Stories tagged environment

This page lists stories about the environment, energy, climate change, and global warming from Science Buzz, a website devoted to science in the news, emerging research, and seasonal phenomena.

Sep
01
2006

Farming the Wind: photo by Dirk Ingo Franke.   licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0
Farming the Wind: photo by Dirk Ingo Franke. licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0

Is wind a good cash crop?

At the State Fair I observed as several farmers were researching whether a 1.5 million dollar wind turbine would make them money. The biggest factor was how much wind was available where they lived.The break even point was if they had better than 7.5 mph average wind speeds( see map pdf). Apparently several banks and also John Deere are financing projects if the numbers look good. Power companies will give a 20 year contract to buy electricity. The wind generators usally have a life expectancy of 25 years. Most farmers pay back the loan in ten years, then can reap profits of over $100,000 a year for the next 15 years. Sounds tempting, doesn't it?

An Iowa company hopes to build a $200 million wind farm.

Iowa Winds LLC hopes to build a 200- to 300-megawatt farm covering about 40,000 acres in Franklin County.

Company officials said the farm could be the nation's largest -- depending on the permits and the county's power grid infrastructure. If the county approves the project, construction would start next spring and take about a year, said Franklin County Supervisor Michael Nolte. LiveScience

Texas leads the nation with 2,370 megawatts of wind energy installed and California has 2,323 megawatts (American Wind Association). Iowa is in third place with 836 megawatts. Minnesota is fourth with 794 megawatts. The total United States capacity is about 10,000 megawatts. These numbers and rankings are changing. Wind energy output is growing by about 30 percent a year globally.

Want more? Go to the Minnesota Dept. of Commerce wind energy information web page.

Aug
28
2006

Eco Experience at MN state fair: photo by ahhyeah
Eco Experience at MN state fair: photo by ahhyeah

Look for the 123 ft wind turbine blade

Going to Minnesota's State air? Don't miss the Eco Experience in the Progress Center building. Look for the 123ft. tall blade from a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine. It is at the NW corner near Snelling. Like everything served on a stick, this could be "wind on a stick".

Minnesota Public Radio website has a slideshow of what you will see. The exhibits within have a strong emphasis on energy efficiency...how to use the energy you do use carefully. Below is a breakdown of topics and activities. Each link will take you to more information. Also here is a map (pdf).

The Eco Experience is an opportuity to talk with and learn from regional leaders in energy conservation. The University of Minnesota's solar race car is there as well as lots of ideas you can use in your homes. Maybe I will see you there. I plan to volunteer at the University of Minnesota – Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) booth. The Minnesota pollution control website has links to other participant websites.

Aug
21
2006

Sneaky videos
Sneaky videos

Cy Tymony, author of the great book, Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things, is sponsoring a contest for science fair projects on conservation. Just make a how-to video about your project on alternative energy or conservation, upload it to You-Tube, and you can be entered to win a DVD player, a portable MP3 Player with thumb drive and a USB WiFi adapter. If you post your videos make sure to add them to the Recycle Reuse Rethink Energy Usage group.

I'm excited for this project because it not only inspires kids to hunt out alternative energy and conservation ideas but also encourages them to document their work. This will help support the idea that science is a process involving research as well as communication.

To get inspired check out the videos that Cy has already posted. My favorite is the cool hidden pocket how-to. I know its not energy focused, but it's still a great example.

Aug
17
2006

Clean, affordable energy needed: Taken by Chris Howells via Wikipedia
Clean, affordable energy needed: Taken by Chris Howells via Wikipedia

We need clean, affordable energy

MIT has created an Energy Research Council which has been likened to the Manhattan Project.

"The urgent challenge for our time (is) clean, affordable enery to power the world," said MIT President Susan Hockfield.

Like ending WWII or going to the moon, research and development can provide solutions for many of the world's problems.

Some examples of the MIT research projects the Energy Research Council will be sponsoring and developing include:

