An 11-pound contraption built by LaserMotive of Kent, Wash., successfully climbed up a kilometer high cable suspended from a helicopter in 4 minutes 2 seconds. This qualified them for $900,000. If they had done it in 3 minutes the prize would have been 1.1 million dollars. In four years of the power-beaming competition, LaserMotive is the only competitor to qualify for a cash prize.
Million dollar prizes are motivating research and development in areas that probably wouldn’t be done otherwise, said Andrew Petro, manager of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. Many of these challenges have just finished.
Winner in Contest Involving Space Elevator New York Times
In addition to other environmental technology add-ons that strip out the fly ash, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the Mountaineer Power Plant in West Virginia now also uses a carbon-capture unit built by Alstom. Dubbed the "chilled ammonia" process, baker's ammonia is used to strip carbon dioxide from the cooled flue gas and then, by reheating the resulting ammonium bicarbonate, captures that carbon dioxide, compresses it into a liquid, and
pumps it 2,375 meters straight down into the Rose Run sandstone, a 35-meter-thick layer with a nine-meter-thick band of porous rock suitable for storage. (or...) into Copper Ridge dolomite, which has much thinner strata for possible storage, more than 2,450 meters down. Thick bands of shale and limestone that lie on top ensure that the carbon dioxide does not escape back to the surface. Scientific American
Only about 1.5 percent of the carbon dioxide billowing from its stack is being captured now. Scaling up the process to capture 20% of the CO2 will cost at least $700 million. The removal of carbon dioxide will add abouts 4 cents more to the current cost of Mountaineer electricity (roughly 5 cents per kWh). This chilled-ammonia technology should be available commercially by 2015.
By offering a $10 million dollar prize, the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE seeks to enable development and stimulate demand for clean, fuel efficient vehicles.
In the Design Judging process, automotive experts evaluated 97 registered entries for:
53 vehicles are moving forward in the competition with 28 represented in the Mainstream Class and 25 represented in the Alternative Class.
43 teams, representing 18 states, 10 countries and 6 fuel types, now advance to the most exciting phase of the competition, performance and safety testing. Vehicles will be tested for efficiency, performance and durability under real-world conditions. Vehicles will race the clock through cities, up hills, and will need both speed and distance capability.
Half of the $10M purse will be awarded to the Mainstream Class winner. The remaining $5M will be split between two winners in the Alternative Class - one vehicle with side-by-side seating, and one vehicle with tandem seating. Performance testing will begin in spring 2010 and winners will be announced in September 2010.
And, let’s face it, who hasn’t had the urge now and then? At the “Quantum to Cosmos” physics conference in Waterloo, Canada, seven physicists were asked, "What keeps you awake at night?" (Apparently, they meant “what issue in science” as opposed to love, money, or lack thereof.) The panel came up with some pretty heavy questions:
Why are the fundamental laws of nature the way that they are? There doesn’t seem to be any reason why they couldn’t be some other way. Are there, perhaps, other universes with other rules?
How does the Observer Effect work? This is a little deep for me, but apparently at the sub-atomic level, simply observing a particle over here can effect another particle thousands of miles away. How does nature do that?
What is the nature of matter, anyway? Especially the “dark matter” which is theorized to exist in outer space, messing up all our gravity calculations.
On a related note, will string theory ever be proven? String theory is the latest theory for how matter and energy interact at the sub-sub-sub-atomic level. And while it is very elegant and seems right on paper, no one has any idea how to conduct an experiment to prove or disprove it.
How do complex systems arise out of simple, basic particles and forces? You know, complex systems. Like life, the universe, and everything.
How did the universe begin, anyway? Physics can only take us back to a few fractions of a second after the Big Bang, a moment at which the universe was very small, very hot, and very dense. Before that, the laws of physics break down. No one knows how to describe the Bang itself, or how / why it happened.
Which brings us to, what are the limits of science? Science is based on observation and experiment. But, at some point, you run into ideas that can’t be tested. In theory, it’s entirely possible that there are other universes. But we’re stuck in this one—how would we ever know?
If anyone has answers to any of these questions, please send them to Canada ASAP. It sounds like there’s a bunch of scientists up there who could use a good night’s sleep.
Como Park will have 3 or 4 circulating shuttle buses next year to help solve the traffic and parking problem at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. They will allow free and easy parking by the State Fair grounds and within 7 minutes, will drop you off at the front door.
Ultracapacitor buses have low maintenance cost, low operation cost, zero tailpipe emission, and can reach a zero carbon footprint if powered by renewable energy sources.
The estimated savings in energy costs over the 12 year life of the bus (at current electric and oil prices) is $200,000.
Ultracapacitors will only power a bus for 5-10 blocks, then need about 3 minutes to recharge. Only two recharge stations would be needed, one at the parking lot and one a the conservatory drop off. The bus recharges while passengers load and unload. Capacitors do not wear out like batteries. A capacitor bus is 40 per cent cheaper to build than a battery powered bus. Because the buses can use regenerative braking, they use 40 percent less electricity than an electric trolley using over head wires.
I hope to one day live in a house that produces more energy than it uses. A competition between 20 such houses is going on right now on the Mall in Washington DC. The Solar Decathlon joins 20 college and university teams in a competition to design, build, and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house. Points awarded in ten categories determine the overall winner. As of today (Mon) we have climbed up to 7th place(click for most recent rankings).
