Navy Demonstrates Fuel From Seawater Production

May 7, 2014 by  
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A team of US Navy research scientists has developed a method to produce liquid fuel from seawater, using CO2 and hydrogen extracted from the ocean and then processed with a metal catalyst to produce liquid fuel. As a demonstration of the concept, an unmodified scale airplane has been flown with the seawater fuel. The concentration of CO2 is about 140 times higher in seawater than it is in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and hydrogen are the two feedstocks needed to make hydrocarbons. The process relies on “an iron-based catalyst [which] has been developed that can achieve CO2 conversion levels up to 60 percent and decrease unwanted methane production in favor of longer-chain unsaturated hydrocarbons (olefins).” The process is claimed to be the first technology of this type with the potential for commercial implementation. “The predicted cost of jet fuel using these technologies is in the range of $3-$6 per gallon, and with sufficient funding and partnerships, this approach could be commercially viable within the next seven to ten years.” video clip: Flight with Seawater Fuel image credits: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

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Navy Demonstrates Fuel From Seawater Production

Ontario Completely Off Coal

April 16, 2014 by  
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The Canadian province of Ontario has officially shut down its last coal burning power plant . Power for the province now comes from “emission-free electricity sources like wind , solar , nuclear and hydropower , along with lower-emission electricity sources like natural gas and biomass.” The province had set a target of the end of 2014 to end its use of coal to generate electricity. The Thunder Bay Generating Station was the last coal fueled power plant in the province. Now that it has burned the last of its coal supply, the plant will be converted to a biomass-fueled power plant. image: CC 2.0 by Kyle MacKenzie Hat tip to @TomMatzzie

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Ontario Completely Off Coal

Nontoxic Flame Retardants from Whey

April 2, 2014 by  
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Whey is generally a waste byproduct from cheese- and yogurt-making. Producers need to find ways to dispose of it, and often it is discharged into wastewater systems. Research at the Polytechnic University of Turin is being done to explore the use of whey as a replacement for toxic compounds used as flame retardants. Treated fabrics are kept from burning as readily because the casein from whey forms a layer of char on the surface when it is exposed to heat, which prevents the fire from spreading as readily. Tests on cotton and polyester materials often self-extinguished, and tests on cotton-polyester were also inhibited and burned more slowly. While the tests have been promising, the process is not yet ready for commercialization because “the cheese-treated fabrics stink.” But, if the compounds that cause the odor can be removed, this can be a technology to remove more harmful chemicals from common use and make use of a waste product at the same time. And, it could give the word “cheesecloth” a whole new meaning. image: CC BY-SA 3.0 by Oscar/Wikimedia Commons via: Environmental Building News

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Making Bio-Based Rocket Fuel

March 27, 2014 by  
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Rocket fuel is the latest in a long line of fuels being developed from bio sources instead of being produced from petrochemicals. Numerous other fuels have been developed from bio-diesel and synthetic gasolines to aviation fuels are now being made from microorganisms or from converting bio feedstocks. And now, scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Joint BioEnergy Institute have been able to produce a key component of JP-10 high energy fuel from bacterial sources. Pinene is a component that is used in fuels that are used for missiles and rockets. It is found in tree sap, but it is primarily extracted from crude oil. Since only a small amount of pinene can be produced from each barrel of crude oil, it is expensive and difficult to obtain. The researchers developed strains of E. coli which has been able to produce small quantities of pinene in the laboratory. There are still further steps to take before this becomes scalable and commercially viable, but the initial development has been the major milestone, and researchers on the project expect to be able to further improve the process as they continue their work. There is also a much stronger economic drive to develop bio-based rocket fuel as compared to other fuels. At present, petroleum-based JP-10 costs about $25 per gallon, so a difference of a dollar or two per gallon could be significant, as well as being able to produce fuel for space travel without needing ot rely on petrochemical sources. image: CC BY-SA 3.0 by Image courtesy of SpaceX/Wikimedia Commons via: Solar Thermal Magazine

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More Efficient Flight in Formation

