Tagged: electricity

Wave energy project ready to go online off the Oregon coast


When the pilot operation is up and running…

About 15 years ago, this environmentally conscious state with a fir tree on its license plates began pushing the idea of making renewable energy from the ocean waves that bob and swell on the Pacific horizon. But then one of the first test-buoy generators, launched with great fanfare, promptly sank. It was not a good start.

But time and technology turned the page, and now the first commercially licensed grid-connected wave-energy device in the nation, designed by a New Jersey company, Ocean Power Technologies, is in its final weeks of testing before a planned launch in October. The federal permit for up to 10 generators came last month, enough, the company says, to power about 1,000 homes. When engineers are satisfied that everything is ready, a barge will carry the 260-ton pioneer to its anchoring spot about two and a half miles offshore near the city of Reedsport, on the central coast…

Adding to the breath-holding nature of the moment, energy experts and state officials said, is that Oregon is also in the final stages of a long-term coastal mapping and planning project that is aiming to produce, by late this year or early next, a blueprint for where wave energy could be encouraged or discouraged based on potential conflicts with fishing, crabbing and other marine uses.

The project’s leader, Paul Klarin, said wave technology is so new, compared to, say, wind energy, that the designs are like a curiosity shop — all over the place in creative thinking about how to get the energy contained in a wave into a wire in a way that is cost-effective and efficient…

Energy development groups around the world are closely watching what happens here, because success or failure with the first United States commercial license could affect the flow of private investment by bigger companies that have mostly stayed on the shore while smaller entrepreneurs struggled in the surf. Ocean Power Technologies also will be seeking money to build more generators.

Here in Oregon, the momentum of research appears to be increasing. Last month, the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center — financed by the United States Department of Energy in collaboration with Oregon State University and the University of Washington — deployed one of the first public wave energy testing systems in the nation, called Ocean Sentinel, about two and a half hours from Portland, in Newport. The first device tested was a half-scale prototype from a New Zealand company…

“Wave energy is essentially an accumulation of wind energy,” Charles F. Dunleavy, the chief executive at Ocean Power Technologies, said in a telephone interview. In the northern Pacific, he said, consistent winds fuel consistent waves, and the distance they travel in their rolling line creates a huge area of wave energy, or fetch, that a bobbing buoy can capture…

But the project also hinges on squeezing out the tiniest of incremental efficiencies in tapping the waves as they come. On the Ocean Power Technologies buoy, which looks like a giant cannon stuffed with electronics, company engineers pursued an insight that sailors have known in their sea legs since the days of Odysseus: every wave is different.

RTFA for anecdotes, examples and the predictably cpu-based tech essential to developing flexible power production. Poisonally, I’m looking forward to learning how this project does at producing sustainable electricity generation.

Waves are like wind. We ain’t going to run out anytime soon.

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Fuel cell could turn wastewater plant into electricity producer


Research at Oregon State University by engineer Hong Liu

In the latest green energy – or perhaps that should be brown energy – news, a team of engineers from Oregon State University (OSU) has developed new technology they claim significantly improves the performance of microbial fuel cells (MFCs) that can be used to produce electricity directly from wastewater. With the promise of producing 10 to 50 times the electricity, per volume, than comparable approaches, the researchers say the technology could see waste treatment plants not only powering themselves, but also feeding excess electricity back to the grid.

The electricity-generating potential of microbes has been known for decades, however, it is only in recent years that efforts to increase the amount of electricity generated to commercially viable levels has started to bear fruit. In MFCs, bacteria are used to oxidize organic matter – be it in wastewater, grass straw, animal waste, and byproducts from such operations as the wine, beer or dairy industries – which produces electrons that run from the anode to the cathode within the fuel cell to create an electrical current.

By adopting a number of new concepts, including reducing the anode-cathode spacing, and using evolved microbes and new separator materials, the researchers say they have been able to produce MFCs that produce more than two kilowatts per cubic meter of liquid reactor volume. The researchers point out this power density is much higher than has been achieved previously and could see the new technology replacing the widely used “activated sludge” process that has been used for almost a century…

The team has proven the system “at a substantial scale in the laboratory” and is now seeking funding to scale things up with a pilot study. A contained system that produces a steady supply of certain types of wastewater that would provide significant amounts of electricity, such as a food processing plant, is seen as an ideal candidate for such a test…

If this technology works on a commercial scale the way we believe it will, the treatment of wastewater could be a huge energy producer, not a huge energy cost,” said Hong Liu, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering. “This could have an impact around the world, save a great deal of money, provide better water treatment and promote energy sustainability.”

