Probing hydrogen catalyst assembly, part II

Biochemical reactions sometimes have to handle dangerous things in a safe way. New work from researchers at UC Davis and Stanford University shows how cyanide and carbon monoxide are safely bound to an iron atom to construct an enzyme that can generate hydrogen gas. The work is published Jan. 24 in the journal Science.

Producing hydrogen with catalysts based on abundant metals, such as iron, is key to hopes of using hydrogen to replace carbon-based fuels. But before you can make hydrogen, you have to make the catalyst that enables the reaction –something bacteria have been able to do for millennia.

Review of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard shows shifts in fuel use

The latest progress report on California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) shows a small increase in use of alternative transportation fuels, which include biofuels and electricity. Among alternative fuels, the report finds a decrease in ethanol made from corn and an increase in biodiesel made from waste materials.

“Status Review of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, January 2014 Issue” finds that in 2013 the LCFS played a stronger role in incentivizing the use of biofuels from a variety of sources, including corn oil, canola, and biodiesel and renewable diesel from waste. It also finds slight increases in the use of electricity for transportation under the program, and that fuel suppliers in the program have generated excess credits.

Under pressure: new insights in superconductors

Recent work on a superconducting material first discovered at UC Davis is helping reveal the behavior of “unconventional” superconductors, and that physical pressure has a different type of effect on these materials than chemical doping.

The material, cerium cobalt indium-5 or CeCoIn5, belongs to the class of “unconventional” superconductors, said Nicholas Curro, a physics professor at UC Davis and coauthor on the work. CeCoIn5 was initially discovered in the laboratory of Professor Zachary Fisk when he was a faculty member at UC Davis; Fisk is now at UC Irvine.

A new look at heat transfer: Entransy

Is there a different way to think about heat transfer? For about 150 years, scientists and engineers have used the concept of entropy to understand transfer of heat into mechanical work or between materials systems. Now a UC Davis professor and colleagues in China are putting forward an alternative, at least for some applications.

“To me, entropy is just a tool,” said Ning Pan, a materials scientist and professor of textiles and clothing, and biological engineering at UC Davis. “It does not work well in all cases, for example in understanding heating and cooling of materials.”

Chemistry Nobel for molecular dynamics

Completing this year’s science Nobels, the prize for chemistry goes to Martin Karplus, University of Strasbourg and Harvard University; Michael Levitt, Stanford University; and Arieh Warshel, University of Southern California, “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.”

The three scientists pioneered a method called molecular dynamics, where Newton’s Laws of motion are solved in time steps for an ensemble of many atoms, said William Casey, professor of chemistry at UC Davis.

“This method is now very wide spread and geochemists employ it a lot,” he said.

Physics Nobel for Higgs boson: How UC Davis contributed

The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to theorists Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh, U.K. and Francois Englert of the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium, for developing the theory of what is now known as the Higgs field, which gives elementary particles mass.

UC Davis scientists are among the many others who have played a significant role in advancing the theory and in discovering the particle that proves the existence of the Higgs field, the Higgs boson.

Do you mind if I plug in my car? The etiquette of going electric

As children, we learn to wait in line, take our turn and share. As adults, we usually try to live by these basic rules. For today’s plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) drivers, however, the rules and norms for mundane chores such as recharging the car are not yet clear.

Plugging in a car is a new behavior that occurs in a new social setting. Forget the gas station: PEV owners depend on home chargers and away-from-home charging stations to fuel their cars. At home, who plugs in the car and when are easily decided. But away from home, UC Davis researchers say, PEV drivers are unsure of the rules and want charging guidelines that everyone understands and uses in order to feel confident and comfortable.

“Transformational” energy grant at UC Davis Chemistry

Engineering E. coli bacteria to turn ethylene into liquid fuel is the aim of a UC Davis project just funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), part of the U.S. Department of Energy.

The project is led by Shota Atsumi, assistant professor of chemistry at UC Davis, along with colleagues Justin Siegel and Michael Toney. The grant is for $1.5 million over three years.

Congressman John Garamendi congratulated the researchers on receiving the grant.

Power-saving startup Ennetix graduates from engineering technology incubator

(Contributed by Paul Dorn)

Ennetix, a startup firm based on research conducted at UC Davis, has graduated from the university’s tech incubator, the Engineering Translational Technology Center (ETTC). Ennetix is the second firm to exit the ETTC, following the May 2012 launch of Dysonics, an audio technology company that received $750,000 in private investment after less than a year of ETTC residency.

Founded by UC Davis engineering distinguished professor Biswanath Mukherjee, Ennetix commercializes university research on network topology optimization and adaptation. Ennetix, formerly named Putah Green Systems, currently offers a software application called “EnergyPlus,” which optimizes energy use in IT networks and connected systems.

Synchrotron gives insight into green energy enzymes

UC Davis chemists have been using a Japanese synchrotron to get a detailed look at enzymes that could help power the green economy. The work was published online Nov. 8 by the journal Angewandte Chemie and is featured on the cover of the Nov. 26 issue.

One option for powering clean, environment friendly vehicles is to run them on hydrogen fuel rather than carbon-based fuels. Cheap catalysts to prepare hydrogen gas (H2) are key to this future “hydrogen economy.”