Posts about electricity

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

Google Uses Only Outside Air to Cool Data Center in Belgium

Another example of what makes Google such a good engineering company. They do some spectacular things but as importantly they take many, many, many, many individual steps which when taken together make a big difference. Google’s Chiller-less Data Center

Rather than using chillers part-time, the company has eliminated them entirely in its data center near Saint-Ghislain, Belgium, which began operating in late 2008 and also features an on-site water purification facility that allows it to use water from a nearby industrial canal rather than a municipal water utility.

Year-Round Free Cooling
The climate in Belgium will support free cooling almost year-round, according to Google engineers, with temperatures rising above the acceptable range for free cooling about seven days per year on average. The average temperature in Brussels during summer reaches 66 to 71 degrees, while Google maintains its data centers at temperatures above 80 degrees.

So what happens if the weather gets hot? On those days, Google says it will turn off equipment as needed in Belgium and shift computing load to other data centers. This approach is made possible by the scope of the company’s global network of data centers, which provide the ability to shift an entire data center’s workload to other facilities.

Related: Data Center Energy Needsengineering for a better environmentGoogle Aids Green Action

Graphene: Engineered Carbon

A material for all seasons

Graphene, a form of the element carbon that is just a single atom thick, had been identified as a theoretical possibility as early as 1947.

Its unique electrical characteristics could make graphene the successor to silicon in a whole new generation of microchips, surmounting basic physical constraints limiting the further development of ever-smaller, ever-faster silicon chips.

But that’s only one of the material’s potential applications. Because of its single-atom thickness, pure graphene is transparent, and can be used to make transparent electrodes for light-based applications such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) or improved solar cells.

Graphene could also substitute for copper to make the electrical connections between computer chips and other electronic devices, providing much lower resistance and thus generating less heat. And it also has potential uses in quantum-based electronic devices that could enable a new generation of computation and processing.

“The field is really in its infancy,” says Michael Strano, associate professor of chemical engineering who has been investigating the chemical properties of graphene. “I don’t think there’s any other material like this.”

The mobility of electrons in graphene — a measure of how easily electrons can flow within it — is by far the highest of any known material. So is its strength, which is, pound for pound, 200 times that of steel. Yet like its cousin diamond, it is a remarkably simple material, composed of nothing but carbon atoms arranged in a simple, regular pattern.

“It’s the most extreme material you can think of,” says Palacios. “For many years, people thought it was an impossible material that couldn’t exist in nature, but people have been studying it from a theoretical point of view for more than 60 years.”

Related: Very Cool Wearable Computing Gadget from MITNanotechnology Breakthroughs for Computer ChipsCost Efficient Solar Dish by MIT StudentsSuperconducting Surprise

Global Installed Wind Power Now Over 1.5% of Global Electricity Demand

graph of global installed wind power capacityChart showing global installed wind energy capacity by Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog, Creative Commons Attribution. Data from World Wind Energy Association, for installed Mega Watts of global wind power capacity.


Globally 27,339 MW of capacity were added in 2008, bringing the total to 121,188 MW, a 29% increase. The graph shows the top 10 producers (with the exceptions of Denmark and Portugal) and includes Japan (which is 13th).

In 2007, Europe had for 61% of installed capacity and the USA 18%. At the end of 2008 Europe had 55% of installed capacity, North America 23%, Asia 20%, Australia 1.5%, Latin America .6% and Africa .5%. Country shares of global capacity at the end of 2008: USA 21%, Germany 20%, Spain 14%, China 10%, India 8% (those 5 countries account for 73% of global capacity).

USA capacity grew 50% in 2008, moving it into the global lead for the first time in a decade. China grew 107%, the 3rd year in a row it more than doubled capacity.

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 2030Top 12 Manufacturing Countries in 2007

Lenz’s Law in Action: Eddy Current Tubes

Eddy Current Tubes — Drop the Magnets down the tube. An eddy current is set up in a conductor in response to a changing magnetic field. Lenz’s law predicts that the current moves in such a way as to create a magnetic field opposing the change; to do this in a conductor, electrons swirl in a plane perpendicular to the changing magnetic field.

Because the magnetic fields of the eddy currents oppose the magnetic field of the falling magnet; there is attraction between the two fields. Energy is converted into heat. This principle is used in damping the oscillation of the lever arm of mechanical balances.

Related: Home Experiments: Quantum Erasingposts on physicsMIT Physics Lecture: Electromagnetism (Faraday’s Law & Lenz Law)10 Most Beautiful Physics Experiments

Using Virus to Build Batteries

MIT researchers have shown they can genetically engineer viruses to build both the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery. We have posted about similar things previously, for example: Virus-Assembled BatteriesUsing Viruses to Construct Electrodes and Biological Molecular Motors. New virus-built battery could power cars, electronic devices

Gerbrand Ceder of materials science and Associate Professor Michael Strano of chemical engineering, genetically engineered viruses that first coat themselves with iron phosphate, then grab hold of carbon nanotubes to create a network of highly conductive material.

Because the viruses recognize and bind specifically to certain materials (carbon nanotubes in this case), each iron phosphate nanowire can be electrically “wired” to conducting carbon nanotube networks. Electrons can travel along the carbon nanotube networks, percolating throughout the electrodes to the iron phosphate and transferring energy in a very short time. The viruses are a common bacteriophage, which infect bacteria but are harmless to humans.

