Friday, March 26, 2010

How It Works: The Next-Gen Wind Turbine


To take advantage of the strong winds that blow over the ocean, this gearless turbine uses a giant ring of magnets and 176-foot blades

There's enough wind energy along our coastlines to power the country four times over, and the race is on to build the best offshore turbines to capture it. Manufacturers worldwide are experimenting with two techniques: ever-longer blades to harness more gusts, and simplified drivetrains (including new generators) that slash the need for costly repairs at sea. GE's upcoming machine, slated to go online in 2012, will combine both into one package.

A Twist on Blades: The longer a turbine's blades, the more wind it captures and the more electricity it creates. "If we could, we would just build infinitely longer blades," Mercer says. "The problem is, blades get heavy and flexible." That flexibility, coupled with the force from very high winds, can bend blades so much that they burden the machine or even smack the tower. So GE designed a blade that twists as it bends. It's curved backward about eight feet, instead of extending straight out. When a gust pushes the tip up, the blade twists slightly around its curve-instantly angling itself so that it bears less of the gust's brunt yet still captures a large part of its energy.  Nick Kaloterakis
GE created lightweight 176-foot blades-about 40 percent longer than the average-with a more aerodynamic shape. The blades will attach to a drivetrain that does away with many of the moving parts, including the gearbox, that are prone to breakage and energy loss. A direct-drive mechanism replaces gears, and permanent magnets replace the electromagnets that require starter brushes, coils and power from the grid every time they fire up. The blades are now being tested in the Netherlands, and the drivetrain in Norway. Combining the two should result in a turbine that captures 25 percent more wind power than conventional models, so it can operate more often at its full four-megawatt potential-enough to power 1,000 homes.

Design Highlights on the Windmill

Generator: The 90-ton generator consists of a nearly 20-foot ring of magnets that spins to produce current. Its large diameter lets it create a lot of power when turning slowly, at the same 8 to 20 rpm as the blades, so it doesn't need a gearbox to speed it up to the thousands of rpm most megawatt generators require. "Get rid of the gearbox, and now you don't have to change the oil," says GE engineer Gary Mercer.

Electrical Circuitry: Converters stabilize the current's varying frequencies. Transformers boost voltage from 690 volts to more than 22,000, so current travels efficiently over long-distance lines.

Pitch Controller: To maximize lift as the wind speed changes, a controller can automatically rotate each blade anywhere from a fraction of a degree to multiple degrees per second. It can also turn the blades away from dangerously high winds to avoid power overloads or hardware damage.

Blades: Light, stiff carbon fiber replaces fiberglass at critical points in the blades, so they lose pounds and gain strength. A flat (rather than tapered) edge gives them a shape that increases lift.

How to Spin Power

1. Position the Blades
Based on data from wind-direction sensors, a yaw-drive motor turns the nacelle to face the wind. A pitch controller rotates each blade around a bearing, setting it to the best angle for the wind speed.

2. Capture the Wind
The three-bladed rotor spins in winds from 7 to 70 mph, sweeping twice the area of a football field. A 23-foot-long steel rotor shaft and two roller bearings transfer the mechanical energy to the generator.

3. Turn it into Electricity
The shaft spins the generator's neodymium magnets inside stationary copper coils, inducing current in the coils. Circuitry adjusts the frequencies and voltage of the current and sends it off to the grid.

Click here for more How It Works


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

At Annual Convention, Chemists Warm to Cold Fusion


Looking for new energy solutions, scientists are increasingly embracing the idea of cold fusion, once considered a junk science along the lines of alchemy. "Cold fusion" describes the nuclear fusion of atoms at close to room temperatures, as opposed to the epic temperatures at which nuclei fuse inside stars. If realized on a practical scale, it could provide the world with a virtually limitless source of energy.

Several new frontiers in cold fusion research are on display this week at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting in San Francisco. One researcher is working on a new kind of battery that uses a new cold fusion process and has a longer shelf life than conventional batteries. Another researcher has experimental evidence that some forms of bacteria use a type of cold fusion, and their biologically driven transmutations could help dispose of nuclear waste.

