Saturday, October 31, 2015

New refrigerator cools food without electricity

The WindChill is designed to preserve food in places where money and electricity are scarce, taking cues from nature to help fight food waste and malnutrition in developing countries.

By: Russell McLendon
October 30, 2015, 4:24 p.m.
WindChill refrigerator
The WindChill is inspired by animals ranging from bees and termites to elephants, kangaroos and meerkats. (Photo: University of Calgary)
More than 1 billion people around the world still don't have access to electricity, representing about 15 percent of humanity. That poses several problems, including not just heating, cooling and lighting, but also food preservation.
Universal access to electricity is still years away, with the World Bank having set 2030 as a target date. But in the meantime, a team of students from the University of Calgary has come up with a way to keep food cool without relying on electricity.
Named WindChill, the new refrigerator prototype instead turns to the animal kingdom for inspiration, using biomimicry to imitate animals including bees, termites, coral, elephants, kangaroos and meerkats. And not only is the Windchill designed to preserve food without electricity, but it's also cheap and relatively portable, making it a potential windfall for people living in remote, rural areas.
We thought it would be good to decrease the amount of food waste in the world," team member Michelle Zhou tells CBC News, "and we came up with this design because it's easy to build and the materials are relatively cheap."
The invention recently won first place in the student category of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge (BGDC), an annual competition focused on "addressing critical sustainability issues with nature-inspired solutions."
"The cooling mechanism is inspired by temperature regulation approaches seen in mammals and insects and is a new way of approaching issues in the food system," the students write in their project overview. The device involves three main steps, each drawing inspiration from a different type of animal.
The process begins with an intake pipe that brings in ambient air using a method inspired by the way some marine animals accelerate water into their pores. Part of the pipe is buried underground, cooling the incoming air with a tactic borrowed from termite mounds. In the second step, the air flows into a copper pipe inside a transparent evaporation chamber, which also contains fluid. As sunlight evaporates this fluid, it cools the pipe — and the air inside — in a strategy the students say was gleaned from elephants and kangaroos, among other animals.
"[Elephants] get their ears wet and when the water evaporates it cools their skin," team member Jorge Zapote says in a statement from the university. "Kangaroos lick their forearms and when it evaporates off their skin, it cools their blood and they also dig and put their bellies in exposed ground and that cools them down."
In the final step, a pipe briefly carries the air back underground, cooling it further before it finally flows into the food-storage chamber.

The WindChill prototype includes a solar-powered fan in the evaporation chamber, so it technically does use a small amount of (self-generated) electricity in its current form. But the final version will be completely electricity-free, team member Jorge Zapote tells CBC News, which could be a game-changer for many parts of the world.
"Anywhere from a quarter to half of the world's food goes to waste every year, and in rural populations — about 70 percent of the people in rural Africa don't have access to electricity," Zapote says. "So this at the moment uses a tiny bit of electricity from a solar panel, but the end design is to use zero electricity. So this could really help people in those areas."
Although the team already won the BGDC student category, they're still honing their invention. In addition to phasing out the solar panel, they're reportedly still adjusting the design to consistently reach a temperature of 4.5 degrees Celsius (40.1 Fahrenheit) inside the food-storage chamber.
If this idea becomes a practical tool for rural food preservation, it could benefit not only people living in those areas, but also add to the growing popularity of biomimicry in general. People have a long history of borrowing design ideas from nature — like the way birds informed our invention of airplanes — but biomimicry has become especially important in recent years, as population growth and limited resources fuel the need for more efficient, lower-energy innovations.
"Biomimicry helps develop more sustainable solutions," says Marjan Eggermont, an associate dean at the University of Calgary who worked with the students on their design. "Because nature doesn't tend to foul its own backyard, you come up with solutions that can work locally and are benign to the environment."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lithium-Air battery research shows potential paths to next-gen batteries

But a commercially viable Li-air battery is still “at least a decade away."
by - Oct 29, 2015 11:23am PDT

