Former future President of the United States

Former future President of the United States

At a hearing at the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) asked Al Gore (minute 150:00 on the video):

“What does your modeling tell you about how long we’re going to be around as a species?”

Be glad for representative democracy.


Sweden once again jumps ahead of everybody else when the subject is alternative energy. The resourceful Swedish came up with a new energy source, recycling energy that would otherwise be wasted.

The town of Halmstad will connect its local crematorium to the heating system:

“To start with we’re planning on heating our own facilities, but hopefully we can connect to the district heating network in the future,” said Halmstad cemetery administrator Lennart Andersson to the Aftonbladet newspaper.

“After all this talk about the environment we realized we should take advantage of the heat created during cremation,” he said.

“There won’t be anything different about the ashes,” he said.

The phrase “four-wheel drive” might become literal. Michelin has come up with a new electric car where the engine is in the wheels: the Active Wheel.

Packing in a sophisticated active shock absorption system, with its own dedicated motor, and disk braking brings the wheel to a hefty 43 kg (95 pounds). Together, the two front wheels deliver a steady 41 horsepower, which can spurt up to 82 hp for short sprints. The Will should do 0-100 km (0 – 62 mph) in 10 seconds and will have a max speed of 140 km/h (87 mph).

Lithium ion batteries will be delivered in three modular configurations, offering ranges of 150, 300 and 400 km (93, 186 and 248 miles). Just like hybrids, the Active Wheels recover energy during braking to extend vehicle range. The in-wheel motors are reported to be 90% efficient, compared to about 20% efficiency for a conventional vehicle in city driving.

With battery packs on board, the prototype Heuliez Will weighs in at just 900 kg.

Active Wheel

Active Wheel

How to extract energy from the ocean

How to extract energy from the ocean

All that water in the ocean holds a lot of heat, but it’s not spread out. Just a few feet down below the temperature drops considerably, and it gets even colder at a few hundred feet. Scientists want to tap on this huge thermal differential to power energy plans.

This is how it works:

Surface water heats a fluid with a low boiling point, such as ammonia. The resulting gas drives a power-generating turbine. The gas is then cooled by passing it through cold water pumped up from the bottom of the ocean via massive fibreglass tubes that suck up cold water. The gas condenses back into a liquid that can be used again, and the water is returned to the deep ocean.

Scalability seems to be a problem:

“A 100 MW plant might have a pipe 30 feet in diameter suspended 3000 feet. That’s not a small challenge. You’ve got this huge structure vertically suspended. You’ve got a lot of stresses and strains from current, from the movement of platform on the surface”.

And small designs also had trouble in the past:

In 2003, Indian engineers building a 1 MW ocean thermal plant attempted to lower an 800-metre cold water pipe into the ocean from a barge in the Bay of Bengal only to lose the pipe in 1100 metres of water. A new pipe met the same fate the following year.

Besides the obvious technical issues (how to keep these massive pipes in place in the ocean, etc), I see problems with the energy used to pump cold water from the bottom to condensate the working fluid. How does that fit in with Conservation of Energy principles? If we want to break the laws of Physics and build a perpetual machine, might as well go with a known, guaranteed source like magnetic motor.

Carbon capture and storage, or carbon sequestration, is the next big thing in the technological side of handling greenhouse gas emissions. It involves installing equipment in CO2-producing facilities, and redirecting those emissions to storage containers, often underground storage in a geological reservoir.

But a Canadian team of University of Calgary is working on a air capture machine that will be able to remove CO2 directly from the air by utilising “near-commercial” technology. You probably saw them at the Discovery show “Project Earth”.

Yes, that’s not a novel concept: trees have been doing that, and for a while. But this is more efficient.

First carbon capture and storage system

First carbon capture and storage system

During a demonstration, the team built a tower that requires “less than 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity per tonne of carbon dioxide”, and captured the “equivalent of approximately 20 tonnes per year of CO2 on a single square metre of scrubbing material”, or the average personal emissions in North America.

An overview of the air capture process was illustrated in this PDF of a presentation given at the MIT Carbon Sequestration Forum IX – Advancing CO2 Capture.

Since 2005, California building code requires white roofs for flat commercial structures. Next year, new and retrofitted residential and commercial buildings, with both flat and sloped roofs, will have to install heat-reflecting roofing, as part of an energy-efficient building code.

Results could be even better if we replaced all dark roofs with white materials. As reported in a LA Times article, it’s a triple-win situation:

“First, a cooler environment not only saves energy but improves comfort. Second, cooling a city by a few degrees dramatically reduces smog. And the third win is offsetting global warming.”

These benefits were quantified in a research report published by the Berkeley Lab Heat Island Group.

Globally, roofs account for 25% of the surface of most cities, and pavement accounts for about 35%. If all were switched to reflective material in 100 major urban areas, it would offset 44 metric gigatons of greenhouse gases. That is more than all the countries on Earth emit in a single year.

As the New Republic noted, white roofs can “cut down on the need for air-conditioning in the summer”.

The idea isn’t new. The Tree Hugger was advocating this concept three years ago, and the Pueblos Blancos in Andaluzia, Spain, already have white walls and tiled roofs for centuries, to fight the storching sun.

White Towns, Andaluzia

Pueblos Blancos, Andaluzia

Another step towards efficient use of solar energy: decentralized inverters in solar panels.

Enphase Energy came up with efficient DC-AC microinverters located on each panel. The design is more efficient because it better handles partial shading and adds reliability to the overall system.

“There’s been very little question on the benefits of microinverters, but people didn’t think it was possible to get the efficiency levels required. A microinverter must be developed from the silicon level up to make it work efficiently.”

Enphase Energy has been able to improve the DC-to-AC conversion efficiency to around 95 percent, on par with centralized inverters.