There’s a more efficient way to harvest energy from the backyard than by wiring up hapless critters. Researchers at the University of Georgia have proof: they’ve discovered a way to generate electricity from plants through hijacking the photosynthesis process. By altering the proteins inside a plant cell’s thylakoids, which store solar energy, scientists can intercept electrons through a carbon nanotube backing that draws them away before they’re used to make sugar. While the resulting power isn’t phenomenal, it’s still two orders of magnitude better than previous methods, according to the university. The protein modification method may have a rosier future, as well: the team believes that it could eventually compete with solar cells, producing green energy in a very literal sense.
In a U.S. patent application, a Maryland man says his breakthrough will end the planet’s reliance on fossil fuel.
By GREG GORDON — STATESMAN WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON – Ronald Ace says that his flat-panel “Solar Traps,” which could be used in electric power plants, will shatter decades-old scientific and technological barriers that have stymied efforts to make solar energy a cheap, clean and reliable alternative.
“This is a fundamental scientific and environmental discovery,” Ace said. “This invention can meet about 92 percent of the world’s energy needs.” The transformation also could blunt global warming.
His claimed discoveries, which exist only on paper so far, would represent such a leap forward that they are sure to draw deep skepticism from solar energy experts. But a recently retired congressional energy adviser who has reviewed the invention’s still-secret design, said it’s “a no brainer” that the device would vastly outperform all other known solar technology.
‘OUTSIDE THE BOX’
Ace said he is arranging for a national energy laboratory to review his calculations and that his own crude prototypes already have demonstrated that the basic physics for the invention work.
If the trap even comes close to meeting his futuristic vision, its impact could be breathtaking: It could reorder the world’s energy landscape, end the global economic drag of soaring energy costs, and eventually curb greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for climate change.
That all might sound rather rosy, since the previously undisclosed invention has yet to be constructed and fully tested. But John Darnell, a scientist and the former congressional aide who has monitored Ace’s dogged research for more than three years and has reviewed his complex calculations, has no doubts.
“Anybody who is skilled in the art and understands what he’s proposing is going to have this dumbfounding reaction: ‘Oh, well it’s obvious it’ll work,’ ” said Darnell, a biochemist with an extensive background in thermodynamics.
“Ron has turned conventional wisdom about solar on its head,” he said. “He thinks outside the box.”
An independent inventor working from his home outside the nation’s capital, Ace said that his filing culminated years of research into ways to efficiently capture and store solar energy.
In recent interviews and redacted excerpts from his patent application, he said that his invention can be used to retrofit conventional nuclear- or fossil fuel-fired power plants to produce electricity at about 2 cents per kilowatt-hour. That alone would be a staggering advance, slashing the average wholesale cost of power by two-thirds and the cost of solar energy by up to ninefold – estimates that Ace called conservative.
JUST THE BEGINNING
A separate rooftop version, which Ace believes ultimately will power most homes and businesses, would initially provide cheap heating and hot water. Soon, he said, equipment for those traps will be able to convert solar energy to electricity, air conditioning and, if enough panels are installed, to produce excess energy to sell to utility companies. Consumers will be able to reap enough savings on their utility bills to recover their costs within two to four years, a performance that far surpasses photovoltaic solar panels that are gaining a market toehold worldwide, Ace said.
His traps also could, for the first time, provide a viable way to operate power plants by collecting energy above 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit – the heat needed to drive the turbines that generate electricity. Such high-temperature plants would significantly top the efficiency of conventional nuclear-, coal- and gas-powered plants, further reducing costs, he said.
Higher-temperature collection in all of these uses, he said, would overcome one of the tallest barriers to a solar age: the inability to develop cheap, long-term storage of thermal energy from the sun. Ace said that his invention would allow weeks of high-temperature storage at one-tenth to one-hundredth of the current cost, meaning that solar power systems could generate electricity uninterrupted during lengthy stints of cloudy weather.
His traps will be so efficient that they can be used even in less sunny regions, he said.
Until Ace shares his secrets, produces a working prototype, licenses a major project or wins the blessing of a peer review panel, he may get little credence.
