Tag: alternative energy

How to Turn a Cockroach into a Mobile, and Kind of Gross, Fuel Cell

By Sarah Zhang | February 6, 2012 2:45 pm

spacing is important
Discoid cockroaches, used in this study, can be up to 3 inches long.

From the digestive system that demolishes glue and toothpaste comes the first living, breathing, digesting cyborg-insect power source. Researchers have created a fuel cell that needs only sugar from the cockroach’s hemolymph (basically the cockroach version of blood) and oxygen from the air to make electric energy. The cell’s power density, 55 microwatts per square centimeter at 0.2V, is also very small compared to lithium batteries, so cockroach power wouldn’t be used as a mass power source. But these cyborg cockroaches could take sensors where no human wants to go: nuclear disaster sites, enemy military camps, inside the neighborhood Dumpster.

LiveScience lays out how electrodes inserted into the cockroach’s abdomen hijack its biochemical machinery:

The fuel cell consists of two electrodes; at one electrode, two enzymes break down a sugar, trehalose, which the cockroach produces from its food. The first of the two enzymes, trehalase, breaks down the trehalose into glucose, then the second enzyme converts the glucose into another product and releases the electrons. The electrons travel to the second electrode, where another enzyme delivers the electrons to oxygen in the air. The byproduct is water.

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Move Over Alligator Shoes, It's Time for Alligator Fuel

By Joseph Castro | August 19, 2011 9:06 am

spacing is importantIt’s a handbag. It’s a wallet. No, it’s biofuel.

A genuine alligator-leather purse could put you out hundreds of dollars, but alligator fuel may come fairly cheap. Large fuel plants could produce biofuel from alligator fat for as little as $2.40 a gallon, suggests a recent paper published in the journal Industrial Engineering Chemistry Research. Last we checked, the old-fashioned stuff from long-dead critters was retailing for a buck or so more.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

A Toast! To Scottish Homes Powered by Whisky

By Patrick Morgan | May 10, 2011 8:36 am

If you live in Scotland, the same whisky that energize your visits to the pub may also energize your home: Contracts are underway to construct a combined heat and power plant that runs on the leftovers of some of Scotland’s most famous distilleries. Scheduled to be up and running by 2013, this particular alcohol-powered project is Scotland’s first whisky-fueled energy project that will provide electricity to the public.

Sixteen whisky labels located in Speyside, Scotland—including Glenfiddich, Chivas Regal, and Famous Grouse—will contribute material to the new power plant. They’ll transport their  spent grains (or draff) from the distilleries to the biofuel plant, where it’ll be combined with wood chips and burned, generating over 7.0 MW of power. This energy output—about the same as two large wind turbines—is expected to power at least 9,000 homes. In addition, the residue called pot ale, which accumulates in the distilleries’ copper stills, will be turned into animal feed and fertilizer for nearby farmers. Read More

Are Gun-Toting Climate Skeptics Taking Pot Shots at Wind Turbines?

By Jennifer Welsh | December 15, 2010 1:01 pm

wind-turbineIt seems wind turbines aren’t just stirring up energy, but a fair bit of emotion, too. And when that emotion comes in the form of gunshots, it makes the news.

In early December someone sabotaged poor wind turbine number 8 in a wind farm in Bingham township, Michigan by taking out its transformer. The Huron Daily Tribune reports:

A hole found in the transformer’s radiator resulted in damage, which caused oil to leak out. The exact amount of damage to the $50,000 transformer was not reported. The hole in the transformer, according to police, appears to be from a small caliber firearm…. Huron County Sheriff Kelly J. Hanson said the damage to the transformer appears to be “intentional sabotage.”

The hole in the wind turbine’s transformer caused it to break down, which resulted in the turbine overheating and automatically shutting down. The shooter remains on the lam, and his motives are not clear, says Treehugger:

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Jimmy Carter's Infamous Solar Panels Won't Return to the White House Roof

By Eliza Strickland | September 10, 2010 12:41 pm

Carter-solarFunny how a couple of slabs of silicon can become a national symbol.

In 1979, in the midst of an oil crisis, then-president Jimmy Carter tried to lead the nation to a brighter future powered by alternative energy via a symbolic gesture: installing solar panels on the roof of the White House. But instead of being inspired, the American people were freaked by Carter’s proposed program of conservation, carpooling, and cardigans, and promptly kicked him out the of Oval Office. Ronald Reagan shelved most of Carter’s ambitious energy plans, and in 1986 removed the solar panels from the roof.

Then this week, environmental activists made a bold pitch to the Obama administration in an effort to get those panels back on the president’s house.

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Whisky Biofuel: Scottish Engineers Want to Give Your Car a Stiff Drink

By Joseph Calamia | August 19, 2010 10:21 am

whiskeyBeef, butter sculptures, and people byproducts have made for some good biofuels. Now Scottish researchers are looking to whisky. Processing whisky waste–pot ale, the liquid in copper stills, and draff, leftovers from grain–researchers at Edinburgh Napier University have created butanol which they claim can provide 25 percent more energy per unit volume than ethanol, a more typical biofuel.

Martin Tangney, project director, told The Guardian that every country should use its own particular brand of waste instead of growing crops for biofuels:

“What people need to do is stop thinking ‘either or’; people need to stop thinking like for like substitution for oil. That’s not going to happen. Different things will be needed in different countries.”

In Scotland’s case those things include the leftovers from a stiff drink. The country’s estimated six billion dollar whisky industry produces 1,600 million liters of pot ale and 187,000 tons of draff annually. In America’s case, perhaps we should instead turn to human fat?

