New science features and news site launched…..

A new website, ScienceOmega, aimed at showcasing high-quality scientific features and news has been launched and may be worth keeping an eye on.

It is boasting quite a list of contributors – Sir Patrick Moore, Executive Director of the Nobel Foundation Dr Lars Heikensten, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Dr Hamadoun Touré, President of the United States’ Council for Chemical Research (CCR) Dr Seth Snyder, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology Dr Mark Downs.

It is aiming to cover a very wide range of disciplines. Science Omega says it “has one overarching goal; to communicate high-quality scientific content to the largest possible audience. It is paramount that Science Omega contains content that will interest the scientific community. However, science cannot afford to be elitist, and we are convinced that if we present material in a clear and engaging way, it will prove fascinating for scientists and non-scientists alike.”

UK Energy Research Centre Summer School 2012

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) have announced revised dates for it’s eighth annual Energy Summer School; from 17th June – 22nd June 2012, at the University of Warwick. There will be 100 places available for UK and international students.

The School has been specifically designed to give second year PhD students an understanding of energy systems as a whole and of pathways to low-carbon and resilient energy systems. This directly relates to international climate change issues and policies as students will become engaged in a mock United Nations style negotiations throughout the week in order to achieve a reduction in carbon emissions through the use of energy systems. This is a week-long course, which runs in parallel to UKERC’s Annual Assembly, and the course is professionally facilitated to provide continual support for participants, and includes a number of networking opportunities as well as social events.

Applications are invited from those engaged in energy-related research including technical, physical, social, economic, environmental and business aspects of energy and energy systems.

Nominations are open until 1700hrs (5pm) GMT Thursday, 8th March 2012. There is no charge for registered research students to attend the School; UKERC will provide accommodation and all meals and materials for activities. The School is conducted in English, and as it is highly interactive a good standard of comprehension and spoken English is essential.

The nomination form can be accessed from the UKERC website

Full information is available from the UK Energy Research Centre website at:

TSB competition updates

TSB competitions page

Fuel cells and hydrogen: whole system integration
The Technology Strategy Board is to invest up to £7.5m in collaborative research and development projects involving fuel cells and hydrogen energy systems. They aim to accelerate the commercialisation of these products by linking them with other technologies to form complete low-carbon solutions.

One of the challenges facing fuel-cell and hydrogen technologies is to move from development to providing practical low-carbon solutions in combination with other energy and transport products. The aim of this competition is to encourage UK businesses developing fuel cells and hydrogen systems to work with partners to overcome the system integration challenges, to design complete solutions that can be easily used by customers and to gain an insight into the use of whole systems in realistic scenarios.

This is a two-stage open competition. Proposals must be collaborative and business-led and must clearly present the benefits to UK businesses. Successful projects will generally attract up to 50% public funding and we expect the total cost of each project to be £3m-5m.

Open date: 09 January 2012
Registration close date: 15 February 2012
Close date: 22 February 2012

Full details at TSB website
Download competition brief

Optimisation of anaerobic digestion
WRAP has a specific focus on the development and growth of a safe and sustainable AD industry in the UK and is working to deliver specific actions from Defra’s AD Strategy and Action Plan.
The aims for this competition are to:

    Facilitate technology transfer from other industries that may have solved similar challenges to those currently facing the AD sector
    Demonstrate the most effective proposals
    Disseminate advice, data and best practice guidance to the sector to enable it to reap the benefits of the demonstration projects
    Biogas – cheaper technologies for gas use, better gas storage options and a reduction in methane losses (covering both existing gas use options such as CHP and new technologies such as fuel cells or liquefaction)
    Digestate – nutrient extraction and improving quality through technology or process optimisation, efficiencies in separation and application processes
    Better uses of heat, inline quality monitoring and uses for CO2

Some key areas have been identified by the sector as requiring a specific focus: Pre-processing (ie reception and pre-treatment of feedstocks of all types); Inline or instant feedstock testing for contaminants, biogas yields, nutrient levels etc; Pre-treatment of feedstocks to improve digester operation, gas yields, digestate quality and/or manageability; Processing – improving efficiencies and reactor performance, inline monitoring of reactor performance and health, optimisation of digestion biology.

