Posts about electricity

MudWatt: Make Power From Mud!

Keegan Cooke and Kevin Rand created MudWatt kits as a way to engage kids/students with science. From the website:

We want to show kids this brighter side of STEM, to empower them to become the great problem solvers of tomorrow. Because let’s face it, there are plenty of problems in the world that need solving.

Unfortunately, our experience in school wasn’t unique. In 2011, less than one-third of 8th graders in the U.S. were deemed proficient in science. Today, 70% of the fastest growing careers are in STEM fields. The supply of STEM education is not meeting the demand.

Most of the world’s mud contain microbes that produce electricity when they eat. That is the engine driving the MudWatt. Colonies of special bacteria (called shewanella and geobacter) generate the electricity in a MudWatt.

The electricity output is proportional to the health and activity of that bacterial colony. By maintaining these colonies in different ways, you can use MudWatt to run all kinds of great experiments. Thus the MudWatt allows kids to engage with science, using their natural curiosity to experiment and learn. Engaging this too-often-neglected human potential will bring joy to those kids (as kids and as grown-ups) and benefit our society.

With standard topsoils, typical power levels are around 100 microWatts, which is enough to power the LED, buzzer, clock, etc..

Related: Arduino, open source hardware (Introduction Video Tutorial)Teaching Through TinkeringAwesome Gifts for the Maker in Your LifeQubits Construction Toy

The Downside of Adopting the Metric System

The only downside of adopting the metric system is less control over room temperature (based on my experience). Every ºC = ºF * 1.8 so have less control (when using only integers to control temperature as is the case in my experience).

Granted this could be solved easily by using .5 (option in air conditioning and heating controllers but in my experience they don’t) for Celsius. For Fahrenheit this works out to enough control for me. For Celsius in a fair number (lets say 15%) of systems it is a bit uncomfortable.

The specific circumstances add greatly to creating a problem. My guess is those that annoy me swing even further than 1 ºC, they move further in one direction in order to not turn on and off all the time. So maybe that moves to swings of 2 or 3 ºC at the measurement point. But that is another issue, the measurement on home (or hotel) systems is often 1 reader so the variation is often greater in other locations.

Add to that the imprecision of their measures, I don’t have good data, but I am confident that the measurement error is fairly high. I am pretty comfortable at about 25ºC for air conditioning. But in some places I am cold at 27º and others I am warm at 23º. It could be me, but I don’t think so (most of the time – sometimes it is me).

A long time ago I had some imprecise portable temperature gauge and while I wouldn’t stake my life on results based on it, it confirmed my feelings (when I felt it was warmer than the local reading said my device agreed and when I felt it was colder my device agreed). Hardly scientifically valid proof, but it made me more comfortable trusting my opinion on this matter anyway.

My guess is in a unit using ºF you often can be 4 or 5 degrees off (or more) in different locations. For some people that might be ok. But for me that often starts to be uncomfortable. If you convert the issue to that time 1.8 it is noticably worse.

Now in reality I don’t think it expands quite that much. While the manufactures balance the confusion of adding .5 to a Celsius controller and decide not to, I would think they don’t swing 1.8 times as far (in heating or cooling in order to not turn on and off all the time), but it is still let precise than using Fahrenheit integers. I believe (hope) they set their internal dynamics not based only on integers but could say for example turn off .5º past the setting and turn on when the conditions are .5º worse than the setting (so .5º too warm in the case of air conditioning, for example).

It is still lame the USA fails to adopt the metric system, but reducing this problem in the USA is one small benefit of holding off 🙂 I wonder if 1 in a million, 1 in 10 million… up to 1 in 7.2 billion people (just me, all alone in the world) have my concern for the lack of precision of heating and air conditioners when using the metric system.

Related: Google Lets Servers Stay Hot, Saving Air Conditioning CostsDo It Yourself Solar Furnace for Home HeatingUsing Algae Filled Window Panes to Provide Passive and Active Solar

Battery Breakthrough Using Organic Storage

Battery offers renewable energy breakthrough

a metal-free flow battery that relies on the electrochemistry of naturally abundant, inexpensive, small organic (carbon-based) molecules called quinones, which are similar to molecules that store energy in plants and animals.

The mismatch between the availability of intermittent wind or sunshine and the variable demand is the biggest obstacle to using renewable sources for a large fraction of our electricity. A cost-effective means of storing large amounts of electrical energy could solve this problem.

Flow batteries store energy in chemical fluids contained in external tanks, as with fuel cells, instead of within the battery container itself. The two main components — the electrochemical conversion hardware through which the fluids are flowed (which sets the peak power capacity) and the chemical storage tanks (which set the energy capacity) — may be independently sized. Thus the amount of energy that can be stored is limited only by the size of the tanks. The design permits larger amounts of energy to be stored at lower cost than with traditional batteries.

