Friday, September 23, 2005

Special Report on Energy Conservation

Solar Heat vs. Solar Cells

Give solar heat another point in its battle vs. solar cells. Apparently, there's a growing shortage of polysilicon, the stuff that solar panels are made of. Solar dish and solar trough systems (both of which concentrate solar energy to heat something to produce energy) don't have photovoltaic cells, so they're not affected by increases in the cost of polysilicon. In fact, if anything such a shortage helps those technologies because people/companies/utilities interested in solar power may be increasingly likely to go with non-photovoltaic technologies. The more business that flows towards solar dishes and solar troughs, the cheaper and better those technologies get.

More Solar Energy in the Southwestern US

A company called Solargenix has gotten the go-ahead to build a solar-trough style electricity generating plant in Nevada. Read more about the story from ther press realease, here. And read more about solar trough technology here, at the ever-informative The Energy Blog.

Using hydrogen to help gas burn cleaner

This is an interesting story about a company in Canada that is creating a device to help gasoline burn cleaner (and a bit more efficiently) by adding hydrogen to the combustion reaction. Hydrogen is formed by electrolysizing water (with the assistance of some chemicals that apparently don't get involved in the combustion reaction).

Sure, it doesn't really address the problem of oil being a limited resource, but it would (theoretically) dramatically reduce the amount of carbon dioxide resulting from car emissions. If gas can burn clean (really, really clean compared to how it burns now if this device can do everything it claims), then we might as well use oil until we run out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More Stirling Engine Solar Power

Another Stirling Solar Dish facility is to be built in California. It's being built by, who else, Stirling Energy Systems. Man, I wish they were a publicly-traded company. Here's their press release.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Interesting Company - WindLogics

WindLogics is headquartered in St. Paul, but they have an office in Grand Rapids, MN. This article discusses the company. And here's their website.

Basically, they analyze the wind potential of a certain area to help determine the viability of a wind farm in that area. There will be a great deal of wind farm expansion in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the next several years (at least), and it looks like WindLogics is in a good position to feed off of that growth. Too bad it's not a publicly-traded company.

Solar Power and You

This evening, a very special after-school special: Solar Power and You.

So, umm, anyway...I just saw this article about a huge new solar power facility in California. This is the other solar energy, though. Not photovoltaics--those sorry, 20% efficiency beasts. No, this facility will rely on Stirling dishes to concentrate heat and drive a Stirling engine. Instead of the measly 20% efficiency you'd be lucky to get from photovoltaics, Stirling dishes are about 30% efficient.

The Stirling dishes will be made by Stirling Energy Systems, which sounds like a really neat company. The image to the right (from their website) shows how their machine works. As you can see, it's way more mechanical than a photovoltaic system.

Of course, one would expect an alternative energy project of this [potential] magnitude to have massive government subsidies. Happily, that is NOT the case.
Sacramento is willing to subsidize new solar projects, but SoCal Edison says the price it negotiated with Stirling Energy is so attractive -- "well below the 11.33 cents per kWh" it now pays for peak power -- that it won't seek any state subsidies. That seems certain to cement approval.
So it looks like this is a bona fide case of solar power actually being financially viable. Bonus.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Alternative Energy Stocks to Watch

This is a pseudo-permanent page that will be updated with stocks and/or funds that deal with or focus on alternative energy.

More on OTEC

Dr. Liang Nai-kuang, a Taiwanese professor, discusses the possibilities of OTEC here. He raises the idea of storing energy created on offshore platforms (where access to deep, cold water is easier) to create hydrogen via electrolysis, then creating ammonia or methyl alcohol to store the hydrogen for transport, a la these "hydrogen pills."

This is interesting.

Energy from Cold Water

I read this article from Wired Magazine a while ago and didn't want to forget about it--hence this post. The article is about how cold water (really the difference in temperature between cold water and hot air) can be used for air conditioning, fresh water generation, and even power generation. Plus, you can use the "side effects" to help grow fruit faster.
Running the frigid pipes through heat exchangers produces unlimited air-conditioning that costs almost nothing. Draining their sweat yields an endless supply of freshwater for drinking and irrigation. The cold water also creates a temperature difference between root and fruit that Craven believes speeds growth. And by turning the flow on and off, Craven has found he can further accelerate the plants' growth cycle by forcing them in and out of dormancy - he can get three crops of grapes a year and pineapples in eight months instead of the usual 18.
And to generate electricity:
Pipes draw warm water from the ocean surface and cold water from the seabed. The warm water enters a vacuum chamber and is evaporated into steam that drives an electricity-producing turbine. The cold water condenses the steam back into water for drinking and irrigation.

Update: Here are some links on Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC):

Monday, September 12, 2005

Another Hydrogen Storage/Transport Method

The Weizmann Institute has released a new study detailing a process to create hydrogen indirectly from zinc-oxide. Basically, the process works by using concentrated solar energy to heat zinc-oxide to a high temperature, thereby transforming it into a gas and resulting in the separation of zinc from oxygen. The zinc later cools and condenses into a powder. Add some water at about 662°F, and the zinc reacts with the water to form zinc-oxide and hydrogen. Now you've got hydrogen and, as a nice little bonus, more zinc oxide with which to start the process anew.

This article explains the process pretty well, as does this article. These first two articles claim the process "generates no pollution," yet this physorg article states (along with a nice animation):
At a heat of above 1200°C (2192F) the ZnO breaks down into Zn and oxygen which in turn recombines with the carbon to create CO as a minor by-product.
This article (which is copied-and-pasted from a Nature article that is only available to premium members, one of which I am not) sheds some light on the carbon-monoxide thing. The process uses coal as a sort of catalyst to reduce the temperature at which zinc-oxide splits into zinc and oxygen, allowing the focused solar energy to provide sufficient heat. The physorg article says, "For the future, the team sees the possibility of replacing the coal completely with biomass thus making the entire process completely pollution free."

But that's not true, either. Just because you're getting the carbon from a "natural" source doesn't mean CO or CO2 won't be produced during the reaction. So there'd still be pollution. The bottom line:
The zinc-forming reaction also releases carbon monoxide from the charcoal, which eventually converts to the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In a full-scale industrial process, the carbon monoxide could be harnessed to help produce even more hydrogen from water. But this too would produce carbon dioxide. For now the process produces as much carbon dioxide as extracting the same amount of hydrogen from natural gas, Epstein says.
So, it's not a perfect solution, but that's probably a good thing, because it means it's probably realistic and perhaps commercializable. Is that a word?

Oh yeah, one more thing. The organization that produced this research is the Weizmann Institute, not the Weitzman Institute, as it's referred to in the physorg article.

Hybrid Cars

This article has a nice review of the various hybrid automobiles available now or in the near future. Of course, you have to take the 0-60 times and EPA mileage with a grain of salt, but the zippiest model is the new Honda Accord Hybrid (0-60 in 6.7 seconds), and the most efficient model is the Honda Insight, which is rated at 60 mpg city, 66 mpg highway. The Accord is pictured to the right.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Hydrogen Pills

Don't eat these.
“Should you drive a car 600 km using gaseous hydrogen at normal pressure, it would require a fuel tank with a size of nine cars. With our technology, the same amount of hydrogen can be stored in a normal gasoline tank”, says Professor Claus Hviid Christensen, Department of Chemistry at DTU.
NOTE: 600 kilometers = 372.822715 mi (from Google)


I like to keep track of technological innovations having to do with alternative energy, so I'm going to do it through this "blog," as it were.