Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

In a Choice Election on Energy, Voters Favoring Obama

Posted: 25 Aug 2012 01:09 PM PDT

As the presidential campaign enters its home stretch and voters start making up their minds based on each candidate's policy positions, 2012 is becoming a clear choice election on energy issues. And on energy, Americans heavily favor Barack Obama and clean energy technology.

This shift away from a fossil-fueled future is highlighted by a new USA Today/Gallup poll that finds Obama leading Mitt Romney by 13 points on energy issues. Respondents were asked which candidate they thought was better equipped to handle energy, and Obama received 53 percent of support, compared to just 40 percent for Romney.

The poll was conducted in the days immediately before Romney unveiled his plan to create American energy independence by 2020 by expanding oil drilling, approving the Keystone XL pipeline, loosening environmental regulations, and encouraging states to control energy production like fracking within their borders.

Shockingly, it was first teased at a fundraiser where Romney raised millions from oil company executives. Even more shockingly, his plan mentions climate change zero times while mentioning oil 154 times. Energy analysts have already called Romney's plan unrealistic and his goal "almost impossible to reach."

While Obama has encouraged the production of oil and gas resources, his overall platform couldn't be more different. In the first four years of the Obama presidency, major investments have been made in renewable electricity, energy efficiency, electric and hybrid vehicles, and smart grid technology. These actions have doubled the amount of energy generated by renewables in the U.S. since 2008, and contributed to 3.1 million green jobs – compared to 780,000 in oil, gas, and coal.

Additionally, Obama wants to extend the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), a 2.2 cent credit paid to wind producers for every kilowatt-hour of electricity they produce. The PTC has generated around $1 billion in annual revenue for wind farms and, if extended, is forecast to create 54,000 new green jobs. Romney has said he would let the PTC expire, a move expected to cost the economy 37,000 jobs. Uncertainty over the PTC has already led to layoffs within the industry, and considering fossil fuel subsidies are roughly ten times renewable subsidies, killing the PTC while maintaining oil tax breaks doesn’t seem to make much economic sense.

But beyond energy technology, a clear choice exists on environmental and climate change issues. A new election guide from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions shows voters have a clear choice in 2012 – energy policy based on finite fossil fuels with no regard for climate change, or energy policy that supports renewable energy while reducing emissions.

This isn't to say Obama's energy and environmental record is ideal in every way – it’s not. In a perfect world, he could have pushed harder for cap-and-trade policy in 2008, clearly opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, or prevented new oil, gas, and coal leases. But a Romney administration would mean significant steps backward on climate, renewables, and clean tech.

I'm not ecstatic over Obama's record, but with the world well past 350 ppm carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we're out of time to stop progress toward a clean energy future. I'm an energy and climate voter, and on these issues, he's got my vote. From the looks of polling, it seems like he's got a lot of other energy-issue votes too.

Northrop Grumman’s LEMV BLIMP Takes Flight at Lakehurst, NJ (Videos)

Posted: 25 Aug 2012 03:56 AM PDT

The Long Endurance Multi-IntelligenceVehicle (LEMV) has been an elusive ISR goal for the Department of Defense through numerous false starts and half-completed contracts, but on August 7th at 6:49 pm EST a new LEMV hybrid blimp first took to the air at Lakehurst Navel air station in NJ.

The vehicle, longer than a football field, is based upon a design by Hybrid Air Vehicles, LTD, and developed by Northrop Grumman. Many new considerations have come into the design of this airship, but there are some old myths to be dispelled as well.

Spy Video of the Spy Blimp?

This is not actually an oxymoron — in military use, the blimp will be flown so high that it is unlikely to be easily noticed and can be outfitted for a minimal radar signature.

Isn’t There a Danger of it Exploding in a War-zone?

While the vehicle does presently carry fuel and use conventional engines, the lifting gas is inert Helium and not the flammable Hydrogen that was used in the Hindenburg that infamously met its demise in 1937 at the same Lakehurst Air Station in NJ.

