viable. Energy consumption could be controlled resourcefully to achieve substantial savings. Researchers are envisaging a situation where smart meters and appliances could be rolled out to regulate electricity utilization. The devices have functions that allow users to operate them from remote locations with their smartphones. Some gadgets could even adjust temperature settings based on prevailing weather conditions.

From Smart Homes to Smart Cities

The IoT is not a new concept. Since the first Internet-linked toaster showcased in a conference in 1989, researchers have being experimenting with the idea of home gadgets like a smart fridge that could perhaps use a text message to alert the homeowner if it were out of milk or eggs. An alarm clock, apart from waking up the household, would signal the coffee maker to brew coffee as well. These smart devices could well be essential household gadgets of the future.

The technology is not restricted to such quirky ideas, however. Researchers are working out techniques that could enable traffic signals connected across the city to monitor and regulate use of public utilities. Other ideas include smart bins that would notify when full or office equipment that would check out supplies and order automatically when required. The ideas are endless and when in place, could make for a smart city.

The IoT could be implemented to boost manufacturing by organizing and connecting people, tools, and procedures. Farm production and activity could be enhanced with the help of sensors that keep tabs on cattle and crop growth.

Health and Fitness

The Internet of things has already made an entry in healthcare with monitoring patches for diagnosis and smart pills. Fitness freaks strap interconnected bands and smart watches to track their heartbeat, blood pressure, and other parameters during their workouts.

Securing Privacy and Safety

Just as any scientific development is not without its fair share of hitches, the IoT too is expected to have some shortcomings. Researchers anticipate that privacy of individuals and security of data may be compromised. Since the technology is relatively new, hackers have not yet paid serious attention to it. Experts in the field believe that it is crucial to develop stringent security features in the programs at the earliest. These measures can preempt the efforts of cyber-criminals effectively.

Real World Functionality

Although the IoT is in its initial stages, researchers believe that the technology may see a striking improvement in a decade's time. Like the smartphone, which has become indispensable for most people, the use of this technology will become more prevalent. Internet enthusiasts are keenly waiting to see how the domain unfolds in the years to come.
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Towards Quick Charging But Safer Batteries

Aluminum-ion batteries are compromised by their inadequate durability and long charging periods. New research has addressed this problem by developing a type of graphite electrode that could help these batteries to charge within a minute.

Researchers expect that these batteries could find use in wide ranging applications from flexible electronics to grid-scale batteries that need to deliver electric power after repeated charging and discharging cycles at the rated levels.

Special Structure for Longer Lifetimes

Scientists at the Stanford University and research facilities in China and Taiwan have fabricated a graphite electrode composed of multiple sheets of carbon atoms forming a foam-like structure for use in aluminum-ion batteries. The special structure of the graphite electrode imparts stability to it. Electrodes used previously in aluminum-ion batteries degraded considerably after a few charging and discharging cycles.

In fact, conventional lithium ion batteries too, which are currently in use allow up to a maximum of 3,000 charging cycles. On the other hand, the new aluminum-ion prototype with the special graphite electrode can endure 7,500 cycles. The researchers point out that this feature would particularly benefit grid-scale power storage installations as these make use of batteries that need to be charged and discharged continually.

Charging Quickly and Safely

The foam like structure of the electrode includes a number of internal gaps that allow the ions to move at a fast pace within it. This enhances the charging rate to a considerable extent. The other electrode is made of aluminum. A safe non-flammable ionic salt that is a liquid at ordinary temperatures links the two electrodes together. This is an improvement over the conventional lithium-ion batteries in use, which work with an inflammable liquid as the electrolyte. These improvements could lead to batteries that are more bendable and safe apart from allowing quick charging. In addition, since both aluminum and graphite are reasonably priced, the batteries would be affordable.

Controlled Release of Energy

The researchers have demonstrated conclusively that the battery discharges slowly over an extended period, and that even after drilling a hole right through it, the battery did not emit any burst of energy. In fact, a considerable amount of the energy was contained within the battery after the exercise.

Pouch Cell Units

The researchers devised a battery structure based on the "pouch cell" blueprint, which offers a compact, lightweight, and flexible option. The structure makes an effective use of space and achieves a packaging efficiency of almost 95 percent. The pouch cells are available in heatproof foils tailored to specific sizes. This would be suitable for common applications like cell phone charging.

