A team of scientists at Tulane University has developed a hybrid solar energy converter that generates electricity and steam with higher efficiency and low costs.

Solar energy conversion describes technologies that are devoted to transforming solar energy into other useful forms of energy like electricity, fuel, and heat. It includes light-harvesting technologies like traditional semiconductor photovoltaic devices (PVs), emerging photovoltaics, solar fuel production via electrolysis, artificial photosynthesis, and other related forms of photocatalysis directed at the generation of energy-rich molecules.

The fundamental electro-optical aspects of various emerging solar energy conversion technologies for the generation of both electricity, photovoltaic and solar fuels constitute an active avenue of current research and development.

Matthew Escarra led the research team. He works as an associate professor of physics and engineering physics at Tulane University, and Daniel Codd, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of San Diego. The effort is a culmination of a U.S. Department of Energy ARPA-E project that started in 2014 with a funding of USD 3.3 million and involved years of prototype development at Tulane University and Field testing in San Diego.

The research is published this month in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science. The team from San Diego State University, Boeing Spectrolab, and Otherlab were also a part of the project.

The researchers explained that thermal energy consumption is a massive part of the global energy economy, larger than electricity use. There has been a rising interest in solar energy combined with heat and power systems to deliver both electricity and process heat for zero-net-energy and greenhouse gas-free development. 

The new hybrid converter utilizes an approach that fully captures the whole spectrum of sunlight. It generates electricity from high-efficiency multi-junction solar cells that redirect infrared rays of sunshine to a thermal receiver, which converts those rays to thermal energy.

This thermal energy can be stored until needed and used to provide heat for various commercial and industrial uses, such as chemical production, food processing, water treatment, and enhanced oil recovery. The team claims that the system demonstrated 85.1% efficiency, delivered steam up to 248 degrees Celsius, and is projected to have a system leveled cost of 3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

With the right amount of funding from the Louisiana Board of Regents and Reactwell, a local commercialization partner, the research team continues to refine the technology and move towards pilot-scale validation. The team is pleased to have demonstrated a high-performance field operation of the new solar converter and is looking forward to its ongoing commercial development.

In a study conducted by researchers from the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, it has been found that aged people who rely more on plant protein as compared to meat-based protein tend to have a longer lifespan. The study — published in the scientific journal JAMA Internal Medicine — describes their analysis of a database from the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study.

Throughout the past several years, food and health researchers have been working to distinguish between good and bad foods. The research has led to sometimes mixed findings. In this new study, the team has looked mainly at protein intake. Non-plant based protein can be found in red meat, seafood, pork, eggs, and chicken. However, it can also be found in plant-based foods, including broccoli, peanuts, oats, chia seeds, and tofu. The team wanted to know if consuming plant-based protein gave different results as opposed to eating animal-based protein.

In an attempt to find the answer, the team analyzed data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, which is known to compile information on the diet and health of people aged 50 to 71 over the last 16 years. In the database, the data of around 179,068 women and 237,036 men from several states have been complied. The average age of the individuals in the database was 62. It consists of dietary and health information for each of the individual it recorded, which allowed the team to calculate how much protein they were consuming and whether it was animal- or plant-based.

The findings of the analysis suggested that the individuals, male or female, who ingested more than average levels of plant foods, has a 5% lower rate of mortality than people who preferred animal-based foods. Additionally, they found that the more plant-based foods an individual ate, the longer was their lifespan. Besides, the individuals who swapped just 3% of animal-based foods in their diets for plant foods witnessed a 10% reduction in mortality risk.

The team of researchers also found that switching animal foods for plant foods led to reductions in heart and lung illnesses. They also found that swapping just 3% of animal-based protein foods resulted in an 11% decrease in deaths in men and 12% in women from cardiovascular diseases.

Researchers at the National Energy Laboratory (NREL) have recently conducted the first global assessment in the most promising approaches to recycling management for solar photovoltaic (PV) modules.

