Thursday, March 31, 2011

Inside the giant megawatt batteries that will power Russia's Sochi Winter Olympic Games (video)


Clean and constant power is something that we take for granted here in the Americas. Sure, we've seen rolling blackouts in California before, and that outage in the Northeast back in 2003 was decidedly uncool, but those are the exception to the norm. Right now many Japanese citizens are dealing with power problems in the wake of the devastating tsunami, but in parts of Russia unreliable power is a decidedly reliable part of day-to-day life.

So, what's going to happen when a couple-hundred-thousand fans from around the world swoop into Sochi in 2014, along with a flotilla of international media and all the world's greatest athletes? The Winter Olympics will happen, and the power will flow. It has to, and it will thanks to that unassuming looking shipping container above. It's being assembled at Ener1's facility outside of Indianapolis, and it's actually a giant battery holding an amazing one megawatt-hour of power. That's enough to juice 1,000 average homes for an hour, or to act as the mother of all UPS's. Join us for a look inside and a video show how each of those packs is made.

Continue reading Inside the giant megawatt batteries that will power Russia's Sochi Winter Olympic Games (video)

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Inside the giant megawatt batteries that will power Russia's Sochi Winter Olympic Games (video) originally appeared on Engadget on Wed, 30 Mar 2011 13:41:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Harvard physicist puts fires out with electrified wand, hopes to share on HarvardConnection


Okay, so maybe Ludovico Cademartiri will be forced to share the good news on Facebook (or ConnectU, if he's into playing the role of rebel), but at least he's bound to see over a couple of hundred hits. According to The Harvard Crimson, the aforesaid physicist and a smattering of other researchers have stumbled upon a novel way to extinguish flames: electricity. The idea is eventually enable firefighters to squash fires without having to douse a home or object with water and foam -- if hit with a beam of juice, there's at least a sliver of a chance that something can be salvaged. While the specifics of the project are obviously far above our heads, the gist of it is fairly simple -- flames contain soot particles, which become "electrically charged during combustion." Given that those very particles react to electrical fields, a strong enough beam can twist things until it's extinguished completely. Quite honestly, it's a hands-on experience we're desperately trying to arrange, but till then, it looks like another round of Harry Potter will have to do.

Harvard physicist puts fires out with electrified wand, hopes to share on HarvardConnection originally appeared on Engadget on Wed, 30 Mar 2011 17:45:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Warm Superconductors' Weird Behavior Could Indicate a New Phase of Matter


While studying the weird behavior of high-temperature superconductors, scientists may have found a new phase of matter, separate from solid, liquid, gas and plasma. Electrons in a pre-superconducting state apparently form a strange, distinct order, lining up in a way that has never been seen before.

Superconductors are 100-percent-efficient materials that waste no energy. In them, electrons break off into pairs, conducting electricity with no resistance. This usually requires operating at extremely cold temperatures, however, so superconductors are not quite practical for a wide range of uses. Scientists have been trying to make warm superconductors that can operate at room temperature, but warm superconductors experience a "pseudogap" while the electrons change their energy levels, preparing to team up and enter their superconducting states.

During this "pseudogap," the electrons are doing something other than superconducting. For 20 years, no one has been able to figure out what they're doing instead, and scientists are not sure if it is part of the whole superconducting process, or if it's detrimental, and if they should try to close the pseudogap so warm superconductors can work better. Researchers at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University set out to uncover what the electrons were up to.

They combined three types of measurement techniques to study electronic behavior at the surface, thermodynamic behavior in the interior, and changes to their dynamic properties over time, as a news release from SLAC explains.

They learned that in the pseudogap phase, electrons are not pairing up; instead, they're reorganizing into a distinct order. What's more, this electron formation remains even when the material is superconducting, but no one noticed it before.

Scientists are still not sure what the new electron order means, and they still have to figure out what this new arrangement is all about. But it's an interesting finding: Though brief, a new phase of matter opens up all kinds of questions about electronic properties and how superconductors work.


MIT Lab Creates the World's First Feasible 'Artificial Leaf'


A practical artificial leaf that can turn sunlight and water into energy as efficiently as the real thing has long been a Holy Grail of chemistry, and researchers at MIT may have finally done it. Today at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society researchers from MIT's Nocera Lab, led by Dr. Daniel Nocera, claimed that they've created an artificial leaf made from stable and--more importantly--inexpensive materials.

The artificial leaf looks nothing like the natural leaf that it mimics, but its inputs and outputs are the same. Made of silicon, electronics, and various catalysts that spur chemical reactions within the device, the artificial leaf uses sunlight to break water into hydrogen and oxygen which can then be used to create electricity in a separate fuel cell. Placed in a gallon of water and left in the sun, these artificial leaves could provide a home in the developing world with basic electricity for a day, Nocera said.