I have been excitedly working my way through information as it comes in. You can follow a umn_solar_house Twitter feed and there is an ICON Facebook fan page. The Solar Decathalon landing page allows you to jump to photos, videos, and team websites(not working? Try the site map). The University of Minnesota's ICON landing page branches off into a blog, a virtual tour, and lots of educational pages about design. The media (WCCO News and Washington Post) and bloggers (myself included) will be all over this. I recommend GetEnergySmartNow.com's cheat sheet and their overview of the UMN ICON house. You can also download a 966KB PDF media kit about the Solar Decathlon.
What does a mousetrap have in common with a wind-up clock? A spring. A spring can provide energy to run a clock for days. A mouse trap spring can deliver a quick, deadly energy burst. Unlike batteries, energy stored in a spring can last hundreds of years and is usually not diminished by extreme cold or heat.
MIT scientist, Carol Livermore, "did a combination of mathematical analysis and small-scale laboratory testing to determine the potential of carbon nanotubes to be used as springs for energy storage" MITnews.
The nanospring concept is sound in theory and may even be patented. Working out the details to provide a working device using carbon-nano-tubes to store and re-deliver energy will require plenty of additional basic research, followed by engineering work.
Courtesy tbonzzz_6Get your bells out, everybody, and ring them! The Chevy Volt is here! (In a year.)
GM released new details today about its new gas and electric hybrid car, the Chevy Volt. Using a plug-in battery (as opposed to current, unmodified hybrid cars, which recharge only via the gas engine), GM claims that the Volt should be able to achieve approximately 320 miles to the gallon during city driving. Estimates haven’t been completed for combined city and highway driving, by officials are confident that fuel economy will remain in the triple digits.
The car should have a range of about 40 miles, using its battery alone, at which point the gas engine would kick in. Nearly 80% of Americans, however, commute less than 40 miles each day, so most of the expended energy could come from the electrical grid (the car will plug into a standard outlet), instead of from gasoline.
GM’s chief executive calls the Volt a “game changer.”
Finally, a game-changing American car. Not like those sissy Prius drivers, making smug environmental statements by purchasing impractically expensive vehicles. Sure, the Volt will be entering the game about 9 years late, but it does so with the confidence that every environmentally conscious working-class American with $40,000 to drop on a sweet new car will… wait, what?
What about the rest of GM’s 2010 lineup? They’re cutting more than half of their 30+ mpg cars? But a few Volts on the road should bring that fleet average up, right?
And GM is pushing for environmental responsibility in other areas, at least, right? Oh, they’re pulling out of a partnership that collects toxic mercury from their old scrapped cars?
Well, it was a nice thought. And it’s comforting to hear someone say something like “game changer” now and again.
Weeellllll... it looks like the volt may be kind of an unremarkable car after all. Despite their claims last year that it would get something like 230 miles to the gallon, auto trade magazines are test driving it now, and saying it actually gets mileage in the 30 - 40 mpg range. That's less than a Prius. But don't worry, it's still super expensive. Huh. I mean, I couldn't design a "game-changing" car, but, then again, I never said I would. It turns out, too, that even though GM insisted that it wasn't really a hybrid car, and that the gasoline powered engine would only drive a generator for the battery... that's all not true. The gas engine does charge the battery, but it also will drive the wheels. Prove me wrong, Chevy (or commenters), but is this actually a crappy idea, and not a significant step towards changing our energy use?
Courtesy teapicPack your bags, Buzzketeers, because you don’t want to be the last person to make it to the world’s newest, creepiest continent. (Don’t worry, Australia, I’m not talking about you.)
Trashlantis! The new frontier! The Texas-sized plastic layer floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! Why would you not want to go there? The answer, of course, is that you wouldn’t not want to go there… ever!
Yet another scientific expedition is on its way to the fabled plastic continent. But while the last group of researchers mentioned on Buzz was at least partially motivated by the potential to turn Trashlantis back into some more useful hydrocarbons, it looks like these folks are more interested in seeing how the plastic is affecting sea life.
The Yahoo article linked to above sums up the expedition with:
”The expedition will study how much debris -- mostly tiny plastic fragments -- is collecting in an expanse of sea known as the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, how that material is distributed and how it affects marine life.”
I’m guessing what they’re getting at has to do with how plastic affects very very small organisms as it photodegrades. We understand how chunks of plastic in the ocean are no good for larger animals—marine life can choke on them, or fill their stomachs with trash—but the problem goes further than that. See, eventually those larger pieces of plastic start to photodegrade. (That means they get broken down by the energy in sunlight.) But photodegredation doesn’t seem to actually get rid of the plastic, it just breaks it into increasingly smaller pieces. When a plastic bag turns into a million little tiny chunks, it no longer poses a risk for, say, a sea gull choking on it. But smaller organisms are still likely to gobble some up, and if they can eat anything bigger than they can poop (it happens), they’re in a lot of trouble. And when small organisms die off, so do the slightly larger creatures that eat them, and the larger creatures that eat them, and so on. (You remember this from grade school.) So how will Trashlantis fit into this plasticky food-path?
And then there’s the huge real estate potential for Trashlantis. So get there now.
Courtesy Mark RyanI watched the Aquatennial's Milk Carton Boat Races today at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. One of the early heats included an entry from the Science Museum.
Courtesy Mark RyanI don't know who was sailing the ship but dang if science didn't prevail!
The boat looked sea-worthy enough on land but once it was placed into the water, it just didn't want to remain upright. But the hardy crew never despaired, and instead re-engineered the ship (ala Apollo 13) on the spot by removing the entire pesky bottom half and using only the deck to complete the race.
Courtesy Mark Ryan
They didn't win by any means, and at times it looked like they weren't using a boat at all, but they worked together to solve problems and got to shore safely.