Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Power of Fish

They do keep coming, don't they? One new and wild invention after another, with much promise to change the world. This one from the Daily claims to be a device when placed in water that can generate electricity more efficiently, less disruptively and with smaller water flow requirements than turbines and dams.

According to the article:

The new device, which has been inspired by the way fish swim, consists of a system of cylinders positioned horizontal to the water flow and attached to springs.

As water flows past, the cylinder creates vortices, which push and pull the cylinder up and down. The mechanical energy in the vibrations is then converted into electricity.

The technology was developed through funding from the US government. There is a prototype being dispensed currently in the Detroit River, which flows at less than 2 knots.

Read the full article.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Alternative Energy Report in Florida

This headline from the Miami Herald, "Solar power costlier for Florida than nuclear, report finds," signals the type of debate that will be going on more in more in the coming days, months and years.

The report was commissioned by the Florida Legislature, as part of an effort to come up with an alternative energy portfolio with a certain percentage of total energy mandated to be clean and renewable.

The focus of the report is the cost of various sources of energy, but the results are complex. Costs for various sources of energy are based on various government policies that might be implemented, and are unknown now. If the government does nothing to support alternative energy, the prices will be much higher than if policies are set to both assist renewable production and dissuade the use of fossil fuels.

Here's the projected breakdown money breakdown on different sources of energy.

Navigant [the hired consulting firm] said a company producing ground-mounted solar photovoltaic energy will need 30.63 cents/kWh in 2009 to make its investment worthwhile over the course of the plant's 30-year life. As the years go by, improvements in technology will mean that figure for solar will decline to 23.59 cents/kWh in 2020, the last year the study measures.

That compares to new nuclear costs of 12.97 cents/kWh in 2020. Natural gas base plants would be 10.09 cents.

But the study says that because solar is a intermittent power source, it would be more accurate to compare it with natural-gas turbines that turn on only peak times, which are expected to have costs of 17 to 23 cents/kWh over the next 12 years.

Wind costs could range from 17.55 cents/kWh in 2009 to 18.30 in 2020, but the report said there was not a lot of financially viable on-land wind power in the state. Much of biomass power would be considerably cheaper, with costs in 2020 ranging from 0.82 cents/kWh to 12 cents.

For power from ocean currents, power could be viable at 17.42 cents/kWh starting in 2015, declining to 13.72 cents/kWh for such plants built in 2020.

The article notes these figures will be hotly debated. The future cost of energy is a guessing game, and it's going to be interesting to see how those guesses affect policy and what the realities of the changing energy production picture will be.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Here's a fascinating geological study, coming at a time when humans are so desperately looking for ways to reduce greenhouse gases:

Rocks called peridotite, which are found deep in the earth in the mantle, but which are sometimes exposed to the earth's surface by colliding tectonic places, may hold a massive potential for absorbing and sequestering carbon dioxide produced by human consumption of fossil fuels. The ability of these rocks -- which appear on the surface of the earth in large quantities in Oman and in smaller amounts at other sites around the world, including the western U.S. -- to turn carbon dioxide into solid carbonates like limestone or marble, has been known for some time, but now it is believed the process could be made fast and effective for very large quantities of CO2.

The idea would be to pressurize CO2 in water and artificially transport it to places where the rock exists. By boring holes in the rock and piping in the water, a reaction would begin to absorb the carbon. Heat generated by this reaction would then cause the rock to crack and make it possible for even more carbon to be absorbed more quickly.

Accounting for engineering challenges and other imperfections, [the scientists] assert that Oman alone could probably absorb some 4 billion tons of atmospheric carbon a year—a substantial part of the 30 billion sent into the atmosphere by humans, mainly through burning of fuels.

The scientists believe this may be one part of a complete package for sequestering carbon. Trials involving another rock that absorbs carbon are beginning shortly in Iceland.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Barack Obama and Energy Policy

Here's a quote from an interview this week between Joe Klein and President-Elect Obama:
I think that the immediate economic crisis and the consequent decline in oil prices has led us to a dangerous point where maybe we start thinking in terms of business as usual again.

The biggest problem with our energy policy has been to lurch from crisis to trance. And what we need is a sustained, serious effort. Now, I actually think the biggest opportunity right now is not just gas prices at the pump but the fact that the engine for economic growth for the last 20 years is not going to be there for the next 20, and that was consumer spending. I mean, basically, we turbo-charged this economy based on cheap credit. Whatever else we think is going to happen over the next certainly 5 years, one thing we know, the days of easy credit are going to be over because there is just too much de-leveraging taking place, too much debt both at the government level, corporate level and consumer level. And what that means is that just from a purely economic perspective, finding the new driver of our economy is going to be critical. There is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy.

