A clean energy breakthrough could unlock the zero-emissions plane, say Stanford researchers

A potential breakthrough involving nanotechnology could vastly improve how airplanes generate and store electricity, which could help spare small numbers of the world’s greenhouse gasses, Stanford researchers have found.

Scientists at Stanford University have discovered an inexpensive way to grow anaerobic bacteria in the air. During the same process, they were able to create large, highly pressurized carbon sheets with the properties of silicon, the world’s most abundant material.
Then, using a simple temperature-preserving process, engineers derived the sheets’ graphene-coated DNA. With this in mind, researchers are now planning to release the ultra-compact sheets into the environment – by using heat to protect them from the kinds of environmental heat that might prevent them from being reused.
The nanorobots are applied to an airway to allow air to pass through. They then break into tiny particles. Each has a number of electrons suspended, and only one of them is enough to let the air pass.
A solar cell, these little particles help to charge the cell. They also store electrons, so electrical current must be continuously drawn to the main object. Once a cell is in place, it acts as a light filter to replace the excitation necessary to open the cell’s pores.
“With today’s electronics, you have to remove electrons from electrons – producing a very, very intense high voltage,” said the senior author of the paper, Xu Peikang, a Stanford professor of electrical engineering.
“We’re developing a material that does the opposite: we reduce the impulse to the motor to convey energy between an atom and a cell.”
The group’s process has its limitations – as well as many advantages – but they suggest it could open the way to smaller, more efficient — and potentially more powerful — machines.
“The types of machines that we’re envisioning are very, very different from traditional ones that have today,” said the paper’s lead author Matt Hobbs, a research associate at Stanford. “Although they can be very powerful, the hurdles are pretty high.”
In the future, Hobbs said, there could be “something really important happening when we set our biogas-producing plane or planes on this patented biopolymer material.”
Using photosynthesis and other biomimetic processes, metal dioxide transports carbon dioxide through the air. When gold is introduced, metals ignite, and gold and silver emit an electric current.
The materials engineering team applied these two processes together, working to unlock different nanomaterials that would absorb and release specific electrons from electrons trapped in gold.
“The combination of a graphene-based material and a mineral that’s used in the industrial packaging industry could have the same impact on the global industry in allowing small quantities of carbon dioxide to be recycled,” Hobbs said.
“Eventually, this approach could open up the way to huge volumes of carbon-dioxide recycling,” Peikang said. “This approach and the structure could fill more than 10% of total global carbon dioxide emissions today.”
The study, “Rise of Nano-Sciences and Technological Opportunities for Sustainable Bioenergy and Electric Vehicles,” is detailed in the latest issue of Nature Photonics.
A follow-up report will look at how these materials will react to changing environmental conditions in a real-world setting, Hobbs said.
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