Don’t Smoke ‘Em Even if You’ve Got ‘Em

Dean Sigler Biofuels, Diesel Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

Biofuels would be wonderful if they didn’t starve people while feeding trucks, cars and airplanes.  Living with such a constraint, though, might prove to be productive, profitable, and environmentally sound. The Guardian describes efforts in America’s tobacco country to grow a crop that will be less destructive of human lungs and hearts if it is consumed in jet engines rather than in cigarettes. “’We’re experimenting with varieties that were discarded 50 years ago by traditional tobacco growers because the flavors were poor or the plants didn’t have enough nicotine,’ explains Tyton [BioEnergy Systems] co-founder Peter Majeranowski.” In a case that oddly enough is GMO free, “Researchers are pioneering selective breeding techniques and genetic engineering to increase tobacco’s sugar and seed …

Another Round of Funding for More Efficient Vehicles

Dean Sigler Diesel Powerplants, Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

On January 22, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced the release of, “More than $55 million to develop and deploy cutting-edge vehicle technologies that strengthen the clean energy economy.”  This is at least the second series of Department of Energy incentives for development of ways to increase fuel efficiency and reduce petroleum consumption.  Such technologies will “support the Energy Department’s EV Everywhere Grand Challenge to make plug-in electric vehicles as affordable to own and operate as today’s gasoline-powered vehicles by 2022.” Secretary Moniz explained, “Energy Department investments in advanced vehicle technologies have had a major impact on the industry, driving down costs for consumers and reducing carbon emissions.  These projects will continue America’s leadership in building safe, reliable, and efficient vehicles …

Copper Catalyst Makes Room Temperature Ethanol

Dean Sigler Diesel Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

We’ve written a great deal about ways of making so-called “bio-fuels,” those ethanol, methanol and even diesel substitutes that avoid the high toxicity and environmental harm of fossil fuels.  Often though, these substitutes require the diversion of foodstocks or the use of exotic catalysts and high energy inputs to trigger the appropriate mechanisms. Scientists as Stanford University may have found a way to use copper, though, to make ethanol without corn or other plants.  They’ve “created a copper-based catalyst that produces large quantities of ethanol from carbon monoxide gas at room temperature.” Matthew W. Kanan, Assistant Professor at Stanford, has been working toward this kind of biofuel production for many years.  His University profile contains the following: “The ability to …

Algae to Crude While You Wait

Dean Sigler Diesel Powerplants, Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 1 Comment

Engineers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington have beat nature by millions of years in turning algal glop into crude oil,  cooking a “a verdant green paste with the consistency of pea soup” into oil, water, and a nutritious batch of byproducts. Douglas Elliott, the laboratory fellow leading PNNL team’s research says, “It’s a bit like using a pressure cooker, only the pressures and temperatures we use are much higher.  In a sense, we are duplicating the process in the Earth that converted algae into oil over the course of millions of years. We’re just doing it much, much faster.” “Faster” means an hour or less, researchers having combined several chemical steps normally associated with …

Batteries That Heal Themselves

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

Alert reader Colin Rush provided this breaking development in battery science. Regular readers will remember Dr. Yi Cui’s name.  He’s a Stanford University scientist who has worked with paper batteries, much more powerful electrodes, and means of helping batteries stay together under the continuous strain of expanding and contracting during charging and discharging.  He explained that at the third annual Electric Aircraft Symposium at the Hiller Aviation Museum, and has since adopted several tactics to overcome that problem.  One commercial outgrowth of his work, Amprius, is working on commercial production that benefits from his insights. Since that internal flexing eventually leads to cracking of electrodes, Dr. Cui’s latest announcement brings some hope that such things can not only be overcome, …

Plasmonics – Not a New Rock Group

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

A good deal of what we see in life is counter-intuitive – things like pushing forward on the control stick when the airplane stalls and is headed downhill already.  Plasmonic metamaterials as designed by University of Pennsylvania scientists have counter-intuitive properties, such as breaking light that strikes them into surface plasmon polaritons with shorter wavelengths than the original incident light. This quantum-like reaction occurs when, “Light hitting a metamaterial is transformed into electromagnetic waves of a different variety—surface plasmon polaritons, which are shorter in wavelength than the incident light. This transformation leads to unusual and counterintuitive properties that might be harnessed for practical use. Moreover, new approaches that simplify the fabrication process of metamaterials are under development. This work also …

5X Batteries? How About 70,000X Solar Cells?

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 2 Comments

Matt Shipman of North Carolina State University News Services reports on a connector that could allow stacking solar cells without losing voltage.  This stacking could allow cells to operate at solar concentrations of “70,000 suns worth of energy without losing much voltage as ‘wasted energy’ or heat.”  This could have tremendous implications improving the overall efficiency of solar energy devices and reducing the cost of solar energy production. Stacked solar cells live up to their name, simply being several cells stacked on one another, with their layering leading to up to 45-percent efficiency in converting solar energy into electricity.  So far, the big drawback has been the junctions between cells, which tend to waste the energy from the connected cells as …

Record Conversion Efficiency for Plastic Solar Cells

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

Megan Fellman, reporting for Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, explains a possible breakthrough in obtaining power conversion efficiency for polymer (plastic) solar cells  close to those for more expensive silicon cells. Fellman lists the benefits of the plastic cells: “Among the various photovoltaic technologies, polymer (plastic) solar cells offer unique attractions and opportunities. These solar cells contain Earth-abundant and environmentally benign materials, can be made flexible and lightweight, and can be fabricated using roll-to-roll technologies similar to how newspapers are printed. But the challenge has been improving the cells’ power-conversion efficiency.” Faculty members and students led by Professor Tobin J. Marks designed and synthesized new polymer semiconductors, “and reports the realization of polymer solar cells with fill factors of 80 percent – …

Fuel Cell Progress in Britain

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 1 Comment

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado released a document last year on the viability of fuel cells for various applications, including transportation.  The National Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Learning Demonstration Final Report, “analyzed data from more than 500,000 individual vehicle trips covering 3.6 million miles traveled and more than 152,000 [kilograms] hydrogen produced or dispensed.”  The agency tested 180 vehicles over a six-year period. With United States Department of Energy expectations that fuel cell powered vehicles could achieve: • 250-mile driving range • 2,000-hour fuel cell durability • $3/gallon gasoline equivalent (gge) hydrogen production cost (based on volume production) At least two fuel cell manufacturers report results exceeding these numbers, so the major impediment to wide-spread implementation of …

Soy Beans – Not Just for Tofu Anymore

Dean Sigler Electric Powerplants, Sustainable Aviation 0 Comments

Shilpa and twin sister Shweta Iyer have been working on splitting water to extract hydrogen for many years.  In November, 2012 the Port Jefferson Station high school students won regional finalist honors in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, and netted $1,000 each.  They were awarded the Grand Prize in the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair in March, and were sent to Phoenix, Arizona in May to compete in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, where they won fourth place and $500 each.  Their winnings go into college funds which they will invest in the fall. What has won these young women international recognition?  Perhaps it’s their work in creating a catalyst for the production of …