The video in the Hindenburg link above mentions the difficulty that craft had in landing, which this design addresses. Some question the effect of bullets on an airship, but experience with the Goodyear blimp shows that they get many bullet-holes in the gas bags, but because the pressure is only slightly higher than atmospheric pressure (just enough to give it shape) and the volume is so great, the effect of the leaks is minimal.

How Does This Airship Get Its Lifting Power?

It is a common misconception that the airship is just “lighter than air” and, thus, floats (aerostatic lift). The classic cigar-shaped blimps and zeppelins only derive about 90% of their buoyancy from the lifting gas (hydrogen, helium, or hot air).

The balance is provided by forward movement (aerodynamic lift). This is the same benefit of attack angle that airplanes use as they fly through the air. The combination makes it possible to land the craft, but instability in winds is an issue. The new airship uses the lifting gas for only about 60% of its lift. You can notice in the video that the airship is angled up first and then moved forward as it rises in the air.

Other Stability Factors: “Vectored Thrust”

Vectored thrust,” the ability to direct the thrust in more than one way, included in the design, allows the craft to be pushed vertically or, when properly outfitted, sucked to the ground like the reverse of a hovercraft. It is vectored thrust which allows the airship to first angle up before taking off in the above video. The total combination of lifting options make this vehicle a “hybrid” and causes it to be more stable in the air and for landings.

The skirts along the bottom of the craft can aid in holding the craft to the ground. The potential to suck the vehicle to the ground could reduce or, in some cases, eliminate the need for a ground crew. Here is the LEMV take off:

The Ground Crew

No complex vehicle operates independently. Maintenance, fueling, and, for most airships, landings and takeoffs require an infrastructure. One thing to notice in the video is the lack of a fixed mooring mast that was so common in the “heyday” of dirigibles.

It is generally a good idea to tie an aircraft down when it is not being used for flight, and this may be even more important for airships. So important was the mooring tower that when the height of the Empire State building was increased, incorporating a mast for dirigibles was cited as the reason (although impractical and never used for that purpose). Mobile mooring platforms were developed and this is what might be seen moving away from the craft in the above take off video. Eventually, little or no ground crew will be required to land the craft. Here is some of an all-important, but less glamorous, landing:

The Economical Airship

DOD efforts to strategically economize its use of petroleum have come under fire recently in Congress by oil-soaked politicians. The airship represents another element of that toolbox. Although there have been calls to use airships for cargo, and the craft could carry 7 tons up to 2400 miles at a top speed of 30 mph, it would take more than 3 days.

Fixed-wing aircraft use less fuel in flight. It is the takeoffs and landings that are most inefficient. Therefore, for long-distance cargo, fixed-wing seems to be the way to go. But for shorter cargo flights of up to 800 miles, airships can be very economical. They also will not require a prepared landing area.

But where the economics really show up for the LEMV is as a surveillance platform.


Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR)

Although, for crossing civilian airspace, the vehicle must have a flight crew — for up to three weeks, the vehicle can act as a UAV and remain airborne with the operation controlled from the ground. It has been described as an “unblinking eye.” But at the right height, this “eye” commands not only a wide view with a huge radar antenna, but can incorporate imaging equipment usually relegated to spy satellites or many separate drone flights. The cost is conservatively estimated at 1/10th the price of alternative options. It also fills a special niche. It is not so easy to pull a satellite in for repairs or for an upgrade to the latest technology, and drones don’t stay up for more than about 12 hours.

An Intelligence Failure

Unfortunately, there is a risk to continued funding of cost saving measures like the LEMV. The potential for fuel savings is huge, but the project has been delayed by a lack of funding. Such cost-saving measures have ironically been attacked by the same Congressional members that advocate a balanced budget and have classically favored military spending. It seems that it is OK to save money as long as it is not oil money. No matter who wins the upcoming election, Congress continues to hold the purse strings, and oil lobbying efforts seem to control at least some members of Congress.