German chemist Jan Marwan, who organized the Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions symposium at the ACS meeting, said scientists are no longer afraid to talk about cold fusion.

"I've also noticed that the field is gaining new researchers from universities that had previously not pursued cold fusion research. More and more people are becoming interested in it," he said in a statement. "There's still some resistance to this field. But we just have to keep on as we have done so far, exploring cold fusion step by step, and that will make it a successful alternative energy source."

The term dates to 1989, when Martin Fleischmann of the University of Southampton and Stanley Pons of the University of Utah reported achieving nuclear fusion at room temperature with a simple device. Their claim ignited an international firestorm -- which was soon quashed when no other scientists could duplicate their results. Soon after Fleischmann's and Pons' paper was published, cold fusion fell into disrepute. (Although it did have a brief starring role alongside Elisabeth Shue.)

But new research is bringing cold fusion toward mainstream acceptance, Marwan said. The number of papers on the topic has quadrupled since 2007, and several papers presented at the ACS conference use the term "cold fusion" or the "Fleischmann-Pons Effect" to describe the phenomenon, he said.

Here's a glimpse at 5 promising pathways to cold fusion, courtesy of the American Chemical Society.

Cold Fusion Battery
George Miley, a researcher at the University of Illinois, is developing a type of cold fusion energy cell. The process would work by purposely creating defects in an electrolyte cell's metal electrode. Deuterium atoms -- also called heavy hydrogen atoms -- migrate from the electrolyte into the defective electrode, where they pile up and get very dense. Then the atoms undergo a nuclear reaction, much like the cold fusion originally described by Fleischmann and Pons. Add in some energy conversion pieces, and the result is a battery that can produce electricity. The battery would last much longer than your average Duracell, thanks to the nuclear reactions.

New Calorimeter to Track Cold Fusion at Work
Melvin Miles, a researcher at Dixie State College in St. George, Utah, is working on a new type of calorimeter that could measure heat effects produced by electrochemical reactions. Built using store-bought copper tubing, a glass test tube and Mobil-1 oil, the calorimeter is very stable, allowing for accurate measurements of heat transfer.
The goal is to study cold fusion, but the calorimeter can also be used to study the heat created in other chemical reactions, Miles reports. He used the system to measure what happened when he charged an ammonium chloride solution, and found that it formed nitrogen trichloride and 50 megawatts of excess power.

Transmutation in Biological Systems
Ukrainian scientist Vladimir Vysotskii reports experimental evidence that certain bacteria can undergo a type of cold fusion process. In a talk scheduled for Monday afternoon, he was slated to describe studies of nuclear transmutation -- the transformation of one element into another -- in biological systems. His experiments examined stable and radioactive isotopes. Theoretically, cold fusion could be used to reduce nuclear waste.

Fuzzy Math
One of the most controversial aspects of cold fusion is excess heat production, which seems to violate laws of thermodynamics. Peter Hagelstein, a scientist at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, has several new theoretical models that can help explain the excess heat production in cold fusion.

In a nuclear reaction, one would expect that the excess energy would appear as kinetic energy -- but in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment, there are not as many energetic particles as there should be. Hagelstein's models help explain the energy changes, by breaking large bits of energy into a lot of small bits.

A Cold Fusion Device That Uses Oil
During the heyday of cold fusion research, especially in Japan and Germany, much attention focused on making liquid fuels from coal, according to Tadahiko Mizuno, a researcher at Hokkaido University in Japan. In one such study, researchers observed large amounts of excess heat. Mizuno replicated that study to determine if he could control the excess heat effect.

He used phenanthrene, a heavy oil fraction, and subjected it to high pressure and heat in the presence of a metal catalyst. The reaction caused excess heat, strong gamma radiation and a slew of hydrocarbons. Mizuno also measured isotopes of elements ranging from hydrogen to lead.
He said the formation of hydrocarbons doesn't account for the excess heat caused by the reaction. Heat production reached 60 watts -- way higher than it should have been for chemical reactions.

