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Advanced Materials
Advanced Materials

Roofs Covered With Plastic Grass Could Harness Wind Energy

Advanced Materials
Advanced Materials

One group of scientists is trying to harness wind energy by mimicking the motions of a field of grass rippling in the breeze—except their grass is made of plastic and their field is on a roof.

According to the findings publishing in the journal Advanced Materials, a joint team of Chinese and American researchers created an experimental turboelectric nanogenerator (TENG). Here's how it works: The team adhered plastic strips to a board in a way that makes them stand upright in rows. One side of each strip is coated with nanowires and the other side with indium tin oxide (ITO). When the “grass” is pushed by the wind, the nanowires brush against the ITO sides of the surrounding strips, allowing electrons to pass from one piece to the next. This generates a current via the triboelectric effect.

This method of generating wind power could be practical in many situations. In addition to harnessing power from steady gusts, the technology would be able to effectively work with choppy winds blowing in any direction and would be ideal for spots where windmills would be impractical.

The experimental TENG—which so far has only been tested in a lab by using an electric fan and 60 strips of plastic on a model rooftop—generated enough energy to light 60 LEDs. The system was also functional in wind speeds as low as 13 mph and was most effective in close to 62-mph winds—a speed too high to be practical, as one researcher noted to New Scientist.

While the project is still far from ready to be used out in the real world, a 985-square-foot rooftop carpeted with the strips would generate 7.11 kilowatts, enough energy to mostly power a home, according to the researchers. For now, the team is focused on figuring out a way to efficiently store the energy that’s generated. They will also need to find a substitute for indium tin oxide because it's both toxic and expensive. 

[h/t: New Scientist]

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The Most (and Least) Expensive States for Staying Warm This Winter
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It’s that time of year again: Temperatures outside have plummeted, while your monthly heating bill is on the rise. If you want an idea of how much heat will cost you this winter (perhaps you blocked out last year’s damage to your bank account), one reliable indicator is location.

Average energy expenses vary from state to state due to factors like weather, house size, and local gas prices. Using data from sources including the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, WalletHub calculated the average monthly utility bill totals for all 50 states plus Washington D.C. in 2017.

Source: WalletHub

The personal finance website looked at four energy costs: electricity, natural gas, car fuel, and home heating oil. After putting these components together, Connecticut was found to be the state with the highest energy costs in 2017, with an average of $380 in monthly bills, followed by Alaska with $332 and Rhode Island with $329.

That includes data from the summer and winter months. For a better picture of which state’s residents spend the most on heat, we have to look at the individual energy costs. Michigan, which ranks 33rd overall, outdoes every other state in the natural gas department with an average bill of $60 a month. Alaska is close behind with $59, followed by Rhode Island With $58.

People living in Maine prefer oil to heat their homes, spending $84 a month on the fuel source. All six New England states—Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts—occupy the top six spots in this category.

So which state should you move to if you want to see your heating bill disappear? In Florida, the average household spends just $3 a month on natural gas and $0 on heating oil. In Hawaii, on average, the oil bill is $0 as well, and slightly higher for gas at $4. Of course, they make up for it when it comes time to crank up the AC: Both states break the top 10 in highest electricity costs.


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Why Are Glaciers Blue?
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The bright azure blue sported by many glaciers is one of nature's most stunning hues. But how does it happen, when the snow we see is usually white? As Joe Hanson of It's Okay to Be Smart explains in the video below, the snow and ice we see mostly looks white, cloudy, or clear because all of the visible light striking its surface is reflected back to us. But glaciers have a totally different structure—their many layers of tightly compressed snow means light has to travel much further, and is scattered many times throughout the depths. As the light bounces around, the light at the red and yellow end of the spectrum gets absorbed thanks to the vibrations of the water molecules inside the ice, leaving only blue and green light behind. For the details of exactly why that happens, check out Hanson's trip to Alaska's beautiful (and endangered) Mendenhall Glacier below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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