Posts about Energy

Do It Yourself Solar Furnace for Home Heating

Man builds $300 solar furnace, decreases heating bill

“I think it’s something that everyone should have affixed right to [their] house. I think it should be part of your design,” said Buchanan. “It would be very easy to do. [With a] south-facing house like mine, it’s perfect.

“Just mount it on the side. If you touch the side of the house, even at —20 C, it’s still hot. We should be gathering that heat and driving it inside as quickly as possible.”

It is great to see do it yourself solutions that easily tap the energy provided by the sun to heat your house.

I had a friend that had a south facing greenhouse (attached to her house) that had 2 huge water tanks. They would heat up in the sun and give off heat all night (the stone floor would do the same thing).

Related: Brian’s Pop Can Solar HeaterSolar DIY Space Heating ProjectsHow to Build a Soda Can HeaterPay as You Go Solar in IndiaSoda-can furnaces powered by solar energy heat Denver neighborhoodGreen Building with Tire BalesCost Efficient Solar Dish by Students (2008)

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Hyperloop – Fast Transportation Using a Better Engineering Solution Than We Do Now

Elon Musk (the engineer and entrepreneur behind Tesla electric cars and before that he helped create PayPal) has a very cool idea of how to provide fast long distance transportation (faster than a plane). Essentially it is a big version of pneumatic tubes that used to be used to send small packages around a building, as seen in the movie – Brazil :-) Details are scheduled to be released August 12th.

This Is How Elon Musk Can Build the Hyperloop for a Tenth the Cost of High-Speed Rail

Having a elevated Hyperloop main line also completely avoids or reduces many of the pitfalls of ground-level right-of-ways, and opens up some new opportunities as well:

  • The crossing of other right-of-ways, like roads and railways, will be a breeze.
  • Rivers and other terrain obstacles will only be a 10th the problem of rail construction.
  • Hyperloop can avoid tunnels completely by having more flexible choices of right-of-way.
  • An elevated right-of-way opens up new route options, like leasing farmer’s fields using contracts similar to what wind-power companies sign.
  • That could be paid for by leasing Hyperloop’s right-of-way to communications companies for fiber optic cables, cell phone towers, etc.
  • …and let’s not forget the solar power that a couple of square miles of surface area can generate!

Hype Builds Before Elon Musk’s August Alpha Plan for Hyperloop

The Hyperloop would transport passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about 30 minutes and at about twice the average speed of a commercial jet. The system would be on-demand, cheaper than current alternatives, impossible to crash, and potentially, run entirely on solar power.

Travelers ride in pods magnetically accelerated and decelerated into the main tube (like a rail gun) where the air circulates at speed. The air between pods acts as a cushion, preventing crashes, while more air injected through perforations in the tube levitates the pods and reduces friction, much as it might on an air hockey table.

Elon Musk has some very good ideas but what really sets him apart is turning them into functioning enterprises. Great ideas are wonderful but a huge number never go anywhere. Those people that can actually get ideas into the marketplace are the people that provide a much greater standard of living for all of us. And many of them are engineers.

Update: link to his blog post announcement.

More examples of cool extreme engineering: Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-TunnelTransferring Train Passengers Without Stoppingtransatlantic tunnelWebcast on Machine That Bores Subway Tunnels

Chart of Wind Power Generation Capacity Globally 2005-2012

Chart of installed wind energy capacity by country from 2005 to 2012

Chart of installed wind energy capacity by country from 2005 to 2012 by Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog using data from the Wind Energy Association. 2012 data is for the capacity on June 30, 2012. Chart may be used with attribution as specified.

Wind power generation capacity continues to grow faster than the increase in electricity use. The rate of growth has slowed a bit overall, though China’s growth continues to be large.

From 2005-2012 globally wind power generation capacity increased 330%; lead by China with an increase of 5,250%. Of the leading countries Germany grew the least – just 63%. The percent of global capacity of the 8 countries listed in the chart (the 8 countries with the highest capacity in 2012) has been amazingly consistent given the huge growth: from a low of 79% in 2006 to a high of 82.4% in 2011 (2012 was 82%).

Global growth in wind energy capacity was 66% in 2008-2010. In 2010 to 2012 the increase was 28%. The second period is just 18 months (since the 2012 data is for the first half of the year). Extending the current (2010-2012) rate to the end of 2012 would yield an increase of 37%, which still shows there has been a slowdown compared to the 66% rate in the previous 2 year period. The decrease in government subsidies and incentives is responsible for the slowing of added capacity, though obviously the growth is still strong.

From 2005 to 2012 China’s share of global wind energy capacity increased from 2% to 27%, the USA 15% to 20%, Germany fell from 31% to 12%, India fell from 7.5% to 6.8% (while growing capacity 292%).

Hydro power is by far the largest source of green electricity generation (approximately 5 times the capacity of wind power – but hydro capacity is growing very slowly). And installed solar electricity generation capacity is about 1/5 of wind power capacity.

Related: Global Wind Energy Capacity Exceeds 2.5% of Global Electricity Needs (2010)Wind Power Capacity Up 170% Worldwide from 2005-2009Wind Power Provided Over 1% of Global Electricity in 2007

Pay as You Go Solar in India

Farmers Foil Utilities Using Cell Phones to Access Solar

In October, Bangalore-based Simpa Networks Inc. installed a solar panel on Anand’s whitewashed adobe house along with a small metal box in his living room to monitor electricity usage. The 25-year-old rice farmer, who goes by one name, purchases energy credits to unlock the system via his mobile phone on a pay-as-you-go model.