For further reading see also:

Photo Credit: Northrop Gruman

Much Faster EV (& Consumer Electronic) Charging from Graphene Intentionally Engineered with Defects

Posted: 25 Aug 2012 03:36 AM PDT

In an effort to solve a problem in rechargeable lithium (Li)-ion batteries that prevents them from quickly accepting or discharging energy, engineering researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute intentionally engineered defects in a sheet of graphene, resulting in a graphene anode material that can be charged or discharged 10 times faster than conventional anodes used in current li-ion batteries.

"Li-ion battery technology is magnificent, but truly hampered by its limited power density and its inability to quickly accept or discharge large amounts of energy. By using our defect-engineered graphene paper in the battery architecture, I think we can help overcome this limitation," said Nikhail Koratkar, the John A. Clark and Edward T. Crossan Professor of Engineering at Rensselaer.

"We believe this discovery is ripe for commercialization, and can make a significant impact on the development of new batteries and electrical systems for electric automobiles and portable electronics applications."

According to Rensselaer:

“Rechargeable Li-ion batteries are the industry standard for mobile phones, laptop and tablet computers, electric cars, and a range of other devices. While Li-ion batteries have a high energy density and can store large amounts of energy, they suffer from a low power density and are unable to quickly accept or discharge energy. This low power density is why it takes about an hour to charge your mobile phone or laptop battery, and why electric automobile engines cannot rely on batteries alone and require a supercapacitor for high-power functions such as acceleration and braking.”

Koratkar and his team made a sheet of paper from the world’s thinnest material, graphene, which is essentially a single layer of the graphite found commonly in our pencils or the charcoal burnt on barbeques, and then zapped the paper with a laser or camera flash to blemish it.

The research team believe their new battery is a critical stepping stone on the path to realising the goal of simpler, better-performing automotive engines based solely on high-energy, high-power Li-ion batteries.

The process behind the creation of the battery is explained by Rensselaer below:

“In previous studies, Li-ion batteries with graphite anodes exhibited good energy density but low power density, meaning they could not charge or discharge quickly. This slow charging and discharging was because lithium ions could only physically enter or exit the battery's graphite anode from the edges, and slowly work their way across the length of the individual layers of graphene.

“Koratkar's solution was to use a known technique to create a large sheet of graphene oxide paper. This paper is about the thickness of a piece of everyday printer paper, and can be made nearly any size or shape. The research team then exposed some of the graphene oxide paper to a laser, and other samples of the paper were exposed to a simple flash from a digital camera. In both instances, the heat from the laser or photoflash literally caused mini-explosions throughout the paper, as the oxygen atoms in graphene oxide were violently expelled from the structure. The aftermath of this oxygen exodus was sheets of graphene pockmarked with countless cracks, pores, voids, and other blemishes. The pressure created by the escaping oxygen also prompted the graphene paper to expand five-fold in thickness, creating large voids between the individual graphene sheets.

The researchers quickly learned this damaged graphene paper performed remarkably well as an anode for a Li-ion battery. Whereas before the lithium ions slowly traversed the full length of graphene sheets to charge or discharge, the ions now used the cracks and pores as shortcuts to move quickly into or out of the graphene—greatly increasing the battery's overall power density. Koratkar's team demonstrated how their experimental anode material could charge or discharge 10 times faster than conventional anodes in Li-ion batteries without incurring a significant loss in its energy density. Despite the countless microscale pores, cracks, and voids that are ubiquitous throughout the structure, the graphene paper anode is remarkably robust, and continued to perform successfully even after more than 1,000 charge/discharge cycles. The high electrical conductivity of the graphene sheets also enabled efficient electron transport in the anode, which is another necessary property for high-power applications.

“Koratkar said the process of making these new graphene paper anodes for Li-ion batteries can easily be scaled up to suit the needs of industry. The graphene paper can be made in essentially any size and shape, and the photo-thermal exposure by laser or camera flashes is an easy and inexpensive process to replicate. The researchers have filed for patent protection for their discovery. The next step for this research project is to pair the graphene anode material with a high-power cathode material to construct a full battery.”

Source: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

POD Point Offering Free Home Charging Units

Posted: 25 Aug 2012 03:27 AM PDT

Leading UK electric vehicle charging company POD Point is offering free home charging units to electric and hybrid vehicle owners throughout East Anglia and the East and West Midands.

