‘Fire Ice’ – The New Source Of Green Energy? Japan Certainly Seems To Think So

Imagine lighting a fire to a hard-packed snowball or the mud deep inside the ocean bed. While that may sound impossible, it is not only feasible, but the government of Japan believes that they can use this energy to fuel the entire country, for at least a decade.

As you have probably guessed the ice and mud in question are not the ones we normally encounter, but a special kind that has methane gas molecules locked inside, which is what burns, when in contact with a match. Also known as methane hydrate it was first discovered in the 1800’s and for many years thought of as nuisance ice that clogs up pipelines during cold weather. However, when large deposits of it started being discovered naturally under the ice in Alaska and Canada, as well as, under the marine sediments on ocean floors, scientists began to wonder if it could be tapped for fuel.

But so far, no one has attempted to extract it on a large scale from either areas because of the challenges involved. In the case of the frozen methane, scientists are concerned that it may become unstable during mining or transportation, which would result in the release of a gas that is ten times worse than carbon dioxide.

As for the methane hydrate found under the ocean? The logistics of extracting it are simply too complex. That’s because not only do the pipes first have to get to a kilometer below sea level to the seabed, but be lowered hundreds of meters down further, to where the gas is located. Also, many of the reserves lie in areas where the seabed starts to drop off, making it even more difficult to lay the pipes accurately. To add to the complications, the gas has to be separated and captured from the Chlarate, (the chemical substance that causes it to be in the frozen state) at the source. Otherwise, there is the danger that it will escape when it encounters the change in pressure, as it is being hauled up.

But all these hurdles didn’t stop the Japanese from trying. On March 11th, 2013, the officials from Japan, Oil and Metals National Corporation announced that they had becoming the first country to successfully extract methane hydrate or ‘fire ice’ from the seabed. The company that has been drilling underwater off the Shikoku Island, Japan since January, announced that they had recently completed a two-week experiment in extracting the gas from its watery hideout and piping it up to the surface. They believe that by 2018, they will be able to develop the technology to safely extract enough fuel to satisfy the entire country’s energy needs.

Though encouraging and certainly a step in the right direction, Japan still has to prove that it can achieve stable production and safely extract the gas without causing any catastrophic damage to the seabed. Besides the danger that large scale production may cause the gas to escape into the atmosphere, experts are also concerned that scraping through large areas of seabed could result in an underwater slide leading to tsunami – Something the Japanese sure don’t want to experience ever again! But if scientists can overcome all these hurdles, methane could prove to be a great green energy alternative. Also, it would be cool to have things powered by these strange, ice-like nuggets wouldn’t it?

Source: http://www.dogonews.com/2013/3/17/fire-ice-the-new-source-of-green-energy-japan-certainly-seems-to-think-so


Guest Post


To many, thinking and looking after the environment is viewed as an arduous task. As we rifle through our bins, sorting the recyclable from the waste, quite often looking after the environment isn’t always the most enjoyable of tasks.

The truth is however, being green and looking after your home can also save you money.

Not just the odd penny, as many may presume but actually pounds stretching into the hundreds.

But how can you save money by being green?

Unfortunately, you have to invest to make money, but unlike most things, once you buy something such as renewable energy technology, once that you install it; there’s often very little that you have to do afterwards.

For example, solar panels take two to three days to install onto your roof, but once you have them up, you don’t really need to do anything else for another twenty years.

Although they can be expensive, if you choose to buy them, you could save around £645 a year (based on a 3.5kWp solar PV system eligible for a tariff of 15.44p/kWh).

Of course, solar panels can cost anything between £5-10k but thanks to the Government’s Green Deal. It doesn’t have to be quite as expensive as you’d think.

The Green deal is great for an array of energy-saving home improvements as you don’t have to pay up front for any of the technology that you install.

Quite simply, once loaned the money, you pay it back through your electricity bills, and if you don’t save money through the deal, you don’t get it; meaning that it will always be in your benefit.

With the Green deal you can get:
* Insulation
* Heating
* Draught-proofing
* Double glazing
* Renewable energy technologies.

