Thermoelectric Material to Hit Market Later This Year  

Posted by Big Gav in

Technology Review has an article on a new material that can turn waste heat into power - Thermoelectric Material to Hit Market Later This Year.

California-based Alphabet Energy plans to begin selling a new type of material that can turn heat into electricity. Unlike previous thermoelectrics, as such materials are known, it is abundant, cheap, and nontoxic.

Thermoelectric materials can turn a temperature difference into electricity by exploiting the flow of electrons from a warmer area to a cooler one. Thus, they can theoretically turn waste heat into a power source. But an efficient thermoelectric material has to conduct electricity well without conducting heat well, because otherwise the temperature across the material would soon equalize. Most materials that are good electrical conductors are also good thermal conductors, and the few materials researchers have been able to develop with good thermoelectric properties have been rare, expensive, or toxic. Alphabet Energy’s solution is tetrahedrite: an abundant, naturally occurring mineral that also happens to be more efficient on average than existing thermoelectric materials.

Renewable energy ready to supply all of Australia’s electricity  

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NE has an article on a 100% renewable energy scenario for Australia by Mark Diessendorf - Renewable energy ready to supply all of Australia’s electricity.

Ben Elliston, Iain MacGill and I at UNSW have performed thousands of computer simulations of the hour-by-hour operation of the NEM with different mixes of 100% commercially available renewable energy technologies scaled up to meet demand reliably.

We use actual hourly electricity demand and actual hourly solar and wind power data for 2010 and balance supply and demand for almost every hour, while maintaining the required reliability of supply. The relevant papers, published in peer-reviewed international journals, can be downloaded from my UNSW website.

Using conservative projections to 2030 for the costs of renewable energy by the federal government’s Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE), we found an optimal mix of renewable electricity sources. The mix looks like this:

  • Wind 46%;
  • Concentrated solar thermal (electricity generated by the heat of the sun) with thermal storage 22%;
  • Photovoltaic solar 20% (electricity generated directly from sunlight);
  • Biofuelled gas turbines 6%; and
  • Existing hydro 6%.

So two-thirds of annual energy can be supplied by wind and solar photovoltaic — energy sources that vary depending on the weather — while maintaining reliability of the generating system at the required level. How is this possible?

It turns out that wind and solar photovoltaic are only unable to meet electricity demand a few times a year. These periods occur during peak demand on winter evenings following overcast days that also happen to have low wind speeds across the region.

Since the gaps are few in number and none exceeds two hours in duration, there only needs to be a small amount of generation from the so-called flexible renewables (those that don’t depend on the vagaries of weather): hydro and biofuelled gas turbines. Concentrated solar thermal is also flexible while it has energy in its thermal storage.

The gas turbines have low capital cost and, when operated infrequently and briefly, low fuel costs, so they play the role of reliability insurance with a low premium.

Our research, together with similar extensive hourly computer simulations by others spanning up to a decade from Europe and the USA (reviewed in Chapter 3 of “Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change”), refute Professor Larkins’ statement that “We need baseload electric power [from non-renewable sources] to guarantee security of supply”.

Many regions of the world could operate a 100% renewable electricity system reliably without any baseload power stations. Indeed, in electricity supply systems with a lot of renewable energy, inflexible coal and nuclear baseload power stations get in the way. What we really need to balance the variability of wind and photovoltaic solar are the flexible renewable energy power stations: hydro, solar thermal and biofuelled gas turbines.

This mix needs only a little storage from hydro and solar thermal to maintain reliable supply. With enough fuel, biofuelled gas turbines could also be considered storage. Such a mix has no need for expensive batteries or hydrogen fuel cells.

June a global scorcher as temperature records melt  

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The SMH reports June was the warmest June ever - June a global scorcher as records melt.

Last month was a scorcher for global temperatures with warmth over land and sea breaking records for June while sea-surface temperatures posted their largest departure from long-term averages for any month.

Combined average temperatures over land and sea were 0.72 degrees above the 20th century average of 15.5 degrees, making it the hottest June and adding to the record May and equal record April, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

More striking for climatologists, though, were the sea-surface temperatures. These came in 0.64 degrees above the 20th century average of 16.4 degrees – the first time any month had exceeded the long-run norm by more than 0.6 degrees.

Santos' Bonaparte gas project on hold  

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The BS reports that the Bonaparte LNG export project off Northern Australia may not follow Shell's floating LNG plant example after all - Santos' Bonaparte gas project on hold.

French energy giant GDF Suez says it is reconsidering a huge project for a floating gas liquefaction factory off northern Australia and might opt to build an undersea pipeline to Darwin. The gas fields concerned continue to have "material value", the company said on Thursday. But using a floating liquefaction plant to process the gas does not satisfy business criteria, the group said, in an important announcement for the Australian energy sector.

