Posts about Energy

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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Engineering Floating Wind Farms

Webcast on floating wind turbines.

Related: Sails for Modern Cargo ShipsWind Power Capacity Up 170% Worldwide from 2005-2009Tidal Turbine Farms to Power 40,000 HomesWorld’s First Commercial-Scale Subsea Turbine

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.

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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

Saving Energy with Smart Software

Leaving your computer on all night/weekend/break just in case you need to connect remotely is not longer necessary. UC San Diego computer scientists created software that lets you put your computer to sleep without worrying that you’ll have to go into work on just because you suddenly need to access your computer connected to an enterprise network. SleepServer wakes up your sleeping PC remotely when you need it… but it won’t wake up the PC if the PC’s alter ego – a lightweight virtual image – can handle the job. Computers and the internet are great but they are also using a huge amount of energy to keep them going, so efforts to save wasted energy use are important (see more environmentally friendly posts).

That’s the simplest example of how SleepServer helps UC San Diego cut its carbon footprint. But SleepServer does much more. That sleeping computer of yours also remains active on voice over IP/IM/peer-to-peer networks as well thanks to SleepServer.

How is this possible? When you put your computer to sleep, the software activates a lightweight virtual image of your PC which runs on a commodity server, along with hundreds of images of other PCs on your network. That virtual image can do a number of basic things that would otherwise require the actual PC to be awake.

SleepServer reduces energy consumption on enterprise PCs previously running 24/7 by an average of 60 percent, according to a new study presented today at the 2010 USENIX Annual Technical Conference.

Yuvraj Agarwal from UC San Diego is presenting this work on June 25 in Boston at the 2010 USENIX Annual Technical Conference. Learn more

Related: New Server Uses 75% Less Power and SpaceCost of Powering Your PCData Center Energy Needs

New Server Uses 75% Less Power and Space

SeaMicro drops an atom bomb on the server industry

[SeaMicro] has created a server with 512 Intel Atom chips that gets supercomputer performance but uses 75 percent less power and space than current servers.

Today’s servers are so inefficient when it comes to being properly utilized,” Feldman said. “This misalignment between the server and the work load is the root of the power consumption problem.”

So SeaMicro guessed that servers could benefit instead by using lots of smaller processors, and it got lucky when Intel started promoting its low-power, low-cost Atom chip for netbooks. That lowered power consumption, since Atom processors deliver three times the performance per watt versus Intel’s server chips.

But SeaMicro also attacked the power consumption in the rest of the system, which accounts for about two thirds of the power consumed by a server.

it applied the concept of virtualization to the inside of a server. Feldman designed custom chips that could take the tasks that were handled by everything beyond the Intel microprocessor and its chip set. The custom chips virtualize all of those other components so that it finds the resource when it’s needed. It essentially tricks the microprocessor into thinking that the rest of the system is there when it needs it.

SeaMicro virtualized a lot of functions that took up a lot of space inside each server in a rack. It also did the same with functions such as storage, networking, server management and load balancing. Full told, SeaMicro eliminates 90 percent of the components from a system board. SeaMicro calls this CPU/IO virtualization. With it, SeaMicro shrinks the size of the system board from a pizza box to the size of a credit card.

This advance is coming just in time. Google said recently that if current power trends continue, the cost of energy consumed by a server during its three-year life span could surpass the initial purchase cost for the hardware. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that volume servers consume more than 1 percent of the total electricity in the US—representing billions of dollars in wasted operating expense each year.

Related: Google Server Hardware DesignData Center Energy NeedsGoogle Uses Only Outside Air to Cool Data Center in Belgium

Mycoremediation and its Applications In Oil Spills

The webcast shows a talk by mycologist Paul Stamets on Bioremediation with Fungi (an Excerpt from Mushrooms as Planetary Healers). In response he to the British Petroleum/Halliburton oil spill he posted a message, Fungi Perfecti: the petroleum problem

Various enzymes (from mushroom mycoremediation) breakdown a wide assortment of hydrocarbon toxins.
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My work with Battelle Laboratories, in collaboration with their scientists, resulted in TAH’s (Total Aromatic Hydrocarbons) in diesel contaminated soil to be reduced from 10,000 ppm to < 200 ppm in 16 weeks from a 25% inoculation rate of oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) mycelium, allowing the remediated soil to be approved for use as landscaping soil along highways. [paper]

Aged mycelium from oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) mixed in with ‘compost’ made from woodchips and yard waste (50:50 by volume) resulted in far better degradation of hydrocarbons than oyster mushroom mycelium or compost alone.

Oyster mushrooms producing on oil contaminated soil (1–2% = 10,000–20,000 ppm)… Soil toxicity reduced in 16 weeks to less than ~ 200 ppm, allowing for plants, worms and other species to inhabit whereas control piles remained toxic to plants and worms.

New crop of mushrooms form several weeks later [after contaminating with oil]. The spores released by these mushrooms have the potential – as a epigenetic response – to pre-select new strains more adaptive to this oil-saturated substrate.

I proposed in 1994 that we have Mycological Response Teams (MRTs) in place to react to catastrophic events, from hurricanes to oil spills. We need to preposition composting and mycoremediation centers adjacent to population centers

On a grand scale, I envision that we, as a people, develop a common myco-ecology of consciousness and address these common goals through the use of mycelium. To do so means we need to spread awareness and information. Please spread the word of mycelium.

Related: Saving the World with Science and MushroomsFun FungiThinking Slime Moulds

Top Kill Effort to Stop Oil Leak Initially Working

‘Top kill’ stops gulf oil leak for now, official says

Engineers have at least temporarily stopped the flow of oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico from a gushing BP well, the federal government’s top oil-spill commander, U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said Thursday morning.

The “top kill” effort, launched Wednesday afternoon by industry and government engineers, had pumped enough drilling fluid to block oil and gas spewing from the well, Allen said. The pressure from the well was very low, he said, but persisting. The top kill effort is not complete, officials caution.

Once engineers had reduced the well pressure to zero, they were to begin pumping cement into the hole to entomb the well. To help in that effort, he said, engineers also were pumping some debris into the blowout preventer at the top of the well.

Update: The top kill effort failed. BP is now trying to capture the oil as it spills into the water with a funnel like device.

Related: Solar Thermal in Desert, to Beat Coal by 2020Oil Consumption by Country

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