Electrofuels: Pros and Cons

In the race to end the world’s addiction to oil, scientists and researchers are more active than ever in seeking solutions to this problem. What if a fuel management system involved converting sunlight into fuel instead of just reducing the amount of fossil fuels fleets consume? How would this be possible? This is exactly the solution some researchers at UCLA have begun to develop. A small, innovative group of researchers and scientists has discovered a bioreactor that can store electrical energy and convert it into liquid fuel. This is done by using a unique, genetically engineered microbe. After conducting several tests, experts involved with the project labeled the alternative energy source “electrofuels.” Through the use of this energy source, the world would have a more efficient way to produce alternative fuel sources for vehicles and other machinery.

How it Works

Understanding why this is good news means first having an understanding of the microbe itself. In the most basic terms possible, scientists are altering the genetics of a soil microbe called Ralstonia eutropha. This particular microbe uses hydrogen as an energy source that builds up carbon dioxide into a microbial growth. Through this process, the research team developed a microbe that creates butanols, commonly referred to as liquid fuel. On top of that, the bioreactor used to generate this liquid fuel gets its energy from a solar panel, making for one of the greenest alternative energy sources ever developed.

Why This is Good News

While current alternate fuel sources are better for the environment than traditional carbon-based ones, they still rely on plants and other resources that must be consumed on a large scale. The big problem surrounding the biofuels issue is that in order to produce these alternative fuels on a large scale, we must also consume a massive amount of crops and farm resources. Additionally, biofuels are actually difficult to find. The idea behind electrofuels is that we should use the world’s most powerful and abundant resource: the sun. If the UCLA research proves successful, this would be a solid solution to many problems surrounding biofuels.

The Big Picture Problem: Infrastructural Resources

As with any potential solution for alternative energy, there are some major drawbacks. First off, to be clear – this is an amazing solution with the potential to completely transform the green energy industry. The problem always comes down to infrastructure; we simply don’t have the adequate infrastructural capabilities to support this kind of alternative fuel on a large scale. Additionally, plenty of research is still needed before the general public can use this type of alternative fuel.

Doing Our Part: Continuing Our Carbon Footprint Reduction

The misconception about alternative energy is that it’s an all-encompassing solution to the overarching need for carbon footprint reduction. While we’re waiting for far-reaching alternative energy solutions, it’s still equally important to keep up with carbon footprint reduction efforts. This includes recycling, using public transportation, carpooling, bicycling to and from work whenever possible, purchasing fuel economy and hybrid vehicles and keeping an eye on energy and water consumption. For enterprise-level companies, this can mean using fleet management services and implementing an eco-friendly approach to business management.

The Bright Road Ahead

It’s important to keep in mind just how exciting this new technology is, and what it means for the future. This new development in alternative fuel research not only aids in reducing the global carbon footprint, but it also helps reduce the amount of resources consumed by both traditional and alternative fuel sources. The bottom line is that new these newly discovered electrofuels will go a long way to reduce fuel consumption. Anything that does that is good news for the environment.

Thomas Stone is a permaculture enthusiast, a freelance author, and a frequent contributor to Eco-Wonder.

Original Article on SEPCO

Countries Leading the Solar Effort

Solar energy is becoming an increasingly desirable and viable alternative energy source. The sun can produce over ten thousand times more energy than our planet can, and many countries are now recognising the need to convert from traditional energy creation methods to those that are less harmful. These countries’ willingness to embrace this alternative energy source means that they are, as a result, leading the way in what is now a huge, multi-billion dollar industry that could shape the future of our planet forever. This blog post pays tribute to the top five, and the progress they have made in recent years.

Germany

For many years, Germany has been the leader in adopting solar energy technology, and shows no signs of slowing down. The Government announced in 2007 its objective to use one hundred percent renewable energy by 2050. In 2011, the country installed over 25 gigawatts of photovoltaic (PV) panels to both homes and businesses, providing 18 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. This now adds up to approximately 3% of the country’s total electricity consumption. Germany’s success in the solar energy field is down to a number of aspects, now embedded into German culture. First, the Government was one of the first to introduce many attractive financial incentives and assistance to businesses and individuals considering converting. Second, there are a large number of PV companies in the country, due to its large PV power plants (Strasskirchen Solar Park, Waldpolenz Solar Park, and Köthen Solar Park to name a few). Third, Germany has created an advanced level of public awareness, and therefore acceptance, of solar energy; its media has worked hard to portray the environmental and financial benefits, as well as heavily publicise the Government’s commitment to becoming a world leader in the industry.

Japan

Japan

Like Germany, Japan has big ambitions; the Government has set a target to reaching 53 GW of solar-generated energy by 2030. As a result, the country has invested heavily in incentives and programmes to encourage the installation of residential panels, as well as generous Feed-in Tariff systems. The Government is also extending its plan to public sector establishments; it has started to install solar panels to 32,000 of its schools and continues to invest billions of dollars in becoming a world leader in solar energy.

