Monday, July 31, 2006



Remember the scene from Blade Runner where they want to dim the sunlight entering the room, and the glass itself darkens? No? Okay, it was a subtle touch in the movie, so you probably missed it. However, consider that light entering through glass turns into heat. Hence, blocking the light before it can enter a room, that will decrease the heat added to the room.

That's what Sage Glass does, is darken the glass, and decrease the light entering the room.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Human Powered Transportation Association


The group was formed to promote the use of human powered transportation alternatives on land and water by organizing periodic human power events and competitions for all individuals ; including the mental and physically handicapped. It offers riders a unique experience in alternative modes of transportation and comfort. The events offer creative , educational and challenging experiences.


Human Powered Vehicle Operators of Ottawa (HPVOoO)


Human Powered Vehicle Operators of Ottawa is a loose affilation of cyclists based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada's Capital), and share a love of recumbents, folding bikes, choppers, and perhaps just about any bike that might look a bit different. They are a non-club, with no dues, no meetings, and not even any organized rides! We converse via the mailing list or on irc, and just look for opportunities to ride our bikes. Many of us are car-free, and use our steeds for transportation, moving stuff around, and also taking part in the odd parade or two.


Thursday, July 27, 2006



Solaicx is developing breakthrough manufacturing technology yielding low-cost, high-efficiency silicon wafers for the photovoltaic (PV) industry. By designing and building equipment optimized for the high volume, continuous manufacture of high-performance, single crystal silicon ingots, Solaicx creates significant competitive advantages, in terms of cost and quality, which are then passed through the value chain of the entire silicon-based solar cell manufacturing market.


Energy Conversion Devices


ECD Ovonics has maintained a strong core competence in materials research and advanced product development throughout its forty-plus year history, and the company protects the results of these efforts through an extensive patent collection. Through the leadership of our company's principal scientist, Stan Ovshinsky, ECD Ovonics now holds more than 350 U.S. patents and more than 800 foreign patents covering basic material compositions, product applications, and manufacturing processes. These patents, coupled with more than forty years of accumulated background know-how in the field, represent powerful intellectual assets that form the basis for ECD Ovonics' many licensing agreements and manufacturing and commercialization alliances. The research and development team at ECD Ovonics, its subsidiaries, and joint ventures are focused on the development of new products and technology that will benefit our commercial partners. At ECD Ovonics, we invent the technology, the products, and production technology that will bring our vision to life.


United Solar Ovonic (Uni-Solar)


United Solar Ovonic is a wholly owned subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. (ECD Ovonics) (NASDAQ: ENER). Building on technology invented and pioneered by ECD, United Solar Ovonics is the world leader in thin-film amorphous photovoltaics (PV). Our high-volume production equipment is the world’s largest and most advanced machine for the manufacture of thin-film amorphous silicon alloy solar cells and related products that are used for a variety of applications.

Because of characteristics unique to the United Solar Ovonic solar cell technology, such as lightweight, ruggedness and flexibility, it is ideal as building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) roofing systems for residential and industrial customers. ECD Ovonics and United Solar Ovonic hold the basic patents covering the continuous roll-to-roll manufacturing of thin-film amorphous silicon alloy multi-junction solar cells and related products.




Nanosolar has developed proprietary technology that makes it possible to simply roll-print solar cells that require only 1/100th as thick an absorber as a silicon-wafer cell (yet deliver similar performance and durability). Our technology dramatically lowers the process cost and complexity involved in the production of thin-film solar cells and makes it possible to scale production very rapidly. The result sets the standard for the technology and products that make it possible to put A Solar Panel on Every Building™.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ethanol resources on the Web


A resource page providing links to information about ethanol and its use in vehicles.


American Coalition for Ethanol


American Coalition for Ethanol is the grassroots voice of the ethanol industry, a membership-based association dedicated to the use and production of ethanol.

Ethanol's production drives economic development, adds value to agriculture, and moves our nation toward energy independence. Its use cleans America's air and offers consumers a cost-effective choice at the pump.

This year the U.S. ethanol industry will grow to provide more than 5 billion gallons of clean burning, renewable fuel to our country's supply. Please use this site to learn more about ethanol and its many benefits.


Renewable Fuels Association (RFA)


As the national trade association for the U.S. ethanol industry, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) promotes policies, regulations and research and development initiatives that will lead to the increased production and use of fuel ethanol.

Ethanol is sold nationwide as a high-octane fuel that delivers improved vehicle performance while reducing emissions and improving air quality. By reducing fuel imports, ethanol reduces our nation's trade imbalance, improves our energy security, creates American jobs and provides value-added markets for American agriculture.