Scanning electron microscopy images of the electrode in its pristine state, after the battery is discharged, and after the battery is charged again.
On Thursday, a group of researchers from Cambridge University released a paper showing that they had developed a laboratory model of a lithium-air battery that solved several of the problems associated with batteries of similar chemistry. Their lithium-air battery had a high energy density, and it was capable of being recharged “more than 2,000 times.” The battery was theoretically more than 90 percent efficient in its energy use, as well.
It is the great hope of scientists that lithium-air batteries will one day replace the class of lithium-ion bricks we currently use. “The lithium-ion rechargeable battery is approaching its 25th anniversary,” Professor Clare P. Grey of the University of Cambridge’s chemistry department told a handful of journalists in a phone call on Wednesday. A quarter of a century ago, that new battery composition helped pave the way for the host of portable electronics that we carry with us today—relatively light and compact, Lithium-ion batteries are better-suited for consumer tech than their predecessors were.
But no chemist or engineer would claim that the lithium-ion battery is perfect. As electric vehicles become more popular, researchers are especially excited about lithium-air batteries because they would ideally be much lighter than anything we have powering cars today, and lighter cars mean a longer driving range before the battery runs out. That’s not to mention that the lithium-air batteries would ideally have a higher energy density.
In a press release (PDF), the University of Cambridge scientists admitted that a commercially viable lithium-air battery was still “at least a decade away,” but their research showed that some of the big roadblocks to developing such batteries can be tackled.
So far, previous research has been able to create lithium-air batteries that can hold a charge but can not be cycled frequently enough for commercial use (think of how many times you can recharge your smartphone before the battery kicks the bucket). Or, their laboratory batteries are too unstable for the real world because the oxygen will create unwanted chemical reactions inside the battery.
Whereas several earlier experiments on Li-O2 batteries have cycled by creating a chemical reaction that results in lithium peroxide (Li2O2), the Cambridge researchers built their battery to produce lithium hydroxide (LiOH) as a discharge product. The battery was composed of a lithium metal anode, a graphene oxide electrode, and a lithium iodide (LiI) additive, which acts as a mediator of redox reactions, as well as a dimethoxyethane solvent. The result was that the researchers were able to form and then remove lithium hydroxide during charge and discharge. (They also found that adding a little bit of water(!) to the battery helped.)
The researchers noted that "The cells tolerate high concentrations of water, water being the dominant proton source for the LiOH.” However, the battery can only cycle in pure oxygen, which is less than ideal for a true lithium-air battery (because air, of course, contains more than just oxygen).
As the battery discharged, lithium hydroxide built up in the graphene oxide electrode. That material was chosen among other possible materials because graphene electrodes are "light, conductive, and have a large pore volume that can potentially lead to large capacities,” the researchers write.
In many lithium-air battery prototypes, scientists have struggled to figure out how to most effectively fill and then flush the receiving electrode of the batteries’ discharge products. How well an electrode accepts discharge products and then flushes them when the battery is being recharged affects how many cycles the battery can be used for, as well as its overall efficiency.
Because of graphene oxide’s porousness and because of the way the lithium hydroxide particle built up in the graphene oxide, the researchers estimate that this battery can be cycled more than 2,000 times. They write that the lithium hydroxide discharge products can be quite large compared to the lithium peroxide that's found in other Li-air batteries, but despite their size, they fit into the porous graphene oxide much better than the doughnut-shaped lithium peroxide molecules (sort of how you'll have more room in your suitcase if you fold your clothes rather than just ball them up and throw them in there). "The large LiOH agglomerates efficiently fill up the pore volume available in the [...] electrode, leading to much larger capacities," the researchers write.
The researchers were also able to reduce the “voltage gap” in their Li-air battery, a measure of efficiency that has been difficult for earlier experiments to achieve. With this new chemistry, researchers were able to reduce the voltage gap to 0.2V, a number closer to what is seen in a Li-ion battery.
In their press conference, the researchers noted that their new battery had a theoretical energy density 3,350Wh/kg of electrode. That’s quite impressive, given that current Li-ion batteries can run between 140-250Wh/kg. (But maybe not as impressive as research from 2012 that predicted a Li-air battery with a 13,500Wh/kg capacity.)
This is all well and good, but naturally there are still some issues. The voltage gap decrease and the graphene oxide electrode’s large capacity only hold true for very specific rates of charge and discharge, and the researchers noted in a press conference that the lithium metal anode in their battery can sometimes form dendrites that hinder the battery’s performance. As we noted before, other compounds in air besides O2 could also potentially cause negative chemical byproducts.
All these problems mean you won’t be able to buy a Li-air battery for your phone any time soon. It’s easy to think of new battery technology as vaporware, but instead it’s just painstaking, diligent science. “If we can really understand the nature as to how lithium hydroxide is formed [in the battery], that can give us some clues,” Grey said on Wednesday. Other teams will be able to build off the Cambridge research in the future, and maybe soon scientists will be able to “get at some of the fundamental mechanisms of what’s going on,” the professor added.

