Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sandpoint innovators’ solar road panels remove snow, generate power

 The Spokesman-Review

Solar Roadways co-founders Julie and Scott Brusaw stand by a demonstration pad of their solar roadway tiles.
(Full-size photo)
Prototype online
Take a look at the prototype parking lot or on Facebook at Solar Roadways.
Additional coverage
Read past coverage of Solar Roadways.
The streets of Sandpoint may soon lead to an energy revolution.
The city is on track to be the first to replace a traditional road surface with super-strong, textured glass panels that harness solar power.
The 1-inch-thick panels developed by Scott and Julie Brusaw of Sagle, Idaho, will melt snow and ice, power LED lights embedded in the roadway and generate electricity. The city is getting ready to apply for a grant from the Federal Highway Administration to use the technology in a test project downtown.
“We want to do a sidewalk and a driving section,” City Engineer Kody Van Dyk said. “That way we can demonstrate which one works best, which one has best opportunity for viability, and see what the constructability issues are.”
The Brusaws recently built a small parking pad next to their workshop using 108 of the hexagon-shaped panels. The pad remained free of snow and ice through the North Idaho winter, said Scott Brusaw, an electrical engineer. The couple also have submitted prototype panels for strength and endurance testing.
“We know how to make it now, so we need to gear up for manufacturing and start making these things,” he said.
Brusaw envisions beginning with a small manufacturing operation in Sandpoint within the year, then opening a larger plant in Coeur d’Alene or Spokane as interest in the product grows.
“We’ve got people waiting to order these things. And once we get it perfected … it will be time to open that big plant,” he said. “I’ve got the feeling we’re just going to get nailed with orders left and right.”
Next week the couple will begin raising money through the crowd-funding site to launch the manufacturing phase. Their company, Solar Roadways, is a private corporation.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Nuclear power is our only hope, or, the greatest environmentalist hypocrisy of all time | ExtremeTech

By  on February 11, 2013 at 11:19 am

Nuclear power plant

Sobering news from the other side of the world: China is burning almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined, and projections put India on course for a similarly dramatic uptick in consumption. This is one of the consequences of globalization; as a larger proportion of the world is brought advanced technology, our energy needs will skyrocket. How would our atmosphere look today if all of Africa had, a hundred years ago, somehow vaulted into the first or even second world? How much more advanced might our climate crisis now be, with all those extra polluters?
If we really want to address world poverty, we need to accept that mass electricity is as fundamental to the modern experience as medicine or plumbing. If we aren’t ready to deal with the pollution this causes, all our humanitarian intentions might be for naught. We can’t ask the two most populous nations on the planet to politely refrain from adopting the electrical excesses that have only been supportable in the West for so long because so few people could previously afford them. Few are going to be willing to continue living like medieval peasants, just to save the world — think about how much power will be needed just to furnish an affluent India with air conditioning, let alone Netflix.
As a result, basically everyone agrees that carbon-reduced power sources are a necessity. Even China, which has recently seen an incredible spike in awareness of their urban air quality problems, is beginning to get the message. There are only two general sorts of solution possible: find cleaner sources of energy, or find a way to lower the impact of existing ones.
The key to cheap solar power may have been discovered over 150 years ago | ExtremeTech

By  on August 9, 2013 at 10:27 am

Improvements in solar powertechnology come at a frustratingly slow pace. There’s abundant freeenergy raining down on the planet every day, but we simply haven’t found a highly efficient way to collect it. Researchers are looking at new materials to improve photovoltaic cells, but one of the most promising of them wasn’t concocted in a lab from exotic nanoparticles, or meticulously designed on the molecular scale — it’s a rock. Well, a particular kind of mineral, but it’s been known about for over 150 years.
Researchers have been divided on how to make solar power viable. Some see giant numbers of cheaper, low-efficiency cells as the best approach. Others believe expensive solar panels that are more efficient will power the future. If research into perovskite-based solar cells works out, both camps might be able to claim victory.
The first samples of perovskite (pictured above) were discovered in the Ural Mountains of central Russia in 1839. It’s an unassuming crystalline organometal, mostly composed of calcium titanate, but no one suspected it had any special properties at the time. It was later found to have light-absorbing properties, and can act as a semiconductor. It first occurred to researchers to try using it in solar cells in 2009. While those early experiments showed only modest results — 3.5% efficiency and poor longevity — the technology has vastly improved in the intervening years.
Breakthrough could help solve solar power’s biggest problem: Power generation at night | ExtremeTech

Solar System

One of the most fundamental barriers to the widespread adoption of renewable energy has been the inconvenient truth of planetary rotation. Solar power has advanced enormously over the past few decades but panel efficiency and solar concentration plants are of limited assistance when Apollo is busy elsewhere on the Earth. Now, researchers think they’ve found a partial solution to that problem by combining the known properties of one substance with everyone’s favorite technological advance: carbon nanotubes.
One of the problems with electrical power generation is that we’re much better at generating electricity than we are at storing it. This makes it difficult to rely solely on renewable sources for electricity; power generation can vary substantially in any given area depending on prevailing weather conditions at the time. One solution to the problem is to build out 2-3x the capacity needed to provide average power consumption, but the capital costs associated with doing so are extremely high and there are only so many ideal spots to stick a giant solar concentration facility in any case.
What’s needed is a simple method of converting energy gathered during the day into a resource that can be tapped at night — and Timothy Kucharski, a post-doc at MIT and Harvard, thinks his team has found it.

