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Posts Tagged solar

Urban Eden

For those of you who have been following, the Solar Decathlon is going on right now.  The Decathlon features innovative homes that are solar powered built by universities around the US.  Its a pretty big production as a dozen houses are constructed on site to compete and showcase to thousands of visitors.

Well my home city of Charlotte NC has a team going to the Decathlon from UNCC.  Here is their house called Urban Eden.  Some of the neat features of this house is the rolling solar panel array that allows you to control the solar exposure in the summer months.  They also have an interesting polymer cement that reduces the buildings impact.  Check out the video below to see it all!

 

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Silo House

This is a pretty big house for this blog, it is a whooping 500 square feet, but the design and its focus on solar are amazing!  The house uses very practical materials for the external cladding.

here is an excerpt from the description

The cylinders’ design was inspired by industrial agricultural materials. The structure was made by CorTen corrugated steel as the cladding and exposed steel beams on the interior. The house takes advantage of solar gain from the steel envelope through an innovative skin-integrated solar thermal system that pre-heats hot water. Each cylinder has two operable Velux® skylights to maximize the natural lighting.

The interior was designed by combining the agricultural and industrial aesthetic through a contemporary lens. The materials chosen were considered to be eco-friendly. The primary material pallete is made from forested black locust, ash and beech hardwoods from local area. They are complemented by the use of zero off-gassing finishes throughout the entirety of the house interior. Nanawall™ systems are used as the boundary between the courtyard, bedroom, and living room, blur the distinction between interior and exterior space. The kitchen was designed to provide energy efficient cooking activities, also to combine between cooking and entertaining activities. In the bedroom, the bed is raised into a a concealed ceiling box to create an open and usable space in its footprint.

Via

How Green Is The Next National Security Plan

So I have been kicking around this idea for a week or two now and it certainly isn’t a entirely new concept, but it is the concept that by taking actions on the green front, will actually enhance our security.  Now before we get into this, I would like to steer clear of political aspect of this discussion, with the side note those who focus on Green initiatives are sometimes seen as the polar opposites to those who focus on National Security.  I think many would disagree with this view and those who didn’t could be brought to the table and see both sides.    The other thing that I would assert is that this concept isn’t exclusive to America, I speak generally about the world.  So here are a few examples of the threats I see and their solutions.

To expand on what I consider national security I think it is important to note that national security extends beyond terrorism and nuclear armaments.  It includes anything from any source that can threaten our safety, well being and long term livability.  This includes drought, blight, natural disaster, war, terrorism, etc.

Food

If you have ever seen the documentary Food Inc. (which I highly recommend) talks about how 90% of the corn and 60% of all soy beans come from one company that are one strain.  This means that a blight, whether engineered or natural, were to hit our country, we would loose 90% of all our corn in one fell swoop.  This is pretty concerning when you truly understand how much of our food comes form corn and in really unexpected forms.  If you look at how many individual strains of food we actually grow for the majority of our food, we are talking 22 types of plants with a specific strain make up 80% of our food.  Can we afford to lose 80% of our food?

So how to fix it.  We first need to encourage a larger diversity of plants, the idea being that some blights will effect some strains of plants and not others.  We then need to decentralize our food production, moving food production closer to the people.  This will take time, money and in all honesty could turn out to be more expensive as economies of scale decreases, but we also need to put a price on sleeping soundly at night.

Energy

I don’t think it takes any stretch of the imagination to see how us depending on other countries  for oil is a bad thing.  Especially when you consider that most sources of this oil are in politically unstable areas.  One thing we see as an option is to drill off shore, which as of late, we have seen how bad that has turned out to be.  The fact is that there may be a large volume of oil out there, but it is still a finite resource and it is getting harder and harder to get to.  With increased difficulty comes increased risk and while innovations can mitigate those risks, I am still left doubting it.

So the solution, I say save what we have in our country and lets focus on sustainable technologies.  While people talk about nuclear, I have to remind them of the heavy subsidies they get every year.  Nuclear is a pretty mature technology, I assert that if we took these subsidies and used them to develop solar/wind into mature technologies that we could come out on top.  The added benefit to this is that we can then decentralize power production to avoid 50 well place bombs to take out most of our power production.

To sum up I think that we are beginning to see how Green is better for everyone in many ways.  I found this video done by Pew which is pretty interesting.

Climate Patriots from Laura Lightbody on Vimeo.

Future Of Batteries

With many Tiny Houses wanting to live off the grid, many of us dream of all electric cars charged by green energy sources, we get frustrated when our devices only last a scant few hours.  What does all this have in common?  Batteries.  Technology has allowed us to do so many interesting things in today’s world, but batteries are still from the stone age, or so they seem.  They are inefficient, heave, expensive, and have a low mass/volume to power ratio.  I have said to friends many times, want to make millions, make a better battery.