"Overall heat production exceeded any conceivable chemical reaction by two orders of magnitude," he wrote.


Breakthrough Low-Power Desalination and Purification Technology Brings Clean Water To Remote Villages


High costs, in money and energy, limit the usefulness of desalination as a way to provide drinkable water in disaster areas. However, a new method could lead to portable desalination devices simple enough to run off solar power or a battery, but powerful enough to supply a family, or even a small village, with clean water. Additionally, the new desalination device also cleanses water of biological contaminants.

Developed by scientists at MIT, the desalination device is about the size of a postage stamp, and can be fit together into larger daisy chains. An eight-inch-wide array of the desalination chips can produce four gallons of clean water every hour, while only using as much electricity as a light bulb. Plus, when tested with water mixed with plastic bits, human blood, and miscellaneous proteins in addition to salt, the unit pumped out 99-percent-pure water.

The desalination chips separate water from contaminants by repelling the foreign particles electrically. Since this method does not use filter, the system can operate without high pressures. Simply pour the contaminated or sea water in the top, and wait for the pure water to come out of the bottom.

According to the developers, it will take about two years to develop a commercial product containing 10,000 desalination chips. Whether this technique can expand beyond portable low-energy systems, and into the sort of large-scale desalination that provides many Middle Eastern countries with potable water, remains to be seen.

[Technology Review]


Friday, March 19, 2010

Using Green Algae as Drug Factory Could Cut Pharma Costs by 1,000 Times


Algae has helped create the atmosphere, played a role in populating the oceans and even produced biofuels so that we might pollute the atmosphere and the oceans a tiny bit less. Now, a team of researchers is coaxing therapeutic pharmaceuticals out of the hardy little organisms, in a process that could eventually produce biologic drugs that are a few orders of magnitude cheaper than existing drugs.

Many biologic drugs -- drugs made of proteins -- are manufactured in mammalian cell culture or by bacteria or yeasts for treating everything from diabetes to multiple sclerosis to cancer. But while these processes are effective, they can also be quite expensive -- especially in the case of mammalian cell cultures. Some drugs require investments in the hundreds of millions of dollars before they even reach the clinical trial phase, derailing some potential therapies before they ever get a shot.

Green algae, on the other hand, is abundant, resilient, cheap to grow, and fantastically efficient at folding complex proteins. Unlike the bacteria, yeast, and mammalian cultures that ravenously consume nutrients and energy, algae thrives on sunlight and carbon dioxide alone. So if we can get algae to produce some of the complex proteins used in expensive MS or cancer therapies -- proteins currently grown in mammalian culture -- we could potentially cut costs from, say, $150 per gram to something like a nickel per gram. Those are savings worth pursuing.

To test that potential, a group of biotech researchers at UC San Diego inserted genes for production of several different therapeutic proteins into the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Of the seven proteins they were searching for, the algae produced four of them identically and at commercial volumes. With some more adjustments, researchers might even be able to increase yield.

Of course, that doesn't mean the costs of expensive therapies will plunge overnight. Some yeast and bacterial systems are cheap enough -- and so well refined after many years of use -- that the cost savings brought about by algal systems probably wouldn't justify scrapping the old production methods. But the cost advantage over mammalian cultures is too great to be ignored, meaning green algae could drastically trim the cost of some of the most expensive cancer therapies and MS drugs on the market. Not bad for pond scum.

[Technology Review]


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

This Is How Solar Roadways Actually Look [Energy]


When I first read about Solar Roadways—super-tough solar panels with built-in LED signs designed to turn roads into power plants—I thought that they were never going to happen. Well, here's a prototype. [Solar Roadways via GadgetReview]


Monday, March 15, 2010

As China and US Plan to Exploit "Burning Ice" for Fuel, the Ice Race Is On


Methane hydrate crystals show promise as a clean energy source

When methane and freezing cold water fuse under tremendous pressure, they create a substance as paradoxical as it coveted: burning ice. Earlier in the year, a report from the National Research Council identified the combustible water, also known as methane hydrate, as a potential source of natural gas. Now, according to the Chinese news organization Xinhau, China is joining the US, Japan, and South Korea in the hunt for this weird mineral.