This is an online reprint of a 1982 book by the same title. It gives specific instructions to converting a gasoline engine to run on alchohol, and the instructions will work for E85 fuel that is becoming more widely available.



E85 Fuel Stations


There are now nearly 700 Gas Stations in the United States where you can fill up on E85 fuel.

That number is expected to double in a little over a year as service stations are being offered offering incentives from Government and Ethanol Industry grants up to $30,000 to install E85 Fuel pumps

E85 is 85% Ethanol and 15% petroleum


Description: is an information resource discussing cars that run on fuels other than gasoline or diesel. This includes fuel cells, natural gas, hybrid cars, ethanol, biodiesel, but not electric. Sigh.


Alternative Fuel Station Locator


The Alternative Fuel Station Locator can search our database of refueling stations for the entire country to find stations offering alternative fuels. The site is a project of the U.S. Department of Energy.




FlexTek makes a kit to convert a gasoline car to run on either ethanol or gasoline. Most gasoline cars can almost, but not quite, burn ethanol safely. This kit takes care of allowing ethanol use in a broader range of vehicles.


Convert your car to run on Ethanol

The typical gasoline car can almost, but not quite, run on ethanol. Some newer cars are what they call flex-fuel, meaning they can burn gasoline or ethanol. But if you look at your owners manual, like I have, you'll probably read that you can only burn qualified fuels made from fossil oil.

However ...

Convert Your Car To Run On Ethanol With New Kit Discusses a new kit that allows one to convert a gasoline car to run either gasoline or ethanol. Their web site,, is very comprehensive and should answer any question you have.

This reminds me of a goofy book I bought in the 1980's. Making Moonshine Fuel is by Ozzie McCoy, a Kentuckian who is from one of the families involved in the Hatfield and McCoy feud.

Ozzie is apparently a moonshine producer who wrote this book to help people know how to make their own alchohol fuel. This book is a hoot with copious information on making and distilling high proof alchohol. The best part is when he says what kind of tubing to use to make sure the federal marshals do not get on your case, because using certain tubing makes the resulting alchohol poisinous while using certain other tubing makes the alchohol very drinkable. It is the drinkable alchohol the federal marshals will get you over, while the other kind is quite acceptable.

It sounded to me like he had some experience with this.

In any case, back to the ethanol conversion kit. I had one day gone looking for instructions to convert a car to ethanol use, and it looked rather difficult. In this case the instructions make it sound as if FlexTek has simplified the whole thing down to plugging a box into your car, and routing a switch to the dashboard of your car. And if that's too much for you, they have a network of installers available to do the job for you.

Hmm... sounds enticing.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Other air conditioning alternatives

As I mentioned in Make your own air conditioner, I want to minimize my power use. So I'm looking at alternatives to buying another window sized air conditioner (especially as none of the stores have any in stock).

One alternative I saw was to drape a cloth in a bowl of water, and blow air over the cloth with a fan. The evaporation is supposed to make the air cool. I tried this, and it didn't make any effect.

The one thing I do find helpful is to have fans blowing air directly over my body, and to have fans blowing air in from the outside. This combination makes life bearable except in the hottest of times.

Another thing which helps is to enlist the aid of the trees. Trees naturally do the evaporative cooling effect, because that's what their function is. Trees draw water out of the ground and perspire the water through their leaves. If you sit under a tree you're in an evaporative cooling zone.

The opposite kind of zone is, unfortunately, what our cities are tending to build for us. Namely, the long stretches of asphalt. Consider, what color is the most absorptive of heat? Black. What color is asphalt? Black. Why, oh why, are asphalt parking lots to hot? It's because they're black. Do you think that perhaps the abundance of asphalt parking lots in cities might contribute to the heat in cities? Yes, they do, and U.S. government scientists did study this very issue several years ago. So why do cities like to continue supporting the installation of asphalt parking lots? HeckifIknow..!!!

There is also the swamp cooler. Swamp coolers are widely used in the desert areas, and work best with dry climates. In the SF Bay Area our humidity hovers around 50%, which is the top end of the claimed humidity range where these work. Swamp coolers work by evaporating water, so of course the more readily the water evaporates the better the cooling action. I have ordered a swamp cooler and hopefully it will arrive next week.


Make your own air conditioner

It's been hot the last few days. In St. Louis severe storms knocked out power over most of the city. In general the U.S. has had a real serious heat wave, and in England they've set another all time high temperature record. In the SF Bay Area it's been very hot for this area.