Several organizations have supported the research. These include the Office of Science and the Office of Basic Energy Sciences of the US Department of Energy, Stanford University, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Economic Affairs in Taiwan, Industrial Technology and Research Institute of Taiwan, National Natural Science Foundation of China; China Scholarship Council; and the Hunan University Fund.

The researchers now intend to devise methods for industrial scale production of these batteries.
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Researchers Develop Transparent Metal Touchscreens

A touchscreen is a vital feature of smartphones and other modern electronic devices. However, since the material imparting touch sensitivity to device screens is not abundantly available, researchers around the world are on the lookout for means to develop this crucial substance. A new roll-to-roll printing method developed at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore offers a reliable and cost-effective means of making available touchscreens for modern electronics.

The Search for Transparent Conductive Materials

Existing touchscreens are made from indium tin oxide (ITO). This is an electrically conducting material. As a user taps on a specific part of the screen, human skin being conductive in nature, the touch alters the electric field across the screen. The change in the field is relayed to the electronic circuits underneath, so that the device performs the necessary functions. Crucially, ITO is optically transparent in nature, which makes it a key material for use in modern electronic devices.

Unfortunately, the ever-increasing demand for ITO has led to a sharp spike in its prices and this has led the electronic industry to look for viable alternatives. Researchers at the A*STAR, which is connected to the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology have supplied a feasible replacement. Xin Quan Zhang and his colleagues at the institute have built up a touch sensitive film, which consists of a printed network of extremely fine metallic lines. The scientists have used the roll-to-roll gravure printing technology. This technique makes use of an imprinted mold to pass on ink to paper. The researchers at the A*STAR have used a cylindrical mold to transfer the specific pattern of a conducting metal ink on to a touch sensitive substrate.

Ultraprecision Machining Micro Engraving Technique

Zhang and his team worked on a number of engraving techniques before settling upon a suitable method. In earlier processes, the lines that were printed were as wide as 50 micrometers. The technology used was laser printing. Laser beams were used to bore a grid of minute inkwells into a cylindrical mold of the printer.

This was not very appropriate as the mesh obstructed more than 30% of the screen light. The Singapore institute researchers got around this problem by using a diamond tipped cutting tool instead of laser beams. Zhang explains that the team used an extremely high precision machine technology called ultraprecision machining to engrave the mesh of tiny inkwells.

Ultraprecision machining was originally developed for manufacturing lenses and other optical instruments. Zhang modified the machine so that it could bore inkwells into the roller that were more than two times smaller than a laser beam could etch. The team prepared a mesh of metal lines of width just 19 micrometers. This enabled the passage of 80% of the visible light falling on it making it as efficient as an ITO screen.

The process is quite slow, however. Zhang has conceded that in this respect it compares rather unfavorably with the laser printing process. He now plans to improve upon the technique to make it a speedier process of ultraprecision machining.
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Student Takes Cue from Nature to Design a Wind Turbine

Michael Carruth has been intrigued by nature since early childhood. Currently, as a junior in CU Boulder's Environmental Design program, he has conceived of a blueprint for a novel kind of wind turbine, based on his observations of various natural phenomena. The wind turbine designed by him makes use of simple technology like adaptable sails that open up or close, based on the direction of wind to optimize the efficiency of energy production. This, in fact is the key idea behind his project, which he has named Vertical Axis Sail Turbine or VAST.

Wind and Water Flow

Carruth explains that he got the idea of harnessing the wind energy from the motion of sailboats and birds. He goes on to say that, one can also get an insight into the dynamics of wind flow by observing the motion of clouds.

Though he had enrolled in CU Boulder to study economics, he got attracted to wind turbines while driving to the university for the first time. He came across a wind farm on his way and observed that the turbines were rotating at different speeds and a few were not moving at all. This made him want to improve upon the design of the turbines to enhance efficiency.

While pursuing his economics course, he made various sketches of wind turbines in his free time. However, this did not prove to be a very realistic approach toward achieving his intentions. Carruth then explored other courses and found that the environmental design program would be most suited to his interests. Accordingly, he signed up for the course.