When his balance runs low, Anand pays 50 rupees ($1) — money he would have otherwise spent on kerosene. Then he receives a text message with a code to punch into the box, giving him about another week of electric light.
When he pays off the full cost of the system in about three years, it will be unlocked and he will get free power.

Across India and Africa, startups and mobile phone companies are developing so-called microgrids, in which stand- alone generators power clusters of homes and businesses in places where electric utilities have never operated.

Very cool. Worldwide, approximately 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity and another 1 billion have extremely unreliable access. The poorest spending up to 30% of their income on inefficient and expensive means of providing light and accessing electricity. Solutions like this, finding engineering solutions for basic needs that are market based, are great.

That the poor end up owning their solar system after just 3 years is great.

Creating great benefit to society with the smart adoption of technology and sustainable economics is something I love.

Related: Solar Power Market Solutions For Hundreds of Millions Without ElectricityAppropriate Technology: Solar Hot Water in Poor Cairo NeighborhoodsEngineering a Better World: Bike Corn-ShellerWater Pump Merry-go-Round

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

Thorium Nuclear Reactors

Kirk Sorensen is founder of Flibe Energy and is an advocate for nuclear energy based on thorium and liquid-fluoride fuels and author of Energy From Thorium blog.

He also taught nuclear engineering at Tennessee Technological University as a guest lecturer. He is active in nonprofit advocacy organizations such as the Thorium Energy Alliance and the International Thorium Energy Organization. He is married and has four small children.

See another video with him on why the thorium molten-salt reactor wasn’t developed (from a Google tech talk).

Related: Molten Salt Solar Reactor Approved by CaliforniaHelium-3 Fusion ReactorNuclear Power Production by Country from 1985-2009Mining the Moon

Mitsubishi Uses a Sled of Bubbles To Improve Ship Efficiency

Mitsubishi completed the conceptual design of a new container ship; this eco-ship achieves a 25% decrease in CO2 emissions over existing ships. Three, of these ships, with the Mitsubishi Air Lubrication System (MALS), are being built now (they should be completed in 2014).

In addition to blowers to create air bubbles under the vessel bottom, the three grain carriers will also feature a newly designed bow shape that will reduce wave-making resistances. For propulsion, the ship adopts a system to effectively convert the main engine power into propulsion power by positioning fins forward of the propellers and placing particular grooves in the propeller boss cap.

Using “eco-ships” to substantially reduce CO2 emissions from maritime transport

Reducing the frictional drag on the hull of a ship saves fuel and lowers CO2 emissions. To achieve this, MHI developed the Mitsubishi Air Lubrication System (MALS), which reduces frictional drag by introducing air bubbles by air blower into the water around the bottom of a ship’s hull, covering the ship in bubbles. By arranging the air blowhole location and shape and controlling the air volume, the lubrication effect has been enhanced, reducing CO2 emissions per container transportation by 10 percent.

This system has already been introduced on module carriers, and has been proven to reduce CO2 emissions significantly.

Related: Sails for Modern Cargo ShipsEco-Vehicle Student Competition

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

Using a Virus to Improve Solar-cell Efficiency Over 30%

Solar and wind energy are making great strides, and are already contributing significantly to providing relatively clean energy.

Researchers at MIT have found a way to make significant improvements to the power-conversion efficiency of solar cells by enlisting the services of tiny viruses to perform detailed assembly work at the microscopic level.

In a solar cell, sunlight hits a light-harvesting material, causing it to release electrons that can be harnessed to produce an electric current. The research, is based on findings that carbon nanotubes — microscopic, hollow cylinders of pure carbon — can enhance the efficiency of electron collection from a solar cell’s surface.

Previous attempts to use the nanotubes, however, had been thwarted by two problems. First, the making of carbon nanotubes generally produces a mix of two types, some of which act as semiconductors (sometimes allowing an electric current to flow, sometimes not) or metals (which act like wires, allowing current to flow easily). The new research, for the first time, showed that the effects of these two types tend to be different, because the semiconducting nanotubes can enhance the performance of solar cells, but the metallic ones have the opposite effect. Second, nanotubes tend to clump together, which reduces their effectiveness.

And that’s where viruses come to the rescue. Graduate students Xiangnan Dang and Hyunjung Yi — working with Angela Belcher, the W. M. Keck Professor of Energy, and several other researchers — found that a genetically engineered version of a virus called M13, which normally infects bacteria, can be used to control the arrangement of the nanotubes on a surface, keeping the tubes separate so they can’t short out the circuits, and keeping the tubes apart so they don’t clump.

The system the researchers tested used a type of solar cell known as dye-sensitized solar cells, a lightweight and inexpensive type where the active layer is composed of titanium dioxide, rather than the silicon used in conventional solar cells. But the same technique could be applied to other types as well, including quantum-dot and organic solar cells, the researchers say. In their tests, adding the virus-built structures enhanced the power conversion efficiency to 10.6% from 8% — almost a one-third improvement.

Read the full press release

Related: Using Virus to Build BatteriesUsing Viruses to Construct ElectrodesUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into Cells

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 HiringGoogle.org 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

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