Traditional PV modules have a life span of 30 years. Currently, there is no set plan for how to manage the disposal of these modules. The volume of modules no longer in use will go up to 80 million metric tons by 2050. Additionally, the nature of the waste also poses various challenges. PV modules are made up of precious, valuable, and some toxic materials. There is no standard method for recycling the valuable ones and dispose of the toxic ones.

Several articles review individual options for PV recycling, but no one has performed a global assessment of all PV recycling efforts to identify the most promising approaches. Garvin Heath, a senior scientist at NREL, explained that PV is a significant part of the energy transition. Becoming good stewards of these materials and developing a circular economy for PV modules is necessary. 

The team focused on the recycling of crystalline silicon, a material used in more than 90% of installed PV systems in the purest form. It accounts for about half of the energy, carbon emissions, and cost to produce PV modules, but only a small portion of their mall.

According to the experts, it takes a lot of investment to make silicon pure. For a PV module, these silicon cells are sealed up in a weatherproof package where they are touching other materials, and wait 20 to 30 years—all the while, PV technology is improving.

The research team found some countries have PV recycling regulations on point, while others are just beginning to consider various solutions. Currently, only one crystalline silicon PV-dedicated recycling facility exists due to the limited amount of waste being produced today.

Based on their research, the team recommends research and development to reduce recycling costs and environmental impacts while increasing material recovery. They suggest focusing on the high-value silicon versus whole silicon wafers. The intact silicon wafers are somewhat achievable, but they often crack and would not likely meet today’s standards to enable direct reuse. To recover high-value silicon, the team highlights the need for research and development of silicon purification processes.

They also emphasize that the environmental and economic impacts of recycling these particles should be explored using technological and financial analyses and life-cycle assessments. Finally, the team explained that finding ways to avoid waste is an integral part of the equation, including making solar panels last longer, using material that is effective, and producing electricity more efficiently.

The team states that research and development are needed because the accumulation of waste will cause trouble later. Much like the growth of PV installations, it will seem to move slowly and then rapidly increase. By the time there’s enough waste to open a facility dedicated to PV, the researchers will develop a proper process. If successful, these findings could contribute to the development of the PV circular economy.

A team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has detected the damaging side effects of antidepressants on the human brain through the use of lab-grown “mini-brains” derived from stem cells. Mini-brains are the miniature models of the human brain, derived using stem cells and nearly invisible to the naked eye, whose cellular mechanisms appear similar to that of the developing human brain. The findings of the study have been published in the scientific journal Frontiers of Cellular Neuroscience.

The team used —mini-brains to demonstrate that the antidepressant paroxetine — also known as Paxil or Seroxat — prevents the growth of brain synapses, which are the points where neurons connect. This ultimately leads to a significant decrease in a crucial support-cell population. Paxil is an antidepressant that usually comes with a warning against use during the early trimester, primarily due to the risk of heart and lung defects. Few studies have also indicated that this drug increases the risk of autism.

Paxil and other such antidepressants fall under the category of SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and are among the world’s most commonly recommended antidepressants. The new findings are probably going to raise concerns about the side-effects of the drug on the developing brain. The researchers state that the lab-grown brains, also referred to as BrainSpheres, are an excellent substitute for conventional animal testing. Besides, they can reveal chemicals that are harmful to the developing brain.

Professor Thomas Hartung, Chair of the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering and Director of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Bloomberg School, who also co-authored the study, said: “There’s a rising concern that we have a plethora neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, and that these might be caused because of exposure to antidepressants and similar drugs or other chemicals. In any case, since conventional animal testing has not remained so cheap, we haven’t been able to look into this question properly.”

The team grew mini-brains in the laboratory to model early brain development. The tiny clusters of brain tissue are made by extracting cells from humans and transforming them into stem cells. These are then biochemically nudged to develop into young brain cells. The lab-grown mini-brains form a brain-like organization over a few months. Since they are produced at large in the lab, they are inexpensive to work with than animals.