I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That's just one sector of the economy. You think about the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is true on how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board.
For us to say we are just going to completely revamp how we use energy in a way that deals with climate change, deals with national security and drives our economy, that's going to be my number one priority when I get into office.

Obama also pointed to a speech made early on in New Hampshire which laid out the blueprint for his energy approach. The full text of that speech, made October 8, 2007 in Portsmouth, NH, can be found here.

Obama discussed numerous points including raising fuel standards on cars and supporting research for energy efficient transportation and other technologies.

He discussed the need to reduce carbon emissions and said: "[A]ll polluters will have to pay based on the amount of pollution they release into the sky. The market will set the price, but unlike the other cap-and-trade proposals that have been offered in this race, no business will be allowed to emit any greenhouses gases for free. Businesses don't own the sky, the public does, and if we want them to stop polluting it, we have to put a price on all pollution. It's time to make the cleaner way of doing business the more profitable way of doing business." (my emphasis)

Obama urged use of ethanol, but also warned of limitations to that techonology. He supports clean coal technology and safer nuclear energy. He added, "We'll also invest in clean energy sources like wind power and solar power, so that by 2025, America can meet a new standard that will require 25% of all our electricity to come from renewable sources." He wants to lauch a fund to see that American inventions in these areas can be produced in the U.S. rather than overseas and imported.

Obama supports efficiency measures to reduce consumption significantly. He supports efforts to make American buildings more energy efficient, and to reduce household use. He also vows to reach out to nations around the world to make these efforts collective.

Here is the first part of that speech:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Big Brown Boxes Go Hybrid

According to this Wired Magazine story, UPS is trying out hydraulic hybrids, starting with seven vehicles in '09 and '10. A diesel engine powers a pump pressurizing hydraulic tanks, which then power the vehicle. 70% of breaking power can be reclaimed by these vehicles, and the overall efficiency increase would be "a 50 percent increase in fuel economy and a 30 percent decrease in emissions... ."

According to some of the commentators of the article, the reason this technology hasn't been adapted by car makers is that the hydraulic tanks must be large, hence the application in UPS box trucks.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cylidrical Solar Cells

Yet another variation on the solar cell. This one is already in production, and it is specifically designed to sit on flat roofs. According to the article, these cells are cheaper to install, and because they receive light from all directions, diffuse as well as direct, they are somewhat more efficient than conventional panels.

Here's the story.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

3-D Solar Cell

Here is more proof that if you look for something, you just might find it. This article discusses an invention by a 12-year-old boy (!) in Oregon that could radically improve the efficiency of solar energy. William Yuan based his invention on work done by other researchers into 3D cells, but his improvements on that work are his own. The article says his design could absorb 500 times more light than current solar cells on the market, and would absorb 9 times more (normal light and UV) than other 3D cell designs.

Yuan is quoted as saying, "It'll have a really positive impact on society and the environment."

Full article and video from here.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ford's 65 MPG Car

Here's a fascinating story about a car made by Ford that gets fantastic mileage, but that won't be sold in the U.S. Business Week reports that Ford's Fiesta ECOnetic, which runs on diesel fuel, will only be marketed in Europe starting this November. Turns out that American market for diesel fuel cars is extremely limited compared to Europe, where half the cars run on diesel fuel:

....Taxes aimed at commercial trucks mean diesel costs anywhere from 40 cents to $1 more per gallon than gasoline. Add to this the success of the Toyota Prius, and you can see why only 3% of cars in the U.S. use diesel. "Americans see hybrids as the darling," says Global Insight auto analyst Philip Gott, "and diesel as old-tech."

I find it curious that Ford can't bring a model like this to the U.S. market.

I've been meaning for quite a while to also point out this article. The company claims to be able to produce gasoline (real gasoline) from algae. The questions of mass production have yet to be worked out, and the company's web site,, says little, so I offer it without commentary.

Monday, August 25, 2008

City of the Future?

The Ziggurat, a design of Timelinks, based in Dubai, would have made Buckminster Fuller proud. The striking images describe a self-contained city, powered by solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy, 2.3 square kilometers and able to house up to 1 million people. According to World Architecture News, the designers emphasize the city's limited use of land space, and discuss a public transportation system moving both horizontally and vertically "so cars would be redundant."

