Zhifeng Ren, left, and Qian Zhang
Physicists at the University of Houston’s physics department and the Texas Center for Superconductivity are working on an innovation that could boost vehicle mileage by 5 percent and power plant and industrial processing performance as much as 10 percent.
Their research uses non-toxic materials – tin telluride, with the addition of the chemical element indium – for waste heat recovery.
Telluride has been studied for years, said Zhifeng Ren, M.D., professor of physics at UH and lead author of a paper describing the work…
But earlier work faltered because lead-containing telluride, despite its strong thermoelectric properties, can’t be used commercially because of the health risks associated with lead, Ren said.
That has sparked the rush for a similar, but safer compound…
Qian Zhang, a research associate in Ren’s group who designed the experiment, said she ultimately decided to add another element, known as a dopant, to alter the electrical properties of the tin telluride. In this case, she added indium to boost its conducting properties.
In one example, the device could capture heat from a car’s tailpipe and convert it to power the car’s electronics, improving the car’s mileage by about 5 percent, Ren said.
“Even 1 percent, every day, would be huge,” he said, considering how much crude oil is consumed worldwide…
But capturing car exhaust and converting it to electricity is only one example of how the process can be used. It could also be used in power plants – Ren suggested it could boost the conversion rate of coal-fired power plants from 40 percent to as much as 48 percent – and other industrial plants.
In some cases, Ren said, the efficiency gain could reach 10 percent.
Every little bit helps. In this instance, a small portion equals an enormous quantity of wasted energy and heat pollution.
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, as Bob Dylan said. But whether or not it’s a good idea to build wind turbines to harness wind energy has been a matter of some debate in communities throughout the country and world.
One of the main arguments used by those who oppose the turbines is that they decrease property and home values. But a new study effectively puts that argument to rest.
The study, published this month, looked at more than 50,000 home and property sales near 67 wind facilities in nine U.S. states and found no average decrease in home properties when windmills were built nearby. Study author Ben Hoen, a policy researcher…at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said it’s the second large-scale study he’s been involved with that’s shown such a result.
“Regardless of the home’s model and construction, regardless of how we slice the data set, we still ended up with the same result: We cannot find evidence of an impact that turbines have on nearby property values,” Hoen said…
Most windmills aren’t placed in densely populated areas, however. In this case, the argument can become a matter of aesthetics, with some claiming they are eyesores. But many also see them as beautiful kinetic sculptures, John Rogers, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told LiveSience.
The fact that windmills usually don’t affect home prices suggests that the other concerns (annoyance, potential health effects, etc.) aren’t widespread enough to have an economic impact, Hoen said. Or widespread enough to detract from their environmental upside.
Studies have shown, however, that windmills may in some instances have significant impacts on birds and bats. Usually, though, “there are ways to find proper sites for wind farms to avoid, minimize or compensate for the impact it might have on wildlife,” Rogers said.
Some of the new coastal offshore wind farms have become tourist attractions. Of course, the answer to that from some Luddites is that “those people” haven’t good taste. Uh-huh.
The world will have enough wind turbines to generate more than 300 gigawatts of power – the equivalent of 114 nuclear power plants – by the end of the year, industry figures show.
As Brazil, China, Mexico and South Africa add turbines, the figure represents modest growth compared with a year ago, when the overall total capacity was just over 280 gigawatts…
Europe, which has led the world on wind, still represents around a third of all capacity, with more than 100 gigawatts, but its growth has been stalled by uncertainty as financial crisis has meant abrupt changes to subsidy regimes…
The most heated debate has been in Germany, ahead of elections in September, where the cost of energy and progress of implementing the nation’s Energiewende – or transition to green energy and away from nuclear fuel – are election issues.
Heavy industry has attacked renewable subsidies, arguing they add to costs and damage competitiveness, especially when the United States benefits from cheap shale gas.
Representatives of the renewable industry say they are working to produce energy that can compete economically with traditional sources, which would lower political risk.
They say they have made progress on onshore wind and solar, but for the huge scale of offshore wind, a technology still in its infancy, subsidies are essential, probably for the rest of the decade…
Wind energy executives note conventional fuel sources have long benefited from support in the form of tax breaks for oil and gas and government help in disposing of spent nuclear fuel.