If you plan on moving home, the Green Deal also benefits you as the debt stays with the house – and not the person.

Of course, even the small things in life can save you money.

If you’re into lighting, then there’s a fair chance that you’ll have heard of LED lighting.

As you’re probably aware, fluorescent light bulbs are extremely inefficient as they only work at 20% efficiency; meaning that 80% of the energy produced is given off as heat.

Interestingly, LED lights work on the exact opposite basis, meaning that you can save tens of pounds every year and because they last for up to 50,000 hours; the individual lights can last years.

In fact one 5W LED light, operating six hours a day, seven days a week will save you £10.37 a year (based on 2012 electricity prices). Ten of these (the average home has 40 sockets) will save you £100.

You can find LED light calculators on companies such as the LED Lighting Depot.

LED lights are of course one example where efficiency can save you money but the truth is, the philosophy will work on every household product.

Stanford’s Solar Cell Turbocharger Could Boost Solar Power Output by 50%

A diagram of Stanford’s photon-enhanced thermionic emission (PETE) device. The yellow/gray sandwich at the top is the GaAs/AlGaAs cathode; the blue balls are photoexecited electrons; the gray slab is the anode; and the red/blue section represents a heat pipe, that leads to a steam turbine/Stirling engine.

Scientists at Stanford University have improved the efficiency of a revolutionary solar cell by around 100 times. Unlike standard photovoltaic cells, which only capture light energy, Stanford’s new device captures both light and heat, potentially boosting solar cell efficiency towards 60% — way beyond the 30-40% limit of traditional silicon photovoltaic solar cells.

This new device uses a process called photon-enhanced thermionic emission (PETE). In photovoltaic cells, photons strike a semiconductor (usually silicon), creating electricity by knocking electrons loose from their parent atoms. The PETE process is similar, but also very different and altogether rather complex. In essence, think of it as the photovoltaic equivalent of a turbocharger.

To begin with, there’s a gallium arsenide/aluminium gallium arsenide (GaAs/AlGaAs) semiconductor sandwich at the top of the device. (The picture at the top of the story, incidentally, is a gallium arsenide wafer.) The top half of the sandwich is tuned to gather as much sunlight as possible, creating a lot of excited electrons using the photovoltaic effect. The underside is basically a sea of nanoantennae, which emits these photoexcited electrons across a vacuum to the anode. At the anode, the electrons are gathered and turned into an electrical current.

Beneath the anode is some kind of heat pipe, which collects any leftover heat to be used by a steam turbine or Stirling engine. The vacuum seems to play an important role, ensuring there’s a temperature differential between the cathode and anode.

Unlike normal photovoltaic cells which break down at high temperatures, PETE actually improves in efficiency as it gets hotter. One of the easiest applications of PETE would be in concentrating solar power plants, where thousands of mirrors concentrate light on a central vat of boiling water, which drives a steam turbine. By concentrating the light on PETE devices instead, Stanford estimates that their power output could increase by 50%, bringing the cost of solar power generation down into the range of fossil fuels.

Stanford’s current device only has an efficiency of 2%, but that’s up from just a few hundredths of a percent last year, and they expect to see a 10-fold gain in the future. Previously, the researchers have said that a PETE device should be able to reach an efficiency of 55-60%, most likely by incorporating metals such as barium or strontium, which will allow for operating temperatures up to 500 Celsius. The ultimate goal, of course, is to bump up the efficiency of solar power so that useful amounts of cost-effective electricity can be generated from non-desert-sized spaces.

Source: http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/151160-stanfords-solar-cell-turbocharger-could-boost-solar-power-output-by-50

Australia Retains Renewable Energy Target

Despite efforts by some Australian utility companies and industry groups to see Australia’s Renewable Energy Targets (RET) wound back, the government has decided to maintain them. Utilities are having an impact elsewhere, with fixed electricity prices set to increase to ensure solar households pay “their share” of electricity infrastructure costs.