For more about the concept of a carbon neutral city, and other major projects in Dubai, read this article from

From a distance, these utopian plans strike me as science fictional: positive dreams of what may be. I am taken by the whole-system thinking and radical visions that are being propounded here, which aim to alter and improve land and cityscapes to meet the current needs of humanity. At the same time, I'm reminded of the gap between "cities of the future" presented during the early and mid-20th century and the realities of urban life today. And I wonder what it would be like to live in such a manufactured, albeit environmentally-oriented, city.

We are living in a moment that calls for radical new visions of human life and our relationship with the earth. A large array of ideas will be tried, and we'll see what shakes down.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Big Box Stores Going Solar

Here's an article from the New York Times that discusses the growing number of retailers with flat roof buildings that are adding solar panels. Many are doing it now to beat the end of the tax credits for solar panels, which is due to expire December 31st (though perhaps congress will extend or create new incentives for solar power).

The article says:

American retailers are following the lead of stores in Europe, which are much further along. Store-roof projects are so numerous in parts of Germany that they can be spotted in satellite photos. Government subsidies there, however, have lasted for years.

“In Germany, there are none of the concerns you find in the United States about whether support will be around next year,” said Jenny Chase, an energy analyst in London.

Retailers in the United States tend to buy their own solar-power systems, at $4 million to $6 million for a store the size of a Wal-Mart, or enter into an agreement with a utility company that pays the up-front costs and then gives the store a break on power bills — an approach that appeals to big chains.

The article also discusses a number of issues, like the relative cost of various types of energy production, stores marketing themselves as "green" and various state incentives.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

New Materials found for Hydrogen & LEDs

Here are a couple interesting steps in research arenas:

In this article from Scientific American, two lines of research concerning Hydrogen Fuel Cells are discussed. Currently, platinum, an expensive precious metal, is required for both creating hydrogen and for retrieving electricity from hydrogen. Researches at MIT believe that cobalt and phosphorous added to water can replace platinum for electrolyzing hydrogen.

According to the story, "Inspiration for the new catalyst came from nature; Nocera studied the chain of processes that take place during photosynthesis, such as how plants use the energy from sunlight to rearrange water's chemical bonds."

On the other end of the equation, converting stored hydrogen back into electricity, researchers from Monash University in Australia are "developing new electrodes for fuel cells made from a special conducting polymer, that costs around $57 per counce." Platinum currectly costs nearly $1600 per ounce.

Likewise, in this article from Purdue University, researchers there claim to have found a way to make LED lights without using expensive sapphires. LEDs are as efficient as compact fluorescents and do not contain dangerous mercury. However, they have been relatively expensive to buy, largely, it seems, because sapphire has been required for their production. The researchers have found a way to adhere a lower cost substitute to a wafer of silicon.

Neither of these reports are at the market stage, and who knows what the time lag with be from discovery to production. The LED article posits reasonably priced LEDs within two years. Whatever the case, I think it's interesting to note that these discoveries are coming at a time when they are most needed. As if all you have to do is ask the right questions, and you begin to find much needed answers.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Economic Benefits of Energy Efficiency

This article from discusses the benefits to power companies, consumers and the nation of government promoting energy efficiency programs. The author worked for DOE where a competition to save energy resulted in annual savings of $90 million per year, at upfront costs of just $20 million. The idea for the competition was based on something tried at Dow, an ongoing contest where efficiency savings resulting in serious cost savings continue to be discovered year after year, when no one at the start would have thought it was possible to continue saving energy and money.

Discussed are a number of interesting examples of energy savings, plus governmental programs at both the state and federal level, which facilitate the efficiency trend. For example:

Significantly, California adopted regulations so that utility company profits are not tied to how much electricity they sell. This is called "decoupling." It also allowed utilities to take a share of any energy savings they help consumers and businesses achieve. The bottom line is that California utilities can make money when their customers save money. That puts energy-efficiency investments on the same competitive playing field as generation from new power plants.

There is also this interesting observation:

Economic models greatly overestimate the cost of carbon mitigation because economists simply don't believe that the economy has lots of high-return energy-efficiency opportunities. In their theory, the economy is always operating near efficiency. Reality is very different than economic models.

