Metal oxides hold the key to cheap, green energyApril 18, 2012
BINGHAMTON, NY - Harnessing the energy of sunlight can be as simple as tuning the optical and electronic properties of metal oxides at the atomic level by making an artificial crystal or super-lattice 'sandwich' says a Binghamton University researcher in a new study published in the journal Physical Review B.
"Metal oxides are cheap, abundant and 'green,'" said Louis Piper, assistant professor of physics at Binghamton University. "And as the study proved, quite versatile. With the right touch, metal oxides can be tailored to meet all sorts of needs, which is good news for technological applications, specifically in energy generation and flat screen displays."
Here's how it works: semiconductors are an important class of materials in between metals and insulators. They are defined by the size of their band gap, which represents the energy required to excite an electron from the occupied shell to an unoccupied shell where it can conduct electricity. Visible light covers a range of 1 (infrared) to 3 (ultraviolet) electron volts. For transparent conductors, a large band gap is required, whereas for artificial photosynthesis, a band gap corresponding to green light is needed. Metal oxides provide a means of tailoring the band gap.
But while metal oxides are very good at electron conduction, they are very poor "hole" conductors. Holes refer to absence of electrons, and can conduct positive charge. To maximize their technologically potential, especially for artificial photosynthesis and invisible electronics, hole conducting metal oxides are required.
Knowing this, Piper has begun studying layered metal oxides systems, which can be combined to selectively 'dope' (replace a small number of one type of atom in the material), or 'tune' (control the size of the band gap). Recent work revealed that a super-lattice of two hole-conducting copper oxides could cover the entire solar spectrum. The goal is to improve the performance whilst using environmentally benign and cheap metal alternatives.
For instance, indium oxide is one of the most widely used oxides used in the production of coatings for flat screen displays and solar cells. It can conduct electrons really well and is transparent. But it is also rare and very expensive. Piper's current research is aimed towards using much cheaper tin oxide layers to get electron and hole conduction with optical transparency.
But according to Piper, his research shows that one glove will not fit all purposes.
"It's going to be a case of some serious detective work," said Piper. "We're working in a world where physics and chemistry overlap. And we've reached the theoretical limit of our calculations and fundamental processes. Now we need to audit those calculations and see where we're missing things. I believe we will find those missing pieces by playing around with metal oxides."
By reinforcing metal oxides' 'good bits' and downplaying the rough spots, Piper is convinced that the development of new and exciting types of metal oxides that can be tailored for specific applications are well within our reach.
"We're talking battery storage, fuel cells, touch screen technology and all types of computer switches," said Piper. "We're in the middle of a very important gold rush and its very exciting to be part of that race to strike it rich. But first we have to figure out what we don't know before we can figure out what we do. One thing's for sure: metal oxides hold the key. And I believe that we at Binghamton University can contribute to these efforts by doing good science and taking a morally conscious approach."
Related Energy Articles:
One of the biggest untapped clean energy sources on the planet -- wave energy -- could one day power millions of homes across the US.
Scientists at the Centre for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, Spain, find evidence of a new energy source within cell nucleus.
MIT Energy Initiative announces that national energy provider Exelon joins MITEI as a member to focus research support through MITEI's Low-Carbon Energy Centers.
Fuel cells generate electrical energy through a chemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen.
Change in lifestyle is a key component to realizing a low-carbon society.
Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate.
Use of low energy sweeteners (LES) in place of sugar, in children and adults, leads to reduced calorie intake and body weight - and possibly also when comparing LES beverages to water -- according to a review led by researchers at the University of Bristol published in the International Journal of Obesity today.
Martin 'Mike' Pasqualetti, an Arizona State University professor and an expert on energy and social components of energy development, will be awarded 2015 Alexander and Ilse Melamid Memorial Medal by the American Geographical Society.
GCEP has awarded scientists at Stanford and four other universities funding to develop a suite of promising energy technologies.
Low-income families bear the brunt of high-energy costs and poor thermal comfort from poorly maintained apartment buildings.