Windmill Basics

There are two types of wind turbines based upon the rotation axis. Turbines that rotate about horizontal axes are more prevalent. Carruth based his design on the less common type, which rotates about a vertical axis. The vertical axis design has an edge over the horizontal one as it can gather the energy from wind blowing in any direction. On the other hand, the horizontal axis turbines must be positioned along the wind direction.

Carruth made modifications to further the efficiency of the selected design. He has designed a prototype in which aluminum will be used to construct the main structure. Rip stop nylon, a special fabric that is resistant to wear and tear will make up the top sail, while the lower sail is to be made from carbon fiber. The flexible sails will unwrap to draw the wind inside after which they will fold up to maximize aerodynamic motion.

The functioning of the structure will copy the behavior of a wing trapped in wind currents. Justin Bellucci, an environmental design teacher has mentored Carruth in the VAST program. He explains that environmental design aims to integrate technical inventions into the natural environment seamlessly to realize maximum efficiency of the technology used with minimal damage to the environment. He has commended Carruth's work, saying that his windmills will offer a sustainable renewable energy option.

Carruth has applied for engineering students at the university to help him construct the turbine. Six students in mechanical engineering have joined the project.
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Researchers Devise Means To Charge Water Electrically
Researchers in The Graz University of Technology (TU GRAZ) in Austria have teamed up with their counterparts in Wetsus Research Center in The Netherlands to build a minute floating water bridge that can charge water.
Water Bridge Phenomenon
Among the various amazing properties of water, the water bridge effect, first observed in the late nineteenth century has intrigued scientists for some time. An electric voltage applied across two beakers filled with water, causes the formation of a thin thread of water across them. The bridge remains in position as long as voltage is applied.
Appears To Defy Gravity
When a couple of beakers filled with water is maintained at a high dc potential difference, a certain amount of water rises above the top surface forming a thread of connection over the two beakers. A sort of floating bridge made entirely of water is formed. The effect appears to withstand gravity. When scientists made a closer scrutiny, they found that water was being transferred between the two beakers. Usually, water is transported from the anode beaker to the cathode one.
Researchers discovered that the water bridge remained unbroken up to a distance of 25 mm between the two beakers. The water thread was cylindrical in shape with diameters ranging from 1 to 3 mm.
Plausible Reasons
Scientists have put forward some theories to explain the effect. One premise is that the voltage causes the water molecules to align together and creates a dielectric tension among the molecules. This keeps the arrayed water molecules in place forming a sort of bridge. Another hypothesis is that the surface tension of water causes it to stretch inwards keeps the water thread suspended. Most scientists are of the view that both theories are at work to keep the water bridge aloft.
Charging By Protons
The research team from TU Graz and the Wetsus Research Center showed experimentally that the water bridge can produce electrically charged water and can even store the charge for a short period. A remarkable aspect of the phenomenon is that the charged particles are not electrons but protons. The water can be positively charged, if it contains an excess of protons or can be even negatively charged, if there is a deficit of protons. The study conducted by the team showed that protons, which are nuclei of hydrogen atoms, are released due to electrolysis forming anodic or positively charged water in one of the beakers. These protons travel along the water bridge to the water contained in the other beaker. The water in this beaker has a negative charge on account of the hydroxyl ions present in it. These neutralize the protons. However, since the protons do not move fast enough, one beaker has a surplus of protons compared to the other.
Initial studies have indicated that the charge developed in the water remains steady for about a week.
The scientists realize that water bridges could bring in new industrial applications such as electrochemical reactors. The bridge can be adapted for building a cell for storing charge. This could make for a variety of applications like medical products and waste reduction in chemical processes.
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Programmable Glasses Correct Lazy Eye in Children
A recent study conducted at Glick Institute at Indiana University has established that electronically programmable glasses can provide an effective treatment for lazy eye in children. The digital glasses are as effective as the long standing method using eye patches to cure the condition. The remedy, which is the first successful treatment procedure in 50 years, does away with many of the problems faced by young kids having to put up with eye patches for their condition.
Lazy eye or amblyopia
Amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye is one of the most widespread reasons for eye trouble in children. It occurs when one of eyes is several times more shortsighted that the other. If the flaw remains uncorrected by the age of eight, the child could develop blindness in the defective eye.
The traditional method involving eye patches and eye drops is quite safe and effective. These procedures utilize the occlusion method. The eye with the better sight is blocked with the help of a patch, so that the brain is compelled to rely on the defective eye. The vision in this eye becomes better with time, though some children may need glasses for further improvement. However, most children are not comfortable with the idea of wearing eye patches. Very young children are fearful of taking eye drops and some cannot be persuaded to take them at all.
The programmed glasses used for addressing amblyopia unite the occlusion technique as well as vision correction procedure. Lenses according to the prescription recommended by the ophthalmologist are used. In addition, the LCD glasses are programmed to become opaque after certain time intervals for specified durations. In other words, the glasses act as electronic patches.
Clinical tests to establish efficacy
Glick Institute conducted tests on 33 subjects suffering from the condition. The participants, aged between 3 and 8 were divided into two groups. One group was made to wear an adhesive patch over the good eye for a couple of hours daily. Children of the other group were provided with Amblyz occlusion glasses and were advised to wear them for four hours every day. The lens was programmed to change over from transparent to opaque every 30 seconds. Three months later, both groups showed the same level of improvement in vision in the bad eye, being able to read two more lines on the reading chart.
Easy to use
Daniel Neely, M.D., specialist in pediatric ophthalmology in Indiana University identifies the plight of individuals who have had to wear patches for their lazy eye condition as children. The experiences of most have ranged from unpleasant to traumatic. The digital occlusion glasses, on the other hand, present a much more manageable option for the child. Though the lens becomes opaque for a short while, the child becomes aware that it will clear up again. This makes young children more amenable to the treatment procedure. For parents too, these glasses could be a boon as they will not have to struggle with eye patches and drops for unwilling children.
FDA has approved the use of programmable glasses as a vision correction device made available by Amblyz.
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New Doping Technique Makes Organic Solar Cells and Electronics Cheaper