Bravo! I have to track down the email address for Santa Fe’s wastewater treatment plant up north of us on county road 56. They’re already powering basic needs with solar panels; but, I’m willing to bet they’d be interested in something like this.

CO2 levels from generating electricity fall to lowest in 20 years

Carbon dioxide emissions from energy use in the first quarter of this year fell to their lowest level in the U.S. in 20 years, as demand shifted to natural gas-fired generation from coal-fired electricity due to record low gas prices, the energy department said.

Energy-related carbon emissions fell 8 percent from the same period a year ago to 1.134 billion metric tons according to the latest monthly energy review by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) – the energy department’s statistics arm.

In the U.S., the first quarter usually represents the time of year when greenhouse gas emissions are at their highest because of strong demand for fossil-fuel generated power for home heating…

Emissions from coal use fell sharply by 18 percent to 387 million tonnes in the January-March 2012 period – the lowest-first quarter tally since 1983 and the lowest for any quarter since April-June 1986.

The contribution of coal in U.S. energy use is likely to continue its demise, with plant owners and operators reporting to the EIA last month that they plan to retire 27 gigawatts of capacity, or 8.5 percent, at 175 coal-fired facilities between 2012 and 2016.

Looming federal carbon and mercury regulations being developed by the Environmental Protection Agency are also likely to force the retirement of more coal plants.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of greedy, polluting, extractive-industry, corporate barons.

As Robert Muller noted in his OP-Ed piece in the NY TIMES over the weekend, one of the simplest critical steps to take in reducing our political lemming march to the abyss of climate change – is to convert power generation from coal to natural gas. Up front, it reduces CO2 two-thirds from power plants.

FDA approves a sensor you can swallow


You say you keep hearing Billy Idol tunes from your navel?

Taking a pill seems like the easiest thing in the world. Pill, glass of water and swallow, right? For many people, however, it isn’t that simple. For them, it’s very easy to take the incorrect dosage at the incorrect time. To help prevent this, Proteus Digital Health of Redwood City, California has developed an ingestible chip that can be embedded in pills and other pharmaceuticals.

Taking pills on a regular basis requires a lot of discipline or a really obsessive use of text alerts. Many modern medicines can’t do their job properly if they’re not taken at the correct time, in the correct dosages and in the correct manner. Unfortunately, over half of all patients don’t follow their prescriptions consistently.

Many patients, such as cancer sufferers, transplant recipients and those with HIV must take batteries of medicines that are hard to keep track of. For the elderly, failing memories make it just as difficult. They make errors or fall into bad habits and don’t get the full benefit of their pharmaceuticals. This is where Proteus Digital Health’s ingestible sensor comes in.

The sensor, called the Ingestion Event Marker (IEM), is a sensor chip that can be embedded in a pill and then swallowed by the patient. When the chip reaches the stomach, the stomach fluids start powering it and the chip sends out an ID signal complete with time stamp. This is picked up by a special patch worn by the patient. The patch notes the ID and time stamp, and wirelessly transmits this to a mobile phone application along with data collected directly by the patch such as heart rate, body position and activity.

This information can, with the patient’s consent, be shared with doctors and other caregivers to see if the medication has been taken in at the right time, place and manner and to help the patient develop healthier habits.

My sense of humor gets the better of me sometimes. All I can think is – our government figures we’ll swallow anything.

Prototype floating wind turbine affirms offshore wind potential


Windfloat prototype anchored off the coast of Agucadoura, Portugal

Floating wind farms could soon be powering thousands of European homes after a prototype seaborne turbine sailed through technological trials off the coast of Agucadoura, Portugal.

The 54-meter tall renewable structure sits atop a semi-submersible platform known as a WindFloat situated five kilometers from shore…It has been manufactured by WindPlus, a consortium of energy and clean-tech companies including Principle Power, Energias de Portugal and Vestas.

The group hopes their primary success will help secure European Union funding to add another five turbines alongside the existing model, engendering greater electrical production…

Unlike existing offshore wind farms and underwater tidal turbines, floating structures do not have to be permanently fixed to the ocean floor…Instead they are kept in place by a drag embedment anchor, much like the devices used to moor oil rigs in deep ocean environments.

This means WindFloat structures could theoretically be transported to any ocean location where there is a strong wind resource, says Alla Weinstein…

Weinstein highlights lower construction costs — the WindPlus turbine cost €20 million to build and install — as a major advantage the technology has over existing offshore wind farms.

The fact that turbines and their platforms can be assembled on land…means “the cost and risk profile … is significantly reduced,” she says.

But while bullish about the technology’s potential, Weinstein admits there remains a way to go before floating turbines become profitable enterprises.