Australia will maintain its renewable energy targets. Silex Solar

Energy policy in Australia has been an increasingly controversial topic of late, with rising electricity costs driving debate. In the face of a campaign to see the fixed target of 41,000 GWh of renewable energy to be added to the country’s electricity grids by 2020 watered down, the Australian Federal Government stood firm this week, and endorsed the Climate Change Authority’s recommendation that it be maintained.

In announcing the decision, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet accused the Opposition of being “all over the place” in terms of renewable energy. “This is a Government very committed to renewable energy,” Combet told reporters. “We are going to remain committed to it and it is in stark contrast to the Opposition.”

Arguments to dilute the RET was based on the fact that electricity demand in Australia is falling, due to a number of factors including high and rising electricity prices, the installation of around 2 GW of photovoltaics and enhanced insulation and energy efficiency.

While this decision could be seen as being a win for renewable energy and photovoltaics in Australia, elsewhere in the country state government measures are looking to restructure electricity costs, at the bidding of utilities. In Western Australia, local media has reported that the recently re-elected State Government is considering increasing fixed charges for all households, to compensate for falling revenues from variable charges. These revenues are falling as more households add photovoltaic systems.

Late last year, the head of utility Western Power Paul Italiano had said that households with solar panels are able to avoid paying “their share” of infrastructure costs, due to reducing their electricity usage and therefore bills.

The Sustainable Energy Association’s Kirsten Rose told pv magazine that she understands the utility head’s concerns that solar households should contribute to upkeep the ‘poles and wires.’ “It’s also important to recognize the real benefit to the grid that solar PV has delivered, which has been widely acknowledged, in the form of a reduction in peak demand and therefore spot pricing,” added Rose.

The sustainable business chamber head continued that all tariffs should be reviewed as electricity markets transition to becoming more “contestable,” with electricity customers increasingly becoming producers. “We also believe that it’s reasonable to look at what a fair fixed charge is to all customers, but in the context of looking at all the charges to customers, including lower-income customers who are less likely to have solar panels.”

With high electricity prices and abundant sunshine, residential grid parity has arrived in Australia and households are taking up solar in large numbers. Last month, Bloomberg New Energy Finance went one step further and predicted that large scale photovoltaics will be cheaper than coal and gas power plants, at the generation level, by 2020.

Read more: http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/beitrag/australia-retains-renewable-energy-target_100010642/#ixzz2ODqQmlzk

Apple’s Data Centers Now Running on 100% Renewable Energy

Bloomberg notes that Apple has posted the 2012 update of its environmental policy pages, noting that the company has now achieved 100% renewable energy usage at all of its data centers. On a worldwide basis, the company’s corporate facilities are now running on 75% renewable energy, up from 35% just two years ago.

Our goal is to power every facility at Apple entirely with energy from renewable sources — solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal. So we’re investing in our own onsite energy production, establishing relationships with suppliers to procure renewable energy off the grid, and reducing our energy needs even as our employee base grows.

Our investments are paying off. We’ve already achieved 100 percent renewable energy at all of our data centers, at our facilities in Austin, Elk Grove, Cork, and Munich, and at our Infinite Loop campus in Cupertino. And for all of Apple’s corporate facilities worldwide, we’re at 75 percent, and we expect that number to grow as the amount of renewable energy available to us increases. We won’t stop working until we achieve 100 percent throughout Apple.

The move to 100% renewable energy for its data centers represents the completion of a commitment the company made last May to address criticism from Greenpeace over its energy usage. While Greenpeace’s ratings were based on erroneous calculations and assumptions, Apple took the opportunity to make more public statements about its energy usage and plans.

Apple estimates that its carbon footprint for 2012 included 30.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, with 98% of that total directly related to the life cycles of its products. The total represents a 34% increase over the company’s 2011 estimates, but Apple notes that recent increases have been driven primarily by growth in its sales, with emissions per dollar of revenue decreasing by 21.5% from 2008 to 2012.

Source: http://www.macrumors.com/2013/03/21/apples-data-centers-now-running-on-100-renewable-energy-corporate-facilities-at-75/