Tuesday, May 31, 2005

When will the oil party be over?

Petroleum Joyride Almost Over?

The article gives a very good overview of the Oil Peak scenario.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Make your own biodiesel


This is very industrial type of equipment, because I suppose you're going to be processing many gallons of this stuff at a time.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Wind power could do it all by itself

Map Reveals Airstream Potential (By Amit Asaravala, 02:00 AM May. 23, 2005 PT, WIRED NEWS)

Wind power could generate enough electricity to support the world's energy needs several times over, according to a new map of global wind speeds that scientists say is the first of its kind.

The map, compiled by researchers at Stanford University, shows wind speeds at more than 8,000 sites around the world. The researchers found that at least 13 percent of those sites experience winds fast enough to power a modern wind turbine. If turbines were set up in all these regions, they would generate 72 terawatts of electricity, according to the researchers.

That's more than five times the world's energy needs, which was roughly 14 terawatts in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The researchers readily admit that existing buildings, land rights and other obstacles would make it impossible to set up turbines in every single one of the identified regions. But they point out that even 20 percent of those sites could satisfy world energy consumption as it stands today.


Sunday, May 22, 2005

Strange bedfellows

There's growing evidence that the Uzbekistan government is a very nasty regime. Over the last couple weeks there were mass protests, followed by a mass government killing of the protesters, that killed over 1000 people. There's brutal interrogation and imprisonment tactics. And, the UN is demanding an investigation. etc.

If this were Iraq, the U.S. would be harumphing up a storm and demanding regime change. Well, that's what you would believe from the statements made by our President leading to the Iraq war. Yet, in the case of Uzbekistan, we're not only sending aid to that country, we're keeping troops in the country, and we're providing shielding for them in the UN.

Karimov escapes regime change as America pursues the ‘great game’ (22 May 2005, By Trevor Royle, Diplomatic Editor)

A GLANCE at the map confirms the strategic importance of Uzbekistan, not just in regional terms but also as it is viewed from Washington.

To the south and southwest are Afghanistan and Iran, a fact which inspired President Islam Karimov to push himself into contention as a useful ally in President Bush’s war on terror.

The US operates an air base with 1000 ground troops at Khanabad outside the Uzbek capital Tashkent. The former Soviet facility is used for operations in Afghanistan, and to date the US has supplied the country with some $800 million in military and humanitarian aid.

More to the point, Uzbekistan has a key role to play in supporting Washington’s wider interests. Khanabad is part of the ring of air force bases, or “lily pads


Friday, May 20, 2005

Biodiesel from algae

The stereotype of biodiesel is that you go down to McDonalds and ask the manager to give you their used fryer grease. You take that grease and process it, and out comes glycerin and diesel. But, it seems, that's not the only way to make biodiesel.

Start-up drills for oil in algae (Published: May 20, 2005, 4:00 AM PDT, By Martin LaMonica, Staff Writer, CNET News.com)

Where most people see pond scum, Isaac Berzin sees oil--and a hedge against global warming.

Berzin is the founder and chief technology officer of GreenFuel Technologies, a Cambridge, Mass.-based start-up that has a novel approach to energy and pollution control.

Using technology licensed from a NASA project, GreenFuel builds bioreactors--in the shape of 3-meter-high glass tubes fashioned as a triangle--to grow algae. The algae are fed with sunlight, water and carbon-carrying emissions from power plants. The algae are then harvested and turned into biodiesel fuel.

Yup, good old algae.

What you'd have to do is pick (or genetically engineer) an organism that produces a high quantity of oil in their bodies. Then you grow that organism and harvest it.

And it's interesting to feed these organisms partly off the emissions from regular power plants. It diverts the carbon that would have gone into the atmosphere, and "sequesters" it in these organisms. Of course the end of life for these organisms is to become fuel, so the carbon will again be sent into the atmosphere, depending on where the biodiesel is being sent. Maybe the biodiesel would be burned at a power plant, the emissions from that power plant are already being used to grow biodiesel, and hence you'd have some of the carbon simply cycling through the organisms from which you're growing biodiesel.

Green Fuel Technologies: Using the sun as a free energy source, GreenFuel's proprietary algae bioreactor system recycles up to 86% of NOx and 40% of CO2 from smokestack emissions into renewable clean air biofuels™ competitive with conventional fossil fuel products, generating revenue by decreasing emissions. Clean, renewable, profitable. GreenFuel.


The Vanadium Redox Battery

The Vanadium Redox Battery

The Redox Flow Cell is an electrochemical system which allows energy to be stored in two solutions containing different redox couples with electrochemical potentials sufficiently separated from each other to provide an electromotive force to drive the oxidation-reduction reactions needed to charge and discharge the cell. Unlike conventional batteries, the redox flow cell stores energy in the solutions, so that the capacity of the system is determined by the size of the electrolyte tanks, while the system power is determined by the size of the cell stacks. The redox flow cell is therefore more like a rechargeable fuel cell than a battery.

