Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Simple Elegant Design - Unplug

Sometimes I need a reminder to unplug appliances so they don’t suck energy. Even while turned off my DVD player draws 12 watts! My inkjet printer is even worse.

The wall cleat above is a great way to keep cords organized and ready and out of the way so it is even easier to unplug things.

Design by Karl Zahn,

Via: NotCot

Suggested ways to reduce “Phantom Loads”: Treehugger


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bio Based Jet Fuel

Solena Group, a Washington, D.C.-based company is developing a commercial scale bio-jet fuel production plant in Gilroy California.

Solena is in the permitting and design phase of the project, which should begin operation in 2011. When fully operational it will produce syngas generated from municipal, agricultural and forestry waste provided by Norcal Waste Systems Inc., one of California’s largest municipal waste and biomass collectors.

The process of converting biomass into jet fuel is accomplished by feeding biomass, including agricultural, forestry and municipal waste, into a 5,000-degrees Celsius gasification reactor powered by plasma heating system, producing Bio-SynGas. The product is cooled and cleaned and then funneled into gas-to-liquid equipment that converts it into clean diesel and jet fuel. The technology used was developed in Germany in 1923. It converts the carbon monoxide and hydrogen into a wide arrange of hydrocarbons including diesel, methane, and heavy waxes.

More at: BioMass Magazine


Monday, April 28, 2008

Solar thermal power in North-Africa: how much land to power the world?


Solar Thermal Power photo

Spiegel Online published a series of pictures titled "Desertec: Strom aus der Wüste" (translation: Desertech: Electricity from the desert). It includes this image of how much land would be needed to power the world, Europe or Germany with solar-thermal power. The idea is similar to a post we did a year ago: How Much Land to Power The Whole World with Solar?

The red square on the left is for the whole world, in the middle for Europe-25, and on the right for Germany. Below you can see pictures of the kind of technology they're talking about. It's a bit similar to Ausra's solar-thermal power system, but with curved mirrors. We're mentioning Ausra here, because they claim they're able to produce electricity from solar even at night (by storing some of the heat).

Solar Thermal Power photo

Of course, the transport of all the electricity to where it would be used is a serious challenge. There are ways to minimize losses, but over such long distances, there will always be some.

Solar Thermal Power photo

Solar Thermal Power photo

Still, even with losses and the massive challenge of building the infrastructure, this shows the potential of solar power. And the red squares in the first picture are just to show the scale, the real thing could be much more decentralized and located closer to already existing infrastructure (and not all of it would be in North-Africa, of course. There are many sunny deserts in North-America, f.ex.).

Solar Thermal Power photo

Solar Thermal Power photo

Solar Thermal Power photo

Lets not kid ourselves and claim that the red squares are small, but with the price of solar power falling (both photovoltaics (PV) and solar-thermal), it is starting to look more realistic all the time. We have so much roof surface where PV could be used, and there are many deserts where using lots of land for solar-thermal isn't a problem.

Solar Thermal Power photo

Solar Thermal Power photo

Solar Thermal Power photo


Of course, we won't get there all at once. But looking at how prices are falling and production capacity is increasing, we definitely think that solar power has a bright future!

::Desertec: Strom aus der Wüste (German), via ::reddit


Monday, April 21, 2008

The UK's First Hydrogen Fueling Station Opens


Last week saw the opening of the first hydrogen fuelling station in England. The station is based at Birmingham University, where experiments are being carried out to test the viability of hydrogen in transport applications, as part of Birmingham�s �Science City� hydrogen energy project.

Researchers will compare five hydrogen-powered vehicles with the university�s own fleet of petrol, diesel, and electric vehicles to learn more about efficiency and performance. The main aim is to work out exactly how the vehicles might need to be adapted to enable the cost-effective use of hydrogen vehicles in the future.

The Series-100 station has been specially designed by Air-Products, a Pennsylvania-based hydrogen producer and supplier. The fueller is made up of an integrated compression, hydrogen storage, and dispensing system, optimised to fuel up to six vehicles per day. Crucially, the system is portable, making it a perfect choice for start-up stations.

Looking ahead, the research team hope that the results of the project will encourage greater government support, particularly of the financial kind, and help kick-start the wider application of a hydrogen-fuelling infrastructure across the UK.

Via Autoindustry

See BBC video footage of the opening here


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Vertical (diagonal?) farm from Work AC in NYC



Welcome Digg and Reddit users!

We love vertical farms and while they may not be as practical as green roofs, the idea of food being grown right in the city doesn't get any more local than this. New York magazine asked four architects to dream up proposals for a lot on Canal Street and Work AC came up with this. “We thought we’d bring the farm back to the city and stretch it vertically,” says Work AC co-principal Dan Wood. “We are interested in urban farming and the notion of trying to make our cities more sustainable by cutting the miles [food travels],” adds his co-principal (and wife) Amale Andraos. Underneath is what appears to be a farmers market, selling what grows above. Artists would be commissioned to design the columns that hold it up and define the space under: “We show a Brancusi, but it could be anyone,” says Wood. ::New York Magazine

Keep reading for more vertical farms covered in Treehugger.


It is a "Center for Urban Agriculture," a building, located on a .72-acre site, that includes fields for growing vegetables and grains, greenhouses, rooftop gardens and even a chicken farm." Mithun Architects' Vertical Farm for Seattle


We present Gordon Graff's Sky Farm proposed for downtown Toronto's theatre district. It's got 58 floors, 2.7 million square feet of floor area and 8 million square feet of growing area. It can produce as much as a thousand acre farm, feeding 35 thousand people per year and providing tomatoes to throw at the latest dud at the Princess of Wales Theatre to the east, and olives for the Club District to the north. ::Sky Farm Proposed for Downtown Toronto


"Cities already have the density and infrastructure needed to support vertical farms, and super-green skyscrapers could supply not just food but energy, creating a truly self-sustaining environment." Imagine an urban highrise CSA where we just walk across the street from our highrise to the next to pick our dinner. ::Futurama Farming in New York

"Robots tend crops that grow on floating platforms around a sea city of the future. Water from the ocean would evaporate, rise to the base of the platforms (leaving the salt behind), and feed the crops.":: Wayback Machine 1984: The Future of Agriculture


Daekwon Park designed this prefab system: "Clipping onto the exterior of existing buildings, a series of prefabricated modules serving different functions would be stacked on top of each other, adding a layer of green space for gardening, wind turbines or social uses to make new green façades and infrastructures." ::Retrofitting our Skyscrapers For Food and Power


::Weburbanist has great coverage of Pierre Sartoux of Atelier SOA's vertical farm."r. A light-shading skin wraps around the structure and opens to admit sunlight at particular locations for various functional (and aesthetic) purposes. The building’s air, heating and cooling systems are wind-driven and circulate oxygen and carbon dioxide between growing and living spaces. The simple but reinforced structure is designed to handle additional dead loads from the weight of growing floors and also serve to make the entire building more durable (and thus sustainable)." ""Urban Design Proposals for 3D City Farms: Sustainable, Ecological and Agricultural Skyscrapers

TreeHugger Background on ::Vertical Farming – The Future of Agriculture? Mike wrote: I'm more excited about this concept as a way to help us stop the use of pesticides, herbicides, oil-based fertilizers, and to give a break to a lot of land that we have been stressing for decades than as an extra food source. Another advantage: the food would grow quite a bit closer to the consumers, something that will become more important as oil prices keep rising and transportation on long distances becomes a luxury (no more kiwis from New-Zealand in Canada during the winter).


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Could Chemical Solar Power Beat Photovoltaics?


Could a vat of chemicals be a more effective way to harness the sun's energy than those fancy, intricately crafted silicon wafers? We're not sure, but Professor Chaurasia of the University of Birmingham, UK, was telling me about that possibility earlier in the month.

He's developing a unique process in which propanol is dehydrogenated using a catalyst and clean, solar energy. The hydrogen then generates electricity - courtesy of a Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell. The byproduct of dehydrogenated propanol -- acetone -- and the protons (H+) and electrons (e-) then all recombine to form more propanol, which is then ready to start the project all over again.

Very simply, it's a way of harnessing the instability of propanol to push electrons onto the grid. It's not a new way of creating hydrogen, it's a new way of harnessing the sun's power using the versatility of hydrogen, and the instability of propanol. Indeed, it's pretty genius.

But the question of economics remains. Current solar cells are getting cheaper and more efficient every day. And though Chaurasia thinks that his chemical cells could be competitive, that will depend on several factors. The propanol is cheap, PEM fuel cells and titanium catalysts are not, so we will have to wait for these "solar fuel cells" to scale up before making any real judgments.

