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Friday, June 30, 2006

Innovation alert :Greener Semiconductors

A new technique that replaces high temprature oxidation in silicon wafer fabrication with a room temprature process using UV light @ 126 nm wavelength, promises to revolutionize IC fabrication and bring down the power consumed for the same.

The BBC reports that
"The team from University College London used low temperature, ultraviolet lamps to make silicon dioxide, a vital component of almost all modern chips.
At the moment, chip makers use energy intensive furnaces, heated to more than 1000C, to manufacture the material.he new technique operates at room temperature and so requires less power and resources."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Predicting the solar harvest

The New Scientist has the following report.
The state of the Sun's atmosphere has been predicted with unprecedented accuracy five days in advance, using some of the world's fastest computers. The simulation lays the foundation for better forecasts of hazardous magnetic storms around Earth.

Clouds of gas that escape from the Sun in events called coronal mass ejections (CMEs) can fry satellites and knock out power grids on Earth. The storms also pose a radiation hazard to astronauts.

But predicting these storms is difficult – not every CME that heads our way triggers a storm. The key factor appears to be the alignment of the cloud's magnetic field. If it is lined up with Earth's magnetic field, the local space weather is likely to be calm, while if it is lined up the opposite way, powerful magnetic storms can result. Now, researchers led by Zoran Mikic of the company Science Applications International in San Diego, California, US, have devised a sophisticated computer model based on observations of magnetic activity on the Sun's surface, or photosphere. This activity shapes the Sun's wispy outer atmosphere, or corona, where the eruptions of gas originate.

They improved on simpler versions of their model by including a more accurate simulation of how energy flows through the corona. The new model worked well enough to successfully predict the shape of the entire corona when it became visible in the solar eclipse of 29 March 2006. Normally, the Sun's surface is too bright to directly observe the corona.

While this research is mostly relevant to the high end applications we can also use such data to fine tune solar collectors of different types.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Energy Equations

The professor has a nice article on the geopolitical shifts that are happening around us and the impact on energy consumption. He points out the impact of India and China (especially china) to the global energy calculus. The regional integration of S.America will be another blow for the monroe doctrine and with India and China out the Kyoto protocol till 2012 we should see some good geo-political action this decade. Better to get closer to china the only unintimidatable and least agressive major power ! A memorable quote in typical chomsky style "Many indigenous people apparently do not see any reason why their lives, societies and cultures should be disrupted or destroyed so that New Yorkers can sit in their SUVs in traffic gridlock." gives us a clear picture of where the root of the problem lies! Consumption driven economics...without a ecological and ethical counter force.

World Cup Goes Carbon Neutral

The World Cup is carbon neutral for the first time this year, despite the dirty energy used and air miles clocked up by both fans and players, thanks to FIFA's use of carbon offset schemes.

By funding a green energy project in Africa and buying up carbon credits to compensate for emissions from German coal-burning power stations, vehicles, and airplanes generated by the event, organizers hope to erase its impact on the earth's climate.

FIFA is funding a project in South Africa that will see coal-fired boilers at Letaba Citrus Farm, South Africa, replaced by biomass boilers fuelled by woodchips from a nearby sawmill.

Mary Shelly section : Frankenstien rats.. brains

A team led by Yael Hanein of Tel Aviv University in Israel used 100-micrometre-wide bundles of nanotubes to coax rat neurons into forming regular patterns on a sheet of quartz.

The neurons cannot stick to the quartz surface but do bind to the nanotube dots, in clusters of about between 20 and 100. Once attached, these neuron bundles are just the right distance from one another to stretch out projections called axons and dendrites to make links with other clusters nearby. Axons and dendrites carry electrical signals between neurons. The electrical activity of the neural network can easily be measured because carbon nanotubes conduct electricity and so can function as electrodes.

Existing methods for growing networks of neurons cannot produce such neat patterns and clean links between cells. This is because neurons are normally deposited on surfaces that do not prevent them from growing out of ordered clusters onto projections, which makes for a messier network. This is not a problem for Hanein's group. "There is no chance of the cells migrating outside of there," she says. (I would sure hope so :)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Utilicom : The indian perspective

Thomas F. Anglero has a perspective on his blog on the emergence of the utilicom. This is also covered in Rajesh Jain's blog. The real meat of the article is Anglero's very perceptive analysis of who controls the network.
"The average utility company has been in the same business as the average Telecom company in regards to providing a necessary service that by its very nature creates an addictive "dependency", has established a personal (trust) relationship which is recorded in a database with information about "you", and financially prospering by keeping a low-key profile to a very high margin business. The utility companies have the "right-of-ways" and easements directly into the bedrooms of each one of us and lie higher on the totem-pole of Business by controlling "the" most important element in Telecom...Energy!