The overall project, called Bonaparte, involves an ambitious scheme using advanced technology to generate liquefied natural gas from resources off northern Australia. The development of floating liquefaction plants is at the forefront of efforts to turn Australia into a leading supplier of LNG in Asia.

Robot cleans desert PV panels – water free  

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RNE has an article on water free solar power panel cleaning in the desert - Saudi solar robot cleans desert PV panels – water free.

A United Arab Emirates company spun out of the nation’s renewed focus on renewable energy has come up with a simple solar panel cleaner designed to clean every panel in its coverage area each day.

The NOMAD Desert Solar has released the NOMADD which stands for The NO-water Mechanical Automated Dusting Device which was developed at the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology, (KAUST) near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The device has been kept simple and cost effective adding just 10c/Watt to the capital cost of a solar system to have the capacity to clean it daily.

In the past most solar systems (solar thermal and photovoltaic) have been washed by teams that drive around arrays in dedicated washing trucks armed with giant scrubbers on extension arms using significant amounts of water. Both labour and water are resources that often aren’t readily or cheaply available in locations where large solar arrays are installed. Therefore cleaning regimes have usually been on a fortnightly or monthly basis or are adapted to take into account seasonal operational and conditional requirements.

Automatic cleaners use very little water relying more on scrubbing action to get a perfect clean. Torresol’s energy’s Gemasolar plant near Seville in Spain uses the company’s smaller HECTOR robotic cleaners for its heliostat mirrors.

The difference between the NOMADD approach is that instead of cleaning during nights and aiming to clean each mirror/ panel every 7 or 14 days the NOMADD approach for North Africa and the middle east is about cleaning every panel as much as once a day, cleaning day and night, while Torresol’s approach uses a tiny bit of water the NOMADD approach uses no water at all.

Elon Musk Needs a Very Big Factory for His New Solar Technology  

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Technology Review has an article on another monster factory being planned by Elon Musk - this one for solar panels rather than battery storage - to support his SolarCity business - Elon Musk Needs a Very Big Factory for His New Solar Technology.

Billionaire, Tesla founder, and private space entrepreneur Elon Musk announced yesterday that Solar City, the solar installation company where he is chairman, plans to acquire a startup called Silevo for $200 million (plus up to $150 million more if the company meets certain goals). And with typical bravado, he also said that the company plans to build a huge factory to produce Silevo’s high-efficiency solar panels, a strategy he claims will make solar power “way cheaper” than power from fossil fuels.

Solar City is one of the country’s largest and fastest-growing solar installers, largely as a result of an innovative business model that allows homeowners and businesses to avoid any up-front cost. If its plans pan out, it will also become a major manufacturer of solar panels, with by far the largest factory in the U.S.

The acquisition makes sense given that Silevo’s technology has the potential to reduce the cost of installing solar panels, Solar City’s main business. But the decision to build a huge factory in the U.S. seems daring—especially given the recent failures of other U.S.-based solar manufacturers in the face of competition from Asia. Ultimately, however, Solar City may have little choice—it needs to find ways to reduce costs to keep growing.

Silevo produces solar panels that are roughly 15 to 20 percent more efficient than conventional ones. They incorporate thin films of silicon, which increase efficiency by helping electrons flow more freely out of the material, and they use copper rather than silver electrodes to save costs. Higher efficiency can yield big savings on installation costs, which often exceed the cost of the panels themselves, because fewer panels are needed to generate a given amount of power.

Silevo isn’t the only company to produce high-efficiency solar cells. A version made by Panasonic is just as efficient, and SunPower makes ones that are significantly more so (see “Record-Breaking Solar Cell Points the Way the Cheaper Solar Power”). But Silevo claims it could make its panels as cheaply as conventional ones if it can scale up from its current production capacity of 32 megawatts to the factory Musk has planned, which is expected to produce 1,000 megawatts or more.

Edward Snowden in exile  

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The Guardian has an interview with Eric Snowden, who seems to be coping with life in exile fairly well - I, spy: Edward Snowden in exile. The Guardian also has an update on Julian Assange, who seems to be planning some sort of collaboration with ex Manchester United star Eric Cantona - Julian Assange and Eric Cantona work out together – what can it mean?.

As the leaden skies darken beyond the net curtains, Snowden breaks to order a bowl of ice-cream (chocolate, vanilla and strawberry sorbet). Afterwards, he warms to his theme, explaining how he and his colleagues relied heavily on “metadata” – the information about our locations, searches and contacts that needed no warrants or court orders, but that betrays a huge amount about our lives. “To an analyst, nine times out of 10, you don’t care what was said on the phone call till very late in the investigative chain. What you care about is the metadata, because metadata does not lie. People lie on phone calls when they’re involved in real criminal activity. They use code words, they talk around it. You can’t trust what you’re hearing, but you can trust the metadata. That’s the reason metadata’s often more intrusive.”

