Georgia Tech researcher Manos Tentzeris holding
up one of his inkjet-printed antennas.
What’s the News: With all of the electronics cluttering our daily lives, the air is abuzz with ambient electromagnetic energy from sources like cell phone networks, radio and television transmitters, and satellite communications systems. Now, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have devised a simple, cheap way to harness that wasted energy: capturing it with inkjet-printed antennas and storing it in batteries.
Last night, in the third State of the Union Address of Obama’s presidency, he began by extolling the need for the country to compete with other rising nations for the jobs of the future (and using some version of his new catchphrase multiple times). The President hit many notes that have science and technology advocates smiling this morning, including his call to turn around yesterday’s sobering statistics about the lack of science proficiency of American students.
The world has changed, Obama told Congress, and the US will only retain its competitive edge over nations like China and India if it invests in a skilled workforce and cutting-edge science and technology: “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” [New Scientist]
Obama went on to urge parents to get their kids’ priorities straight, and uttered the line that may have tickled science geeks the most:
We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.
The President also called for more funding for biomedical, renewable energy, and other research to launch a wave of innovation. Obama deemed this our “Sputnik moment,” comparing it to the moment in the late 1950s when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite and the U.S. raced to catch up to and then surpass Soviet space science.
The road ahead looks smooth for automatic driving systems. For the first time, Volvo, in partnership with a European Commission research project called Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE), has successfully road-tested a linking system that allows drivers to relax and tune out.
In such systems, cars form “road trains” behind a professional driver, creating a semi-autonomous convoy–essentially, a truck and car conga line that could improve highway congestion and inefficient gasoline use.
SARTRE platoons are guided by a lead vehicle, which is … followed by a succession of other, computer-controlled cars that are electronically tethered in the convoy. Each vehicle in the platoon measures the distance, speed and direction of the vehicle directly in front, adjusting its movements to stay in formation…. Unsurprisingly, there’s a metric horsetonne of technology that goes into making this possible. Each platoon car uses cameras to detect the position of the vehicle in front, all have drive-by-wire technology that allows the steering, accelerator and brakes to be controlled by a computer, and all communicate using a car-to-car wireless network. [CNET UK]
Hit the jump for more info, and a video demonstration.
It’s such a fertile time in the green technology sector, solar power plants may soon begin reproducing.
Using two resources that the Sahara has plenty of, sun and sand, the Sahara Solar Breeder Project hopes to build factories that will refine the sand’s silica into silicon. That silicon will be used to build solar panels, which will power more silica-refining and solar panel factories, which will be able to build more solar panels, and on and on and on.
The potential for exponential growth allows for some extreme optimism: The project’s leaders say they could build enough power stations to meet half of the world’s energy needs by 2050. Project leader Hideomi Koinuma believes the project is key to solving the world’s energy crisis, saying:
“If we can use desert sand to make a substance that provides energy, this will be the key to solving the energy problem. This is probably doable. Moreover, the energy we continually receive from the Sun is 10,000 times the energy currently used by mankind. So if we can utilize 0.01% of it skillfully, we won’t have a shortage of energy, but a surplus.” [DigInfo TV]
Hit the break for a video about the project.
The film is titled Cool It and was based on a book of the same name by Danish writer Bjørn Lomborg, a contrarian who delights in questioning the gravity of our planet’s environmental problems. The movie was directed by Ondi Timoner, an award-winning documentarian.
Lomborg has raised the hackles of environmental activists since he published The Skeptical Environmentalist a decade ago. Since then he has drawn closer to environmentalists on some issues–for example, he now maintains that global warming should be one of the world’s “chief concerns.” But in the new documentary, Lomborg still argues that money spent on trying to limit carbon output would be better spent on investment in green technologies and geoengineering. The film is currently enjoying a limited release across the United States.
Does the film succeed? “Cool It” is eminently watchable — which is no surprise given Timoner’s involvement. Lomborg, as always, is charming and persuasive, frequently shown riding his bicycle through Copenhagen’s busy streets — in what has to be seen as a dig at Gore, who in his film is often seen racing through airports.
But it suffers from the same simplification syndrome that weakened “An Inconvenient Truth.”… In “Cool It,” Lomborg breezily ticks down a laundry list of high-tech ways to engineer the atmosphere, for example, but punts on the tougher questions related to such planet-scale enterprises — such as the inevitable diplomatic dispute over who sets the planetary thermostat and how blocking the sun does nothing to stem the buildup of carbon dioxide, much of which will stay in the atmosphere for many centuries. [The New York Times]
In the opinion of Wired’s Hugh Hart, Lomborg is a “charismatic tour guide” who ultimately fails to convince.
