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Energy Technology Blog August 3, 2010

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This site is moving.  I’ve purchased a separate blog site and migrated all the old posts.  I’ve started adding new ones as well.

This week I’ve discussed improvements in battery technology and refining hydrogen from waste cooking oil.  Who know’s what’s next?  At least it will be quality information that will help save the planet, and maybe help you find a new business.

Come see me at www.GreenPlanetEnergy.info – information for a greener planet!

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Flexible Solar Panels July 13, 2010

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On Monday (Jul 12) SoloPower announced new line of flexible thin-film solar panels.  Made from a combination of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium (CIGS), these are made to be easily installed on existing commercial rooftops.

SoloPower's high-efficiency flexible thin-film solar panels are lighter and easier to install in commercial or industrial applications.

The company makes  the panels using a roll-to-roll electroplating process,  to be lighter than glass-encased panels.   These thin film solar cells utilize only a 1–4 µm thick layer of semiconducting material to produce electricity, instead of the traditional rigid multi-crystalline silicon wafers that are typically 150 µm thick.

The CIGS process is also more efficient.  SoloPower says they have achieved 19.9%, which is significantly better than most other solar generating systems.  It is also better than tests concluded earlier this year by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of  aperture conversion efficiencies of 11% – itself an improvement.

These low-cost, high-power, flexible thin-film photovoltaic modules from SoloPower offer a viable alternative to electricity produced from hydrocarbon sources.

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additional material from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/solopower-launches-breakthrough-flexible-cigs-module-product-line-98216074.html and http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-20010229-54.html

Printing on Aluminum Boosts Solar Efficiencies May 13, 2010

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Nanosolar, a San Jose (CA) energy company, has opened an automated facility for manufacturing an innovative new process for cheaper solar panels.  The solar panels are made by printing a semiconductor material called CIGS on aluminum foil.

Nanosolar located the factory in Luckenwalde near Berlin, Germany, in part because German government incentives for the purchase of solar cells has created a large market for solar panels.  The panel factory is automated to sustain a production rate of one panel every ten seconds, or an annual capacity of 640MW when operated 24×7.

It’s not that the cells are that much more efficient than others.  On average, the company’s solar panels convert just 11 percent of that energy into electricity, about the same as most good quality cells, and a little less than high-end cells, which have demonstrated up to 16% efficiency.

What makes Nanosolar’s technology unique is the producability improvements of the panels, and the transmission increases in the panels.  By using large aluminum-foil sheets to collect electrons from each panel, Nanosolar decreases the amount of wiring per panel and has increases the current its panels can generate, up to 160 watts each, compared to 70 watts for standard panels.

But what matters most to consumers is that making panels this way eases installation and lowers production and operations cost.  Based on DoE’s life cycle amortized cost methods,  using these in sunny locations could produce electricity at less than six cents per kilowatt hour (compared to 12 cents for conventional panels), almost as low as coal-fired generation plants.

Nanosolar started in a small laboratory in 2002.  It strives to be a “green” company both in its products and its practices.  It also strives to maintain a  small company feel.  For example, “almost everyone eats lunch in the office café, sitting at whatever table has an opening and enjoying conversations with Nanosolar people from all different departments, executives and operators alike.”

sources: Technology Review, NanoSolar website

Concentrated Solar Shines Bright May 7, 2010

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Concentrating the sun’s rays on a smaller spot is a great approach to boosting efficiency of solar power.  It’s a half-step toward making solar economically viable.

Traditional solar thermal systems use highly concentrated sunlight to create steam that drives electric turbines.  Trouble is, that way takes massive amounts of water to create steam, but abundant clean water is coming to be one of the scarcest commodities in the world.  And taking water from fish and wildlife habitats puts you sideways from environmental regulators.

What Amonix (a California-based startup) has done is to combine Fresnel lenses, a tracking system, and solar cells for large, highly efficient solar-power installations.

Step one is the lens. I know about Fresnel lenses from theater. It takes a small light source (a bulb) and spreads it out to provide wide coverage of an area on stage. Amonix turned it around, to take a wide coverage of sunlight and concentrate it on a small solar collector. These thin, plastic Fresnel lenses, measuring about 350 square centimeters, focus sunlight down to a 0.7 square centimeters spot. That concentrates the sunlight to 500 times its normal intensity.

That concentrated sunlight hits an ultra-efficient multi-junction solar cell made by Spectrolab, the most efficient in the world. They’ve shown 41% efficiency in the lab, and Amonix is able to get 39% in field tests.

