Renewable Energy’s Climb to the Top: Five Major Types of Renewable Energy & Their Potential Impact

The Renewable Energy Age

Awareness around climate change is shaping the future of the global economy in several ways.

Governments are planning how to reduce emissions, investors are scrutinizing companies’ environmental performance, and consumers are becoming conscious of their carbon footprints. But no matter the stakeholder, energy generation and consumption from fossil fuels is one of the biggest contributors to emissions.

Therefore, renewable energy sources have never been more top-of-mind than they are today.

The Five Types of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy technologies harness the power of the sun, wind, and heat from the Earth’s core, and then transforms it into usable forms of energy like heat, electricity, and fuel.

The above infographic uses data from LazardEmber, and other sources to outline everything you need to know about the five key types of renewable energy:Energy Source% of 2021 Global Electricity GenerationAvg. levelized cost of energy per MWhHydro 💧 15.3%$64Wind 🌬 6.6%$38Solar ☀️ 3.7%$36Biomass 🌱 2.3%$114Geothermal ♨️ <1%$75

Editor’s note: We have excluded nuclear from the mix here, because although it is often defined as a sustainable energy source, it is not technically renewable (i.e. there are finite amounts of uranium).

Though often out of the limelight, hydro is the largest renewable electricity source, followed by wind and then solar.

Together, the five main sources combined for roughly 28% of global electricity generation in 2021, with wind and solar collectively breakingthe 10% share barrier for the first time.

The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) measures the lifetime costs of a new utility-scale plant divided by total electricity generation. The LCOE of solar and wind is almost one-fifth that of coal ($167/MWh), meaning that new solar and wind plants are now much cheaper to build and operate than new coal plants over a longer time horizon.

With this in mind, here’s a closer look at the five types of renewable energy and how they work.

1. Wind

Wind turbines use large rotor blades, mounted at tall heights on both land and sea, to capture the kinetic energy created by wind.

When wind flows across the blade, the air pressure on one side of the blade decreases, pulling it down with a force described as the lift. The difference in air pressure across the two sides causes the blades to rotate, spinning the rotor.

The rotor is connected to a turbine generator, which spins to convert the wind’s kinetic energy into electricity

2. Solar (Photovoltaic)

Solar technologies capture light or electromagnetic radiation from the sun and convert it into electricity.

Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells contain a semiconductor wafer, positive on one side and negative on the other, forming an electric field. When light hits the cell, the semiconductor absorbs the sunlight and transfers the energy in the form of electrons. These electrons are captured by the electric field in the form of an electric current.

A solar system’s ability to generate electricity depends on the semiconductor material, along with environmental conditions like heat, dirt, and shade.

3. Geothermal

Geothermal energy originates straight from the Earth’s core—heat from the core boils underground reservoirs of water, known as geothermal resources.

Geothermal plants typically use wells to pump hot water from geothermal resources and convert it into steam for a turbine generator. The extracted water and steam can then be reinjected, making it a renewable energy source.

4. Hydropower

Similar to wind turbines, hydropower plants channel the kinetic energy from flowing water into electricity by using a turbine generator.

Hydro plants are typically situated near bodies of water and use diversion structures like dams to change the flow of water. Power generation depends on the volume and change in elevation or head of the flowing water.

Greater water volumes and higher heads produce more energy and electricity, and vice versa.

5. Biomass

Humans have likely used energy from biomass or bioenergy for heat ever since our ancestors learned how to build fires.

Biomass—organic material like wood, dry leaves, and agricultural waste—is typically burned but considered renewable because it can be regrown or replenished. Burning biomass in a boiler produces high-pressure steam, which rotates a turbine generator to produce electricity.

Biomass is also converted into liquid or gaseous fuels for transportation. However, emissions from biomass vary with the material combusted and are often higher than other clean sources.

When Will Renewable Energy Take Over?

Despite the recent growth of renewables, fossil fuels still dominate the global energy mix.

Most countries are in the early stages of the energy transition, and only a handful get significant portions of their electricity from clean sources. However, the ongoing decade might see even more growth than recent record-breaking years.

The IEA forecasts that, by 2026, global renewable electricity capacity is set to grow by 60% from 2020 levels to over 4,800 gigawatts—equal to the current power output of fossil fuels and nuclear combined. So, regardless of when renewables will take over, it’s clear that the global energy economy will continue changing.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Discovers New Nanostructures – Brookhaven Center for Functional Nanomaterials

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have successfully demonstrated that autonomous methods can discover new materials.