USA

USA

The United States is a major player in the solar energy world and is helping to pioneer alternative fuel technologies, largely due to its solar power plants. In California sits the Solar Energy Generating Systems facility – at 354 megawatts, it the largest solar installation in the world. The USA is also home to numerous other plants, such as Nevada Solar One and the DeSota Next Generation Solar Energy Centre in Florida. Perhaps due to an increasingly financially-savvy public – thanks to the country’s long-running recession – demand for the fitting of solar panels on homes doubled in 2009. The Government has also since introduced many incentives to help people pay for the cost of installing residential panels, which has ensured demand has increased significantly year-on-year. In the nineties, NASA in the United States helped set the scene. At the time the organisation was already making headlines with revolutionary consumer inventions such as a memory foam mattress, now available to the mass market; NASA then played a pivotal role in transferring solar cells to a flexible sheet that could be rolled up for storage. This later went on to become the basis for many of today’s mainstream solar panels.

Spain

Spain

Spain was a previous front-runner in the solar energy industry, before being overtaken by Germany in 2009. The country’s long-running economic slow-down has meant that ambitions to introduce a new Government initiative to help families and businesses install new PV systems was heavily delayed. However, Spain still remains one of the most advanced countries in terms of its solar energy technology and output – largely due to sunshine levels that are much higher than average. In 2004, the Spanish Government committed to “achieving a target of 12 percent of primary energy from renewable energy by 2010 with an installed solar generating capacity of 3,000 megawatts”. Spain is also a pillar of Germany’s success in the field, outputting 80 per cent of its solar power technology to the country. In 2010, Spain produced four gigawatts of power through solar energy, creating 6.9 billion kilowatt hours.

Italy

Italy

Italy is another country that has sunshine on its side. This, combined with its pioneering Feed-in Tariff systems, which enable the public and businesses to make money from producing renewable energy, has put Italy at the forefront of solar power. Photovoltaic panels have become extremely popular among Italians in recent years; in 2009, production of energy from PV panels rose 251% – this was, at the time, the second largest annual growth in the world. At the end of 2010, the country had over 155,000 photovoltaic plants, producing a total of 3,469 megawatts of energy.

Janet Redding is a freelance writer from England who specialises in covering everything from Tempur-Pedic comparison of organic mattresses to new energy sources

Original Article on SEPCO

In Focus: Renewable Vehicle Energy

Pollution. It’s in the water. It’s in the air. It is a subject of great concern all over the world and for good reason. The energy economy of today functions primarily off the burning of fossil fuels, namely oil, coal, and natural gas. Fossil fuel is essentially carbon from plants stored in the earth from many tens of thousands of years ago. When we burn these fuels we release that carbon back into the atmosphere as carbon-dioxide.

A multitude of other, more harmful chemicals are released, especially by dirtier fuels like coal. This includes carbon-monoxide (a lethal poison when inhaled) and sulfur (a key contributor to destructive acid rain). These health hazards are considerably greater for people living near concentrated sources of pollution like factories, power plants, or airports.

Renewable energy simply means making use of energy sources that are easy to convert and are very clean, meaning they don’t release carbon dioxide, sulfur, or nitrogen compounds. Fuel cells are an excellent way of producing power in smaller quantities like that needed for electronics and vehicles. A fuel cell simply reacts hydrogen and oxygen into pure water. Wide use of fuel cells would mean the near elimination of pollution from cars, planes, and trains. Vehicle pollution is the most widespread and difficult to contain source of pollution, so it is a great place to start.

Hybrid CarFinding and storing hydrogen as a fuel source is one of the major stumbling blocks in fuel cell technology. What if we could produce hydrogen from one of the most abundant metal elements on earth—aluminum? A specially treated aluminum powder has been found to produce hydrogen when reacted with water. This creates a nice energy circle. The fuel cell produces water which is then reintroduced to the aluminum powder which produces more hydrogen to react into more water and produce more energy.

Renewable energy doesn’t have to be a chemical process at all. Many vehicles are tremendously wasteful of their energy. Every time you put on your car breaks you are converting your fuel energy into useless heat. What if that energy could be recycled back into your car battery as electricity? That is exactly how most hybrid cars work, and the technology can be applied to any vehicle.

It could be especially cost-effective with airplanes. Plane landing gears release an incredible amount of wasted heat energy during landing. It is possible to convert this energy into electrical energy to power the jet’s taxiing around the airport. This would allow jets to keep their jet engines turned off until just before they are ready to fly. This would reduce both noise and air pollution around airports and cut fuel waste.

Author Bio: My name is Allison and I am a fun-loving, adventurous being. I am a recent biomedical anthropologist with a keen interest in the environment and renewable energy research. Between my travels, I like to guest blog about recent events and post on my blog, Musings of a Curious Mind.

