Creating Electricity from Waste Heat

The majority of wasted energy in the world is wasted as heat. In your car engine, in your macbook, your fluorescent light bulbs, your computer’s power supply. Heat leaks from electrical and mechanical devices and there is no way to stop it.

Or is there. We at EcoGeek have already reported on Petier devices, which extract electricity from hot surfaces. Unfortunately they’re currently either too inefficient or too expensive to be practical.

But Oresk Symko, a physicist at the University of Utah has created a heat-to-electricity device that operates on a completely different principle. By converting the heat to sound waves, and then the sound waves to electricity using piezoelectric substances, Symko says that he can convert heat to electricity very efficiently.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t tell us how efficiently, at least, not anywhere I could find. However, I do know that piezo-electric materials are very expensive, so I worry about the cost-effectiveness of the project.

But, if he can make it work, and cheaply, then his devices will likely be showing up everywhere from solar arrays to electric vehicle batteries.

Hat tip to David.  Via LiveScience

Photosynth Makes Print Obsolete

Photosynth is an amazing photo and text software environment that will change the way you look at photos forever.

Blaise Aguera y Arcas
presents a demo of Photosynth at the TED (Technology Entertainment Design) conference. He shows how his new software links photos together spatially and hints at the value Photosynth adds to your photo collection. The demo  shows Photosynth creating amazing multidimensional spaces with zoom and navigation features just by scanning photos from Flickr. It creates a spatial map and places all photos of an object (such as Notre Dame, Paris) into a collage that is easy and intuitive to navigate.

While the spatial 3-D image collage is amazing, the information created when everyoneÂ’s photo tags are linked is even more amazing. Photosynth creates a dense information swarm around the objects it links together.

Photosynth is the brainchild of Blaise Aguera y Arcas, he also created Seadragon (acquired by Microsoft in 2006), the visualization technology that gives Photosynth its amazingly smooth digital rendering and zoom capabilities.

Seadragon and Photosynth create an interface that will make working with text and images on a screen preferable to working with paper. With the exception of reading at the beach, I canÂ’t see any advantage for paper. 

Lab-Grown Meat for Ethical Carnivores

My goodness we live in a strange world. Some scientists in the Netherlands are currently working on growing meat in laboratories with the eventual aim of eliminating livestock. Even though I find this completely gross, and I can’t imagine how they could effectively market such a product, it might actually be a good idea.

Cows and pigs are one of the biggest contributors to global warming because methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. Chickens alone produce about eight billion pounds of waste per year.

And then there’s the whole "Omnivore’s Dilemma." Should we choose to kill and eat other animals if we have a choice? Well, if these scientists have their way we’ll be able to have our pork as well as our pig, and everyone will be happy. Oh…except the livestock industry.

Via TreeHugger and Reuters

Carbonation and Global Warming?

Recently Dave Burdick compared renewable energy to diet soda: You get all the fun without any of the guilt. Well, a randomly-associating commenter suddenly wondered about the effects of soda CO2 off-gassing on global warming.

Far be it from me to make light of a serious issue like global warming, but I really can’t help but figure out the answer for myself.

So I found some quick (and occasionally disturbing) data:

  • There’s an average of 6 grams of CO2 in 1 liter of soda.
  • The majority of CO2 used in the soft drink industry is a byproduct of, get this, petroleum refineries.
  • There are 300 million people in America.
  • And freakiest of all, the average American drinks 56 gallons of soda per year.

First of all, HOLY CRAP! Fifty Six Gallons Per Year! I’ve got a lot of catching up to do…

Anyhow…now for the math:
300 million people x 56 gallons per person x 3.78 gallons per liter x 6 grams of CO2 per liter soda / 1000 g per kg x 1 ton in 978 kg= 389,570 tons of CO2 emitted by soft drinks yearly in America alone.

I’m sure someone will come along to check my math, but I’m fairly sure that’s right.

Now, since most of this CO2 was going to be emitted from petroleum refineries anyway, it’s not actually a CO2 emission. But it’s pretty amazing that we, in effect, manage to sequester almost 400,000 tons of CO2 (the amount emitted by a town of around 45,000 people) in soda pop every year.

Now, if we could just keep buying them, and stop opening them.

Efficiency Matters Most

Diet soda is so lame. If you think soda is bad for you, you ought to just be cutting back on the soda.

Renewable energy is really exciting to talk about because it’s like the diet soda of energy — we can still drink all the goop we want, but it hurts us just a little less. Well, the American Solar Energy Society’s report this year tells us we ought to be drinking a lot less goop if we’re serious about saving ourselves from CERTAIN DOOM.

OK, maybe those aren’t their exact words. But the ASES says that energy efficiency is more important than all other kinds of renewable energy put together. Check out the report and some graphics here. Of particular interest is this projection of where our energy savings should come from if we want to hit a 60% — or 80% — reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

The report states that using less electricity through smart design, awareness, etc. could reduce carbon emissions by up to  57 percent by 2030. We say, let’s get started. Check out our efficiency category to see what’s up there.