A new method of electrical doping of organic semiconductors could push for the production of cheaper polymer photovoltaic and other organic electronic devices.

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a simple technique for doping organic semiconductors electrically. This could help in fabricating polymer photovoltaic and flexible organic electronics at reduced costs. The technique could also help produce single-layer solar cells making available power generation at smaller scales enabling the production of newer types of wearable electronics.

Simple Solution Based Technique

The technique involves p-type of doping or injecting with holes or positive charge carriers. The solution-based method, which consists of immersing the polymer semiconductor films in a liquid at ordinary temperatures, would replace a far more complex technique used currently that involves vacuum processing.

Bernard Kippelen, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university and director of the Center of Organic Photonics and Electronics, anticipates that the discovery could change the way people look at organic photovoltaic. According to him, the new doping method could lead to improvement in a whole range of devices such as LEDs, sensors, detectors, and printed electronics. Wen-Fang Chou, a PhD researcher, points out that the technology allows the conductivity of the semiconductors to be adjusted.

Details of the study funded by the Office of Naval Research have appeared in Nature Materials, an academic journal. University of California, Santa Barbara, Eindhoven University of Technology in Holland, and Kyushu University in Japan have also participated in the research.

The scientists prepared solutions of polyoxometalate in nitromethane and immersed thin films of polymer semiconductors in them for a few minutes. The dopants contained in the solution diffused into the films resulting in the creation of p-type semiconductors. It was seen that the doping was limited to a depth of 20 nanometers from the film surface.

The p-doped portion of the film exhibits enhanced conductivity and work function. The solubility of the film in the fluid reduced after the doping procedure. In addition, the film became more stable towards photo-oxidation.

Single Layer Structure

Another vastly improved feature is that the electrons and holes collect in the active layer. This results in single-layer geometry.

These features make the new polymer based film more superior to the vacuum processed molybdenum oxide semiconductor sheets used in the solar cells used currently.

According to Canek Fuentes-Hernandes, a scientist in the team, single layer photovoltaic built by this approach allows the electrodes to be built at a low cost. In addition, the increased stability of the donor polymer towards photo oxidation promises durability. However, he concedes that more research is needed before these photovoltaic can be produced commercially.

