Posts about Energy

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 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

Appropriate Technology: Washing Clothes by Machine Instead by Hand

Hang Rosling provides great presentations exploring economics and human well being. I agree with his point that we should be thankful for economic and engineering progress that has freed us from menial tasks and allowed us to spend our time in higher value ways.

We need to remember (as he shows) there are many in the world that still do not enjoy these advances. For example, a majority of the world must hand wash their clothes. Engineers should continue to focus on the mass of humanity that needs fairly simple solutions.

He is also right that we need to find solutions to the extremely heavy use of fossil fuels by the rich countries. If the rich countries don’t reduce the pollution there will be great problems. And if the costs of clean energy are not decreased (which they should do) fast enough (which is the question), those that start to be able to afford the rich lifestyle, will add to the dangers we face economically and environmentally of continuing the unsustainable energy footprint the rich countries have been making.

Related: Washing Machine Uses 90% Less WaterClean Clothes Without SoapHans Rosling on Global Population GrowthAutomatic Dog Washing Machine

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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