Friday, October 26, 2007

Unusual Transport

Some day, no doubt, the likes of ocean cruise liners, tankers and large cargo ships, and flying machines like jet air planes and helicopters, will seem dated and dinosaur like in their ability to convert energy to motion. Here are two examples of the new wave of machines which may some day alter the way we move around.

First, this strange boat which can cross the Atlantic on a tank of diesel.

Then there's this plan for a luxury air cruise liner which is to be a kind of blimp/jet hybrid, which could take off and land just about anywhere without the need for long runways. It's not clear to me from the article if it saves energy in any way, but perhaps it indicates a new direction of possibility.
"Unlike its dirigible ancestors, the Aeroscraft is not lighter than air. Its 14 million cubic feet of helium hoist only two thirds of the craft's weight. The rigid and surprisingly aerodynamic body—driven by huge rearward propellers—generates enough additional lift to keep the behemoth and its 400-ton payload aloft while cruising. During takeoff and landing, six turbofan jet engines push the ship up or ease its descent."

Full story here.

Seeing Things in the Round

I've read more than my fair share of bad news this week. Here's one more story, this one delivering the cheery news on the diminishing number our closest primate relatives around the world. The relevance here is this section:

Another problem is habitat destruction to make space for biofuel plantations such as oil palm. Developed economies such as the US and Europe are pledging to use more sustainable energy sources to combat climate change, but this is having a knock-on effect on tropical wildlife. "It is creating a huge market and now in several countries politicians are thinking of converting tropical forest areas to palm plantations," he said.

It seems to me that any thinking that fails to see -- or attempt to see and account for -- the full implications of various human actions simply prolongs the cycle of bad news.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Peak Oil

A German based group released a report in London today stating that world oil production peaked in 2006. The group based its conclusions on actual production rather than estimates of reserves. While reserve estimates suggest 42 years more oil supply at current consumption rates, the group believes there is only two thirds that amount and that production will be halved by 2030, declining at a rate of 7% a year. The report also warns of social and political unrest and wars as a result of oil shortages.

Read the full report here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Increase Your Need

Here's a brilliant idea, which may provide low amounts of energy to the developing world. A California-based inventor has developed a wind belt (as opposed to wind mill) for creating small amounts of electricity in a low tech form for powering LEDs and radios in developing countries. Read the article and watch a video about it here.

Emphasis on the low tech nature of this invention: Said Peter Haas, founder of the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, “If Shawn’s innovation breaks, locals can fix it. If a solar panel breaks, the family is out a panel.”

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Old and New

A growing awareness has been forming in my mind that the phase of technology we are entering is going to rely on a subtle blend of ancient and pre-industrial technology harnessed with modern materials, engineering and know-how. This fascinating story called The Mechanical Battery posted at Damn Interesting by Christopher S. Putnam is a prime example of how that type of thinking is struggling to crack itself out of the egg in which it is incubating.

The "flywheel", as ancient as pottery, but also key to the industrial revolution and still in use everywhere, could serve as a powerful, compact battery. NASA and automakers alike are beginning to take the idea seriously. Using magnetic bearings which allow the flywheel to take a charge fast, spin at phenomenal speeds, and discharge the energy incrementally but powerfully, modern flywheels await the work of engineers to flesh out the details.

Incidentally, these types of flywheels are already being used by energy industries to store energy and help regulate the grid to prevent brown-outs.

Read the full story here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Algae Studied to Restore Environment and Advance Development of Bioenergy

University of Minnesota researches, working in conjunction with the DOE Joint Genome Institute, today published the results of a genetic study of an ancient algae that may produce new biological strategies for capturing developing biofuels, assimilating carbon from the atmosphere and removing toxins from soil. The organism, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (called "Chlamy" by researchers), is a one-celled ancestor of plants and animals that retains characteristics of both. The study, which is a part of the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute, is also expected to advance research in understanding a variety of human diseases, including dyskinesia, a neurological movement disorder, and polycystic kidney disease.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Texas Wind Power Development May Spur Competitive Transmission Development

This article from the Dallas News reports that legislation requiring 10,000 MW of renewable energy resources in Texas by 2025 may have the effect of creating competition among transmission companies for the right to develop the transmission facilities to bring wind power from West Texas to densely populated North Texas. The Texas Public Utilites Commission is designating Competitive Renewable Energy Zones - regions in West Texas with enough wind power potential to warrant special transmission lines - and will then solicit competitive bids to build the lines from transmission companies that want to compete for the privilege; the PUC has not yet determined whether it will take bids from out-of-state transmission companies.

Friday, October 5, 2007

First Ski Resort Windfarm in North America

Jiminy Peak Ski Resort in Hancock MA works to counter the negative effects of global warming at ski resorts by generating 33% of its own electricity from this wind turbine.