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Posts on energy: Wind Power Provided Over 1% of Global Electricity in 2007 - Google Investing Huge Sums in Renewable Energy and is Hiring - Solar Energy: Economics, Government and Technology - MIT Energy "Manhattan Project" - Engineers Save Energy

5% of the Universe is Normal Matter, What About the Other 95%?

Dark Matters from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

Great discussion and illustration of the state of our understanding of physics, matter, dark matter and the rest of the stuff our universe has from PhD comics. What is the universe made of? 5% of it is normal matter (the stardust we are made of), 20% dark matter and the other 75% – we have no idea!

Dark Cosmos is a nice book on some of these ideas. It is 5 years old so missing some of the latest discoveries.

Related: Why do we Need Dark Energy to Explain the Observable Universe?The Mystery of Empty SpaceFriday Fun, CERN Version
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Google Invests $168 million in Largest Solar Tower Power Project

Google is investing in a new solar tower power project located in California that will generate 392 gross MW of clean, solar energy. That”™s the equivalent of taking more than 90,000 cars off the road. Google has now invested $250 million in clean energy.

Investing in the world”™s largest solar power tower plant

works by using a field of mirrors, called heliostats, to concentrate the sun”™s rays onto a solar receiver on top of a tower. The solar receiver generates steam, which then spins a traditional turbine and generator to make electricity. Power towers are very efficient because all those mirrors focus a tremendous amount of solar energy onto a small area to produce steam at high pressure and temperature (up to 1000 degrees F).

Several large solar projects are in the works in the sunny Southwest (and around the globe), but Ivanpah will be the first solar power tower system of this scale. The Ivanpah Power Tower will be approximately 450 feet tall and will use 173,000 heliostats, each with two mirrors.

The Department of energy is also providing financing for this project. The project is 10 times larger than the largest solar photovoltaic project in California.

Related: Google Investing Huge Sums in Renewable Energy and is Invests $10 million in Geothermal EnergyGoogle”™s Energy InterestsMolten Salt Solar Reactor Approved by CaliforniaSolar Tower Power GenerationFinding Huge Sources of Energy Without Increasing Carbon Dioxide Output

Wave Disk Engine Could Increase Efficiency 5 Times

Norbert Müller”™s group has received $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) in 2010 to build and develop the wave disk engine, which uses turbo combustion “shock wave” technology to convert either liquid fuel or compressed natural gas or hydrogen into electrical power. With this engine, fuel efficiency for hybrid vehicles could increase 5 times compared to internal combustion engine vehicles on the road today (and 3.5 times less than current hybrid cars), while reducing costs by 30%. The goal of Müller”™s team is to produce an engine that would give hybrid vehicles a 500-mile driving range and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 90%.

In the video he says they hope to have the engines in production vehicles within 3 years. My guess is he is being quite optimistic, but we will see. The new engine would allow 1,000 pounds to be removed from the weight of cars (by removing the need for drive train, radiator…).

Related: $10 Million X Prize for 100 MPG CarEconomic Benefits Brought by Investing in Engineering59 MPG Toyota iQ Diesel Available in Europe (2008)MIT Hosts Student Vehicle Design Summit (2006)

Finding Huge Sources of Energy Without Increasing Carbon Dioxide Output

Bill Gates talking about energy, and climate change, at TED. He is looking at a new type of nuclear reactor using as fuel, what is now nuclear waste.

The idea of Terrapower is that, instead of burning a part of uranium, the one percent, which is the U235, we decided, let’s burn the 99 percent, the U238. It is kind of a crazy idea. In fact, people had talked about it for a long time, but they could never simulate properly whether it would work or not, and so it’s through the advent of modern supercomputers that now you can simulate and see that, yes, with the right material’s approach, this looks like it would work.

