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.