The initial structure off the coast of Portugal is merely a pilot installation to prove the device works and is viable…

One of my favorite future means of producing electricity. Offshore is a great location – especially utilizing equipment like this which merely needs to be towed into position 12-18 miles at sea. Far enough to counter that whining sound that accompanies resistance from NIMBYs worldwide.

There ain’t about to be any shortage of offshore wind. Maintenance and durability are the only significant design questions. Given appropriate materials and corrosion-resistant coatings, production should extend well beyond payback time.

Tall, red and green: Housing scheme sells energy back to the grid

Look up this project on the website of its architects, ACXT, and you will find that it goes by the rather understated name of 242 Affordable Housing Units in Salburúa (Salburúa being a neighborhood in the Basque city of Vitoria-Gasteiz). In many ways the downplaying of the name is in keeping with ACXT’s quiet approaches to sustainable design. Though there may be no obvious green bells and whistles such as wind turbines or photovoltaics, passive architectural methods combined with on-site generation contribute to what ACXT claims is a “considerable reduction” in the building’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Though largely a residential development the building, completed in 2011, incorporates nine shops at ground level. From there, it’s social housing all the way up: between four and seven stories for the horseshoe-shaped block that forms the building’s footprint, rising to 21 stories for the tower that rises above one end of that horseshoe.

Why the variation in height in the main block of the building? It’s all to do with daylight, or specifically sunlight – the two being subtly different things. By limiting the height of the development to the south (we’re in the northern hemisphere, needless to say), more apartments are granted a direct view of the sun. It’s an arrangement the building appears to have borrowed from its closest neighbors, and though the tower, being located at the building’s south-western corner, inevitably casts a shadow, the photographs suggest that an impressive proportion of the building’s facades are bathed in sunlight at any given time. In any case, the positioning of the tower to the south inevitably means that more apartments are granted a south-facing aspect, and though direct sunlight can be problematic, it’s also a very nice thing to have – especially at home…

More central to the building’s sustainable efforts is the cogeneration system which produces 70 kW of electricity and 109 kW of heating on site. A relatively unglamorous technology, cogeneration…is nevertheless a tremendously important weapon in a building designer’s arsenal. In this case, effectively an on-site gas-fired power station…it’s the proximity of the power generation to end use that sees CHP offering significant energy savings over grid-scale gas fired power, because a vast amount of the heat generated as a by-product can be put to use very near to where it is generated. Plus it’s heat that doesn’t have to be generated by other means, as would otherwise be the case. In a triumph of localism, cogeneration can almost be seen as putting the fuel to work twice in one go.

ACXT reports that the building is able to produce electricity to sell back to the grid, which suggests that, for some of the time at least, the cogeneration system is producing more electricity than the building needs: a good thing.

Bravo! They don’t discuss it in the article; but, I imagine the plumbing and what HVAC there is – is all home run rather than traditional right angles and elbows. You can save about 30% of the energy required to push water and air around a multi-story building.

Iran’s fuel test won’t hasten nuclear weapons – bluster on both sides of the question is farce!


Bushehr nuclear power plant – loaded with Russian fuel rods

Iran’s latest claim of a breakthrough in its nuclear program appears unlikely to bring it any closer to having atomic bombs, but serves rather as another defiant message to the West…

“The development itself doesn’t put them any closer to producing weapons,” said Peter Crail of the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based research and advocacy group.

It could be a way of telling Tehran’s foes that time is running out if they want to revive an atomic fuel swap deal that collapsed two years ago but is still seen by some experts as offering the best chance to start building badly needed trust.

Not if the response from the Obama White House is any indicator.

Diplomats believe Iran has in the past overstated its nuclear progress to gain leverage in its standoff with Western capitals, and the testing of domestically made fuel does not mean the country is about to start using it to run reactors.

“It is a step in the direction of no longer needing supply from other countries,” said Associate Professor Matthew Bunn of Harvard University’s Kennedy School…But it will be a good number of months or years before it will be at the point where they no longer need supply from other countries…”

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India begins living up to ambitious goals for solar power

Solar power is a clean energy source. But in this arid part of northwest India it can also be a dusty one.

Every five days or so, in a marriage of low and high tech, field hands with long-handled dust mops wipe down each of the 36,000 solar panels at a 63-acre installation operated by Azure Power. The site is one of the biggest examples of India’s ambitious plan to use solar energy to help modernize its notoriously underpowered national electricity grid, and reduce its dependence on coal-fired power plants.

Azure Power has a contract to provide solar-generated electricity to a state-government electric utility. Inderpreet Wadhwa, Azure’s chief executive, predicted that within a few years solar power would be competitive in price with India’s conventionally generated electricity…

Two years ago, Indian policy makers said that by the year 2020 they would drastically increase the nation’s use of solar power from virtually nothing to 20,000 megawatts — enough electricity to power the equivalent of 20 million modern American homes. Many analysts said it could not be done. But, now the doubters are taking back their words.

