Courtesy Public domain photo by Napoleon Sarony via Wikipedia Seventy years ago on January 7, 1943, inventor, physicist, and electricity wonder-kind Nikola Tesla died alone in a New York City hotel room. The Serbian-American scientist held more than 700 patents including several that made radio possible, yet he died penniless and deep in debt.
In his prime, Tesla (with investor George Westinghouse) had battled with Tesla's former employer Thomas Edison over the best method of transmitting electrical current. Edison favored direct current and won the battle, but later he admitted Tesla's alternating current was superior. It's been the standard means of transmitting electricity for more than a century (although, this could be changing).
Below are some links to more information about the remarkable Tesla.
Courtesy JMTThe way technology usually works, things get smaller and faster to be more efficient. That's not the case with wind turbines. Read this interesting piece on how new innovations are making wind turbines taller (reaching up into the sky the length of a football field), the blades are getting longer and are moving slower. All of this is actually generating more electricity.
Courtesy Courtesy ksoScientists from the Berkeley Lab have developed a way to generate electricity from viruses! Their method is based on the piezoelectric properties of the virus, M13 bacteriophage. Piezoelectricity is the charge that accumulates in certain solids when a mechanical stress is applied to them (squeezing, pressing, pushing, tapping, etc.) The scientists realized that the M13 virus would be a great candidate for their research because it replicates extremely rapidly (no supply problems here), it’s harmless to humans (always a good thing), and it assembles itself into well-organized films (think chopsticks in a box). It was these films that they layered and sandwiched between gold-plated electrodes to create their nearly paper-thin generator. When this postage stamp-sized generator was tapped, it created enough electricity to flash a “1” on a liquid crystal screen.
The potential here is that someday we could put these super-thin generators in any number of places, and harness electricity by doing normal, everyday tasks like walking or closing doors. I propose putting them in the shoes of marathon runners and then have cell phone charging stations along the route. Nothing is more maddening than waiting all day in the rain to get an action shot of your runner, only to find that your battery has since died by the time your slow-poke reaches the finish line. There’s always next year.
Courtesy Duane Storey
What’s the most effective thing you can do to conserve energy?
If you're like most Americans, you'll say "conservation by curtailment" or, to use plain English, "don't use it in the first place." However, according to Scientific American, only 12% of Americans know the truth -- that conservation by improved efficiency is more effective.
Be in the know!
Using compact fluorescent bulbs, insulating your house, and driving a hybrid car are more effective at saving energy than switching off the lights, changing thermostat settings, and driving less. Find out the nitty gritty here.
The Smartypants Grid
The smart grid is actually a futuristic collection of technologies that manage electricity distribution. Ultimately, they are "smarter" (more efficient) at generating, distributing, and using electricity than the current industry standards.
Courtesy Duke Energy
Some people are getting excited about smart grids because cutting back on electricity usage is cutting back on fossil fuel consumption which is cutting back on human-driven causes of global climate change. (Are you still with me or did I lose you there?) Other people are looking forward to smart grids because they should decrease the number of brown- and blackouts experienced in the country, which improves the region's health and economy. Still more people are pumped for the smart grid because it could mean lower electricity bills for their homes.
When will the smart grid reach your hometown? That depends. Some cities already have smart grid technology, but regional adoption is set to take place on a rolling basis during the next five years and is largely dependent on whether the American people get on board.
Scientific American: How Will the Smart Grid Handle Heat Waves?
"Pretty well, once the technology to automatically respond to peak demand and store renewable energy matures."
Smart grid test cites in Harrisburg, PA, Richland, WA, and Boulder, CO have their work cut out for them this week as people across the nation crank down the A/C to battle the heat wave covering most of the continental United States. According to the Scientific American article, a regional smart grid should have the potential to excel under stressful heat wave conditions. In the meantime, utility companies and academics are working toward developing a method to better store electricity when supply exceeds demand thus creating a stockpile of electricity for times of scarcity.
If you're looking for a more interactive learning experience, check out General Electric's smart grid webpage complete with narrated animations.
Of course, if you're looking to hear from academics or industry experts themselves, the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment in conjunction with the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment and St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, are hosting Midwest's Premier Energy, Economic, and Environmental Conference, E3 2010, at the St. Paul River Center (right across Kellogg Blvd from the Science Museum) Tuesday, November 30.
Last year, the entire Las Vegas Strip did it. More than 30 governor's mansions across the U.S. are planning to do it this year. Are you on board? What I'm talking about is Earth Hour 2010. For one hour Saturday night (8:30 p.m. local time), participants will shut off all non-essential electricity use for one hour in recognition of energy conservation efforts. This year, the faces on Mount Rushmore will go dark and will only be lit for one hour a night through the rest of the tourist season, reducing energy consumption there by 60 percent. What do you plan to do to reduce your energy use Saturday night and beyond?