The artificial intelligence (AI)-driven technique led to the discovery of three new nanostructures, including a first-of-its-kind nanoscale “ladder.” The research was published today in Science Advances.

The newly discovered structures were formed by a process called self-assembly, in which a material’s molecules organize themselves into unique patterns. Scientists at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) are experts at directing the self-assembly process, creating templates for materials to form desirable arrangements for applications in microelectronics, catalysis, and more. Their discovery of the nanoscale ladder and other new structures further widens the scope of self-assembly’s applications.

“Self-assembly can be used as a technique for nanopatterning, which is a driver for advances in microelectronics and computer hardware,” said CFN scientist and co-author Gregory Doerk. “These technologies are always pushing for higher resolution using smaller nanopatterns. You can get really small and tightly controlled features from self-assembling materials, but they do not necessarily obey the kind of rules that we lay out for circuits, for example. By directing self-assembly using a template, we can form patterns that are more useful.”

Staff scientists at CFN, which is a DOE Office of Science User Facility, aim to build a library of self-assembled nanopattern types to broaden their applications. In previous studies, they demonstrated that new types of patterns are made possible by blending two self-assembling materials together.

“The fact that we can now create a ladder structure, which no one has ever dreamed of before, is amazing,” said CFN group leader and co-author Kevin Yager. “Traditional self-assembly can only form relatively simple structures like cylinders, sheets, and spheres. But by blending two materials together and using just the right chemical grating, we’ve found that entirely new structures are possible.”

Blending self-assembling materials together has enabled CFN scientists to uncover unique structures, but it has also created new challenges. With many more parameters to control in the self-assembly process, finding the right combination of parameters to create new and useful structures is a battle against time. To accelerate their research, CFN scientists leveraged a new AI capability: autonomous experimentation.

In collaboration with the Center for Advanced Mathematics for Energy Research Applications (CAMERA) at DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Brookhaven scientists at CFN and the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), another DOE Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven Lab, have been developing an AI framework that can autonomously define and perform all the steps of an experiment. CAMERA’s gpCAM algorithm drives the framework’s autonomous decision-making. The latest research is the team’s first successful demonstration of the algorithm’s ability to discover new materials.

“gpCAM is a flexible algorithm and software for autonomous experimentation,” said Berkeley Lab scientist and co-author Marcus Noack. “It was used particularly ingeniously in this study to autonomously explore different features of the model.”

“With help from our colleagues at Berkeley Lab, we had this software and methodology ready to go, and now we’ve successfully used it to discover new materials,” Yager said. “We’ve now learned enough about autonomous science that we can take a materials problem and convert it into an autonomous problem pretty easily.”

To accelerate materials discovery using their new algorithm, the team first developed a complex sample with a spectrum of properties for analysis. Researchers fabricated the sample using the CFN nanofabrication facility and carried out the self-assembly in the CFN material synthesis facility.

“An old school way of doing material science is to synthesize a sample, measure it, learn from it, and then go back and make a different sample and keep iterating that process,” Yager said. “Instead, we made a sample that has a gradient of every parameter we’re interested in. That single sample is thus a vast collection of many distinct material structures.”

Then, the team brought the sample to NSLS-II, which generates ultrabright X-rays for studying the structure of materials. CFN operates three experimental stations in partnership with NSLS-II, one of which was used in this study, the Soft Matter Interfaces (SMI) beamline.

“One of the SMI beamline’s strengths is its ability to focus the X-ray beam on the sample down to microns,” said NSLS-II scientist and co-author Masa Fukuto. “By analyzing how these microbeam X-rays get scattered by the material, we learn about the material’s local structure at the illuminated spot. Measurements at many different spots can then reveal how the local structure varies across the gradient sample. In this work, we let the AI algorithm pick, on the fly, which spot to measure next to maximize the value of each measurement.”

As the sample was measured at the SMI beamline, the algorithm, without human intervention, created of model of the material’s numerous and diverse set of structures. The model updated itself with each subsequent X-ray measurement, making every measurement more insightful and accurate.

In a matter of hours, the algorithm had identified three key areas in the complex sample for the CFN researchers to study more closely. They used the CFN electron microscopy facility to image those key areas in exquisite detail, uncovering the rails and rungs of a nanoscale ladder, among other novel features.