Sugar fermentation makes the conversion from leftovers to butanol possible, and researchers say cars could use the fuel without modifying their engines by using a mixture of butanol and gasoline.

Related content:
Discoblog: Rancid Butter Sculptures: A Great Untapped Biofuel Source?
Discoblog: All Aboard the Beef Train–Amtrak Debuts a Train Running on Beef Biofuel
Discoblog: Dr. 90210 Powers SUV with Liposuctioned Fat
Discoblog: Finally! A Self-Sustaining, Sewage-Processing, Poop-Powered Rocket
Discoblog: This Poop Mobile Could Get All Its Energy From 70 Homes’ Worth of Methane

Image: flickr / foxypar4

Rancid Butter Sculptures: A Great Untapped Biofuel Source?

By Joseph Calamia | August 10, 2010 11:24 am

buttersculptureA Benjamin Franklin adage: If your head is wax, don’t walk in the sun. In a sculpture for the Pennsylvania Farm Show, Franklin’s head was butter. Now it’s biofuel.

Butter Franklin was one of several fat sculptures, an annual presence at the fair. After the 2007 farm show, USDA biochemist Michael J. Haas suggested that fair organizers should convert the rancid sculpture into biofuel, The New York Times reports.

BlackGold Biofuels took on the task, which involved replacing glycerin in the butter with a methanol molecule to form biodiesel. Franklin proved that 800 pounds of butter saved is 75 gallons of biodiesel fuel and lower-grade bunker fuel earned.

The company’s real mission is to convert agricultural waste, not edible butter, into fuel, since butter is fairly costly to produce. As BlackGold executive Emily Landsburg told the The New York Times, dismantling the founding father was “not a typical day at the office.” The butter-to-biofuel pathway probably won’t catch on, Landsburg said, because “the number of rancid butter sculptures in the U.S. is probably not significant.”

Related content:
Discoblog: All Aboard the Beef Train–Amtrak Debuts a Train Running on Beef Biofuel
Discoblog: Dr. 90210 Powers SUV with Liposuctioned Fat
Discoblog: Finally! A Self-Sustaining, Sewage-Processing, Poop-Powered Rocket
Discoblog: This Poop Mobile Could Get All Its Energy From 70 Homes’ Worth of Methane

Image: flickr / pwbaker

Europe's Newest Green Energy Sources: Pedestrians and Body Heat

By Smriti Rao | April 15, 2010 11:49 am

WATTRobinUtrechtEPA4It was a green idea that boogied straight off the dance floor and onto the city streets. Residents in the French city of Toulouse are testing out a special stretch of pavement in the city center that produces energy every time someone walks across it.

The pavement is embedded with special sensors that convert energy from motion into electricity. It’s an idea that was first implemented in a Rotterdam nightclub by the Dutch company Sustainable Dance Club (SDC), where the company installed special modular dance floors that harvested the dancers’ energy.

City authorities in Toulouse hope to replicate that system in the city center; as people walk across the special pavement, they’ll help generate between 50 and 60 watts of electricity. Energy captured during the day would be stored in a battery that could be used to power a nearby street lamp at night.

French authorities are powering ahead with the testing despite concerns about the system’s high cost, and have already overcome several problems along the way. The Guardian reports:

The prototype of the modules, said [City deputy mayor Alexandre] Marciel, was unsuitable for street use as “at that stage they only worked if you jumped on them like a kangaroo. So a model was developed on which you can walk normally and still produce enough energy to power the lights,” he said.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

Copenhagen Hotel Lets Guests Pedal-Power Their Lightbulbs

By Smriti Rao | April 14, 2010 5:06 pm

Spinning-bikeThey say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but a hotel in Copenhagen lets you get closer to that goal–it just asks for sweat equity.

The Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers wants its guests to hit the gym, pedal on special bikes, and generate power for the hotel to help it reduce its carbon footprint. If a guest generates a certain amount of energy via pedal-power, she’ll be rewarded with a free meal.

The eco-friendly hotel is already a carbon-neutral building that’s cooled and heated by Denmark’s first ground water-based cooling and heating system, and which has a facade covered with high-tech solar panels. And starting next week, The Guardian reports, the 366-room hotel will encourage guests to help out the environment by working on on new electricity-generating exercise bikes:

The bikes have iPhones mounted on the handlebars which monitor how much power is being produced and fed into the mains supply of the hotel. Any guest producing 10 watt hours or more will be rewarded with a free meal.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

Shell Eco-Marathon: Meet the 1,000-MPG Cars of the Future

By Andrew Moseman | March 29, 2010 2:45 pm

High school and college engineers can do a lot with a lawn trimmer engine, bicycle wheels and a few wires—like build prototype cars that get in the thousands of miles per gallon. Here we bring you the best images from this weekend’s Shell Eco-marathon Americas competition.


A Powerful Prototype


All weekend long, prototype cars built by students around the country and shipped down to Texas battled it out. They ran 10-lap races around the 0.6 course of city streets in downtown Houston, striving to be top dog in miles per gallon.

The cars in the prototype division, like this one from Loyola-Marymount University, didn’t have many of the luxuries of the normal cars driving by and wondering what was going on. But those normal cars also don’t run at more than 1,000 miles per gallon, as many racers achieved.

The winning team in the prototype category, from Universite Laval in Canada, achieved nearly 2,500 MPG. (See a full list of winners here.)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

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