Via TreeHugger.

Making Solar Popular: China’s Sun City

Rizhao is not the most well known city in China, but it is rising in fame as a promising example of citywide solar energy use. With a name that means "City of Sunshine," they have sure lived up to it – 99% of central district houses are using solar water heaters, as well as more than 30% of suburban and village houses in the surrounding area. This amounts to 500,000 square meters of solar water heaters, doing the work of half a megawatt of electricity. The trend extends to 6,000 houses using solar cooking facilities and 60,000 greenhouses heated using solar heat collectors. In addition, a majority of city lights and traffic signals use photovoltaics.

This is not some futuristic city on the rise; Rizhao is just "a small, ordinary Chinese city with per capita incomes even lower than in most other cities in the region." Credit for solar energy’s popularity goes to the government, which has undertaken a tremendous campaign for the use of these technologies. Instead of subsidizing the use of solar heaters (which they could not afford in any case), they invested in research and development to lower the cost of the appliances, putting them at price parity with their electric counterparts. At the cheaper price, the use of solar water heaters becomes a no-brainer, saving the average household $120 a year. In addition, the city now mandates solar heating installations be incorporated into all new buildings.

TXTing Fuels Chinese Green Revolution

One million text messages. That’s how residents of China’s port city of Xiamen spread word to protest — and eventually halt — construction of a chemical plant on Thursday. The $1.4 billion facility was meant to produce the petrochemical paraxylene, exposure to which can cause eye, nose or throat irritation, affect the central nervous system and may cause death. Though international standards dictate that such a plant should be 100 km from the nearest city, the short text messages that mobilized Xiamen’s smart mob warned the factory would have been only 16 km away.

While the central government is clearly showing more interest in protecting the environment, local governments, eager to cut corners in the name of economics, are helping block the path to sustainable development. But the Xiamen protests, thousands of people strong, are the latest sign of people power in China, where tens of thousands of protests over tainted land and water are recorded every year, threatening the government’s dream of a "harmonious society" while pointing the way forward for environmental action in a place that seriously needs some.

That local officials in Xiamen reportedly began blocking text messages too in an attempt to stem the protests, and that the protests continued apace, is an indication that, try as it might, China’s authoritarian controls simply can’t keep up with the power of cell phones blogs, bulletin boards, and the smartmobs they might create. (Local governments are getting into the SMS act themselves, using text messages to warn citizens of floods and even stop protests.)

Clearly, stopping protests just isn’t possible the way it used to be. Between increasing countryside unrest (there may be nothing scarier to the government) and deadly pollution (China’s rural cancer rate rose by 23 percent in the past two years, and more than 70 percent of the country’s waterways and 90 percent of its underground water are contaminated ) something’s gotta give.

Since the plant’s not been completely scrapped, residents are still protesting, according to Reuters. And the more word spreads, the more likely it is that protests will continue elsewhere too. An large expansion of a chemical plant in the southeastern city of Quanzhou that produces paraxylene and other chemicals was announced in March, funded by China’s No. 2 oil company, Sinopec, Saudi Aramco, and ExxonMobil Corp. Paraxylene is a key material in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) saturated polyester polymers — the stuff of which the world’s plastic bottles are made.

Via SFGate and Asia Sentinel

Thomas Edison, 1931: "I’d Put My Money on Solar"

OK, I’m about to cry…

In 1931, not long before he died, the [Edison] told his friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”


That, from the New York Times Magazine, is the conclusion of an excellent article on the Clean Green Thinking of America’s most famous inventor, Thomas Edison. You can read the whole article here, but the gist is that Edison worked on various green initiatives, including electric cars, wind turbines, and an off-the-grid home in New Jersey that the New York Times then called "utterly and for all time independent of the nearness or farness of the big electric companies."

From this, I learn two things. First, apparently "farness" used to be a word. Second, our reliance on cheap fossil fuels has created a kind of stagnation in the energy industry that is pretty depressing. It’s just as Edison feared, we’ve had to wait until oil and coal are running out to tackle the abundant renewable energy created by our natural environment. He wasn’t an environmentalist, so don’t let the New York Times fool you there, but he knew a good idea when he saw one. And now, finally, we’re moving forward once again.

Sun Power Your Hybrid for $2000

Much like the roofs of houses and warehouses, a car roof is just empty space, so why not hook up some solar cells to the latest hybrids? Solar Electrical Vehicles is looking to do just that with a solar roof module for hybrid cars. The cost is about $2000-$4000 for a supplemental battery and solar module rated at 200-300 watts. For the Prius this adds up to 20 miles per day of electric mode driving with higher-capacity batteries adding another 10 miles.

