Monday, January 26, 2009

Where We're Going, We Don't Need Roads...

Well, we'll probably still need roads, but maybe not gas. The term "air cars" sounds very futuristic, a la flying cars and auto-lace tennis shoes. But while the technology isn't anything too new (basically stored compressed air is gradually released to drive a pneumatic engine; here's the Wikipedia article on compressed air engines), if Zero Pollution Motor's vehicle actually do find their way into the US market by 2010 (a claim highlighted in this post at Core77), it would feel very futuristic to be able to walk into a dealership and drive away in a car running on almost sounds like a nonsensical dream.

Roads of the Future

As a reluctant freeway commuter, I frequently find myself yearning for more clearly-delineated lanes, particularly during rainy nights in Minneapolis (I'm not sure why, but for whatever reasons the lane markings in Minnesota seem to perform horribly during wet conditions). Overhead roadway lighting helps, but is less than desirable for a variety of reasons (ambient light pollution, non-trivial energy costs, maintenance and installation costs, etc.). And after all, the problem often isn't not being able to see the whole road, per se, but rather not being able to see lane boundaries.

With that in mind, Luna Road has developed a line of solar-powered in-pavement LED lights that illuminate lane boundaries (pictured above). Each light is a self-sustaining unit that runs off the power gleaned from the sun, so the net operating energy demand of each light is effectively zero. Not only is this dramatically more efficient than overhead roadway lighting, but it also comes without the ambient light pollution and aesthetic unpleasantries (a sort of yellow haze) that's common with overhead roadway lighting.

As far as I can tell, the big advantage of Luna Road's LED lights over reflective technologies such as Botts' dots and cat's eyes is that Luna's lights provide illumination even when there is no line-of-sight to an original light source (such as a car's headlight). In my limited experience driving in California (where Botts' dots are ubiquitous) I've never found this to be much of a problem. But where I really think Luna's lights could come in handy are in situations where they may be covered by a thin layer of ice or snow, situations in which refelctive technologies may not be too effective. Luna's website doesn't really address whether the lights are "snowplow-proof", but in an email exchange with Richard Sabga (the company's president/founder), I learned that the LR-200 and LR-400 are flush with the road surface and therefore potentially compatible with snowplows (I'd have to see some test results to be completely convinced).

Nevertheless, Luna's LED lights are a very intriguing product and are a great example of a solution that is designed around the benefits (sunlight is ubiquitous, at least in small amounts) and limitations (solar power doesn't scale all that easily) of a carbon-neutral energy source.

Via sustainablog.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Energy is Dynamic

I used to think that I would have a separate blog for each of my separate interests. It turns out that was unrealistic, so now I have one uniblog called Everything's Dynamic. I've exported all of the posts from Energy for the Future over there, but the comments did not survive the move. Nevertheless, they are still on Energy for the Future ad infinitum, and the posts with comments contain links back to the original post.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


This is fairly old news, but since it's in my 'hood it shall be mentioned. Independent Natural Resources, Inc. (INRI (not a stock symbol)) has some interesting technology. From their website:
The SEADOGTM pump captures ocean-wave energy to pump large volumes of seawater, consuming no fuel or electricity and creates no polluting by-products in the process. The pump uses buoyancy to convert wave energy to mechanical energy...There are many applications for the SEADOGTM pump from power generation to aquafarming. INRITM is currently developing seawater desalination systems and hydroelectric energy generation.
I like that their outlook seems realistic. They're not saying that the SEADOG will someday produce all the world's energy; and they're approach of target desalinization as an application seems fairly unique. They seem to have had some positive test data, so expect to hear more about INRI in the future.

Monday, July 09, 2007

LTC vs. The Rest

So for some reason, I started wondering about companies that might produce lithium-ion batteries for use in plug-in hybrid cars, and by searching for "lithium ion batteries" in Google Finance I discovered the company Lithium Technology Corporation (LTC, traded on the Pink Sheets as LTHU). A post on the Google Finance message boards by says the following:
GM has partnered with A123 systems, which is a privately owned LTHU competitor. A123 is currently in mass production, they do the batteries for dewalt power tools, same LiFePO4 chemistry. LTHU has been losing money for over a decade, it is run by old men. A123 is a newer company started up by an MIT graduate. I'm still optimistic about LTHU, seems like they could begin mass production any time.
A cursory glance at the A123 website vs. the LTC website would indicate that this comment seems to have some merit. A123 seems like a much more dynamic, entrepreneurial company, while LTC seems content with being a research-based company living on government contracts and grants. This realization dampens my enthusiasm over LTC's announcement that they have successfully retrofitted a Toyota Prius with their batteries to produce a plug-in hybrid capable of 125 miles per gallon. It seems like a more business-savvy company would be able to leverage this development into some sort of money-making (and technology sustaining) enterprise. Why not partner with some vehicle retrofitter in California to produce off-the-shelf plug-in hybrids for eco-conscious California consumers. People are clamoring for plug-in hybrids...what is LTC waiting for?

