alternative energy

Scientists design solar cell that captures nearly all energy of solar spectrum

A George Washington University researcher helped design and construct a prototype for a new solar cell that integrates multiple cells stacked into a single device capable of capturing nearly all of the energy in the solar spectrum.

The new design, which converts direct sunlight to electricity with 44.5 percent efficiency, has the potential to become the most efficient solar cell in the world.

The approach is different from the solar panels commonly seen on rooftops or in fields. The new device uses concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) panels that use lenses to concentrate sunlight onto tiny, micro-scale solar cells. Because of their small size – less than one millimeter square – solar cells that utilize more sophisticated materials can be developed cost effectively.

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Bernie Sanders interviews Bill Nye about climate change and alternative energy, and it’s as adorable as it sounds.

EPCOT geeks will be pleased that, when Bernie bemoans Big Oil’s fixation with money, Bill replies:

“Well, that’s what I don’t get! […] They make a lot of money, and as I told the people at Exxon in 1994 when I did a job with Exxon and Ellen DeGeneres and the Walt Disney Company, ‘You guys should be in the energy business, not the oil business!’ […] They would get even richer!”

So there you have it: behind the scenes of Ellen’s Energy Adventure, Bill Nye was trying to persuade Exxon to use the one source of energy that will never run out: brain power!

New, long-lasting flow battery could run for more than a decade with minimum upkeep

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a new flow battery that stores energy in organic molecules dissolved in neutral pH water. This new chemistry allows for a non-toxic, non-corrosive battery with an exceptionally long lifetime and offers the potential to significantly decrease the costs of production.

The research, published in ACS Energy Letters, was led by Michael Aziz, the Gene and Tracy Sykes Professor of Materials and Energy Technologies and Roy Gordon, the Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Materials Science.

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This is the Ridgeblade residential wind turbine, a horizontal access turbine that mounts along the peak of a house. An aesthetically pleasing idea and also one that allows wind power in areas where local ordinance might ban a tower mounted turbine. The company also offers a hybrid installation that includes a solar roof. There is a commercial application as well.

As with all wind installations, the prevailing wind patterns will affect efficiency greatly but this could prove a boon mounted on sky scrapers in urban areas and small benefits to suburban houses in cutting electricity usage are still benefits.

Energy harvested from evaporation could power much of US

In the first evaluation of evaporation as a renewable energy source, researchers at Columbia University find that U.S. lakes and reservoirs could generate 325 gigawatts of power, nearly 70 percent of what the United States currently produces.

Though still limited to experiments in the lab, evaporation-harvested power could in principle be made on demand, day or night, overcoming the intermittency problems plaguing solar and wind energy. The researchers’ calculations are outlined in the Sept. issue of Nature Communications.

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Wireless charging of moving electric vehicles overcomes major hurdle

If electric cars could recharge while driving down a highway, it would virtually eliminate concerns about their range and lower their cost, perhaps making electricity the standard fuel for vehicles.

Now Stanford University scientists have overcome a major hurdle to such a future by wirelessly transmitting electricity to a nearby moving object. Their results are published in the June 15 edition of Nature.

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Scientists Hope To Farm The Biofuel Of The Future In The Pacific Ocean
International research labs are using seaweed to make biofuel, but little progress has been made in the U.S. Now scientists in California are developing a prototype to enable vast open-ocean farming.

The push for renewable energy in the U.S. often focuses on well-established sources of electricity: solar, wind and hydropower. Off the coast of California, a team of researchers is working on what they hope will become an energy source of the future — macroalgae, otherwise known as kelp.

The Pacific Coast is known for its vast kelp forests. It’s one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth, and farming it requires no fertilizer, fresh water, pesticides, or arable land. “It can grow 2 to 3 feet per day,” says Diane Kim, one of the scientists running the kelp research project at the University of Southern California.

Kelp is transformed into biofuel by a process called thermochemical liquefaction. The kelp is dried out, and the salt is washed away. Then it’s turned into bio-oil through a high-temperature, high-pressure conversion process.

Some small companies are growing kelp as a substitute for kale in the U.S., but that’s exactly the problem – very, very few are doing it. Thus, the infrastructure and investment isn’t in place to make other products from kelp, like biofuel.

