Stories tagged energy

Jul
05
2010

One oft-cited reason for the relatively small percentage of renewable energy produced in the U.S. (just 7% of our energy is renewable) is that when you have a fluctuating energy source such as sunlight or wind, you need a giant battery to store the excess for use during times of scarcity. Here's one example discussing wind. Perusing Popular Mechanics this afternoon, I came across two innovative new battery designs that could bring us much closer to wider use of renewable energies.

The first design wins points for style--Beacon Power, of Massachusetts, has been testing a battery made of flywheels that store energy as they spin.

The second battery isn't quite as sexy, but it's no less useful--Donald Sadoway at MIT is working on an all-liquid metal battery that could absorb electrical currents up to 10 times as strong as today's hi-tech batteries.

Pretty exciting stuff!

Jun
13
2010

Another Solar Decathlon competition is happening, this time in Europe. The Solar Decathlon Europe 2010 is a competition between 20 college and university student teams to design and build the best solar home. The houses must use readily available products and be easy to transport and assemble.

I would really enjoy designing and living in such a house of my own. Watching teams of experts compete to design innovative, efficient, and sustainable housing is a great place to get ideas.

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Picking the winner

SDEurope.org has a 17 page PDF download which explains how a maximum 1000 points can be earned in the 10 categories.

On the one hand, the competition will include objective methods for scoring, which will include measurable parameters such as the actual energy consumption of the houses, the capacity for solar energy capture, etc., as well as tasks performed by decathletes which reproduce domestic activities.
In addition, a number of evaluations will be made by a panel of jurors with proven experience who will judge qualities such as: architecture, innovation, sustainability, solar systems, communication and industrialization level.
The final score given to each team will be made up of a balanced combination of both objective and subjective assessments.

Related Solar Decathlon Buzz links

Jun
11
2010

Lake Erie offshore wind potential
Lake Erie offshore wind potentialCourtesy Less Salty

Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo)

LEEDCo is leading efforts to build, install, and deploy an offshore wind farm on Lake Erie. An initial five wind generators (20-megawatts, enough to power 16,000 homes) are to be located near Cleveland, Ohio, with a 2012 completion target. The expected cost is projected to be $100 million.

The 20 MW venture is just the initial phase. If the test phase is successful, LEEDCo would like to see the Lake Erie wind farm generating up to 1000 MW of energy by 2020. ConsumerEnergyReport

LEEDCo recently announced a long-term partnership with GE who will provide the 5 direct-drive wind turbines for LEEDCo’s 20-megawatt offshore wind project.

Obstacles to the Great Lakes wind project

Many hoops and hurdles need to be traversed before obtaining major financial commitments. (learn more at Cleveland.com

  • Approval from at least 16 federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. LEEDCo has yet to file any permit applications but does meet weekly with an interagency task force, the Lake Erie Offshore Wind Team, that Strickland created 18 months ago.
  • Concerns that the turbines will harm birds and bats. A $350,000 study is under way, including radar, laser and acoustic identification of bird and bat flight paths. The proposed site will need a four-mile radius of air space in which few if any birds have been detected.
  • How to anchor the towers in Lake Erie. Engineers must determine whether to sink steel piles down to bedrock, typically some 60 to 80 feet below the "glacial till" on the lake bottom. If pilings are needed, officials are uncertain whether the region still has the capacity to produce enough of the heavy steel that would be required.
  • A way to get the power to shore. Underwater cables from the turbines to shore would need right-of-way approval from the state.
  • The impact of winter ice. Plans call for an ice cream-cone shaped foundation at the water's level, which forces the ice down and breaks it, hopefully saving on cost, LEEDCo's Wagner said.
  • A means of paying for the project. Financing details are still tenuous -- and could be more complicated than the engineering, said Wagner.
  • May
    26
    2010

    Later today, BP is going to attempt to block up the leaking oil well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. They're going to pump heavy drilling mud, followed by cement, into the blowout preventer (the giant valve system that was supposed to stop the well from leaking in the first place). The heavy mud should slow down the oil after a while (it will probably get blasted out of the pipe at first), and then the cement will block up the flow. If it works, it should cap the well, and stop the leak entirely. If not, it's back to the drawing board. An earlier plan for capping the well involved injecting it with shredded junk first, but it looks like that might be off the menu, because of the risk that the junk could further damage the well equipment, and allow oil to escape even faster. So now it's just heavy mud and concrete.

    Here's an animation of the process:

    And here's a labeled illustration.

    Hold your breath and cross your fingers...

    I was just sent this link with some amazing photos of the BP oil spill.
    http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/05/disaster_unfolds_slowly_in_the....
    They certainly provide a vibrant visual sense of the disaster.

    May
    11
    2010

    Assorted rubbish may be pumped into the leaking oil well: To make it more fun.
    Assorted rubbish may be pumped into the leaking oil well: To make it more fun.Courtesy obiwanjr
    You know, when that oil rig went down and started spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, I thought, “What a downer. My reruns of ‘Yes, Dear’ are going to be interrupted with news footage of crying beavers and stuff for months now.”

    But then BP came up with that idea for the containment dome, and I thought, “This is so crazy… it just might work. This could be more entertaining than ‘Yes, Dear.’ If such a thing is possible.”