The story ends on a political note, noting a senator in a hearing calling the author's ideas "poppycock." The facts suggest otherwise.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

One Wheel is Better Than Two

Here's another move in the efficiency direction. The picture is worth a thousand words. There actually are two wheels, just side by side rather than one in front of the other.

The machine balances with gyroscopes and there's no controls other than "on/off". You lean forward, backward, and side to side to accelerate, slow down and turn. An eight-year-old can ride it. Right now, it does a maximum of 15 mph, but the young designer/engineer, Ben Gulak, who has just been accepted at MIT, says he thinks it could eventually be engineered to do a max of 40mph safely.

By the way, it's electric powered.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Impact of Fuel Prices

I looked at gas top $4 for cheap unleaded, and thought ruefully that we'd probably never see it below that price again. The New York Times reported on June 21, 2008 that "Travelers Shift to Rail as Cost of Fuel Rises:" (sign in may be required)

Amtrak set records in May, both for the number of passengers it carried and for ticket revenues — all the more remarkable because May is not usually a strong travel month.

The angle of the article is that despite higher use, Amtrak may not be in any position to really build on higher demand because of how it has scaled back operations and it may take years to get more trains on-line where they're needed.

The article also notes that passenger trains, at least as presently designed, net a rather small overall energy savings:

Oil costs hurt Amtrak, too. Fuel is projected to reach 11 percent of Amtrak’s budget this year, up from 6 percent in 2004. The railroad is not radically more energy-efficient than other means of travel. Amtrak can move a passenger a mile with 17.4 percent less fuel than a passenger car can, and about 32.9 percent less than an airline can, according to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

This spring and summer the general population is just beginning to see the impact of higher fuel costs, and behavior is starting to change. People talk of driving less or merging trips. See this piece by Joel Hirschorn, for instance, arguing that going green should be taken seriously by individuals, and not be subjected to marketing scams. While real estate was on everybody's mind four or five years ago, today it's the twin problems of global warming and the high prices of fuel.

That's effecting food prices, too, which is a big part of what has made people start to sit up and take notice. The front page of my local paper, in a June 18 story about how food pantries are struggling to meet rising demand at the same time food prices are jumping dramatically, published this chart which shows food price increases just between April and July! (Hamphire Gazette, "Price hikes skewer food program," Dayna Malek, June 19, 2008 - subscription required)

Public consciousness is shifting, of necessity. Up to now, responses have largely been local and small scale, scattered here and there. I'll be curious to see how big business and state, federal and international political agencies begin to respond to these problems, which threaten to rapidly grow out of hand.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Step Into My Laboratory

This article from the (London) Times Online, "Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol," sounds like a hoax (this isn't April 1, is it?) but claims that scientists in Silicon Valley are genuinely genetically modifying bacteria to eat wood and food waste and excrete petroleum. The claims are that the process takes place in a tank and won't hurt anything and that the process is carbon neutral or better. Check it out for yourself.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Radical Changes for Energy Business

A big supplier of gas and electric in Britain, reports that it sees big changes ahead for the energy business, according to an article from the Guardian newspaper:

Centralised fossil fuel fired generation would have to give way to a combination of energy efficiency and diversity of generation.

"The days of meeting an unchecked demand for energy through monolithic carbon intensive power stations are coming to an end. Increasingly the emphasis will be on energy efficiency, renewables, cleaned up fossil fuel plant and micro generation," the company said in a statement accompanying its full-year results.

My sense, too, is that energy providers will need to become facilitators of power generation and delivery, and that power will be distributed in thousands of smaller and larger locations, including residences and businesses.

Read the full story here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Signs of the Times

This spring, with the latest spike in gas prices, and the steady rise in food prices and numerous food riots around the world, there's seems to be a broad recognition that change is coming, and that we need to change our behavior to adjust to a reality which has been predicted for a long time -- though largely ignored -- but which clearly is now arriving.

Here's a news snippet showing that American driving habits have changed in the last year, with a 10% reduction in total driving miles from one year to the next. This story points to a bus company in North Dakota, which is thriving as cities like New York and Houston increase their orders of buses to accommodate greater demand. Incidentally, the buses are diesel/electric hybrids. My local paper, the Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts, reported today that local bike shops are reporting spikes in sales, as more people choose to bike rather drive to work and around town.

