Archive for February, 2012

February 29, 2012

A New Way of Carbon Capture? Let’s Plant Artificial Trees

Trees lock away and store carbon-dioxide for hundreds of years. Scientists now want to mimic this feature by creating artificial trees for our parks, which could even act as street lights and harness wind power.

The key scientist behind the idea is Dr. Klaus Lackner from the Earth Institute at the Columbia University. His “synthetic trees”resemble real trees with trunks and branches, which are in fact arrays with sorbent chemicals for capturing the carbon-dioxide.

Synthethic Trees

Leaves can be more dense than on normal trees, increasing efficiency. Also, the collected carbon dioxide could be utilised and not only stored, for instance in agricultural processes.

Another concept is the so-called uTree, a photovoltaic tree that would soak up the sun during the day, then fed into the electricity grid or even stored inside – for instance for lighting spaces.

Some artificial tree ideas go further and try to merge the various capabilities. Some may harvest rainwater and generate electricity via solar panels at the same time. Some others act like solar street lights, or create a whole park with saving rainwater and even using wind energy.

Challenges for artificial trees are the high initial investment, long-term maintenance costs and some worries about the actual efficiency of small artificial leaves compared to solar panels, but if these can be overcome, walking in the park could have a new meaning in the future. [6]

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

Image: BBC Online

February 24, 2012

Nano Tea Bag for Cleaner Water

As access to clean fresh water is getting more difficult day by day, there are already numerous ideas on how to solve this issue. One new approach uses nanotechnology, which may provide a 21st century solution for cleaning fresh water.

Nanotechnology itself should be imagined at a tiny level: one nanometre is a billionth of a metre, meaning it is about 40,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

It is suggested to be applied in three areas: at “water treatment and remediation, sensing and detection, and pollution prevention”, according to Professor Eugene Cloete from the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Nano-membranes can help at water filtering, while specially developed nanomaterials can support remediation and also work at the disinfection of water. Also, nanoscale titanium dioxide (TiO2) could be applied to remove arsenic from water.

One solution used for water treatment are carbon nanotubes. These are one-atom thick cylindrical carbon sheets, which could be applied at desalination and also at water purification. Thanks to their large surface compared to their size, their capacity could be enormous, and they may even be ideal for filtering out water-soluble drugs.

The most recent innovative example is the “nano tea bag” with special nano-fibres that filter contaminants from the water, and contains activated carbon aimed at killing bacteria. Developed by South African scientists, this is a great opportunity and affordable solution for communities, where clean fresh water is scarce. Used by placing it in the neck of a bottle, it provides a capacity of up to one litre – even with heavy contamination levels.

Nano Tea Bag

New uses for Nanotechnology are spreading further every day and amongst its many opportunities, water treatment and cleaning could be one – which could make a real difference to the lives of millions of people.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

Image: BBC Online

February 15, 2012

Graphene, the Supermaterial

Its discovering scientists have been awarded with the Nobel prize last year, and two of them have just recently been knighted and every week there seems to be a new study or research published on another amazing feature. But what exactly is this new supermaterial, graphene?

Graphene is basically a one-atom thick, two-dimensional sheet of carbon.

It’s currently the thinnest material discovered and therefore it’s almost transparent. It’s great at conducting electricity, enabling faster, more efficient and more focused electricity and right now it’s the best known heat conductor.

It’s also impermeable, flexible and at the same time the ‘strongest material ever measured‘.

One of the special features of the material is that it lacks the so-called ‘band gap’, a band where electrons can move between the ‘valence’ and ‘conduction bands’. This determines the material’s conductivity, and it’s important for the development of items like transistors or solar cells.

Where can it be used?

With all these great features, graphene seems to have unlimited opportunities.

Being thin and almost transparent, it’s great for touchscreens as well as solar cells.

For solar cells, the missing band gap is also ideal, while in computing this may mean a disadvantage for the transistors. These are used to amplify and switch electronic signals and power, and are found in computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets. The absence of band gap does not allow to switch off currents, but this may be solved by doping, introducing impurities to a pure material. In this way it could also be great for photovoltaic cells.

Thanks to these many characteristics it’s being considered for replacing currently used silicon in transistors. Hence electronic devices may become faster, thinner and also cheaper.

But the number of opportunities goes on.

Being impermeable it could be great for gas detectors, and added graphene could harden tyres for safer driving, as well.

Also, the oil industry is enthusiastic about the material, having recently used graphene oxide against clogging of pores in wells.

There are already many giants undertaking research with graphene, including Samsung, IBM and Nokia, with impressive results, including faster-than-ever transistors or greatly flexible touchscreens.