Even so, the development holds greater promises for solar cell fabrication, particularly for countries that lack expensive manufacturing facilities. Felipe Larrain, a PhD student in the team explains that the researchers are trying to make available all the materials required to build a solar cell in an all-inclusive kit. This would allow people to construct solar cells on their own and reduce dependence on the grid.
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Magnetic Field Makes a Non-Magnetic Material Electrically Conducting

When scientists applied a magnetic field to PdCoO2, a non-magnetic oxide of palladium and cobalt, they were intrigued to see that its electrical conductivity increased significantly. The phenomenon is quite contrary to the basic principles of electricity and magnetism.

Looking Into Magnetoresistance

Scientists apply magnetic fields to metals and their oxides to study a quantity called magnetoresistance, which is the electrical resistance of the substance in the applied magnetic field. This crucial feature is utilized in writing data on to hard discs. Since a material with an appreciable amount of magnetoresistance finds use such as in hard discs, researchers are on the lookout for substances with a high value of this property.

Most materials show a considerable increase in electrical resistance under the effect of a magnetic field. This decreases the amount of current passing through the material. However, when a team of scientists at Kyoto University placed PdCoO2 in a magnetic field, they found that its resistance decreased. The fall in resistance was so great the electric current passing through it rose by as high as 70%. Scientists based at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in the USA joined the researchers in their efforts.

Shigo Yonezawa, who had authored the study conducted by the Kyoto University into the phenomenon, concedes that the experimental results were quite unexpected. He explains that metal oxides do not allow ready passage of electricity. However, the palladium and cobalt oxide is one of the few oxides that conduct electricity well. An interesting fact about the oxide is it is non-magnetic in nature.

Mathematical Explanation

The scientists took the help of topology, a branch of pure mathematics to explain the apparent anomaly. The researchers at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory pointed out the link between the pattern of electron behavior and topology.

Topology deals with the properties of space exposed to continuous deformations. By drawing an analogy between electron behavior and topological concepts such as space and dimensions, the researchers were able to conclude that electrons in certain categories of substances have special topological features. These characteristics cause them to be affected by magnetic fields so that the resistance of the material is altered.

Yonezawa explains that in the case of PdCoO2, the topological features were enhanced by the magnetic field, leading to a fall in its electrical resistance. Until now, these aspects of this substance were not known. The study reveals that a clear-cut layered crystal structure aids the phenomenon.

Further experiments and theoretical research revealed that in compounds like PdCoO2 and Sr2RuO4, which have almost the same type of layered structures, magnetoresistance shows a marked drop in applied magnetic fields, causing the current to rise.

Yoshitero Maeno, a senior author based at the Kyoto University points out that the effect can be extended to other metal oxides with layered structures, with the degree of fall in resistance depending upon the nature of the layers. He goes on to say the finding of more of these stratified or layered oxides with high conductivity could lead to the development of new devices with path-breaking features.
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A Peek into the Smallest Diode Fabricated

Scientists have built a molecule-sized diode that can find extensive use in Nano scale circuits of the future. This is a significant milestone in the molecular electronic industry, which is continually looking for practical single molecule units for devices.

University of Georgia researchers have joined forces with researchers at the Ben-Gurion University in Israel to develop the diode. The scientists have built a theoretical representation of a DNA molecule within an electrical circuit to figure out the results based on experiments carried out by them. Details of the study were published in the online issue of Nature Chemistry.

Electronic Transport Mechanism

Fabricating the diode and studying its characteristics is a significant achievement in the creation of molecular electronic devices. Dr. Yoni Dubi, who is a researcher in the Department of Chemistry in Ben-Gurion, explains that the process has given the scientists a new understanding of the electron transport mechanism.

Meeting the Challenges of Modern Day Living

Modern living is continually pushing the requirements of technology, particularly those related to medicine and communication. This has led researchers to look for molecules with remarkable properties that can help achieve the functions required. The researchers attempted to set up firm contact points between molecular units and macroscopic components of electrodes. This has allowed molecular scale components mimic the features of conventional electronics.

A case in point of this kind of structure is a molecular rectifier, which is a Nano scale diode. The mechanism functions like a valve allowing a stream of electrons to flow in one direction only. The team has assembled a collection of these Nano scale or molecular diodes. These diodes have features similar to the ones possessed by ordinary electronic units such as transistors and rectifiers.

