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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

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Supercritical Injector Doubles Efficiency March 18, 2010

Posted by OldGuy in Alternatives, energy conservation.
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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

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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%.

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.

Dollar-a-Watt Solar March 1, 2009

Posted by OldGuy in Alternatives, solar.
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This week, First Solar, Inc announced tests for thin-film photovoltaic panels that dropped the cost per watt generated below $1 per watt.  When First Solar began operation in 2004, they were manufacturing panels at $3 per watt.

First Solar, of Tempe, Arizona, is using cadmium telluride (CdTe) technology and needs to get the costs below 65 cents if the installed costs make it beneficial to be installed commercially. Solar panels generally cost $4.81 per watt in commercial quantities.  (The lowest thin film module price commercially available is $3.57 per watt in a 60 watt module.)

Unfortunately, a Popular Mechanics review suggests this technology can’t scale up fast enough or easily enough to make much of an impact on national energy needs.  CdTe raw materials are difficult to extract and require a great amount of energy to convert into a usable crystalline form.

Cyrus Wadia, a researcher with Univerity of California – Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, warns that

“Even if the solar cell market were to grow at 56 percent a year for the next 10 years—slightly higher than the rapid growth of the past year — photovoltaics would still only account for about 2.5 percent of global electricity”

Wadia admits First Solar is capable of producing small quantities of solar cells,  “But as soon as they have to start rolling out terawatts, that’s where I believe they will reach some limitations.”

And “even if the solar cell market were to grow at 56 percent a year for the next 10 years—slightly higher than the rapid growth of the past year—photovoltaics would still only account for about 2.5 percent of global electricity.”

sources:

popular mechanics
First Solar Press Release
Solarbuzz Module Prices, Feb 09

Carbon Sequestration Moves Forward November 23, 2008

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Montana’s Big Sky Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership got a boost this week from the Department of Energy, which agreed to pay $67M toward the project’s $130.6M cost.  The project will store more than 2 million tons of carbon dioxide some 11,000 feet underground.

In earlier studies funded by the partnership, it was estimated that the area could potentially yield more than 3,000 billion metric tons in potential storage capacity.

This is the seventh commercial-scale carbon storage award given so far by the DOE.

source:  ClimateBiz.com

Onsite Energy Generation November 23, 2008

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Should your company generate at least a portion of its own energy needs?  Ryan Schuchard thinks so.

In an article for ClimateBiz.com, he looks past the recent drop in oil prices to the likelihood that prices will rebound in the next decade, and now is a great time to make the investments, when demand for the equipment is down.

In some regions, the cost of generating onsite renewable energy is already beating electricity bought from the grid. This “grid parity” is currently happening in places like California, Hawaii and Japan, where electricity costs are high and renewable resources are abundant. By 2012, Australia and Italy will likely achieve grid parity, and by 2015 much more of the United States will as well.

The costs can be covered in part with “Feed-in tariffs,” which require utilities to connect small, onsite renewable projects to the grid and pay their generators for surplus energy generated.  There are options for funding in the carbon markets for carbon-offset projects.

Partnerships are also a good option to consider.  A company could help fund generation devices on a partner’s facility and share the results, with excess returning to the grid.

I’ve heard of projects where the waste heat from manufacturing (in that case, a brewery) is used to drive steam turbines to generate electricity and then provide supplemental heating for an adjoining company.

Schuchard also mentions the value being able to stablize your operating costs by generating your own power.  “Investing in onsite renewable energy generation can insulate your company from the shocks, scarcity, and rising prices of energy.”

Solar Power Prospects Dim September 7, 2008

Posted by OldGuy in Alternatives, solar.
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According to an article in Scientific American, harvesting the sun’s rays for electricity production holds the promise of producing 2/3 our current and projected energy needs by 2050.  “Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation (that falls on the USA) into electricity would match the nation’s total energy consumption in 2006.

The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation into electricity would match the nation’s total energy consumption in 2006.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t include the costs to improve the technology.  For this magic to work means a 50% increase in efficiencies:  the article assumes 14 percent efficiency, but current state of the art is barely 10%, and efficiencies have been improving only slowly.

It also doesn’t account for the economic incentive to install that systems.  The current break-even point means that the solar generators would have to cost no more than $1.20 per watt, and the current cost is $4 per watt.  That means that when the article says it will cost $400B, the real cost is more than a trillion.

And you’d have to cover vast tracts of land, around 30,000 square miles of photovoltaic arrays. I know there’s a lot of open land in the southwest USA (the area around the Grand Canyon is pretty empty).  But you’d also have to solve transmission problems.

In short, despite the opportunities for solar power, the prospects aren’t near as bright as they’d have you believe.

Oregon Wind Farm Gets Go-Ahead August 18, 2008

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The Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council has approved construction of what will be one of the world’s largest wind energy generation plants.

The Shepherd’s Flat Wind Farm, which stretches into both Gilliam and Morrow counties in north-central Oregon, is planning 303 wind turbines.  At peak capacity, the new plant will be capable of generating 909 megawatts, more than all other wind-generated plants operating in Oregon today (889 megawatts).  Until it is finished, the Horse Hollow wind farm will hold the title of largest operating wind farm in the United States, operating at 736 MW.  (Texas oil and gas magnate T. Boone Pickens has plans to build a wind farm in Texas by 2014 that would reach 4,000 MW.)

The project is being developed by Caithness Shepherds Flat, LLC of Sacramento, Calif.

(This report from the Portland Business Journal, 28 Jul 08)