    Spinach solar power: Tapping the secrets of photosynthesis -- engineering proteins from spinach -- to make organic solar cells whose efficiency could outstrip the best silicon photovoltaic arrays today.
    Silicon superstrings: A novel approach to manufacturing conventional silicon photovoltaic arrays by pulling the chips in stringy ribbons out of a molten stew like taffy rather than slicing them from silicon ingots.
    Laptop-powered hybrids: Using a new generation of lithium-based batteries (which power most portable electronics today) to cut the price and charge-time of hybrid and electric car batteries.
    Tubular battery tech: Using "supercapacitors" made from carbon nanotubes to store charge -- rather than the chemical reactions that power most batteries -- resulting in a lightweight, high-capacity battery that could someday give even the laptop battery a run for its money.
    Hold the A/C: Optimizing air and heat flow on a new computer-aided design system, before a building's construction begins, allowing for the building's air conditioning costs to be cut by as much as 50 percent.
    Hybrid without the hybrid: Turbocharging an automobile engine with plasma from a small ethanol tank (which would need to be refilled about as often as the oil needs changing), reportedly increasing fuel efficiency almost to the level of a hybrid -- but only adding $500-$1,000 to the car's sticker price.
    More light than heat: Generating a car's electricity photoelectrically (using a gas-powered light and a small, specially designed solar panel) rather than mechanically (using an alternator), substantially increasing fuel efficiency.
    Coal-powered biofuels: Bubbling exhaust from a coal-fired power plant through a tank of algae that's been bred to siphon off much of the exhaust's carbon dioxide -- in the process, fattening the algae that can then be harvested as biodiesel.
    Source; Wired news

Stay tuned to Buzz Blog. We will feature some of these projects soon.

Aug
07
2006

Corn field: Corn is used to produce ethanol fuels, such as E85.  Photo courtesy killermart, Flickr Creative Commons.
Corn field: Corn is used to produce ethanol fuels, such as E85. Photo courtesy killermart, Flickr Creative Commons.
Biofuels are fuels that are derived from recently living organisms, such as corn or soybeans, or their byproducts, such as manure from cows. A recent study at the University of Minnesota examined the total life-cycle cost of all of the energy used for growing corn and soybeans and converting these crops into biofuels to determine what biofuel has the highest energy benefit and the least impact on the environment.
Corn grain ethanol vs. soybean biodisel
Two types of biofuels are becoming more visible as we look for alternatives to petroleum because of increasing gas prices: soybean biodisel and corn grain ethanol, such as E85. The study showed that both corn grain ethanol and soybean biodiesel produce more energy than is needed to grow the crops and convert them into biofuels. However, the amount of energy each fuel returns differs greatly. Soybean biodiesel returns 93 percent more energy than is used to produce it, while corn grain ethanol currently provides only 25 percent more energy than is used to produce it.
The study also compared the amount of greenhouse gases each biofuel released into the environment when used. Soybean biodiesel produces 41% less greenhouse gas emissions than diesel fuel while corn grain ethanol produces 12% less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline.
Not a silver bullet
The researchers conducting this study caution that neither biofuel is ready to replace petroleum. Even if all current U.S. corn and soybean production were dedicated to biofuels production, it would still only meet 12 percent of gasoline demand and 6 percent of diesel demand, and we still need to produce these crops for food. Biofuels are steps in the right direction, however, and can be a piece of the overall puzzle needed to be put together to solve our energy needs.

Jul
13
2006

Cow Power: photo by Art Oglesby,    Cow manure can produce electricity.
Cow Power: photo by Art Oglesby, Cow manure can produce electricity.

What comes out of the back end of a cow?

Milk and manure. The cows at the Audet family's Blue Spruce Farm make almost 9,000 gallons of milk a day — and about 35,000 gallons of manure. With the help of their power company, Central Vermont Public Service Corp., the Audets have devised a way to extract methane from the manure and pipe it to a generator. They make enough electricity to power 300 to 400 average Vermont homes.

How can electricity be made from cow manure?

If cow manure is pushed into a long, narrow tank and held around 100 degrees, in about 20 days bacteria will digest the manure into methane gas and a liquid slurry. The methane can run an engine and generator to make electricity. A dry, odor-free, fluffy brown substance that is used as bedding for the cows can also be extracted. The remaining liquid contains enough nutrients that it can be used as fertilizer for the farm's feed crops.

Do farms in Minnesota make electricity from manure?

Since late 1999, the Haubenschild farm has been converting their cow manure into electricity. At first they, too, digested manure producing methane which fueled a generator to produce electricity. Then, on Jan. 27, 2005, for the first time anywhere in the world, the methane was fed into a fuel cell.
A fuel cell is like a battery. A chemical reaction generates the electricity. It is totally quiet, and the only waste product is clean water. Haubenschild said it costs 5.1 cents per kilowatt hour to produce electricity from the fuel cell and Great River Energy will buy the surplus electricity from the fuel cell for four cents per KWH. If Minnesota power companies can create a progam similar to Vermont's Cow power program, customers willing to pay a couple extra cents per KWH would allow farmers to make money instead of losing money.

