Posts Tagged ‘renewable energy’
I don’t think we –by “we” I mean writers, journalists, editors, bloggers, etc.–understand the disaster facing the country with respect to many issues – most importantly (to me) on climate change, renewable energy, sustainability, the Supreme Court, free speech, civil and gender rights, corporate power and influence, democratic institutions and equal justice.
Here is what David Remnick wrote last week in The New Yorker: “The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism…It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.”
In the early going Trump was a media novelty; he was “good copy,” as they say in newsrooms. He was not taken seriously until it became—too late—really serious, even deadly serious. Trump also tapped into a vein of discontent, anger and fear that was largely under-reported or ignored—again until it was too late.
So the reasoned and rational “what do we do now?” arguments and suggestions for going forward strike me as somewhat naive and not very useful because this is not a “business as usual” or “return to normalcy” situation. It’s not a rational and normal transfer of power, no matter how it is dressed up as such. This a new, different, uncertain, dangerous and even absurd universe—so new, different and radical thinking about the way we report and approach whatever horrors await us from the Trump/Pence cabal is needed. It means telling the truth with clarity and accuracy no matter how inconvenient or costly, both to ourselves and to the powerful.
Remnick concluded: “To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.”
That is what I promise to do. I hope you will join me.
Image: Donald Trump – Portrait by DonkeyHotey viaFlickr CC
Now this from Harvard University researchers: “bionic leaf 2.0,” which turns sunlight into liquid fuel, introduced in the academic journal Science earlier this month.
In what is called an artificial version of photosynthesis in plants, the study says the “bionic leaf 2.0” “aims to make use of solar panels for splitting molecules of water into oxygen and hydrogen. On separation of the water compounds, hydrogen is moved into a chamber for consumption by bacteria. A specialized metal catalyst and carbon dioxide in the chamber then helps generate a liquid fuel.”
Daniel Nocera, the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University, and Pamela Silver, the Elliott T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, have developed a system that uses solar energy to split water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels. What’s cool about this is that using sunlight to convert it into liquid fuels would reduce the vast areas of land usually used for producing plants that generate biofuels. According to a study by the University of Virginia, about 4 per cent of the world’s farmland is currently under crops for fuel rather than crops for food.
The paper, whose lead authors also include postdoctoral fellow Chong Liu and graduate student Brendan Colón, is described in a June 3 paper published in Science.
“This is a true artificial photosynthesis system,” Nocera said in a Harvard Gazette article. “Before, people were using artificial photosynthesis for water-splitting, but this is a true A-to-Z system, and we’ve gone well over the efficiency of photosynthesis in nature.” While the study shows the system can be used to generate usable fuels, its potential doesn’t end there, said Silver, who is also a founding core member of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.
“The beauty of biology is it’s the world’s greatest chemist — biology can do chemistry we can’t do easily,” she said. “In principle, we have a platform that can make any downstream carbon-based molecule. So this has the potential to be incredibly versatile.”
The new system builds on previous work by Nocera, Silver, and others, which — though it was capable of using solar energy to make isopropanol — faced a number of challenges. Chief among those, Nocera said, was the fact that the catalyst used to produce hydrogen — a nickel-molybdenum-zinc alloy — also created reactive oxygen species, molecules that attacked and destroyed the bacteria’s DNA. To avoid that, researchers were forced to run the system at abnormally high voltages, resulting in reduced efficiency.
“For this paper, we designed a new cobalt-phosphorous alloy catalyst, which we showed does not make reactive oxygen species,” Nocera said. “That allowed us to lower the voltage, and that led to a dramatic increase in efficiency.” Read the rest of this entry »
United Airlines has launched an initiative that will use biofuel to help power flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
And according to a Washington Post report, United eventually plans to expand its use of biofuels to all flights operating out of LAX. It’s a pretty big deal because while biofuel has been tested by several airlines, it’s the first time an American airline will begin using renewable fuel for regular commercial operations.
The renewable fuel used to power United’s aircraft is supplied by an LA refinery operated by AltAir Fuels, which is using the facility to produce both renewable jet fuel and diesel fuel using a technology developed by Honeywell UOP. In 2013, AltAir and United announced their partnership, in which United will purchase up to 15 million gallons of biofuel over a three-year period. Read the rest of this entry »
And while we’re at it let’s get goats into the act.
But first, UCLA researchers are studying the use of the human feces as biofuels to power cars. David Wernick, graduate student of UCLA, notes that poop is an untapped resource that only gets flushed in toilets.