A fully installed charge point normally costs approximately £1,000, but working in tandem with the UK Department of Transport’s existing plugged-in-places scheme, which subsidizes the installation of a charge point and a portion of the device itself, POD Point is now offering to pay the balance of the machine for cars registered to two selected charge schemes in the region; Source East and Plugged-in Midlands.

The POD Point charge point on offer is the Solo 2, the latest smart-communicating charge point that comes with a GPRS, allowing two way communication between the charge point and an online account. Such connectivity allows users to monitor how much energy they are using, remotely lock the charge point, or even set charging schedules from a laptop, PC, or mobile phone.

The POD Point charge points are available to electric or plug-in vehicle owners in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Essex, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Telford & Wrekin, Warwickshire, West Midlands, and Worcestershire.

Source: POD Point

Suntech Introduces 300-Watt Solar Panel for Americas

Posted: 25 Aug 2012 03:10 AM PDT

Suntech Holdings, which is the world’s largest solar panel manufacturer, now offers a 300-watt (0.3 kW) solar panel for utility-scale power plants (power plants that are usually upwards of tens of millions of watts), as well as commercial-scale solar power projects (powering office buildings is an example of commercial use). The solar panel is available in North and South American markets.

Suntech’s new 300W Solar Module for Americas.

The new module is called the Ve-series, and it consists of 72 solar cells and has a 15.5% module efficiency. The frame design was said to have improved. It also received 1000V (volt) certification from UL (Underwriters Laboratories), which is a very established safety certification organization.

The improved module design is actually 10mm thinner and 2.6 pounds lighter than the older 50mm modules. These weight reductions reduce shipping costs considerably. The thinner module design will also reduce handling, packaging, and storage costs.

The module is certified to withstand wind-induced forces of 3,800 pascals (Pa, or 3.8 kPa) (equivalent to a wind speed of 176 mph), and snow-induced stress of 5,800 pascals.

With the UL1000V certification, Suntech’s 300W modules can be safely connected in longer string series than allowed by the earlier 600V industry standard.

A pallet of the new Ve-series modules produces 19% more power than a pallet of it’s previous modules. Like Suntech’s entire U.S. product portfolio, the new 300W Ve-Series product will not be subject to the recent U.S. import tariffs imposed on solar cells produced in China.

Source: Suntech
Photo Credit: PR Newswire

Fuel Made from Plastic Waste Powers Plane Flight

Posted: 25 Aug 2012 02:57 AM PDT

A British adventurer is going to use fuel made from plastic waste to power his 10,000-mile flight from Sydney, Australia to London, England. Former aerobatics and Flying Doctors pilot Jeremy Rowsell plans to make stops at Darwin, Christmas Island, Sri Lanka, Oman, Jordan, and Malta, before touching down in London, six days after taking off.

The diesel engine Cessna 182  will run on fuel developed by Irish company Cyna Plc, which melts down waste plastics in an oxygen free environment (a process known as pyrolysis) to create a petroleum distillate-like product that can be separated into different fuels.

Jeremy Rowsell and his plane.

Cynar say that this technique releases absolutely no emissions and the end product is cleaner than conventional diesel and of a higher quality, with those few plastics that cannot be used in the conversion process being used to make floor coverings.

This type of fuel has been tested in cars, but this will be the first time that it is used in an aircraft. To power the flight’s required 400 litres, approximately 5 tonnes of plastic waste is required.

There have been numerous claims for years now from critics suggesting that there is not enough waste to build a viable aviation fuel industry. Cynar chief executive Michael Murray reminded BusinessGreen in an interview of the masses of plastics already polluting our environment, piling up in landfills, and the continued and increasing consumer demand.

“There’s 26 million tonnes [of plastics] in the US going into landfill each year and 15 million in Europe,” he said. “I think [the fuel] can be a viable alternative if the industry adopts diesel-type engines. It’ll need testing and trials, but for a diesel engine not going beyond 8,000 feet, it should be fine.”

Roswell noted in a statement that the flight, likely to take place some time in November, would shed light on an issue the industry needs to tackle.