America’s Cleanest and Dirtiest Energy State --- Washington State #1 for Clean Energy

America's Cleanest and Dirtiest Energy States

America’s energy policy has been the subject of much recent debate: From the Pope’s public advocacy of environmental stewardship to the EPA’s toughened regulations on pollution from petroleum refineries, the sources that power our society have rarely been so widely scrutinized. Once regarded as a subject best left to the energy sector, the way we fuel our economy has proven its relevance for all citizens, both in America and across the globe.
For our team at Modernize, this subject seems particularly important. We’re dedicated to providing consumers information and opportunities related to one of clean energy’s most promising technologies: solar panels. Our primary interest is in helping individual readers to find environmentally friendly solar options that generate wallet-friendly savings in the long run.
But we’re also paying attention to how whole swaths of the American energy landscape operate. That’s where our project “America’s Cleanest and Dirtiest Energy States” comes in. If you want to know your state’s energy track record or find out which states are leading (and trailing) the push for renewables, you’re going to want to read what comes next.

Our Methodology

For this project, we went straight to the most authoritative source available on America’s energy realities. We gathered data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the federal agency responsible for tracking stats related to America’s energy production and consumption. Lucky for us, they’ve got data dating back to 1960 and as recent as 2013, so we took the long view on each state’s energy legacy. Our work engaged a range of subjects, from total energy production from renewable sources to carbon dioxide emissions over time. Take a look at what we found out:
Not Everything is Bigger in Texas…
Renewable Energy Production by State
Let’s get something straight: “Renewable” energy sources run the gamut from hydropower to wind, solar, and more. The EIA includes biofuels, such as ethanol, in this category as well. That means that virtually any state can tap into renewables, though some types are more readily utilized in certain natural environments (for instance, the Midwest makes good use of its wind). But that also means oil- and coal-rich states like Texas and West Virginia have historically focused their efforts on sourcing energy from “fossil” fuels, so their output from renewables is relatively paltry.
To see each state’s exact numbers, check out the interactive map below:

And here are the top 10 producers of total energy from renewables:
America's Cleanest Energy States

Maybe Washington, California, and Oregon come as no surprise – we associate them with environmental concern and the geographical variety to embrace multiple renewable technologies simultaneously. But the rest of the states that top the renewables ranking embody a striking mix of size, population, political preference, and socioeconomic standing. If this ranking indicates anything, it’s that success with renewables is possible in any combination of circumstances.

Power Percentages

Now we know the score when it comes to the total volume of energy produced from renewables by state. But some states produce plenty of both, while others have pristine clean-energy records but fall short of the top 10 because their total production is too small to compete. So we also looked at how much of each state’s total energy production renewables account for – call these our Percentage Power Rankings:
Top 10 Renewable Energy States

Yes, you read that right: Rhode Island, Idaho, Hawaii, Delaware, and D.C. produce virtually all of their energy from renewable sources. Sure, that might be different if these states had been dealt a different hand in the distribution of natural resources (no one’s begging to drill outside Newport), but we can appreciate their commitment to renewable energy all the same. After all, necessity is the mother of invention – and as time goes on, more and more states may find themselves in need.
Americas Dirtiest States
Then there’s the cohort above, all of whom derived less than 2.5% of all the energy they produce from renewable sources from 1960–2013. The difference in reliance on renewables couldn’t be starker: Wyoming’s renewable portfolio accounts for roughly one in every 250 BTUs (British Thermal Units – oddly, no longer commonly used in the U.K.) that the state produces. Many of the constituents of this dirtiest energy ranking are too rich in coal and oil to need much in the way of renewable alternatives – but that doesn’t mean they won’t adopt more sustainable technologies in the coming years.