In the US, just counting animal manure, more than 1 billion tons of poop are produced yearly. But Wernick and his colleagues are also trying other materials to produce new kinds of biofuels such as sewage waste, plant matter, cellulosic matter and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Gizmodo reported
The UCLA team plans to engineer the bacteria in human waste by breaking down the proteins in excrement and other waste rich in protein such as wastewater algae and byproducts from the fermentation of beer, ethanol and wine. Wernick believes that the re-engineered bacteria, when it uses the protein to produce poo-based biofuels, would result is the vehicle running without a need to adjust its automotive parts.
BBC recently reported that fungi found in goat and sheep stomachs can break down vegetation in a way that may be useful for biofuel production. Most biofuel in the United States comes from crops such as corn, but growing corn takes a lot of land, and using it for biofuels may drive up food prices. So the industry is increasingly looking toward nonfood sources of biomass like grass and wood. In a study published in Science, researchers show that fungi isolated from the feces of goats and sheep can break down wood better than the standard processes in place. Plus, these fungi can change which digestive enzymes they produce in response to what they are eating, making them more flexible than traditional methods.
Renewable energy is all about looking at everything in new ways, including our own poop…oh, and goats.
Update on lithium ion batteries:
Starting on April 1, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will ban shipments of lithium-ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft due safety concerns. According to Lloyd’s Loading List.com, the decision is “binding on all (191) ICAO Member States and therefore the airlines which operate in those States.”
This is the latest in a national and international efforts to restrict shipments of lithium-ion batteries as cargo. Last month I posted that the Federal Aviation Administration issued a “safety alert” urging U.S. and foreign commercial passenger and cargo airlines to conduct “a safety risk assessment to manage the risks associated with transporting lithium batteries as cargo.” The FAA also issued a guidance to its own inspectors to help them determine whether airlines have adequately assessed the risk of handling and carrying lithium batteries as cargo.
If it gets too hot, get out of the battery! Researchers at Stanford University have developed a lithium-ion battery that shuts down automatically as it begins to overheat.
Lithium-ion batteries are used in nearly all portable electronics. They’re light, can store a lot of energy and are easily recharged, but they are also susceptible to overheating if damaged. A short circuit in the battery often leads to fire. A recent article in Nature Energy by a team of Stanford researchers reveals a safe battery design that features “a fast and reversible thermoresponsive polymer switching material that can be incorporated inside batteries to prevent thermal runaway.”
The new Stanford battery uses a polyethylene film that has embedded particles of nickel with nanoscale spikes. Researchers coated the spikes with graphene, a conducting material, so that electricity can flow over the surface. When the temperature rises the film expands, and at about 70 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit) the conducting spikes no longer touch each other, breaking the circuit – causing the battery to shut down.
Once the battery shuts down, the runaway thermal reaction is avoided and the battery cools; eventually the nickel spikes are brought back into contact and the electricity flow resumes.
“We can even tune the temperature higher or lower depending on how many particles we put in or what type of polymer materials we choose,” said Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford and a member of the research team.
The Nature Energy article [Nature Energy 1, Article number: 15009 (2016) doi:10.1038/nenergy.2015.9] says: “Batteries with this self-regulating material built in the electrode can rapidly shut down under abnormal conditions such as overheating and shorting, and are able to resume their normal function without performance compromise or detrimental thermal runaway. Our approach offers 103–104 times higher sensitivity to temperature changes than previous switching devices.”
This has the potential of averting the catastrophic fires seen in hoverboards, laptops and aircraft.
The article was written by the researchers Zheng Chen, Po-Chun Hsu, Jeffrey Lopez, Yuzhang Li, John W. F. To, Nan Liu, Chao Wang, Sean C. Andrews, Jia Liu, Yi Cui and Zhenan Bao.
Image: Stanford researchers use a polyethylene film in lithium-ion batteries to shut down the battery if it gets too hot. Credit: Stanford University/IDGNS
Here’s the next installment of our close read of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on climate change, Laudato Si’.
(Note: emphasis added by me)
Climate as a common good
The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes. (Para. 23) Read the rest of this entry »
When the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell chats up the importance of renewable energy as part of the globe’s future energy mix, one might well be a tad suspicious—after all this is an oil major speaking, right?
Could it be that Ben van Beurden has seen the light, powered by things other than fossil fuels? Is it possible he is thinking about the future in a way that’s perhaps more enlightened than simply rhetorical?
Speaking recently at OPEC‘s 167th meeting in Vienna, van Beurden said traditional energy sources should integrate and work together with clean technologies to provide sustainable and economically-sensible power for the future. Read the rest of this entry »