This looks like a very interesting field of research. Storing power remains one of the challenges for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. This is especially true if the use is disconnected from the grid, but is even true for grid-connected uses. Especially as increasing the amount of wind and solar energy make it increasingly likely that surplus energy is created at certain times.

The research seems to allow for sensible size home storage setups. At the commercial level the volume needed is very large. Another concern to be addressed is how many cycles the “battery” is good for before it degrades; current experimentation show no degradation after 100 cycles but consumer/commercial usage will need thousands of cycles.

Related: Battery Breakthrough (solid sodium metal mated to a sulphur compound by an extraordinary, paper-thin ceramic membrane)Energy Storage Using Carbon Nanotubes (2006)Chart of Wind Power Generation Capacity Globally 2005-2012Recharge Batteries in Seconds

Google Lets Servers Stay Hot, Saving Air Conditioning Costs

The electricity to run huge server farms is enormous. One of the significant cost is air conditioning to cool down the server rooms.

Too Hot for Humans, But Google Servers Keep Humming

Google’s data center in Belgium, which was the company’s first facility to rely entirely upon fresh air for cooling, instead of energy-hungry chillers.

For the vast majority of the year, the climate in Belgium is cool enough that this design works with no problems. When it gets hot in Belgium, the temperature inside Google’s data center warms beyond the facility’s desired operating range

During these periods, the temperature inside the data center can rise above 95 degrees.

“We’ve had very few excursion hours, and they don’t last long, so we let the site run right through them. We ask our employees to go in and do office work. It’s too warm for people, but the machines do just fine.”

Google’s experience is the latest affirmation that servers are much tougher than we think. Many data centers feel like meat lockers, as servers are maintained in cool environments to offset the heat thrown off by components inside the chassis. Typical temperature ranges in data centers often range from 68 and 72 degrees.

In recent years, rising power bills have prompted data center managers to try and reduce the amount of power used in cooling systems.

The temperatures in Fahrenheit obviously. I was surprised that the servers don’t seem to need to be chilled to perform well.

Related: Saving Energy with Smart SoftwareNew Server Uses 75% Less Power and Space

Footballs Providing Light to Those Without Electricity at Home

This is an update on our previous post: sOccket: Power Through Play. This year, Soccket, 3,000 balls are scheduled to be put into use around the world. The college students (all women, by the way) that came up with this idea (harnessing the kenetic energy created while kicking a football [soccer ball] around to power a batter to use for lighting) are continuing to test and develop the product.

That ball has to be able to survive dusty, wet and harsh conditions and continue to provide power. The new, production version of the football powers a water sterilizer, fan, and provides up to 24 hours of LED light. It also can’t be deflated (a side affect of a design that is able to survive the rough environments, I believe).

I love to see engineers focusing on providing solutions for the billions of people that need simple solutions. Creating the next iPhone innovations is also cool, but the impact of meeting the needs of those largely ignored today, is often even greater.

The sOccket inventors also have a talent for publicity, which is always useful for entrepreneurs.

Related: Water Pump Merry-go-RoundWater and Electricity for AllHigh School Team Developing Clean Water SolutionsSmokeless Stove Uses 80% Less Fuel

Schematics of Electronic Circuits

Reading circuit diagrams

Schematic diagrams are made up of two things: symbols that represent the components in the circuit, and lines that represent the connections between them.

If a line runs between components, it means that they are connected, period, and it tells you nothing else. The connection can be a wire, a copper trace, a plug-socket connection, a metal chassis, or anything else that electricity will run through without much resistance. Messy details like wire or cable specifications and routing, if they are important for a project, belong elsewhere in its documentation. The length of a line also has nothing to do with the connection’s actual distance in real life. Schematics are drawn (ideally) to be clear and simple, with components and connections arranged on the page to minimize clutter, not to represent how they might be placed on a circuit board.

The video and the article give you a good start on understanding schematics. There are 2 ways to show wires crossing in a schematic (the video shows one, the article shows both). Learning how to read a schematic gives you the ability to go many different directions with your home engineering efforts. Have fun.

Related: Arduino: Open Source Programmable HardwareEZ-Builder Robot Control SoftwareBuilding a Windmill to Generate Electricity by Reading and ExperimentingTeaching Through Tinkering

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:
Continue reading

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

Nikola Tesla – A Scientist and Engineer

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) was born an ethnic Serb in the village of Smiljan, in the Austrian Empire (today’s Croatia), he was a subject of the Austrian Empire by birth and later became an American citizen. Nikoka Tesla studied electrical engineering at Technical University at Graz, Austria, and the University of Prague.

Tesla’s patents and theoretical work formed the basis of modern alternating current (AC) electric power systems, including the polyphase system of electrical distribution and the AC motor, which helped usher in the Second Industrial Revolution.

