Posts Tagged ‘alternative energy’


Originally published in a somewhat different form on my Squidoo solar power lens and Sustainability group. Please note that Sam Carana has written a lot about the hydrogen economy, and he covered this same story, but with more technical information about the new science and catalysts, here.

Hydrogen and oxygen gases can be used in fuel cell technology to provide energy to a home, and these gases can be produced by the action of electricity on water. Hydrolysis can also be carried out by the action of sunlight on water, with the help of certain types of solar cells, or photovoltaics. Electrolysis often requires caustic conditions, or high pH (or a lot of electricity is wasted), but the caustic requirements, and most wasted electricity, can be overcome with the use of additional components known as catalysts. The result is that solar energy can be used to power a home during the day by generating electricity, and consumers would have a variety of options to store excess electricity:

Batteries are typically thought of for storage of electricity, but another option is offered by the power of sunlight: energy storage through generation of hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis. Gernation of hydrogen and oxygen under acceptable and convenient conditions has become just more possible with the discovery of a new, breakthrough catalyst for electrolysis:

As described by Mariella Moon of ExtremeTech, “… one catalyst would be responsible for producing oxygen gas from water, while another would produce hydrogen. The hydrogen and oxygen could be recombined in a fuel cell to power the home at night where solar energy isn’t readily available…”

Hydrogen and oxygen would accumulate during the day from excess electricity generating capacity of a solar cell system, and then these gases would serve as the fuel for a fuel cell that would power a house overnight. The byproduct of the fuel cell, water, could then be re-used for water splitting (electrolysis) the next day.

Illustrations of the idea and video from principle scientist D. Nocera of MIT is shown at the GoodCleanTech site, the Green Blog of pcmag.com, as posted by Mariella Moon.

The key to the new catalyst for electrolysis is that, unlike the catalytic converter in your car, it does not require expensive metals like platinum or rhodium, yet it works at atmospheric pressure, room temperature and moderate pH, thus providing hydrogen and oxygen that can feed a fuel cell with minimal environmental impact.

Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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This interesting article from Popular Mechanics examines one possible route the auto industry could take in developing greener transportation options.

Mike Allen’s article says, “With few exceptions, these PHEV engineers and product planners seem to insist on one thing: The prime mover, the onboard engine (or fuel cell, or whatever), has to be powerful enough to move the car whether the batteries are charged or not. That means an engine—gasoline, diesel or E85—of 100 hp or more. That’s not only enough oomph to get to work, but enough power to really drive, chirping the tires at traffic lights, zooming onto freeway entrances and passing lollygaggers on two-lane country roads.

You know what? I think it’s time we re-examined that paradigm.”

Good thought, Mike!  I heartily approve of the sentiment.

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Original text © James K. Bashkin, 2008

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While some may love hearing about sweet rides like the $100K Tesla Roadster, a functional and economical electric car made for the rest of us would be even better. This could be it: the Th!nk City electric car, a four-seater with 110 mile range, top speed of 65 mph, priced under $25,000, and available in the US next year. This sounds like exactly what many people have been asking for. Next year!

The story comes to us from gas 2.0.

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Note added later: I recommend that people read the article by Sam Carana that describes other inexpensive electric car/vehicle manufacturers from around the world and their products, with pictures.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Michael Rose reports via BusinessWire (London) and http://www.greatcarstv.com/news/: “Plug in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are set to bust out of their niche role and become mainstream. Experts believe the global market for PHEVs is poised for expansion, with major vehicle manufacturers pronouncing plans for their production. As issues related to the cost and safety of lithium ion batteries, used in PHEVs, are resolved there are simultaneous efforts underway to boost production volumes and achieve related decrease in costs.”

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What is a plug-in hybrid? It is a car that runs on electricity via a battery that you can charge by plugging into a regular electrical outlet. These cars, being hybrids, also have gas tanks that can be used to power the car and recharge the battery, giving you what some might call the best of all world’s (assuming mass transit, bicycling or walking aren’t options). Best of all would be to burn no liquid fuel, but plug-in hybrids allow us to reach, or closely approach, this ideal in many cases.

What is different about plug-in hybrids? The plug! Current commercial hybrid cars use batteries, but they inconveniently keep a barrier between you and the electric company. You have to burn gasoline (petrol) to charge the battery.