Dozens of developers like Azure, because of aggressive government subsidies and a large drop in the global price of solar panels, are covering India’s northwestern plains — including this village of 2,000 people — with gleaming solar panels. So far, India uses only about 140 megawatts, including 10 megawatts used by the Azure installation, which can provide enough power to serve a town of 50,000 people, according to the company. But analysts say that the national 20,000 megawatt goal is achievable and that India could reach those numbers even a few years before 2020.

Prices came down and suddenly things were possible that didn’t seem possible,” said Tobias Engelmeier, managing director of Bridge to India, a research and consulting firm based in New Delhi. Chinese manufacturers like Suntech Power and Yingli Green Energy helped drive the drop in solar panel costs. The firms increased production of the panels and cut costs this year by about 30 percent to 40 percent, to less than $1 a watt.

Developers of solar farms in India, however, have shown a preference for the more advanced, so-called thin-film solar cells offered by suppliers in the United States, Taiwan and Europe. The leading American provider to India is First Solar, based in Tempe, Ariz.

India does not have a large solar manufacturing industry, but is trying to develop one and China is showing a new interest in India’s growing demand. China’s Suntech Power sold the panels used at the Azure installation, which opened in June.

RTFA. Lots if info. I chuckle when folks writing articles like this include notes about government subsidies being necessary. I don’t recall a major power plant built anywhere in the world – coal-fired, nuclear, nat gas, whatever – in decades without government support. It ain’t exactly the kind of construction project done on spec.

China begins tests of 500kph train


The first test train that can reach speeds of up to 500 km an hour stands on a railway line in Qingdao

The six-carriage train with a tapered head is the newest member of the CRH series. It has a maximum drawing power of 22,800 kilowatts, compared with 9,600 kilowatts for the CRH380 trains now in service on the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway, which hold the world speed record of 300 km per hour.

The gray train, which has testing and data processing equipment on board, was designed and produced by CSR’s Sifang Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co…Ding Sansan, the company’s chief technician, said the concept of the super-speed train design was inspired by the ancient Chinese sword. The bodywork uses plastic material reinforced with carbon fiber…

The test train is based on revisions to the CRH 380A – regarding the shape of the front, body, engine and brake systems – intended to increase the speed, promote the engine power and decrease the drag force

Many high-tech materials, including carbon fiber, magnesium alloy and sound insulation materials, have been used in the train.

Shen Zhiyun, a locomotive expert and academician with both the Chinese academies of sciences and engineering, said the testing of the train will provide useful reference for current high-speed railway operations.

And that is as critical for the process of moving forward to faster, more efficient transport of people and goods. It’s logical that improvements may be needed to roadbeds and rail design, maintenance and upgrades. Whatever is needed for 500kph rail travel will make 300kph even safer.

There will be a predictable number of timorous political mice – who will whine about the danger of testing. You make it as safe a process as possible and then you get on with it. If engineers and designers spent their careers listening to 19th Century fearmongers we’d still be trying to breed faster horses for public transit.

Bill Gates’ firm Terrapower discuss nuclear reactor plan in China

China is set to start work on a novel design for a nuclear reactor with the help of a firm founded by Bill Gates.

Terrapower, founded and funded by the Microsoft chairman, is collaborating with Chinese scientists on the fourth generation (4G) reactor. Research into the 4G reactor over the next five years could top $1 billion, said Mr Gates. Developing such a reactor could take a long time because none have been built or tested yet.

“The idea is to be very low cost, very safe and generate very little waste,” said Mr Gates during a talk at China’s Ministry of Science and Technology during which he confirmed the tie-up with Terrapower…

Based in Washington state, Terrapower is working on a design for what is known as a travelling wave reactor. This uses depleted uranium as its power source and is believed to produce less nuclear waste than other designs.

All these new designs are going to be incredibly safe,” Mr Gates said. “They require no human action to remain safe at all times…”

I’ve supported nuclear power generation since I first worked in the field before most of my readers were born. Cripes, I never thought I’d get old enough to be able to say that. :)

Anyway, in recent years I have gradually begun to shift my alliance to large-scale solar power projects because I feel the ultimate cost of producing electrical power is now less for solar technology than nuclear power. The environmental problems associated with the latter methodology are problems of politics, corruption and laziness prompted by greed. Problems faced by all large-scale endeavors in the modern era.

If Gates’ company can beat the costs of competing with large and small-scale projects from advanced firms like Toshiba and Areva – well, then, more power to him.