These are aparently meant as large scale batteries, used in electric power distribution systems. On the web site they describe it being used by power utility companies for "load leveling" and the like.

It uses a liquid electrolyte that is charged and discharged through plates in the solution. The liquid is reusable for an indefinite period.

Commercialization is being handled through Magnum Fuel Technologies in Australia.


Monday, May 16, 2005

More on the BetaBatt nuclear battery

New 'BetaBatteries' May Provide Power for Decades

National Science Foundation press release: Silicon Solution Could Lead to a Truly Long-life Battery

Gadeken SBIR Phase I & II Awards: NSF Award No. 0320029: A Semiconductor Device for Direct and Efficient Conversion of Radioisotope Energy

May 10, 2005

Using some of the same manufacturing techniques that produce microchips, researchers have created a porous-silicon diode that may lead to improved betavoltaics. Such devices convert low levels of radiation into electricity and can have useful lives spanning several decades.

While producing as little as one-thousandth of the power of conventional chemical batteries, the new "BetaBattery" concept is more efficient and potentially less expensive than similar designs and should be easier to manufacture. If the new diode proves successful when incorporated into a finished battery, it could help power such hard-to-service, long-life systems as structural sensors on bridges, climate monitoring equipment and satellites.

The battery's staying power is tied to the enduring nature of its fuel, tritium, a hydrogen isotope that releases electrons in a process called beta decay. The porous-silicon semiconductors generate electricity by absorbing the electrons, just as a solar cell generates electricity by absorbing energy from incoming photons of light.

Supported by grants from the NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the University of Rochester, the University of Toronto, Rochester Institute of Technology and BetaBatt, Inc. of Houston, Texas, describe their new diode in the May 13 issue of Advanced Materials.

Researchers have been attempting to convert various types of radiation into electricity since the development of the transistor more than 50 years ago. Mastering the junctions between relatively electron-rich and electron-poor regions of semiconductor material (p-n junctions) led to many modern electronic products.

Yet, while engineers have been successful at capturing electromagnetic radiation with solar cells, the flat, thin devices have been unable to collect enough beta-decay electrons to yield a viable betavoltaic device.

The BetaBatt will not be the first battery to harness a radioactive source, or even the first to use tritium, but the new cell will have a unique advantage - the half-millimeter-thick silicon wafer into which researchers have etched a network of deep pores. This structure vastly increases the exposed surface area, creating a device that is 10 times more efficient than planar designs.

"The 3-D porous silicon configuration is excellent for absorbing essentially all the kinetic energy of the source electrons," says co-author Nazir Kherani of the University of Toronto. Instead of generating current by absorbing electrons at the outermost layer of a thin sheet, surfaces deep within these porous silicon wafers accommodate a much larger amount of incoming radiation. In early tests, nearly all electrons emitted during the tritium's beta decay were absorbed.

There were a number of practical reasons for selecting tritium as the source of energy, says co-author Larry Gadeken of BetaBatt - particularly safety and containment.

"Tritium emits only low energy beta particles (electrons) that can be shielded by very thin materials, such as a sheet of paper," says Gadeken. "The hermetically-sealed, metallic BetaBattery cases will encapsulate the entire radioactive energy source, just like a normal battery contains its chemical source so it cannot escape."

Even if the hermetic case were to be breached, adds Gadeken, the source material the team is developing will be a hard plastic that incorporates tritium into its chemical structure. Unlike a chemical paste, the plastic cannot not leak out or leach into the surrounding environment.

Researchers and manufacturers have been producing porous silicon for decades, and it is commonly used for antireflective coatings, light emitting devices, and photon filters for fiber optics. However, the current research is the first patented betavoltaic application for porous silicon and the first time that 3-D p-n diodes have been created with standard semiconductor industry techniques.

"The betavoltaic and photovoltaic applications of 3-D porous silicon diodes will result in an exciting arena of additional uses for this versatile material," says co-author Philippe Fauchet of the University of Rochester.

"This is the first time that uniform p-n junctions have been made in porous silicon, which is exciting from the point of view of materials science," says Fauchet. For example, because of its characteristics and photon sensitivity, each diode pore could serve as an individual detector, potentially creating an extremely high-resolution image sensor.

"The ease of using standard semiconductor processing technology to fabricate 3-D p-n junctions was surprising," adds co-author Karl Hirschman of the Rochester Institute of Technology. That manufacturing ease is an important breakthrough for increasing production and lowering costs, and it makes the device scalable and versatile for a range of applications.

"The initial applications will be for remote or inaccessible sensors and devices where the availability of long-life power is critical," says Gadeken.

The BetaBattery may prove better suited to certain tasks than chemical batteries when power needs are limited. The structures are robust--tolerant to motion and shock, and functional from -148° Fahrenheit (-100° Celsius) to 302° F (150°C)--and may never have to be changed for the lifetime of the device.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

Blood-driven fuel cell

I'm going to try and do this without vampire jokes. And I'm going to try and do this without thinking of The Matrix.

