Automakers Ford, Daimler, and Renault-Nissan are joining forces to develop the technology for fuel cell vehicles and to make it more cost effective. Investments in the research will be spread evenly among the companies, who hope their alliance will produce a fuel cell system to power new electric vehicles that can travel further between refuels than the battery electric vehicles currently available on the market. Furthermore, Ford aims to have a hydrogen fuel cell car on the mass market in as little as four years.
Sharing both research and resources, this new partnership gives the trio a chance to do what no single motor vehicle company has done yet: craft a mass market hydrogen-powered vehicle. Costs have been too high so far to make this possible. If they succeed, however, it could be a step forward in reducing our dependence on oil to fuel our travels. The hydrogen fuel cell technology also promises less pollution than fossil fuels produce, as hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles only emit heat and water vapor.
The companies have a combined 60 years of experience working on this technology, and their test vehicles have gone over 6.2 million miles. The engineering work ahead for the partnership will be spread throughout their worldwide facilities. The companies will also work to develop other parts for fuel-cell powered vehicles, in addition to the individual fuel cell development, in order to reduce costs further.
image: CC BY-SA 2.0 by Lars Plougmann
via: Huffington Post
The LEED green building certification program created by the US Green Building Council has become something of a political football for the past several years. But a recent report from the National Research Council, as well as analysis from the Department of Defense, show that the military should use LEED, despite political pressure opposing it.
Congress has been explicitly hostile to LEED in recent years, with the program specifically called out in the Congressional Prohibition on Use of Funds for LEED Gold or Platinum Certification, which states that “No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2012 may be obligated or expended for achieving any LEED gold or platinum certification.”
According to Building Green, “A long-awaited report from the National Research Council gives the nod to LEED Silver ratings “or equivalent” for military buildings. The report looked at a variety of methods of comparing costs and benefits and ultimately confirmed that LEED Silver certification is the preferred model for limiting costs and maximizing benefits.”
The military is the largest single consumer of energy in the country. It also controls more square footage of buildings than any other organization. So having a cleaner, more efficient military is not a small matter.
Previously on EcoGeek: US Military Embracing Green Energy
image: US Archives
via: Building Green
If UCLA researchers are correct, a new supercharger could transform both the way we power our electronics and recycle their old sources of energy. Bringing together the quick-charging qualities of a capacitor and the energy-holding capacities of a battery, graphene supercapacitors could replace the often toxic batteries we currently use to power our electronics.
Batteries and capacitors are relatively similar devices, functionally speaking. Standard batteries consist of two chemicals that react with each other, separated by a barrier, and have a circuit between them; capacitors are composed of two oppositely charged metal plates, separated by an insulator, with a circuit between them. When electrons flow through the circuits of batteries and capacitors alike they provide electricity. Although capacitors can be charged very quickly, they don’t hold nearly as much energy as batteries.
Graphene supercapacitors would solve the energy holding problem of capacitors. Graphene conducts electricity better than any other common substance, and the one-atom thick material has more going for it than capacity: it’s also thinner, lighter, and can be turned into cheaper energy-holding devices than batteries. Because it’s carbon-based, it’s also biodegradable. Considering the care we need to take when disposing of batteries that are often made of toxic metals, how much would it rock to be able to compost our disposable charge holders instead?
Extremely flexible and stronger than steel, graphene has been notoriously difficult to work with, as the Focus Forward video describes. The researchers who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for their work with graphene created the substance by carefully peeling graphite with scotch tape–not a method that’s easy or quick to replicate. However, researchers at UCLA claim they have found a better method to craft the substance in a delightfully MacGyver-like way: by using a consumer-grade DVD drive. After pouring graphite oxide onto CDs, popping the CDs into the drive and using the drive’s laser to beam light on the material, the graphite oxide deoxygenates and becomes graphene. Miles ahead of scotch tape, this DVD drive method produces the essentially two-dimensional material easily and quickly. Imagine what could be done with a machine designed to create sheets of graphene on a larger scale.
Graphene supercapacitors have immense potential to revolutionize the efficiency and environmental-friendliness of our electronics. Especially after listening to the researchers discuss graphene’s potential, it’s difficult not to be excited for the future of this technology. Graphene supercapacitors could charge electronic devices, but further research will determine just how much these supercapacitors can charge (are electric car charging stations really a possibility?), and if and when they’ll be available for consumers. In any case, here’s hoping the technology can take off.
image: CC BY-SA 2.0 by CORE-Materials
via: Boing Boing
Is there anything that lasers can’t do? The latest breakthrough comes from a team of researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) who have developed a method for cooling semiconductor material (cadmium sulfide) with lasers. In an article published in Nature, NTU reserachers report on cooling a semiconductor from 20 degrees C (68 degrees F) to -20 degrees C (-4 degrees F) as an initial proof of concept.
