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Monday, April 30, 2007

Solar plant in ontario

The canadians are putting us a 40 MW solar plant. For a country blessed with so much hydro power this is a move that smacks of vision. Contrast this with Bangalore's bescom whose inept babus claim (on paper) that the situation is normal. This is when the average banglorean faces 2- 6 hours of 'unscheduled' disruption. What the government cannot fix, the people should.
Read more here

Friday, April 27, 2007

The LED pie

Japan as ever seems to be way ahead of the others. The curious thing is how desperate the Chinese are to sell their semi-conductor even though they make a hell of a lot less than the Japanese. The taiwanese production is not a surprise. Funnily the larger the volume the greater the price. That is the led market for you. Read more here.

Light guides from Kaye Effect

Very cool video. Must see. I had no clue that liquids behaved this way. Hat tip : Atanu Dey

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Algae based bio reactors

Something that is much better than all the fuss about corn ethanol which is a silly idea on stilts. This can be viewed as cellulosic ethanol's first and possibly best entry into the industry. From the article in Green power :

BioKing Green Energy NV has developed new, high performance and continuous photo-bioreactors for algae for the purpose of producing biodiesel. BioKing Green Energy NV is a recently formed subsidiary, fully owned by BioKing Inc. It will engage in research and development of algae cultivation as an energy source for the production of biodiesel, which is an economically feasible and eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based fuels. The production facilities for algae bio fuels will be based in the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.

Hans and Marco van de Ven, founders of BioKing states: “With the increasing interest in biodiesel as an alternative to petrodiesel, many have looked at the possibility of growing even more oilseed crops as a solution to the problem of peak oil. However, there are two problems with this approach. Firstly, cultivation of even more oilseed crops will usurp valuable space needed to grow food crops to feed mankind. And secondly, traditional oilseed crops are not the most productive or efficient source of vegetable oil. Micro-algae have the highest potential of energy yield in vegetable oil crops. Some species of algae are ideally suited for biodiesel production due to their high oil content, some as much as 50 percent, and their extremely fast growth rates. They can grow in adverse conditions like deserts and saline water. That is why algae are the crop of the future.”

BioKing Inc. is a developer of scalable photo-bioreactors for the production of biodiesel developed with patented technology. They also produce other valuable bio-commodities produced from algae oil. This technology has the potential to dramatically improve biodiesel yields from algae oil.

“After only 3.5 hours inside the newly designed continuous photo-bioreactor system algae can be collected and processed,” van de Ven states. “ With our fast growing algae and our advanced photo-bioreactor it only takes four days to be in full production and to collect the first algae. And the cost of biodiesel feedstock will only be 5 to 10 cents a liter.”

3D nano tower arrays - 2

More details emerge on the latest in Photo voltaics Excerpt below :
The GTRI photovoltaic cells trap light between their tower structures, which are about 100 microns tall, 40 microns by 40 microns square, 10 microns apart—and built from arrays containing millions of vertically-aligned carbon nanotubes. Conventional flat solar cells reflect a significant portion of the light that strikes them, reducing the amount of energy they absorb.

Because the tower structures can trap and absorb light received from many different angles, the new cells remain efficient even when the sun is not directly overhead. That could allow them to be used on spacecraft without the mechanical aiming systems that maintain a constant orientation to the sun, reducing weight and complexity – and improving reliability.

“The efficiency of our cells increases as the sunlight goes away from perpendicular, so we may not need mechanical arrays to rotate our cells,” Ready noted.

The ability of the 3D cells to absorb virtually all of the light that strikes them could also enable improvements in the efficiency with which the cells convert the photons they absorb into electrical current.

In conventional flat solar cells, the photovoltaic coatings must be thick enough to capture the photons, whose energy then liberates electrons from the photovoltaic materials to create electrical current. However, each mobile electron leaves behind a “hole” in the atomic matrix of the coating. The longer it takes electrons to exit the PV material, the more likely it is that they will recombine with a hole—reducing the electrical current.

Because the 3D cells absorb more of the photons than conventional cells, their coatings can be made thinner, allowing the electrons to exit more quickly, reducing the likelihood that recombination will take place. That boosts the “quantum efficiency” – the rate at which absorbed photons are converted to electrons – of the 3D cells.

Fabrication of the cells begins with a silicon wafer, which can also serve as the solar cell’s bottom junction. The researchers first coat the wafer with a thin layer of iron using a photolithography process that can create a wide variety of patterns. The patterned wafer is then placed into a furnace heated to 780 degrees Celsius. Hydrocarbon gases are then flowed into furnace, where the carbon and hydrogen separate. In a process known as chemical vapor deposition, the carbon grows arrays of multi-walled carbon nanotubes atop the iron patterns.

