Scientists at the University of Liverpool are developing a new wind turbine dubbed the “Heat Waver” that uses solar photovoltaic rotors to generate energy even when the wind isn’t blowing. The team, headed by Dr. Joe King, has built a prototype and is currently determining an installation site on which to test it. There are still many technical issues to iron out, but Dr. King has hope that his team can “transform the world’s renewable energy needs,” citing locations such as Morocco, Italy, Spain, and Australia as areas where the technology could potentially be highly beneficial.
A two-year study at Michigan State University finds that growing native prairie grasses for biofuel harvesting is more beneficial to wildlife populations than monoculture stands of corn. The research team, headed by biologist Bruce Robertson, attempted to identify ecologically sound biofuel alternatives that are as cost-effective as corn, which is currently the primary feedstock for deriving ethanol in the US. The study showed that almost twice as many insects and birds were present amongst mixed prairie grasses than corn. Fields of only switchgrass yielded less wildlife presence than those of mixed prairie grasses, but still greater levels than tracts of pure corn. The study prompts questions about how often feedstock would need to be harvested and how disruptive harvest would be to wildlife on site, but it also gives early support the hybridization of strategies for addressing biodiversity and renewable energy generation.
Inspired by the natural process of photosynthesis, the Nocera group in the chemistry department at MIT claims to have successfully produced ”artificial leaves,” small and inexpensive solar cells that can convert sunlight and water into energy.
About the shape of a poker card but thinner, the device is fashioned from silicon, electronics and catalysts, substances that accelerate chemical reactions that otherwise would not occur, or would run slowly. Placed in a single gallon of water in a bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day, Nocera said. It does so by splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen and oxygen gases would be stored in a fuel cell, which uses those two materials to produce electricity, located either on top of the house or beside it.
Unclear in this report is the volume of water required to generate power for that house, and its availability (and clarity) at in the developing countries where the application might be ideal. Still, a promising development.
(via Science Daily)
According to the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), an estimated 100,000 to 440,000 birds die from collisions from wind turbines in the United States each year, and by 2030 that figure could easily surpass 1 million per year. Although ABC is in support of alternative energy choices such as wind power, they recommend passing regulations for the wind energy industry that take into consideration four measures of avian safety:
1. Siting. When choosing the location for a wind farm, the site should be on previously disturbed land, such as agricultural or industrial areas. Sensitive bird habitat, such as areas along migratory paths, wetlands, and key nesting areas, should be avoided.
2. Operation and Construction Mitigation. Efforts should be made to minimize the impacts of interconnection by burying transmission lines, or following the guidelines put forth by the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee if set above ground. Also, lighting should be used to deter night-flying migratory birds and construction-disturbed habitat should be restored.
3. Monitoring. A monitoring system should be in place during both pre- and post-construction to assess the numbers of birds affected by the wind farm. Quantitative studies can be used to gauge and/or improve future decisions.
4. Compensation. In order to mitigate the loss of bird habitat caused by wind farm development, suitable areas should be acquired and preserved for habitat conservation.
A new study conducted by Dr. Graham Martin at Birmingham University investigates how bird sight effects collisions with human infrastructure, including wind turbines.
“When in flight, birds may turn their heads to look down, either with the binocular field or with the lateral part of an eye’s visual field,” says Martin. “Such behavior results in certain species being at least temporarily blind in the direction of travel.”
Martin notes that most avian vision prioritizes movement, not spatial detail, for hunting purposes. High speeds required for flight also limit the amount of information that birds can process about their environment. Understanding these different ways of seeing could aid in the development of warning systems to limit collisions with renewable energy infrastructure.
Residents of Canton, Massachusetts have approved plans to install a large solar array on a landfill that was capped and has remained undeveloped since the mid-1980s. The array will consist of 24,000 3′ x 5′ panels that are expected to generate up to 5.6 MW of power by the time the project reaches completion in 2012. If all goes to plan, the installation will be the largest solar field in New England.
Beyond making productive use of a former landfill site and satisfying the Massachusetts quota for renewable energy sourcing, the solar array will direct energy and monetary savings back to local residents. According to the chairman of Canton’s Board of Selectmen, Victor Del Vecchio, the project could generate up to $70 million for the town from a combination of new revenue and energy savings.
Next year, Princeton University will begin construction of a 27-acre solar field, hosting16,500 photovoltaic panels, to partially power its New Jersey campus. The array will be built on off-campus university-owned land and is projected to generate 8 million kilowatts of energy per year, or 5.5% of Princeton’s total electricity usage. The cost of the project will be funded in part by New Jersey’s Solar Renewable Energy Certificate program, the terms of which will require sale of energy credits—one for every 1,000 kilowatt hours—to utility companies through 2020.
Japanese inventor Akinori Ito has devised a way to revert post-consumer plastics, including the ubiquitous plastic bag, into petroleum-based fuel. By heating up material in a small machine, capturing and cooling the vapors, and collecting the resulting liquid, Ito is able to turn two pounds of plastic into about a quart of oil, using a single kilowatt of power. The system is still prohibitively expensive, but the technology has the potential to lessen demand for petroleum extraction and provide an impetus for keeping plastic out of the garbage stream.
The U.S. Army plans to install a new landfill gas-to-electricity facility at its base in Fort Benning, Georgia. Capturing landfill gas to generate electrical power is a fairly well-established practice at this point, but what will distinguish the Flex Powerstation is its ability to oxidize gases with levels of methane as low as 1.5%. According to FlexEnergy, the company that produces the technology, the Flex Powerstation will be able to run “directly on low pressure, low flow, and low BTU fuel gas.” This means that the technology could turn out to be useful on older landfill sites whose landfill gas outputs have diminished to low levels and where landfill gas is otherwise simply vented or flared. The modular technology of the Powerstation also allows it to be installed easily on other sites. The total capacity for the installation at Fort Benning will be 250 kW.
Inhabitat reports that construction has begun on the nation’s first commercial biofuel plant, in Vero Beach, Florida. Formerly the site of a citrus processing factory, the Indian River BioEnergy Center, a $130 million joint venture of Ineos Bio and New Plant Energy, is expected to annually produce 8 million gallons of bio-ethanol and six megawatts of renewable power, two of which will be allocated to the local community.
To create ethanol, the plant will use a traditional biofuel technology which involves heating plant waste and gasifying it, but they will also use a special technology developed by Ineos. While most processes focus on converting one type of plant material, the new technology uses naturally occurring bacteria that eat hydrogen and carbon monoxide to create ethanol from a multitude of raw materials, including household and yard waste, forestry waste, agricultural waste, and solid municipal waste. Whatever gases are not consumed by the bacteria, the plant will burn to produce electricity.
The project has been funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and the state of Florida, as well as a $75 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of its Biorefinery Assistance Program.