From start to finish, the experiment ran about six hours. The researchers estimate they would have needed about a month to make this discovery using traditional methods.

Calvin: “Sometimes I think the surest sign that Intelligent Life exists elsewhere in the Universe is that so far …. None of it has tried to contact us!”

“Autonomous methods can tremendously accelerate discovery,” Yager said. “It’s essentially ‘tightening’ the usual discovery loop of science, so that we cycle between hypotheses and measurements more quickly. Beyond just speed, however, autonomous methods increase the scope of what we can study, meaning we can tackle more challenging science problems.”

“Moving forward, we want to investigate the complex interplay among multiple parameters. We conducted simulations using the CFN computer cluster that verified our experimental results, but they also suggested how other parameters, such as film thickness, can also play an important role,” Doerk said.

The team is actively applying their autonomous research method to even more challenging material discovery problems in self-assembly, as well as other classes of materials. Autonomous discovery methods are adaptable and can be applied to nearly any research problem.

“We are now deploying these methods to the broad community of users who come to CFN and NSLS-II to conduct experiments,” Yager said. “Anyone can work with us to accelerate the exploration of their materials research. We foresee this empowering a host of new discoveries in the coming years, including in national priority areas like clean energy and microelectronics.”

Source Nano Mag

DNA Nanotechnology Tools: From Design to Applications: Current Opportunities and Collaborations – Wyss Institute – Harvard University

Suite of DNA nanotechnology devices engineered to overcome specific bottlenecks in the development of new therapies, diagnostics, and understanding of molecular structures

Lead Inventors

William Shih Wesley Wong


  • DNA as building blocks
  • Broad applications
  • Low cost with big potential
DNA Nanotechnology Tools: From Design to Applications

DNA nanostructures with their potential for cell and tissue permeability, biocompatibility, and high programmability at the nanoscale level are promising candidates as new types of drug delivery vehicles, highly specific diagnostic devices, and tools to decipher how biomolecules dynamically change their shapes, and interact with each other and with candidate drugs. Wyss Institute researchers are providing a suite of diverse, multifunctional DNA nanotechnological tools with unique capabilities and potential for a broad range of clinical and biomedical research areas.

DNA nanotechnological devices for therapeutic drug delivery

DNA nanostructures have future potential to be widely used to transport and present a variety of biologically active molecules such as drugs and immune-enhancing antigens and adjuvants to target cells and tissues in the human body.

DNA origami as high-precision delivery components of cancer vaccines

The Wyss Institute has developed cancer vaccines to improve immunotherapies. These approaches use implantable or injectable biomaterial-based scaffolds that present tumor-specific antigens, and biomolecules that attract dendritic immune cells (DCs) into the scaffold, and activate them so that after their release they can orchestrate anti-tumor T cell responses against tumors carrying the same antigens. To be activated most effectively, DCs likely need to experience tumor antigens and immune-boosting CpG adjuvant molecules at particular ratios (stoichiometries) and configurations that register with the density and distribution of receptor molecules on their cell surface.

Specifically developed DNA origami, programmed to assemble into rigid square-lattice blocks that co-present tumor antigens and adjuvants to DCs within biomaterial scaffolds with nanoscale precision have the potential to boost the efficacy of therapeutic cancer vaccines, and can be further functionalized with anti-cancer drugs.

Chemical modification strategy to protect drug-delivering DNA nanostructures

DNA nanostructures such as self-assembling DNA origami are promising vehicles for the delivery of drugs and diagnostics. They can be flexibly functionalized with small molecule and protein drugs, as well as features that facilitate their delivery to specific target cells and tissues. However, their potential is hampered by their limited stability in the body’s tissues and blood. To help fulfill the extraordinary promise of DNA nanostructures, Wyss researchers developed an easy, effective and scalable chemical cross-linking approach that can provide DNA nanostructures with the stability they need as effective vehicles for drugs and diagnostics.

In two simple cost-effective steps, the Wyss’ approach first uses a small-molecule, unobtrusive neutralizing agent, PEG-oligolysine, that carries multiple positive charges, to cover DNA origami structures. In contrast to commonly used Mg2+ions that each neutralize only two negative changes in DNA structures, PEG-oligolysine covers multiple negative charges at one, thus forming a stable “electrostatic net,” which increases the stability of DNA nanostructures about 400-fold. Then, by applying a chemical cross-linking reagent known as glutaraldehyde, additional stabilizing bonds are introduced into the electrostatic net, which increases the stability of DNA nanostructures by another 250-fold, extending their half-life into a range that is compatible with a broad range of clinical applications.