In 1882 he moved to Paris, to work as an engineer for the Continental Edison Company, designing improvements to electric equipment brought overseas from Edison’s ideas.
According to his autobiography, in the same year he conceived the induction motor and began developing various devices that use rotating magnetic fields for which he received patents in 1888.

He emigrated to the United States in 1884 and sold the patent rights to his system of alternating-current dynamos, transformers, and motors to George Westinghouse the following year.

In 1887, Tesla began investigating what would later be called X-rays using his own single terminal vacuum tubes.

Tesla introduced his motors and electrical systems in a classic paper, “A New System of Alternating Current Motors and Transformers” which he delivered before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1888. One of the most impressed was the industrialist and inventor George Westinghouse.

The Tesla coil, which he invented in 1891, is widely used today in radio and television sets and other electronic equipment. Among his discoveries are the fluorescent light , laser beam, wireless communications, wireless transmission of electrical energy, remote control, robotics, Tesla’s turbines and vertical take off aircraft. Tesla is the father of the radio and the modern electrical transmissions systems. He registered over 700 patents worldwide. His vision included exploration of solar energy and the power of the sea. He foresaw interplanetary communications and satellites.

“Within a few years a simple and inexpensive device, readily carried about, will enable one to receive on land or sea the principal news, to hear a speech, a lecture, a song or play of a musical instrument, conveyed from any other region of the globe.” – Nikola Tesla, “The Transmission of Electrical Energy without wires as a means for furthering Peace” in Electrical World and Engineer (7 January 1905)

“Money does not represent such a value as men have placed upon it. All my money has been invested into experiments with which I have made new discoveries enabling mankind to have a little easier life.” – Nikola Tesla

Related: PBS – Tesla, Master of LightningWerner HeisenbergToyota Develops Thought-controlled WheelchairNeil Degrasse Tyson: Scientifically Literate See a Different World

All About Circuits

All About Circuits is an online textbook covering electricity and electronics. Topics covered include: Basic Concepts of Electricity’ OHM’s Law; Electrical Safety; Series and Parallel Circuits; Physics of Conductors and Insulators; Solid-State Device Theory; Binary Arithmetic; Logic Gates; Switches; Digital Storage? It is a great resource. Enjoy.

Related: Textbook RevolutionOpen Access Education MaterialsHigh-quality Curricula and Education Resources for TeachersOnline Mathematics Textbooks

Battery Breakthrough

New battery could change world

Inside Ceramatec’s wonder battery is a chunk of solid sodium metal mated to a sulphur compound by an extraordinary, paper-thin ceramic membrane. The membrane conducts ions — electrically charged particles — back and forth to generate a current. The company calculates that the battery will cram 20 to 40 kilowatt hours of energy into a package about the size of a refrigerator, and operate below 90 degrees C.

This may not startle you, but it should. It’s amazing. The most energy-dense batteries available today are huge bottles of super-hot molten sodium, swirling around at 600 degrees or so. At that temperature the material is highly conductive of electricity but it’s both toxic and corrosive. You wouldn’t want your kids around one of these.

The essence of Ceramatec‘s breakthrough is that high energy density (a lot of juice) can be achieved safely at normal temperatures and with solid components, not hot liquid.

Ceramatec says its new generation of battery would deliver a continuous flow of 5 kilowatts of electricity over four hours, with 3,650 daily discharge/recharge cycles over 10 years. With the batteries expected to sell in the neighborhood of $2,000, that translates to less than 3 cents per kilowatt hour over the battery’s life. Conventional power from the grid typically costs in the neighborhood of 8 cents per kilowatt hour.

A small three-bedroom home in Provo might average, say, 18 kWh of electric consumption per day in the summer — that’s 1,000 watts for 18 hours. A much larger home, say five bedrooms in the Grandview area, might average 80 kWh, according to Provo Power.;Either way, a supplement of 20 to 40 kWh per day is substantial. If you could produce that much power in a day — for example through solar cells on the roof — your power bills would plummet.

Ceramatec’s battery breakthrough now makes that possible.

Clyde Shepherd of Alpine is floored by the prospect. He recently installed the second of two windmills on his property that are each rated at 2.4 kilowatts continuous output. He’s searching for a battery system that can capture and store some of that for later use when it’s calm outside, but he hasn’t found a good solution.

“This changes the whole scope of things and would have a major impact on what we’re trying to do,” Shepherd said. “Something that would provide 20 kilowatts would put us near 100 percent of what we would need to be completely independent. It would save literally thousands of dollars a year.”

Very interesting stuff. If they can take it from the lab to production this could be a great thing, I would like one.

Related: Recharge Batteries in SecondsUsing Virus to Build BatteriesBlack and Decker Codeless Lawn Mower Review

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