Of photoswitches and nanotubes

Kucharski’s work is based on the well-known properties of azobenzenes. These are molecules, dubbed photoswitches, that have one particular molecular configuration by default but, when struck by certain frequencies of ultraviolet light, assume a new configuration, as shown below.
When the molecule “relaxes” from its excited state to its base state it releases about 50KJ/mol-1 of energy. The research team’s goal was to see if packing a solution with carbon nanotubes in an appropriate configuration could significantly increase the amount of energy stored. One of the more interesting findings of the team, in fact, was that while they were unable to hit the necessary density of azobenzene molecules, adding carbon nanotubes drastically increased the overall efficiency. The carbon nanotube’s form chains to which the azobenzene molecules can attach, with multiple nanotubes locking together. The end result was that instead of a 30% energy density increase, the researchers saw a greater-than 200% increase — from 50KJ/mol-1 to 120KJ/mol-1.
Why aren't we harnessing waste heat? -

For decades, Tom Casten of Recycled Energy Development  has preached the gospel of saving money, resources and the planet by simply not wasting heat.
By harnessing waste heat, the same fuel would do twice the work. We'd have doubled efficiency.The typical power plant uses only one-third of the energy produced by burning fuel (usually coal) to generate electricity. The remaining two-thirds of that energy escapes as waste heat. Mr. Casten says that we easily could — and should — harness this heat to warm water or even cool buildings. (You can cool with a heat source by using an absorption chiller.)
The simultaneous production of heat and electricity is called cogeneration.
Electrical generation is not the only heat-wasting culprit. Various industries — the production of metals, glass, and silicon, among other things — release waste heat as a byproduct. In these cases, heat could turn turbines and generate electricity.
Indeed, Casten estimates that industrial waste heat alone could supply about 200,000 megawatts of electricity in the US. That's 20 percent of the US's electricity needs, or 95 nuclear power plants not built.
In other words, we could burn fewer fossil fuels, spend less money, and fight global warming simply by harnessing the heat now flowing out of the country's collective flues and smokestacks.
So why don't we?

In a word, outdated laws. The near monopoly on electrical transmission by utility companies doesn't help either. In most states, for example, it's illegal for all but a utility to erect electrical transmission lines across a public thoroughfare. So if you generate electricity with the heat coming out your smokestack, you can't get it anywhere. There goes the incentive to do something with the waste heat.
Scientists find an 'ugly duckling' to convert waste heat to electricity -

Researchers looking for better ways to convert waste heat into electricity have stumbled across a simple material that is smashing records for making that conversion efficiently.

More than 90 percent of the energy produced to generate electricity, propel vehicles, or dry bricks requires a heat source, researchers say. Yet only 30 to 40 percent of the heat produced actually does the work. Most of the heat is wasted.This new material – a semiconductor made by blending tin and selenium – promises to convert heat to energy more efficiently than current technologies and with relatively accessible, inexpensive elements.
In principle, much of that heat could be recovered, using thermoelectric generators made from materials capable of turning a difference in temperature into electricity. 
Indeed, the "holy grail" in this field is to find materials that can act as efficient thermoelectric generators from room temperature up to perhaps 1,000 degrees F. or more – a span that would significantly broaden the range of sources from which they could draw heat.

Such a development could have as big an impact on energy use as another "holy grail" – the quest for materials that conduct electricity with no resistance at room temperatures, says Mercouri Kanatzidis, a solid-state chemist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and a lead member of the research team that is reporting the results in the current issue of the journal Nature. The nine-member team also included scientists from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Real Cost of Nuclear Power

Cheap nuclear power?