Original Article on SEPCO

How Clean Energy Policies Can Prevent Disasters

  • Ahead of his time, Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House. In a speech on his proposed energy policy in 1977, Carter was remarkably prescient: “Unless profound changes are made to lower oil consumption…and to use permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power, we will feel mounting pressure to plunder the environment.” He added: “The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge that our country will face during our lifetime.”
  • For the last few years, US Representative Rush Holt, a physicist from NJ, has been warning that energy derived from coal, oil, and nuclear power is unsustainable, and a growing health and safety threat. Worse than accidents, Rep. Holt cautions that Iran and others are using the technology to develop nuclear weapons. Safe, far-sighted energy policies Rep. Holt advocates include a cap on greenhouse gas emissions; a substantial investment in clean energies; tax credits for solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass, fuel cell, and other sustainable energy technologies; and a Renewable Portfolio Standard to ensure 20 percent of US electricity is produced by renewable sources best suited to each locale’s climate and resources by 2027.
  • Following the disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station in Japan in March, the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental and nuclear watchdog, reported on the safety of nuclear power plants in the United States in 2010. The Union reported 14 significant events or near-misses at nuclear reactors in 12 states last year! Many of the near-misses “could easily have been avoided,” the Union wrote, if reactor owners had corrected violations identified by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) months, if not years, ago. The Union holds both the NRC and reactor owners responsible for lingering safety and security issues that may be “accidents waiting to happen.”
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) is among 45 groups and individuals nationwide to petition the NRC “to suspend all licensing and other activities at 21 proposed nuclear reactor projects in 15 states until NRC completes a thorough post-Fukushima reactor examination comparable to that after the serious, though less severe, 1979 accident at Three Mile Island.” Petitioners have also asked NRC to supplement its investigation with another from an independent commission.
  • In March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel shut down seven of her country’s oldest nuclear reactors and decided to accelerate Germany’s conversion toward clean, renewable energy sources. Italy had already begun to phase out nuclear power after the Chernobyl accident in 1986, and closed its last reactor in 1990. The Italian government’s plan to reverse that decision was rejected by more than 94 percent of Italian voters this past June. Rather than resume the use of nuclear power, Italy is expected to expand its renewable energies such as hydropower, wind, biomass, solar, and geothermal technologies.
  • Presently, Switzerland is also phasing out nuclear power. According to Wikipedia, Austria was the first country to begin a phase-out in 1978, followed by Sweden in 1980, Italy in 1987, Belgium in 1999, and Germany in 2000. Austria and Spain have actually enacted laws which prohibit the construction of new nuclear power plants. As of June 2011, countries completely opposed to nuclear energy include Australia, Greece, IsraelNew Zealand, and Norway.
  • Some proponents of coal, oil, and nuclear energy suggest it’s impossible to meet the needs of a growing economy without compromising national security or devastating our environment. Yet Norway’s Utsira Island has been living off the grid for two years. One of the world’s first communities to achieve energy self-sufficiency, Utsira uses a combination of wind power and hydrogen fuel not only to produce renewable energy, but to store enough excess to export to the mainland.
  • “We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren,” Carter urged. It’s not too late to create a safer world and a thriving economy through the development of clean energy policies. As in Italy, it may be up to voters to take the lead. As we phase out coal, oil, gas, and nuclear power, and convert to clean energies, voters must hold NRC accountable for the strict enforcement of more comprehensive regulations than those we rely on today. Last year, the President’s Cancer Panel, which includes appointees of George W. Bush, warned that our apathetic approach to regulation is already having far-reaching consequences for our health—and particularly the health of our children.

Which Republican or Democratic candidate in your area is offering the most comprehensive, far-reaching clean energy policy?

Original Article on SEPCO

Solar + LED Lighting

Solar power and LED lighting are the perfect combination, kinda like milk and cookies. They work well with each other while complimenting their best attributes. Why do they work so well together? Well here’s a few reasons.

LED Lights Run on DC Power

The old standard of using CFL or other types of lamps in solar lighting applications always needed a converter of some sort to run the light. This caused a loss in power, and the solar had to make up for it by being larger and having extra battery storage. Since LEDs run directly from DC power, there is no need for a converter or extra power to make up for the loss.

Better Light Output

LEDs provide a better light output and can meet any part of the lighting spectrum from bright blue-white to soft warm glow of incandescent lamps. They also come in a variety of colors for other applications such as landscape, decorative, or mood lighting.

Better Visibility

The bright white of LEDs provide a better CRI (color rendition index) and provide better sight at night. As LEDs can match the CRI of the sun, looking under a solar LED street light would not be much different than looking at the same thing during the day.

Lower Power Consumption

LEDs use a fraction of the power needed for one incandescent lamp and a third less power than compact fluorescent lamps. The lower power consumption provides better light patterns for the same size solar power system, which in turn lowers the cost due to fewer poles needing to be installed.

Longer Life Expectancy

Solar lasts 25+ years, why do you want to go change your lamp out every couple years? Metal halide, LPS, HPS, even compact fluorescent lamps need to be changed out quite often. LEDs provide 10+ years of life expectancy and make a solar lighting system practically maintenance free.

Environmentally Friendly

Solar provides power for applications without using any other source of energy other than the sun, and LEDs use that energy to provide lighting. How perfect is that!

Original Article on SEPCO