The Nocera Lab's artificial leaf, it should be noted, isn't the first working attempt at recreating photosynthesis in artificial materials. But previous attempts have led to artificial leaves full of unstable materials that are expensive and lead to short life spans. Nocera and his team identified a set of inexpensive, common catalysts including nickel and cobalt that get the job done with far less expense. And in the lab their playing-card-sized leaves have worked continuously for 45 straight hours without a drop in output.

Nocera and company will next try to boost both efficiency and lifespan of their photosynthetic material. It's still a workbench technology at this point, but the leap forward presented here is significant. Scaled and mass produced, something like the Nocera Lab's leaf could be the key component to shifting toward a hydrogen-based economy. In the nearer term, such technology could at the very least power parts of the globe that are currently off the grid with clean, plentiful, and easy-to-come-by energy.



Six Ways Bio-Inspired Design is Reshaping the Future


From harvesting energy to building networks, nature has been solving problems for billions of years longer than humans have

How exactly does one turn sunlight and water into usable energy? If it were possible to ask any living organism on Earth this question, you could do far better than asking a biologist or a chemist, or any other human being for that matter, and take the question directly to a leaf. That's the goal of biomimicry: to take human problems and ask nature "how would you solve this?" And increasingly, such questions are changing everything, from energy to information technology to the way we build cities.

Click to launch the photo gallery

To see how a leaf works its magic, look no further than Dr. Daniel Nocera's lab at MIT. Yesterday, Nocera's team announced that it has created the first practical "artificial leaf", a synthetic silicon device that splits water into oxygen and hydrogen for fuel cells using sunlight just as a natural leaf does. Nocera's leaf isn't a perfect mimic of photosynthesis--for instance, it requires materials like nickel and cobalt that must be extracted from the earth, and catalysts that spur reactions that otherwise wouldn't happen on their own. But it's indicative of a growing shift in how humans solve big problems by looking to nature for elegant solutions rather than bending the natural world to their wills.

With its 4.5-billion-year head start on mankind, the natural world has developed some clever mechanisms for solving big problems, and that natural cleverness isn't just informing new ways to generate energy. It's slowly but surely informing everything from the the way emergency rooms are designed to how data networks communicate. It asks that electricity grids act like bees and businesses manage resources like coral reefs manage calories. Seriously.

"Biomimicry is a beautiful way of framing the design process to be cognizant of how nature does things," says Dr. John Warner of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry. "I think that over the centuries humans have become a little egotistical in trying to bend materials and things to our will."

Warner and his colleagues are on the science side of biomimicry's collaboration between biology and design. As a green chemist, he and his lab develop new environmentally benign materials often borrowing from natural processes along the way. In Warner's world, gone are the heat, high pressures, and toxic additives native to much man-made chemistry, replaced with processes that hew more closely to the way nature creates materials.

On the other side of that equation are the engineers looking for new and better materials with which to design. And increasingly there's a stronger dialogue between the two, driven partially by an increased environmental consciousness but moreso by a pressing imperative to solve big, overarching problems at the macro scale.

Take Nocera's leaf for instance: in light of an always-looming global energy (and environmental) crisis, a means to generate electricity from plentiful (and renewable) water and sunlight could solve a number of huge problems, both natural and man made. The answer is right there in the leaf, and has been for millennia--unlock that natural mechanism in a feasible, economically viable manner and you've got a beautiful solution to problems ranging from the environmental to the humanitarian to the geopolitical.

"When you think about the natural world, nature outperforms us in its diversity, in its complexity, but does so at ambient temperature, at low pressures, using water for the most part as a solvent." Warner says. By helping humans to think more like a leaf (or an ant hill, or a 1,200-year-old oak, or a bacterial colony), biomimicry is tapping that multi-billion-year head start to bring the same kind of complexity and diversity to human invention.

Click through to the gallery to see six ways bio-inspired solutions are reshaping the world in the 21st century.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Fighting Fires With Zaps of Electricity [Science]


Fighting Fires With Zaps of ElectricityThe fireman of the future won't be a burly man holding a big hose, if Harvard scientists succeed with their research in this field. Instead, it'll be a burly man with an electrified stick.

Their work has focused on the 200 year old idea that sending pulses of electrically-charged air at the fire can actually snuff it out. With any luck, it would be make fighting fires more affordable, and also make firefighters less reliant on water as a means to an end. Plus, it'd mean there's a greater chance of saving what's inside the house—and the foundations itself—from the damage water often creates. [Eureka via Popsci]

Image Credit: Borkweb


Why Are Millions of Spiders Invading Thousands of Trees and Why Is It Good News? [Image Cache]


Why Are Millions of Spiders Invading Thousands of Trees and Why Is It Good News?These huge trees are fully covered with thousands of spiderwebs, something never before seen in Sindh, Pakistan, where this photo was taken. Yes, it's a eewrifying image, but it has had a surprisingly positive effect on the population of this heavily punished part of the world. How, you scream?

These spiders usually crawl on the ground but, when the massive July 2010 floods took over one fifth of the 307,374 square miles of Pakistani land, they escaped to the trees. The water is taking a long time to recede, so they thought it may be a good idea to adapt to the situation, establish camp and have a big party up there. The results is thousands of cocooned trees all around.