Few nuclear power plants have been built in Europe or America over the past twenty years. That's not because of the dangers of nuclear energy, which governments have pers istently played down, but simply a matter of economics. Nuclear has not been competitive with other sources, especially coal and gas (see [1]Nuclear Renaissance Runs Aground and other articles in the series,SiS 40).
But as we are committed to reducing our use of fossil fuels, the nuclear industry is trying to make a comeback. A recent UK White Paper tells us that it is the most cost-effective low-carbon generation technology [2].
We've been here before. When the first nuclear power plants were being built in the UK, we were promised that they were going to be a uniquely economical way of producing electricity. There were even claims that electricity meters would soon be obsolete because the price would be so low it wouldn't be worth measuring how much we used. In fact, nuclear power has turned out to be very expensive, which is why the Thatcher government was not able to sell the nuclear power stations when it privatised the rest of the electricity supply industry. The taxpayer was left to pick up the tab for the cost of decommissioning and disposing of the waste, and the bill is £72bn and rising (see [3] Nuclear Industry's Financial and Safety Nightmare SiS 40).
This time, the overnment assures us, things are going to be different. Nuclear energy will not be too cheap to meter, but it will produce clean electricity at a competitive price. That will make it an attractive investment for private industry, which will bear the costs of building, operating and decommissioning the plants. The government will only have to give a clear go-ahead so the process can begin, streamline the planning process to avoid ‘unnecessary' delays, and set up some scheme whereby a small fraction of the money paid by the consumers will be put aside to cover the costs of decommissioning and waste disposal. The government will neither have to contribute any taxpayers' money nor get involved in organising new ways of producing and distributing electricity. It will be a simple matter of disconnecting the old coal and gas powered stations and plugging in the new nuclear plants [2].
However, a recent report from Citigroup Inc, the world's largest financial services network, paints an entirely different picture [4]. They point out that the UK is the only country where new nuclear is currently being proposed without financial underpinning from the state. They see little prospect of any new nuclear stations being built in the UK unless the government provides substantial subsidies in one form or another.
The claim that nuclear energy will be self-financing depends on assumptions that are out of line with other current estimates. If the government commits us to a heavy dependence on nuclear power and only afterwards realises that subsidies are required to get the plants built and running, we will have written the industry a blank cheque.
There is no need to go for nuclear energy at all, because renewable sources such as wind, solar, biogas, tidal and so on are capable of supplying enough energy (see [5] Green Energies 100% Renewables by 2050 , ISIS publication). Furthermore, while the cost of nuclear energy keeps rising, that of renewable energies is falling as the technology improves. Since 1990, for example, the cost of solar photovoltaic power in the US has fallen by about half in real terms (i.e. after correcting for inflation) and while it was then about four times as expensive as grid electricity it is expected to reach parity in 2015 [6].
That is why Germany has chosen not to build new nuclear plants but to meet its carbon targets by switching to renewable sources [7] ( Germany 100 Percent Renewables by 2050 SiS 44) . It also means to keep its industry strong by becoming a world leader in renewable technology.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Someday, you may store your solar or wind power in a 'rhubarb battery' from Harvard | Public Radio International

One of the biggest problems with renewable energy, like solar or wind power, is that it comes and goes. That's why a team at Harvard is excited about its rhubarb battery.
One of the greatest technical problems facing the development of renewable sources is storing the collected energy for later use. If your home or business is solar-powered, come the evening you have to buy electricity or use very expensive batteries to keep the lights on. Utilities with large-scale solar and wind farms have the same problem managing these intermittent power sources. And much of the power from the always-on nuclear and coal plants goes to waste at night because demand is low and it’s too expensive to store the energy. 
Michael Aziz and his research team at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have developed what’s called an organic mega-flow battery, which has the potential to solve this problem.
The organic mega flow battery has two components: the energy source ("organic" substances) and the storage system (a "flow" battery.)
“The flow battery is different from a traditional solid electrode battery,” Aziz explains, “because it stores the energy outside the battery container itself in storage tanks full of fluids. When you want electricity, you flow [the fluids] into the cell past the electrodes, where they’re converted ... and they give off the energy in the form of electricity.”
One nice thing about a flow battery is that it can potentially be any size. The energy is stored in tanks separate from where the electrodes come together, so the amount of energy storage is limited only by the size of the tanks. "That’s potentially a much cheaper way of storing large amounts of energy than stacking up entire banks of solid electrode batteries," says Aziz.
Now, the most commercially-advanced flow battery stores energy using Vanadium, a rare and expensive metal. Aziz’s team has replaced this metal with a class of organic molecules called quinones. “There’s a quinone in rhubarb,” Aziz explains, “that is so, so close to the molecules that we actually have ... that some people are calling [our battery] a rhubarb battery.”
In fact, Aziz says his team's inspiration came from how plants store energy from the Sun. They use quinones, which are abundant in plants. 
"When [the quinones] are in chlorophyll during photosynthesis, they switch back and forth between oxidized and reduced forms over and over again without any sign of degradation, and that’s exactly the functionality we want in a battery," he says. That change releases energy.
"So we modified them to make them highly soluble in water, and put them in a flow battery, and it works. Performance is terrific. After half a year at this, the performance is rivaling that of Vanadium."

Player utilitiesMichael Aziz and his research team at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have developed what’s called an organic mega-flow battery, which has the potential to solve this problem.

Breakthrough in Fusion Research Brings New Nuclear Power Source Closer

Nuclear fusion has similarities to conventionally produced nuclear power in that it produces zero carbon electric power, but its big advantage over fission nuclear power is that it generates no nuclear waste, the bane of fission nuclear power plants. Recent research breakthroughs are bringing closer the day that power generation from fusion reactors will become a reality.
While research to develop commercially viable nuclear fusion has been underway for decades, advances have been slow due to the immense technological complexities involved and modest funding. That said, recent technological breakthroughs may hasten progress.