State and federal subsidies have been part of construction costs for every kind of power station built in the last century. Not that the fact isn’t brought up as a special case by know-nothings who oppose reductions in the consumption of fossil fuel and the inevitable effects that has on environmental quality. Sometimes, subsidies are also added in to defray fuel costs, as well. Something never going to be needed by renewable sources like wind, solar and hydro.
Here at one of the largest dairy farms in the country, electricity generated using an endless supply of manure runs the equipment to milk around 30,000 cows three times a day.
For years, the farm has used livestock waste to create enough natural gas to power 10 barns, a cheese factory, a cafe, a gift shop and a maze of child-friendly exhibits about the world of dairy, including a 3D movie theater.
All that, and Fair Oaks Farms was still using only about half of the five million pounds of cow manure it vacuumed up from its barn floors on a daily basis. It burned off the excess methane, wasted energy sacrificed to the sky.
But not anymore.
The farm is now turning the extra manure into fuel for its delivery trucks, powering 42 tractor-trailers that make daily runs to raw milk processing plants in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Officials from the federal Department of Energy called the endeavor a “pacesetter” for the dairy industry, and said it was the largest natural gas fleet using agricultural waste to drive this nation’s roads.
“As long as we keep milking cows, we never run out of gas,” said Gary Corbett, chief executive of Fair Oaks, which held a ribbon-cutting event for the project this month and opened two fueling stations to the public…
The American Gas Association estimates there are about 1,200 natural gas fueling stations operating across the country, the vast majority of which are supplied by the same pipelines that heat houses.
But the growing market is also drawing interest from livestock farmers, landfill management companies and other industries handling methane-rich material that, if harnessed, could create a nearly endless supply of cleaner, safer, sustainable “biogas,” while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
To be sure, no one is pretending that waste-to-energy projects will become a major part of the larger natural gas vehicle market. But supporters say it could provide additional incentive to make biogas systems, which have lagged behind other sustainable energy solutions, more commercially viable.
RTFA. Partnerships are growing between dairy farmers and NatGas industry providers. They say we’ll be surprised how much they will grow over the next five years.
I’m ready to be surprised. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.
Dominion Resources plans to shut its Kewaunee plant in Wisconsin next year, the first U.S. nuclear plant to fall victim to the steep drop in power prices as rising natural gas production makes some plants uncompetitive.
After claiming hundreds of coal-fired plants, the boom in U.S. shale gas output is now starting to grind down the nuclear industry, with smaller older plants like the 566-megawatt Kewaunee plant first to be affected.
The surge in U.S. shale gas has upended the domestic power market, and this year combined with flagging demand due to the struggling economy to send prices to near 10-year lows. For the nuclear industry, it means the Dominion plant…will be the first U.S. reactor to shut since the late 1990s.
The closing, which did not catch many in the industry by surprise, highlights the struggle of the U.S. “nuclear renaissance…”
Natural gas’ share of total U.S. generation has increased to 30 percent this year from about 20 percent in 2006, while the percentage from nuclear has held steady at about 20 percent.
Power prices in the PJM grid, the nation’s biggest power grid, for the first nine months of 2012 were down almost 30 percent from the same period last year and the lowest since 2002.
While nuclear plants can still produce power more cheaply than natural gas, analysts say future capital investments, which could run into the hundreds of millions or more at existing reactors, might prompt operators to shut some units.
“A number of nuclear units won’t run their 60-year licensed lives if current gas price forecasts prove accurate,” said Peter Bradford, a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission…
“The determining factor is likely to come at the point at which they need to decide on a major capital investment.”
Anyone who measures the construction cost of a modern nuclear power plant – built in the United States – in millions of dollars instead of billions, is smoking the seeds. Medical marijuana or otherwise.
Escalating costs – for all the reasons that come easily to mind – are the essential factor that turned my support for nuclear power generation in directions like solar power generation. A process which is gradually diminishing in cost.
That natural gas is booming in availability and prices continue to drop or stabilize at historically low levels – is a great reason to hasten conversion of existing coal-fired plants to NatGas and to concentrate on NatGas-based new construction.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.