Data centers are energy hogs. They run around the clock, sucking down power. So to save some public face (and save on their electric bills), some IT giants are experimenting with how to make their data centers much more efficient (pdf).
Enter Yahoo’s new building out in Lockport, New York, near Niagara Falls. It’s high-tech inspired by low-tech.
Those server buildings have been nicknamed the “Yahoo Chicken Coop” because they resemble their long, narrow design. This helps encourage natural air flow, however, which Yahoo said means that less than 1 percent of the building’s total energy consumption will be for cooling purposes. [PC World]
In Washington D.C. today, the X-Prize foundation doled out $10 million in prize money for the Automotive X-Prize, its competition begun in 2008 to build cars that break 100 miles per gallon (or equivalent) and still resemble usable commercial vehicles. They raced at Michigan International Speedway; they underwent inspection by Consumer Reports and the Department of Energy. This morning’s winnings were divvied up among three teams:
1. Edison 2′s “Very Light Car”
Runs on: E85 ethanol
So named for weighing just more than 800 pounds—featherweight for a car—the vehicle from Edison 2 of Charlottesville, Virginia, took home the biggest slice of the prize money by winning the “mainstream” category.
In the “Mainstream” class, which offered the biggest cash prize, vehicles were required to have four wheels, seat four people and have a driving range of at least 200 miles. In other words, they had to offer the bare basics of a typical car [CNN].
The Very Light Car stayed light because it didn’t offer much more than that, though lead leader Oliver Kuttner says they did manage to squeeze in heater and basic ventilation.
If you can say one thing about the people behind the Bloom Box, it’s that they know how to generate a buzz. The box is the creation of Silicon Valley Start-up Bloom Energy, and despite the facts that precious few details are know about this hyped fuel cell system, the Internet is all atwitter about it thanks to a 60 Minutes segment featuring CEO K.R. Sridhar that aired on CBS last night.
Fuel cells are the building blocks of the Bloom Box. They’re made of sand that is baked into diskette-sized ceramic squares and painted with green and black ink [Christian Science Monitor]. The cells are stacked and housed inside the Bloom Box, which is reportedly about the size of a refrigerator. On 60 Minutes, Sridhar promised that each individual cell could power a light bulb, while it would take little more than 60 to power an entire small business, like a coffee shop.
A $40 price tag for a single light bulb may seem ridiculous to most consumers. But the Dutch company Lemnis Lighting hopes people will listen to all the arguments for their high-tech LED bulb, and consider it a bargain. [W]hat if it used 90% less electricity than a standard incandescent bulb, cut greenhouse gas emissions and saved you about $280 over its 25-year life span? [Los Angeles Times].
LEDs — light-emitting diodes — are semiconductors that glow and are considered one of the great hopes for slashing carbon emissions from lighting, which consumes about 19% of energy production worldwide [Los Angeles Times]. LEDs are already used in commercial lighting and electronic displays, but the cold, invariable glow has not caught on for household fixtures. Lemnis says its Pharox60 bulb, which just came on the market in the United States, is a major improvement, as it casts a warm glow similar to that of a standard 60-watt incandescent bulb and works in any normal light socket. The company also says this bulb is the first that’s compatible with dimmer switches. Finally, unlike curly compact fluorescent bulbs, LED bulbs don’t contain toxic mercury and can be recycled.
Scientists have located a biological dimmer switch in a species of electric fish that uses electricity during everything from swimming to mating. The switch comes in handy when they don’t need to be electrified; during the day, the fish turn their current down to save energy for other activities, according to a new study in PLoS Biology. That means that the South American river fish, Sternopygus macrurus, is a natural practitioner of energy efficiency. It can reshape the charged-molecule channels in its electricity-producing cells to tone down its electrical signature within a matter of minutes [Wired.com].
Scientists found the dimmer switch in the membranes of cells called electrocytes within this electric organ. The switch takes the form of sodium channels that the fish can insert and remove from the electrocyte membranes. More sodium channels mean a stronger electric impulse [LiveScience]. Because the energy is expensive to produce for the fish, they do what the rest of us do when energy gets expensive–turn it off. The fish keep sodium channels on stand-by in the electric cells so they can switch the electricity back on in a moments notice if something spooks them.
80beats: Robo-Fish Are Ready to Take to the Seas
80beats: To Keep Predators Away, Snake Pretends Its Rear Is a Head
80beats: Lizard Swims Through Sand by Retracting Its Legs & Moving Like a Snake
Image: flickr / walknboston
When Chicago’s Sears Tower was completed in 1973 the 110-story building was the tallest in the world, and it offered a bold example of the human potential to build towards the clouds. Now, although the tower lost the title of tallest building to other skyscrapers in the 1990s, the tower hopes to dazzle the world anew with a fresh vision of urban architecture: The building will soon receive a $350 million environmental retrofit, with wind turbines, solar panels, and gardens all added to the building’s staggered rooftops.
The 5-year project would reduce the tower’s electricity use by 80 percent and save 24 million gallons of water a year, building owners and architects said…. “Our plans are very ambitious,” said John Huston of American Landmark Properties, who represents the building ownership. “Our plans to modernize and transform this icon will re-establish Sears Tower as a leader, a pioneer” [AP].
The battle of the light bulb may not be quite over. While traditional incandescents will soon be phased out in the United States and abroad, researchers are plugging away to create more efficient versions that comply with looming new standards — while also providing an alternative for consumers who find compact fluorescents objectionable [The New York Times, blog]. In one new study, researchers have demonstrated how an incandescent bulb can be modified to give out much more light without requiring more power.
Lead researcher Chunlei Guo and his colleagues were experimenting with the effect of ultrafast laser pulses on metals when they noticed that pulses lasting only a few femtoseconds–quadrillionths of a second–could fundamentally change the molecular arrangement of metals without melting them [ScienceNOW Daily News]. The laser blasts caused the metal to turn black, which boosted its ability to absorb light. Because the law of thermal radiation state that materials that can absorb a great deal of energy will also emit large amounts of energy, the researchers decided to see if their laser treatment would boost the light output of the metal filament in an ordinary light bulb.
The up-and-coming electronics technology known as organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) has spent the week in the, yes, spotlight. Earlier this week researchers announced that they had joined OLEDs to a rubbery conductor to make a computer display screen that could be bent, folded, and crumpled. Now, another team has tweaked OLEDs to make ultra-efficient panels that produce a white light similar to that produced by traditional incandescent light bulbs. Study coauthor Karl Leo says some big technical hurdles still need to be overcome, but adds: “I’m pretty convinced that in a few years OLEDs will be a standard in buildings” [BBC News].
Incandescent lighting is being phased out in some parts of the world because it isn’t energy efficient, and it’s being replaced by compact fluorescent bulbs or light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures. But with both fluorescent and LED lighting, the quality of white light produced has always left something to be desired. Fluorescent lighting can make people appear unhealthy because less red light is emitted, while most white LEDs on the market today have a bluish quality, making them appear cold [Technology Review]. In contrast, OLEDs, which are made from organic compounds that emit light when electricity is passed through them, can provide a nice white light, but efficiency problems have held the technology back.