And, because you’re burning that 99 percent, you have greatly improved cost profile. You actually burn up the waste, and you can actually use as fuel all the leftover waste from today’s reactors. So, instead of worrying about them, you just take that. It’s a great thing. It breathes this uranium as it goes along. So it’s kind of like a candle. You can see it’s a log there, often referred to as a traveling wave reactor. In terms of fuel, this really solves the problem. I’ve got a picture here of a place in Kentucky. This is the left over, the 99 percent, where they’ve taken out the part they burn now, so it’s called depleted uranium. That would power the U.S. for hundreds of years. And, simply by filtering sea water in an inexpensive process, you’d have enough fuel for the entire lifetime of the rest of the planet.

Related: Unless We Take Decisive Action, Climate Change Will Ravage Our PlanetMolten Salt Solar Reactor Approved by CaliforniaWind Power Capacity Up 170% Worldwide from 2005-2009Helium-3 Fusion Reactor

Molten Salt Solar Reactor Approved by California

California has approved a molten salt solar reactor project. The plan is for a 150-megawatt solar power tower project. From the press release: the “Solar Energy Project has the ability to collect and store enough thermal energy each morning to operate at full power all afternoon and for up to 8 hours after sunset. The game-changing technology featuring inherent energy storage affords utilities with a generator that performs with the reliability and dispatchability of a conventional power generator without harmful emissions that are associated with burning coal, natural gas and oil.”

diagram of solar energy project using molton salt

molten salt solar system diagram

The heliostats focus concentrated sunlight on a receiver which sits on top of the tower. Within the receiver, the concentrated sunlight heats molten salt to over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. The heated molten salt then flows into a thermal storage tank where it is stored, maintaining 98% thermal efficiency, and eventually pumped to a steam generator. The steam drives a standard turbine to generate electricity. This process, also known as the “Rankine cycle” is similar to a standard coal-fired power plant, except it is fueled by clean and free solar energy.

This is another green energy project that has a great deal of potential. There is a great need for such new energy sources and hopefully quite a few of these projects will let us enjoy a greener and more sustainable way to meet our future energy needs.

For those interested in the business aspects of this energy project: United Technologies provided SolarReserve with an exclusive worldwide license to develop projects using the proprietary molten salt power tower technology, which has been in development for nearly three decades.

Related: Solar Thermal in Desert, to Beat Coal by 2020Wind Power Capacity Up 170% Worldwide from 2005-2009Cost Efficient Solar Dish by StudentsSolar Tower Power Generation

sOccket: Power Through Play

In a fun example of appropriate technology and innovation 4 college students have created a football (soccer ball) that is charged as you play with it. The ball uses an inductive coil mechanism to generate energy, thanks in part to a novel Engineering Sciences course, Idea Translation. They are beta testing the ball in Africa: the current prototypes can provide light 3 hours of LED light after less than 10 minutes of play. Jessica Matthews ”™10, Jessica Lin ”™09, Hemali Thakkara ”™11 and Julia Silverman ”™10 (see photo) created the eco-friendly ball when they all were undergraduates at Harvard College.

photo of sOccket creators: Jessica Matthews, Jessica Lin, Hemali Thakkara and Julia Silverman

sOccket creators: Jessica Matthews, Jessica Lin, Hemali Thakkara and Julia Silverman

They received funding from: Harvard Institute for Global Health and the Clinton Global Initiative University. The

sOccket won the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award, which recognizes the innovators and products poised to change the world. A future model could be used to charge a cell phone.

From Take part: approximately 1.5 billion people worldwide use kerosene to light their homes. “Not only is kerosene expensive, but its flames are dangerous and the smoke poses serious health risks,” says Lin. Respiratory infections account for the largest percentage of childhood deaths in developing nations””more than AIDS and malaria.

Related: High school team presenting a project they completed to create a solution to provide clean waterWater Pump Merry-go-RoundEngineering a Better World: Bike Corn-ShellerGreen Technology Innovation by College Engineering Students

Watch a June 2010 interview on the ball:
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Green Building with Tire Bales

Recycling is better than throwing things away. But reuse is better than recycling. And in fact, avoiding use is best. I was at dinner with Duncan Hagar last week when he talked about the house he and his wife built in Colorado. They use tire bales and took advantage of passive solar. They have a blog with interesting details on the green house built by 2 engineers. Tire bales area form of reuse (and while some tires are recycled into asphalt and such things, most waste tires go into landfills).