The team of researchers exposed the mini-brains to two different doses of Paxil for eight weeks as the clusters of tissue developed. Both the doses were within the therapeutic range for blood levels of the antidepressant in humans. Furthermore, the team used two different sets of mini-brains in the experiments, each derived from a different stem cell.

The researchers found that while Paxil did not seem to have any particular destructive effect on neurons, at the higher concentration, it did lower the levels of a protein known as synaptophysin, a market of synapses, by up to 80%. The drug also lowered two levels of other synapse-related components as well. Likewise, the researchers noted that the drug reduced the normal outgrowth of neurites — structures that eventually develop into the branches of mature neurons. The team also found that mini-brains exposed to paroxetine developed up to 75% fewer oligodendrocytes — the support cells that are important for the upper “wiring” of the brain — compared to control groups. The findings suggest that the antidepressant might affect the healthy formation of neurons, thereby leading to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.

My grandmother told me never to talk politics, religion or sex at the dinner table. While Grams might have just been uptight, there’s a better reason why: You get nowhere with it, and you learn nothing about another person. But do you just have to be bored this holiday season?

Renowned writer and speaker Fran Lebowitz says, “Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine.”

I travel for work, which means I’m oft-stranded in an airport bar or at a business dinner with people I’ve never met. The stakes are: It would be nice if these people liked me. But it’s not vital. I could pick a fight with them, just for entertainment, or I could have a nice conversation while talking to an expert witness.

Pretend you’re Sarah Koenig from the Serial podcast: You’re looking for an answer but are interested in the questions the search raises.

There’s something particularly sad about our current state where you walk into an airport bar and everyone’s on their smartphone. But when I want to be sociable with strangers I use what’s called “openers.” These are open-ended questions with no agenda. Job-interview type questions. Something without a yes/no answer. What they reveal about another person can be mundane or fascinating.

My favorite? “Pardon, if someone bought you a gift and they had to guess your size, is it better to go too big or too small?” My friends call it Cashmere Sweater, because the first time it came up we were discussing an unreturnable sweater on vacation.

Because the question is so harmless, you can see the little birthday candles in each person’s eyes as they remember gifts of days past. There is no answer to this question. It works well in groups. Great with couples (who file the resulting info under “Good to Know”).

The debate goes down something like this:
“Definitely too small. For a woman.”
“No. Too big. If she can’t fit into it she’ll feel bad.”
“No. If it’s too big she’ll think he thinks she’s fat.”
“Why doesn’t he know what size I am?”
“He should know what size you are. Wait. What if all your clothes don’t fit because you just lost weight and he gets you more stuff that doesn’t fit? That’s worse. Small. No. Big.”
“Two words: gift receipt.”
“I hate returning things, so get it big so that at least she can wear it at home if it’s baggy.  If she physically can’t fit into the thing, it’s like you didn’t get her anything at all.”

Some people want all the details. Are we talking something adjustable or intimate? The best way to say it is to act like you’re looking for a rule. Pretend you’re Sarah Koenig from the Serial podcast: You’re looking for an answer but are interested in the questions the search for that answer raises.

Older men tend to smile, remembering the time they got it wrong. Everyone—everyone—has a story. If asked, I say something about how my friend just had a baby and he wants to get his wife something that doesn’t feel like maternity clothes. If it’s in an evening environment of age-appropriate people, I like to tell the story of buying lingerie for a woman.

It’s great to ask two girls who are best friends. Or sisters. Cousins. No two people give the same answer when pressed.

I like open-ended questions because you end up learning something different about each person from their answer. Often it leads to another harmless talk. A chuckle story about something Dad did for Mom on Valentine’s day. There are others, but at this point, it’s likely I’m sticking with Cashmere Sweater. Give it a try and maybe you will, too.