What about his own digital habits? He won’t use Google or Skype for anything personal. Dropbox? He laughs. “They just put Condoleezza Rice on their board, who is probably the most anti-privacy official you can imagine. She’s one of the ones who oversaw [the warrantless wire-tapping program] Stellar Wind and thought it was a great idea. So they’re very hostile to privacy.” Instead, he recommends SpiderOak, a fully encrypted end-to-end “zero-knowledge” filesharing system.

Why should we trust Google any more than we trust the state? “One, you don’t have to. Association with Google is voluntary. But it does raise an important question. And I would say, while there is a distinction – in that Google can’t put you in jail, Google can’t task a drone to drop a bomb on your house – we shouldn’t trust them without verifying what their activities are, how they’re using our data.”

He is extremely alarmed by the implications of the NSA and GCHQ documents, which showed their engineers hard at work undermining the basic security of the internet – something that has also concerned Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web. “What people often overlook is the fact that, when you build a back door into a communication system, that back door can be discovered by anyone around the world. That can be a private individual or a security researcher at a university, but it can also be a criminal group or a foreign intelligence agency – say, the NSA’s equivalent in a deeply irresponsible government. And now that foreign country can scrutinise not just your bank records, but your private communications all around the internet.”

The problem with the current system of political oversight is twofold, he says. First, the politicians and the security services are too close: no politician wants to defy intelligence chiefs who warn of the potential consequences of being seen to be “weak”. And then there’s the problem that, in most societies, the job of monitoring the security agencies goes to the most senior politicians or, in the UK, retired judges – most of whom, he believes, do not have the technical literacy to understand what it is they should be looking for, or regulating.

“What last year’s revelations showed us was irrefutable evidence that unencrypted communications on the internet are no longer safe. Any communications should be encrypted by default.” This has big implications for anyone using email, text, cloud computing – or Skype, or phones, to communicate in circumstances where they have a professional duty of confidentiality. “The work of journalism has become immeasurably harder. Journalists have to be particularly conscious about any sort of network signalling; any sort of connection; any sort of licence plate-reading device that they pass on their way to a meeting point; any place they use their credit card; any place they take their phone; any email contact they have with the source. Because that very first contact, before encrypted communications are established, is enough to give it all away.” To journalists, he would add “lawyers, doctors, investigators, possibly even accountants. Anyone who has an obligation to protect the privacy of their clients is facing a new and challenging world.”

Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy  

Posted by Big Gav

New Scientist has a look at bacteria that feed on energy directly - Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy.

STICK an electrode in the ground, pump electrons down it, and they will come: living cells that eat electricity. We have known bacteria to survive on a variety of energy sources, but none as weird as this. Think of Frankenstein's monster, brought to life by galvanic energy, except these "electric bacteria" are very real and are popping up all over the place.

Unlike any other living thing on Earth, electric bacteria use energy in its purest form – naked electricity in the shape of electrons harvested from rocks and metals. We already knew about two types, Shewanella and Geobacter. Now, biologists are showing that they can entice many more out of rocks and marine mud by tempting them with a bit of electrical juice. Experiments growing bacteria on battery electrodes demonstrate that these novel, mind-boggling forms of life are essentially eating and excreting electricity.

That should not come as a complete surprise, says Kenneth Nealson at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. We know that life, when you boil it right down, is a flow of electrons: "You eat sugars that have excess electrons, and you breathe in oxygen that willingly takes them." Our cells break down the sugars, and the electrons flow through them in a complex set of chemical reactions until they are passed on to electron-hungry oxygen.

In the process, cells make ATP, a molecule that acts as an energy storage unit for almost all living things. Moving electrons around is a key part of making ATP. "Life's very clever," says Nealson. "It figures out how to suck electrons out of everything we eat and keep them under control." In most living things, the body packages the electrons up into molecules that can safely carry them through the cells until they are dumped on to oxygen.

Russia in secret plot against fracking, Nato chief says  

Posted by Big Gav

The Daily Telegraph has one of those stories which makes me wonder who really believes this sort of stuff and why anyone would anyone ever bother saying it - Russia in secret plot against fracking, Nato chief says.

Russia is secretly working with environmental groups campaigning against fracking in an attempt to maintain Europe's dependence on energy imports from Moscow, the secretary-general of Nato has said Speaking at the Chatham House foreign affairs think-tank in London, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia was mounting a sophisticated disinformation campaign aimed at undermining attempts to exploit alternative energy sources such as shale gas. ...

Greenpeace dismissed Mr Rasmussen's comments as "preposterous". A spokesman said: "Greenpeace had thirty of its people locked up in Russian prisons last year, threatened with fifteen years in jail.