“There are few cases in history where people come up with something which is totally unexpected,” said Ramamoorthy Ramesh, a former head of the U.S. Energy Department‘s Sunshot solar program, tasked to spur solar energy innovation. “Who knows? It may actually be correct. But I’m an experimentalist. And until it’s proven, I don’t believe it.”
If Ace is making history, his invention may stand alongside the introduction of the steam engine 300 years ago that set the stage for the Industrial Revolution.
Ace said that confidentiality agreements are being signed so that solar experts at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., can review his invention. He already has confided details to former President Jimmy Carter, who created the Energy Department in 1977 with a mission of sponsoring “transformative science and technology solutions.” Former U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, who was Darnell’s boss and has championed Ace’s search for investors, has called the inventor “a genius.”
ALL ABOUT EFFICIENCY
A major stumbling block for solar thermal energy devices invented to date has been that, as temperatures rise, increasing amounts of energy escape, or radiate away, from their receivers. At 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit, currently designed receivers would radiate as much energy as they collect, sinking their efficiency to zero, solar experts say.
In his patent application, Ace wrote that his invention amounts to “a high-temperature blackbody absorber” that is “similar in some ways to an astronomical black hole.”
The key, he said, is his trap’s ability to absorb nearly 100 percent of the sunshine that hits it, while allowing only a tiny percentage of energy to escape, even at ultra-high temperatures.
Such a feat would astound many solar experts, who have had little success combating radiation losses in pilot solar plants, which use fields of mirrors to redirect and concentrate sunlight on common receivers.
Ace said that he contacted five national laboratories during his research, floating his interpretations of physics laws or double-checking his methodology on complex math equations without divulging his invention.
Darnell, who is barred by a confidentiality agreement from revealing its details, said that even if the solar trap “comes up way short, it’s going to be way ahead of the competition.”
Petrol prices are increasing and the supply of our natural resources decreasing, not a good combination. Luckily for us though, ‘the Scientists’ have been hard at work coming up with a solution to our little conundrum. So, what does the future of fuel hold for our vehicles? We’ve taken a look at the various fuel options that could be on the market for our cars in the not so distant future.
Hydrogen accounts for around 75% of the universe’s mass, and is odourless and colourless in its properties. It is found in combination with oxygen, carbon and nitrogen and can only be used as a fuel when it has been separated from these elements. Hydrogen is relatively inexpensive to produce as it is a byproduct produced from the steam of natural gas (which we already source) and even produced by electrolysis it is extremely efficient. Running cars off hydrogen rather than petrol or gas will help decrease pollution and will be cheaper for consumers to purchase. The main disadvantage of hydrogen is its explosive properties, even more so than gas, meaning the transportation and storage of the fuel would have to be carefully thought out.
Ethanol is a renewable resource made from plants; it’s a clear liquid, with a friendly smell and must be mixed with gasoline to run in vehicles. It is produced from crops such as sugar cane, wheat, corn and biomass (agricultural wastes). Ethanol has many benefits, including lower fuel prices as it dilutes the cost of gas, reduces the air pollution and unlike Hydrogen it is non-explosive.
Biodiesel can be made up from various eco-friendly resources such as, recycled vegetable oils, animal fats, and algae. These fuels can run in any diesel car with little or no adjustments, making it cheap and easy for vehicle owners to convert to the eco-fuels. Biodiesels burn much cleaner than traditional fossil fuels and as biofuels release carbon dioxide when the burn this can be absorbed by plants and trees. Unfortunately, biodiesel releases more nitrous oxide than regular diesel.
4. Vegetable Oil
Vegetable oil must be heated to the right temperature before it can be used in a car; however once done so it can be used in a regular diesel engine with just a few adjustments. Vegetable oil releases less harmful gases than fossil fuels and unlike fossil fuels it can be recycled, with restaurant kitchens using large amounts of vegetable oils selling them on when they have finished with them. A vast area of land is required for the crops to produce vegetable oils, but other than this there aren’t many downfalls to this super fuel.
Electricity, all though not a new concept, is relatively new to the world of motors. Electric cars are bringing all kinds of benefits to Mother Nature, as they don’t omit any ‘tail-pipe’ gases; they are quieter and reduce oil consumption. They also benefit the user as the running costs are much lower than a regular car and they are more reliable as they don’t use fluids they require relatively little fluids. Although the power plants creating the electricity do omit pollutant gases this is considered minimal compared to that of those omitted by the vehicles.