Pollution and Solutions

Perhaps the most concerning byproduct of fossil fuel energy production is pollution. That term covers many kinds of potentially harmful emissions, but the best-known variety is carbon dioxide. The EIA offers carbon dioxide data from 1990–2012, so we’ve tracked the worst emissions offenders over that time:
America's Top CO2 Emitter States
Predictably, Texas is at the top – but what about California or New York? Why do states that ranked high in renewable energy production make the list? The answer is simple: Carbon dioxide emissions aren’t just a function of energy production. It’s no accident that the top-ranked states are almost all quite populous; the more people, the more energy they consume. That translates to emissions resulting from cars, heat, and other comforts modern Americans depend upon in daily life. But don’t think emissions are an intransigent evil: Some states are making great strides.
Americas Most Improved CO2 Emitter States
Let’s take a moment to commend these states for what they’ve accomplished in just 22 years. New York, Michigan, and Ohio are particularly exciting cases, demonstrating that even states closely associated with major industry can reduce emissions substantially. Additionally, some of the states that ranked high in the percentage of energy generated from renewables appear on this list, making it clear that improvement can always be a priority, whatever you accomplish for the environment.
Speaking of improvement, let’s remember that your own home can contribute to the pursuit of new, clean technologies, no matter which state you live in. Whether it’s turning off the light when you walk out of a room or researching solar options that will also create savings, you can do a lot to promote a cleaner energy world. Who knows? If you and enough of your neighbors make the right choices, your state might just jump up on our cleanest states ranking!

Tourist captures image of mysterious sea monster off Grecian coastline

 A strange looking creature was photographed swimming of Greece's west coast. (Courtesy Harvey  Robertson)                  VIA

I created this blog for news about renewable energy but I could not help myself with this story as we have so many discoveries still waiting for us. Do any of my readers have any idea what this might be? It looks like a cross of a hippo and a manatee to me.

A Scottish tourist unwittingly captured an unidentifiable sea monster while vacationing in Greece.
Harvey Robertson was on a boat cruise off the coast of Parga, sailing through sea caves with his family. He was initially just trying to capture the unusual color of the surrounding water with his iPhone camera.
What he shot instead has baffled those across the Internet—and marine scientists. Looking back through his camera, Robertson saw that he had captured a grey creature that resembles an elongated manatee. The strange animal appears to pop out of the water in one photo, then disappears under the greenish water in the next.

“I didn't actually see the animal at the time as was trying to capture the water color (fluorescent blue) at the point before becoming black,” Robertson told via email. “You can only imagine my surprise when I was looking back through my photos.”
Some say it could be a Cuvier’s beaked whale, which have been known to frequent the Mediterranean, others have speculated that it could be the “love child of a hippo and crocodile”—but so far, even scientists are baffled.
Robertson says “I have no idea what it is, I've sent them to various marine biologists across the planet and no one has any idea.”
Asked whether the legendary Loch Ness Monster could have followed a fellow Scotsman all the way to Greece, Robertson is doubtful.
“I also doubt it's Nessie as he's none too fond of Greek salad.”

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Koch Brothers + 11 Other Special Interest Groups Wage War on Solar

The Koch brothers, Duke Energy and Arizona Public Service are among 12 special interest groups waging aggressive anti-solar campaigns across the country, often coordinated and behind the scenes, a new Environment America Research and Policy Center report said today. 

While American solar power has increased four-fold since 2010, state by state, utilities and powerful industry front groups have begun chipping away at key policies that helped spur this solar boom, according to the analysis, “Blocking the Sun: 12 Utilities and Fossil Fuel Interests That Are Undermining American Solar Power.”

Fossil-fuel interests and their allies have been using the same playbook to undermine solar power across the country,” said Bret Fanshaw, the solar program coordinator for Environment America. “And they’ve largely been operating in the shadows.”

The playbook: a national network of utility interest groups and fossil fuel industry-funded think tanks provides funding, model legislation and political cover for anti-solar campaigns. The report examines five of these major national players—Edison Electric Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council, Koch brothers and their front group Americans for Prosperity, Heartland Institute and Consumer Energy Alliance.