These cells are set in an array that’s 23.5 meters by 15 meters, 165 co-joined panels worth. Then Amonix uses a tracking system that keeps the lenses pointed to within .8 degrees of the angle of the sun all day long.

That’s a lot of miracles happening all at once. And we’re worried about the long-term viability of plastic lenses exposed to that much UV radiation. But at least it holds promise for the future.

source: http://www.technologyreview.com/business/25209/?a=f

Supercritical Injector Doubles Efficiency March 18, 2010

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Transonic Combustion company has a new injector that can double efficiency, improved energy efficiency and lower CO2 emissions using conventional fuels like gasoline.  In the lab, they have achieved 64mpg in a non-hybrid Prius-class vehicle (3400  pounds)

This innovative fuel injection systems uses “supercritical” fuel injection, where the fuel is modified with a catalyst for  ultra-high efficiency and lower emission levels.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s  Transportation Research Board, gasoline engines only use 15% of their energy for propulsion of the vehicle.  30% is waste heat out the radiator and another 30% goes out with the exhaust.

Transonic’s precision controlled fuel injection systems produce lean air-to-fuel ratios that minimize many of thermal efficiency losses from today’s engine technology.  This is done by changing the physical properties of hte gasoline into a supercritical state.

For non0chemists, the critical point is the intersection of liquid and gasseous state of a substance.  Above that – the supercritical area – the substance mixes very easily while remaining compositionally dense.  What Transonic has been able to do is push the gasoline into that supercritical area, mix it with oxygen and inject the mix into the chamber with no liquid droplets to lower the burning temperature.

In laboratory tests on modern engine architectures, this technology has successfully run on gasoline, diesel, biodiesel, heptane, ethanol, and vegetable oil, all in the same engine.

The company expects cost-parity with current high-end injection systems.  They are already working with 3 auto companies for conversion of their existing engines, with a target introduction to the commercial market in 2014

for more information:

Dense Packing Increases Efficiency for Wind February 17, 2010

Posted by OldGuy in Alternatives, Wind Power.
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While it’s generally understood that horizontal wind turbines are more efficient than vertical blade turbines, the effect of the blade catching the air tends to slow that air down, meaning each turbine needs a significant separation from one another to reach that efficiency.

Students at Caltech were looking for ways to improve wind turbine efficiencies, and have found a way to increase the power efficiency per foot of land area by studying the way fish swim. 

When in a school, fish swim in an offset pattern that creates what’s called a Kármán vortex street.  In fluid dynamics, a Kármán vortex street is a repeating pattern of swirling vorticies (whirlpools) that are formed when a fluid (which could include water or air) passes over objects.  Under the right conditions, the separation and recombining of the fluid is what causes the effect.

When air passes around an object – especially circular cylinders, like power plant cooling towers, it tends to move to one side, which creates a low pressure on the other side, pulling the air back in a wave pattern.  These eddies are shed continuously from each side of the body, forming rows of vortices in its wake.  The further it gets from the object, the smaller the oscillation, and eventually the regular pattern disappears.  But in the first few feet past the object, it can cause havoc.  It’s especially troubling when the object is moving through a relatively slower fluid (like an airplane flying through the air).

This effect also has positive effects. Their interaction helps keep schools of fish synchronised and reduces the total propulsive power needed per fish. A similar effect reduces the fuel consumption of vehicles travelling in a platoon.

What the students did was arrange the turbines in a way to catch the vortices.  that drove them to vertical blades, since the eddies would dissipate in a traditional horizontal blade wind farm.  But by installing vertical turbines in a Kármán vortex street, the turbulance from one helped power the next.  And because they were closer together, more of them could be mounted on smaller patches of real estate, and support structures could be combined for more efficient transmission.

According to the researchers, “these configurations significantly reduced the land use for vertical axis wind turbine wind farms, resulting in array power density increases of over one order of magnitude compared to operational horizontal axis wind turbine wind farms”

Patents have been filed.

sources: 

http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/24813/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Karman_vortex_street

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Note: the comment to the article mentioned  a Russian company, ‘SRC Vertical’, whose wind turbines are marketed in the USA by a company called ‘Wind-sail’, that was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to build VAWT’s, has built VAWT’s with an efficiency of 38%, which is up there with the best HAWT’s, and they reckon they can increase the efficiency up to 45%.

July 8, 2009

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Bill Gross is CEO of eSolar, and thinks he’s finally found a way to use the power of the sun to generate massive amounts of energy.  He calls it a “disruptive revolution” in carbon-free energy.

Rather than using direct solar to electric conversion, which remains a technical challenge to do efficiently, Gross wants to use a “field of tabletop-sized glass panels” to reflect solar rays on liquid-filled towers.  The heat creates steam to drive a traditional turbine.