Panasonic has recently begun testing new robotic mobility devices at the newly constructed Takanawa Gateway train station in Tokyo. The new plan was set in motion to bring a series of automated services to the airport and surrounding facilities as a part of a huge renovation and redevelopment project in the surrounding business district of Shinagawa.

These mobility devices are intelligent electric wheelchairs, operated in several three. These wheelchairs will be used as a single group in the trial. The trial will focus on ensuring the safety of passenger mobility issues as they are transported throughout the large building.  

A station employee will control the lead wheelchair, and the other two wheelchairs will automatically follow. The vehicles will be notified of obstacles, human or inanimate. The wheelchairs are equipped with an automatic braking system; when someone crosses in front of the lead vehicle, they slow down or stop as well. The vehicles continuously monitor speed and carry sensors to detect malfunctions found in any of the vehicles’ components.

The global tech giant Panasonic is planning expansive projects involving mobility, including transport services for large groups of people traveling together like tourists and families. The trial will begin in September as the company is researching advanced automotive networks. The CIRRUS project will use cloud data for real-time analysis and transmission of information like vehicle activity and road conditions. The data will be shared among vehicles, roadways, infrastructure, and operators. This technology aims to improve safety, reduce carbon footprint, and maximize travel efficiency.

Panasonic will also launch these transportation tests in Utah, Georgia, and Colorado by the end of 2020. The Takanawa Gateway Station trial is situated in the middle of the Shinagawa Redevelopment Project, a several-year long mission to create a global hub in the Tokyo district. Many train routes such as Yamanote, Keihin Tohoku, and Tokaido lines are conjoined in the region.

Tokaido Shinkansen is the world’s oldest high-speed train line, which also crosses through the district. Haneda Airport, the home base of Japan’s two major domestic airlines, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, is close. The development of these areas, including the residential and business high-rise buildings, is expected to be completed by 2024.

In a report by New Atlas, David Szondy explained that as robotic systems are becoming more sophisticated, they will move forward more and more in our daily lives. These robots have to be able to operate in a chaotic and unpredictable human environment. This means a lot of real-world testing is required to be done by Panasonic, which sees a market opportunity for not only the mobility devices for individuals but also for moving groups of people from one place to another.

The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization assist in the development of Panasonic’s robotic mobility and safety control system.

A multidisciplinary team of researchers, engineers, physicists, biomedical engineers, and clinicians from the Monash University conducted research that could hold the answers to the detection and proper treatment of lung conditions associated with cystic fibrosis (CF). This disease affects some 30,000 individuals in the U.S., with around 10,000 new cases diagnosed every year.

The team used X-ray velocimetry (XV) to assess the dynamics of airflow through the lungs during the normal breathing cycle and measure the presentations of the condition in the lungs. The team — led by Dr. Freda Werdiger of Monash University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering — was able to identify the locations of irregular airflow within the lungs with conditions like CF and better compute the stage of the lung condition.

This initial phase of this research opens up new paths for a range of lung diseases to be detected, treated and managed earlier than existing technologies allow and at a much lower dose of radiation than present CT scanning. The findings of the study have been published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports.

Dr. Werdiger further added: “In this research study, we have tried to present two developments in XV analysis. In the initial one, we present the ability of laboratory-based XV to pinpoint the abnormal nature of the disease in infected mice. Next, we present an approach for the numerical computation of the CF-like disease, which can explain the two major modes of disease symptoms. This quantification model provides a straightforward, simple-to-interpret technique, and one proficient enough to be readily applied to huge volumes of data generated in XV imaging. All in all, these advances can show the power of XV for assessing the changes in local airflow.”

“Our team suggests that XV should be regarded as a novel lung function measurement tool for the development of medication in small animal models, for CF-like conditions, and other respiratory diseases.”