As explained in this comic, there's 85.4 trillion cubic feet of methane hydrate buried under Alaska. That's equivalent to 3 billion tons of oil, or enough to heat 100 million American homes for a decade. According to the Xinahu article, reserves of methane hydrate in China's Qinghai province are equal to 35 billion tons of oil, enough to supply China for 90 years.

Unfortunately, China lacks the capability to excavate the mineral. Even at an expedited pace, China's Ministry of Land and Resources estimates it could be 10 to 15 years before any hydrate-derived gas finds its way into Chinese homes.

[Discovery News]


Friday, March 12, 2010

Process could clean up water used in natural gas drilling


( -- Texas A&M Engineering is playing a role in a technological breakthrough that could clean up the contaminated water recovered from drilling natural gas wells in shale deposits through the process of "hydraulic fracturing."


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Absurdly Simple Ocean Pumps Could Thwart Hurricanes [Science]


In yet more research funded by Bill and Melinda Gates (and Intellectual Ventures), Stanford University's Ken Caldeira explores a mechanically simple ocean pump that could significantly diminish the power of a hurricane.

Note: This post is an update to the patent spotted a while back.

The basic science behind the pump is this: The hotter the ocean's surface, the more devastating a hurricane can become. So the pump is essentially just a floating ring dangling a very large plastic tube penetrating the ocean. Hot waves flow over the ring, sink down the tube and float back to the surface after mixing with the cool water below. The result? A slightly cooler ocean surface temperature that could vastly reduce a hurricane's eventual destruction.

I'm going to ignore the potential impact to marine life for a moment and instead choose to sit in awe at the possibility of mankind hacking one of weather's most ferocious attacks. [smartplanet]


Monday, March 8, 2010

Sanyo Eneloop lite Ni-MH rechargeable batteries are cheap, less filling


If you're a gadget fan (and let's face it: you are) then there's simply no excuse for using disposable batteries. Environmental concerns aside, rechargeables have advanced such that it just makes economic sense to switch. We've been unapologetic fans of Sanyo's Eneloop series of Ni-MH batteries for years. Hell, we like any modern rechargeable that's sold fully charged and is capable of maintaining that state even after years inside the family junk drawer. Today, Sanyo is announcing its Eneloop lite series scheduled for a June 22nd launch in Japan with a global release set for sometime later. These cells are meant to tempt you by their relatively low, up-front purchase price of ¥780 (about $8.64) for a pair of 1.2V 950mAh AAs or ¥640 ($7.09) for a pair of 1.2V 550mAh AAAs -- each capable of about 2,000 recharges saving you at least $1,000 over their lifetime. They're not going to power your hotshoe flash but they will handle the relatively low to medium power requirements of all the remote controls in your life. Do it.

Continue reading Sanyo Eneloop lite Ni-MH rechargeable batteries are cheap, less filling

Sanyo Eneloop lite Ni-MH rechargeable batteries are cheap, less filling originally appeared on Engadget on Mon, 08 Mar 2010 04:11:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Catalyst could power homes on a bottle of water, produce hydrogen on-site (w/ Video)


( -- With one bottle of drinking water and four hours of sunlight, MIT chemist Dan Nocera claims that he can produce 30 KWh of electricity, which is enough to power an entire household in the developing world. With about three gallons of river water, he could satisfy the daily energy needs of a large American home. The key to these claims is a new, affordable catalyst that uses solar electricity to split water and generate hydrogen.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Joos Orange Solar Charger Has 6 to 20 Times More Sun-to-Power Conversion [Solar Charger]


There's no way to verify this except to test it, but Solar Components claims their Joos Orange charger has somewhere between six to twenty times as much "3G cell phone talk time per hours of sun" than their competitors.