DNA nanotechnological devices as ultrasensitive diagnostic and analytical tools

The generation of detectable DNA nanostructures in response to a disease or pathogen-specific nucleic acids, in principle, offers a means for highly effective biomarker detection in diverse samples. A single molecule binding event of a synthetic oligonucleotide to a target nucleic acid can nucleate the creation of much larger structures by the cooperative assembly of smaller synthetic DNA units like DNA tiles or bricks into larger structures that then can be visualized in simple laboratory assays. However, a central obstacle to these approaches is the occurrence of (1) non-specific binding and (2) non-specific nucleation events in the absence of a specific target nucleic acid which can lead to false-positive results. Wyss DNA nanotechnologists have developed two separately applicable but combinable solutions for these problems.

Digital counting of biomarker molecules with DNA nanoswitch catenanes

To enable the initial detection (binding) of biomarkers with ultra-high sensitivity and specificity, Wyss researchers have developed a type of DNA nanoswitch that, designed as a larger catenane (Latin catenameaning chain), is assembled from mechanically interlocked ring-shaped substructures with specific functionalities that together enable the detection and counting of single biomarker molecules. In the “DNA Nanoswitch Catenane” structure, both ends of a longer synthetic DNA strand are linked to two antibody fragments that each specifically bind different parts of the same biomarker molecule of interest, thus allowing for high target specificity and sensitivity.

This bridging-event causes the strand to close into a “host ring,” which it is interlocked at different regions with different “guest rings.” Closing of the host ring switches the guest rings into a configuration that allows the synthesis of a new DNA strand. The newly synthesized diagnostic strand then can be unambiguously detected as a single digital molecule count, while disrupting the antibody fragment/biomarker complex starts a new biomarker counting cycle. Both, the target binding specificity and the synthesis of a target-specific DNA strand also enable the combination of multiple DNA nanoswitch catenanes to simultaneously count different biomarker molecules in a single multiplexed reaction.

For ultrasensitive diagnostics, it is desirable to have the fastest amplification and the lowest rate of spurious nucleation. DNA nanotechnology approaches have the potential to deliver this in an enzyme-free, low-cost manner.


A rapid amplification platform for diverse biomarkers

A rapid, low-cost and enzyme-free detection and amplification platform avoids non-specific nucleation and amplification and allows the self-assembly of much larger micron-scale structures from a single seed in just minutes. The method, called “Crisscross Nanoseed Detection” enables the ultra-cooperative assembly of ribbons starting from a single biomarker binding event. The micron-scale structures are densely woven from single-stranded “DNA slats,” whereby an inbound slat snakes over and under six or more previously captured slats on a growing ribbon end in a “crisscross” manner, forming weak but highly-specific interactions with its interacting DNA slats. The nucleation of the assembly process is strictly target-seed specific and the assembly can be carried out in a one-step reaction in about 15 minutes without the addition of further reagents, and over a broad range of temperatures. Using standard laboratory equipment, the assembled structures then can be rapidly visualized or otherwise detected, for example, using high-throughput fluorescence plate reader assays.



Crisscross Nanoseed Detection: Nanotechnology-Powered Infectious Disease Diagnostics

Enzyme-free DNA nanotechnology for rapid, ultrasensitive, and low-cost detection of infectious disease biomarkers with broad accessibility in point-of-care settings.

The DNA assembly process in the Crisscross Nanoseed Detection method can also be linked to the action of DNA nanoswitch catenanes that highly specifically detect a biomarker molecule leading to preservation of a molecular record. Each surviving record can nucleate the assembly of a crisscross nanostructure, combining high-specificity binding with amplification for biomarker detection.

Wyss researchers are currently developing the approach as a multiplexable low-cost diagnostic for the COVID-19 causing SARS-CoV-2 virus and other pathogens that could give accurate results faster and at lower costs than currently used techniques.

Nanoscale devices for determining the structure and identity of proteins at the single-molecule level

The ability to identify and quantify proteins from trace biological samples would have a profound impact on both basic research and clinical practice, from monitoring changes in protein expression within individual cells, to enabling the discovery of new biomarkers of disease. Furthermore, the ability to also determine their structures and interactions would open up new avenues for drug discovery and characterization. Over the past decades, developments in DNA analysis and sequencing have unquestionably revolutionized medicine – yet equivalent developments for protein analysis have remained a challenge. While methods such as mass spectrometry for protein identification, and cryoEM for structure determination have rapidly advanced, challenges remain regarding resolution and the ability to work with trace heterogeneous samples.