“We’re testing out a concept that would enable large-scale, open-ocean farming,” she says. “And what that would essentially do is grow enough kelp to make it economically feasible to make it cost competitive and maybe one day, provide a source of clean, sustainable, non-polluting source of energy to compete with fossil fuels.”

Twenty-five miles from downtown Los Angeles, on sunny Catalina Island, Kim and her colleagues operate a center called the Wrigley Institute of Environmental Studies. The clean, deep waters off the island provide a great environment for research.

Harvesting kelp in California for commercial purposes is not unprecedented. “They did have these large boats that gave the kelp a haircut, harvesting kelp along the California coast,” Kim explains. During World War I, kelp was used to make gunpowder. By the 1960s, a company in San Diego harvested kelp to make products like alginate, which is a solidifying agent in ice cream and cosmetics.

Here on Catalina Island, Kim and her colleagues are trying to build a machine that would raise and lower kelp beds to get sunlight in the shallow water and nutrients in the deep water. This would allow them to farm miles from shore. They call the device a “kelp elevator.”

There are real obstacles to creating large-scale kelp farms in the U.S., though.

“At the moment, they’re way behind the curve,” says University of Hawaii tenured researcher Michael Cooney of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute. He says countries in Asia and Scandinavia are much farther along than the U.S.

One of the main reasons for this discrepancy is that these countries have been growing kelp for food for many years. “They already have a pre-existing infrastructure that’s pretty sophisticated for growing and harvesting,” Cooney explains. “It’s harvesting for food and other products, but a lot of that capital’s already in place. And that’s a much better starting point than small companies in the U.S. that try to go from ground zero to a transportation fuel.”

In Sweden, people have been farming seaweed for a long time. “The first thing we do with the high-quality kelp, we do it for food, actually, "says Fredrik Grondahl of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. He says selling kelp for food is very profitable.

"The next part is to make feed ingredients,” Grondahl adds. “And then we are also extracting polymers from the kelp to do bioplastics and adhesives and maybe also textiles.” The leftover kelp is turned into biofuel, so the clean energy aspect is just one of many uses for kelp in Scandinavia.

The Wrigley Institute scientists don’t use natural populations of kelp, but grow their own in a nursery, starting from spores. They tie the juvenile kelp to long, white PVC pipes and drop them into the water. Eventually they hope to create sheets of kelp plants hundreds of yards across.

The researchers don’t use the natural populations of kelp on Catalina Island, but grow their own in a nursery starting from spores, like this one at the research facility.

Ken Nealson, director of the Wrigley Institute, takes us out onto the water in a boat to see the test site where they’ve already dropped a pipe 30 feet below the surface, with small kelp plants sprouting off of it. Nealson straps on scuba gear and dives down to inspect the project, while bass and other marine life circle around him.

“What you see here is the beginning of something that can really revolutionize bio-fuel production, if it works on a large scale,” he explains. “You can imagine growing enough kelp to supply a percentage of the bioenergy that’s needed in this country.”

“Imagine” is the key word here. This experiment is in its earliest stages. By September, the researchers hope to put a full-scale kelp elevator in the water. And if that works, then someday years from now, endless miles of ocean could one day become farmland.
Dutch electric trains become 100% powered by wind energy
The national railway company, NS, said that its renewables target had been met a year earlier than planned

All Dutch electric trains are now powered by wind energy, the national railway company NS has said .

“Since 1 January, 100% of our trains are running on wind energy,” said NS spokesman, Ton Boon.

Dutch electricity company Eneco won a tender offered by NS two years ago and the two companies signed a 10-year deal setting January 2018 as the date by which all NS trains should run on wind energy.

“So we in fact reached our goal a year earlier than planned,” said Boon, adding that an increase in the number of wind farms across the country and off the coast of the Netherlands had helped NS achieve its aim.

Eneco and NS said on a joint website that around 600,000 passengers daily are “the first in the world” to travel thanks to wind energy. NS operates about 5,500 train trips a day.

One windmill running for an hour can power a train for 120 miles, the companies said. They hope to reduce the energy used per passenger by a further 35% by 2020 compared with 2005.


Creating a better biofuel from poop

When it comes to liquid fuels, the market is dominated by gasoline, diesel and jet fuel—all compounds derived from crude oil. These fuels are highly energy dense, cheap and (for now) abundant.

But for years, scientists have been working toward a secure and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.