Cystic fibrosis is a hereditary progressive, chronic, and life-threatening disease that is caused by mutations in the CF Transmembrane-conductance Regulator gene. It usually develops in children below two years of age and gradually produces a steady degradation in the quality of life, thereby leading to premature death. The lung examination tools have to measure the abnormal nature of muco-obstructive lung diseases such as CF, which is crucial during the beginning stages of the condition when local therapeutics could be taken to prevent the progression of the disease.

Nevertheless, these tools have several limitations, the foremost being the inability to localize the cause of globally-assessed changes in lung well-being precisely. Examinations of the overall health of lungs in people and animals are undertaken using lung function tests that look for anomalies by measuring the airflow. Spirometry is the most popular and common lung assessment tool, but it measures global airflow at the mouth.

Irrespective of the availability of approaches that examines either lung function or lung structure, none of them are able to quantify function together and locate the source of those changes. Patchy lung functions during breathing have been confirmed to be an indicator of the condition. X-ray velocimetry is a novel technique that provides non-invasive and accurate real-time images of lung airflow in live organisms.

The world-class technology was designed and popularized by an Australian-based, med-tech company 4DMedical, led by CEO Andreas Fouras, who was also the former researcher of Monash University. The technology has since been used in clinical trials and research and has been recently given FDA approval in the USA for all respiratory indications in adults.

Dr. Werdiger said: “The success of the technology lies in its ability to represent successful and meaningful quantitative measures, and our research shows the way it can be achieved. In the years ahead, these technologies can be expected to be leveraged to the numerical quantification of CF-like diseases in larger quantities and other CF animal models. These techniques allow analyses to be applied directly and with little to no manual processing, thereby enabling the study and development of the treatment of CF and other muco-obstructive lung diseases. ”

By: PTI | Mumbai |

Published: July 15, 2020 4:42:43 pm

JioMeet sees 5 million downloads within days of launch: Ambani (Source: JioMeet/Play Store)

Richest Indian Mukesh Ambani on Wednesday said India’s first cloud-based video conferencing app JioMeet has seen 5 million downloads within days of its launch.

Reliance Industries earlier this week launched JioMeet video conferencing app with unlimited free calling, which is being seen as rate war on rival Zoom.

JioMeet video conferencing app is available across Android, iOS, Windows, macOS and web.

What is JioMeet? How does it work?

Addressing the company’s 43rd annual general meeting, Ambani said JioMeet has seen 5 million downloads by users within days of its launch.

READ | Reliance Jio to launch ‘Made in India’ 5G network: Mukesh Ambani

READ | Jio-Google deal: Google to invest Rs 33,737 crore in Jio platforms

READ | Reliance AGM 2020 LIVE Updates: With Google, Jio wants to make India ‘2G-mukt’

According to the company website, JioMeet supports HD audio and video call quality with up to 100 participants and offers features like screen sharing, and meeting schedule feature, among others.

But unlike Zoom, it does not impose a 40-minute time limit. Calls can go on as long as 24 hours, and all meetings are encrypted and password-protected, the company said. PTI ANZ


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At UCLA, a team of material scientists has demonstrated a new way of making super white paint that reflects 98% of incoming heat from the sun. The new technique shows particle pathways for designing these innovative paints that could noticeably reduce cooling costs if used on rooftops and other parts of buildings. These paints show the potential of lowering cooling costs beyond what standard white ‘roof-cool’ paints can achieve.

The report highlights various significant steps towards keeping buildings cooler by daytime radiative cooling—a process in which a surface reflects sunlight and deflects heat into space, cooling down the sub-ambient temperatures. This can reduce the indoor temperatures and help cut-down air-conditioner use and carbon dioxide emissions related to it.

Aaswath Raman, an assistant professor of material science and engineering at UCLA Samueli School of Engineering and the principal investigator of the study, explained the theory by giving examples of clothes. He stated that when we wear a white T-shirt on a sunny day, we feel cooler because it reflects more sunlight. The same concept is used in buildings. A roof painted in white will be cooler inside than one painted in a darker shade. The paints also reject the heat at infrared wavelengths, which is invisible to the naked eyes. This allows the buildings to cool down even more due to radiative cooling.