To help meet this challenge, researchers at the Wyss Institute have developed a new approach that combines DNA nanotechnology with single-molecule manipulation to enable the structural identification and analysis of proteins and other macromolecules. “DNA Nanoswitch Calipers” (DNCs) offer a high-resolution approach to “fingerprint proteins” by measuring distances and determining geometries within single proteins in solution. DNCs are nanodevices designed to measure distances between DNA handles that have been attached to target molecules of interest. DNC states can be actuated and read out using single-molecule force spectroscopy, enabling multiple absolute distance measurements to be made on each single-molecule.

DNCs could be widely adapted to advance research in different areas, including structural biology, proteomics, diagnostics and drug discovery.

All technologies are in development and available for industry collaborations.

Nanoplastics unexpectedly produce reactive oxidizing species when exposed to light

Plastics are ubiquitous in our society, found in packaging and bottles as well as making up more than 18% of solid waste in landfills. Many of these plastics also make their way into the oceans, where they take up to hundreds of years to break down into pieces that can harm wildlife and the aquatic ecosystem.

A team of researchers, led by Young-Shin Jun, Professor of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, analyzed how light breaks down polystyrene, a nonbiodegradable plastic from which packing peanuts, DVD cases and disposable utensils are made. In addition, they found that nanoplastic particles can play active roles in environmental systems. In particular, when exposed to light, the nanoplastics derived from polystyrene unexpectedly facilitated the oxidation of aqueous manganese ions and the formation of manganese oxide solids that can affect the fate and transport of organic contaminants in natural and engineering water systems.

The research, published in ACS Nanoon Dec. 27, 2022, showed how the photochemical reaction of nanoplastics through light absorption generates peroxyl and superoxide radicals on nanoplastic surfaces, and initiates oxidation of manganese into manganese oxide solids.

“As more plastic debris accumulates in the natural environment, there are increasing concerns about its adverse effects,” said Jun, who leads the Environmental Nanochemistry Laboratory. “However, in most cases, we have been concerned about the roles of the physical presence of nanoplastics rather than their active roles as reactants. We found that such small plastic particles that can more easily interact with neighboring substances, such as heavy metals and organic contaminants, and can be more reactive than we previously thought.”

Jun and her former student, Zhenwei Gao, who earned a doctorate in environmental engineering at WashU in 2022 and is now a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago, experimentally demonstrated that the different surface functional groups on polystyrene nanoplastics affected manganese oxidation rates by influencing the generation of the highly reactive radicals, peroxyl and superoxide radicals. The production of these reactive oxygen species from nanoplastics can endanger marine life and human health and potentially affects the mobility of the nanoplastics in the environment via redox reactions, which in turn might negatively impact their environmental remediation.

The team also looked at the size effects of polystyrene nanoplastics on manganese oxidation, using 30 nanometer, 100 nanometer and 500 nanometer particles. The two larger-sized nanoparticles took longer to oxidize manganese than the smaller particles. Eventually, the nanoplastics will be surrounded by newly formed manganese oxide fibers, which can make them easily aggregated and can change their reactivities and transport.

“The smaller particle size of the polystyrene nanoplastics may more easily decompose and release organic matter because of their larger surface area,” Jun said. “This dissolved organic matter may quickly produce reactive oxygen species in light and facilitate manganese oxidation.” 

“This experimental work also provides useful insights into the heterogeneous nucleation and growth of manganese oxide solids on such organic substrates, which benefits our understanding of manganese oxide occurrences in the environment and engineered materials syntheses,” Jun said. “These manganese solids are excellent scavengers of redox-active species and heavy metals, further affecting geochemical element redox cycling, carbon mineralization and biological metabolisms in nature.”

Jun’s team plans to study the breakdown of diverse common plastic sources that can release nanoplastics and reactive oxidizing species and to investigate their active roles in the oxidation of transition and heavy metal ions in the future.null

More information: Zhenwei Gao et al, Oxidative Roles of Polystyrene-Based Nanoplastics in Inducing Manganese Oxide Formation under Light Illumination, ACS Nano (2022). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.2c05803

Journal information: ACS Nano 

Provided by Washington University in St. Louis