How can you buy a plug-in hybrid? You can buy a hybrid car “off the shelf” and have it converted to a plug-in hybrid. This service is available in the US, the UK and elsewhere. Plug-in hybrids may be available directly from Toyota by 2010. For more information on plug-in hybrid cars, the following sites are very valuable: Plug-in Partners, Plug-in America, Hybrids Plus (a manufacturer of plug-in hybrids in the US). See also the DVD “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, read the book “Plug-in Hybrids: the cars that will recharge America”, and read the blog “plugs and cars”. The site “What Green Car?” provides information about plug-in hybrids for consumers in the U.K.

What are the running costs of plug-in hybrids? Estimates suggest that the transportation costs are equivalent to gasoline at $1.00/gallon.

Don’t forget that purely electric cars and trucks and buses are also available in the US, the UK, and elsewhere. For example, in the US, Tesla Motors, Volt and Phoenix Motor cars offer a range from trucks to sports cars. I wrote a recent, short post on very small and inexpensive electric cars being made for India.

I’d like to hear about other plug-in hybrid and electric car options in the US and around the world, and people’s reaction to (a) the low cost of plug-in hybrids coupled with the security of a gas tank if you need it, vs. (b) purely electric cars, which now have long range driving ability as well as high power (in some cases).

Don’t forget that you can couple electric cars or plug-in hybrids with solar and/or wind powered electric systems for your home or work-place to minimize or eliminate the use of liquid hydrocarbon fuels like gasoline/petrol, ethanol, etc. You can even run your home off your car battery!

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Earth Hour was reported by much of the press, and Associated Press writer CARYN ROUSSEAU published

Cities switch off lights for Earth Hour

which gave summary of world-wide activity and information from the parent Earth Hour organization. You can read the original story at the above link for details, but here are a few highlights and lowlights from Rousseau’s article:

…. In Ireland, where environmentalists are part of the coalition government, lights-out orders went out for scores of government buildings, bridges and monuments in more than a dozen cities and towns.

But the international banks and brokerages of Dublin‘s financial district blazed away with light, illuminating floor after empty floor of desks and idling computers.

… much of Europe — including France, Germany, Spain and European Union institutions — planned nothing to mark Earth Hour. …

Given Germany’s strong stand on clean power implementation, I think that is one place that already has the message, loud and clear. For example, the German city of Marburg has made solar energy systems mandatory on new buildings, and Germany and Spain have collaborated on huge solar panel-based power plants.

The wrap-up from Earth Hour US can be found here.

I think that the event was great for raising awareness and building a sense of community across international borders and locally.

In addition the the great support found in many quarters, there are a lot of cynical comments to be found on the web about Earth Hour. I’ll say this about cynicism- it is just talk, and never achieves anything.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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THE HOUR IS NEAR!

This information came to me by email because I signed up and committed to Earth Hour 2008, which is fast approaching. Since the message emphasizes getting the word out, and since it is written so well, I’ve reproduced a portion of it here. The full message can be found at the Earth Hour newsletter. Earth Hour is an important symbolic and real act of conservation and activism, a demonstration of awareness, a statement of how important the issues of sustainability, energy conservation and energy use are to each of us, and more. Go to the Earth Hour website for information about how entire cities and organizations are participating, worldwide, and how you can join in. The environment is our home, let’s keep working on cleaning it up and protecting it for the future. From the earthhourUS.org newsletter of March 27 (the content in the following indented quote is © Earth Hour):

This is the weekend to take a stand. Earth Hour – this Saturday, March 29 from 8-9 pm local time. You’ll be joining millions of people across the U.S. and around the globe in a monumental call for action on climate change. Here’s a last-minute checklist to help you make the most of the hour:

· Go compact — Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), that is. Come out of Earth Hour with better lighting than before. Changing to energy-efficient lighting is just one step, but it’s a part of Earth Hour we all can do. Identify the bulbs you can replace, then hit the hardware store and stock up. And watch for special free and discounted bulbs in many communities across America.

· Prepare to party — Whether you’re hosting a planet-friendly get-together by lamplight, camping out with the kids or just enjoying some unpowered screen-free “you” time, make sure you’ve got all the supplies you need ready at hand. It’s not too late to invite a few more friends.