So what fuel would you chose to run your car off?
Leah Jarratt is a guest writer for Fleettankkarten.be, Belgium’s National Fuel Card.
The luxury outdoors is no longer all about the hi-tech BBQ grill and weatherproof furniture, every element in the patio has been re-imagined to make your backyard your private luxury oasis. From hi-tech heaters to patio umbrella, its only getting better to suit our modern lifestyle. We have earlier seen the Cantilever umbrella that rotates up to 360° to follow the sun and Mocha Solar-lighted umbrella that include solar charging capabilities. Now Hammacher is also selling a USB charging patio umbrella for $500 each, which will help power your mobile and hand held devices, purely from what it derives from the skies.
This patio umbrella has been fitted with 3.7-volt 1000 mAh battery, that’s constantly getting charged for back up power via the solar exposure outside, and thus acts a store for electricity which can be used later for charging. Under normal conditions, the solar panel located on the top of the umbrella, helps convert solar energy into electricity, which can then be transferred to the battery of the various devices via the USB port, located on the lower end of the aluminum umbrella pole. The umbrella is around 9-feet in diameter, and the fabrication is well capable of diverting the harmful UV rays elsewhere, with upto 98% protection. The UPF rating is known to be 50+, which incidentally is the highest possible UV protection rating currently used.
Just in case, one would like to wrap up the outside sitting and take things inside the home, the umbrella can be closed easily with a hand crank which is as smooth as one gets them on such umbrellas. The powder coated finishing on the pole gives it a decent weather resistance and a firm grip as well. In short, its all about being nature conscious and tech savvy which is the new lifestyle we see in the top 12 solar innovations, much of which features gadgets such as these.
IKEA officially plugged-in the solar energy system installed atop its Stoughton store, the company announced May 8.
The 118,000-square-foot PV array consists of a 590.8-kW (DC) system, built with 4,220 laminated panels.
IKEA-Stoughton’s program will produce approximately 695,000 kWh of clean electricity annually, the equivalent of reducing 479 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), eliminating the emissions of 94 cars or powering 60 homes yearly.
This installation represents the 38th completed solar project for IKEA in the U.S., with one more location underway, making the eventual IKEA solar presence nearly 90% of its U.S. locations, with a total generation of 38 MW.
IKEA owns and operates each of its solar PV energy systems atop its buildings – as opposed to a solar lease or PPA (power purchase agreement) – and globally has allocated $1.8 billion to invest in renewable energy through 2015.
This investment reinforces the long-term commitment of IKEA to sustainability and confidence in photovoltaic (PV) technology.
Consistent with the company’s goal of being energy independent by 2020, IKEA has installed more than 250,000 solar panels on buildings across the world and owns/operates approximately 110 wind turbines in Europe.
For the development, design and installation of the Stoughton store’s customized solar power system, IKEA contracted with REC Solar, Inc., a national leader in solar electric system design and installation with more than 9,000 systems built across the U.S.
“We at IKEA believe in the never-ending job of improving the sustainability of our day-to-day business,” said Frank Briel, store manager.
“The Stoughton coworkers are excited to help contribute to this goal with our newly operational solar energy system,” he added. “We appreciate the support of the Town of Stoughton, National Grid and REC Solar, our partners in this project.”
IKEA, drawing from its Swedish heritage and respect of nature, believes it can be a good business while doing good business and aims to minimize impacts on the environment.
IKEA evaluates locations regularly for conservation opportunities, integrates innovative materials into product design, works to maintain sustainable resources, and flat-packs goods for efficient distribution.
U.S. sustainable efforts include: recycling waste material; incorporating key measures into buildings with energy-efficient HVAC and lighting systems, recycled construction materials, warehouse skylights, and water-conserving restrooms; and operationally, eliminating plastic bags from the check-out process, phasing-out the sale of incandescent light bulbs, facilitating recycling compact fluorescent bulbs, and by 2016 selling and using only L.E.D. bulbs.
IKEA-Stoughton opened in November 2005. There are currently more than 340 IKEA stores in 41 countries, including 38 in the U.S. The Stoughton location is the only Boston-area store.