Scientists expect that the emerging technology in the field of single molecular electronics may present a means to get around Moore's Law, which predicts that the number of transistors in conventional integrated circuits doubles every couple of years.

Professor Bingqian Xu and his team at the College of Engineering connected with the University of Georgia and fabricated a single DNA molecule from 11 base pairs. They linked it up with a nanometer sized electronic circuit and determined the current through the molecule. The researchers did not detect any notable behavior in the current characteristics. However, the addition of layers of coralyne, a special molecule in between the DNA layers caused a significant change in the current characteristics. Professor Xu explains that the current for negative voltages was 15 times larger than that for positive voltages. This is an essential aspect of a Nano diode. The team has built a molecular rectifier by inserting specialized molecules in between distinctive DNA strands. This special method of insertion is termed intercalation.
Substantiating Experiment with Theory
To validate the results of the above experiment, Dr. Dubi along with his student, Elinor Zerah Harush, assembled a theoretical construction of the DNA molecule within the electrical circuit. The model helped to pinpoint the origin of the molecular diode. The researchers established that the insertion of coralyne disturbs the spatial symmetry within the DNA molecule, which starts the diode like behavior.
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Adenosine Triphosphate May Power Future Supercomputers

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the compound that fuels the cells of living organisms may help power supercomputers designed in the near future. The breakthrough may lead to the design and invention of book-sized supercomputers.

Professor Nicolau, chairperson of the Department of Bioengineering at McGill has led an international team of scientists to construct a biological computer model that can process data and information very fast with a high degree of accuracy. Their performance is quite similar to the immensely large electronic supercomputers. The model of the new supercomputer has been detailed in a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) a couple of weeks ago.

The bio supercomputer is not just exceedingly smaller than the conventional ones. They use up a significantly smaller amount of energy and are, in fact powered by proteins contained in living cells. Scientists refer to these proteins as biological agents.

Dan Nicolau started work on an idea along with his son, also named Dan, more than a decade earlier. The father son duo teamed up with scientists from Sweden, Germany, and the Netherlands three years later.

City Map like Structure

The researchers have built the bio supercomputer by bringing together nanoscale engineering technology and geometrical modeling. Nicolau Sr. highlights the fact that they have created a very complicated network within a minute area so that the circuit resembles a road map of an orderly, yet busy city. Just as vehicles of all kinds navigate through the city streets drawing on fuel, the device has strings of protein molecules powered by ATP, plying through the network. The molecules travel through scheduled paths and, like cars and buses in a city, which have set destinations, the molecular strings too arrive at predetermined points after performing fixed tasks.

The city in the bio-computer is a chip measuring around 1.5 square cm. The working of this chip supercomputer is significantly different from that of a conventional supercomputer one. The latter has a much larger chip housed within it with electrons moving about it to make available the necessary applications.

Increased Sustainability at a Smaller Size

The model built by the scientists uses very little power and generates negligible heat during operation compared to conventional supercomputers. In fact, the traditional devices require individual power supplies to operate and need to be cooled down at intervals because of the high levels of heat generated. Furthermore, these advantages are available with a much smaller size device.