A tire bale is a “big square brick” of about 100 compressed whole tires. Each bale is approximately 5 feet deep by 5 feet wide by 2.5 ft. high and weighs about 2,000 lbs. (1 ton). A tire bale (by itself) has an energy rating of somewhere between R-40 and R-200 depending on which study you read and how it”™s used. The tire bales are encased in concrete, effectively making the tire bale walls of our house about 6-feet thick.

Our house uses approximately 170 full bales and about 5 half bales or about 17,000 tires. Tire bales are FREE as long as one presents a building permit. All we had to do was get the bales hauled from Sedalia to Granby Colorado, a distance of about 135 miles.

The tire bales are stacked like bricks to make up all of the outer walls. These walls form the structural integrity of the house. Shot-crete (sprayed on concrete) is applied to finish the walls, effectively creating a minimum 6-foot thick wall. The entire south of our house is glass windows and doors. This creates a large, active thermal mass, which should maintain a relatively constant temperature of 65-degrees. Imagine the energy savings!

Tire bales are not that new. They have been used for quite some time for building barns, holding river banks, and road construction. Using them for house construction is a fantastic and practical idea whose time has come.

Tire Bale Home Keeps Us Toasty Warm

The house has been warm through the winter months on sunny days, it gets as high as 84 degrees even hotter when sitting directly in the sunshine. At night the temperatures hang around 60 degrees without a fire going in the wood stove and 70-74 degrees with a fire going when outside temperatures are above 10 degrees. We have noticed that when outside temperatures dip under 10 degrees or go sub-zero, we have to really boost the heat in the house either by a constant rip-roaring fire and/or using the baseboard heaters. Fortunately, we have had a mild winter. You see, it takes about 3 years for the thermal mass to completely “heat up” and we’re just now coming into the third year. The most notable difference in the temperature of the house seems to be how much sun we get during the day and are the window coverings closed as quickly as possible when the sun sets or when the sun goes behind clouds for too long.

Related: Concrete Houses 1919 and 2007How tire bales are madeHistorical Engineering: Hanging Flumeposts on mortgages

Wall street journal video on the house and difficulty of financing unique green homes:
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Nearly 45% of the electricity in Portugal Comes From Renewable Sources

Portugal Gives Itself a Clean-Energy Makeover

Five years ago, the leaders of this sun-scorched, wind-swept nation made a bet: To reduce Portugal”™s dependence on imported fossil fuels, they embarked on an array of ambitious renewable energy projects ”” primarily harnessing the country”™s wind and hydropower, but also its sunlight and ocean waves.

Nearly 45 percent of the electricity in Portugal”™s grid will come from renewable sources this year, up from 17 percent just five years ago.

While Portugal’s experience shows that rapid progress is achievable, it also highlights the price of such a transition. Portuguese households have long paid about twice what Americans pay for electricity, and prices have risen 15 percent in the last five years, probably partly because of the renewable energy program, the International Energy Agency says.

Wind Power Capacity Up 170% Worldwide from 2005-2009

graph of global installed wind power capacity from 2005-2009Chart showing global installed wind energy capacity by Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog, Creative Commons Attribution. Data from World Wind Energy Association, for installed Megawatts of global wind power capacity.


Globally 38,025 MW of capacity were added in 2009, bringing the total to 159,213 MW, a 31% increase. The graph shows the top 10 producers (with the exceptions of Denmark and Portugal) and includes Japan (which is 13th).

Wind power is now generating 2% of global electricity demand, according to the World Wind Energy Association. The countries with the highest shares of wind energy generated electricity: Denmark 20%, Portugal 15%, Spain 14%, Germany 9%. Wind power employed 550,000 people in 2009 and is expected to employ 1,000,000 by 2012.