· Buzz in the dark — You can often hear electric light bulbs buzzing. This weekend, the big buzz comes when we all turn them off. Tell your friends. The more people know about Earth Hour, the bigger an impact we’ll each make. E-mail your friends, link to Earth Hour on your blog, pass out flyers and stickers or just ask your neighbors, “What are you doing Saturday at 8?”

· Think long-term — Turning out the lights for one hour is a great start, but what will you be doing after March 29? As Saturday approaches, make a plan to go green after Earth Hour. Recycle more, drive less, talk to your elected leaders—whatever you do, make Earth Hour the beginning of a new, greener you!

This is another day to do something for the environment (as is every day!).  I hope you will be able to join us and participate in this historic event.

James K. Bashkin

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Regarding the previous post on “The French Chernobyl”, it has caused some unfortunate confusion. The title of that post was coined by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to refer to the extremely serious PCB contamination of the Rhone river in France. These chemicals are or were used as coolants and insulators for industrial (and some consumer) transformers and capacitors. The massive extent of the pollution and its poisoning of local fish (for human consumption) led to the rather dramatic quote from WWF. This unfortunate situation in France is not a recipe for sustainable development!

Please read the comment on the preceding post from reader rengler and my response, which I also used as the basis for text added at the end of an edited, improved version of the article- I wasn’t clear enough with the first version. Thanks, JKB.


Note:  please see also my Feb 24 post, which clarifies this article a bit more.

“Years of unchecked pollution in France’s Rhone River have taken their toll with the recent discovery of PCB levels 10-12 times the safe limit in the river’s fish.” The World Wildlife fund has called this the “French Chernobyl”. Please read the comments for important clarification.

Given the recent comment about French responses to power and energy needs (with nuclear power) by a reader on this site, and my sense that French policy has been carried out without regard for the environment in some cases, I thought I would add this to the picture of an industrial situation that is seriously dangerous in France. Industrial chemicals used in generators and other electrical equipment have been leaking toxic PCB chemicals into the Rhone river for a long time. The fish are unsafe to eat.

We have plenty of problems with the environment in the USA, resulting from our own companies and from government choices (or abdication of responsibility). I am simply not in favor of energy policies that make environmental problems worse, which is why I do not see nuclear power as a viable answer to our energy needs.

The first version of my blog entry on this story had some inaccuracies, for which I apologize.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Clarification from my response to the comment by rengler:

As I mentioned, the term “French Cherbonyl” came from the WWF, and I was merely reporting this.

My point in the first place was to respond with more information to a previous comment by a reader, where a laundry list of countries that handle energy in supposedly better ways than we do in the US was presented. One example was how the French use nuclear power. I objected that these countries are often ruining their own environments with these approaches. I also mentioned that the French have to use the army to force construction of nuclear plants and transportation of waste through their own country.

The article cited in this post was meant to be an example of how French environmental policy is not necessarily something to hold up as a shining example, while at the same time trying to point out that this can be said for US practices and policies (which aren’t necessarily in agreement, as my reports of the need to sue the Federal government to obey Federal law and Federal court rulings indicate, for example in the case of pesticide use affecting Northwest salmon).

The use of PCBs is not linked to nuclear power, as you state: it is linked in a nonessential way to a wide range of cooling and insulating applications in electrical transformers, capacitors and other industrial electrical equipment, as you well know. People who want to read more on the subject can look at this summary sheet: http://www.fisherenvironmental.com/faq_pcb.html

I certainly agree that the term “French Chernobyl” is hyperbole, for the reasons you state. This in itself underscores the insidious dangers of nuclear power, dangers which can’t be equaled by even the worst industrial disasters from other industries.

…Thanks for helping to clarify things so effectively.

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As reported in the New York Times on Feb 8, 2008 and discussed by Douglas Schiller at AlternativeEnergy.com, two studies have reached the conclusion given in the title. US demand for biofuels from food sources is driving up food prices throughout the world.

A key distinction here is “from food”. We may still have the option of using waste cooking vegetable oil and other waste products to produce biofuels (for example, to make biodiesel) without harming food prices or the environment. Solutions to the problems that do not require liquid fuels, including electric cars, are looking like the best answer over the long term, however.

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For another (better) overview of the reports that were released yesterday from a number of Universities and The Nature Conservancy, see here.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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