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4 innovative technologies for protecting the world’s water resources

February 28, 2023

In response to World Water Day (March 22), there are effectively innovative technologies for protecting the world’s water resources in particular and the environment in general, including a new method for removing the greenhouse gas from the ocean, a technology to use ammonia as a fuel, a project for wireless charging of electric vehicles and a succulent plant to create a living “bio-solar cell”.

Decarbonizing the Ocean

Researchers have found an effective new method for removing carbon dioxide from the ocean. It could be implemented by ships that would process seawater as they travel, or at offshore drilling platforms or aquaculture fish farms. Credit: MIT. 
Researchers have found an effective new method for removing carbon dioxide from the ocean. It could be implemented by ships that would process seawater as they travel, or at offshore drilling platforms or aquaculture fish farms. Credit: MIT. 

MIT researchers devised a method for direct removal of carbon dioxide from seawater.

Oceans absorb around a third of carbon emissions. Pulling carbon from the ocean could be more efficient than atmospheric carbon capture, as the concentration of CO2 in seawater is 100 times greater than in air. And since the oceans are large carbon sinks, “the capture step has already kind of been done for you,” said Kripa Varanasi, an author of a study in Energy & Environmental Science.

The method relies on electrodes that release protons into the water, which convert dissolved carbon into CO2 gas that is collected to be reused or stored. Another set of electrodes recovers the protons, releasing alkalized water back into the sea. This has the added benefit of locally reversing ocean acidification that harms coral and other marine life. A collection system could be added to existing infrastructure that already processes seawater, such as desalination plants.

Transforming Ammonia into a cleaner energy source

Credit: GE Reports.
Credit: GE Reports.

Under a new memorandum of understanding, one of Japan’s longest-established manufacturers, IHI Corp., and GE will work in cooperation to develop technology to use ammonia as a fuel.

The goal is to allow some of GE’s existing gas turbine products to safely burn 100% ammonia by 2030 to reduce carbon emissions. That could eventually lead to a broader vision that IHI describes as “the ammonia society,” where hydrogen-carrying ammonia would become a way to store and deliver imported energy — or what IHI calls “shipping sunshine.”

GE has been working with IHI for two years now, studying the economics of utilizing ammonia as a fuel in Japan. Used abundantly as a fertilizer in agriculture, ammonia’s components — hydrogen and nitrogen — offer intriguing promise as a fuel in several ways. One potential avenue is to combust it directly in a turbine to generate electricity, replacing natural gas. To that end, GE and IHI, a leader in ammonia combustion technologies, agreed in January to develop an equipment retrofit package for GE’s heavy-duty 6F.03, 7F, and 9F gas turbines, enabling them to burn ammonia.

Plant Power

The ice plant succulent shown here can become a living solar cell and power a circuit using photosynthesis. Credit: Adapted from ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 2022.
The ice plant succulent shown here can become a living solar cell and power a circuit using photosynthesis. Credit: Adapted from ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 2022.

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology turned a regular houseplant into a living solar fuel cell.

By collecting the electrons that plants produce during photosynthesis, the researchers devised a way to generate clean electricity from a natural, solar-powered process. “This work presents a method to simultaneously absorb CO2 while producing an electrical current with minimal engineering requirements,” they wrote in ACS Applied Minerals and Interfaces.

A typical fuel cell requires an electrically conducive electrolyte solution. The Technion team, led by Noam Adir, tested whether the water stored inside a succulent plant could serve that purpose. They inserted one positive and one negative electrode into a single leaf and connected them to a circuit. When the plant was exposed to light, its natural photosynthesis produced a small electric current.

Charging Ahead

Electreon will be deploying its technology in the first-ever public wireless road project in Germany that will power a bus. Credit: Electreon 
Electreon will be deploying its technology in the first-ever public wireless road project in Germany that will power a bus. Credit: Electreon 

A stretch of Germany’s famed Autobahn will juice up electric vehicles with underground wireless charging.

In-road wireless charging could make it feasible to build cars with smaller batteries, reduce charging downtime, and eliminate range anxiety, all of which could drive adoption of electric cars.

Israeli charging company Electreon, in partnership with Germany's EnBW, will install 1 kilometer of its electric road system on a strip of the Autobahn in the city of Balingen. A copper coil is run below the asphalt. When an electric vehicle with the right receiver drives over, it will wirelessly charge its battery via induction charging (much the way a charging pad works for a smartphone). In the project it will be used to charge an electric public bus, said Andreas Wendt, CEO of Electreon Germany GmbH.

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