Gross? It is. But the United Kingdom's Department for International Development thinks that the massive spiderwebs are a blessing and the eight-legged furry beasties are Bill Gates' new best friends. It seems that these giant sticky pompoms are capturing mosquitoes by the truckload. According to the people in these areas, the mosquito levels are extremely low for this time of the year. Even more so taking into account the vast amount of stagnant water, which acts as a nursery for those bloody winged buggers. As a result, the risk of a malaria plague is a lot lower than what everyone was expecting.

In other words: Thank you, spiders! P.S. If I see any of you around my house, however, I'll smash you faster than Doctor Octopus. [Flickr and DFID]


Self-strengthening polymer nanocomposite works best under pressure


No one keeps carbon nanotubes down -- especially not these guys. The always popular allotropes have been enlisted by researchers at Rice University to create a composite material that gets stronger under pressure. When combined with polydimethylsiloxane, a rubbery polymer, the tubes form a nanocomposite that exhibits self-strengthening properties also exhibited in bones. During testing, the team found the material increased in stiffness by 12 percent after 3.5 million compressions. Apparently, the crew is stumped on why it reacts this way, but is no less eager to see it working in the real world -- discussion is already underway to use the stuff as artificial cartilage. And here we thought aerogel was cool. Full PR after the break.

Continue reading Self-strengthening polymer nanocomposite works best under pressure

Self-strengthening polymer nanocomposite works best under pressure originally appeared on Engadget on Sun, 27 Mar 2011 06:13:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Inhabitat's Week in Green: LAVA's geodesic home, solar skyscraper glass and fear of nuclear power


Each week our friends at Inhabitat recap the week's most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us -- it's the Week in Green.

This week Inhabitat showcased several groundbreaking feats of high-tech architecture - starting with plans to transform the United States' tallest skyscraper into a soaring solar farm. We also saw a vision for a geodesic home of the future that is popping up in China this year, and we learned that scientists in Qatar are developing a series of solar-powered artificial clouds that will cool the country's stadiums during the 2022 World Cup.

It was a big week for energy news as well as Germany and Italy announced plans to abandon nuclear power in the wake of the crisis in Japan. Tata & MIT also announced a breakthrough technology for generating power from water, and we saw solar energy reach new heights as Suntech set off to install the world's tallest solar plant on the Tibetan Plateau. Speaking of soaring green designs, we watched a brand new electric vehicle take to the skies as the solar-powered Elektra One airplane successfully completed its maiden flight.

This week we also showcased several cutting-edge examples of wearable technology including an app that instantly transforms any drawing into a made-to-measure dress. We also learned that Virgin Atlantic now offers passengers bespoke shoes while they wait, and we took a look at a futuristic pregnancy belt that offers an inside look at the womb. Finally, we saw several amazing examples of recycled design - Chinese artist Wing Wah has created a set of scrap metal transformer robots that look just like the movies, and designer Mati Karmin has transformed defused land mines into an edgy set of interior furnishings.

Inhabitat's Week in Green: LAVA's geodesic home, solar skyscraper glass and fear of nuclear power originally appeared on Engadget on Sun, 27 Mar 2011 21:09:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

When Architecture Takes a Backseat to Nature


-and it works. With it’s super minimal (even dark) interior, the Juvet hotel uses modern design elements to bring focus to the natural beauty of the Norwegian fjord landscape in which it is situated. Each of Juvet’s 10 rooms are positioned in the most stunning spots of the topography, and each sports at least 1 glass wall facade with it’s own unique view of the picturesque landscape. A perfect retreat for nature lovers who believe that less is more.

Hat tip to Welcome Beyond!

Designer: Jensen & Skodvin Arkitektkontor


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Friday, March 11, 2011

Purdue researchers make solar cell manufacturing cheaper, more efficient with lasers


Is there anything lasers can't do? We only ask because they seem to be improving everything from microphones to railroads, and now researchers from Purdue University have leveraged the power of light to better manufacture solar cells. Using an ultrashort (as in quadrillionths of a second) pulse laser to more precisely scribe the microchannels connecting thin-film solar cells -- as compared to current mechanical stylus methods -- the Boilermakers were able to improve energy transfer efficiency between cells and significantly reduce manufacturing time. Having demonstrated the process works, research continues to better understand and prepare it for use by manufacturers -- sooner rather than later, we hope.

Purdue researchers make solar cell manufacturing cheaper, more efficient with lasers originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 11 Mar 2011 07:17:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

CHART OF THE DAY: Why The World Has No Choice But To Buy More And More Fertilizer


Why is everyone crazy about fertilizer and potash stocks?

One part of the equation is that demand for food is growing.

But there's another aspect: The clear trend in major regions is for less and less arable land per capita. Thus the only way to get more food is to get more yield from diminishing acres. And that means: more fertilizer!

The chart from Dundee Securities tells the story:

chart of the day, arable land

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