Tag: solar power

If You Build a Ghost Town in the Desert, the Geeks Will Come

By Veronique Greenwood | September 8, 2011 1:19 pm

Ghost town available, no apocalypse required.

New Mexico has a lot of land and a lot unemployed folks, and the state government has apparently been casting around for some combo deal that lets them use one to fix the other. And they must have been successful, because a DC-based engineering consultancy recently announced that they will be starting a $200 million construction deal there, building a city large enough for 35,000 on public land. A ghost city. No people allowed.

The ghost town will have all the modern conveniences, including new buildings, old-style buildings, houses, apartments, schools, commercial blocks, and traffic lights. But it will not have all the usual users of such conveniences, including dental hygienists, CEOs, angst-ridden teenagers, commuters, soccer moms, tax lawyers, and executive assistants. In fact, the only people allowed will be scientists and engineers. It’s a scientists-only ghost-town club.

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Bug Juice: Hornet May Turn Sunlight Into Electricity

By Jennifer Welsh | December 7, 2010 12:31 pm

oriental-hornetYou may start to feel sloth-like when the sun slips away during the winter months, but this little hornet actually derives energy (not just motivation) from sunlight, using its exoskeleton’s nanostructures and pigments.

Researchers first noticed something odd about the Oriental hornet in the early 1990s: Instead of being lazy-bums during the bright midday hours like other wasps, the Oriental hornet was extremely active.

When the late entomologist Jacob Ishay started studying the hornets in 1991 he discovered some mind-boggling features of their exoskeleton, explains John Rennie at PLoS Blogs:

Ishay found that shining light on the hornets—live, anesthetized or even dead—could produce voltage differences of several hundred millivolts across their hard exoskeletons, which suggested that the cuticle material making up the exoskeletons was effectively an organic semiconductor converting light into electricity. Indeed, Ishay even found that shining ultraviolet light on an anesthetized hornet would wake it up faster, as though the light were recharging the insect.

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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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A New Strategy for Cheap Solar Power in Africa: Pokeberries

By Darlene Cavalier | April 26, 2010 3:46 pm

pokeberryPokeberries, 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.

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Shell Eco-Marathon: The Power of the Sun—4,400 MPG

By Andrew Moseman | March 27, 2010 3:00 pm

Purdue2Not so long ago, the Purdue University solar car team was competing in the American Solar Challenge, an endurance race spanning more than 1,000 miles. The Shell Eco-marathon here in Houston is a totally different animal, however, requiring just 10 short track laps but asking the utmost in fuel efficiency. That sent the Purdue team back to the shop.

Pulsar, the team’s prototype entry here, is a scaled-down version of the long-distance Spot II. “We don’t have the nice long curvature,” team member Joe Trefilek tells me about the body design. While the motor and body size are both reduced, Shell adds the requirement that the solar entrants produce more energy than they consume.

Pulsar’s broad top covered in solar panels make it stick out like a sore thumb in the prototype category, which is mostly populated by sleek and small gas-powered cars stripped down to the bare minimum to maximize mileage. But while Pulsar is slightly less concerned with aerodynamics, it’s more at the mercy of the weather.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

Solar Planes That Aren't Solar, Nano Snowmen That Aren't Snow

By Andrew Moseman | December 4, 2009 1:30 pm

solar impulse425Remember Solar Impulse, the piloted, solar-powered plane that would circumnavigate the globe? Well, it took its first test flight this week, leading to a round of huzzahs from the press. However, you might want to contain the enthusiasm a little, because both “solar” and “flight” are a tad misleading.

“Hop,” as the BBC called the test, is more like it. Solar Impulse got airborne for 30 seconds, though that allowed it to travel 350 meters. And as you can see in the image, the plane didn’t exactly reach the stratosphere. As far as “solar” is concerned, the plane’s solar panels weren’t even hooked up. It ran on battery power.

That’s fine; Solar Impulse will have to run on battery power when it eventually reaches the night stages of its round-the-world trip. We hope the project is eventually a rousing success, but this was a non-solar test.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

An Environmental Dilemma: Using Sunlight to Harvest Petroleum

By Allison Bond | August 25, 2009 5:49 pm

oil fieldLooking for an example of irony? Here’s one, compliments of the oil industry: A solar-powered oil field. Yes, that’s right—sunlight will be used to make the petroleum easier to extract on a Chevron oil field, instead of the natural gas that traditionally does the job.

The New York Times’ Green Inc. blog reports:

The 100-acre project’s 7,000 mirrors will focus sunlight on a water-filled boiler that sits atop a 323-foot tower to produce hot, high-pressure steam.

In a conventional solar power plant, the steam drives a turbine to generate electricity. In this case, the steam will be injected into oil wells to enhance production by heating thick petroleum so it flows more freely.

Is using alternative energy to fuel oil production a step in the right direction? Seems like power produced by solar technology could perhaps be used a liiiittle more efficiently.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Can Scientists Really Turn Seawater Into Jet Fuel?
Discoblog: Brazilians Urged to Pee in the Shower to Conserve Water
Discoblog: Could Potholes Power Your Honda?

Image: flickr / richardmasoner

How to Turn a Papasan Chair Into a Solar Cooker

By Allison Bond | July 22, 2009 3:06 pm

cookerRemember those cookies that were baked on the dashboard of a car? Well, now someone who’s extra-crafty has upped the ante by converting a papasan chair into a solar cooker.

The apparatus is made of a reflective cone that consists of triangles of anodized aluminum bolted together in the center, which fits into the frame of the chair. There’s even a bamboo tripod to hang the food or water that the reflective cone will cook.

This idea comes from Appropedia, a site dedicated to sharing ideas and knowledge about sustainability. According to the author:

My hope was that, in the spirit of synergy, the whole would be greater than the sum of the parts and that people may find the idea of owning a solar cooker more practical if they can also sit and read a book in it when its not in use.

Compared to the traditional mono-functional Parabolic Solar Cooker, this project serves as a chair when not in use, which saves space and is less of a fire hazard than the traditional Parabolic Solar Cooker.

The site has a DIY guide to crafting your very own papasan chair-solar cooker. Sounds pretty sweet… just be sure not to sit on the hot aluminum cone.

Related Content:
Discoblog: How to Make Solar Chocolate Chip Cookies on Your Car Dashboard
Discoblog: Cooking in Space: Slow, Mediocre, and Dangerous
Discoblog: The World’s First “All Synthetic” Meal Graces a Five-Star Table

Image: Bart Orlando

Treehuggers vs. Solar Supporters: Who Cares More About the Environment?

By Lizzie Buchen | February 21, 2008 2:21 pm

Mark Vargas of Santa Clara, California, has a plug-in electric car and $70,000 worth of solar panels. But there’s a serious threat to Vargas’s environmental efforts: his tree-hugging neighbors, Richard Treanor and his wife Carolyn Bissett.

Prius-owning Treanor and Bissett have eight redwoods in their backyard—towering, majestic beasts that shade the forest floor and, apparently, Vargas’s solar panels. Nature-hating Vargus wants the renewable energy-hating couple to cut down the offending trees, and the three have been engaged in legal battles for six years.


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