Related Energy Reading:
Windfall: How the New Energy Abundance Upends Global Politics and Strengthens America’s Power
by Meghan L. O'Sullivan (Author)
“A powerful argument for how America should capitalise on the 'New Energy Abundance'."—The Financial Times
“Riveting and comprehensive...a smart, deeply researched primer on the subject.”—The New York Times Book Review
Windfall is the boldest profile of the world’s energy resources since Daniel Yergin’s The Quest. Harvard professor and former Washington policymaker Meghan L. O’Sullivan reveals how fears of energy scarcity have given way to the reality of energy abundance. This abundance is transforming the... View Details
by Kendall Q Robinson (Author)
A book of poetry written from ALL kinds of life experiences. Kendall shares everything from pleasure to pain to random thoughts. His writing is fused with humor, creativity and plenty of raw emotion. View Details
The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy
by Jon Gordon (Author), Ken Blanchard (Foreword)
The Energy Bus, an international best seller by Jon Gordon, takes readers on an enlightening and inspiring ride that reveals 10 secrets for approaching life and work with the kind of positive, forward thinking that leads to true accomplishment - at work and at home. Jon infuses this engaging story with keen insights as he provides a powerful roadmap to overcome adversity and bring out the best in yourself and your team. When you get on The Energy Bus you’ll enjoy the ride of your life! View Details
The All-Day Energy Diet: Double Your Energy in 7 Days
by Yuri Elkaim (Author)
With The All-Day Energy Diet you will reclaim your health and vitality, feel alive and youthful again, and accomplish all of your fitness goals. Follow it to the letter, or choose your favorite energy pick-me-ups—either way, you’ll look and feel great in just seven days’ time. Yuri knows, because he has experienced it in his own life and seen it happen with thousands of clients. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the unhealthiest, most lethargic person in the world or a super-healthy fitness buff. If you’re a human from planet Earth, this can work for you, too.
Energy and Civilization: A History (MIT Press)
by Vaclav Smil (Author)
A comprehensive account of how energy has shaped society throughout history, from pre-agricultural foraging societies through today's fossil fuel--driven civilization.
Energy is the only universal currency; it is necessary for getting anything done. The conversion of energy on Earth ranges from terra-forming forces of plate tectonics to cumulative erosive effects of raindrops. Life on Earth depends on the photosynthetic conversion of solar energy into plant biomass. Humans have come to rely on many more energy flows -- ranging from fossil fuels to photovoltaic generation of... View Details
Energy: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's Guides)
by Vaclav Smil (Author)
With his famous equation, E=mc2, Einstein showed us that all matter can be described as energy. It is everywhere; it is everything. In this engaging introduction, renowned author and scientist Vaclav Smil covers a wide range of topics, from the inner workings of the human body to the race for more efficient and eco-friendly fuels. Shedding light on the science behind global warming and efforts to prevent it, and how our daily decisions affect energy consumption, this book highlights the importance of energy in both past and present societies. Whether you're after insight or dinner table... View Details
The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future
by Gretchen Bakke (Author)
A revelatory look at our national power grid--how it developed, its current flaws, and how it must be completely reimagined for our fast-approaching energy future.
America's electrical grid, an engineering triumph of the twentieth century, is turning out to be a poor fit for the present. It's not just that the grid has grown old and is now in dire need of basic repair. Today, as we invest great hope in new energy sources--solar, wind, and other alternatives--the grid is what stands most firmly in the way of a brighter energy future. If we hope to realize this future, we need... View Details
Energy Reset: Remove the Toxins, Reset Your Hormones, Restore Your Energy
by Michelle Brown (Author)
Don't live another day accepting exhaustion, irritability, and foggy thinking as your new normal. With Energy Reset you will learn how to quickly and easily remove the toxins, reset your hormones and restore your energy. Do you find yourself wondering why you are constantly battling fatigue, low energy and brain fog? Do your sluggish thyroid and overworked adrenals leave you wondering what has got your hormones so out of balance? Do you feel like you never have enough energy, no matter how well you eat or how much you sleep? In Energy Reset, you will learn how a toxic environment has us... View Details
Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance
by William D. McArdle (Author), Frank I. Katch (Author), Victor L. Katch (Author)
Publisher’s Note: Products purchased from 3rd Party sellers are not guaranteed by the Publisher for quality, authenticity, or access to any online entitlements included with the product.
Setting the standard for more than 30 years, Exercise Physiology has helped more than 350,000 students build a solid foundation in the scientific principles underlying modern exercise physiology. This Eighth Edition is updated with the latest research in the field to give you easy-to-understand, up-to-date coverage of how nutrition, energy transfer, and exercise training affect human... View Details
Energy Medicine: Balancing Your Body's Energies for Optimal Health, Joy, and Vitality
by Donna Eden (Author), David Feinstein (Author), Caroline Myss (Foreword)
In this updated and expanded edition of her alternative-health classic, Eden shows readers how they can understand their body's energy systems to promote healing. View Details