“Flying is critical to the economy, vital for saving lives and is the best way to experience the planet we live on,” he added in a statement. “We can’t stop flying, but how can we do that and do it sustainably?

“Our objective is to prove that this synthetic fuel made from plastic waste is viable for a number of practical solutions and by doing so replace the need to use fossil fuels from conventional sources.”

Source: BusinessGreen
Image Source: AtAltitude

Solar Pocket Factory Aims to Make Small-Scale Solar Widely Available

Posted: 24 Aug 2012 01:54 PM PDT

A new startup, The Solar Pocket Factory, is aiming to create a small, automated machine that can create microsolar panels to be used for a variety of different purposes, charging cell phones, computers, and battery packs for starters. The inventors hope it expands far beyond that, though.

Essentially the inventors are hoping for it to become the first crowd-sourced breakthrough in renewable energy.


“Inventors Shawn Frayne and Alex Hornstein have started a Kickstarter campaign for the Solar Pocket Factory, not just to ramp up production of this cool machine, but to improve the quality of small-scale solar panels, lower their cost and to expand their reach to people across the globe.”

When beginning this project, they found that around 50% of the cost of a microsolar panel is in its assembly, everything has to be made by hand and many of the panels end up being flawed and thrown out because of bad soldering. The materials used also tend to be cheap, and likely to fail within a few years “as UV from the sun breaks down the cheap plastic that coats the panels, even though the silicon cells trapped inside can easily work for twenty-five years.”

The partners decided that if they could automate the production and testing, they could save around 25% of the cost of a panel. This would also greatly cut down on the numbers thrown away because of defective soldering. Those savings could be put into use by using higher-quality materials, improving the lifespan and efficiency of the panels. “As an end result, we could make microsolar panels about 30% cheaper than the existing panels and make them last five times longer in the sun.”

Another very important part of their project is to make the machine similar to a 3D printer, making manufacturing a more open-ended process where designs are open source and available to anyone. The inventors have already created instructions on how to make your own solar-powered cell phone charger and other projects.

“As a reward for giving to the Kickstarter campaign, donors can receive a Solar Pocket Kit, Solar Explorer Kit or Solar Cell Phone Charger Kit depending on the level of donation that include all the materials you need to start a solar power system.”

The inventors are trying to reach their goal of $50,000 raised by September 14.

Source: TreeHugger
Images via Kickstarter

Battery-Swapping Electric Vehicle Sets 24-Hour Record: 1,170 Miles

Posted: 24 Aug 2012 01:22 PM PDT

A new record has been set for the longest distance covered by a battery-swapping electric vehicle in 24-hours, 1,170 miles. That’s pretty impressive for an electric car, and makes a good argument for battery swapping as a good solution to the challenge of EV charging.


The record was done by going fifteen-and-a-half times around a 75.6-mile loop on public roads between Port Melbourne and Geelong, in Victoria, Australia, in a Holden Commodore EV developed by EV Engineering.

EV Engineering calls itself a "a consortium of Australian automotive suppliers and industry participants that has designed and built seven proof-of-concept electric Holden Commodores. Holden is the GM subsidiary in Australia. The Commodore had a run of 15 consecutive years as Australia's best-selling automobile model that was broken just last year.”


The main contributor to the record-breaking drive was in the use of battery swapping. Using an EV that is designed for the procedure, the battery can be switched in a couple of minutes, having its drained battery replaced quickly with a charged one. Even using the fastest available charging stations, it can take up to 30 minutes to receive a full charge.

The downside of a swapping station, though, is that it’s a considerably more expensive investment — it costs around $500,000, while a fast-charging station is between $25,000 and $40,000.

"When we began the project to develop a proof-of-concept electric Commodore, it was critical that we incorporate ground-breaking battery switch technology," Ian McCleave, CEO of EV Engineering, said in a statement. "That's what got us across the line. We were able to quickly switch our depleted battery for a fully charged one, so we didn't have to park and plug in in order to recharge. We were able to just drive, switch, and keep going."

Source: GreenTechGrid
Image Credits: EV Engineering

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