If a Telecom company wanted to teach a nation a lesson about its importance, it could shut-down its network but subscribers would counter by subscribing to another competitor. If an Energy company shut-down its electrical grid, no-Telecom network would function, none of our modern and necessary conveniences would function, almost nothing, life doesn't stop - it reverses.

The Energy companies are the Poseidons of Utilicom. While Telecom companies focus on M&A of each other, the Energy companies will allow this to transpire because its a waste of capital and is clearly unnecessary. This was proven last week by Orange UK (France Telecom) who threw-down the gauntlet on broadband DSL and unlimited nationwide calling by practically giving it away (about $9 USD) to anyone willing to be an Orange UK mobile subscriber."

For India this is a great opportunity to understand and get the right infrastrcture (physical, social and political) in place. Given the power scenario and all the hype about how telecom penetration in india will change the way things are done the ground reality is that cellular providers are unable to setup cell sites even on secondary state highways due to lack of power infrastructure. But there are solutions available today, as can be seen here and here.
The point here is that while today its remote sites and bad terrain that demand such solutions, this is going to be the dominant means by which telecom and communication are going to spread in developing economies like india. distributed power generation and consumption are the way to go. Word in the grapevine is that Reliance is trying hard to get PV based cell sites up and the only issues today are the 24x7x365 power levels required rather any technical hurdles.So bulk of the world population will have telecom outside the control of the Utilcom's. At least till they find a way to tax sunlight and then privatize it !

Friday, June 23, 2006

CDM : Bridging the gap

An interesting company that is focused on creating CDM projects and funds itself and the stakeholders from the CER credits generated. CER India Pvt. Ltd. has been set up as a company to partner with grassroots groups, NGOs, people's organizations, Gram Panchayats, etc., assist them in developing and financing CDM Projects, and in the monitoring and sale of carbon credits that are generated. The company has partnered with ADATS and a grassroots organization Coolie Sangha to do some pioneering work in Bagepalli (Kolar Dist.) on dry land development that has a CER bonus. They are currently working on a number of CDM initiatives in the areas of rural lighting, bio-gase etc.

New optical system for increased LED efficiency

Edmund Optics, Inc. has launched an illumination delivery technology, EOS, a next generation approach to increasing illumination brightness in LEDs. EOS delivery technology essentially reinvents LEDs, ultimately making them more useful to a wider variety of markets.

“This discovery has created a tremendous gain in power and lifetime for LEDs. As the EOS technology flows to market, scientists and engineers will be able to utilized this revolutionary technology to replace the majority of quartz halogen bulbs over the next several years,” said John Stack, president and COO. “We are certain that this innovative optical solution will be applicable to future developments at the source/die level.”

The new EOS technology will create new opportunities for the use of LEDs in automotive headlamps, scientific instrument lighting, infrared military illuminators, surgical headlamps and portable projector systems.

“EOS technology is used to direct energy from the LED chip with unprecedented efficiency and unsurpassed uniformity at the target. The 150 watt quartz halogen bulbs typically last 1,000 hours. Initial testing results indicate that with the new optical design, the EOS transformed LED will be at least two to five times brighter than quartz halogen, lasting 20 to 50 times longer,” said Chris Cummings, R&D engineer at Edmund Optics.

LED technologies have continued to address the brightness issue by optimizing materials and the manufacturing process. These approaches still fall short of the rigorous brightness requirements, and therefore end users persist in driving the chip harder, increasing power to achieve a better result. Unfortunately, this method decreases the lifetime of the LED, one of its primary advantages over quartz halogen.

Recognizing this problematic balance between driving the chip and LED lifetime, Edmund Optics sought an unconventional approach to the brightness problem. “Our approach was to go back to the fundamental limits of physics; then use building blocks to come up with a radically new, yet simple and elegant optical solution,” said Samuel Sadoulet, director of engineering.

Edmund Optics developed a patent-pending, optical technology that when used in conjunction with an LED, more effectively directs the light into a tightly focused and manageable bundle of light, minimizing any thermal concerns that impact the life of the chip. The financial drawback of using an LED has been eliminated.

HB LED outlook

Fueled by growth in emerging applications such as illumination, automotive headlamps and backlighting for LCD monitors and screens, the high-brightness LED market is expected to double in size to more than $8 billion worldwide over the next five years, according to one of the leading forecasters of the LED marketplace. At the same time, the dramatic growth that has come in recent years from the use of high-brightness LEDs in cell phones is leveling off amidst saturation in mobile appliance applications.

These are the findings of Robert Steele of Strategies Unlimited, given in his keynote address at the annual Strategies in Light conference, held recently in San Francisco. Other highlights of his firm’s annual review and outlook of the high-brightness LED market included:

* Overall, it grew by only 8 percent to $4.0 billion in 2005. This shows a dramatic shift from the 37 percent growth in 2004, and the average growth from 2001 to 2004 was even higher at 46 percent. Even so, most of the LED applications showed significant growth since last year and mobile handsets grew faster than expected, resulting in a lower handset LED decline than was anticipated, said Steele.

