July 3, 2012
Energy isn’t always about kilowatt hours or barrels of oil. Sometimes it’s as simple as a clever and efficient solution to an every day problem.
Popular Mechanics is commemorating its 110th anniversary by sharing their 110 best DIY tips.
Taken from the Popular Mechanics archive, these tips span from stopping milk-bottle bandits to amplifying your iPhone’s speaker.
Some of the more archaic tips are even good for a laugh or two. My personal favorite involves strapping Styrofoam to your glasses to provide a very stylish way to prevent losing them in the water.
There is something for everyone, even the most seasoned self-taught handyman.
April 3, 2012
In about 10 weeks, 4 dogs can sniff out and locate 1,500 scat samples of caribou, wolf and moose. That’s a lot of scat.
It might be a game for the dogs, but it’s serious research for Statoil Canada. The company recently received the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producer’s Environment Performance Award for the development of the Scat Dog Program. This unique monitoring program has been in place for the last three winters in the oil sands region of northern Alberta.
The scat samples are examined by scientists to help determine what moose, wolf and caribou in the area are eating and where they are travelling. The scientists are also trying to assess how healthy each population is through DNA-based measures of population abundance and hormone-based measures of psychological, reproductive and nutritional health. Ultimately, the scientists hope to share their research results and suggest better ways to help manage the impact of resource development on wildlife.
April 1, 2011
Alberta electricity is getting greener. Escher Hydro Development Ltd.(EHDL), the company behind the project, has received regulatory approval to begin construction on three new 20-megawatt hydroelectricity generating stations.
“While some will say that 60 megawatts is not a large amount compared to the 13,447 megawatts of existing capacity, we view it as a step in the right direction,” said a spokesperson for Alberta Energy. “Some of our coal-fired generating stations are approaching the end of their operating lives, and hydroelectricity is an attractive replacement.” The province’s installed capacity for hydro is currently 900 megawatts, while that for coal is 6,142 megawatts.
The plants are to be built in the southeast part of the province near the towns of Veteran, Oyen and Sedalia.
While local residents welcome the development, some are sceptical. “I don’t mind them building the plants here,” said Red Stottlemeyer, a farmer whose land is adjacent to one of the proposed facilities, “But if it’s hydro, don’t they need water? There’s no big rivers near here and even the creeks dry up in summer.”
April Fullham, a spokesperson for EHDL explained. “The new plants are based on designs by M.C. Escher. The water flows in a closed circuit and is used over and over again. There is no need for rivers or streams.
Construction is scheduled to start April 31.
October 19, 2010
You’ve heard of solar power, and you’ve heard of wind power, but what about solar wind power? It’s not just a convenient mash-up of two of the most familiar sources of renewable energy: it’s a hypothetical technology with mile-high potential for power generation.
Solar winds are streams of charged particles that are ejected from the upper atmosphere of the sun, carrying 6.7 billion tons of mass away every hour. Propelling this matter through space, solar winds can move at anywhere between 400 and 750 kilometres per hour. Consider that modern wind turbines turn with wind speeds between 13 and 90 kilometres, and you have some sense of the enormous amount of energy available.
Just how much energy could a satellite harnessing solar winds generate? As much as 100 billion times as much power as the Earth currently uses.
Now, a pair of researchers from Washington State University has suggested that such a so-called a Dyson-Harrop satellite is possible. As Popular Science explains: A 0.4-inch-wide copper wire pointed at the sun, and attached to a solar sail (the wire — which can range in length from 980 feet to more than half a mile) would generate a magnetic field that would capture electrons from the solar wind. The particles would be funneled into a spherical receiver, which produces a current.
The main issue of a solar-powered satellite capable of returning solar wind power to the Earth isn’t a simple one though. Somehow, the satellite would have to be capable of beaming all that power back to the Earth, which would require an intense beam of energy that’s currently beyond our technical ability. If scientists were able to harness all this power, though, it could very well be the last energy solution that the planet requires.