From 2005 to 2009 the global installed wind power capacity increased 170% from 59,033 megawatts to 159,213 megawatts. The percent of global capacity of the 9 countries in the graph has stayed remarkably consistent: from 81% in 2005 growing slowly to 83% in 2009.

Over the 4 year period the capacity in the USA increased 284% and in China increased 1,954%. China grew 113% in 2009, the 4th year in a row it more than doubled capacity. In 2007, Europe had for 61% of installed capacity and the USA 18%. At the end of 2009 Europe had 48% of installed capacity, Asia 25% and North America 24%.

Related: Wind Power Provided Over 1% of Global Electricity in 2007USA Wind Power Installed Capacity 1981 to 2005Wind Power has the Potential to Produce 20% of Electricity by 2030

Electric Wind

photo of William Kamkwamba on his windmillphoto of William Kamkwamba on his windmill from his blog.

I have written about William Kamkwamba before: Inspirational EngineerHome Engineering: Windmill for Electricity. And along with the post, Make the World Better, donated to his cause. His new book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, is quite enjoyable and provides an interesting view of how he persevered. His talk of the famine, not being able to afford school and putting together a windmill using scrape parts and a few books from the library (donated by the American government – much better foreign aid than all the military weapons that are often counted as aid) is inspirational. And should help many sitting in luxury understand the privileged lives they lead.

“I’d become very interested in how things worked, yet never thought of this as science. In addition to radios, I’d also become fascinated by how cards worked, especially how petrol operated an engine. How does this happen? I thought? Well, that’s easy to find out – just ask someone with a car… But no one could tell me… Really how can you drive a truck and not know how it works?” (page 66)

“Using Energy, and this book has since changed my life… All I needed was a windmill, and then I could have lights. No more kerosene lamps that burned out eyes… I could stay awake at night reading instead of going to bed at seven with the rest of Malawi. But most important, a windmill could also rotate a pump for water and irrigation.” (page 158)

William set out to demonstrate his windmill for the first time to a skeptical crowd saying (page 193)

“Let’s see how crazy this boy really is.”… “Look,” someone said. “He’s made light!”… “Electric wind!” I shouted. “I told you I wasn’t mad!”

I like how the story shows how long, hard work, reading, experimenting and learning is what allowed William to success (page 194-5)

For the next month, about thirty people showed up each day to stare at the light. “How did you manage such a thing?” They asked. “Hard work and lots of research,” I’d say, trying not to sound too smug…
[to William’s father] “What an intelligent boy. Where did he get such ideas?”
“He’s been reading lots of books. Maybe from there?”
“They teach this in school?”
“He was forced to drop. He did this on his own.”
The diagram demonstrated twenty-four volts being transformed to two hundred forty. I knew voltage increased with each turn of wire. The diagram showed the primary coil to have two hundred turns, while the secondary had two thousand. A bunch of mathematical equations were below the diagram – I assumed they explained how I could make my own conversions – but instead I just wrapped like mad and hoped it would work. (page 200)
Soon I was attacking every idea with its own experiment. Over the next year, there was hardly a moment when I wasn’t planning or devising some new scheme. And though the windmill and radio transmitter had both been successes, I couldn’t say the same for a few other experiments. (page 215)

William is now attending the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, with an amazing group of classmates. See how you can support the Moving Windmills Projects.

Related: Teen’s DIY Energy Hacking Gives African Village New HopeMake the World BetterWilliam Kamkwamba on the Daily ShowWhat Kids can Learnappropriate technology

How the Practice and Instruction of Engineering Must Change

Chief Scientist for the Rocky Mountain Institute and MacArthur Fellow, Amory Lovins, describes how small gains in efficiency at the consumption point can trigger gains that are magnitudes larger at higher levels and discusses how engineering must be practiced and taught fundamentally different.

Related: MIT Hosts Student Vehicle Design Summit59 MPG Toyota iQ Diesel Available in EuropeWebcast: Engineering Education in the 21st Century

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