* For HB LED suppliers the revenue growth was mixed, showing high and low numbers varying from company to company. The excess capacity for HB LEDs led to severe pricing pressure for low-end products like keypad backlights. Prices also declined for higher performance HB LED products, but not as severely.

* For the high-power packages, growth was up 78 percent to $230 million, while standard package market grew only 4 percent and the multichip and high-current grew 12 to 13 percent. The main applications in 2005 for high-power packages include illumination, traffic signals and the fastest growing – camera flash for mobile phones.

Climate change: Tempratures hit the roof

The earth is apparently the hottest it has ever been in the last 400 years. And maybe even longer. For all but the most recent 150 years, the academy scientists relied on "proxy" evidence from tree rings, corals, glaciers and ice cores, cave deposits, ocean and lake sediments, boreholes and other sources. They also examined indirect records such as paintings of glaciers in the Alps.

Combining that information gave the panel "a high level of confidence that the last few decades of the 20th century were warmer than any comparable period in the last 400 years.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Contrarian View: How eco-friendly are bio-fuels ?

George Monbiot has this hard hitting view on bio-fuels. In fact he calls them "Worse than fossil fuels". While the solutions may seem luddite to most of the population, there is an essential truth in the view that he takes. Unfortunately the Genie does not go back into the bottle so we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Worth a serious read though. Monbiot's other recent atricle on the Omega 3 food chain and its impact on human intelligence is also worth a read. Looks like those food fads (Eat fish and become brainy) had some basis after all :)

1328 km/l : Efficacy of your next car ?

While the search for alternate fuels goes on, the fossil brigade is not resting. A UBC team has designed a futuristic-looking, single-occupancy vehicle won top prize at a recent international competition, marking the UBC team’s fourth win in as many years.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Supermileage Competition took place June 9 in Marshall, Michigan. Forty teams from Canada, the U.S. and India competed in designing and building the most fuel-efficient vehicle. The UBC design, which required the driver to lie down while navigating it, achieved 3,145 miles per US gallon (1328 km/l : 0.074 litres/100 km) -- equivalent of Vancouver to Halifax on a gallon (3.79 litres) of gas -- costing less than $5 (Rs 225) at the pump.Université Laval (Que.) took second place this year with a score of 1,823 mpg (770 km/l). Other teams represented University of Windsor, University of California, Los Angeles, UC Berkeley, Pennsylvania State University, and the Delhi College of Engineering.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Cree announces 131 lm/W white LED

Looks like the industry is marching ahead on improving white LED efficacy much faster than predicted. Cree has announced a 20mA EZBrite platform that has been certified at 131 lm/W. This is a huge leap for white LED's at large. While the device is a .29 mm lab prototype, it now means that commercial devices will exceed 90 lm/W almost a year before it was predicted.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Ashden Award for Dr Sugarcane

Dr Anand Karve, winner of the Ashden Award for Renewable Energy, has developed ways of harnessing agro-waste into fuel. Karve heads the Appropriate Rural Technology Institute which has developed pioneering seed and irrigation techniques to help farmers.Karve got the award for his remarkable breakthrough in converting sugarcane leaves, generally thrown away or burned after harvest, into fuel.

A sprightly 65-year-old scientist, Karve has a PhD in botany from a German university. He, and a few other like-minded scientists and technicians, founded ARTI in April 1996 at an age when most people are settling down to lead a `retired' life.

ARTI started with the objective of `developing, popularising and commercialising innovative rural technologies' to improve the quality of life and standard of living of the rural residents of India. "If people have enough employment opportunities in rural areas why would they migrate to the cities?" Karve asks.

ARTI's record is impressive. Besides developing renewable energy resources from agricultural waste, it has pioneered nursery techniques to make seeds develop faster, and helped farmers tackle adverse weather conditions. Says Karve: "Farmers lose out on valuable time if they start sowing operations after the monsoon season settles in. If they can sow the seeds in a nursery before the monsoon starts and transplant them once the season is in full swing, they can enhance their produce significantly." ARTI has also developed low-cost, high-humidity chambers to allow seeds to grow better.

The institute has a plant tissue culture laboratory and has constructed a roofless greenhouse at 1/10th the cost of a conventional greenhouse. It has developed a drip-irrigation technique that prevents water wastage and a transportable wheelbarrow, a low-cost water tank and a bakery -- all with the sole purpose of helping villagers.

But it was Karve's work in developing fuel from sugarcane waste that won him accolades and the Ashden Award. The idea took root when Karve's daughter, Priyadarshini, was looking out for a subject for her Master's thesis. She tried converting sugarcane leaves into charcoal and Karve immediately saw the enormous potential in the idea.
Initially Karve didn't meet with much success. But when he put the leaves into a retort, or a container with a lid, where they were starved of oxygen, he was able to come up with charcoal.