That, or the greatest death ray ever designed by science. Hopefully just the power thing, though.
September 29, 2010
Can you imagine using polystyrene spheres as a sort of scaffolding to create three-dimensional nanostructures of semiconducting zinc oxide on various substrates? Probably not! And that’s why you’ll never be a nanostructure researcher developing innovative ways to expand the surface area for solar panels.
Just kidding, nobody actually expects you to know what polystyrene spheres are, let alone how they could be applied to improve the potential for surfaces on photovoltaic panels. But as this extremely enthusiastic release from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) explains, the creation of a microscopic polystyrene balls with protruding zinc oxide nanowire “spines” could have important benefits for solar panels. In short, that means that rather than a solid sheet, the PV panel’s surface could become an interlocked series of balls, each of which would add a relatively larger amount of surface area. More surface area means a greater chance to absorb sunlight, which means more bang for your PV buck.
And our solar panels aren’t the only ones using their surface area to absorb sunlight. Across the country, there are distinct pockets of “photovoltaic potential” ranging from 800 kilowatt-hours to more than 1,400. Of course, the vast majority of our country isn’t covered in solar panels, but with lightweight technologies like polystyrene spheres coming down the pike, it won’t be long until we’re taking better advantage of our available solar energy.
August 24, 2010
If John Woo had decided to get into the energy sector instead of bullet-ridden action movies, he might have proposed something like this: firing a diamond bullet into a chunk of solid methane to produce nuclear fusion. And you thought nuclear energy was already exciting.
Of course, the idea of using a high-speed projectile as an energy source is just a theory at the moment, proposed by a group of Chinese researchers at Beijing University in a pair of papers (“Hypervelocity Macroscopic Particle Impact Fusion with DT Methane” and “Fast Ignition Impact Fusion with DT methane”). Even though the energy required to fire a millimetre-sized bullet at 1,000 km/s is considerable, the papers’ authors believe there would still be a net energy gain.
According to the Popular Science article linked above:
The collision’s peak energy is 4 petawatts, at a rate of 1.5 petawatts over 40 nanoseconds. That’s four quadrillion watts. About 80 percent of that energy is wasted in the form of scattered neutrons, but the remaining electrons and radiation are enough to heat things up to fusion temperatures.
Novel alternatives to the current model of nuclear generation are cropping up every day, from alternative fuel sources like uranium nitride to DIY enthusiasts (link to DIY nuclear). But when it comes to exciting alternatives, it’s going to be hard to beat a diamond bullet. Unless, somehow, they can also include a golden gun.
July 28, 2010
Air travel by dirigibles enjoyed a brief golden age in the early 20th century, evoking images of giant blimps crossing the Atlantic like airborne luxury liners. (There’s an urban legend that says the Empire State Building was even originally supposed to have a refuelling station built into its top, but as fanciful as it might seem, it’s also not true). But eventually, with the mounting logistical issues inherent in flying around in giant balloons, and the very public Hindenburg accident, the era ended. Now, when we’re talking about hydrogen fuel we’re talking about an entirely different way of travelling.
Still, the image of a lighter-than-air aircraft has continued to intrigue us, even if it’s not really feasible as a mode of mass transportation. That’s why it’s intriguing to see a manned solar-powered blimp designed to fly for an hour over the English channel. It’s a year behind schedule and will only carry a single passenger, but the Nephelios is slated to make its maiden, hour-long journey from Calais to Dover within the summer. Hope they get a sunny day.
Transportation continues to account for a huge share of our country’s greenhouse gas emissions (36 per cent in 2007), so it’s no wonder that even modest attempts at emission-free vehicles of tend to stimulate our optimism. Other public projects designed to produce solar-powered vehicles in recent years have included the Solar Impulse project and its round-the-world trip, and the University of Calgary’s Schulich I solar car, one of the participants in the North American Solar Challenge.
