Top 5 Recent Innovations in Wind Power

1. The Wind Lens Turbine from Kyushu University

Another improvement on conventional wind turbines: this year, scientists from Kyushu University found a way to not only triple the electrical output of a wind turbine, but also decrease its noise level and reduce the risks to avian populations, simply by using a “wind lens” in place of traditional turbine blades.

2. Airborne Wind Turbines

In the works since around 2007, airborne wind turbines would take advantage of the consistency and higher speeds of high-altitude air currents. There are a number of companies researching different models of airborne wind turbines, including Joby EnergyMakani PowerSky WindPower and Magenn Power.

3. Vibro-wind Panels

In 2010, scientists from Cornell University developed wind power installations small (and cheap) enough to place on your roof, so called “vibro-wind panels.” They work by converting vibrations from even the “gentlest of breezes” into electricity.

4. Smart “shape-shifting” turbine blades

in 2009, scientists from Purdue University developed turbine blades that can quickly change shape and adapt to wind conditions to help maximize the amount of electricity generated while ensuring longer life spans for wind turbines.

5. Vertical Axis Wind Turbines

Canadian company VBINE Energy has commercialized the Vertical Axis Wind Turbine (VAWT), which can be installed in more urban and industrial settings. The VAWT is a ring-shaped generator that can encircle any cylinder and rotate around the structure with the aid of wind-catching blades.

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Stuart Licht does it again!

Elizabeth Svoboda over at Discover Magazine just posted about a new way to pull CO2 out of our atmosphere that doesn’t involve dumping limestone into the ocean, brought to you by Stuart Licht, the George Washington University Professor of Chemistry who just came up last year with a revolutionary CO2-free method of producing iron that would save us from the estimated 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted by the commercial iron industry each year. This guy seriously deserves an award.

Licht’s latest development is the STEP (Solar Thermal Electrochemical Production) process, which uses an electrolysis cell powered by solar energy to break down a carbon dioxide particle. Electric current is used to split CO2 into oxygen and solid carbon or carbon monoxide, which can then be used to make plastics and fuels (you can read more about the STEP process here).

How much CO2 would this process take out of the equation?

“If he could construct STEP solar arrays dispersed across 4 percent of the Sahara, he would be able to convert 92 billion tons of carbon dioxide into solid carbon each year. At that rate, he could eliminate one-tenth of all the carbon dioxide released since the Industrial Revolution in a single year.”

Somebody needs to connect Licht with the folks over at DESERTEC.

Just to give you an idea, 4 percent of the Sahara amounts to 360,000 sq km, or a field 600 km by 600 km (it’s about 660 km from Boston to Baltimore), which is less than 0.0003% of the Saharan country of Chad.

Good Soil, Good Carbon Sink

Did you know? Improving our current agricultural practices could be an enormously effective way to reduce the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere. Little things like composting, keeping fields planted year-round, reducing tillage, and increasing plant diversity could be enough to substantially increase the amount of carbon captured in soil.

From Discover Magazine:

“Ohio State University soil scientist Rattan Lal says the agricultural soils of the world have the potential to soak up 13 percent of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today—the equivalent of scrubbing every ounce of CO2released into the atmosphere since 1980.”

There are currently several projects under way around the world to test the carbon capture potential of soil-enrichment strategies.

In California, soil scientist Whendee Silver of UC Berkeley is working with ranchers and local and state land management organizations on the Marin Carbon Project to study the effect of compost from yard and agricultural waste on carbon storage. She’s projecting that “28 million acres of grazing land in California could absorb 42 million tons of carbon dioxide—nearly 40 percent of what the state’s electrical power plants produce in a year.”

In Australia, soil ecologist Christine Jones worked with ranchers to increase soil’s carbon capture potential by growing grasses that stay green all year round. Now she is working on providing incentives: accurately measuring the carbon capture so that they may be compensated for the amounts they’ve sequestered.

You can get the details at Discover Magazine.

A New Use for Sewage

This is supposed to be old news, but this is the first time I’m hearing about it! So here, meet the Bitublock. Six times stronger than cement, and made completely of post-consumer waste material.

“Designed by engineer John Forth, of the University of Leeds in England, the blocks are produced with a mixture of waste materials, including crushed glass, pulverized fuel ash, incinerated sewage, steel slag, and other waste products that would normally wind up in landfills or, worse, wherever they happen to be discarded. Further, less energy is required to make the Bitublocks than is needed for concrete. These products are bound together by bitumen, (a byproduct of crude oil distillation used widely in road construction), before compacting it in a mould to form a solid block. Next the block is heat-cured, which oxidizes the bitumen so it hardens like concrete. This makes it possible to use a higher proportion of waste in the Bitublock than by using a cement or clay binder.”

My only issue with this is that, if it does replace cement as our construction material of choice, it would still require enormous amounts of bitumen to produce, and I’m guessing we won’t be able to use the asphalt from old worn roads. And just to give you an idea of how much bitumen would be needed to replace our current construction needs, UK’s International Cement Review just reported a couple of months ago that worldwide cement consumption is forecast to reach a record 3859 megatonnes in 2012. While that would mean taking megatonnes of waste materials out of our ecosystem, all those benefits will be offset by the carbon emissions and toxic pollution from mining and shipping megatonnes of bitumen to build these Bitublocks… that’s hardly ideal.

Harvesting energy from the human body

… without plugging ourselves into massive battery farms, that is.

If you heard about the dance floors in Rotterdam that gather energy from clubbers’ fancy footwork, then this will be a happy update. Albeit an old one.

The French city of Toulouse tested out a sidewalk that’s estimated to generate around 50 and 60 watts of electricity from pedestrians walking across it. The electricity is then stored in a battery that can be used to power street lamps at night.

Sweden, in the meantime, is testing a new ventilation system in the Stockholm train station that will harness body heat from commuters and transfer it to heat a nearby building.

Read all about it at the Discoblog.

A Drink for the Eco-Conscious

Whisky distilleries have a role to play in kee...

Image via Wikipedia

Don’t be surprised if the next drunk you meet at a bar claims that he’s drinking to fight global warming.

Scotland is slated to build a combined heat and power plant that runs on the leftovers from making whiskey by 2013. The plant will be able to generate over 7 MW of electricity (which the article says is enough to power 9000 homes.. in Scotland) by burning draff sourced from distilleries within 25 miles of the plant in Speyside and from burning wood chips. No word on where the wood chips will be coming from….

It’s nice to hear that alcohol producers at least have their heads on straight. Discover’s Discoblog chummingly notes:

“Whisky and green energy seem to go hand-in-hand in Scotland. In Fife, for example, Scotland’s largest distillery is almost done constructing an on-site bioenergy plant that will meet most of the distillery’s energy needs. And don’t forget the researchers who last year developed a way of producing biofuel from whisky by-products that could fuel cars in the near future.”

Worst Oil Spill in History Inspires Ingenious Technology

Open_Sailing in the UK and France, V2_ in the Netherlands, randomwalks in South Korea, Amorphica in the US and Mexico, and others from all around the world are building a low-cost oil collecting robot, called Protei, that will sail upwind on its own to intercept oil moving downwind. The robot is being developed to address oil spills and the ocean gyre garbage patches. Watch the video on Protei at the group’s kickstarter page.