Is this battery the one? Toshiba’s Super-Charge Ion Batteries, which reportedly lose hardly any capacity after thousands of charges, could be coming to cars next year.
As Slashdot noted today, this battery technology has been a long time coming. In 2007 Toshiba announced the creation of the SCiB, and unveiled the prototype the next year. It lasts 5,000 to 6,000 cycles as opposed to the 500 for standard lithium-ion batteries, and charges to 90 percent of capacity within five minutes. Earlier this month, the company announced it has been working with car maker Mitsubishi on electric vehicle batteries, and could be making SCiBs for cars staring next year.
For EV applications Toshiba has developed a new anode material and a new electrolyte to improve safety and rapid recharging. According to Toshiba, the long life will promote reduction in the waste that results from battery replacement, reducing the impact on the environment [Gizmag].
There will be no carbon cap-and-trade provision in this summer’s energy legislation in the Senate. Nor will there be a renewable energy standard (RES)—a mandate that a certain percentage of national energy come from renewable sources. Those are the two major losses for climate-watchers today as Senator Harry Reid and other Democrats announced they would drastically scale back their energy proposals in the face of what looks like an non-winnable fight before the 2010 midterm elections.
Instead, the Senate will consider a much smaller bill before the August recess.
The measure would include money for home energy-efficiency retrofits, for encouraging natural-gas-powered vehicles and for land and water conservation, Reid said [Los Angeles Times].
So what now for the more ambitious ideas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adopt renewable energy technologies?
Earlier this month, we described the successful flight of Solar Impulse, a manned solar plane that flew for over 26 hours before a safe landing in Switzerland. Now comes news of another feat of solar-powered derring-do. Currently circling above Arizona, a British-built unmanned solar plane dubbed the Zephyr has now flown for a record-breaking seven days straight. Zephyr’s developer, the defense company QinetiQ, hopes the plane can stay aloft and double its own record for a total of fourteen days.
With a 74-foot wingspan, this latest version of the Zephyr is fifty percent bigger than its predecessors. Its designers hope that the plane will one day find use both for military reconnaissance and also for scientific research. Without a payload, it weights about 110 pounds. Says project manager Jon Saltmarsh:
“Zephyr is basically the first ‘eternal aircraft.’… The launch was absolutely beautiful; it was just so smooth,” said Mr Saltmarsh. “We had five people lift it above their heads, start running and it just lifted away into the sky.” [BBC]
Success for Solar Impulse: This morning the solar-powered plane touched down in Switzerland after more than 26 hours in the sky—including flying overnight on battery power.
As we noted yesterday, this was by far the most ambitious test of adventurer Bertrand Piccard’s experimental aircraft, which is covered by 12,000 solar cells. Swiss pilot André Borschberg had to decide last night whether those cells had absorbed enough battery power during the day to coast through the night, and he managed to do it.
“I’ve been a pilot for 40 years now, but this flight has been the most incredible one of my flying career,” Mr. Borschberg said as he landed, according to a statement from the organizers of the project. “Just sitting there and watching the battery charge level rise and rise thanks to the sun. I have just flown more than 26 hours without using a drop of fuel and without causing any pollution” [The New York Times].
As I write this, a plane powered by the sun is flying somewhere over Europe, undertaking its most ambitious test flight yet.
When we last left the Solar Impulse back in April, the experimental aircraft had flown a two-hour test to prove it was flight-worthy. Today, the pilot in the plane, which weighs about as much as a car and is covered in 12,000 solar cells, will try to stay aloft for 24 hours, even cruising along during the nighttime hours.
“The goal of the project is to have a solar-powered plane flying day and night without fuel,” said team co-founder Bertrand Piccard, adding that this test flight – the third major step after its first ‘flea hop’ and an extended flight earlier this year – will demonstrate whether the ultimate plan is feasible: to fly the plane around the world. “This flight is crucial for the credibility of the project” [AP].
It will take more than a little sun to get one of the world’s biggest solar power plants up and running: it will also require 1,600 workers to build it and a lot of cash. On Saturday, President Obama announced that the U.S. Department of Energy will use last year’s stimulus bill to issue $1.85 billion in loan guarantees to two solar power companies, one of which plans to build one of the planet’s largest solar power plant in Arizona.