The best white paints are currently available only to reflect approximately 85% of incoming solar radiation. The chemical structure of the paint still absorbs the remainder. The team showed that simple modifications in the paint’s chemical makeup could significantly increase, reflecting as much as 98% of those radiations.

Traditional white paints use titanium oxide. Being highly reflective, it also absorbs violet and ultraviolet light. The compound’s UV absorption qualities make it useful in sunscreen products, but they also lead to excessive heating under sunlight—which hinders the cooling process.

The team examined replacing the titanium oxide with affordable and readily available ingredients such as barite, generally used by artists, and powered polytetrafluoroethylene, also known as Teflon. These ingredients help paints reflect the UV light. The researchers also made refinements to the paint’s formula, including reducing the concentration of polymer binders that absorb heat.

Jyotirmay Mandal, a Schmidt Science Fellow working in the research group and the co-corresponding author on the research, explained that the cooling benefits these paints can yield could be realized in the near future modifications the team has proposed are within the capabilities of the paint and coating industry.

The team also suggested several long-term implications for further studies, including mapping where such paints make a difference, studying the effect of pollution on the radiative cooling technologies, and on a global scale, if they could affect the earth’s ability to reflect heat from the sun. They also noted that many municipalities and governments like the state of California and New York City have also started encouraging cool-roof technologies for new buildings.

Mandal hopes that the work will give rise to future initiatives in white coatings not only for energy saving in buildings but also to mitigate the heat island effects in cities and even show a practical way for its application. If applied on a massive scale globally, it will eventually affect climate change. The effort will require collaboration among experts in fields like optics, meteorology, and material sciences, along with experts from the industrial and policy sectors.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels will most probably hit the highest mark than ever recorded during the period of the last 3.3 million years, a new study suggests. The team of researchers from the University of Southampton studied the chemical composition of tiny fossils collected from deep ocean sediments of the Caribbean Sea. The fossils collected from the bottom of the sea are about the size of a pinhead. The team used the data to restructure atmospheric CO2 levels during the Pliocene epoch, around 3 million years ago, when Earth was at least 3°C warmer than today with smaller glaciers and higher sea-levels across the world.

 “The concentration of CO2 during the prehistoric times is of particular interest as we can learn a lot about the climate system, glaciers, and sea-level previously responded to the heightened CO2 levels. Our team assessed this specific interval in extreme detail because it provides supreme contextual information for this particular climate state,” said Dr. Elwyn de la Vega, the lead author of the study. The findings of the study have been published in the scientific journal Nature Scientific Reports.

To calculate the atmospheric CO2 levels, the researchers used the isotopic composition of the element boron, present in the atmosphere as an impurity in the shells of zooplankton known as foraminifera, also referred to as ‘forams.’ They are found half a millimeter in size and gather in large quantities on the seabed, creating a treasure box of information on our planet’s past climate. Boron’s isotopic composition is based on the acidity of the seawater in which the shells are formed. There is a close connection between the CO2 in the atmosphere, and the acidity of the seawater, which means past CO2 can be determined from careful measurement of the boron in ancient shells.

“An outstanding result we’ve found is that the warmest part of the Pliocene had somewhere between 380 and 420 ppm of atmospheric CO2. This is comparable to the present value of around 415 ppm, portraying that we are already at levels that in the past were connected with temperature and sea-level considerably than today. At present, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising at about 2.5 ppm per annum, which means that by 2025 we will have surpassed anything seen in the last 3.3 million years,” said Dr. Thomas Chalk, who co-authored the study.

Dr. Elwyn de la Vega added: “Having crossed Pliocene levels of CO2 by the next five years, the level of CO2 is not likely to have been experienced on our planet at any time in the last 15 million years.”