The British government announced yesterday that it’s scrapping a huge and controversial tidal power project that would have cost up to $48 billion to build, and could have provided clean energy for up to 5 percent of the United Kingdom. It was just too expensive, the government said.
“Other low-carbon options represent a better deal for taxpayers and consumers,” Chris Huhne, secretary of state for energy, said today in a written statement to Parliament in London. The decision, along with separate moves to spur nuclear power, mark out the government’s strategy to replace a quarter of the nation’s electric power stations by 2020. [BusinessWeek]
The project called for harnessing the tidal energy of the Severn, Britain’s longest river, where the river meets the ocean. The Severn estuary has the second largest tidal range in the world (after Canada’s Bay of Fundy), making it seem a natural fit for tidal power. But the project stalled as objections were raised to the five leading proposals. Three options called for enormous dams, or barrages, to be built across the waterway, which environmental groups objected to. Those environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth and a birding group, greeted the news of the project’s cancellation with delight.
A huge offshore wind energy project took a leap forward today with the announcement that Google and the investment firm Good Energies are backing the mammoth underwater transmission lines that would carry clean electricity up and down the East Coast. The $5 billion dollar project would allow for wind farms to spring up all along the mid-Atlantic continental shelf.
Google and Good Energies will both be 37.5 percent equity partners in the clean energy infrastructure project; the Japanese industrial, energy, and investment firm Marubeni will take a 15 percent share. The project, proposed by a Maryland-based company called Trans-Elect, would set up a 350-mile long energy-carrying backbone from Virginia to northern New Jersey, first allowing the transfer of the south’s cheap electricity to the northern states, and later providing critical infrastructure for future offshore wind projects.
The AWC backbone is critical to more rapidly scaling up offshore wind because without it, offshore wind developers would be forced to build individual radial transmission lines from each offshore wind project to the shore, requiring additional time consuming permitting and environmental studies and making balancing the grid more difficult. [Official Google Blog].
How to make natural gas? Flush the toilet, and wait three weeks. At least that’s the plan for homes involved in the Didcot Renewable Gas Project, which will be recycling residents’ waste into renewable natural gas, aka “biogas“.
Gearóid Lane, managing director of communities and new energy at British Gas, said: “This renewable gas project is a real milestone in Britain’s energy history, and will help customers and the environment alike. Renewable gas has the potential to make a significant contribution to meeting the UK’s energy needs. Gas from sewage is just one part of a bigger project, which will see us using brewery and food waste and farm slurry to generate gas to heat homes.” [The Guardian]
The renewable gas won’t smell bad or function any differently than the gas already being provided to customers’ homes. This isn’t the first biogas plant in the U.K. or the world, but it is the first facility whose biogas is made directly from human waste and transferred back to those humans’ homes. Most of the other plants run off of agricultural and food waste.
The plant is just a test project, able to provide gas to about 200 homes. But the British government is hopeful that more such projects will help the country reach its goal of 15 percent renewable energy by 2020. Said Martin Baggs, chief executive of the utility company Thames Water:
“Every sewage works in Britain is a potential source of local renewable gas waiting to be put to use.” [BBC News]
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]
Faced with the sun’s damaging rays, new biological solar cells can repair themselves, regaining their maximum efficiency when some competitors might fade. In their current form these biological solar cells, made with a bacterium’s photosynthesis hub and carbon nanotubes, only reach a small fraction of the efficiency seen in the best traditional solar cells. But their ability to reinvent themselves by shedding damaged proteins and reassembling to regain their maximum efficiency could be a useful feature for future solar cells.
The researchers, who published their work in Nature Chemistry, used a bacterium’s natural light collection center to generate solar power, used proteins and lipids to make supporting disc forms, and employed conducting carbon nanotubes to channel away electric current. This set of materials chemically clumps together, making the cells self-assembling.
The spontaneous assembly occurs thanks to the chemical properties of the ingredients and their tendency to combine in the most energetically comfortable positions. The scaffolding protein wraps around the lipid, forming a little disc with the photosynthetic reaction center perched on top. These discs line up along the carbon nanotube, which has pores that electrons from the reaction center can pass through. [Science News]