Solana, the big solar power plant planned by Abengoa Solar Inc., will cover an area of around 1,900 acres near Gila Bend, Arizona. As detailed in a White House press release, the company claims that the plant will be one of the first in the United States able to store its own power. According to the release, it will also be able to generate 280 megawatts of power—enough energy to run more than 70,000 homes–and will prevent the emission of 475,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. After construction, the plant will support 85 some permanent jobs, the company claims.
When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, any fossil fuel looks bad compared to wind, solar, and even nuclear power sources. But how do fossil fuels stack up against one another? Natural gas is a lot better emissions-wise compared to coal, according to a new report, and may serve as a temporary coal stand-in over the coming decades, until the cost of alternative energy sources comes down.
The MIT Energy Initiative drafted an 83-page report that looked both at the United States’ natural gas supply and the fuel’s possibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Over the past two years, the MIT group discussed natural gas use with industry leaders, environmental groups, and government officials. They presented their findings and recommendations to legislators and senior administration officials in Washington last week.
“Much has been said about natural gas as a bridge to a low-carbon future, with little underlying analysis to back up this contention. The analysis in this study provides the confirmation—natural gas truly is a bridge to a low-carbon future,” said MITEI Director Ernest J. Moniz in introducing the report. [MIT News]
The report’s main points:
A new type of solar cell using “quantum dots” may double the theoretical efficiency of current solar cells–allowing a panel to convert around 60 percent of the sun’s energy that it laps up into electricity. The research on these new cells appeared Friday in Science.
Current silicon-based solar cells lose about 80 percent of the sun’s energy they take in. It’s an inherent flaw: even working at their theoretical ideal, these cells would still lose 70 percent.
We can blame the sun’s diversely energized photons for this inefficiency. Silicon cells can only purposefully harvest photons with just the right amount energy. When they strike the cell, photons with just enough juice will prod an electron into motion (and create an electric current). An overly energized photon will excite the electrons to no purpose; the electrons will just quickly give off that photon’s energy as heat.
In two steps, this project, funded in part by the Department of Energy, salvages these “hot electrons.”
“There are a few steps needed to create what I call this ‘ultimate solar cell,'” says [Xiaoyang] Zhu, professor of chemistry and director of the Center for Materials Chemistry. “First, the cooling rate of hot electrons needs to be slowed down. Second, we need to be able to grab those hot electrons and use them quickly before they lose all of their energy.” [University of Texas at Austin]
Last night, President Obama made his first Oval Office speech. In it, he described the BP oil spill as an assault on “our shores and our citizens” and outlined his “battle plan.” He discussed the immediate cleanup of the spill, the repayment he’ll insist on from BP for harm done, and the future of U.S. energy.
Katie Couric compared Obama’s speech to others issued from the Oval Office.
“The disaster in the Gulf may or may not be President Obama’s Katrina, but, tonight, it will be his Challenger explosion, his Cuban missile crisis, his Sept. 11. Unlike those events, this is a long simmering disaster, getting darker by the day.” [CBS]
Here are some of the major points covered in the speech:
Yesterday Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman rolled out their new climate bill, the American Power Act. The 987-page piece of text was driven by what we’ve come to expect in climate legislation: Concrete targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions a certain percentage by a certain year. But, an international group of economists and environmental scientists are saying, that approach is doomed to failure, and this is the time to change.
The Hartwell Paper, a product of 14 different authors working since February, came out this week to coincide with the release of the climate bill. The assessment is blunt: Reaching agreements like the Kyoto Protocols to reduce carbon emissions has been the primary means of addressing climate change since the mid-1980s, and it hasn’t worked. With the high-profile flop that was the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, the authors argue this is the chance to drive a new course on climate policy, one not singularly focused on CO2.
The Hartwell authors don’t downplay the importance of CO2 as a greenhouse gas; rather, they point to the silliness of being so fixated on that one compound; the Earth’s climate, after all, is a terribly complex system:
That is frustrating for politicians. So policy makers frequently respond to wicked problems by declaring ‘war’ on them, to beat them into submission and then move on. Indeed, almost any ‘declaration of war’ that is metaphorical rather than literal is a reliable sign that the subject in question is ‘wicked’. So, we have the war on cancer, the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on terror and now the war on climate change.