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Four articles you need to check out on the future of energy research

By Colm Gorey, Frontiers science communications manager


From drones to using ‘poison nut’ as biofuel, the world of energy research is undergoing immense change. Now, Frontiers highlights some of the energy research articles we have published recently.

As the world attempts to deal with the huge impact the climate crisis is having on our planet, scientists are devoting great efforts to developing cutting-edge energy research. While renewables such as wind, solar, and wave dominate the conversations among environmental groups and governments, new technologies in the field of nuclear energy have the potential to be true game changers.

Last year, researchers in the US paved the way for abundant, cheap, and clean nuclear fusion energy after achieving the milestone of releasing more energy than was put into a reactor. However, this is but one small area of focus in an otherwise fascinating field of science.

Now, Frontiers highlights four recent article published as part of the research topic ‘Horizons in Energy Research’ that could help contribute to many similar breakthroughs in the years to come.

Comprehensive Review on Electric Propulsion System of Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles

Drones have come a long way since their early days as a luxury gadget to take incredible videos on holiday. Now ‘uncrewed aerial vehicles’ – as they are otherwise called – are also used by militaries to wage war or emergency rescue teams to locate someone stranded in hard-to-reach locations.

Writing in Frontiers in Energy Research, scientists based in India and Qatar recently published a review charting the development of electric propulsion in drones some of the challenges that arises from its use.

They found that electric propulsion systems can increase drone performance, indicating some future scope in this field. Furthermore, the propulsion system’s electric motor can be designed for high power density and efficiency.

Machine learning and deep learning algorithms have recently gained tremendous popularity in various drone-related applications such as battery scheduling. However, low recharge cycles and low energy density in batteries limit the flying time of UAVs.

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Toward a Fundamental Understanding of the Role of Lignin in the Biorefinery Process

Due to the depletion of fossil fuels, environmental, and energy security concerns, alternative renewable energy from biomass has attracted intensive attention worldwide with cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin being their three main components.

Cellulose and hemicellulose can be hydrolyzed to glucose or xylose which can be subsequently fermented by yeast or bacteria to yield various types of liquid fuel (eg ethanol and butanol). Lignin, a polymer comprised of cross-linked phenylpropane units, contributes to several biomass features, including hydrophobicity, structural rigidity, and microbial resistance to plant cell walls.

However, it has been found that lignin adversely impacts enzymatic hydrolysis, resulting in an increased dose of cellulases, which accounts for almost half of bioethanol cost.

Writing in Frontiers in Energy Research, scientists in the US and China provide a comprehensive review of how lignin is transformed during various pre-treatment methods as well as how these changes impact the cellulases inhibition.

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Current Progress of Jatropha Curcas Commoditization as Biodiesel Feedstock: A Comprehensive Review

An article published to Frontiers in Energy Research discussed the potential for using microorganisms to produce sustainable biofuels. Researchers have found such microorganisms can convert organic matter, such as agricultural waste or municipal solid waste, into biofuels such as methane and hydrogen. This process, called anaerobic digestion, can be more efficient than traditional biofuel production methods and can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from waste. Jatropha curcas, a plant that produces oil-rich seeds and sometimes referred to as ‘poison nut’, has also been studied as a potential source of biofuel. However, there are still challenges to be overcome, such as scaling up production and optimizing the process. Overall the researchers said that using microorganisms for biofuel production, including Jatropha-based biofuels, has the potential to provide a more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy source.

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Short-Lived Interfaces in Energy Materials

Energy storage is pivotal for a swift implementation of a renewable energy economy, but still awaits a technically and economically feasible large scale solution. Writing in Frontiers in Energy Research, researchers in Switzerland reviewed data from existing energy storage technologies along three parameters: hydrogen on or in titanium, water in aqueous sodium hydroxide, and water in an electrode.

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