Electricity From Ambient Heat

While there are many methods of converting heat energy into electrical energy, they’re typically inefficient (thermoelectric) or need to be done at a larger scale (steam turbines).  Researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University are showing promising results with a different approach.  You see, the atoms in a liquid are in constant motion.  They found that when copper ions collided with a strip of graphene immersed in a solution, the collision dislocated an electron out of the graphene, and it then traveled through the graphene strip, essentially replicating the function of a battery and illuminating an LED as a result.

As with any science, further tests are needed to verify the reaction and rule out secondary effects being responsible (such as chemical reactions).  If validated, though, this has enormous potential, for it would enable the generation of electrical energy from any heat source (something planet has no shortage of).  It’ll be interesting to see if this pans out.

Read more here.

Solar Power in the Developing World

Watching the propagation of technology throughout our global society can be fascinating.  Case in point, the telephone.  First world telephone users started with hard wired phones, which transitioned to cordless phones (still using the wired infrastructure), and are only recently transitioning en mass to cell phones.  In developing countries, the infrastructure for a wired phone system simply doesn’t exist, and is very expensive to install.  These same countries are finding that cell phones are less expensive to deploy on a wide scale, and as a result these areas are incorporating phone technology into their lives at a different point in the cycle than first world citizens.

A similar technological lead-frogging is beginning to appear in energy.  While first-world countries continue to burn fossil fuels and transmit that energy hundreds of miles through wires to the end users, the costs with building that infrastructure is making alternative energy, specifically solar, much more appealing to developing world citizens, where solar can be less expensive than the fossil fuel alternatives.

It’s a fascinating transition, and for more on this I recommend reading this article at climatecrocks.com.

Solar Panel Efficiency Gains

North Carolina based Semprius has set a new standard for solar panel efficiency at 33.9 percent!  While only a small gain over the previous record of 32%, it’s nice to see this trend continue, as improved efficiency helps increase solar’s competitiveness in the marketplace.  They accomplish this through the use of lenses and mirrors to focus the incoming light, a technique known as concentrated photovoltaics (CPV).  They’re expecting production of this technology to begin in the second half of 2012, though it’s targeted more towards utility-scale installations, not residential owners.

Hyperion Solar Updraft Tower

Hyperion Energy is looking to build a gigantic, kilometer tall tower in Australia.  Where it really gets interesting is the ‘why’.  The base of the two has holes in it.  The land around it, for almost fourteen square miles, would be covered, creating an air gap between the ground and the cover.  The sun would heat up the air under the cover, and hot air would rise up through the tower, drawing in cool air from the perimeter of the cover.  Turbines installed in the base of the tower would be turned by the rising hot air, thus generating electricity.  Perhaps the best part is since this operates on a temperature DIFFERENCE between the ground air and the air at the top of the tower, when night falls this will continue to generate electricity as the ground will retain heat while the air above the tower cools down.  Natural power storage.  So, not only is this clean, renewable energy, but…the plant pictured here would produce about as much electricity as as small nuclear reactor (200MW)!  Awesome!  They’re hoping to get this build and operational by 2014.

 

Hyperion Energy from Hyperion Energy on Vimeo.

Community Solar Garden

SunShare is doing something cool in Colorado Springs…they’re making it really easy for individual homeowners to reap the benefits of solar panels, without having to install solar panels on their own homes.  SunShare is building a ‘solar garden’, where individuals can lease a minimum of two solar panels.  The electricity from those panels is fed into the city’s power grid, and the leases then get a credit on their electric bill corresponding to how much power their panels produced.  You can read more about how it works here.

There’s something similar in Sacramento, CA, with SolarShares.  The big difference I can see is that instead of committing to output from a specific number of panels, it’s a less specific monthly fee that you pay the company.

Melting permafrost

The very name ‘permafrost’ implies permanently frozen, but thanks to global warming, that’s changing…the permafrost is melting.  Why should you care?  Because frozen within is a very, very large amount of greenhouse gasses (methane AND CO2).  Scientists estimate that the gasses released from permafrost will eventually be about 15% of that produced by our human activities.  So, not exactly mind-blowing, but when you consider that we’re already failing to reduce emissions to the levels necessary to avert catastrophic global warming, this will make it just that much harder for us to do so.

Face it.  We, as a species, lack the will power, resolve, and courage to change our habits and avert the global warming that most scientists believe will happen.  It’s the sad truth that I’ve become resigned to, unless we can find a source of energy that is so cheap as to make fossil fuels outrageously expensive by comparison.  Greed and fear are some of the most basic human motivators; fear of a warming climate is insufficient, so we must appeal to peoples’ greed and provide a clean, renewable, zero emission energy source that is incredibly cheap.  Solar and wind are interesting, but both require large capital expense up front so don’t meet the ‘cheap’ criteria (payback needs to be in a matter of months, not years!).

Biological fuel cell

Energy storage and consumption is the bane of any new technology, especially portable ones.  Researchers at the Case Western Reserve University have accomplished something that I find quite incredible…tapping into a living organism’s biological energy system, and converting that to electricity which can then be used by human technology that has been added to the organism.  A true step closer to a living cyborg.  Awesome.  Ok, so it’s really more suitable to invertebrates at this point, but it still has incredible potential.  It also brings back memories of that scene in the Fifth Element, where a cockroach is equipped with a microphone, transmitter, and remote control, to enable Zorg’s men to eavesdrop on the President (the image here).  Read more about it over at Gizmag.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