One of the main questions however is whether these great features will also work at a larger scale so it could be used for mass production.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

February 12, 2012

Be Smart With Your Windows

One of the main features on a building are its windows – in fact they play a great role in its energy efficiency. Sustainable architecture not only deals with the positioning of walls for catching the most sunlight and heat, but special smart windows can also enhance energy efficiency and save money on lighting, heating or even cooling. 

SageGlass

You might have heard about windows that can change their colour but there are actually several different technologies behind it. Some become opaque, others change their colours, which can be triggered by various conditions: a change in the temperature or irradiation, or even artificially – by humans or pre-programmed systems.

The windows can capture the heat to make it warmer inside in cold months, or reflect the heat for cooling purposes in the summer. They can even collect the sun’s energy and turn it into electricity.

Fundamental technologies are based on various physical processes, classed as thermotropics, photocromatics, liquid crystals, suspended particle displays, electrochromics, or reflective hydrides.

Thermotropics windows react to heat, while the photocromatics technology is already used in prescription glasses that become tinted in the sunshine. Suspended particle displays and liquid crystal windows work in a similar way, by re-arranging particles and crystals depending on the electricity fed into the panel, either letting the light through or not. In electrochromic windows a chemical reaction is prompted by a certain level of voltage.

However besides the obvious benefits, there are some disadvantages, too. Some of these technologies are slow, meaning the transition between states could take several minutes. Also, electronic solutions need a constant supply of electricity, which could lower efficiency.

Some examples

A recent example from South Korea is a new type of smart window that can change transparency within seconds, depending on the outside temperature. It is managed by electric currents thanks to the charged particles between the glass sheets, and it is claimed to be cheaper and with a lower health risks than other, already available types.

The company Pleotint offers an ‘interlayer’, which darkens in direct sunlight without any electronic application, and so it’s sustainable on a long term, but ‘colour change’ can take about 20-30 minutes.

SWITCH Materials has developed a smart window photochromic-electrochromic film technology, enabling the tinting of windows in direct sunlight, which can also be induced manually.

SageGlass manufactures electronically tintable glass, available in various colours, which can be controlled manually as well as automatically, too. [9]

Overall

Whatever the technology, such windows can save money on heating, cooling or lighting both at home or in the offices. What’s more, they can also become the blinds of the future.

 

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse
Image: SageGlass
February 9, 2012

Small Dishwashers for Economical Users

While water is becoming more and more scarce, environmentally conscious small households and offices may want to find an economical dishwasher, which is small enough for their requirements. And there are several designers who have already thought about them. 

The first concept by Marie-Christine Lacasse & Marie Claude Savard not only looks good but it even combines the dishwasher and the cupboard in one. The dishwasher operates by moving along while cleaning. 

 

Another space-saving solution is the dishwasher, located next to the sink. Its capacity is bigger than its size would indicate and it can use up to fifty per cent less water than ‘traditional’ dishwashers.

 

Another example of a dishwasher merged with a sink is the rotating solution, where the dishes are washed while under the counter, and the other half is used as the sink at the same time.

 

More and more manufacturers also produce ‘dishwasher drawers’ for smaller kitchens. Others have thought about the possibility of immediate washing up after dinner by integrating the appliance into a table.

If design is key for the users there is also a great selection already. One of them is the small Gota device, which even recycles the steam from the pre-wash cycle for later re-use.

For those who want to take their dishwasher with them, for instance for camping, there is now also a solution. The concept by David Stockton has a unique shape for economic usage and it’s so small that it’s portable, while it only uses a small amount of water. It has to be filled up with water and cleaning liquid and then turned manually, as well as for the drying process.

Another environmentally friendly solution is using a new technology. The Wind Washer from Electrolux uses high-pressure air, steam and UV light for cleaning, while the Zeolith dishwasher from Siemens features a moisture-absorbing material, zeolites, used during the dry cycle. Power consumption is lower than at traditional devices, and the water is also saved on a longer term.

Overall, there are several concepts and designs for energy-efficient small dishwashers, and they look to be really promising for the future, especially by being compact and/or using a novel washing method. But for now, many of these are only concepts and for the real benefit they need to be mass-produced.

 

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

February 6, 2012

Bacteria and viruses: the future of energy storage?

One of the most crucial questions surrounding renewable energy generation is how to store the electricity so consumers can access it when they need it.

There are already dozens of solutions, and new ways are being investigated almost every day. Viruses and bacteria are no exception.

In 2009 scientists at the MIT announced that they managed to genetically engineer viruses, which can act as the positive and negative ends of a lithium battery. The manufacturing process is promising as it can be done at room temperature, while it doesn’t require any chemicals to be added and is therefore safer for health reasons. Of course the viruses themselves are also harmless to humans. Another key advantage of this solution is that the batteries could be charged about a hundred times without losing capacity.