January 22, 2014 by  
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Many people are very familiar with the V formation used by migrating flocks of birds, and scientists have determined that this is an efficient mode of travel which helps the birds conserve energy, especially on long migratory journeys. But the same concept is being considered to improve the efficiency of commercial jetliners. Among aircraft manufacturers, Airbus is one of the companies looking at the advantages of commercial flocking. “In a V formation of 25 birds, each can achieve a reduction of induced drag by up to 65 per cent and increase their range by 7 per cent. While efficiencies for commercial aircraft are not as great, they remain significant.” It is possible that, in the future, commercial flights might flock together in this way to save fuel. The initial tests of this approach might be carried out with trans-ocreanic flights originating in separate Australian cities which would coordinate their schedules and meet up in order to cross the Pacific together, before they “peel off and head to their separate destinations.” image credit: Airbus via: Quirks & Quarks

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Auto Show – Less Green in 2014

January 15, 2014 by  
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As we’ve done for the past several years, EcoGeek went to this year’s North American International Auto Show (the Detroit Auto Show) to see what is new in clean and green transportation. However, this year’s displays continue to move away from a focus on environmental awareness as a major selling point. This has seemed to be the trend over the past few years . In retrospect, it seems that the peak of the green focus was probably the 2009 Detroit Show . Green isn’t gone entirely. MPG is still a factor that is touted at some brands, but it seems to matter no more than other numbers like horsepower or cargo volume that manufacturers use to compete with one another. Electric drive continues to work its way into more and more cars (with mild hybridization becoming more common). But cars are not green-focused the way they were a few years ago. The fact that Ford has five different hybrid and electric drive vehicles would have been a big story just a couple years ago, but now it is just part of a major automaker having a complete line. Where once they seemed like an outsider, Tesla seems to have developed into a mainstream member of the club. For this year’s display, Tesla had two of their Model S coupes and display panels about interior finish choices; the Roadster was not in sight. The only non-traditional manufacturer on the display floor this year was VIA trucks, which had vehicles in three different places. Michelin (who has always been a major sponsor of the Detroit Show) and a couple other parts suppliers also had space on the main floor, but not to the extent as during the depths of the economic decline. The common theme across much of the show this year was the engine-on-a-stick. It’s not that it hasn’t been done before, but it seemed to be much more prevalent. Lots of “here’s what the engine looks like,” and usually nothing, or very little, in the way of explanatory text to accompany it. Overall, the show did seem to be moving back toward a more car-centric focus on the basic stuff that the core car-people really love. With that in mind, it’s not at all surprising that the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray was named Car of the Year. The driving course on the lower level is gone this year, as well. When it was introduced a few years ago, there were literally dozens of different vehicles, primarily electrics and hybrids, that could be driven, to introduce the public to the experience of driving a vehicle with something other than a gasoline engine. Over the past few years, this became less and less of a feature, and is now completely omitted from the show. Although green cars have largely become a sideline, rather than the focus of the Auto Show, the fact that they have become a part of most manufacturers’ lines should be taken as a sign of progress. There certainly were some interesting new vehicles at this year’s show, and we will take a more detailed look at some of these.

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Auto Show – Less Green in 2014

Copenhagen Wheel Hits the Streets

December 5, 2013 by  
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A few years back, the ‘ Copenhagen Wheel ‘ was one of a few innovations in cycling that were being proposed to try to make bicycle commuting easier. While it was just a concept in 2010, it is now a real product, with pre-orders being offered by manufacturer Superpedestrian . The Copenhagen Wheel is a combination battery and motor that is installed on a Single Speed or 9/10 Speed Free Hub bicycle, converting it into an electric bike with a range of up to 50 km (31 mi) and a top speed of 25 mph (in the US; 25 km/h in the EU). It also provides regenerative braking and Bluetooth connectivity and iOS and Android integration. For now, Superpedestrian is only selling the Copenhagen Wheel alone , so you’ll need to provide your own bike to mount it on. However, the company says that they will soon be selling bikes already equipped with the Copenhagen Wheel. The early-bird pricing for the Copenhagen Wheel is $699 (regular price will be $799 according to the website). Also previously on EcoGeek: Rubbee Turns Regular Bicycles into Electric Vehicles

