Monthly Archives: March 2010

New Design Strategy for the Artificial Leaf

March 30th, 2010

Scientists are quite optimistic that hydrogen will emerge as the fuel of the future and the world would be driven by ‘hydrogen economy’. The only byproduct of hydrogen fuel is water vapor. By using hydrogen fuel we can reduce the harmful effects of greenhouse gases. Currently many research labs are engaged in duplicating the phenomenon of photosynthesis to produce hydrogen fuel. What fascinates the scientists is the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen by using solar energy. A vast majority of scientists all over the world believe that we can get rid of our dependence on fossil fuels by breaking water into its components. Even some automobile companies such as Toyota are promoting hydrogen fueled cars. But till now the use of hydrogen as fuel is not cost effective. That is why we are still waiting for the ‘hydrogen economy’ to arrive.

Scientists are trying to develop a design that would be an artificial leaf but its function would be almost similar to natural leaf. Like a real leaf, the lab designed leaf too utilizes solar energy and water to produce hydrogen. In biology this process performed by green leaves is known as photosynthesis. Their methodology would take inspiration from chemistry and biology of natural leaves.

The above mentioned project is being carried out at State Key Lab of Matrix Composites at Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai, China. Tongxiang Fan, Ph.D. states, “This concept may provide a new vista for the design of artificial photosynthetic systems based on biological paradigms and build a working prototype to exploit sustainable energy resources.” His other team members are Di Zhang, Ph.D. and Han Zhou, also a Ph.D. They are preparing to attend the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in San Francisco. It is one of the prestigious and largest scientific meet of 2010. In this meeting more than 12,000 scientific reports will be presented.

Fan and his co-workers decided to duplicate the natural design and development of a blueprint for artificial leaf like structures. They christened their creation as the “Artificial Inorganic Leaf” (AIL). They also used titanium dioxide (TiO2), as a photocatalyst for hydrogen production.

Researchers used the native plant of China, known as Anemone vitifolia for their experiments. They infiltrated the leaves of Anemone vitifolia with titanium dioxide in a two step process. They depended on advanced spectroscopic techniques to confirm the exact structural features in the leaf. These structural features helps in trapping the light energy of the sun. They replicated the same features in new TiO2 structure. It is found that the AIL are eight times more active for hydrogen production than TiO2. But it is true only when AIL has not been “biotemplated” in that fashion. Another plus point in favor of AILs is their activity is three times more in comparison with commercial photo-catalysts. The researchers also inserted the nanoparticles of platinum. It is a known fact that platinum along with the nitrogen increases the artificial leaves by an additional factor of ten.

Fan also articulated the fact that why his team’s artificial Inorganic Leaf production and its spectroscopic work are better than the existing ones. According to Fan the activity of AILs are significantly higher than those prepared with classic routes. Fan credits the better outcomes due to the hierarchical structures derived from natural leaves:

“Our results may represent an important first step towards the design of novel artificial solar energy transduction systems based on natural paradigms, particularly based on exploring and mimicking the structural design. Nature still has much to teach us, and human ingenuity can modify the principles of natural systems for enhanced utility.”


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Tesla Roadster, The First Electric Car That Wins A Race

Tesla Roadster, The First Electric Car That Wins A Race
Published on 30 March 2010 by Marius Maria in Electric, SuperCars, Tesla

Tesla Roadster has managed to win the Monte Carlo Alternative Energy, after defeating alternative fuel powered vehicles or electric.

Tesla Roadster, the first electric series sports model begins to be known and recognized in the FIA competitions also. Although it seems hard to believe, the model with an autonomy of only 200 miles won their first competition at the Alternative Energy Monte Carlo Rally.

The supercar won against competitors who ran all powered by alternative fuels or electric energy. Tesla Roadster succeeds as the first electric model to win a competition homologated by FIA.

To lift the trophy, Tesla had to go through nearly 620 miles during three days, tailored distance on freeways, mountain roads, through cities and on the Formula 1 circuit in Monte Carlo.The supercar which accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in just 3.9 seconds, was led to success by the former Formula 1 pilot, Eric Comas.

Many where surprised when, at the end of the three days competition the roadster could boast by only 25 euros spent on recharging.

With a new engine on which Americans say is more powerful but more efficient, Tesla Roadster will certainly be a compulsory acquisition for American celebrities eager to show their support for environmental protection. Carbon fiber used without stinginess and the fine leather will delight the eyes of the new owners.