Then, in state after state, electric utilities use the support provided by these national anti-solar interests, supplemented by their own ample resources, to attack key solar energy policies. The report features seven utilities—Arizona Public Service, Duke Energy, American Electric Power, Berkshire Hathaway Industries, Salt River Project, FirstEnergy and We Energies.

While American solar power has increased four-fold since 2010, state by state, utilities and powerful industry front groups have begun chipping away at key policies that helped spur this solar boom, according to the analysis, “Blocking the Sun: 12 Utilities and Fossil Fuel Interests That Are Undermining American Solar Power.”
Fossil-fuel interests and their allies have been using the same playbook to undermine solar power across the country,” said Bret Fanshaw, the solar program coordinator for Environment America. “And they’ve largely been operating in the shadows.”
The playbook: a national network of utility interest groups and fossil fuel industry-funded think tanks provides funding, model legislation and political cover for anti-solar campaigns. The report examines five of these major national players—Edison Electric Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council, Koch brothers and their front group Americans for Prosperity, Heartland Institute and Consumer Energy Alliance.
Then, in state after state, electric utilities use the support provided by these national anti-solar interests, supplemented by their own ample resources, to attack key solar energy policies. The report features seven utilities—Arizona Public Service, Duke Energy, American Electric Power, Berkshire Hathaway Industries, Salt River Project, FirstEnergy and We Energies.

How Utilities Are Profiting From Solar Energy

Instead of seeing it as a threat, utilities are finding ways to partner on solar developments.
Spwr Carport
Image source: SunPower.
For years, the solar industry has been creeping up behind the electric utility industry. At first, it was a small nuisance that utilities had to deal with but rapid cost cuts and growth made it a threat many utilities could no longer ignore.
Most solar installed in the U.S. is utility-scale solar, which can lead to headaches for utilities balancing the supply of electricity. But they generally know how much electricity those plants are going to supply and have mandates from states around the country to support such projects, so they haven't been all that combative with large solar projects. Residential and commercial solar, on the other hand, is a major threat because it allows customers to become generators of electricity and net metering means they can send electricity back to the grid. Many utilities didn't know how to handle this threat besides fighting customers and making it more expensive for them to go solar.
But some utilities are finding ways to profit off solar. The ones that do will pave a path to long-term profit and lower the risk in their business model. Here are the models utilities are trying and what you should watch for in the future.

First Solar Cimarron Project Image
Utilities are deciding to own large solar projects like this one. Image source: First Solar.
Utilities have long bought solar energy from solar projects, but until recently they weren't big buyers of projects themselves. But that's changed recently as utilities see the long-term cash flows and low risk as a model that fits well within a utility.
The two deals that have caught my eye this year are SunEdison's (NYSE:SUNE) 265 MW Three Cedars solar project in Utah that was partially sold to Dominion (NYSE:D). The utility paid $320 million for half of the cash equity in the project and 99% of its tax equity. When combined with an $80 million loan, the project was fully financed and SunEdison gets to keep half of its cash flows and Dominion gets an almost guaranteed return over the 20-year power purchase agreement with PacifiCorp. It's a good deal for both sides.
Southern Company (NYSE:SO) made similar acquisitions of the 300 MW Solar Gen 2 and 300 MW Desert Stateline projects from First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR). The utility bought 51% of the project's cash flow and its tax equity, while First Solar kept nearly half of the project's cash flow.
These projects show one mutually beneficial way utilities and solar companies are working together. Utilities get immediate tax relief from owning these projects plus long-term cash flows, while solar companies like SunEdison and First Solar can pay for their investment and keep long-term cash flows as well.

