Showing posts from 2010

Hybrid Solar Thermal and Gas--About Time

Hybrid Solar Thermal and Gas--About Time A recent short article described a great idea--using solar as the daytime heat for a natural gas power plant.  The impetus is the old alternative-energy maxim:  "He who cannot store, has no solar after four!"  At the same time, natural gas is still expensive (although drifting down in price).  A practical solution is a common boiler that can receive heat from either a solar array or natural gas burners.  A part of the article is below, and the URL is at the bottom. Hybrid Solar Power Plant Offers New Model for Traditional Electricity Production Solar Feeds News and Commentary Friday, 05 March 2010 By the end of this year, the world’s second-largest solar power plant will be unveiled in what were once Floridian swamplands, 500 acres north of West Palm Beach. According to the New York Times, 190,000 mirrors and thousands of steel pylons will compose the striking display in Indiantown, Florida, a glimmering ode to th

Don’t Worry Just Yet

Don’t Worry Just Yet The British science journal, Nature, posted an article entitled, “Space tourism to accelerate climate change,” On October 22, 2010, at the URL They cited some preliminary research suggesting that a thousand commercial space launches, particularly those such as Virgin Galactic that burn a rubber-like propellant, might put soot in the upper atmosphere and cause significant global warming. I have a little historical note. Roughly thirty-five years ago, there were environmental concerns about hundreds or even thousands of flights by the Space Shuttle fleet. Ammonium perchlorate in the solid rocket boosters put a sizable amount of chlorine ions into the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere during each launch. However, the number of flights never went into even dozens per year. Considering that history, I suggest that it's premature to worry about the Rutan-Branson space plane. When, and if,

Who's to Blame?

I am more than a little amazed at the glaring omission in the press and pundits arguments about the Shirley Sherrod embroglio. First, it seemed to be black-on-white racism by a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee. Sherrod, the employee involved, was summarily fired (that is, resigned—jumped, fell, or was pushed as they say in Central Europe). Then, a more complete transcript revealed a story of inner doubts and hostilities that were transcended when a conflicted black woman rose to the task of helping a white family keep their farm (and which the family involved confirmed). Furthermore, the story was from a quarter century earlier. Then, Andrew Breitbart, the blogger who had released the story, was attacked as one of many right-wing commentators attacking the left … perhaps as part of a racist campaign. It didn’t help Breitbart’s “case” that he angrily brushed aside questions about his motives and competence. The counter battle lines were imediately drawn. The right lingered o

Lithium and Nanotubes—Another Aspect of the Battery Revolution

Lithium and Nanotubes—Another Aspect of the Battery Revolution Electric cars need better batteries. That was the stumbling block that stopped Thomas Alva Edison. He invented the sulfuric acid and lead car batter that has been used for more than a century, but it wasn’t enough to compete with the Auto cycle internal combustion engine. Now, potential shortages of fossil fuels are giving latter-day Edisons another shot at moving the world with electric cars. One example is that Science Daily carried a story about another research initiative that could make a significant boost to the power of lithium batteries. The article (“Using Carbon Nanotubes in Lithium Batteries Can Dramatically Improve Energy Capacity,” described plating alternate plus and minus layers of carbon nanotubes. (It’s so ironic that this hoped-for revolution might be built on techniques that would be familiar to electroplating technicians for two centuri

Gliders versus Economy Electrical Cars

Gliders versus Economy Electrical Cars The comment below is from Erin Shipp, who has worked for large car companies. His comments about electrifying the bodies of small conventional cars is a concept that has also been referred to as gliders. Such gliders are probably the real competition for a small neighborhood electrical car. If a glider were sold only slightly more expensively than the small electric, customers would likely opt for the beefier and higher performance vehicles. I agree that a more minimalist approach is justified. So far the electric cars shown have either been microcars that have never been accepted, higher end like Tesla and Fisker, or 3 wheelers to avoid safety requirments. The greatest impact would be to sell to the lower end of the market where older, more polluting, lower fuel economy vehicles would be replaced. My concept was to convert existing vehicles to electric or extended range electric. This could be done with a retail price of $25k to $35k. But no o

The Model T Paradigm: The Case for a Minimalist Electric Car

                                   The Model T Paradigm: The Case for a Minimalist Electric Car The case for a “minimalist” design on this electric car rather than a head-turning elegant design is based on three things: function; cost; and positioning. The functional argument is that a vehicle traveling less than 40 miles per hour gets little benefit from an efficient aerodynamic design. Thus, the extra design, tooling, materials, and labor to produce a styled aerodynamic body would not pay for themselves in increased performance. Meanwhile, the marketing high end position of styled elegance and high performance is being fiercely contested by the likes of Tesla and even General Motors with the Chevy Volt. Moreover, those two named companies are apparently hard-wired politically to the U.S. federal government to the tune of hundreds of millions and billions of dollars, respectively. The federal government can be expected to protect its investments with further investments. The mar

Offshore Wind Turbines—It’s All About the Seals

To be accurate, it’s really all about the pinnipeds: seals, walruses, and sea lions. They are the key to profitable offshore wind energy … in California anyway. To understand why, consider the recent evolution of wind energy. Wind turbines have been moving down a learning curve toward larger sizes, greater dependability, and greater efficiency. Those advances bring them closer to profitability even without government subsidies. Yet the subsidies are probably assured because wind is noncarbon energy source. (Actually, there is some fossil fuel combustion in manufacture and installation, but we won’t quibble.) At the same time, those Eiffel Tower sizes only compound the objections of neighbors. NIMBY, or not in my backyard takes on a whole new meaning for objects visible from several miles away Siting wind turbines offshore gets some distance from the nearest neighbors. Even better, winds are significantly stronger and more consistent offshore. For those reasons, there have been

Unhappy New Year: Biofuels in the Tank—Financially

Unhappy New Year: Biofuels in the Tank—Financially       Markets are often unkind to new ideas. Biofuels are a case in point. Several years ago, the price of oil per barrel shot upward, but the price of agricultural produce was still low. That offered possible profits for converting crops to synthetic fuels.      Meanwhile, there were rising environmental concerns about the carbon footprint of burning fossil hydrocarbons for transportation. Plants pull their carbon in from the air as they grow, so burning plant-derived fuel is carbon neutral. (We won’t get into those spoiled sports who grumble about carbon emissions associated with fertilizer, herbicides, tractor fuel, processing heat, etc.)      Finally, there has been a lingering hostility about large transfer payments to foreign oil-producing countries since the Oil Crises began in the 1970s. Thus, governments in Europe and the Americas subsidized production of synthetic fuel by as much as a dollar a gallon at the pump.