It’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.
Stanford University researchers have now created see-through lithium-ion batteries; when combined with transparent screens, keyboards, and circuitry, manufacturers may be able to create fully transparent electronic devices. So soon, rather than searching frantically for those set of keys you somehow misplaced, you can spend your time trying to find your see-through cell phone sitting right in front of you.
Scientists usually make devices like solar cells appear translucent by creating ultra-thin versions of their components. But this doesn’t work with a battery because its electrodes need to be thick enough to store a decent amount of energy. So, the Stanford researchers, in their study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (pdf), took a different approach: they created lithium-ion electrodes out of components too small for the naked eye to see.
If you see a five-foot-long, 145-pound robotic stranger roaming your neighborhood in the near future, don’t be alarmed. It may just be TI, your friendly, box-shaped power line inspector, who may soon be coming to a power line near you.
Created by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), TI–short for Transmission Inspection–is designed to tightrope along power lines in search of flaws. Since power lines aren’t designed to hold heavy robots, TI technically travels along shield wires, the metal lines that hang above power lines to shield them from lightning.
As TI plods along power lines, covering a few miles each day, he’s able to independently evaluate the data his sensors gather–and if he finds a glitch in the power flow, he calls it in via radio signal. In addition to the automatic mode, TI’s computerized “Cirque du Soleil” act can also be controlled remotely.
When it comes to perceiving power line flaws, TI is as good as human. Infrared sensors monitor hot spots on wires, while lidar-equipped sensors use scattered light to tell whether power lines are too close to tree branches or other menaces. On top of all this, TI also picks up on electrical disturbances and sports a topnotch optical camera for more in-depth scrutiny–especially handy for anyone enamored by still life portraits of electrified squirrels.
Power line, meet hook
Having the power shut off in your home due to lack of payments can really motivate you to pay your bills—or perhaps to begin siphoning electricity with a meat hook.
A recent report from Reuters describes a middle-aged man in Germany who has been stealing electricity from a high-voltage overhead transmission line using a run-of-the-mill meat hook. After getting cut off by the power company for not paying his bills, the energy thief decided he would acquire the necessary power on his own; he attached a meat hook to the end of a long cable, and hurled the hook onto an overhead power line 150 meters from his house. By routing some of the electricity to his meter box, the man powered his home illegally for an entire month before anyone noticed.
Pokeberries, whose red dye was famously used by Civil War soldiers to write letters home, may enable the distribution of worldwide solar power. Researchers at Wake Forest University’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials are using the red dye from this weedy plant’s berries to coat their high-efficient, fiber-based solar cells, licensed by FiberCell, Inc.
These fiber cells are composed of millions of tiny fibers that maximize the cell’s surface area and trap light at almost any angle–so the slanting sun rays of morning and evening aren’t wasted. The dye’s absorbent qualities enhance the fibers’ ability to trap sunlight, allowing the fiber cells to produce nearly twice the power that flat-cell technology produces.
Because pokeberries can grow in almost any climate, they can be raised by residents in developing countries “who can make the dye absorber for the extremely efficient fiber cells and provide energy where power lines don’t run,” said David Carroll, the center’s director.
It 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.
They 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.
Greetings from sunny Houston. The hotels are overrun with basketball fans donning the colors of Duke, Baylor, and other colleges playing basketball here tonight. But the NCAA tournament isn’t the competition that brought DISCOVER deep in the heart of Texas.
We’re here for the Shell Eco-marathon Americas. All weekend long in downtown Houston, students from 29 universities and 9 high schools will he going head-to-head with their prototype ultra-high mileage vehicles. Most of the 50 vehicles are powered by combustion engines, but a smattering of vehicles running on ethanol, hydrogen fuel cells, solar, and petroleum gas have come down to challenge the traditional engine.
Check Discoblog over the weekend, as we’ll be continually updating on the wild cars and their brilliant young designers. Official competition runs Saturday and Sunday. However, given that winners of past eco-marathons have reached efficiencies in the thousands of miles per gallon, these vehicles might just keep on going.
For those tired of changing light bulbs, we’ve got some good news. A light-emitting wallpaper may replace light bulbs as soon as 2012, according to The Times:
A chemical coating on the walls will illuminate all parts of the room with an even glow, which mimics sunlight and avoids the shadows and glare of conventional bulbs.
Apply a low voltage current to the wallpaper and bam!—no more light bulbs. The organic LED wallpaper, under development by the Welsh company Lomax, will be at least twice as efficient as current energy saving bulbs. And no, the glowing wallpaper will not create an electric fence in your living room—Lomax says their electric wallpaper will be safe to touch.
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Image: flickr / nodomain1
Things looked pretty bleak in Iceland a year or so ago. Declaring national bankruptcy is never high on a country’s list of priorities. But BBC News reports that the beleaguered country is attempting to make a comeback—as the nexus of all the world’s computer servers. In a way, it’s the perfect place to keep a ton of servers that require huge amounts of energy to be kept running, and cool. From the report:
In Iceland, with its year round cool climate and chilly fresh water, just a fraction of this energy for cooling [the servers] is needed. It means big savings.
Just outside Reykjavik, work is well advanced on the first site which its owners hope will spark a server cold rush.
In around a year – if all goes according to plan – the first companies will start leasing space in this data centre.
And if this proves successful more sites are planned.
And with its wealth of geothermal (and therefor carbon-footprint-free) power, the country stands to make a substantial global impact, particularly since all those servers mean a constant increase in CO2 production. As one expert put it:
“[I]f a large internet media company operating thousands and thousands of servers relocated its servers to Iceland, that company would save greater than half a million metric tons of carbon annually.”
Granted, now all they have to do is lay all that fiber optic cable. No getting around the series of tubes!
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