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The Best Luxury Eco-Hotels on the Planet by Jill Starley-Grainger

The Best Luxury Eco-Hotels on the Planet
by Jill Starley-Grainger

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Addressing Climate Change: What Scientists Say About Solutions

The Huffington Post
Mary Ellen Harte and John Harte
Mary Ellen is a biologist; John Harte is an ecologist.
Posted: March 20, 2010 02:13 PM

Addressing Climate Change: What Scientists Say About Solutions

According to a recent Huffington Post blog by Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson of Public Agenda, scientists present the facts surrounding the causes and consequences of climate change, but do nothing towards assessing and offering solutions.

Ah, so true for so many – but why expect scientists to excel in policy, anymore than we expect politicians or economists to excel in science?

Yet, increasingly, our society needs more people who have a firm comprehension of all these areas, since science is increasingly integral to the formation of governmental and economic policy in many areas, including climate change. There are a few multi-disciplinary graduate programs that do provide such an education, but not nearly enough. This is seen in the increasing, yearly number of excellent applicants that must be turned away from these programs due to lack of facilities — programs, such as the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California at Berkeley. (Full disclosure: One of us is a faculty member in that program.) Our country needs to devote far more resources to providing students with the insights and skill sets of both the natural and social sciences.

In the meantime, there are some scientists who have done exactly what Bittle and Johnson call for, so the more compelling question becomes: why haven’t their views been widely disseminated? Our society now suffers from an exploding fire hydrant of unfiltered information, thanks to the net and other proliferating media pathways, that have people drowning as they try to sort through it all.

Why is there so much unfiltered information? Partly because some reporters and their editors who, in the interests of trying to appear unbiased, report the patently absurd (some scientists make mistakes, so global warming is a hoax) right alongside the serious (the overwhelming amount of evidence indicates that global warming is real, despite the mistakes that some scientists make), or are not capable of distinguishing between the two. Partly, it is due to some economic powers with strong interests in perpetuating our energy economy the way it is (think fossil fuel industries, for example). They can bankroll a pretty big publicity campaign to mislead the public, as spelled out in the forthcoming book by Naomi Oreskes, Merchants of Doubt. They mislead through distraction, or smearing good scientists and/or good science.

In such a climate, it’s no wonder much of the public throws up its hands wondering what to do. The days of Albert Einstein being the national scientific idol are long gone, because we no longer have the context in which to support one, amidst the flood of unfiltered information and accusations.

So what do scientists say about solutions? Jim Hansen, the most prominent US government climate scientist, favors a carbon tax. Our personal bias is spelled out in the book that we provide only as a free download online, Cool The Earth, Save the Economy. (Full disclosure: Yes, we did write it. But the answer to Bittle and Johnson’s question necessarily involves self-promotion. We have not derived, nor will derive, any profits from the book in its current form (nor do we plan to do so). The book does exactly what Bittle and Johnson call for: it assesses available solutions, and outlines a policy in terms of practicalities, like cost and political acceptability. And it includes the three suggestions offered by Bittle and Johnson: it connects the energy crisis and climate change, it does not ignore the economics, and we present the information credibly as experienced educators — although, as noted above, credibility is a perishable commodity in a world of unfiltered information and accusations. People will have to judge for themselves if the book and its plan reflect common sense. Many have told us that it does.

Our overarching economic energy policy does not include cap and trade or a tax on carbon, but rather, suggests that the US implements both sticks, such as regulations, and carrots — market incentives such as 1) a tax break on the profits of those who sell truly clean energy and energy efficiency products; and 2) shifting energy subsidies from fossil fuels to truly clean, renewable energy sources. Let the market pick the winners. Make clean energy and energy efficiency cheaper rather than punishing users of fossil fuels with higher costs. President Obama has started to do some of these things.

We suggest that everyone, including Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson, read the book. And look over our archive of Huffington Post blogs addressing climate change.

And spread the word.