Heat is an unwanted side effect of most energy-using devices. In many cases, ranging from portable electronics to medical magnetic resonance imagery equipment to scientific research equipment, the need for keeping the equipment cooled is vital to continued function. At present, equipment such as MRI systems require liquid helium for cooling, but with laser cooling, the system could be made smaller and would not require the extensive cooling hardware that is currently needed.
Cooling gasses with lasers is a known technology, but cooling a solid has not been done previously, although the theory behind it is decades old. “Our initial results published in Nature, have shown that it is possible to laser-cool a semiconductor to liquid nitrogen temperature, so we are aiming to reach an even lower temperature, such as that of liquid helium,” said Prof Xiong Qihua, a member of the NTU team.
Other cooling technologies for computers have been proposed which could lead to significant energy savings. But if laser cooling eventually became widely used for other applications, it would make this even more beneficial. Laser cooled equipment could be more energy efficient, and portable electronic equipment with this technology would also potentially prolong battery life.
In addition to the energy benefits, wide-scale development and application of this technology would also drastically reduce the amount of refrigerants needed in industry and technology. Many of the chemicals used in refrigeration equipment are harmful to the Earth’s ozone layer or have a significant global warming potential (and many are both). Reducing the need for these chemicals would be an added benefit laser cooling might someday offer.
image: CC BY 2.0 by Jeff Keyzer/Wikimedia Commons
via: Science Daily
In collaboration with the International Energy Agency, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) recently launched a new database that brings together environmental monitoring and worldwide ocean energy development efforts. Called Tethys, the database will show the interrelationship between processes in nature and ocean power technology, and will function as a resource to help keep environmental responsibility at the forefront of ocean-based energy production projects.
Named after the Greek titaness of the ocean, Tethys will help industry regulators and energy project developers alike identify possible environmental effects of the efforts to gain sustainable, clean energy from the world’s oceans. Tethys offers real-world data that accounts for the interconnectedness of oceanic ecosystems and technology, and offers insight on the interactions between energy-producing machines, marine wildlife, and the physical processes of the ocean. Having all of this data compiled together– from tidal current turbines projects to published studies on offshore wind farms and marine mammals–will allow for a safer expansion of ocean power. According to the DOE’s announcement, the database also has an accompanying report that highlights research on ways to monitor ocean energy projects and possible environmental effects.
The world’s oceans offer immense potential for alternative energy development. As with any alternative energy resource, however, ocean power developers must taken into account any negative environmental impacts from the technology in order for ocean power to be a truly renewable source of energy. As a living document, Thethys will constantly increase our global understanding of the ocean as new projects and new research data arise. In order to expand Tethys’s usefulness for current and future ocean power projects, the DOE encourages researchers to submit their studies to the database.
You can view an interactive map of Tethys here, and check out the technological developments in and environmental research on oceans around the world.
image: CC by 2.0 by Phil Manker
via: US Department of Energy
If you have an idea on how to make motor vehicles greener, and you’re looking for funding for your research, you may be in luck. The United States Department of Energy (DOE) is preparing a funding opportunity for new research projects that will make motor vehicles have less of a negative impact on the environment and an improved fuel efficiency. The Department will invest over $50 million in these new research projects. In addition, the US Army plans to contribute $3.5 million where joint development opportunities arise, as part of the Advanced Vehicle Power Technology Alliance with the Energy Department.
While the solicitation for these new projects is currently in draft form, the DOE seeks public comment on the draft before beginning to accept applications for groundbreaking new motor vehicle technologies. Members of the public may review the draft of the solicitation on vehicle performance and fuel economy and offer thoughts on how to improve the solicitation before the final version is released. As the draft currently stands, project proposals can focus on any of five areas in which motor vehicles can become more energy efficient: advanced lightweighting and propulsion materials, advanced battery development, power electronics, advanced HVAC systems, and fuels and lubricants.
The DOE will accept comments on the draft until Friday February, 15. Those interested in commenting can find more information here, and comments on the Funding Opportunity Announcement may be submitted to the Energy Department at their designated email address. Inventors should wait until the final draft is published as an amendment to the current draft before submitting their research proposals.
image: CC BY 2.0 by Kevin Krejci
via: US Department of Energy
$22.00 from Elsewares
Sure, there are cute stuffed animals out there, and there are ninjas out there… but rarely do you find something that is a hybrid between the two! This isn’t really our type of material, but we added it anyways as a testament to its cuteness. Handmade.