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Making Tractor Trailers More Fuel Efficient

November 21, 2013 by  
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Sixty-eight percent of all goods in the United States spend some of their journey across the country stored on tractor trailers attached to a tractor. With the average semi-trailer truck getting about 5.6 miles per gallon of diesel, however, tractor trailers take an immense amount of fuel to transport. It’s not simply the weight of the materials on board causing this low MPG, either–the boxy tractor trailer isn’t exactly areodynamic. Addressing this problem, Advanced Transit Dynamics (ATDynamics) produces TrailerTails, which are designed to make the bulky tractor trailer more areodynamic and thus more fuel efficient when pulled by the tractor. Attached to the back of a trailer, they fold out, almost like extensions of the trailer’s walls. Saving about 3 cents profit per mile when deployed, most trucking companies make back their investment in under a year, according to the company. The environmental boon seems sizable, too: each TrailerTail, when used at highway speeds for 50,000 miles for a year, is effectively like removing an average passenger car from the road for a year. With that much CO2 reduction possible, this statistic reveals more about the immense inefficiency of trailer trucks than the net environmental-boost TrailerTails provide. But given that tractor trailers are such a mainstay of goods transportation in the U.S., this technology seems a step in the right direction in an area that demands significant improvement. image credit: ATDYNAMICS, INC.

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Making Tractor Trailers More Fuel Efficient

New Solar Cell Material Offers Both Cheap and Efficient Power

October 24, 2013 by  
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Another potential path for ever cheaper solar power is now being researched by scientists investigating the use of perovskite minerals to make solar cells. Perovskites are a very cheap material that have good light capturing properties as well as good conductivity. The advantage that perovskites offer is a great combination of inexpensive production combined with good efficiency in energy production. Current laboratory experiment versions of perovskite-based solar cells have efficiencies of about 15 percent. Although there are other solar cells with greater efficiency, the figure for perovskite cells is higher than other cheap-to-manufacture methods. The advantages provided with perovskite materials come from requiring a far less intensive manufacturing process. While fabricating silicon-based solar cells requires careful and expensive processing of silicon to a high degree of purity (not to mention the energy intensity of that manufacturing), cells using perovskites are made by spray applying materials to a glass or metal foil substrate, described as a “solar cell [that] can be fabricated as easily as painting a surface.” Perovskite-based solar cells might eventually be able to be produced for 10 to 20 cents per watt, as compared to present soalr panels which are around 75 cents per watt. image: by Andrew Silver, USGS via Wikimedia Commons via: MIT Technology Review

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Recycling CDs for Wastewater Treatment

September 30, 2013 by  
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Someone has finally come up with an upcycling use for old CD discs. Din Ping Tsai, a physicist at National Taiwan University, has developed a small, low-power method for treating wastewater using UV light and zinc oxide applied to the CDs. Using old CDs as a substrate to coat with zinc oxide provides a low cost layer which can be spun as water is applied, creating a thin film of water which more effectively interacts with the photocatalytic layer of zinc oxide nanorods. In tests, the device was able to break down over 95% of the contaminants after an hour of treatment. Though this could be a wonderful application for old CDs, it’s unlikely to solve the waste accumulation from billions of old CDs. The number used for this treatment system, even if it becomes widely adopted, is going to be a tiny fraction of the total production of CDs (which, at present is about 20 billion CDs per year). “The spinning disk reactor is small, consumes little power, and processes contaminated water more efficiently than other photocatalytic wastewater treatment methods, Tsai says. The device could be used on a small scale to clean water contaminated with domestic sewage, urban run-off, industrial effluents, and farm waste. Going forward, the team is also working on ways to increase the efficiency of the reactor, and Tsai estimates that the system could soon be improved to work even faster, perhaps by creating layers of stacked disks.” While the system seems best suited to small installations, rather than big, municipal facilities, it is nevertheless an interesting system, and the ability to also deal with an e-waste issue at the same time as creating equipment for effective wastewater treatemt is a positive synergy. via: Treehugger

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