What are the benefits of anaerobic digestion?

    Reduced odor and greenhouse gas emissions
    Fewer pathogens in the digested product
    Nutrient rich effluent to apply to crops
    Electricity to use and to sell
    Possible sale of separated solids as a garden amendment
    Good manure management
    Pay back on the investment

Read more about Cow power
Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department, Univ. of MN.
Princeton Union-Eagle
Pioneer Press
FAQ about CVPS Cow Power

Sir William Robert Grove, British physicist and high court justice, invented the fuel cell in 1839 (!), when he mixed hydrogen and oxygen in the presence of an electrolyte to produce electricity and water. The technology wasn't seriously revisited until the 1960s, and it's Buzz-worthy again today as we try to break our dependence on fossil fuels.

Apr
10
2006

Safe storage needed for hydrogen fuel


MOF crystal acts like a sponge for storing hydrogen: This neutron-scattering image reveals where hydrogen molecules (red-green circles) connect to a metal organic framework (MOF), a type of custom-made compound eyed for hydrogen storage applications.

Chemists at UCLA and the University of Michigan have announced a new "crystal sponge" material that can store in its pores nearly three times more hydrogen than any substance known previously.  For now, notes Professor Omar Yaghi, the high storage densities are possible only at very low temperatures, below 77 degrees Kelvin (-321 degrees Fahrenheit). But he is optimistic the limitation is temporary. He believes it's possible to modify the rod-like components to store hydrogen at everyday temperatures. In previous research, Yaghi and colleagues were able to exceed the DOE requirements for methane  (natural gas) with similar materials.

Sep
02
2005


Urine Power: A credit card-size battery powered by urine. Photograph courtesy Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology

This is another story where I can only imagine what the lab that does this research is like...

Scientists in Singapore have reported that they have invented a small, credit card sized battery that is activated using urine.

The government funded Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology developed the battery for use in medical diagnostic test kits. These test kits are often used to study the chemical composition of a person's urine to detect an illness. Researchers studying ways to make a small, efficient and inexpensive battery to power these test kits realized that the substance being tested - urine - could also be used to provide power for the test kit.

To make the battery, pieces of paper are soaked in a solution of copper chloride and then sandwiched between strips of magnesium and copper. This "sandwich" is then laminated between two sheets of plastic. When a drop of urine is added to the paper through a slit in the plastic, a chemical reaction takes place that produces about 1.5 volts of electricity - about the same as a AA battery - for about 90 minutes.

The research team who developed the battery describes their work in the current issue of the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.

Given the high cost of energy lately, a cheap and plentiful energy source would be welcome. If these batteries could be successfully scaled up they could be used for larger applications, such as laptops, mp3 players or even cars.

Fueling up the car may never be the same.

Mar
03
2005

With all the doom-and-gloom stories in the news about how we might soon run out of space in landfills and fossil fuels, it's nice to read about an innovation that uses landfills to provide energy.

Methane forms when organic waste decomposes in the absence of oxygen, as in landfills. At a few landfills, the methane is collected and used to power vehicles or to heat nearby buildings. But most of it goes to waste. Landfill operators burn it off to prevent dangerous build-ups of the flammable gas. Burning off the methane not only wastes the potential fuel, but it also pumps pollutants into the atmosphere. In Europe alone, landfills have the potential to generate as much as 94 billion cubic meters of methane per year.

Why don't we use the methane from more landfills? Well, people usually extract it by sinking pipes into the landfill and sucking the gas out. But if the landfill isn't airtight, sucking out the methane also sucks in air. The oxygen is not only difficult to separate from the methane, but it also slows down methane production inside the landfill. So, until now, the only landfills where methane extraction has been viable have been those large and deep enough to restrict the entry of air.

But Viktor Popov, at the Wessex Institute of Technology, has figured out some simple modifications that allow methane extraction from any landfill. His solution is to cover the landfill with a membrane that prevents air from getting in. The membrane consists of three layers: a middle, permeable layer sandwiched between two mostly impermeable layers. Popov continuously pumps carbon dioxide (which can itself be extracted from the gasses in the landfill) into the middle layer so that the CO2 is slightly above atmospheric pressure. This creates a barrier that prevents air being drawn into the landfill—as the methane is sucked out of the ground, CO2 gets sucked into it from the membrane.

You can see a diagram of how this works

A landfill can continue to be a source of energy long after it's closed to new garbage. Decomposition can keep going underground, producing methane, for 15 to 20 years.

Are you interested in new sources of energy? Would you be willing to pay more for "green energy" if the option were available to you?