Since my interest is to see how I can live comfortably while keeping my power use minimized ... I don't have an air conditioner in my house, and instead rely on fans and one window-sized air conditioner. Okay, it's more accurate to say the house doesn't have central air conditioning. For the most part I'm uncomfortable but it's not unbearable. But I think I'm being more accomodating to the weather than my neighbors, many of whom have central air conditioning cranked to the max.

Cranking the air conditioning to the max may seem like it's helping you, but in the big picture it's only making the heat worse. The higher power draw required by having the AC maxed means the power plants are running at maximum capacity. Indeed there have been day after day where the power producers have been at emergency production levels, barely able to meet the demand with the generating capacity. That high power production use directly turns into higher levels of pollution, because most of the power plants are burning fossil fuels. Higher pollution levels mean higher degrees of global warming and heating.

Make Your Own Air Conditioner and PETE'S HOMEMADE AIR CONDITIONER and How to build a $30 air conditioner and GEOFF'S ORIGINAL HOMEMADE AIR CONDITIONING cover a low-cost low-energy-required alternative.

The idea is ultra simple. You get a cooler of ice water, and a submersible pump. Attach the pump to a hose arrangement where the hose is woven through a fan, and then direct the hose back into the cooler. Turn on the pump and the fan. The result will be to pump cold water through piping over which you're blowing air. The air should cool down while going over the piping.

It's simple enough, and inexpensive to put together. One of the pages claimed a cost of $30.

I've acquired the required parts and will be putting it together later to see how well it works. To make ice water, I've bought some of those freezable blue blocks. The plan is to freeze them, and put them in a cooler with some water. I have a submersible pump I bought to make a water fountain several years ago. For tubing I bought some plastic tubing at the pet store, and intend to, if this works out, buy some brass tubing for the heat exchanger.

The first experiment was to hook the pump to the tubing. Unfortunately the pump is not powerful enough to make water go up very high above itself. The tubing is three feet long, and the pump is unable to get the water to go the full length of the tubing if it is stretched straight up. But if you have the tubing coiled just above the pump, then water goes through just fine.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

It's hot ... here's how to cool off w/o using lots of energy

We're having a heck of a heat wave this summer. I live in the SF Bay Area and the temperatures are moderated a bit by the ocean. But yesterday it was over 100 where I live, which is an outrageous temperature. I know, I know, 100 isn't so outrageous in other parts of the U.S. but in the SF Bay Area our climate is highly moderated by the ocean. Usually severe winter or summer weather is but a rumor we hear about from friends in other parts of the country.

And I was reading that England is also seeing 100 degree weather. That they were expected to set an all time high temperature. And that it's the second time in the last three years that England is recording an all time high temperature.

Anybody doubt about Global Warming?

Anyway ... this is supposed to be about keeping cool. One reason I wanted to live in the SF Bay Area is the climate. I read in a "Places Rated" book that here in the Bay Area we have a low percentage of air conditioners installed in houses. Obviously that's climate related, and any place that doesn't have the people using air conditioning has got to be relatively cool in the summer.

And, indeed, that's what we have. Usually we have moderate temperatures in the summer with only a few days where we wish we had air conditioners.

Here's a few ideas I've collected about keeping cool without using a lot of power. Air conditioners use a lot of power, and if you want to live sustainably it's worth considering other ways of keeping cool without using air conditioning.

Attic fans work to exhaust hot air from your attic. The attic is like global warming on a miniature scale. Your roof is probably black color and is probably exposed to the sun, and therefore absorbs heat that's transmitted into the attic. The attic then sends that heat into the house. But an attic fan turns on when the temperature is high, draws the air out of the attic, reducing that effect.

Keep the windows open at night when it's cool, use fans to draw air into the house at night, and then shut the windows during the day. The idea is to capture cool air and keep it as long as you can during the day.

wiki how has some tips on keeping cool

For example .. aim a fan so it blows over the top of a bucket of ice. This will work better when the humidity is low. It's a similar idea to the swamp coolers they use in the desert.

Take a cool shower .. cover yourself with a cool cloth .. wear socks that have been soaked in cool water ..

The general idea is to use evaporative cooling.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Middle America Could Lead the Way for Independence From Foreign Oil

A Petroleum Alternative, but U.S. Says It’s Illegal: Discusses how biofuels are technicallly illegal. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rules and requirements about what vehicles can burn which fuels, and which fuels are legal. Straight Vegetable Oil is not legal by those requirements.

The technical reasons are that a thicker fuel sprays differently in an engine, burns differently, and probably produces more soot. Nonstandard fuels can also damage engines, such as leaving deposits that harm the piston rings.