The American Wind Energy Association announced that 2012 marked the wind energy industry’s strongest year ever. This past year wind energy accounted for over 40 percent of new generating capacity in the United States, surpassing all other energy-producing industries in new capacity, including those dependent on fossil fuels. The wind-powered generators currently installed will reduce US carbon emissions by 1.8 percent, preventing 95.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
Although faced with government policy-related challenges, including the threat of the Production Tax Credit expiration (extended at the last minute by the “fiscal cliff package,” the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012) the wind energy industry has much to celebrate. Rob Gramlich, AWEA Interim CEO, expressed his excitement over the industry’s triumphs, stating, “It is a real testament to American innovation and hard work that for the first time ever a renewable energy source was number one in new capacity. We are thrilled to mark this major milestone in the nation’s progress toward a cleaner energy system.”
Including projects from 32 states and Puerto Rico, the wind energy industry installed turbines capable of generating over 13,000 MW in 2012. (2010 holds the previous record for new wind power at 10,000 MW.) Texas and California top the list of states with new capacity installations, providing 1,826 MW and 1,656 MW respectively. The collective wind power in the US reached a whopping 60,000 MW (60 gigawatts) in January, enough power to provide electricity to every home in Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio combined – the equivalent of powering nearly 15 million homes.
“Despite a considerable amount of policy uncertainty, the US wind power sector proved to be remarkably resilient in 2012, reaching a record level of installations while global wind investment fell 13%,” US Director of The Climate Group, Amy Davidsen said. “But for the sector to continue… to grow, we must provide a more stable investment climate through clear, long-term policy signals.”
via: American Wind Energy Association
$60,000.00 from Neiman Marcus
Shopping for that special someone that has everything? I think it’s safe to bet that they won’t have a life-size replica of themselves made of LEGO bricks. Simply send a picture of the person, or of you and the person, or perhaps just of yourself, along with some measurements and the LEGO-obsessed artist, Nathan Sawaya will build the fantastic sculpture(s) with who-knows-how-many LEGO bricks. Keeping in mind that the price listed is for individual sculpture, go ahead and send in a picture of all your loved ones!
‘Urban’ SUVs (decidedly intended for city rather than off-road use) were a trend we noticed at this year’s Detroit Auto Show. Several manufacturers have vehicles that could be identified as part of this segment, and it could be indicative of a new trend if these vehicles are well received by consumers.
In addition to the diesel-electric hybrid CrossBlue from Volkswagen, there was also a Honda comcept called the Urban SUV. And, more recently, we’ve also come across discussion of a Chevy Volt crossover vehicle. There’s definitely a trend here.
The possible Chevy Volt-inspired crossover was being discussed at Autoguide, where they recently reported that Chevrolet has extended trademark on the name CrossVolt. GM has previously showed a concept Volt MPV5.
The trend toward smaller cars that are better suited to a more city-dwelling lifestyle appears to be increasing. Small vehicles like the Fiat 500, smart, Chevy Spark, Honda Fit, Scion iQ, and others are being sold to a market for which small, nimble vehicles are desirable. While small SUV may seem to be an oxymoron like ‘jumbo shrimp,’ the move toward smaller, lighter vehicles helps with overall fuel economy and efficiency.
Not all ‘urban’ SUVs will be hybrids. Honda has not announced much in the way of definite information about the Urban SUV (although it is scheduled for a 2014 North American debut), but some of the discussion about its features would indicate that it will be conventionally fueled, rather than a hybrid. But the trend toward smaller, more efficient and appropriately-scaled conventional vehicles can have as great an imapct on improving overall fleet efficiency as the flashier hybrids and EVs. It’s a trend we will continue to keep an eye on.
What if human waste, what’s left after our bodies extract energy-producing nutrients from our food and drink, could itself be transformed into energy? Four African teenagers went beyond asking this question: they created a generator powered by human urine. The machine, built by 14-year-olds Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin, and 15-year-old Bello Eniola,was presented in Lagos, Nigeria at the fourth annual Maker Faire Africa this November. The pan-African Maker Faire features and supports inventions that work to address problems like the worldwide need for energy production.
According to the Maker Faire Africa website, the machine turns 1 liter of urine into 6 hours of electricity and works like this: urine goes into an electrolytic cell, which extracts the hydrogen from the pee (specifically from the urea, one of the main compounds of urine). This hydrogen is purified in a water filter, and then pushed into a gas cylinder. There, the gas cylinder pushes the hydrogen into a liquid borax cylinder, where moisture is removed from the hydrogen gas. Finally, the purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator to power it.