Did you know that the web page that you are staring at right now can produce as much CO2 as an SUV? Well, not science buzz itself but, the internet as a whole is a major contributer to the greenhouse gas, equaling the amount produced by the entire aviation industry. When you think about it, its not as amazing of a fact as it first appears to be. Just imagine the amount of electricity that is used to power all of the computers used in businesses and homes. Add to that the real culprit, all of the servers in data centers that store pictures, videos, and websites.
The data centers run 24/7
Courtesy Gregory Maxwell saving and processing information for internet users around the world. The amount of energy needed to run the servers is large but that is not the only consumer of electricity. The cooling systems for the rows and rows of buzzing machines eat electrons like popcorn. All of this electricity needs to come from somewhere and that is where the CO2 comes into play. Its the coal burning plants that add the gases to the environment.
Making more energy efficient cooling systems, better software, and using recycled water are some of the steps companies have made to create a greener internet. Although it is hard to measure how much CO2 each internet action adds and a direct comparison to cars is not available, this is something to think about when watching the latest youtube video. Its not only your computer you're powering.
Nikola Tesla, inventor, mechanical engineer, and electrical genius was born on this day in 1856 in the village of Smiljan, Croatia. We had a recent posting about Tesla here on the Buzz if you want to learn more about him. And you should want to learn more. Life today just wouldn't be the same without his ideas and inventions. And I can't think of a more fitting way to honor his genius than this video of two Tesla coils playing the Super Mario Brothers theme song. Happy birthday Nikola!
Courtesy bre pettisJust kidding! The burning sensation is probably just one of the many symptoms you’ll experience during your bout with gonorrhea. It may feel like electric fire, but, really, it’s only inflammation somewhere in your urinary tract.
But while we’re on the subjects of urine, electric fire, and the future, check this out: your bladder is full of rich, savory hydrogen fuel, and some Ohio scientists have found a great way to get at it.
Using urine in power storage/production devices has been explored before, and, naturally, Science Buzz has been all over it. The story that was on Buzz before, however, was about using urine as an electrolyte medium in batteries, so it’s just there to allow the passage of electrons from one material to another. (That’s how I understood it, anyway—I couldn’t get to the original article.)
What we have here is something entirely different. With this technology, it’s the urine itself that could supply power, instead of just activating a chemical reaction in other materials.
Hydrogen, as we all know, is awesome. It’s easy to remember where it is on the periodic table (somewhere near the beginning, I think), it’s light, so it can lift stuff like zeppelins up in the air, it’s super flammable, so it can run the internal combustion engines we love so much, and it can be made to undergo a chemical reaction in a fuel cell, producing electricity. Unfortunately, hydrogen is also kind of... not awesome. Its otherwise delightful explosiveness also means that riding a hydrogen-filled zeppelin isn’t a great idea, it’s tricky to store, and despite being the most common element in the universe, it’s a pain to get a hold of.
We can get hydrogen out of water, because every molecule of water has two hydrogen atoms for each oxygen atom. But those hydrogen and oxygen atoms don’t like splitting apart, so we have to run electricity through water to get them to break up, and depending on how we produced that electricity, it sort of defeats the purpose; we’re using a lot of some other kind of fuel to make hydrogen fuel.
These clever Ohio scientists, however, realized that by using the right materials, they could get hydrogen and nitrogen to split apart from each other with a lot less electricity. (It takes them .037 volts to split hydrogen and nitrogen, compared to 1.23 volts for hydrogen and oxygen.) Where, then, is a cheap plentiful source of nitrogen bound with hydrogen? Where indeed…
You know where this is going: urine, or as I call it, yellow gold. Urea, one of the main components of urine, has four hydrogen atoms bound to two nitrogen atoms. If you put a nickel electrode into some urine and run electricity through it, that hydrogen gets released, and you can do with it what you will.
One cow, claim the scientists, could produce enough hydrogen to supply hot water for 19 houses. A gallon of urine could theoretically power a car with a hydrogen fuel cell for 90 miles. A refrigerator-sized unit, they say, “could produce one kilowatt of energy for about $5,000.” Someone might have to help me out on that last one. That can’t be per kilowatt, or “kilowatt-hour” (how we usually measure electricity usage), because a kilowatt-hour costs about 10 cents these days. I’m assuming that it would cost about $5,000 to build a unit like that, and the cost to run it would largely fall upon your kidneys. (Maybe?) Commercial farms, required to pool their animal waste anyhow, could power themselves with all the spare hydrogen.
It’s a pretty neat idea, and one that I actually had a long time ago. I have to give it to the scientists, though—they definitely advanced on my original idea. See I was just trying to burn urine straight up, and, frankly, it wasn’t working. Nothing about it was working.
I’m wondering, also, what the byproduct of urine-produced hydrogen would be. Fuel cells should just produce water vapor, but what’s happening when the hydrogen is separated from the urea? The chemical formula for urea is (NH2)2CO, so after the hydrogen leaves you’ve got two leftover nitrogen atoms, a carbon atom, and an oxygen atom. Laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, is N2O, but what about that carbon? We don’t like carbon just wandering around unsupervised these days.
Can anyone help me out here? When we remove the hydrogen from (NH2)2CO, what’s left over?