Renewable Breakthroughs Fuel Hope for Greener Planet


In recent weeks, natural disasters such as hurricanes and the California wildfires have wrought a path of destruction across the United States. Without investment in renewable technology that can help combat climate change, events such as these are likely to get worse.

As discussed in a previous post, the COVID-19 pandemic impacts the renewable industry in a variety of ways. For example, the pandemic has led to an increase in solar panel energy production. Because more people are working from home and driving less, some regions are experiencing a reduction in air pollution. This has improved solar panel efficiency. 

However, these effects are expected to be temporary as traffic is likely to increase again eventually. It’s also important to note that as oil prices sink, plastics are becoming cheaper to manufacture than recycle, which could cause a surge in harmful plastic waste. Thankfully, engineers are working hard to develop renewable technologies that may help reduce damage to the environment.

Breakthrough in Plastic-Eating “Super Enzymes”

A recent discovery may finally allow humanity to solve its plastic waste problem. A study published in the September edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) revealed that plastic-eating bacteria dubbed “super-enzymes” can now degrade plastic six times faster than tested in 2018. Researchers are working to further speed up the rate of degradation with hopes to ready enzymes for commercial use within two years.

“When we linked the enzymes, rather unexpectedly, we got a dramatic increase in activity,“ Professor John McGeehan, University of Portsmouth, UK, told The Guardian. “This is a trajectory towards trying to make faster enzymes that are more industrially relevant. But it’s also one of those stories about learning from nature, and then bringing it into the lab.”

The bacteria was first discovered in 2016 at a Japanese waste site after researchers combed through hundreds of samples in order to find a species that evolved to break down polyethylene terephthalate, a common plastic, into an energy source.

New Solar Technology Can Improve Hydrogen Fuel Production Efficiency

Another groundbreaking innovation can efficiently convert solar energy into hydrogen fuel, according to a recent report from IEEE Spectrum. The solar technology transforms water and sunlight into energy that can be stored in fuel cells for use in electric grids, fuel-cell powered vehicles, and industrial systems.

The research team, which includes scientists from Italy and Israel, published their findings in the journal NanoEnergy and Chemistry Europe. The researchers say the technology is almost viable, and it represents a breakthrough in what’s known as “artificial photosynthesis.”

“We [start with] a semiconductor that’s very similar to what we have in solar panels,”  Lilac Amirav, associate professor of chemistry at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, told IEEE Spectrum.

In solar panels, solar cells transform sunlight into electrons that can be used for electricity. The researchers discovered that the reaction could also use sunlight to strip hydrogen from water molecules. However, this process was not without obstacles. Because the molecules quickly come back together as soon as hydrogen is separated from oxygen, the scientists needed to figure out how to keep the molecules apart. To solve this, they used minuscule, rod-shaped nanoparticles tipped with platinum spheres, which extract as much hydrogen and excess energy as possible. 

While this process separated the molecules, it created a new dilemma. The freed oxygen became a wasted byproduct that also took energy away from the reaction. To prevent this energy loss, the scientists had to figure out how to capture it. They added a new reaction in which the nanorod catalyst uses the freed oxygen to convert the organic molecule benzylamine into the chemical benzylamine. Because benzylamine has a number of industrial uses such as in flavoring extracts, dyes, and perfumes, this technique eliminates waste from the process, making the technology efficient and cost-effective.

The researchers hope their innovation will someday be used to create “solar factories” where “solar collectors” splice water into hydrogen fuel for storage. 

Connecting Distributed Energy Resources

Leveraging distributed energy resources (DERs) and microgrids can help countries reach their green energy goals in addition to renewable breakthroughs.

Introduction to IEEE Std 1547-2018: Connecting Distributed Energy Resources is a course program that focuses on IEEE Standard 1547-2018™. This standard provides technical specifications for interconnection and interoperability between utility electric power systems (EPSs) and distributed energy resources. It also provides requirements relevant to the performance, operation, testing, safety considerations, and maintenance of the interconnection.

Contact an IEEE Content Specialist today to learn more about getting access to these courses for your organization.

Do you want to learn more about IEEE Standard 1547 for yourself? Visit the IEEE Learning Network.


Carrington, Damian. (28 September 2020). New super-enzyme eats plastic bottles six times faster. The Guardian. 

Adyel, Tanveer M. (11 September 2020). Accumulation of plastic waste during COVID-19. Science.

Anderson, Mark. (1 September 2020). Solar Closing in on “Practical” Hydrogen Production. IEEE Spectrum.


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