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Biofuel from Algae

Living a Green Life

Algae is the fastest growing plant life, and as an organism it converts sunlight into oil, scientists theorize that Algal biofuel can produce a whopping 30 times more energy per acre than any other biofuel option. The US Department of Energy has estimated that if Algal Biofuel replaced all conventional fuel in the country, it would require 15000 square miles of land to harvest the algae… which is roughly one seventh of the area that is used to harvest corn in the US every year. And a diverse group of byproducts, such as neutraceuticals and feedstocks for producing plastics, can be created in algal biofuel operations, making the production more cost effective. But before we start celebrating the great biofuel solution we’ve been looking for, there are a few problems… the biomass for producing a significant amount of algal biofuel just doesn’t exist yet. The algae has to be grown from scratch and harvesting it is very expensive at this point in time. The potential of Algal Biofuel is staggering… but the problem is that, as of now, it’s all just potential. It might be years before the technology catches up to make producing algal biofuel on a large scale possible… but when that time comes, we might be able to finally celebrate a more efficient, renewable, and environmentally friendly energy source. For more information on this exciting and developing technology, check out algalbiomass.Org. I’m Elizabeth Chambers. Check back here for more eco friendly news and tips …

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Extraordinary New Green Energy Innovations

Extraordinary New Green Energy Innovations

Americans want clean energy, that’s been confirmed by many polls conducted to ascertain whether people support green, renewable energy.

And though the economy has to some extent slowed progress in the world of renewable energy, there are still many amazing green energy innovations popping up across the globe as both artists and engineers play with how to create energy sustainably. Here are a few examples.

1. Cross-wind Bridge

By far one of the most interesting bridges you’ll ever see, the cross-wind bridge developed by designers Tiago Barros + Jorge Pereira and their team harnesses wind energy from passing cars.

As drivers pass under the bridge, they help to increase the wind velocity within the bridge, which in turn helps to rotate the 2,188 lightweight panels that generate energy and send it through an electromagnetic band. The energy is then used to light up the bridge at night, providing illumination in the local community.

Located in Lisbon, the bridge also houses a pedestrian and cycling bridge that connects people to the nearby residential park. To add to the green credibility of this design, the structure is made of punctured cladding that is sourced from recycled steel from the auto industry.

2. Invisible Streetlight

Modeled after tree branches and leaves, the Invisible Streetlight, which was presented at the International Design Excellence Awards, brings solar-powered illumination and beauty together. Collecting solar energy throughout the day, these lights then provide soft, elegant light throughout the night.

Intertwined with branches of existing trees, these lights also minimize the resources needed to construct them (although one has to ask about the risk of theft). They not only enhance the scenic beauty of a local park or sidewalk, they make it safer without contributing to climate change.

3. Solar Curtain Walls and Blights

Konarka, one of the leading manufacturers of printable solar cells, has recently announced a pilot project to test the viability of solar curtain walls. Although perhaps less dramatic than the other two renewable energy systems on offer here, when applied to surfaces as ubiquitous as windows and walls, the potential to create energy on virtually any building goes through the roof.

Their Power Plastic is extremely flexible and versatile, making it possible to apply solar energy generators to a wide variety of surfaces—everything from sun shades to bags to vehicle surfaces. The technology could also make renewable energy much more affordable for the average consumer and transferable to developing nations, too.

4. Blights

The Power Plastic technology is not unlike that used on these highly practical Blights (think blind + light). Providing both protection from solar heat gain (important for areas that face higher air conditioning bills due to hot weather) and surfaces through which to generate renewable energy, the Blights are another example of bringing the extraordinary into real life.

They can be adjusted throughout the day to obtain maximum solar collection and shielding from solar glare. Applicable for really any window—in homes, offices, and industrial facilities alike—they provide convenient solar energy.

5. Solar Impulse

Putting a new spin on sustainable travel, Solar Impulse is working on a solar airplane that could potentially be used for taxiing people and other transport purposes. They’re attempting to go around the world in the Solar Impulse.

6. Solar Highway

The world’s first Solar Highway project opened in Oregon to rave reviews. Providing 104 kilowatts of energy through a ground-mounted solar array, the energy generated will power lighting for the site.

7. I-SWARM bots

An interesting twist on solar enery, these three-legged I-SWARM bots are solar-powered gadgets that could one day form the foundation for other larger-scale renewably-powered computer systems. Measuring about 4 mm square, they can do ant-sized jobs totally powered by the sun.

Neelima Reddy, author of this article writes for know more about green living, green news, eco systems, green products, home & garden, alternative energy, design & architecture etc.. Visit The New Ecologist
March 21st, 2010

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Mixing In Some Carbon

March 21, 2010

Mixing In Some Carbon

MOSS LANDING, Calif. — It seems like alchemy: a Silicon Valley start-up says it has found a way to capture the carbon dioxide emissions from coal and gas power plants and lock them into cement.

If it works on a mass scale, the company, Calera, could turn that carbon into gold.