Middle America Could Lead the Way for Independence From Foreign Oil: A long plea for more investment in biofuels ... Why do we insist on depending on unstable parts of the world to supply the fuel to power our vehicles, and other things? Using American ingenuity and skill there is absolutely no reason why we can't manufacture and use our own fuels with resourses we have readily available in our country. It would require modifications to our vehicles to run purely alternative mixtures, but it is entirely possible.

Biodiesel Is Big In Austin: Says that the national biodiesel board has discovered that Austin Texas is the number one city in the nation for Biodiesel retail availability. That means its easier to find the cleaner-burning renewable fuel in the Capital City than anywhere else in the U.S. Yup, in Texas, the home of the U.S. oil industry.

Biodiesel paying off for Metro: Discusses how the Cincinnati Metro system is avoiding financial problems due to high oil prices. Instead of using fossil fuel for their city busses, they are using biodiesel. "So we have Ohio soybeans, made into fuel in Ohio, powering Cincinnati buses," Sallie Hilvers, Metro's chief communications officer said. "It works great for everyone."

City fleet moving toward biodiesel: Discusses a move in Portsmouth NH for their city vehicles to move to biodiesel. They're entering a test period and if it works out they'll embrace it more fully.


Friday, July 21, 2006

$100 a barrel for oil?

Wake-up call to U.S. on oil?: Discusses a current worry that the fighting in the Middle East could cause the price for oil to become $100 per barrel. I think that's a very realistic concern, if we think about what's happened with the oil prices over the last couple years. The tensions in the Middle East have served to push up the price.

But that's not the only influence causing the oil prices to be so high as they are today.

There's growing oil demand from both India and China. Both countries are in a massive growth period, due to modernization of their economic activity.

There's the continuing rise in world oil demand, regardless of growth in India or China.

There's the peak oil consideration where it looks like world oil production capacity is going to soon reach a peak. Once the oil production peak is reached the price is inexorably going to go up.

The Chicago Tribune article is flawed by looking only at the immediate issue, and the immediate cause for oil price increases. If we think about those three effects, the price for oil is only going to rise. And once the oil production peak is reached, the price for oil is going to increase dramatically.


Malaysia and Indonesia allocating 40% of their palm oil to biodiesel production

Malaysia and Indonesia Set Aside 40% of Palm Oil Crop for Biodiesel Production: Discusses palm oil production. There is 34.282 million tonnes total, of which Malaysia and Indonesia are the two leading producers, with 85% of total world palm oil production.

Source: The Star


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Energetic Performance


Provides a model for more evenly determining the efficiency of different transportation methods. It is difficult to compare efficiency because of the number of variables. For example if you have two bicyclists riding the same electric bicycle, what is the relative efficiency? One might be a strong cyclist and able to pedal more than the other, and thereby use less power to go the same difference.

Efficiency is determined by estimating the number of passenger-kilometers obtained per unit of thermal energy present in the fuel consumed.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Renewable Planet


The Renewable Planet is a free and accessible resource that highlights the number and variety of renewable energy projects from around the world. This site is a gateway to a world of information on renewable energy.


Bio Diesel fuel stations @ MapMuse


MapMuse is offering this useful map of biodiesel stations in the U.S.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

The worlds cleanest light duty truck

The world's cleanest truck hits the road concerns a hybrid electric truck made by Mitsubishi Fuso. According to the company, which doesn't disclose the methodology it used, this truck releases 41% less nitrogen oxide and consumes 20% less fuel than conventionally-powered models.

It is a parallel-hybrid design that allows the diesel engine to be taken completely out of the drive train. The diesel engine is also used as a generator to provide electricity. The Li-ION battery pack is rather small, at 1.9 KWh.

See also article at Green Car Congress


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Blue fire ethanol


BlueFire Ethanol, Inc. is established to deploy the commercially ready, patented, and proven Arkenol Technology Process for the profitable conversion of cellulosic ("Green Waste") waste materials to ethanol, a viable alternative to gasoline. BlueFire's use of the Arkenol Process Technology positions it as the only cellulose-to-ethanol company worldwide with demonstrated production of ethanol from urban trash (post-sorted MSW), rice and wheat straws, wood waste and other agricultural residues.


Interesting 3-wheeler concept vehicle from Volkswagon

At the LA Auto Show Volkswagon has unveiled a concept "car" that's a three-wheel vehicle with high fuel efficiency and is billed as a cross between a sports car and motorcycle. At Green Car Congress and treehugger they're extolling it as a breakthrough, but I find it a big yawn. I suppose a claim of 46 miles/gallon has their attention, but I'm currently riding a Honda Rebel 250cc motorcycle which is getting well over 60 miles per gallon range.