Ethanol, one of the earliest biofuel that’s largely derived from corn, hasn’t been able to compete with liquid fossil fuels. It isn’t particularly energy-dense and you need special modifications on your car to use ethanol or similar biofuels.

But researchers at UCLA are working on the next generation of advanced biofuels like Isobutanol.

“We try to produce branched-chain alcohols, that are a little larger, more energy dense and burn more like real gasoline,” explains UCLA researcher David Wernick.

Unlike ethanol, these biofuels are compatible with current fuel infrastructure, which means that you could use them with your current car.

By engineering bacteria (Bacillus subtilis), Wernick and his UCLA cohorts have enabled these tiny organisms to break down manure and other protein-rich waste like wastewater algae and byproducts from fermenting wine and beer.  

Once the protein is broken down, the bacteria convert it into biofuel and ammonia, which can be used for fertilizer. The next step is scaling up the process and improving the amount of biofuel produced.

Learn more about the lab and their process of transforming poop and protein waste into fuel:

Masters of Clockmaking Turn Attention to Fusion

Switzerland, long known for its engineering prowess in fields from timekeeping to coffee making, is turning its eye and resources to a bigger goal–unlocking the promise of fusion. 

Officials at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne are busy upgrading their plasma physics center to play a key role in a global effort to turn the fusing of hydrogen atoms into a usable, abundant energy source. Their efforts are expected to contribute to the success of the multibillion-dollar ITER megaproject, whose goal is to create a fusion reactor that produces 500 megawatts of electricity from 50 megawatts of input power.

Scientists have been working on nuclear fusion for decades because huge amounts of energy can be produced from small quantities of common ingredients. In fact, the energy content that can be extracted from two bottles of water and a lithium coin battery is equal to that released by burning around five barrels of oil. And, unlike the fission process, fusion produces no radioactive waste that must be carefully contained for centuries. 

The top image shows the inside of the Swiss fusion reactor, a complex machine called a tokamak. Learn more and see an infographic on how fusion works below.

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It’s coming up to 40 years since my first arrest. It was at Seabrook in late April 1977, protesting the nuclear power plant construction. One of the largest mass arrests in US history, we were held for about a week. This photo is the following year when a group of us cycled from Amherst to Seabrook. We called ourselves the solar rollers…


POWER TO THE PEOPLE: A solar revolution is transforming lives in the developing world. Clean-energy lights are transforming lives-and creating entrepreneurs - in Africa and India. (full story National Geographic November 2015)

by award-winning photographer Rubén Salgado Escudero: “Solar-powered light was the only source of illumination I used in all of the portraits for this project. I wanted to work with the same type of light that is improving my subject’s quality of life so substantially.”

  • “Ibrahim Kalungi and Godfrey Mteza both 20, worked at night in their motorcycle repair shop in Nbeeda, Uganda. The mechanics credit solar lights with enabling them to work longer hours and earn more money.”
  • “A worker at a logging camp in Myanmar’s Bago region, where elephants have been used by loggers for centuries, sits atop his 11-year-old animals. Laborers in these camps have no electricity, so they use solar lanterns before sunrise.”
  • “At a  brick kiln in India’s rural state of Uttar Pradesh, workers use solar lanterns to illuminate their paths. The developing world struggles to provide power to its people. Worldwide, about 1.1 billion people have no access to electricity.”
  • “In India’s state of Odisha villagers trap fish using cone-shaped baskets and solar light. Fewer that half of Odisha’s 42 million residents use grid electricity.” -
  • “Electricity is a rare luxury in Ugunda. Denis Okiror, 30 began using solar lights at his barbershop in Kayunga two years ago. He says most of his customers prefer to visit him in the evening. – Michael Edison Hayden

Things that aren’t going to save the environment:
-reusable water bottles, hybrid cars, ethanol/biodiesel fuel, commercially produced “natural”/“organic” food, and other supposedly “green” consumer products
-“population control” that targets developing nations that are barely contributing to global pollution
- pretending that “clean coal” is a thing

Things that will save the environment:
- large scale green energy projects using clean technologies such as solar, hydroelectric, wind, and nuclear power that substantially reduce the use of fossil fuels
- reduction of overall global energy usage such as long term sustainable manufacturing and agricultural practices, localised production of goods and energy that reduce the need for freight transportation
-the end of first-world consumerism and global industrial capitalism
-full communism now