New fuel cell opens way for artificial hearts (May 13 2005 at 09:10AM, IOL.CO.ZA)

Tokyo - A Japanese research team has developed a fuel cell that runs on blood without using toxic substances, opening the way for use in artificial hearts and other organs.

The biological fuel cell uses glucose, a sugar in blood, with a non-toxic substance used to draw electrons from glucose, said the team led by Matsuhiko Nishizawa, bio-engineering professor at the graduate school of state-run Tohoku University.

"Since the electron mediator is based on Vitamin K3, which exists in human bodies, it excels in safety and could in the future generate power from blood as an implant-type fuel cell," the group said in a statement.

Most other bio-fuel cells under study use a metal complex, spawning concern about harm if used for implants.

The newly developed cell in the size of a tiny coin is able to generate 0,2 milliwatts of electricity, enough to power a device that measures blood sugar level and transmits data elsewhere, the group said. - Sapa-AFP


Friday, May 13, 2005

Nuclear battery w/ 10 year lifespan

Hmmm... It can be compelling to have a battery that doesn't require recharging for 10 years. As an EV enthusiast that has me drooling.

But, it's nuclear power.

New ‘Nuclear Battery’ Runs 10 Years, 10 Times More Powerful (May 12, 2005, PhysOrg)

A battery with a lifespan measured in decades is in development at the University of Rochester, as scientists demonstrate a new fabrication method that in its roughest form is already 10 times more efficient than current nuclear batteries—and has the potential to be nearly 200 times more efficient. The details of the technology, already licensed to BetaBatt Inc., appears in today’s issue of Advanced Materials.

They're talking about using it for low-power-demand things like pacemakers. So it's probably not suitable for an EV.



Sunday, May 8, 2005

The rising demand for new nuclear power plants

With the death of the oil age coming, there is a rising tide of pushing for nuclear power.

Blair demands nuclear power to protect high 'living standards' (By Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent, The Independant of London, 09 May 2005)

Tony Blair has ruled out making changes to "living standards" to tackle global warming, and is drawing up plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions instead.

The Prime Minister has personally endorsed "keeping the nuclear option open" and is planning a government statement on a change of policy before the summer, in the face of opposition from cabinet ministers, including Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Environment. Mr Blair's decision to revive the nuclear agenda was revealed two weeks ago by The Independent which reported that Mr Blair's own strategy unit was working on it.

Hmm, the article places the cause as the need to tackle global warming and carbon dioxide emissions. The issue of power, its sourcing, and the side effects of generating power are multidimensional. To place the issue soley with the environment is, in my opinion, short sighted.

By sourcing I mean, where are you getting the fuel used to generate the electrical power? Is it coal, oil, natural gas, solar, hydroelectric, wind, or nuclear? Each of those sources has its consequences. For example, extracting coal means denuding whole landscapes, or it means black lung and mine collapses. Extracting oil or natural gas means occasional fuel spills, huge refineries, toxic chemicals, and so on. Oil also, increasingly, has to be bought from overseas becase both the U.S. and Britain are running out of domestic sources. This means an increasingly bad balance of trade, with ensuing economic and political problems.

The revival of nuclear power is bolstered by the Prime Minister's admission that he is opposed to asking people to make changes to their lifestyle - such as buying energy-efficient refrigerators or taking the Eurostar instead of flights to Europe - to reduce global warming. Mr Blair has said publicly there is no political will to force people to make lifestyle changes to less fuel-hungry cars or energy-efficient lightbulbs.

This is a shame. In truth, there are more efficient ways to live the lives we lead.

The concept is called "negawatts". This is electrical production that doesn't have to be built because the people use less electricity to do the same thing.

The simplest example is the energy-efficient lightbulbs mentioned.

I have been using compact flourescent bulbs for over 15 years. The price and compatibility have improved over that time, but the equation has remained the same. The purchase price is a lot higher than typical incandescant bulbs. However you win two ways, first the bulbs use 1/3rd of the electricity, and second the bulbs last a lot longer. Over the useful lifetime of these bulbs the cost is equivalent.

The output of light bulbs is measured in lumens. Lumens are lumens once they get outside the light bulb and fill the room with light. Where compact flourescents win, energy-wise, is that they use 1/3rd the wattage to produce the same number of lumens. Hence, you use less electricity to gain the same effect.

There are many examples where you can achieve the same effect using less electricity. Energy-efficient refridgerators, fuel-efficient cars, bicycling instead of driving a car, etc. For example, I'm typing this on a laptop computer, and the energy cost of laptop computers is far less than it is for a typical desktop. Additionally, LCD computer monitors use far less electricity than do CRT monitors.

The negawatt idea is very simple. One simply looks for ways to achieve the same effect while using less energy. The ways to do this is boundless, and has a far more beneficial impact on the environment than building more nuclear power plants would have.