Scientists at MIT are addressing the "urgent challenge of our time" - coming up with alternatives to greenhouse gases, says MIT President Susan Hockfield. The school's Energy Research Council is leading a university-wide push to develop sustainable fuels, Wired News reports
- Spinach solar power: Tapping the secrets of photosynthesis -- engineering proteins from spinach -- to make organic solar cells whose efficiency could outstrip the best silicon photovoltaic arrays today.
- Silicon superstrings: A novel approach to manufacturing conventional silicon photovoltaic arrays by pulling the chips in stringy ribbons out of a molten stew like taffy rather than slicing them from silicon ingots.
- Laptop-powered hybrids: Using a new generation of lithium-based batteries (which power most portable electronics today) to cut the price and charge-time of hybrid and electric car batteries.
- Tubular battery tech: Using "supercapacitors" made from carbon nanotubes to store charge -- rather than the chemical reactions that power most batteries -- resulting in a lightweight, high-capacity battery that could someday give even the laptop battery a run for its money.
- Hold the A/C: Optimizing air and heat flow on a new computer-aided design system, before a building's construction begins, allowing for the building's air conditioning costs to be cut by as much as 50 percent.
- Hybrid without the hybrid: Turbocharging an automobile engine with plasma from a small ethanol tank (which would need to be refilled about as often as the oil needs changing), reportedly increasing fuel efficiency almost to the level of a hybrid -- but only adding $500-$1,000 to the car's sticker price.
- More light than heat: Generating a car's electricity photoelectrically (using a gas-powered light and a small, specially designed solar panel) rather than mechanically (using an alternator), substantially increasing fuel efficiency.
- Coal-powered biofuels: Bubbling exhaust from a coal-fired power plant through a tank of algae that's been bred to siphon off much of the exhaust's carbon dioxide -- in the process, fattening the algae that can then be harvested as biodiesel.