    But, no. The dome failed. Petrochemicals and near-freezing ocean water combined to form crystals in the dome, and it didn’t work. And it was super far underwater, so the failure couldn’t even be set to Benny Hill music or anything. Not entertaining.

    I was just resigning myself to the fact that such a horrible accident might not actually be funny, when the jokers at BP let slip that they might have another hilarious trick or two up their sleeves. The dome didn’t work? Let’s try a giant “top hat”!

    Yes, BP will be sinking a giant top hat onto the leaking oil pipe. It’s not really a top hat, of course; it’s actually a smaller version of Friday’s giant failure. I’m guessing it’s a sort of a bonus joke. But BP claims that the smaller contraption should have better chance of success, except that even if it does work, it won’t work as well as the dome was supposed to. (The dome was supposed to capture something like 85% of the leaking oil. But it captured 0%, so that’s sort of academic. Or, again, a bonus joke.)

    And BP even has another plan, a Plan C, if you will, in the works, in case this one flops. Sort of how they filmed the second and third Matrix movies at the same time. According to my sources, the discussion behind plan C went sort of like this:

    “So… what does everyone hate?”
    “Nazis.”
    “Yes, for sure Nazis. What else?”
    “Um… oil spills?”
    “Correct! Oil spills.”
    “Ooh! We should do one of those!”
    “No, people hate them. Plus we already have one. So what does everyone like?”
    “Top hats.”
    “Top hats, obviously. So we should throw one of them in the mix. But, if someone doesn’t like top hats, what do they probably like?”
    “Everybody likes… ball pits?”
    “Ball pits! Exactly! Let’s do something like that!”
    “And tires! Old tires!”
    “Yes, old tires too!”

    So, in case the top hat doesn’t work, BP is considering injecting the leaking system with golf balls. And old tires. And then they would cap it off with some cement. Oh, right, and there’s this part too:

    “What should we call it?
    “A ‘junk shot.’ Duh.”
    “Oh, my God. Totes perfect.”

    And then, I assume, everybody else in the room had to go wash their ears out after hearing the unfortunate term “junk shot.”

    Others have warned that such a “junk shot” could have repercussions beyond the phrase appearing in print: damaging the huge valve system at the base of the well could result in oil leaking out even faster—as much as 12 times the current rate.

    Performing a junk shot against the flow of oil and the under the pressure at that depth will be extremely challenging, too. According to an expert from Tulane University, such an operation would have to cope with 2,200 pounds per square inch of upward pressure, which would make pumping golf balls and tires down very tricky.

    However it turns out, it’s sure to be a barrel of laughs. Or oil. Thousands and thousands of barrels of spilled oil.

    (I don’t have any better ideas, by the way. Except not to have a leaking pipeline a mile underwater. But you know what they say about hindsight.)

    There's a lot of work being done at the nanoscale to find a cheap source of green energy. Will Pokeberries be the final material needed for a solution?

    http://www.nanowerk.com/news/newsid=15962.php
    Pokeberries ripening: Pokeberries may provide a key to cheap solar energy.
    Pokeberries ripening: Pokeberries may provide a key to cheap solar energy.Courtesy Huwmanbeing

    It's Friday, so it's time for a new Science Friday video.

    Science Friday
    Science FridayCourtesy Science Friday

    How would you describe the size of a wind turbine? There's no right answer. Turbines come in different varieties tuned for different uses. Compare the 256-foot-tall Gamesa G87 turbines, found at Bear Creek Wind Park in Penn., with the mini turbines developed by Bergey Windpower in Norman, Okla. The scale of both may surprise you.

    Feb
    23
    2010

    There's lots of buzz (normal buzz, not our patented Science Buzz) on the 'net today about the "Bloom Box" featured on 60 Minutes this weekend.

    It seemed to me to be a pretty junky interview and feature, but I'm intrigued nonetheless; the Bloom Box is supposed to be an efficient new fuel cell that would allow electricity to be produced at the site where it will be used, eliminating transmission losses, and efficiently converting fuel to energy.

    It runs on hydrocarbons, but it sounds like it's pretty omnivorous as to the kinds it can use (so natural gas works, but so would carbon-neutral biogas, etc), and it presumably emits CO2, only much less of it than traditional power generation. (The interview was extremely fuzzy on that aspect, but the Atlantic's article about Bloom from a month ago says that the device does release CO2.)

    Something like 20 companies in California are already testing Bloom Box units, and the people making them to have attracted a ton of money, so the technology doesn't look quite so pie in the sky as a lot of other energy inventions we're supposed to get excited about.

    The guy behind the Bloom Box believes that, inside of a decade, you'll be able to have one in your basement for something like $3000 dollars. More expensive than a used Super Nintendo, but, as far as major appliances go, pretty darn cheap. We'll see about that, sir... The featured skeptic seems to think that, if we see it at all, we'll see it coming from a company like GE, not Bloom Energy.

    Here's the 60 Minutes piece:

    Watch CBS News Videos Online

    The whole operation has been kept pretty secret until recently, and supposedly there will be more details coming soon.

    But until then... What do you think? Ho-hum? Hoax? Or is this something to be excited about?