Open date: 09 November 2011
Close date: 21 December 2011

Full details at:
Download competition brief

E.ON to convert wind power into hydrogen for storage

E.ON has announced it is developing a pilot plant in Falkenhagen in the north east of Germany to convert power from wind energy into hydrogen which can then be stored in the country’s gas grid. The company is investing over EUR5 million on the pilot plant and further research into this innovative technology.

Using power from renewable energy sources, they estimate the plant could produce about 360 m³ of hydrogen per hour from 2013 onwards through electrolysis. The hydrogen will be fed into the Ontras gas pipeline system and be used like normal natural gas. This makes the gas grid a storage system for power from weather-dependent renewables.

“We need new storage capacities so that we can further increase the share of weather-dependent wind power in our generation portfolio in coming years. Using the existing gas infrastructure to store hydrogen is a promising approach in the long run, enabling us to combine our strengths as a power and gas company,” said Professor Klaus-Dieter Maubach, member of the E.ON AG Board of Management responsible for Technology & Development. At present, up to 5 percent hydrogen can be added to the natural gas grid without any problems, and in the medium term experts expect up to 15 percent. This means that today’s entire renewable power output could be stored in the German gas grid.


Hydrogen production using microbial reverse-electrodialysis electrolysis cells

US researchers say they have demonstrated how cells fuelled by bacteria can be “self-powered” and produce a limitless supply of hydrogen using a microbial electrolysis cell (MEC). The MECs use something called “reverse electrodialysis” (RED), which refers to the energy gathered from the difference in salinity between saltwater and freshwater, in combination with bacteria that are able to produce electricity as they break down organic matter.

Until now an external source of electricity was required in order to power the process. The claimed breakthrough here is that they do not need an electrical power source anymore, all they do is add some fresh water and some salt water and some membranes, and the electrical potential that is there can provide that power. The scene is now set to produce the hydrogen.

In their paper, Prof Logan and colleague Younggy Kim explained how an envisioned RED system would use alternating stacks of membranes that harvest this energy; the movement of charged atoms move from the saltwater to freshwater creates a small voltage that can be put to work. Prof Logan explained “If you think about desalinating water, it takes energy. If you have a freshwater and saltwater interface, that can add energy. We realised that just a little bit of that energy could make this process go on its own.”

He said that the technology was still in its infancy so the current cost of operating the new technology is too high to be used commercially. They liken this to the development of solar power, as it has taken many years to lower the cost of PV cells after first proving the concept. He hopes that as this technology is refined and upscaled the cost can be brought down.

The next step is to develop larger-scale cells with the hope that this type of integrated system has significant potential to treat wastewater and simultaneously produce [hydrogen] gas without any consumption of external electricity.

Prof Logan added that a working example of a similar microbial fuel cell was currently on display at London’s Science Museum, as part of the Water Wars exhibition

Younggy Kim and Bruce E. Logan, Penn State university

There is a tremendous source of entropic energy available from the salinity difference between river water and seawater, but this energy has yet to be efficiently captured and stored. Here we demonstrate that H2 can be produced in a single process by capturing the salinity driven energy along with organic matter degradation using exoelectrogenic bacteria. Only five pairs of seawater and river water cells were sandwiched between an anode, containing exoelectrogenic bacteria, and a cathode, forming a microbial reverse-electrodialysis electrolysis cell. Exoelectrogens added an electrical potential from acetate oxidation and reduced the anode overpotential, while the reverse electrodialysis stack contributed 0.5–0.6 V at a salinity ratio (seawater:river water) of 50. The H2 production rate increased from 0.8 to 1.6 m3-H2/m3-anolyte/day for seawater and river water flow rates ranging from 0.1 to 0.8 mL/ min. H2 recovery, the ratio of electrons used for H2 evolution to electrons released by substrate oxidation, ranged from 72% to 86%. Energy efficiencies, calculated from changes in salinities and the loss of organic matter, were 58% to 64%. By using a relatively small reverse electrodialysis stack (11 membranes), only ∼1% of the produced energy was needed for pumping water. Although Pt was used on the cathode in these tests, additional tests with a nonprecious metal catalyst (MoS2) demonstrated H2 production at a rate of 0.8 m3/m3/d and an energy efficiency of 51%. These results show that pure H2 gas can efficiently be produced from virtually limitless supplies of seawater and river water, and biodegradable organic matter.

Full paper available from PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA)