Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Solar-powered cargo ship will leave a cleaner plume


The race to go green has taken to the high seas with two Japanese companies saying they will begin work on the world's first ship to have propulsion engines partially powered by solar energy.

Japan's biggest shipping line Nippon Yusen KK and Nippon Oil Corp said solar panels capable of generating 40 kilowatts of electricity each would be placed on top of a 60,000-tonne car carrier to be used by Toyota Motor Corp.

Toyota also recently announced that it would install "symbolic" solar panels on its Prius cars.

The solar panels would help conserve up to 6.5% of the fuel used in powering the diesel engines that generate electricity aboard the ships.

The ship system is expected to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1 to 2%, or about 20 tonnes per year, said Hideyuki Dohi, general manager at Nippon Oil's energy system development department.

Nippon Yusen will invest about 150 million yen ($1.4 million) in the solar panel system to be designed by Nippon Oil.

Solar panels capable of generating several kilowatts of electricity have been used on large vessels before, but their use has been limited to power for the crew's living quarters. Solar panels for an average home usually generate 3.5 kW of electricity.

Damage to the panels from salt and vibration are hurdles that remain to be overcome. The ship is scheduled to be completed in December.

"If it's possible, we want to aim for the full commercialisation of the system in the next three to five years," said Nippon Oil executive vice president Ikutoshi Matsumura.


Why wind turbines can mean death for bats


Power-generating wind turbines have long been recognized as a potentially life-threatening hazard for birds. But at most wind facilities, bats actually die in much greater numbers. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology, a Cell Press journal, on August 26th think they know why.

Ninety percent of the bats they examined after death showed signs of internal hemorrhaging consistent with trauma from the sudden drop in air pressure (a condition known as barotrauma) at turbine blades. Only about half of the bats showed any evidence of direct contact with the blades.

"Because bats can detect objects with echolocation, they seldom collide with man-made structures," said Erin Baerwald of the University of Calgary in Canada. "An atmospheric-pressure drop at wind-turbine blades is an undetectable—and potentially unforeseeable—hazard for bats, thus partially explaining the large number of bat fatalities at these specific structures.

"Given that bats are more susceptible to barotrauma than birds, and that bat fatalities at wind turbines far outnumber bird fatalities at most sites, wildlife fatalities at wind turbines are now a bat issue, not a bird issue."

The respiratory systems of bats and birds differ in important ways, in terms of both their structure and their function. Bats' lungs, like those of other mammals, are balloon-like, with two-way airflow ending in thin flexible sacs surrounded by capillaries, the researchers explained. When outside pressure drops, those sacs can over-expand, bursting the capillaries around them. Bird lungs, on the other hand, are more rigid and tube-like, with one-way circular airflow passing over and around capillaries. That rigid system can more easily withstand sudden drops in air pressure.

The majority of bats killed at wind turbines are migratory bats that roost in trees, including hoary bats, eastern red bats, and silver-haired bats. While little is known about their population sizes, the researchers said, those deaths could have far-reaching consequences.

Bats typically live for many years, in some cases reaching ages of 30 or more. Most also have just one or two pups at a time, and not necessarily every year. "Slow reproductive rates can limit a population's ability to recover from crashes and thereby increase the risk of endangerment or extinction," said Robert Barclay, also at the University of Calgary, noting that migrating animals tend to be more vulnerable as it is.

All three species of migratory bats killed by wind turbines fly at night, eating thousands of insects�including many crop pests�per day as they go. Therefore, bat losses in one area could have very real effects on ecosystems miles away, along the bats' migration routes.

Baerwald said there is no obvious way to reduce the pressure drop at wind turbines without severely limiting their use. Because bats are more active when wind speeds are low, one strategy may be to increase the speed at which turbine blades begin to rotate during the bats' fall migration period.

The researchers include Erin F. Baerwald, Genevieve H. D'Amours, Brandon J. Klug and Robert M.R. Barclay of the University of Calgary in Calgary, AB Canada.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

MIT researchers print tiny battery using viruses


Using nanorobots to build circuits is so last year’s fantasy. The latest technology of tomorrow uses viruses to construct everything from transistors to tiny batteries to solar cells. Researchers at MIT published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week describing how they’ve successfully created tiny batteries, just four- to eight-millionths of a meter in diameter, using specially designed viruses. The hope is that these tiny batteries — which could be used in embedded medical sensors — and eventually other electronics, could be printed easily and cheaply onto surfaces and woven into fabrics.

Viruses are very orderly little critters and in high concentrations organize themselves into patterns, without high heat, toxic solvents or expensive equipment. By tweaking their DNA, the viruses, called M13, can be programmed to bind to inorganic materials, like metals and semiconductors. So far, the researchers have been able to use viruses to assemble the anode and electrolyte, two of the three main components of a battery. Eventually the work could also be used to make tiny electronics made up of silicon-covered viruses. Gross and cool.

“It’s not really analogous to anything that’s done now,” lead researcher Angela Belcher told MIT Technology Review late last year when describing her work. “It’s about giving totally new kinds of functionalities to fibers.”

The idea of thread-like electronics has gotten the interest of the Army, which has been funding Belcher’s research through the Army Research Office Institute of Collaborative Biotechnologies and the Army Research Office Institute of Soldier Nanotechnologies. Theoretically, these fibers could be woven into soldiers’ uniforms allowing clothing to sense biological or chemical agents as well as collect and store energy from the sun to power any number of devices.

The team still has to create a cathode for the battery, but so far, so good; the researchers note that when a platinum cathode is attached, “the resulting electrode arrays exhibit full electrochemical functionality.” Belcher has also successfully created fibers that glow under UV light, tiny cobalt oxide wires and has even developed viruses that bind to gold. We’re still waiting to see some viral bling.


Australian Student Invents Cheap Solar Using Nail Polish and a Pizza Oven [Solar]

Australian Student Invents Cheap Solar Using Nail Polish and a Pizza Oven [Solar]

An Australian PhD student has found a cheap way to make solar cells with nail polish, a pizza oven and an ink jet printer. 23-year-old Nicole Kuepper's invention, named iJET, doesn't require the pricey clean rooms and high-temperature ovens of traditional solar panel manufacturing plants, thus dramatically lowering the cost of solar and paving the road for introducing the technology to third-world countries.

Kuepper was awarded two Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, the country's top science award, for iJET. Unfortunately, it seems like the only page that would explain how iJET works is down right now, but Kuepper said it would probably take five years to commercialize the technology and it'll help people in less developed nations to "read at night, keep informed about the world through radio and television and refrigerate life-saving vaccines" without all those nasty CO2 emissions. [The Australian via Treehugger]


Friday, August 22, 2008



The Windspire is a low cost, attractive, plug-n-produce wind power appliance that provides a safe and attractive method for harnessing power from the wind. At only 30 feet tall and 2 feet in radius, Windspire is distinguished by its sleek propeller-free design, ultra quiet operation, rugged construction, and affordable pricing. Designed for operation where we live and work, it sells for $4,995 and comes complete with a high efficiency generator, integrated inverter, hinged monopole, and wireless performance monitor.

The Windspire has been tested by Windward Engineering, a first rate wind power engineering firm, so their data is real and their claims, based on data, are not too exaggerated.

With a 12 mph average wind the Windspire should generate 2000 kilowatt hours of electricity. At $.10 per kilowatt, this is about $200.00 worth of power. The windspire won’t be replacing coal fired power plants any time soon.

Neverless, I am impressed with the Windspire. Compared with some “new and improved” wind companies (check here, and here) Windspire is a beautiful design and their complete plug and play package is an impressive step forward for small scale wind generation.

Check Out: Windspire


Hydrogen Made From Ethanol With 90% Efficiency Using Inexpensive Catalyst


A few weeks ago MIT announced that one of its researchers had made a major breakthrough in the production of hydrogen at room temperature using a cobalt and phosphorus catalyst.

Now comes word that researchers at Ohio State University have made another interesting discovery: A new way to produce hydrogen from biofuels using an inexpensive catalyst. It's not exactly at room temperature—the process runs at 660 degrees Fahrenheit (350°C)—but the cerium oxide catalyst costs about $9 a kilogram and makes hydrogen from ethanol with 90% efficiency.

How Does it Work?
According to OSU the process works like this:

The process starts with a liquid biofuel such as ethanol, which is heated and pumped into a reactor, where the catalyst spurs a series of chemical reactions that ultimately convert the liquid to a hydrogen-rich gas.

At the end of the process, waste gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane are removed, and the hydrogen is purified. To make the process more energy-efficient, heat exchangers capture waste heat and put that energy back into the reactor. Methane recovered in the process can be used to supply part of the energy.

Distributed Production for Hydrogen
Umit Ozkan, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at OSU believes that this research offers a solution to the nagging problem of transporting hydrogen as well. She believes that by using this method a distributed production strategy could develop.

Instead of making hydrogen from biofuel at a centralized facility and transporting it to gas stations, we could use our catalyst inside reactors that are actually located at the gas stations. So we wouldn't have to transport or store the hydrogen—we could store the biofuel and make hydrogen on the spot.

Though ethanol has been the only biofuel used in this process so far, Ozkan's team is investigating how to apply this process to other liquid biofuels as well.

:: Ohio State University


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Negating the Noise from Wind Turbines


Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU in Dresden have figured out a way to quiet down the whiney whirring of wind turbines by neutralizing vibrations coming from the central tower of the turbine. They've come up with a device that can be mounted to an existing turbine, which senses the vibrations and produces an "anti-sound" vibration, effectively pressing against the sound vibration to cancel it out.

The device could help out with getting more wind turbines into neighborhoods where the chief complaint of noise keeps turbines away. It would be inexpensive compared to other sound dampeners, which are more expensive the better they work, and none of which would work as well as this promising device. While the damper could adjust itself to varying vibration levels, testing is underway to see how the device holds up to higher speed winds.

via physorg; photo via chimothy


Microorganisms That Convert Hydrocarbons To Natural Gas Isolated


When a group of University of Oklahoma researchers began studying the environmental fate of spilt petroleum, a problem that has plagued the energy industry for decades, they did not expect to eventually isolate a community of microorganisms capable of converting hydrocarbons into natural gas.

The researchers found that the groundbreaking process—known as anaerobic hydrocarbon metabolism—can be used to stimulate methane gas production from older, more mature oil reservoirs like those in Oklahoma. The work has now led to the recognition that similar microorganisms may also be involved in problems ranging from the deterioration of fuels to the corrosion of pipelines.

A new OU initiative led by Joseph Suflita, Director of the Institute for Energy and Environment within the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, brings together researchers from multiple disciplines and departments to attack the corrosion problems affecting pipelines, storage tanks and tankers as well as the deterioration of fuels inside such facilities. Suflita says, "The OU initiative is the only major U.S. initiative of its kind devoted to the problem of biodeterioration and biocorrosion."

Biodeterioration and biocorrosion are fundamental microbiological processes that can cause pipelines, storage facilities and tankers to leak and contaminate the environment. "First, we have to understand how Mother Nature cleans up these spills and we can do this by studying the way microorganisms interact with hydrocarbons," says Suflita. OU researchers have isolated some interesting organisms that metabolize hydrocarbons in the absence of oxygen—insight that was lacking for a long time.

OU researchers have extended their studies to how energy is produced in this country by investigating biocorrosion that leads to pipeline failures on the North Slope of Alaska. "We want to better understand how organisms eat through these pipelines. Several fundamental mechanisms cause this problem, but it is spotty and doesn't occur all of a sudden. Rather, biocorrosion occurs over a long period of time, and we are using a series of new molecular and chemical tools to find out why and how this happens," says Suflita.

"We think cells grow in communities that adhere to the inner surface of pipelines and form three-dimensional biofilms that can sometimes cause pitting. Once we understand what these microorganisms are doing, we can interrupt their processes or diagnose them more effectively. The science is rudimentary at this stage. The modern tools of molecular microbiology have not been applied yet, but a National Science Foundation grant, support from the DOE's Joint Genome Institute and the cooperation of the energy industry, allowed us to study pipeline biocorrosion on the North Slope."

Interruptions in energy supply are significant and cause price spikes that have global impact. Over 500,000 miles of pipeline that crisscross the United States carry over 75 percent of crude oil and 65 percent of refined product. Problems occur throughout the industry, in storage facilities, refineries and tankers, and have similar consequences. Microorganisms grow inside the pipelines because water often accompanies hydrocarbons pumped from the ground. As reservoirs age, more water is pumped creating an even greater problem.

"For many years, no one ever thought anaerobes could grow by metabolizing hydrocarbons in the absence of oxygen, but that is simply wrong. The organisms are actually quite good at it. The underlying mechanisms will be even more important as we introduce newer biofuels to augment our fossil fuel supply. We are putting new fuel combinations into the existing pipelines that service the entire country. The new biofuels can be less stable, so there is a different problem to deal with. The chemistry of biofuels may not allow us to store them as long and more research is needed to determine the stability, compatability and composition of such fuel mixtures."

While biocorrosion and biodeterioration can be problematic, anaerobic hydrocarbon metabolism also has an upside. The OU researchers found that they can use their organisms to convert hydrocarbons in oil reservoirs to natural gas. "Because two-thirds of U.S. oil is still in place, we can use these organisms to convert residual hydrocarbons into natural gas and create a new source of domestic energy. The concept of anaerobic metabolism is an innovative process and the OU initiative is the only one of its kind in the United States at the present time. We are also experimenting with shales and other unconventional reservoirs."

"Biotechnology can influence recovery and address some of today's problems if we can understand how microorganisms degrade hydrocarbons in the absence of oxygen. OU is one of the top universities in the world to study anaerobic microbiology with 14 experts performing research in some aspect of this field. It is rare for universities to have even a single individual with this specialization. OU is an exciting place to be if you are an environmental microbiologist. This initiative has unified this group of experts and led to the groundbreaking research we have just begun to understand."

"We know that bacterial cells communicate much like those that cause disease. If we know the language they use, we can send signals and interrupt their communications so they will change their behavior. The best way to treat the biocorrosion problem has not yet been determined. Active ongoing monitoring of pipelines tells us there is an ongoing process, but we need to get to the problem before it gets to the critical stage. Some and perhaps most microorganisms are not routinely monitored, so we have to understand the role they play in this process—information we can use to more effectively diagnose and treat the consequences."


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Student Develops Cheap Power Turbine For Developing Nations [Green Power]

Student Develops Cheap Power Turbine For Developing Nations [Green Power]

It's one thing to tinker in your garage to restore that old gas-guzzling muscle car that you think will get you some action. It's something entirely different to invent an electricity-generating wind turbine out of scrap parts that could revolutionize personal power in developing nations, especially if you're in college. Max Robinson has done just that, designing a turbine out of spare parts that costs less than $40 to build out of readily available parts and can power a home's lighting for up to two and a half days or a radio for over a day. No word on how long an OLPC would last. [Daily Mail]


A new type of low-energy transpo system to be tested in Japan


Eco_Ride.jpgMany of you might know that trains are a major means of transportation in Japan. This train-like new type of transportation system however, isn't a train at all, but rather a roller coaster-like system which is low on energy consumption. Called the Eco Ride, it's a lightweight urban transpo system which test line would be constructed in Chiba Prefecture, Japan starting October, 2008.

According to Nikkei, Eco Ride resembles a roller coaster in that the railway features installed drive units at various points that pull the cars up to provide the needed energy. Eco Ride, which has a capacity of 2,000 to 2,500 passengers per hour and an average speed of 20-30km/h, uses an energy value of 226.8kJ per passenger-km which is reportedly half of that used by trains and a third of that used by buses. Aside from having the capacity to save energy though, construction could cost only US$18.2-22.7 million, which is 1/10th of the average costs for a small subway system.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bioplastics recycling consortium wants to reuse every last bit of plastic


Composting Bottle Photo
Image source: WildGreenYonder

With "need" (how to ensure all of those alternative plastics - corn, soy, sugarcane- are reused, now that regular plastic is poo-poo'd), comes a "market." The Bioplastics Recycling Consortium was created to "develop an effective, efficient and economical recovery system and end markets for post-consumer bioplastic material."

Bioplastics are the alternatives to petroleum-based plastics, and are commonly made from corn, soy, sugar cane, or maize, and are thought to be a better source than petroleum-based plastic because they biodegrade - or at least can break down within a year under the right conditions. The Freedonia Group estimates that the demand for bioplastics will increase 20% every year through 2010, with film, bottles and food service products being the largest markets.

In order to do this though they will need a labeling system so that consumers can identify one plastic water bottle from a bioplastic one. Next, they are going to need a cost effective way to get this bioplastic to the appropriate recyclers so that they can turn it into its next use. With the increased demand and production of bioplastics they will have a source, but until the infrastructure is in place, it looks like the consortium has their work cut out for them.

There are additional downsides to this increase in bioplastics, the first being that using corn, soy, maize and sugar cane, etc for packaging is increasing food shortage problems in certain parts of the world. The second is that there are concerns over increased methane emissions from the breakdown of these plastics during recycling. Corn can't be recycled with traditional plastic because the polylactic acid present in the corn-plastic will ruin the petroleum-plastic waste stream.

Makers of bioplastics include Novamont, Primo, which makes bottled-water from corn-based plastic, Wheatware and Natureworks. Novamont and Natureworks both report that production of bioplastics is less energy intensive than producing petroleum-based plastic products.

The Consortium is made up of representatives such as brand owners, recyclers, retailers, NGO's and academia. With this wide range in view points, they also get a complete view of the entire waste stream, so that the bioplastics can be recovered and turned into something that is useful for another use, indefinitely, in theory offering a truly sustainable product.


Two mammoth solar plants to generate 800 megawatts in California

Two mammoth solar plants to generate 800 megawatts in California

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It's one thing to see competition unnecessarily push more and more megapixels into palm-sized cameras, but this game of leapfrog is one we can actually get behind. A pair of giant solar plants will soon be installed in San Luis Obispo County in California, covering 12.5 square miles and promising to generate around 800 megawatts of power. OptiSolar will be responsible for laying enough panels to generate 550 megawatts, while SunPower -- the same company associated with the 14 megawatt installation at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada (pictured) -- will provide the other 250. The energy will eventually be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric, though any sort of pricing arrangements are strictly under wraps for now. C'mon Nevada, you gonna let the Golden State do you like that?

[Via Slashdot]
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Monday, August 18, 2008

1000 Megawatts of run-of-river hydro on tap for British Columbia


bute inlet british columbia photo
photo by Alistair Howard

When most people think of hydro-electric power they probably think of large dam projects such as China’s Three Gorges Dam, India’s dams on the Narmada River , or closer to home (at least to my home) the Hoover Dam. Perhaps needless to say, big hydro-electric projects like this can generate a great deal of power, but there are significant environmental trade offs.

A Less Intrusive Way to Develop Hydro-Electric Power
A less environmentally intrusive way to develop hydro power is known as run-of-river hydro—skip down if you’re unfamiliar with how this works—and more of this is just what’s being planned for British Columbia. Plutonic Power and GE Financial Services have signed a memorandum of understanding that will have the two developing 1000 MW of run-of-rive hydro-electric capacity.

At a total cost of approximately USD 4-billion, the Upper Toba Valley Project will consist of of three sites totaling 120 MW, while the Bute Inlet Project will consist of 18 sites for 900 MW of capacity.

GE will contribute $70 million for a 50% stake in the Upper Toba Valley Project; $650 million for a 60% interest in the Bute Inlet Project.

Both projects are being submitted for BC Hydro’s Clean Power Call, which is part of British Columbia’s greater goal of having at least 90% of the province’s electricity come from clean or renewable sources by 2016.

run-of-river hydro diagram image
image: Plutonic Power Corp.

So How Does Run-of-River Work?
Plutonic Power describes run-of-river hydro as well as anyone:

Unlike traditional hydroelectric facilities, which flood large areas of land, run-of-river projects do not require any damming of water. Instead, some of the water is diverted from a river, and sent into a pipe called a penstock. The penstock feeds the water downhill to a generating station. The natural force of gravity creates the energy required to spin the turbines that in turn generate electricity. The water leaves the generating station and is returned to the river without altering the existing flow or water levels.

Plutonic Power's run-of-river projects have been located on streams with natural waterfalls that act as barriers for fish, thus greatly minimizing negative impacts on fish and wildlife habitat.

via :: :: Renewable Energy World


WPI turning roads into solar collectors


Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute have just done a batch of research that they hope will help turn the world's roads into cheap collectors of solar power.

They started with the assumption that asphalt gets frakking hot when the sun shines on it, and then started making some serious leaps.

First, they decided to figure out what part of the asphalt gets hottest, which turns out to be about two centimeters below the surface. Then they tried to figure out how to make it even hotter. The painted an anti-reflective coating to their test blocks, and then added highly thermally conductive quartzite to the mix.

The result is blacktop that gets even hotter and stays hotter for longer than regular asphalt. Of course, this left them with the problem of how to get the energy out of the road. By laying down a series of flexible and highly conductive copper pipes before pouring the asphalt they were able to pump water through the asphalt, picking up the heat, for use in power generation.

However, project leaders hoped to replace the copper pipes with a "highly efficient heat exchanger." Whether or not that would be water based, or exchange heat some other way, we don't know.

The system has several large advantages over traditional photovoltaic power.

  1. It's really cheap
  2. They don't need to find extra land
  3. It's invisible to the average person
  4. Blacktop stays hot, and could produce power for hours after the sun goes down
  5. There are roads and parking lots everywhere power is needed.

There are already a examples of similar technology in use around the world, but modifying the chemistry of the asphalt specifically to make it a good solar collector is a new move.



Synfuels converts natural gas to gasoline to cash


The World Bank estimates that some 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas are flared at oil fields annually, adding 400 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere — just because it’s cheaper to burn it than transport it. But Synfuels, a startup with a new chemical process, thinks it can convert natural gas into gasoline efficiently, allowing companies to economically tap the natural gas they usually burn off. Cheaply converting the gaseous fuel into a liquid one could allow oil companies to use existing pipelines to move the fuel to market. Already, wealthy, oil-rich investors are interested; Synfuels got $28.5 million from Kuwaiti AREF Energy Holding Co., Technology Review reports.

The idea isn’t new — the Fischer-Tropsch process has been used widely for decades to convert coal and methane into syngas and fuel. And earlier this month Rentech said it had started producing an “ultra clean synthetic fuel,” from natural gas (coal will also be a feedstock) at a demonstration unit in Colorado using an advanced version of fischer tropsch. But Synfuel says it can do it better and cheaper than competitors.

Where the Fischer-Tropsch process can make a barrel of gasoline for about $35, Synfuels claims it can produce the same barrel for $25. The secret is a very efficient process that first “cracks” the natural gas into acetylene which is later converted into ethylene using a proprietary catalyst at an efficiency rate of 98 percent, the company claims.

Founded in 1999, Synfuels licenses its technology from Texas A&M University and has been fine tuning its process at a $50 million test facility in Texas since 2005. But the startup tells Technology Review’s Tyler Hamilton that it’s close to signing a deal for its first commercial plant, potentially near Kuwait City. The company estimates there are nearly 15,000 gas fields outside North America that could be served by plants using its process.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Moisture Vaporators Spotted In Buenos Aires [Moisture Vaporators]

Moisture Vaporators Spotted In Buenos Aires [Moisture Vaporators]

The Buenos Aires government would have done the late Owen Lars proud with their newly installed $5 million Intelligent Monitoring Towers. Designed to collect information about the city's air and noise quality, we can easily see these 42 towers being at home collecting moisture on a dusty planet in a certain binary star system far, far away. The towers measure cobalt, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide, benzene and humidity (just like on Tatooine!).

When the program is fully functional by the end of 2008, city officials expect to have a complete map of the environmental quality of the city. They'll use that info to influence bus routes and improve overall quality of life for citizens. No word yet on whether that will require any power converters from Tosche Station. [Treehugger]


EnergyHub minds your electricity, saves you cash

EnergyHub minds your electricity, saves you cash

Filed under:

We've seen electricity-monitoring / controlling devices similar to the EnergyHub before, but few have provided such a handsome interface or modular, expandable options. The device uses a touchscreen control panel (familiarly referred to as a "dashboard") to help gauge and adjust energy levels for satellite outlets that it communicates with. The data will be accessible and adjustable online, and users will also be able to compare their stats with other eco-tweakers or neighbors. The company claims the devices could reduce energy costs by 20 percent for homes that employ the system. There's no word on a release date or pricing, but we'll keep you abreast of any exciting developments.

[Via Inhabitat]
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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New "nanoantenna" material sucks heat from any source to cool devices, generates electricity

New "nanoantenna" material sucks heat from any source to cool devices, generates electricity

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We're always up for another way to harvest energy from the sun, but this new nanoantenna material developed by the DoE's Idaho National Laboratory makes solar panels seem a little passe. The material, composed of tiny gold antennas set in polyethylene plastic is tuned to gather 80 percent of energy from infrared rays in its production version, and can gather energy from the sun, earth, or even your PC's warmth. The antennas can be tuned to different parts of the infrared spectrum, and the thin material can be sandwiched together to cover the full desired range. Unfortunately, the resulting current generated alternates at rates too high to be converted to DC with current technology -- new manufacturing processes will needed -- but once that problem is solved, nanoantennas should easily best solar cells in efficiency and production costs.

[Via DailyTech]
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Revolutionary nanoantenna skin to provide next gen PC cooling, solar cells


New technology could one day cool PC components and recharge consumer electronics, collecting energy even at night

Imagine your iPod or Blackberry has lost its charge. Now imagine taking it out of your pocket and laying it on your desk in you cubicle for a few minutes. After soaking up the light for a few minutes, the phone powers back to life with enough juice to make a call. No, it wouldn't be by magic, rather this is the scenario envisioned by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory who have developed a unique kind of flexible solar cell.

The new cells consist of massive arrays of nanoantennas, which can collect energy from light and other sources. The INL team discovered a way to mass produce these arrays on flexible sheets of plastic. The only crucial problem remaining unresolved is developing additional components to harvest the collected energy by transforming it to electricity.

At the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2008 2nd International Conference on Energy Sustainability, engineers from the INL presented their findings and revealed their visions of the tech which they hope will one day cover cars and consumer electronics in replenishing skins. The skins could also act as cooling devices by drawing away waste heat, according to the researchers.

The nanoantennas absorb a targeted wavelength range of mid-infrared rays. The Earth continuously emits these rays thanks to the solar energy that it absorbs during the day. This would allow for continuous solar panel operation, in theory. Traditional panels can only absorb visible light and thus are idle at night.

The INL physicist who led the team, Steven Novack, describes, "Every process in our industrial world creates waste heat. It's energy that we just throw away."

Mr. Novack worked with INL engineer Dale Kotter, W. Dennis Slafer of MicroContinuum, Inc. and Patrick Pinhero, now at the University of Missouri to design the nanoantennas -- tiny gold squares or spirals set on polyethylene, a plastic commonly found in plastic bags. The effort marks perhaps the first successful effort to capture infrared rays with nanoantennas. Past efforts have been able to harvest other lower-frequency wavelengths but have fallen short with high-frequency wavelengths like IR. This is due in part to the fact that materials' properties change at high frequencies.

Gold was selected after testing it, manganese and copper's reactions to IR rays. After careful computer design, an antenna which could collect 92 percent of the energy from infrared rays was achieved in theoretical simulations.

Next, the researchers moved to making a prototype, etching silicon wafers with the antenna pattern. A just slightly less efficient prototype was produced that harvest 80 percent of the energy. Finally a stamp-and-repeat method was used to emboss thousands of the antennas on thin sheets of plastic. The plastic skin produced is currently undergoing efficiency testing, but is expected to perform similarly to the first prototype.