Thus Karve found use for the 4.5 million-odd tonnes of sugarcane leaves in Maharashtra. "These leaves have no nutritional value and are difficult to decompose. So they are simply burned and this causes pollution," he says. Karve set up a kiln to char the leaves and convert them into smoke-free char briquettes that could be used as a fuel in rural as well as urban homes.

Besides drastically reducing the fuel costs of an average urban family, producing char briquettes also earns the family an additional income.

Dr Karve is enthusiastic about the Indian government's decision to introduce Gasohol, a five per cent blend of ethanol and petrol. Ethanol can be extracted from sugarcane. "Now the government should increase the percentage of ethanol in petrol and also allow the use of the sugarcane crop in making ethanol," he says.

Karve thinks methane is a better fuel option. Like ethanol, it can be extracted from agricultural waste and its calorific value is higher than that of liquefied petroleum gas.

Karve's journey has not always been smooth. He has had to face his share of social problems. For instance, when he sought the help of the scavenger caste to collect leaves for money, their leader flatly refused. "You educate your children in the best of schools and colleges and want our children to remain scavengers?" said the man.

Dr Karve, grandson of the legendary social reformer Maharishi Dhondo Keshav Karve, has learnt to work around these social pitfalls. His work in rural areas is designed to open a new chapter in rural entrepreneurship, a move that will not only boost rural incomes but will also discourage the rural poor from migrating to urban slums.

Article Credit : InfoChange News & Features

Shuji Nakamura wins Millennium Technology Prize

Slashdot has a report that University of California professor Shuji Nakamura, the japanese inventor of the bright green, white and blue GaN LEDs and a blue laser, has been awarded the 2006 Millennium Technology Prize. While blue LEDs are considered cool and thus needful things by most nerds, Nakamura adapted his blue LEDs to make a blue laser in the mid 90s. The next generation optical storage formats, HD-DVD and BluRay, are of course both based on blue laser. Also, his white LEDS need far less energy than normal incandescent lamps and can thus provide plenty of opportunity for energy-saving in the industrialized world. But probably the most significant future application for Shuji Nakamura's invention comes in the form of sterilizing drinking water, since the the water purification process can be made cheaper and more efficient with the use of ultraviolet LEDs. This can improve the lives and health of tens of millions people in developing countries.

As people working on LED lighting we are doubly proud of the professori. Our business model is after all based on Gallium Nitrite.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hakwing gives up on global warming

In a recent lecture british astrophysicist and general super guru Stephen Hakwing seems to have given up hope that we can clean up the mess that we have created. To quote the professor "It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," Hawking said. "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of."

It's interesting to note that his opinions on why we need to spread out of the earth are all based on threats we create ourselves. I dont see meteorites scaring Hawkings! He should know being an astrophysicist.
So its official, the reason for our extinction is more likely to be something we do rather than getting hit by comets :)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Limiting Factors: Mips per Watt

One measure that the IT industry has reached a significant milestone in performance maturity is the recent excitement on performance per watt. Clearly this indicates that mainstream users of IT have dropped out of the faster-is-better mode and moved to price-performance ratios in deciding on the hardware that they will buy. But we have a problem here. There is tremendous variation starting at the basic microprocessor, memory, peripherals et al. There is *no standard industry* benchmark for this important metric. Much like the lighting industry goes on about lumens per watt, expect to see computations per watt being quoted on complete systems. And just as in lumens per watt (efficacy in the lighting context) the quoted efficacy figures for computing are bound to confuse rather than clarify. System integrators will have to evolve these metrics in markets where availability of power is the limiting factor in IT expansion.

This assumes importance in countries like india, where we will need the most energy efficent devices to take the IT revolution to the hinderland. This article clearly shows how power is everything for a datacenter or IT setup. Our prediction is that we are going to see completely solar/wind/biomass powered data centers and telecom infrastructure and computing devices take over the volume market over the next decade. This article examines DC power for datacenters, all its findings are directly applicable to a PV type setup.The only issues now are the cost of setting up the power infrastructre not the technical bits of making PV compatible devices. A further prediction is that the innovator here will be government departments trying to implement e-governance systems in such locations.

Imagine this scenario.

Nodal/Village data centers with 5 KW PV or Wind generation, powered by ultra efficient Linux/BSD servers connected by 2 KW broadband wireless telecom nodes to 25W thin clients at homes that have LED/LCD driven displays. This setup with about 10 -15 KW generation can serve about 200- 500 households. The home computing client can be a gateway for data, voice, entertainment and education. One PV panel, one screen per home. The whole thing is doable with today's technology. Where is transmeta ? Where is CK Prahalad ?