Physicists build circuit that generates clean, limitless power from graphene

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A team of University of Arkansas physicists has successfully developed a circuit capable of capturing graphene’s thermal motion and converting it into an electrical current.

“An energy-harvesting circuit based on graphene could be incorporated into a chip to provide clean, limitless, low-voltage power for small devices or sensors,” said Paul Thibado, professor of physics and lead researcher in the discovery.

The findings, published in the journal Physical Review E, are proof of a theory the physicists developed at the U of A three years ago that freestanding graphene—a single layer of carbon atoms—ripples and buckles in a way that holds promise for energy harvesting.

The idea of harvesting energy from graphene is controversial because it refutes physicist Richard Feynman’s well-known assertion that the thermal motion of atoms, known as Brownian motion, cannot do work. Thibado’s team found that at room temperature the thermal motion of graphene does in fact induce an alternating current (AC) in a circuit, an achievement thought to be impossible.

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Our pathetically slow shift to clean energy, in five charts

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We’d better pick up the pace in the 2020s.

By most measures that matter, clean energy had a stellar decade.

The cost of large wind and solar farms dropped by 70% and nearly 90%, respectively. Meanwhile, renewable-power plants around the world are producing four times more electricity than they did 10 years ago.

Similarly, electric vehicles were barely a blip at the outset of the 2010s. But automakers were on track to sell 1.8 million EVs this year, as range increased, prices fell, and companies introduced a variety of models.

But the swift growth in these small sectors still hasn’t added up to major changes in the massive global energy system, or reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. So far, cleaner technologies have mostly met rising energy demands, not cut deeply into existing fossil-fuel infrastructure, as the charts that follow make clear.

That’s a problem. Cutting emissions rapidly enough to combat the increasing threats of climate change will require complete overhauls of our power plants, factories, and vehicle fleets, all within a few decades.

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How China’s space-bound solar installation will beam power down to earth

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Solar panels in space

Researchers are exploring new means of providing power.

Researchers in China are planning a solar farm in space, an ambitious project that could deliver energy at six times the intensity of installations on Earth. The project, which made the front page of China’s Science and Technology Daily last week, would orbit in space and beam down energy to a receiver.

The station would reportedly orbit 22,000 miles above the Earth and benefit from harvesting energy without any complications from seasonal changes or atmospheric conditions, providing energy 99 percent of the time. It’s expected to weigh a staggering 1,000 tons, around 600 tons more than the International Space Station, so the researchers are exploring alternatives like using robots and 3D printers to build the construction in space. The idea is nothing new: NASA started researching the idea in the mid-1970s during the Arab oil embargo, and even devised bold concepts like the SunTower:

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A 100% renewable grid isn’t just feasible, it’s already happening

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New study debunks myths claiming renewables can’t be integrated into electric grid.

The ongoing debate around whether it’s feasible to have an electric grid running on 100 percent renewable power in the coming decades often misses a key point: many countries and regions are already at or close to 100 percent now.

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