Tobacco Mosaic Virus by AJC1

Last year researchers at the University of Maryland discovered that the tobacco mosaic virus – which ‘normally’ destroys tobacco, tomato or peppers – can be modified to extend the battery life of lithium-ion batteries by even ten times. Manufacturingthem can also be cheaper in this case as the virus binds itself to the metal surface and there is no need for a special procedure.

Bacteria are also thoroughly researched for enhancing energy storage opportunities. The so-called microbial fuel cells (MFC) use the chemical energy generated by bacteria, which is then converted into electrical energy. Initially mediators were needed for this process but today there are already solutions without any toxic materials. An example is the MFC by Lebone Solutions, using African soil for generating electricity and even charging mobile phones.

In May 2011 scientists at the University of East Anglia announced that they found out how electrons were passing in and out of the cells of the bacteria called Shewanella oneidensis. This will be a great help for researchers developing bacteria-batteries and should enhance the amount of collectable electricity. This type of bacteria creates electricity by respiration (as all living cells do), but bacteria can breathe many more things than just oxygen. In this case electrons of the bacteria are conducted metals like iron or manganese. Eventually these batteries may be ‘programmed’ to charge themselves with appropriate nutrients anywhere. Also, benefits are that bacteria can be found almost anywhere and they could even eat waste to generate electricity.

Virus and bacteria researches for energy storage solutions are more and more widespread and promising, hence it may even mean the basis for future energy storage solutions, solving one of the most important questions about renewable energy development.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

Image by AJC1

February 3, 2012

Have a Green Friday Evening!

How do you imagine a nice Friday evening? Would you like to go to the cinema or just have a delicious dinner at a fancy restaurant? Or do you want to go clubbing?

If the environment is important for you, now you can do any of these with a clear conscience.

The Solar Restaurant

The Lapin Kulta Solar Restaurant has a great evening programme in the summer for hungry Europeans in Milan, Helsinki and Stockholm.

Food is solely prepared on solar cookers, which work only on sunny days. Dishes include barbecue as well as lower-temperature meals and salads, depending on how much solar energy is available. The restaurant is Finnish but due to running on solar energy, it mainly operates in the summer.

The Solar Cinema

If one wants to go to the movies with a small circle of friends, the Sol Cinema could be the best option.  Eight people fit at once and it runs entirely on solar energy, collected by a photovoltaic panel and stored in lithium batteries. It features a LED projector, which can play films from a wide variety of music videos and short movies.  The Sol Cinema is located in South Wales but can be hired for events all over the UK and Europe.

The Solar Theatre

In the Californian city of San Luis Obispo the first solar-powered theatre of the US was set up in 2004, operating with eighty roof solar panels. The Palm Theatre features three screens, running the latest movies.

Dancing

In 2008, London’s first eco-disco opened, called Surya. Piezoelectric energy is collected from the movement of dancers, which shall cover sixty per cent of all energy needs of the club, while the rest is covered by wind turbines and solar energy systems. Amongst other features there are waterless urinals and low-flush toilets, as well. Clubbers who walked or cycled could even get a discount.

A club with similar concept already exists in Rotterdam, called the Sustainable Dance Club, also featuring a piezoelectricity-gathering dance floor.

Thus there is a wide variety of entertainment options for a Friday evening for those who want to enjoy the night without thinking about how it affects the environment.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

February 1, 2012

What Exactly Are Fuel Cells?

Everyone has heard a lot about fuel cells – mainly as a promising future energy source for cars and other vehicles, but now Apple has applied for two patents on using fuel cells in their iconic devices, the iPhone and the iPad. The use of these technologies would make it possible to provide small devices with extended battery life of days or even weeks – without charging.

But what is a fuel cell?

Fuel cells are largely like a battery but with a constant fuel supply they won’t run down, hence they don’t need to be recharged. They feature two electrodes inside, with oxygen and hydrogen passing over one of them and thus generating electricity, alongside water and heat. The principle of its operation is more based on chemistry and not on combustion.

Where can you find them?

Fuel cells come in various designs using various chemical components, and they are applied in many fields. Besides the most commonly known market – vehicles, fuel cells are also used in several systems in hospitals, hotels, schools, offices, as well as telecommunications facilities, wastewater treatment plants, landfill plants, breweries or even wineries. As they are light and work well without the need for a connection to the electricity grid, they are also used by the military or emergency services.

And now Apple wants to use them in their devices, which therefore could become smaller, lighter, and don’t need to be charged as often as current ones. There are already some consumer electronics devices available with fuel cells but these are rather bulky.

Some gadgets today can also work with fuel cells, for instance kettles, portable chargers, and a fuel cell sticker has even been developed.

Why are fuel cells so promising?

First of all, due to their technology their carbon emissions are very low. Fuel cells are also highly efficient, reliable, flexible, and scalable. They are also quite light and thus can be used in many applications for which current batteries may be too big or heavy.

This means that they can offer a lot of possibilities for future energy storage, while still being environmentally friendly.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

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