And while it won’t sail through the air like the Nephelios, or the fish-like prototype blimps we’ve covered previously, the Physalia, a floating river purifier and environmental museum, shows that the air isn’t the only place for fantastical vehicles powered by renewable energy. Even if the golden age of the dirigible never really did launch, there’s definitely room for emission-free transportation that could prove every bit as fantastical.
July 21, 2010
Lithium batteries are so yesterday. A solar-powered backpack? Pfft, you’ll have to do better than that. If you really want portable power, and you want to look cool doing it, it’s the bat hook or nothing.
Sure, a device designed to be thrown over your head and into overhead power lines might not offer any new ways of generating electricity, but it sure is… dangerous. (Not really, according to the US Department of Defence, provided of course that you’re already a trained soldier.) And, given that it conducts power from the line by slicing into it with a small blade, it might not exactly be the most popular option among cities that don’t want their infrastructure being constantly cut.
Just the same: who wouldn’t want to power their laptop with something called a bat hook? If there’s anything comics have taught us, it’s that anything becomes at least 50 per cent cooler with the prefix “bat”.
As it happens, over 60 per cent of Canada’s electricity is produced using hydro, with fossil fuels coming in second at about 23 per cent. Once generated, that electricity is transmitted throughout the country on over 160,000 kilometres of high voltage lines. How you get that electricity out of the grid, though, is entirely up to you.
Image Warner Brothers
July 19, 2010
Canada is still wrangling with its own nuclear future. For example, while Alberta has said that it will evaluate all private nuclear projects on a case-by-case basis, British Columbia has a standing policy of no nuclear power plants in the province. Federally regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, there hasn’t actually been a new nuclear plant built in Canada in decades, and Bruce Power recently folded its own plans for a pair of new reactors in Ontario. At present, Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec are the only three provinces to produce electricity from nuclear power.
But imagine if it didn’t take millions of dollars to create a nuclear reactor. Imagine if they could be built right in our own backyards. That’s exactly what a group of 37 hobbyists in the United States have done — creating fusion reactors the size of air conditioners — with the most recent being built in Manhattan.
Fuelled by deuterium gas, the reactor itself actually contains no fissile materials (so there’s no danger of a Three Mile Island-style meltdown). But more important to the future of electricity generation, the reactor still isn’t at the break-even point, requiring more energy to run than it ends up producing. Still, its creator, Mark Suppes, is optimistic that one day he’ll be able to create a prototype that will at least break even. After that, who knows?
Decentralized power is definitely one of the most talked-about changes that we’re likely to see in our energy systems. One day, all our homes will be capable of generating their own electricity and selling it back to the grid. But it tends to be a lot easier to sell that concept to consumers when we’re talking about wind and solar. There’s always been something about nuclear power in our backyards that makes people a little more cautious.
June 30, 2010
When we talk about solar power, we’re not always thinking big. It’s exciting to discover, for example, that there’s actually a species of ocean-bound bacteria that can photosynthesize just like land-based plants, and we’re always hearing about solar-powered devices like solar backpacks that can fit just about anywhere. But sometimes, bigger really is better — at least when we’re talking about megawatts.
At 100 MW, the Shams 1 solar power plant will certainly be producing more power than even the most incredible solar backpack. The plant will be built by Total (a French oil firm) and Abengoa Solar (a Spanish solar firm), and its 768 collectors will eventually cover 2.5 square kilometres. The project is intended to be the first of three, to be followed by Shams 2 and 3, and will take about two years to complete.
Despite being one of the world’s largest producers of oil, the UAE is no stranger to large-scale, headline-grabbing renewable energy projects. The largest of those, Masdar City, will eventually be the home of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), showcasing a variety of renewable energy and energy efficiency-related features.
Like Masdar City, Shams 1’s size provides two main benefits: a critical mass of energy production and, perhaps more importantly, a very public environmental offset to the emirates’ main export. But is it big enough?
When it comes to solar power, it can always get bigger: every day, the Earth receives the equivalent of 174 petawatts of energy from the sun (though over a third is reflected immediately by the upper atmosphere). The UAE are going to need a much, much bigger solar backpack for that one…