Solarcity Rooftop Solar Installers
Residential solar is a threat to utilities, so they're choosing to partner with customers and solar companies on community solar projects. Image source: SolarCity.
Community solar
The next solar boom to watch is in community solar. These are projects built around cities that residents can buy electricity from and utilities usually play a major role in their operations. It's like buying power from the solar system SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY) puts on your roof, except the project is built in a field instead of on a roof.
In fact, SolarCity has been one of the first movers in this area, saying it planned to build up to 100 MW of community solar projects in Minnesota alone. In Minnesota specifically, Xcel Energy would act as an intermediary for the solar project, providing payments for the community solar project developers as well as a rate discount to residents using the program.
First Solar recently announced a supply agreement to Clean Energy Collective, who is building community solar projects and will sell them "to residential customers and businesses directly on behalf of partner utilities."
Community solar allows utilities to play a role in customers going solar, easing the friction that exists against rooftop solar.
New business models emerge
The leading solar companies in the solar industry know that they need utilities for their own long-term success. SolarCity, First Solar, and SunEdison have all made comments along those lines. The challenge has been finding utilities willing to embrace solar and a business model that works for both sides of this energy struggle.
Utility ownership of projects and community solar development may be win-win for solar and utilities. If they continue to grow, it could lead to a cleaner and cheaper energy future, which would be good for everyone.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Breaking the Expensive Sticker Stigma: Solar Panels of the Future

By: Tim Smith is a former contractor who writes about home improvement and energy efficiency topics for Tim loves spending time with his family and loves DIY projects.
    Via Modernize
Modernize is where you come to get inspired, see what's possible, and connect with a professional who will make your dream home a reality.


Right now, solar photovoltaics (PV) are the most commonly used solar technology in the world. The majority of commercial and residential solar energy use consists of silicon-based PV modules, which are manufactured to be efficient, safe, and reliable. At the moment, silicon-based solar panels cost less than they ever have before, as explained at Modernize.


But several factors have a say in whether the prices will continue to decrease, putting solar panels more within reach to would-be users who haven’t yet taken the leap. Taking into account the materials needed, the manufacturing process, and the products’ level of efficiency, the price of solar panels is not going to drop significantly as long as the technology remains relatively static or favors one of these three factors more than the others. But if the industry makes great progress in the following areas, we could be looking at even more affordable solar technology in the near future.


Higher Efficiency


The journey toward more efficient PV modules is expected to be steady, but gradual. The efficiency ties into the materials used, Research and Development investments, and the manufacturing process. Down the road, higher-efficiency PV will mean less material usage—for example, a few solar modules may one day be able to do the work that currently takes an entire solar array.


A Streamlined Manufacturing Process


As of right now, manufacturing solar PV is costly and elaborate. This is the factor in solar production that needs urgent attention and investment if big change is going to occur. If industry minds and funds can find a way to streamline the manufacturing process and lower the costs of production, it will enable larger-scale use of PV. The challenges involve producing a product that is reliable, which can be efficiently yielded in great numbers.


Less Materials Usage


In the near future, solar manufacturing will require less of the same materials. Thinner glass, layers, and frames will reduce the cost. Currently, thin film PV modules (the primary alternative to silicon) use less materials, and could be the future of PV. However, as of right now, they are less efficient than their silicon counterparts. The potential for using entirely new materials, rather than using less of the current materials, could also be promising.


All of the photovoltaic technologies today have been in development for at least thirty years. It’s a slow yet sure road to solar technology that involves less material consumption, a simpler manufacturing process, and higher efficiency.



Thursday, October 8, 2015

DOT offers $22.5 million in grants for “Low or No Emission” buses

Posted  by 
Proterra Electric Bus

The DOT is offering $22.5 million in grants in the latest round of its Low or No Emission Vehicle Deployment Program (LoNo). Funds will be awarded on a competitive basis to transit agencies and state transportation departments working either independently or jointly with bus manufacturers.
The LoNo program is focused on deploying new low- or no-emission production buses that are market-ready or near market-ready (not in development or prototype stages). It gives priority to the buses with the lowest energy consumption and emissions.
The previous round of LoNo funding, announced in February 2015, awarded $55 million in grants to ten US organizations.
All buses proposed for deployment must complete the Federal Transit Administration’s bus testing program, and follow FTA Buy America regulations. Priority will be given to tested zero-emission bus models with proven effectiveness (such as Proterra and BYD models already in service in several US cities).
“The LoNo program has helped deploy environmentally-sound, technologically-advanced vehicles across the country, providing a better riding experience for passengers and improving public health,” said Acting FTA Administrator Therese McMillan. “By reducing fuel and maintenance costs, these modern vehicles are a great public investment – saving taxpayer money in the long run while powering innovative American enterprises.”