But then there's this longer piece, presented at the Seattle Green Festival in April, which forecasts how a broad change in perspective may pave the way for significant cultural, political and economic revision. Take some time with this story, because I think it paints the way out of the hole we're in as well as anything I've seen lately.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Calculus of LED Light Bulbs

I think compact fluorescents are a flash in the pan, and that they'll soon be replaced by the even more efficient, durable, varied and less environmentally unfriendly LED. Here's "Ask Pablo's" take on the math at Site pass required, which means you may have to look at a billboard ad before clicking through to the article.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Other Solar Power

In this article by Joseph Romm at, Romm argues that a simpler form of solar energy, concentrated solar power, may be the silver bullet to save humanity from global warming. Perhaps he's overstating the case.

On the other hand, Romm presents a historical perspective, arguing that the Chinese used mirrors for igniting firewood, and that the principle has had numerous other applications through the years, including the potential for steam production, but that the technology was placed on the backburner when oil was discovered as a cheaper and more versatile replacement for coal.

Romm argues that converting solar heat to electricity, by heating a fluid and running it through a turbine, requires zero carbon emissions, and it can be incrediby productive (see my first blog entry on solar towers). For example, Romm claims 92 square miles of mirrors in Arizona could meet current U.S. power needs.

Here's my meta-take on all this, if you'll indulge a flight of fancy. Each area in the world will develop its own sustainable energy plans. These will range from coal to geothermal, from solar to wind, from whale oil to pedal power - there will be a place for it all.

Here's the kicker, though. We'll begin to see new types of storage systems, so that there is less need to transfer one kind of power to another, thereby preserving even more energy for specific rather than entropic use. In fact, overall world energy use (by humans) will increase by orders of magnitude, yet all the power will be harvested and stored sustainably.

Mechanical energy will be stored mechanically using new kinds of fly wheels with magnetic axels, and micronic gearing systems will be developed so mechanical power can be distributed at healthy distances for subtle ranges of purposes without loss to friction.

New electrical batteries, some employing biological components and hydrogen cells, will store small-scale, locally produced, clean electricity, for uses in computers, audio and video production, and connection to world wide communication networks.

Heat will be stored as heat, and coolth as coolth, through the use of underground water tanks and other ingenious forms of mass heat storage.

Perhaps we will learn the secrets of storing carbon in petroleum, and oil and gas combustion will continue to have its place. Clean burning wood, coal, and oils of all stripes will continue to be required for ground transportation and flight, high-powered construction and maintenance equipment, and portable tools requiring high power input over short spurts.

Nuclear energy, too, will find its proper place. Not for the mundane purposes of residential and commercial electric production or horrific warfare, as it is currently being used, but primarily in humanity's quest to see and hear and meet our neighbors, among the stars.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wind Power News

This article, which largely focuses on companies around Sacramento, California, discusses some of the issues making wind power more appealing. It notes a trend for companies to place wind turbines on their roofs, and it discusses some of the technologies available and legal challenges to further development of small scale wind power generation. The article also notes that wind production increased 45 percent in 2007.

Marquiss Wind Power is one of the companies mentioned in the article. Their windmill is pictured above. According to the story, Marquiss "is marketing 5- and 10-kilowatt wind turbines which cost 29,000 and 59,000 dollars respectively."

Read the full story here.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Floating Wind Mills

Here's an interesting article about the newest generation of wind mills under development. There's a push underway to satisfy the cost demands of producing wind power at sea, while also not messing with the pristine look of the ocean.

"[I]t will be out of sight and thus, the company hopes, out of mind for competing local interests such as tourism. The site off Cape Cod where Blue H intends to install a test platform next summer for its first U.S. wind farm will be 23 miles off the coast."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Compressed Air Car #2

We reported earlier this year on a compressed air car being manufactured in India by a French company. Now the New York Daily News reports that the company, with a headquarters in New Paltz, New York, is planning a version for the American market available as early as 2010. The article claims:

"Electricity powers an onboard compressor to compress air to 4,500 pounds per square inch into a pressure tank contained in the vehicle," ZPM communications director Kevin Haydon told the Daily News from New Paltz. "This can be done in a garage overnight and it will take 1-2 hours. The compressed air is then used to power the engine."

Their car will travel about 1,000 miles at up to 96 mph on one fill-up.

Read the story here.

One side note about hype. Having been writing these posts for going on a year, I have discovered that the claims made by companies, and reported in the press, are often greater than the outcomes. Time frames, prices, energy efficiency and other factors, may be exaggerated. The reality is slower, more costly and not quite as efficient as initially projected. Some reports of amazing new inventions and projected market developments never come to pass.