"The idea we’re puppets of Putin is so preposterous that you have to wonder what they’re smoking over at Nato HQ. Mr Rasmussen should spend less time dreaming up conspiracy theories and more time on the facts. Fracked gas will probably cost more than Russian imports, there’s little chance fracking will generate more than a small fraction of Europe’s gas needs and it won’t even do that for at least ten years. Greenpeace has detailed plans for energy policies which would remove the need for any Russian gas imports to Europe entirely."

Andrew Pendleton, the head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, said: “We’ve consistently urged the Government to end our dependence on dirty fossil fuels from abroad by developing Britain’s home-grown renewable energy “Perhaps the Russians are worried about our huge wind and solar potential, and have infiltrated the UK Government.”

The Archimedes Wind Turbine  

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Grist has a look at a wind turbine which looks like it could have been designed by Viktor Schauberger - This wind turbine will power your apartment without keeping you up at night.

The nautilus shell took time off from fitness-namesake duty to inspire The Liam F1 Urban Wind Turbine, which we are renaming The Not-So-Little Turbine That Could. Dutch firm The Archimedes designed the swirl-shaped windmill to be way quieter and more efficient than others (plus, it’s blue!). The firm says the turbine can generate 80 percent of the maximum possible energy yield, a big jump from the typical 25 to 50 percent. Hot damn.

PSFK thinks it’ll be great for your apartment, but at five feet wide, it might not exactly fit on your Brooklyn fire escape. At least the noise won’t wake you up in the middle of the night, which is one of the big drawbacks of most residential wind turbines/randy apartment neighbors.

The Clive Palmer and Al Gore show  

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When I read the first news report on this I immediately dismissed it as satire and ignored it - it was only after seeing it appear on a few news outlets that I realised that they were serious and the combination of populism and spite for Tony Abbott had led the colossus of the crossbench, coal baron Clive Palmer to join forces with climate crusader Al Gore in the most unlikely alliance I could possibly think of. As a result it seems the Renewable Energy Target, Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Australian Renewable Energy Authority may all survive the government's attempts to kill them off (Clive didn't go so far as to promise to keep the carbon tax though even that looks like outliving the 1 week Tony Abbott promised it would be abolished within) - Al Gore and Clive Palmer: behind the scenes of an unlikely bromance. I also found the conspiracy theory that Malcolm Turnbull engineered this during his dinner with Clive shortly beforehand kind of interesting.

The extraordinary Gore-Palmer drama began about 10 weeks ago when the quietly spoken but very effective former Australian Conservation Foundation head, Don Henry, approached a former adviser to Tony Windsor, John Clements, to ask whether he could open a line of communication with Clive Palmer.

Henry is an international board member of Gore’s “climate reality project”. Clements and Windsor had struck up a friendly relationship with Palmer during the last parliament. Palmer’s three senators held the key to the future of most of Australia’s existing climate change legislation. It was an unusual, but potentially powerful, mix.

Clements was sceptical – was the conservationist just lining up to have a go at Palmer? He was persuaded the dialogue would be serious.

Phone calls began, between Henry and Palmer and between Palmer and Gore. Would the Palmer United party (PUP) keep the clean energy finance corporation, the climate change authority, even the emissions trading scheme in a kind of hibernating state in preparation for tougher international action?

Just over two weeks ago Ben Oquist, now strategy director at the Australia Institute but previously chief of staff to Greens leaders Bob Brown and Christine Milne and a canny political and parliamentary operator, flew to Brisbane to share a Japanese lunch with Palmer and his media adviser Andrew Crook. Should he meet Gore, Palmer asked, as the three discussed the details of climate policy.

The talks with Henry culminated in a meeting last Thursday at the Hyatt Hotel in Canberra, down the road from parliament house, between Henry, Palmer, Clements and Crook, where the broad outline of Wednesday’s PUP announcements were discussed, as well as the idea of a joint press conference with Gore, who was already in Australia for a “climate reality” workshop. ...

Gore then wavered about the idea of standing at a podium beside the leader of a party that was promising to repeal the world-class carbon pricing scheme. At the last minute he was convinced to go ahead because PUP was promising to reintroduce the scheme in a different form in the near future and had also agreed to retain the renewable energy target, which it had previously intended to try to abolish, and which the government has been preparing to dramatically wind back.

And so it came about that Gore and Palmer, an unlikely duo, stood at a podium to announce the certain repeal of Australia's carbon pricing scheme and the very uncertain possibility that an emissions trading scheme would be reintroduced sometime in the future. ...

The carbon price will almost certainly be repealed. Direct Action is likely to go down as well. But some parts of the current climate change laws will be retained: the CEFC, the independent climate change authority and the RET.


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