This is where we're confused though. Their chart shows that they have 120 minutes of talk time per hour of sun, but rate competitors at just 20 minutes of talk time per hour of sun. However, on their tech specs sheet, they say that they can "make more powe than any other personal solar charger on the market. Up to 20 times more." Or, if you use their reflector kit, which brings in more sun, you can get 30 times more.

So, assuming it's just six times more powerful than anyone else, the question remains: Are these guys just so much better and found a secret to solar power generation, or is everyone else just horrible engineers? Either way, Solar Components supposedly will ship this 5400mAh solar-powered battery in June at just $100. Sounds fishy for now, but we'd love to test it out ourselves to see. [Solar Joos via iPod NN]


Artificial photosynthesis could power your house, even if it's not green (video)


Artificial photosynthesis could power your house, even if it's not green (video)
It's a sad state of affairs: your lawn is better at converting the sun into energy than that $23k solar array your neighbors just threw on their roof. Sun Catalytix wants to show that grass what's what with a new process for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen -- artificial photosynthesis. In a presentation at the ARPA-E conference (the Advanced Research Projects Agency -- basically DARPA minus the military bent) Sun Catalytix founder Dan Nocera indicates that the process his company is developing could, with a photovoltaic array, four hours of sunlight, and a bottle of water, generate 30 kilowatt-hours of electricity. That's enough to power an average home for a day -- though hardcore gamers will probably need a bit more. The hope is that this will ultimately lead to cheap power for self-sufficient homes in the not-too distant future, but we're still left wondering when that future's going to come.

[Thanks, Jaden]

Continue reading Artificial photosynthesis could power your house, even if it's not green (video)

Artificial photosynthesis could power your house, even if it's not green (video) originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 05 Mar 2010 08:04:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Backpack Power Plant: You ARE the Grid [Energy]


Bourne Energy's BPP-2 puts a 30-pound, 500-watt generating hydroelectric plant on your back. That's like being able to walk around with 60 solar panels. And when civilization finally collapses, I'll be dragging mine to an as yet undisclosed location.

You can use the Backpack Power Plant in any stream deeper than four feet. It also operates silently, with no heat or exhaust emissions, and can be "bottom-mounted" for total invisibility: all good things for hiding from the roving hordes of the post-apocalyptic dystopia. The set-up is pretty straightforward as well:

To install the civilian BPP, you would dig two trenches on opposite sides of a river and insert a lightweight anchor into each. Then, you'd run a synthetic rope between the anchors and the BPP. [The] company designed the system to work like the high-tension mooring systems that hold up floating oil rigs.

There's a military version already in use that can operate in a variety of flow rates, but the $3,000 civilian edition is designed for streams moving 7.5 feet per second. The main target audience is developing countries, where a portable generator of this magnitude could make a huge difference for remote villages and towns.

It's a prototype for now, but you and I both know they've got a hard deadline of 2012 if they really want this thing put to good use. [Wired]


Monday, March 1, 2010

Panasonic's silicon-packin' batteries boast 30 percent capacity boost, hit stores in 2012


Sure, not a day goes by without some sort revolutionary (if not just plain silly) announcement regarding fuel cells, and once again it looks like it's Panasonic's turn. According to Nikkei, the company will begin volume production of Li-ion rechargeable batteries that use a silicon alloy anode sometime in fiscal 2012. While Si alloy batteries have a tenfold theoretical improvement over current cells that utilize graphite, Panny claims that its device will have an improvement in linear capacity of close to thirty percent -- keeping at least 80 percent of its capacity even after 500 charge/recharge cycles. Currently the bad boy is being marketed towards notebook batteries, although we could be seeing 'em in our electric cars in the near future. Catch a couple pictures from the press conference after the break.

Continue reading Panasonic's silicon-packin' batteries boast 30 percent capacity boost, hit stores in 2012

Panasonic's silicon-packin' batteries boast 30 percent capacity boost, hit stores in 2012 originally appeared on Engadget on Mon, 01 Mar 2010 12:59:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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