It looks like a fun vehicle. The seating is for two people, in an open cockpit. It accelerates from 0-60 in under 6 seconds.

But if you think of it as a high efficiency vehicle, let me just remind you there are ones with higher efficiency.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A study of full lifecycle costs for biodiesel and ethanol

Researchers Identify Energy Gains And Environmental Impacts Of Corn Ethanol And Soybean Biodiesel: This discusses a study into the full lifecycle costs and energy gains in producing Corn Ethanol And Soybean Biodiesel. Such a study is worthwhile because if these fuels are to produce any benefit over fossil fuel, there must be an excess of energy coming from the fuel that is produced.

For example, the widely held belief is that ethanol from corn produces less energy than the energy required to produce the corn. Hence, corn ethanol should be a net loss and not worth pursuing. The study in question shows the opposite, that there's a net gain in energy.

The study also tracked the amount of fertilizer and weed killers and the like used to produce these crops.

However the study shows that neither fuel can come close to providing U.S. needs. If all U.S. production of corn or soybeans were diverted to biofuel production, it would only provide 12% of current demand.

Soybean based biodiesel comes in far better in this study than does corn ethanol.

Unfortunately diesel vehicles are rare among passenger cars, which makes biodiesel only suitable for the big trucks and trains. Elsewise there would need to be a resurgance of diesel engines in passenger cars.


New biodiesel plant in Tennessee

Memphis Biofuels LLC Starts Construction of Large Biodiesel Plant: The article doesn't list the size of the plant, however they claim their ambition is to be the largest producer in the South. Their location in the middle of the agricultural belt and on major rail and river shipping lanes gives them strategic importance, they say.

The plant is the result of investment by C&C Biofuels LLC, an affiliate of New York private equity firm Cohen & Company, LLC.

LLC is short for Limited Liability Company, in case you haven't seen that acronym before. The LLC structure provides for the same shielding that C Corporations enjoy, while having to pay no taxes because they immediately pass all profits directly to the owners of the LLC.

Biodiesel company starts construction on West Tennessee plant The local TV news station says the initial production capacity will be 36 million gallons with total capacity of 100 million gallons, per year.


Genome research for cellulosic ethanol production

Joint Genome Institute Targeting Energy Crops for Sequencing: This is an example of research in plant systems aimed to more efficiently produce ethanol. For some reason I don't yet understand, GW Bush mentioned switchgrass in the State of the Union address, and that's what they're targeting for genome research.


Some ethanol moves in the news

Ford Drops Focus on Hybrids, Shifts to Biofuels: Ford is reneging on a commitment to build hybrid vehicles and will instead shift to producing flexfuel vehicles.

U.S. Automakers to Double Production of Flexible-Fuel Vehicles: The big three automakers write Congress pleading the case of Ethanol. They say if all American vehicles were running E85 Ethanol, that would displace 3.5 billion gallons of gasoline per year, enough to cover all usage in a state like Missouri or Tennessee.

Roadmap for Development of Cellulosic Ethanol Production: the U.S. DOE has released their roadmap for cellulosic ethanol production. Breaking the Biological Barriers to Cellulosic Ethanol: A Joint Research Agenda The article has several useful links as well.

On the one hand I applaud this. It represents a serious effort to move from fossil fuels to a fuel source that is renewable. Ethanol and other biofuels are renewable in that they're derived from plants or other biological matter, which we can just grow.

However I suspect what we're seeing here is the effect of the corn lobby. In the U.S. the plant of choice for making ethanol is Corn. That's despite the high energy requirement to grow and process corn. Other countries, like Brazil, can grow sugar cane more readily than the U.S. can and therefore can more efficiently produce ethanol.

I suppose one thing that might result is American ethanol producers will be priced out of the Ethanol market by producers in the tropics who have better growing conditions.

The roadmap article has an interesting chart reproduced from the DOE. It shows the requirements for corn sourced ethanol production to displace 30% of 2004 U.S. gasoline usage. Since ethanol has a lower energy value than gasoline, it requires 60 billion gallons of ethanol to replace the 42 billion gallons that is 30% of U.S. gasoline usage in 2004. Producing 60 billion gallons of ethanol from corn requires 750 million tons of plant matter, which will require 70 million acres of land to grow, and 600 processing plants to produce.

Clearly this is a very steep requirement. Especially in the amount of land required.

Hence, I think it's important there be scientific research to develop biological systems that more efficiently produce ethanol or other biofuels. Such research is happening, but I suppose if the corn lobby were to have its say the government would focus on corn and ignore any other potential solutions.