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Highlights of major physics conference in Washington, D.C.
Date:2/13/2010

here. A new technique could allow the industrial sector to convert this greenhouse gas into useful commercial products using sunlight.

Stuart Licht, a chemist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., uses solar-generated electrical currents to split apart molecules of carbon dioxide. The process, called Solar Thermal Electrochemical Photo (STEP), produces oxygen and carbon monoxide, a gas needed to make commercial methanol.

Using electrical currents to split molecules apart isn't a new idea. Hydrogen fuel, for example, can be made by running a current through water to split it into hydrogen and oxygen. But Licht improves this process, called electrolysis, by adding heat from the sun. When sunshine strikes a solar panel, only a fraction of it generates electricity. The rest radiates away as waste heat. STEP harnesses this thermal energy to heat up a reaction, improving its efficiency by lowering the amount of electrical energy needed to split bonds.

The technique boosts the efficiency of hydrogen production from 18 to 30 percent; the energy R&D company Lynntech is applying this process to generate hydrogen for fuel cells. In the laboratory, Licht has converted concentrated carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide at 50 percent efficiency. (Talk G10.1, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR10/Event/115102).

9) NEW JAPANESE EXPERIMENTS IN ASTROPHYSICS

For all the massive stars, galaxies, nebulae, and other visible objects in the universe, there is much more matter we cannot see. When compared to all the visible material in the universe, this mysterious "dark matter" accounts for about 5-6 times more mass, and numerous astrophysical experiments seek to detect it directly or indirectly. One direct approach involves using liquified noble gasses like Xenon to detect the light given off when a dark matter particle interacts with a Xenon nucleus.

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Contact: Jason Bardi
jbardi@aip.org
301-209-3091
American Institute of Physics
Source:Eurekalert

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