Going forward

The scientists realize that a lot has to be done before the model of the biological supercomputer can make a transition from their lab to a fully functional unit that can be commercially viable. Nicolau Jr. anticipates that other scientists will follow up their work and even push the frontiers of research further by using different types of biological agents. He also conceives of a possible scenario in which the biological device set up by them may be combined with a regular computer to form a sort of hybrid machine. Such a unit could bring together the advantages of both systems. He concedes that the team is looking at several options to make available vastly superior options.
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Photovoltaic Cells Can Recharge Vehicles At Home
Homeowners with photovoltaic systems installed on their rooftops may soon be able to charge their electric vehicles using them. The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Freiburg has created an energy management system, which can be used by households with their solar energy generation units.
The researchers at the institute have developed a system by which the user can draw on the energy from the photovoltaic unit installed on the home rooftop for household needs and for charging personal electric cars.
Efficient energy management
Dominik Noeren, a researcher based at ISE reveals that the power generated by the larger photovoltaic systems set up in some of the homes often exceeds the power consumed by the households. Homeowners feed the excess power into the public grid for redistribution to other homes and facilities. Noeren explains that a charging station put in at the home could use the surplus energy for recharging the electric vehicles used by the homeowner.
Noeren's team at ISE devised a 22kW charging station together with a home energy management system (HEMS) for five homes in Fellbach. The HEMS software, which runs on embedded systems collects readings from the electric meters set up for measuring the power generated by the solar utility and that used up for household purpose and the vehicle charging unit. This enables the homeowner to see the breakdown of the power generated and expended at any time.
Apart from detailing the power consumption readings, the HEMS program predicts the solar intensity for the subsequent 20 hours and displays the amount of solar power available. The software also features an algorithm that anticipates the household loads every quarter of an hour. By evaluating these data, the homeowner can make out how much solar power is available for charging the vehicle. If there is any power left after recharging the electric vehicle, it is supplied to the grid.
Creating recharging itinerary
The group of researchers led by Noeren conducted field tests for several homes over a two year period. The feedback was used to create an Android application. Using this app, The HEMS makes available a visual presentation in numerical and graphical form of all the electrical data involved. A user can view the battery charge level by hooking it up to the charging station and plan the recharge time and duration, accordingly. This makes for a reasonable and economical charging schedule.
The HEMS software factors in a number of aspects for the benefit of the homeowner. Apart from using meters to determine the power generated by the solar cells and the power spent by the different household utilities, it also shows up the forecasts for intensity of solar power. With the help of these inputs, the homeowner will be able to coordinate the charging of the vehicle with the energy production at home. Noeren explains that it is gainful to use up the solar power than to supply it to the national grid.
The HEMS program can accommodate a wide range of devices including Bluetooth and WLAN power outputs for turning on and putting off household gadgets, as well.
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Sodium Ion Batteries Are Now A Feasible Alternative to Lithium Ones
French scientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) have collaborated with one another to build a battery employing sodium ions. The battery developed in the prevalent industry "18650" format has been fabricated for use in specialized applications. Various other laboratories around the world have been working on the design though there has been no announcement about a similar prototype yet.
Since the metal sodium is available in far more significant quantities than lithium and is considerably cheaper, the new technology is attracting the interest of the battery industry. Researchers are of the opinion that a foremost function of sodium batteries could be to store up renewable energy.
Lithium batteries have been in use since the 1980s for tablets, laptops and other portable electronics. They are the prevalent choice for the newly developed electric vehicles, too. However, the rapidly depleting stocks of lithium have moved the attention of scientists and storage device manufacturers to the more widely abundant element sodium, which belongs to the same group as lithium in the periodic table and shares many of its properties.
Perfect recipe for the cathode
At the outset, the researchers looked for an ideal formula for devising the cathode, the electrode drawing the positive ions from the electrolyte solution. The scientists collaborated with their colleagues in other labs to arrive at the right constitution of the sodium cathode. The CEA developed the blueprint of the sodium electrode in the same "18650" format using this formula. The format indicates a cylindrical shaped battery 6.5cm high and having a diameter 1.8cm. The format would ensure a smooth transfer of technology for industrial production of sodium batteries.
Promising results
Once the prototype was developed, the researcher team moved on to the pre industrial scale, which involves production of 1kg batches of cathode material from the laboratory scale constituting a few grams of the material. Large-scale production indicated quite a high level of storage. Trials on the new battery have shown that 1kg of sodium battery can store about 90 Watt-hours of electrical energy, which is comparable with that stored by the original lithium ion batteries. Its lifespan amounts to 2,000 charging and discharging cycles. The most significant benefit of these sodium electrode batteries is that they can charge up rapidly. These features may allow for a seamless transition from lithium ion batteries to sodium ion ones.
The team involved with the research and design of the sodium ion battery has received financial aid from the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research, the Armament Directorate (DGA) of the French Defense Ministry, the French National Research Agency (ANR) and the CNRS and CEA, as well. The project has led to several patents for the battery. The CNRS and CEA have brought out a number of publications on the subject.
The team is now working on methods to optimize the production of the batteries and to enhance their reliability. Battery manufacturers are waiting for these issues to be sorted out so that they can engage themselves in commercial production.
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