Chaurasia's most recent paper was published in the International Journal of Sustainble Energy.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Solar balloons: SunHope renewable energy


Joseph Cory, Cory Solar Balloons, Geotectura Solar Balloons, Geotectura, SunHopes, SunHope solar balloons, solar balloons, Israeli architect, Technion, Pini Gurfil, photovoltaic, renewable energy, remote energy, solar concept,

What could be more refreshing than casting off your carbon shackles with a bunch of solar balloons? Our favorite environmental architect visionary, Joseph Cory, of Geotectura has seized this dream with an award winning way to take solar energy to the skies. He’s teamed up with Technion aerospace engineer Dr. Pini Gurfil to develop an an array of helium filled platforms constructed from a new fabric coated with photovoltaic solar cells. Dubbed Sunhope, the project is showing great promise as a low-cost deployable system that would harness solar energy while maintaining a minuscule environmental footprint.

Joseph Cory, Cory Solar Balloons, Geotectura Solar Balloons, Geotectura, SunHopes, SunHope solar balloons, solar balloons, Israeli architect, Technion, Pini Gurfil, photovoltaic, renewable energy, remote energy, solar concept,

Some of solar energy’s biggest milestones are its daunting barriers to entry: traditional systems require high initial investments, large land requirements, and an in-depth installation process. The Sunhope project seeks to circumvent all of these factors by constructing low-cost photovoltaic arrays designed for vertical clearance rather than horizontal sprawl.

These solar balloons are as low-impact as power plants get, since their infrastructure is composed entirely of a control panel, a helium supply cable, and a power cable. Residential possibilities abound, as Cory and Gurfil estimate that one or two balloons would fulfill the electrical needs for one home, and they have suggested that multiple balloons can be linked together to power apartments and communities.

Joseph Cory, Cory Solar Balloons, Geotectura Solar Balloons, Geotectura, SunHopes, SunHope solar balloons, solar balloons, Israeli architect, Technion, Pini Gurfil, photovoltaic, renewable energy, remote energy, solar concept,

The design is also ideal for a multitude of off-the-grid applications, with the potential to bring power to deserts, isolated islands, ocean-bound freighters, and heavily forested landscapes. Additionally, the balloons’ eminently deployable nature makes them perfect for disaster and emergency situations, since the balloons are quick to set up and can be delivered via air.

Cory and Gurfil have constructed several prototypes and have conducted research to show that a 10 ft balloon could provide around a kilowatt of energy (equivalent to 25 square meters of solar panels). Their target cost is $4,000 per balloon, compared to the $10,000 it would cost for a solar field producing the same amount of energy. The balloons will last about a year without needing maintenance, and Cory and Gurfil are working hard to make the balloons as wind resistant as possible by experimenting with size and structure.

We’ve covered solar balloons in the past, but we were thoroughly impressed by SunHope’s low cost, high mobilization potential, and site-specific versatility.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

BioDiesel Tree - BioFuel Without Chemical Processing

Farmers in Australia are planting trees that produce bio-diesel. Over 20,000 trees have been sold so far in tropical parts of Australia.

The Copaifera langsdorfii or “Diesel Tree” produces an oil that can be extracted in a manner similar to tapping a Maple tree. It can then be filtered and used as bio-diesel without any further processing.

A mature tree produces 15 – 20 liters of fuel every six months, or around 12,000 liters of fuel per hectare per year.

The Copaifera langsdorfii are thirsty, they need a lot of water to grow, so they are ideally suited for areas with tropical temperatures and high rainfall.

More info at Treehugger, Purdue University,


BrightSource to build 500 megawatts of solar-thermal power in Mojave desert


Mojave desert solar thermal

The press release (pdf) is dated April 1st, but this is no joke. Because of California law, PG&E needs to get 20% of its electricity from renewable sources (not including big hydro) by 2010, so it has contracted with Brightsource Energy for 3 new solar-thermal power plants in the Mojave desert, one of the best spots for solar power in the world.

"Solar thermal energy is an especially attractive renewable power source because it is available when needed most in California – during the peak mid-day summer period," said Fong Wan, vice president of energy procurement at PG&E. These first three plants will add up to 500 megawatts of capacity, but PG&E has also signed contracts for options on an additional 400 megawatts, which could bring the total to 900 megawatts.

Mojave desert solar thermal power

The first of these solar power plants, sized at 100 MW in Ivanpah, California, could be operating as early as 2011 and is expected to produce 246,000 megawatt hours of renewable electricity per year. BrightSource will build and place in commercial operation each of its plants as quickly as permitting and infrastructure allow.

The next two power plants will be 200 megawatts each.

For more on the subject, see ::Solar Thermal Power: Not Forgotten

::Official Bightsource Energy Press release (pdf), ::PG&E backs 3 solar plants in the Mojave