As heat typically is emitted as IR rays from many objects, the antennas could cool objects by collecting these rays and reemitting them at a harmless wavelength. This could be used on a large scale, or on a smaller scale for computer component cooling.

A major obstacle remains in that though the device already produces alternating current, it alternates at a rate of trillions of times per second, far to fast for modern rectifiers to convert to DC current. Further, the current smallest rectifier would need to be shrunk to a thousandth of its size to fit next to the nanoantenna. This would require new manufacturing techniques. An alternative might be to develop nanodevices to slow down the alternating current to more manageable levels.

The light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, should these problems be overcome, is the production of much cheaper and more efficient solar cells. Current cells only have an efficiency of around 20 percent, due to the inherent inefficiency of the chemical reactions used to harvest visible light. More exotic cell materials have promised higher efficiencies, but they remain too expensive and difficult to utilize.

Nanoantennas on the other hand can harvest rays much more efficiently. Further, they can be formed in multiple layers, with each layer tuned to a different part of the spectrum based on the antenna design. Mr. Novack imagines manufacturers to eventually be producing "several yards per minute" of the material.

The program is a part of the U.S. Department of Energy's ongoing alternative energy investments


Mitsubishi to test i MiEV electric car in California


Mitsubishi i MiEV Electric Car photo

Fleet Testing of the i MiEV Electric Car in the US
After announcing that its i MiEV electric car would be sold globally and would come to market in Japan 1 year ahead of schedule, Mitsubishi is now announcing that it will partner with two utilities in California to do fleet testing.

Southern California Edison
With Southern California Edison (SCE), Mitsubishi wants to "gauge how electric vehicles will most effectively connect to the smart grid of the future and the next generation Edison SmartConnect advanced meters." SCE might have been chosen because of its EV Technical Center, a department within the company that helps test prototypes of electric cars, but also plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles.

Mitsubishi i MiEV Electric Car photo

Pacific Gas & Electric
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) will also be part of the fleet test. It will:

gauge the viability of utilizing all-electric vehicles in its operations and further understand the impact of charging electric vehicles on the electric grid. The testing will provide PG&E and Mitsubishi Motors with vehicle usage data, which will be used to publicly demonstrate and validate the benefits of dedicated electric vehicles within the California market. (Source)

Tests should start around the end of 2008.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Clinton Foundation mulls world's largest solar project in Gujarat


US-based foundation to set up Rs 20,000-crore Integrated SolarCity.

This could well be the world�s largest solar power project at a single location if all goes as planned.

The US-based Clinton Foundation is in talks with the Gujarat government to set up an �Integrated Solar City� project with a capacity to generate a 5,000 Mw over a period of time.

The project, tagged as one of the largest foreign direct investment (FDI) into the state, will also be a landmark project as the cost of power generation is likely to be 70 per cent less � around Rs 20,000 crore � than the conventional cost of generation, say sources close to the development.

The project envisages an integrated solar city wherein all the raw materials including glass and panels will be produced by them, bringing down the cost substantially, said a senior government official.

The cost of generation for thermal energy is about Rs 10-11 per unit. However, according to estimates of Clinton Foundation, the power produced in the solar city will cost around Rs 4 per unit, going by the scale of the project and technology advancement they have on hand.

The Gujarat government has roped in US-based Nobel Laureate John Byrne for charting the state�s solar roadmap and is considering Kutch and Banaskantha as favourable locations for the mega project.

�The Foundation, supported by the likes of GE Energy and Microsoft, already has a war chest of $12 billion which it wants to utilise for green energy initiatives,� sources said.

The world�s largest solar power plant is currently in Mojave Desert of California with a capacity that will go up to 900 Mw in few years.

The Clinton Foundation is also in talks with governments of Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan for setting up solar power projects.

A number of corporates including Essar, Indiabulls, Reliance, ADAG, Tata Power, Suryachakra and Euro Group have also lined up solar projects in the state.

The Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance and Euro Solar have already been given letters of intent of 5 Mw each from the 10 Mw quota allotted by the Centre to each state.