Still, I think it is well worth reporting these developments. For one thing, many of them are actual inventions, and they all point to a trend of more energy efficient and elegant design in response to the changing conditions of contemporary life. Not all these things will work out as hoped, but in general, I have found that reporting these developments has begun to subtly alter my thinking about the technology of the future. My hope is that others will also be stimulated to think along new lines as our society navigates this period of climate change coupled with a need to use resources in a more organic way.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pedal-Powered Wheat Thresher

Here's an interesting and short video made by a Hampshire College student in Amherst, Massachusetts. The link was sent to me by the bicycle maker across the street from me, who is a member of an emerging sustainability group in the rural region in which I live. The student designed this small, pedal powered wheat thresher in the hope that tools like his will make it possible for more people to grow grains at the local level, as they now grow flowers and vegetables, to supplement their own food production.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Ooh, That Road Is Hot

Here's an ingenious design that allows roads to double as solar collectors for heating an office building. In summer pipes crossing under the surface of the road heat water from the hot asphalt, which is then piped to an underground aquifer 100 meters below the surface. Heat exchangers there allow the heat to be stored underground until winter, when the circuit is switched. The heated water is then used to heat an office building before passing back under the road where residual heat keeps the road free of ice and snow. When the temperatures approach freezing, the water is pumped back down to the aquifer again. An added benefit is that the system actually helps cool the road in summer, saving wear and tear on the asphalt. The system is was designed by Arian de Bondt, an engineer for the Dutch building firm Ooms, and is functioning at their office in Scharwoude.

Read the full Economist article here.

P.S. It looks like "The Economist" is featuring a small section of green technologies. They also report on an idea, which is in the research stages, for using algae to recapture carbon coming out of smoke stacks. The algae could be dried and then put through the plant again or converted to biodiesel. They also have this article about the quest for a longer-lasting, lower energy light bulb.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Wave Runner

This cute little boat takes wave power (no matter which direction it comes from) and converts it to up and down fin motion, in the way a dolphin propels itself through the water. The Japanese sailor captaining the boat plans to make a run from Hawaii to Japan – 4,350 miles – in an attempt take the world record for the longest distance traveled in a wave-powered boat. (Ken-ichi Horie has already won world records for similar Pacific journeys in a pedal-powered and a solar boat, as well as for a solo trip across the Pacific in a catamaran made from recycled beer barrels).

Top speed is only 5 knots, which means it would take 2 or 3 times as long to cross the Pacific as a diesel-powered freighter. Still, the design is elegant, and yet another example of harnessing freely available energy during this time when the age of fossil fuels seems to be waning.

Read the story from Popular Science here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Green Energy Storage

This article from Reuters, for a general audience, is indicative of how some of the details of the emerging alternative energy movement are beginning to come on-line. The story begins, "Energy storage is an unglamorous pillar of an expected revolution to clean up the world’s energy supply but will soon vie for investors attention with more alluring sources of energy like solar panels..."

Three technologies are discussed for storing energy: First, a longer lasting alternative to lead-acid batteries, which currently are often used for storing solar power. Second, a hydrogen battery produced by a company in the UK, "an electrolyzer," which could be used to store wind and solar power, and then later use the hydrogen produced and stored for cooking, driving a car or producing electricity. Third, there's a new lightweight lithium-ion battery, which will be used in what may be the first mass-produced electric vehicle.

As all these pieces begin to fall in place, I would imagine that people will be putting those pieces together in ingenious and surprising ways.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Moth Eyes and Solar Absorption

According to one story, a scientist visiting the San Diego zoo phoned his lawyer and said, "I'm standing here at the tiger cage and let me tell you, I need you to file suit for me immediately. This animal has stolen the patent on the my new proprietary shock absorption system."

Much of the best of the invention of the coming period will in fact mimic nature and natural systems, which have been honed to perfection over millions of years., for example, reports that Moth eyes may hold key to more efficient solar cells. Peng Jiang, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, noticed that the eyes of moths have a subtle structure that reflect extremely little light, about 1 to 2 %. Compare this to silicon, which is highly reflective, a factor that greatly decreases the efficiency of silicon cells. Further, the non-reflective coatings that are currently painted on solar cells are both difficult to manufacture and expensive, yet still reflect a whopping 35 to 40% of the sun's rays.