In a letter to its stockholders, LTC said this:
Over the next few months we plan a quantum leap in our production capacity to satisfy the growing demand for our products. We are still investing heavily in R& D, production machinery and in sales and marketing efforts. We believe that we should steer the company in a way that will build long-run sustainable value, especially in our core areas of competitive advantage where the future value of our company will come from.
They plan to increase production capacity dramatically, but will this plan pan out? Only time will tell, although the same letter mentions some new funding:
Recently, we closed on approximately $25 million in equity financing, which will be used to purchase manufacturing equipment in order to increase production capacity and repay some of our outstanding debt. Our recent equity financing was done with a Luxemburg asset management firm, Fidessa Asset Management S.A and its affiliate. We believe that this group has and will provide us with a strong financial backing.
Hopefully. But for now it seems that A123, which is lined up to produce the batteries in the Chevrolet Volt and Saturn Vue, as well as in hybrid buses for BAE Systems, is the industry leader. Apparently Compact Power, Inc. (CPI) is also supplying batteries for the Volt, so they're another player.

Interestingly, though, neither A123 nor CPI is mentioned by the CEO of LTC, Klaus Brandt, in this interview (search for "Klaus Brandt") on He cites Johnson Controls (and their partnership with Saft) as their primary competitor, which I suppose makes some sense given the fact that they were awarded one of two contracts with GM to work on the Saturn Vue (the other winner was Cobasys, a.k.a. A123).

Another takeaway from that interview, though, is that Brandt is the new CEO, and given his experience at Duracell and Varta, hopefully he'll move LTC in a more business/entrepreneurial direction. He seemed to express a desire for such a direction, at least.

In any case, here's a little summary of who has a contract with who:
  1. A123/Cobasys - contract for Chevrolet Volt, Saturn Vue, BAE Buses
  2. CPI - contract for Chevrolet Volt
  3. Johson Controls - contract for Saturn Vue
  4. LTC - ???
Why hasn't LTC won any contracts? Can Klaus Brandt snag a contract? There are numerous car companies, and surely someone besides GM is goibe handing out contracts for batteries, right? Maybe an upstart like Hyundai looking to upstage the big guys? Maybe some German company looking to leapfrog past normal hybrids and into the plug-in hybrid market? A123, CPI, and Johnson Controls can't win all the contracts--I would think that none of these alone have the capacity (and track record) to singlehandedly dominate the market. Surely there's enough pie for LTC to get a slice...

Disclosure: I don't own stock in any of the companies listed above, but I'm considering buying some LTC stock (LTHU on the Pink Sheets).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Corn-Based Ethanol - Not A Panacea

This article, which is a summary of findings of a University of Minnesota study, is a good summary of why corn-based ethanol is anything but a panacea for solving energy problems. Here are the five main reasons offered:
  1. Ethanol production requires almost as much energy as it yields. This is a common argument, but the Minnesota study found that the net energy yield from corn based ethanol is 25%.
  2. It isn’t easy being “green” when growing corn. Corn is not a hassle-free crop, and to get high yields you need a lot of fertilizer. I can't imagine too much organically-grown corn is going to go into ethanol production.
  3. Corn crowds out wildlife. Basically, more corn = less wildlife. However, another potential source of ethanol--prairie grass--is essentially wildlife in the sense that it fosters an ecosystem native to the region in which it grows.
  4. Corn ethanol doesn’t cut enough greenhouse gases. It's not much better than regular old gasoline, and in some respects it's worse.
  5. We can’t grow enough corn. This goes back to the "more corn = less wildlife" idea; the energy yield of corn just isn't enough for us to "grow" our way to energy independence. Sorry, corn.
The authors of the study correctly conclude, in my opinion, that corn-based ethanol subsidies should be discontinued. I'd go a step further and say that all energy subsidies (especially those for oil!) should be discontinued, but that's a discussion for another day. In any case, let's leave the corn for food (and maybe biodegradable plastic) and start developing ethanol sources that are actually worth pursuing.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Popular Science summary of new enegery technologies

This Popular Science site has some great summaries of future "alternative" energy ideas.

I found out about this site from this post.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

New type of wind turbine

Well, new to me, at least. TMA's vertical wind turbine sounds neat.

I heard about this company from this post at The Energy Blog.

Have all of our problems been solved?

If this is true, our energy problems may be solved, but the physicists' problems are just beginning.
Randell Mills, a Harvard University medic who also studied electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims to have built a prototype power source that generates up to 1,000 times more heat than conventional fuel. Independent scientists claim to have verified the experiments and Dr Mills says that his company, Blacklight Power, has tens of millions of dollars in investment lined up to bring the idea to market. And he claims to be just months away from unveiling his creation.
I heard about this story from this Slashdot post.

Update: Here's Blacklight's website.