The system incorporates video cameras, a bank of Dell servers and complex software to monitor and move the mirrors to track the sun’s position.

Gross claims his power will cost around 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. That would make it less than wind power.    But then, Gross has been called a”serial entrepreneur” –  he’s launched more than 30 tech companies.  He’s also founder of startup incubator Idealab, based in Pasadena, CA.

I hope it works.

Sources:  Technology Review/Solar Thermal Heats Up, by Evan I. Schwartz and eSolar website.

Fusion Power Experiment Readied July 7, 2009

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The $14 billion ITER project in France is hoping to demonstrate fusion – in 2014.  But researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, CA hope to achieve that goal much earlier, hopefully before the end of 2009.

In a sprawling building covering the area of three football fields, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) is taking shape.  The LLNL approach will use 192 powerful lasers to heat a 2 millimeter hydrogen pellet to a temperature of 100 million °C and a density 100 times that of lead–enough to start a fusion reaction.  The planned experiment will only fire the lasers for less than 20 nanoseconds, but the hopes are that will be enough to fuse the hydrogen into helium, with a release of releasing neutrons and x-rays.

If it all works, the lasers will deliver a pulse of power 500 times greater than the peak electricity-generating capacity of the United States. The pulse will ignite the thermonuclear explosion–essentially creating a tiny star.

The resulting chain reaction should continue to burn until the hydrogen fuel runs out, and demonstrate the way forward for a lasting supply of energy.  That is, if the system can be made more efficient.  While the fusion energy is more than the power of laser energy, it will take 10 times more power to generate the reaction than it will give off.

“Even if NIF is as successful as hoped, they’ll still be a very long way from being in a position to turn this into a practical energy source,” says Ian Hutchinson, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT.  But it will, as he says, be “an incredibly impressive technological achievement.”

source:  Technology Review/Igniting Fusion, by Kevin Bullis

Energy Saving Parking Solution July 5, 2009

Posted by OldGuy in Alternatives, building green.
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Energy savings is not just about better fuel choices or smaller cars. Companies are also introducing innovation in building design and development. Robotic Parking is one way to reduce auto fuel usage and reduce emissions by building parking structures with fewer materials and less stress on the environment.

With a robotic garage, the operator can park twice the number of cars in the same space as a conventional garage – or use half the space to park the same number of cars. It does this by removing the ramps and aisles needed to self-park.

According to William A. Berry & Son, Inc, a Boston-based building construction firm that does installations,

“patrons pull into an entry/exit portal that resembles a garage door and stop on a pallet system. Patrons then turn off their car, take their keys and exit their vehicle. Inside the portal is a computer system where patrons scan their card (either a credit card or parking card) and watch as their vehicle is transferred from the pallet onto a lift. Orchestrated by a master computer system, this lift moves the vehicle and parks it in an assigned space. To exit, the patron enters a well-lit lobby, where they scan their card and wait safely as their vehicle is retrieved and delivered to them facing out and ready to go. With its patented pallet system, robotic parking retrieves the vehicle in approximately two minutes.”

Imaging trading fuel of three hundred cars rolling up or down the ramps for an efficient electric motor.  Imaging the fuel and materials savings erecting a structure that is half the size and one quarter the weight.  Fewer construction vehicles working fewer days.

We’re not getting rid of autos for many of our cities – they just aren’t designed for public transportation to the suburbs.  But having a more efficient place to put all those autos during the daytime when their owners are working can produce aggregate energy savings.

For more information on Robotic Parking, visit their website.

New Nuclear Design Opens Options March 16, 2009

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Promising new options for nuclear power production, Intellectual Ventures of Bellview, Washington has described how traveling wave technology could use waste uranium from older reactors to generate power.

Current technology requires specialized technology to refine the common uranium-238 into uranium-235, which splits more easily. But the -235 slows down its rapid energy decay in just 18-24 months, requiring the reactor to be shut down and the rods replaced. The spent rods become hazardous waste that could be reprocessed into bomb-grade uranium.

Intellectual Ventures has described a method to use only a small amount of -235 as a catalyst to create a slow-moving wave through the uranium-238, moving at only a centimeter year. In theory, the reactor could run for decades without refueling.

Among the technical challenges are the cooling methods. This design runs so hot it needs liquid sodium to carry the heat away to the generators. The traveling wave generator would run at about 550ºC; today’s reactors run at 330ºC.

We’re still some time away from producing a commercial traveling wave plant, but this technology has promise. New energy from hazardous waste is win-win.

source: Technology Review

see also Intellectual Ventures