Modules in production work with the Toyota Prius, Highlander and RAV4 EV, Ford Escape Hybrid and Dodge Sprinter Hybrid. In the future they hope to integrate them with Teslas and upgrade to a 320-watt module, up from 212-watts currently.

While not adding a whole lot of economic benefit to hybrid cars, it’s an easy solution for people looking to squeeze more juice out of them. Unlike solar additions in homes, hybrid cars have the technology already built in to benefit from a solar add-on making them a simple installation.

Via: Treehugger

125 MPG+ Prius Prototype Unveiled

We’ve already heard that the 2008 Toyota Prius might be capable of over 80 miles per gallon, but it looks like Toyota isn’t stopping there. Lithium Technology Corporation has just created a prototype plug-in Prius that demonstrably gets 125+ miles per gallon. The car uses a new kind of large-scale lithium ion battery that uses lithium iron phosphate as the cathode (wikipedia).

These batteries are well suited for cars. First, they don’t explode when punctured and second, they have a very high discharge current. The Prius’ battery stores 7 kWh of electricity in 63 Li-ion cells, and the vehicle relies exclusively on the batteries for the first 60 miles of travel. The prototype is, of course, a plug-in, so the mileage-boosting energy comes from the electric grid. And, no, grid energy isn’t emissions free, but it’s a heck of a lot more efficient than internal combustion.

This is a surprising leap from Lithium Technology Corporation. I’ve been expecting more news about Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries for a while, but to hear that they’ve boosted the mileage of a prototype vehicle so substantially is very exciting. Maybe Toyota will actually have something ready in 2010 to rival GMs ultra-efficient plug-in hybrid Volt.

Full press release after the jump.

Via TreeHugger and Business Week

Breakthrough Fuel Cell, Twice as Efficient as Generators

Acumentrics Corporation, a leading developer of solid-oxide fuel cells and uninterruptible power supplies, has won a 2007 New England Innovation Award from SBANE, the Smaller Business Alliance of New England for their novel solid oxide fuel cell.

Acumentrics manufactures 5000-watt solid oxide fuel cell systems (SOFC) for power applications. They are also developing combined-heat-and-power units (which are like boilers that produce electricity) for the home market. In 2000 they acquired a novel fuel cell technology. Since then, they have increased the output of a single fuel cell tube from 1 watt to 60 watts. Today they have over 30 units working in the field, including ones that power visitorÂ’s centers at Exit Glacier National Park in Alaska, and Cuyahoga National Park in Ohio.

One of their key innovations was making ceramic fuel cell technology shatter resistant. It is shatter resistant because of its shape — it is a tube, not a thin sheet as most others have used –with a special composition of layers that prevents them from flaking off. Solid oxide fuel cells must handle temperature swings from 20 to 800ºC. Many other solid oxide fuel cells crack when they are cycled on and off, because of thermal shock.

But what really makes Acumentrics different is that they aren’t waiting around for the mythical hydrogen economy. The fuel cells run on natural gas, propane, ethanol, diesel, biogas, and biodiesel. While using non-hydrogen fuel means that the cell will produce CO2, Acumentrics fuel cells consume half as much fuel as a comparable small-engine generator, per kW. So they produce the same amount of electricity, while consuming half as much fuel, and producing half as much CO2.

Via: Treehugger

The NMG: Seriously Whacked EV… Available Now

Here we have a…uh…vehicle…that is is looking to change the way people think about transportation. I’m not sure I have much faith in its ability to do that, but it’s certainly worth talking about. Myers Motors, the folks who make this three-wheeler call it the MM NMG (No More Gas) but as I’ve researched this story, in my head, I’ve been calling it the EVX WTF. EV for Electric Vehicle, X cause it sounds cool, and I think you know what WTF stands for.

The MM NMG (EVX WTF really is a better name) is officially classified as a motorcycle, but it’s got all the comforts of a car. The top speed is 70 mph and it’s 100% electrically powered. Plus, the entire car is "built for safety" a feature that you won’t see on many motorcycles. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it can only carry one person and it will only carry that one person 100 miles on a full charge. Then, once you’ve run out of juice, you’ll need six to eight hours to recharge the batteries before you can head out again. You might think that a little car like this, without many components or even much battery life might be somewhat easy on the wallet. It’s not. A new NMG will set you back about $25,000. Admittedly, this is much cheaper than most other EVs on the market. But with only one seat, and a seriously crazy design, we’re not sure who’d go for it

So far, its unique design has only brought it one success…a role in Austin Powers’ Goldmember. Their website ensures prospective buyers that they’ll get more attention in an NMG than in a $100,000 sports car (a Tesla Roadster maybe), and they’re probably right. But it’s going to be a very different kind of attention. If Myers Motors wants to get people to buy into the idea of a small, ultra-efficient, commuter vehicle, I think they’re going to have to do something a little more traditional… and a hell of a lot cheaper.