Cement production is a large source of carbon emissions in the United States, and coal-fired electricity plants are the biggest source. As nations around the world press companies to curb their greenhouse-gas emissions, a technology that makes it profitable to do so could be very popular. Indeed, Calera’s marketing materials may be one of the rare places where glowing quotes from a coal company and the Sierra Club appear together.

“With this technology, coal can be cleaner than solar and wind, because they can only be carbon-neutral,” said Vinod Khosla, the Silicon Valley billionaire. His venture capital firm, Khosla Ventures, has invested about $50 million in Calera. On Monday, Calera is set to announce that Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest coal company, has invested $15 million.

Although Calera has a pilot project up and running, it is still not clear that the process can be used on a large scale or that anyone will buy the cement it makes.

Some climate scientists and cement experts are dubious that Calera can produce large quantities of cement that is durable and benign for the environment.

“People have been looking for ways to do this for 15 years,” said Ken Caldeira, an expert on the carbon cycle who is a senior scientist with the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford. “The idea that they’re going to come up with something that’s both economic and scalable? I’m highly skeptical.”

Major carbon emitters and green technology companies have been trying to figure out ways to capture and store carbon, such as injecting it into the ground, in case Congress begins to regulate carbon emissions.

Calera says that by turning carbon into a building material, it will make carbon reduction economically attractive even in places where there are no government subsidies or carbon taxes. “In this case, it’s actually a profit center,” said Brent Constantz, Calera’s founder and chief executive.

Mr. Constantz, who is a consulting professor at the Stanford School of Earth Sciences, has spent his career studying and creating different kinds of cement. As a graduate student, he studied how corals in the Caribbean use carbon dioxide to make their skeletons. He started two companies, Norian and Skeletal Kinetics, that make a calcium phosphate cement that surgeons use to repair broken bones.

In 2007, he and Mr. Khosla hatched plans for Calera. Today, Mr. Khosla is effectively part of the management team, involving himself in details and speaking with Calera executives daily.

While the company declines to share precise details of its process, it does say it combines carbon dioxide with seawater or groundwater brine, which contain calcium, magnesium and oxygen. It is left with calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate, which are used in making cement and aggregate. It plans to sell it to concrete companies for use in pavement.

To make its cement more acceptable to manufacturers of traditional Portland cement, it is also making concrete blends of 20 percent Calera cement and 80 percent Portland cement, the calcium silicate binder used in concrete for buildings, highways and bridges.

In Moss Landing, on the shore of Monterey Bay, a huge natural gas power plant owned by Dynegy spews dirty gray smoke, called flue gas. It is full of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

Today, big, rusty pipes snake from the power plant to Calera’s demonstration cement plant. Calera pumps the flue gas into a big blue container, in which sea water from the nearby ocean is sprayed through the gas, producing a milky white liquid.

The liquid is then pumped into a giant strainer, which separates the solids from the water and spits out a white substance that looks like toothpaste. In a spray dryer, hot air — the waste heat from the flue gas — transforms the paste into little particles of cement and aggregate. Calera plans to desalinate the leftover water and sell it.

Calera’s cement plant is capturing 86 percent of the carbon dioxide in the flue gas from the Dynegy plant, according to a study by R.W. Beck, a consulting firm hired by Calera.

Much of the skepticism about the project stems from the acid created in Calera’s chemical process. It has to find a way to dispose of it or neutralize it by adding alkaline materials, without creating more environmental problems or raising costs. Either would be difficult to do on a large scale, Mr. Caldeira said.

Mr. Khosla said that Calera has many sources of alkaline materials and many ways to dispose of acid.

Climate scientists have raised other questions as well. “The chemical processes are known to exist, but if what you’re looking for is something that can be scaled up in order to actually mitigate CO2 emissions, it’s just a big problem,” said Ruben Juanes, assistant professor in energy studies at M.I.T.

Growing beyond the demonstration plant will be Calera’s next challenge, and it is a step that has stumped many clean technology start-ups.

“People have the impression that the energy sector is like the I.T. sector and you just have to build an iPhone and suddenly it will be everywhere, which is simply not the case,” said Joseph Romm, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and editor of Climate Progress, an influential blog. “You have to build up so much infrastructure.”

Calera, which has worked with Bechtel to design and build cement plants, plans to open its first commercial plant next year. The company is in talks with Dynegy and a utility in Pennsylvania and has received grants from the Australian government to build a cement plant next to a coal plant in the state of Victoria.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to believe us until we’re up and running,” Mr. Constantz said.

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