Monday, March 29, 2010

Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change?

James Lovelock: Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change
Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change from radically impacting on our lives over the coming decades. This is the stark conclusion of James Lovelock, the globally respected environmental thinker and independent scientist who developed the Gaia theory.
It follows a tumultuous few months in which public opinion on efforts to tackle climate change has been undermined by events such as the climate scientists' emails leaked from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit.
"I don't think we're yet evolved to the point where we're clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change," said Lovelock in his first in-depth interview since the theft of the UEA emails last November. "The inertia of humans is so huge that you can't really do anything meaningful."
One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is "modern democracy", he added. "Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while."

Melting steel with sunlight [video]

Melting steel with sunlight [video] ""

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Toshiba and Bill Gates-backed TerraPower discussing small-scale nuclear reactors

Toshiba and Bill Gates-backed TerraPower discussing small-scale nuclear reactors -- Engadget

It would seem that Toshiba hasn't given up on its dream of producing a nuclear reactor for the home, and its latest potential partner counts quite the big name among its backers. Run by a former Microsoft exec and partially funded by Bill Gates himself, TerraPower is said to have opened preliminary discussions with Toshiba regarding a possible joint venture between the two companies. The aim is, predictably, to make safer, smaller, more socially acceptable, and just plain better reactors. TerraPower boasts its tech can run without refueling for up to 60 years on depleted uranium and Bill Gates has gotten enthusiastic enough about the whole thing to give a 30-minute talk on the matter.

Monday, March 15, 2010

MIT researchers discover new energy source

MIT researchers discover new energy source -

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered an energy source that you can see only through a microscope.

The researchers devised a process for generating electricity using nanotechnology. They plan to refine the process in hopes of creating a new environmentally friendly battery, among other products.

It works like this: Researchers used tiny wires, known as carbon nanotubes, to create a powerful wave of energy. After coating these tiny wires with a layer of fuel, Strano said his team generated a so-called thermopower wave and stumbled across a reaction that may eventually be used to power electronics, computers and cell phones.

"This could lead to batteries that are up to 10 times smaller and still have the same power output. In the portable energy and energy conservation arena, we're trying to find power sources that have a smaller profile but hold more energy,"

And that's not all. Most batteries on the market now are made from highly toxic heavy metals, which are very bad for the environment -- metals like lead, nickel and cadmium.
Batteries made from this new thermopower technology would be completely nontoxic, Strano said.

"The materials we use to make these thermopower waves are organic. They're not grown naturally, but they're made of carbon. In other words, you could essentially incinerate them, or they would degrade over time, there's no heavy metal residue," Strano said.
"Most people don't realize a battery sitting unused in your laptop is leaking its power away," Strano said. "If you take all the laptop batteries that are produced in one year, in the off state, they're leaking an amount of power during that year that we could store in a small nuclear reactor ... and that's power that's essentially lost and dissipated just from laptop batteries."

Friday, March 12, 2010

MIT analysis suggests generating electricity from large-scale wind farms could influence climate

MIT analysis suggests generating electricity from large-scale wind farms could influence climate

But a new MIT analysis may serve to temper enthusiasm about wind power, at least at very large scales. Ron Prinn, TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science, and principal research scientist Chien Wang of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, used a climate model to analyze the effects of millions of wind turbines that would need to be installed across vast stretches of land and ocean to generate wind power on a global scale. Such a massive deployment could indeed impact the climate, they found, though not necessarily with the desired outcome.

In a paper published online Feb. 22 in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, Wang and Prinn suggest that using wind turbines to meet 10 percent of global energy demand in 2100 could cause temperatures to rise by one degree Celsius in the regions on land where the wind farms are installed, including a smaller increase in areas beyond those regions. Their analysis indicates the opposite result for wind turbines installed in water: a drop in temperatures by one degree Celsius over those regions. The researchers also suggest that the intermittency of wind power could require significant and costly backup options, such as natural gas-fired power plants.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New Charging Method Could Slash Battery Recharge Times

New Charging Method Could Slash Battery Recharge Times

One of the biggest problems with batteries is the time it takes to recharge them. Run out of juice and it'll be several hours before you're mobile again, a particular showstopper for electric vehicles.

Today, Ibrahim Abou Hamad at Mississippi State University and few buddies reveal an entirely new technique for charging lithium ion batteries that could lead to exponential improvements in charging time.

The business end of a lithium battery, the anode, consists of a graphite electrode, in other words a stack of graphene sheets, bathed in an electrolyte of ethylene carbonate and propylene carbonate molecules through which lithium and hexafluorophosphate ions diffuse. During charging, an electric field pushes the lithium ions towards and into the graphene sheets, where they have to cross a potential barrier to become embedded and stored, a process called intercalation.

The Mississippi team have studied the movement of these ions and molecules by creating a computer model of the forces acting on them. Their model consists of 160 carbon atoms arranged in 4 graphene sheets, 69 propylene carbonate and 87 ethylene carbonate molecules forming a liquid electrolyte and finally, two hexafluorophosphate ions and10 lithium ions. They then apply an electric field across this system and watch what happens.

It turns out that while the electric field pushes the lithium ions towards the graphene, the rate limiting step is the process of intercalation--the rate at which the lithium ions can cross the potential barrier into the graphene .

What Hamad and co have found is a relatively simple way to overcome this barrier. The trick is to superimpose an oscillating electric field onto the charging field. This has the effect of helping the lithium ions to hop over the barrier.

But get this: the team says there is an exponential relationship between the intercalation time and the oscillating field amplitude. So a small increase in amplitude of the field leads to a massive speed up of the process of intercalation.

"These simulations suggest a new charging method that has the potential to deliver much shorter charging times, as well as the possibility of providing higher power densities," they say.


Battery performance is a complicated balance between huge numbers of competing factors. If this oscillating field does improve charging time in real batteries, manufacturers will then have to check its effect on other performance metrics such as the number of these charging cycles a battery can withstand and how long it holds its charge, to name just two.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Artificial photosynthesis could power your house, even if it's not green (video)

Artificial photosynthesis could power your house, even if it's not green (video) -- Engadget

"It's a sad state of affairs: your lawn is better at converting the sun into energy than that $23k solar array your neighbors just threw on their roof. Sun Catalytix wants to show that grass what's what with a new process for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen -- artificial photosynthesis. In a presentation at the ARPA-E conference (the Advanced Research Projects Agency -- basically DARPA minus the military bent) Sun Catalytix founder Dan Nocera indicates that the process his company is developing could, with a photovoltaic array, four hours of sunlight, and a bottle of water, generate 30 kilowatt-hours of electricity. That's enough to power an average home for a day -- though hardcore gamers will probably need a bit more. The hope is that this will ultimately lead to cheap power for self-sufficient homes in the not-too distant future, but we're still left wondering when that future's going to come."