First, a company called Nanoptek says they have developed a method that uses sunlight and water to generate hydrogen.
The Maynard, Mass.-based company...has come up with a low-cost, durable titania electrode that can split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.
Sunlight hits the electrode, and the electrode splits the light into a positive charge (called a hole) and an electron. Before the two charges can rejoin, the electron gets captured by the electrode and then is exploited to split water. Silicon solar cells operate on the same principle.
Other companies have tried to use titania electrodes for this job in the past, but they broke down relatively rapidly, according to Nanoptek. The company's electrodes work better because, ironically, they are more brittle. The crystal lattice in the electrode is stressed, i.e. additional materials are added. (Semiconductor makers similarly stress their chips with germanium to create strained silicon, which improves performance.)
This could change the equation when it comes to creating a hydrogen economy, creating a cheap and easy way to generate hydrogen that could be used to run fuel cells to generate electricity for homes and autos or to heat buildings.
Next, there's a development that could greatly increase the energy capacity of lithium-ion batteries by a factor of 10.
Stanford researchers have found a way to use silicon nanowires to reinvent the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power laptops, iPods, video cameras, cell phones, and countless other devices.
The new version, developed through research led by Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, produces 10 times the amount of electricity of existing lithium-ion, known as Li-ion, batteries. A laptop that now runs on battery power for two hours could operate for 20 hours, a boon to ocean-hopping business travelers.
The greatly expanded storage capacity could make Li-ion batteries attractive to electric car manufacturers. Cui suggests that they could also be used in homes or offices to store electricity generated by rooftop solar panels.
I don't know about you, but I think it would be very cool being able to run our laptop for almost a full day on a single charge or to see an electric car run for 1000 or more miles between charges.