The team found that incorporating carbon nanotubes increases the cathode’s conductivity without adding too much weight to the battery. In lab tests, batteries with the new cathode material could be charged and discharged at least 100 times without losing any capacitance. That is fewer charge cycles than currently available lithium-ion batteries, but “we expect them to be able to go much longer,” Belcher said.

This is another great example of university research attempting to find potentially valuable solutions to societies needs. See other posts on using virus for productive purposes.

Google Server Hardware Design

Ben Jai, Google Server Platform Architect, discusses the Google server hardware design. Google has designed their own servers since the beginning and shared details this week on that design. As we have written previously Google has focused a great deal on improving power efficiency.

Google uncloaks once-secret server

Google’s big surprise: each server has its own 12-volt battery to supply power if there’s a problem with the main source of electricity. The company also revealed for the first time that since 2005, its data centers have been composed of standard shipping containers–each with 1,160 servers and a power consumption that can reach 250 kilowatts.

Efficiency is another financial factor. Large UPSs can reach 92 to 95 percent efficiency, meaning that a large amount of power is squandered. The server-mounted batteries do better, Jai said: “We were able to measure our actual usage to greater than 99.9 percent efficiency.”

Related: Data Center Energy NeedsReduce Computer WasteCost of Powering Your PCCurious Cat Science and Engineering Search

Google Aids Green Action

Google has a focus on energy as I have discussed previously. Google has been working to provide a way for people to get information on energy use in their homes that can be used to reduce your energy use.

Power to the people

studies show that access to home energy information results in savings between 5-15% on monthly electricity bills. It may not sound like much, but if half of America’s households cut their energy demand by 10 percent, it would be the equivalent of taking eight million cars off the road.

We’ve been participating in the dialogue in Washington, DC and with public agencies in the U.S. and other parts of the world to advocate for investment in the building of a “smart grid,” to bring our 1950s-era electricity grid into the digital age. Specifically, to provide both consumers and utilities with real-time energy information, homes must be equipped with advanced energy meters called “smart meters.” There are currently about 40 million smart meters in use worldwide, with plans to add another 100 million in the next few years.

Over the last several months, our engineers have developed a software tool called Google PowerMeter, which will show consumers their home energy information almost in real time, right on their computer. Google PowerMeter is not yet available to the public since we’re testing it out with Googlers first.

Related: Electricity Invests $10 million in Geothermal EnergyGoogle Investing Huge Sums in Renewable Energy and is Hiring

Black and Decker Codeless Lawn Mower Review

photo of Black and Decker cordless lawnmower

My old version of this mower just stopped working and the repair guy said it would cost $250 for a new starter, new battery… So I bought a new one: Black & Decker 19-Inch 24-Volt Cordless Electric Mulching Lawn Mower #CMM1200. He said that the new ones were not as well manufactured. I couldn’t imagine how you could make things worse (it is a simple product and just adopting improvement over the years should be really easy).

But, the starter on this model is horrible. You have to tun this incredibly cheap key in a very poorly designed socket. Fails over 80% of the time. The old model started easily essentially every time. The design was just as you would expect, foolproof. Whatever pointy haired boss approved this design needs to go into another line of work.

The ability of the mower to cope with high grass is very poor – much worse than the previous model. I had a good test at first given the time between my mower breaking and getting the new one. Not often an issue, but still not a good thing.

They had a poor indication of the charge left in the battery previously. They now provide no indication of the charge left. It makes you realize that a poor indication was much better than none.

Battery technology has improved a great deal, and that was one of biggest the weaknesses of the last one. Well they seem to have managed to provide worse battery performance after 5 years of improvement in that technology. Pretty sad.

The bag design is much better than the previous model. You have to assemble it yourself but it is much more sturdy and much better designed – you can replace the fabric and keep the frame. The old model the entire things needed to be replaced if the fabric broke. And given the flimsy design mine broke very early on.
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Wireless Power

An end to spaghetti power cables by Maggie Shiels, BBC News

Mr Rattner envisaged a scenario where a laptop’s battery could be recharged when the machine gets within several feet of a transmit resonator which could be embedded in tables, work surfaces, picture frames and even behind walls.

Intel’s technology relies on an idea called magnetic induction. It is a principle similar to the way a trained singer can shatter a glass using their voice; the glass absorbs acoustic energy at its natural frequency. At the wall socket, power is put into magnetic fields at a transmitting resonator – basically an antenna. The receiving resonator is tuned to efficiently absorb energy from the magnetic field, whereas nearby objects do not.

Intel’s demonstration has built on work done originally by Marin Soljacic, a physicist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, researcher Alanson Sample showed how to make a 60-watt light bulb glow from an energy source three feet away. This was achieved with relatively high efficiency, only losing a quarter of the energy it started with.

Don’t expect to see this available commercially this year, they estimate it is at least 5 years away. Though this is not university and business collaboration in the sense they are working together, it is in the sense that Intel is building upon the work MIT did. See other posts on university and business collaboration.

Related: Water From AirEngineers Save EnergyMicrochip Cooling Innovation

Refrigeration Without Electricity

Lack of electricity is a serious problem for vaccines and medicines that need to be cooled. It is hard to imagine that this is a problem, living in the USA, but this is still a problem today. As readers of this blog notice I really like appropriate technology solutions that provide real quality of life enhancements for hundreds of millions of people (which undoubtedly is influence by my father).

Related: Cooling with Clay Pots, Sand and Waterappropriate technology postsWater and Electricity for AllInspirational Engineer Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) posts (great webcasts)