Living off the grid is one of the biggest benefactors of improvements in batteries.  While solar cells aren’t quite there yet, they have made some big strides in making them cheaper and more efficient.   The point is, they are on there way.  The second component to a solar array is storing that energy to have on had at night or when you are in some heavy  usage.  Better batteries will allow us to do this.  Here is a good article from Good.

header-ev-batteries

For those who didn’t pay attention in class: Batteries are typically comprised of three main parts: a cathode (positive electrode), an anode (negative electrode), and an electrolyte (an ion-rich liquid that separates the electrodes). The movement of metal ions between the cathode and the anode through the electrolyte (and back) releases electrons, generating electricity

Lead-acid batteries, found in conventional automobiles, have a low ratio of energy to weight, which means it takes a lot of battery to provide just a little juice. Nickel-metal hydride batteries, the ones powering today’s hybrids like the Toyota Prius, are significantly lighter, but offer only a slight improvement in efficiency. Neither can compete with gasoline-fueled internal combustion.

Several technologies are competing to fuel the next generation of EVs. All of them, however, have serious weaknesses that researchers are still attempting to address. “People are betting on different horses at this point in time,” says Matt Keyser, a senior engineer in energy storage systems at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. “Which one is going to come out and win is anyone’s guess.”

Here’s a look at some of the technologies vying to corner the EV market:

Lithium-Ion

lithium-ion-smallThese batteries use lithium ions as the electrolyte. A battery pack made of these cells, while more powerful than lead-acid and nickel-metal hydride batteries, is still 10 times weaker than an internal combustion engine of the same weight. Versions of these batteries are already used in in both the Tesla Roadster and Chevy Volt, as well as many electronic devices, such as laptops and cell phones. The knock on current lithium ion technology: It dispenses its stored energy slowly, so acceleration may be slow, and the batteries take several hours to charge. Also, while lithium is plentiful, it’s not extensively mined, so it’s expensive to obtain. It may take up to 10 years for supply to catch up to projected demand.

Ultracapacitors

ultracapacitor-smallUltracapacitors charge quickly and dispense their charge speedily (curing the slow acceleration problem that plagues some electric cars). They also last much longer than batteries—they can be recharged over and over again, whereas batteries eventually will not recharge. That’s because ultracapacitors use electric fields, instead of slowly depleting chemicals, to get charges. They are already in use in short-run electric buses in Russia and garbage trucks in the United States. The downside: They only hold their charge for a limited time, so it’s unlikely that ultracapacitors will become a viable option for powering a car alone. “I think ultracapacitors are a technology that’s going to work with [battery] systems,” says Savinell. However, one Texas-based company called EEStor says it has solved the storage problem, claiming its ultracapacitors will enable a small car to travel 250 miles on a single charge that only takes five minutes to complete.

Fuel Cells

hydrogen-fuel-cell-2-smallLike batteries, fuel cells have cathodes and anodes and involve a chemical reaction, specifically making water and electrons (and thus electricity) by combining hydrogen with oxygen. The technology is simple enough, but the safety issues are the drag: The transport and onboard storage of highly explosive (remember the Hindenburg?) hydrogen gas could keep fuel cells from catching on. In addition, the catalysts needed to split hydrogen atoms into protons and electrons (like platinum, palladium, rhodium, nickel) are very expensive. “Fuel cells from a mobile standpoint are difficult,” says NREL’s Keyser. “Maybe in twenty five or thirty years down the road, we may be able to deal with all the storage issues, the transport issues, the infrastructure issues, the catalyst itself.” Seemingly agreeing with Keyser’s skepticism is the Obama administration, which cut $100 million from the federal hydrogen fuel cell program in 2009.

Redox Flow

vanadium-redox-flow-smallSimilar to fuel cells, redox flow batteries would require filling stations rather than plug-in capability. In this case, a charged electrolyte flows through the battery, producing electrons. After a while, the electrolyte loses its charge and needs to be pumped out and replaced. The electrolyte is typically made with vanadium, which is the 22nd most abundant element in the world. It’s also very safe. “If you were to spill this on the road and light a cigarette near it, it’s not going to go off like hydrogen,” says Keyser. “The big thing with [redox flow batteries] is: Are you going to get the energy density or power density that you need for the car itself?” Right now, even lithium ion cells are several times more powerful than redox flow cells. German researchers, however, claim they have a method to increase the distance redox flow batteries can power a car by four to five times, rendering them roughly equal to lithium ion batteries.

Metal Air

metal-air-battery-smallSavinell and Keyser both point to metal air batteries as the technology of the future. This battery uses the oxygen in the air as its cathode, which means it doesn’t need as much material and gets more energy for its weight. Depending on what material is used for the anode, metal air batteries could be anywhere from three times more powerful than lithium ion batteries of the same weight to as powerful as an internal combustion engine. IBM intends to bring these to market in five years for smaller electronics. “For lithium air, I think that’s more ten to fifteen years down the road [to power a car],” says Keyser. “We’re just starting to really look at that and understand all the benefits and the costs associated with lithium air batteries.” One major barrier remains: When the oxygen reacts with the electrolyte to form ions, it also creates a solid that can gunk up the air intake, blocking the battery’s function. Researchers are searching for an electrolyte that will produce the necessary ions but avoid the formation of this solid.

Solar Potential

ScreenHunter_01 Dec. 16 23.08

Today I found a really neat tool, it allows you to input you address, then highlight your roof area to calculate what you could actually produce in terms of power with a solar array!  Its kinda fun so check it out!

http://mercator.nrel.gov/imby/

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