Jiang's solution capitalizes on evolutionary influences that have helped make moths less visible to nocturnal predators. He's created a substance with a similar nano-structure to moth eyes that is both simple to manufacture and inexpensive to produce. In fact, the substance effectively grows itself. Read the article here for more details on the process.

According to the report, launching a startup company to put the cells into production is the next step. Let's hope the moths don't sue.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gravity Light

This LED floor lamp invented by a graduate of Virginia tech recently won 2nd place at the Greener Gadgets Conference (sponsored by inhabitat). The light is four feet tall, made of acrylic, and is powered by weights placed at the top of the unit which turn a rotor as they descend. No cords, no batteries, no electric input required.

The light uses 10 LEDs which give a bluish hue. But as the unit ages, it is believed that the acrylic casing will yellow and that in about 10 or 15 years the lamp will provide a more natural interior light. Output is equivalent to a 40-Watt bulb and runs for 4 hours before the weights need to be reset. The designer, Clay Moulton, says the light could run for 200 years in continual operation, and the impression given is that the LEDs would give out before the drive mechanism.

The implications of this type of design resonate widely. How can products be made to last longer, require less energy input and be powered in ways that utilize subtle forms of energy readily available? Beyond that, how can new designs be attractive and also involve the user in a way that reinforces the elegance of this type of design? Look for more of this type of work as the conditions continue to ripen.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Another Alternative

I've come across yet another green blog -- this one focused on the concept of green design. reports today about a new concept announced last week by the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Using existing nuclear facilities, a carbon-based fuel could be produced through an electro-chemical process. The carbon would be drawn from the air, and the fuel would be carbon-neutral and sulfur-free. Initially, the intention would be to use the fuels in transportation and industry.

The press release from the Los Alamos National Laboratory can be read here.

Essentially, the new fuel sounds like a battery for the storing and easy transportation of energy. However, the question remains whether nuclear power is a viable, safe and green technology. I have to wonder if other forms of electrical production could also be used to facilitate the production of this fuel.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Wall Street Finance and Green Tech

I just discovered a web site on cnet called Green Tech Blog. The first post I came across is fascinating, stating that:

[T]hree financial titans--Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley--announced "The Carbon Principles" to provide guidance to energy companies in managing carbon risks. The upshot of The Carbon Principles is that these big banks are stating explicitly that going forward, they will only provide debt financing to new power projects if proponents can prove that the proposed plants will remain economically viable under future climate change policies.

Apparently, these companies see action to reduce carbon emissions at the federal level as imminent, and they want to be sure that investment in the energy market reflects this perception. Read the rest here.

This is a blog to keep an eye on. There were half a dozen posts just from today, and two from Friday.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Solar Takes Off in California

This article from the New York Times (may require login) adds something to the previous posting. The report discusses a booming market for solar panels in California, due in part to greater demand, investment and state and local incentives. These factors are creating new jobs, lowering prices and making it possible for more and more installations-so long as the installers can keep us.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Effect of Ending Green Energy Credits

Here's a short opinion piece from Green Energy News. The article quotes a joint statement of the National Hydropower Association, Geothermal Energy Association, Solar Energy Industries Association, and American Wind Energy Association, reporting that 6000 Megawatts of renewable energy came on line in 2007, and that the industry created many many good jobs for Americans. However, the statement then points out that the number of new project starts is declining now because federal credits for renewable energy expire at the end of the year. The article urges action by the federal government now to renew those credits.

I'm led to wonder to what extent individual states will try and pick up some of the slack. For example, here's a report the other day from the Associated Press that Massachusetts will be implementing a program to support residential solar panel use. The article points out the Massachusetts will be basing its plan on those in New Jersey and California.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Exploring Alternate Solar Possibilities

This article reports on a new invention -- the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Conversion System or JTECS -- that the inventor claims will convert solar energy to electric at 60% efficiency. It's an unusual system that works with heat differentials and a type of hydrogen cell to produce the electricity. It works as a closed system with no waste, input or output of any kind, other than the heat produced by the sun. The article also says this system, which is supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, could potentially be used to produce electricity from waste heat produced by internal combustion engines, and perhaps any other source.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Compressed Air Car

This new car runs on compressed air, with no pollution or emissions other than air. It fuels in minutes for a couple dollars, and it will be marketed for about $7000 in France and India perhaps by the end of the year. There is an associated video with the story, all of which can be found here.