As with all new inventions in alternative energy, this generator isn’t a panacea for our global energy problems. NBC’s John Roach offers a “reality check” concerning the pee-powered generator, pointing out that the Maker Faire Africa website does not list the wattage produced, so we don’t know just how much the generator could power. While Roach’s article tempers excitement about the pee generator, it does point to where this technology could be used effectively: wastewater treatment facilities where the pee already flows, ready to be put to use.
Perhaps machines like these could eventually become features of wastewater treatment facilities. Such a resourceful new invention that turns waste into electricity could turn wastewater treatment facilities into places where wastewater is not only treated, but where pee turns into power.
image: CC BY 2.0 by Erik (HASH) Hersman
Perhaps the most interesting of the new vehicles unveiled at this year’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is a new midsize SUV from Volkswagen that merges VW diesel with electric hybrid drive called the Cross Blue.
The Cross Blue SUV is especially designed for the American market. It is a midsize SUV with 6- or 7-seat options. The Cross Blue has a diesel TDI engine along with 2 electric motors and has an EPA rating of 89 MPGe. With a 9.8 kWh lithium ion battery pack it has an all-electric driving range of 21 miles (33 km).
Volkswagen has been working on diesel hybrid concepts for a while, and Mercedes had a diesel hybrid concept SUV a few years back that had a number of similarities to the VW Cross Blue. In 2010, Peugeot introduced the first diesel hybrid production car, although it was only available in Europe. But this still seems like a mainstream breakthrough for the idea of a clean diesel hybrid vehicle in an appropriate package.
The Cross Blue SUV is expected to begin production at VW’s plant in Tennessee in 2015.
The environmental focus from the past few years of car design and marketing has largely evaporated in this year’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). Even more than last year’s show, green cars are comparatively few and far between in the displays at Detroit.
This is not to say that green technology is absent from this year’s show. While the cutaway vehicles that showed how hybrids work are mostly gone, the hybrids and other green vehicles are still a part of many manufacturers’ lineups. For a visitor who has seen several of these shows, the increase in fuel efficiency requirements is apparent with more cars that get over 30 MPG, but it is disappointing to find that there are also still many cars with performance under 20 MPG.
Some automakers that have previously had notably green cars as part of their mix in previous years have nothing highlighted in this year’s show, including Volvo and Audi. And the technological angle has taken a backseat, overall, to presenting cars as part of a lifestyle. The theme park aspect of last year’s show is also far less of a presence, with only a few interactive ride-style displays.
For other builders, green cars have become significantly mainstream. The Chevrolet Volt, Nissan LEAF, Toyota Prius and other green cars are simply integrated into the overall manufacturers’ displays, and prominent ‘eco’ badging and side decal identification of green cars is largely absent. The emphasis is no longer on these cars as special offerings that are somehow significantly different from the rest of the line. They now sit as just another car in the manufacturers’ range of offerings.
Despite this general trend, there are some interesting new concepts being unveiled this year, as well as green technology arising in some unexpected places. We’ll have more specific reports on some of these forthcoming.
And, for the most overused graphic of the year, we’ll nominate the car driving on a computer-generated ribbon that then dives and twists like a roller-coaster. Only partway through the first day of the show, and we’ve already seen this too many times.
$550.00 from A + R
We’ve been patiently watching for this sexy scissor-inspired cuff by Toy Me to be sold somewhere online. It is an amazing piece of jewelry: hand cast in silver and coated with rhodium (wow). And our favorite part? It is made so precisely that they pieces still open and close! Expensive? Yes. But would I ask for it instead of something from Kay Jewelers for the same amount? Hell yes.
Recently, there have been a couple of extreme climate effects noted. Record high temperatures have made the news on two continents in the northern and southern hemispheres.
In the United States, to the surprise of no one who experienced it, 2012 was the hottest year on record by more than a degree, with hundreds of new temperature records set throughout the year. The average national temperature was a full degree higher than the previous record. A degree of temperature may not seem like much, but when talking about an average over a year, that’s a huge spike. “Normally, records are broken by a tenth of a degree or so.”
And, in Australia, recent temperatures have gotten so hot that the Bureau of Meteorology has had to add new colors to those it uses on its interactive weather forecasting chart. Until now, the temperature maps have gone up to 50 degrees C (122 F), but that hasn’t been enough for recent high temperatures. Now, the new scale extends to 54 C (129 F).
via: @drgrist and NPR