July 28, 2017

Breakthroughs in Energy and Materials Science

By Chelsea Follett
Scientists Crack Code to Creating Artificial Spider Silk

At the University of Cambridge, a team of scientists have created an artificial material that emulates the strength and properties of spider silk. This silk is made using a material known as hydrogel, which is 98 percent water and 2 percent silica and cellulose. Although not quite as strong as actual spider silk, the process of producing this thread does not require extreme temperatures or chemical solvents. Therefore, due to its low production cost and readily available materials, it may become more affordable than traditional silk. It is also biodegradable, making it environmentally friendly. The team is currently working on creating an effective method to mass produce the material and bring it to the market, however they are still in the early stages of the process.   

Time Spent Re-Charging May Become a Thing of the Past due to Supercapacitors

Do you hate how long it takes your phone to re-charge?  A new battery breakthrough may make that a thing of the past. A team from Drexel University has combined traditional battery storage methods with the properties of supercapacitors to create rapid charging cycles. The team was able to redesign the structure of a conductive material known as MXene. The material is normally made of layers stacked onto each other like a sandwich, making it difficult for charging ions to move through the battery quickly. But the team edited the structure to resemble Swiss cheese, by combining the MXene with a hydrogel to allow the ions to move through the battery with much less resistance. This technological innovation is not only great for charging personal electronics, but help the budding electric vehicle industry. This technology may change the time needed to charge an electric car to minutes rather than hours.  

Advanced Solar Panel Can Capture More Energy in the Solar Spectrum

Unfortunately, current solar panels are unable to capture energy from the entire spectrum of light. Generally, direct sunlight has wavelengths that fall within the spectrum of 250 to 2,500 nanometers, but it is difficult for a standard solar panel to draw energy from the entirety of such a wide spectrum. In order to remedy this, a researcher from George Washington University designed a panel that is able to capture 44.5 percent of energy from sunlight, making it the most effective solar panel in the world. This prototype uses stacked layers, where each layer can absorb a different set of wave lengths. The use of gallium antimonide materials allow the panels to attract longer wavelengths on the solar spectrum, while a technology called transfer printing allows the panel to be assembled with extreme precision. Although expensive, this solar panel brings the world into a new era of solar energy.