Once the carbon nanotube towers have been grown, the researchers use a process known as molecular beam epitaxy to coat them with cadmium telluride (CdTe) and cadmium sulfide (CdS) which serve as the p-type and n-type photovoltaic layers. Atop that, a thin coating of indium tin oxide, a clear conducting material, is added to serve as the cell’s top electrode.

In the finished cells, the carbon nanotube arrays serve both as support for the 3D arrays and as a conductor connecting the photovoltaic materials to the silicon wafer.

The researchers chose to make their prototypes cells from the cadmium materials because they were familiar with them from other research. However, a broad range of other photovoltaic materials could also be used, and selecting the best material for specific applications will be a goal of future research.

Ready also wants to study the optimal heights and spacing for the towers, and to determine the trade-offs between spacing and the angle at which the light hits the structures.

The new cells face several hurdles before they can be commercially produced. Testing must verify their ability to survive launch and operation in space, for instance. And production techniques will have to scaled up from the current two-inch laboratory prototypes.

“We have demonstrated that we can extract electrons using this approach,” Ready said. “Now we need to get a good baseline to see where we compare to existing materials, how to optimize this and what’s needed to advance this technology.”

Intellectual Property Partners of Atlanta holds the rights to the 3D solar cell design and is seeking partners to commercialize the technology.
Another commercialization path is being followed by an Ohio company, NewCyte, which is partnering with GTRI to use the 3D approach for terrestrial solar cells. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research has awarded the company a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant to develop the technology.

“NewCyte has patent pending, low cost technology for depositing semiconductor layers directly on individual fullerenes,” explained Dennis J. Flood, NewCyte’s president and CTO. “We are using our technology to grow the same semiconductor layers on the carbon nanotube towers that GTRI has already demonstrated. Our goal is to achieve performance and cost levels that will make solar cells using the GTRI 3D cell structure competitive in the broader terrestrial solar cell market.”

Nano towers were covered in this blog previously.

Nemesis found

The prescience of Issac Asimov, the grand old man of science fiction, is scary. For readers of science fiction, 'Nemesis' was a seminal book about (mostly) superluminal flight and the discovery of a red dwarf which is a 'unknown' binary to our own sun. The scary bit is that there is a rocky planet in orbit around the red dwarf that has liquid water and an alien intelligence based on prokaryote lie forms ( a rocky water sustaining planet around a red dwarf is astronomically very rare). In a recent discovery, Euro astronomers have found a planet that matches this in spec a mere 20 light years from earth. So to Nemesis !

Excerpt from the BBC:
Astronomers have found the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date, a world which could have water running on its surface.

The planet orbits the faint star Gliese 581, which is 20.5 light-years away in the constellation Libra.

Scientists made the discovery using the Eso 3.6m Telescope in Chile.

They say the benign temperatures on the planet mean any water there could exist in liquid form, and this raises the chances it could also harbour life.

"We have estimated that the mean temperature of this 'super-Earth' lies between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius, and water would thus be liquid," explained Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory, lead author of the scientific paper reporting the result. Moreover, its radius should be only 1.5 times the Earth's radius, and models predict that the planet should be either rocky - like our Earth - or covered with oceans."

Xavier Delfosse, a member of the team from Grenoble University, added: "Liquid water is critical to life as we know it."

He believes the planet may now become a very important target for future space missions dedicated to the search for extra-terrestrial life.

These missions will put telescopes in space that can discern the tell-tale light "signatures" that might be associated with biological processes.

The observatories would seek to identify trace atmospheric gases such as methane, and even markers for chlorophyll, the pigment in Earth plants that plays a critical role in photosynthesis.

Given the recent theories on chlorophyll, they should also look for retinal which was the photosynthetic molecule that preceded chlorophyll on earth and can still be found in halobacteria.

The exoplanet - as astronomers call planets around a star other than the Sun - is the smallest yet found, and completes a full orbit of its parent star in just 13 days.

Indeed, it is 14 times closer to its star than the Earth is to our Sun.

However, given that the host star is smaller and colder than the Sun - and thus less luminous - the planet nevertheless lies in the "habitable zone", the region around a star where water could be liquid.

Gliese 581 was identified at the European Southern Observatory (Eso) facility at La Silla in the Atacama Desert.

To make their discovery, researchers used a very sensitive instrument that can measure tiny changes in the velocity of a star as it experiences the gravitational tug of a nearby planet.

Astronomers are stuck with such indirect methods of detection because current telescope technology struggles to image very distant and faint objects - especially when they orbit close to the glare of a star.

The Gliese 581 system has now yielded three planets: the new super-Earth, a 15 Earth-mass planet orbiting even closer to the parent star, and an eight Earth-mass planet that lies further out.
Gliese 581 is much cooler and dimmer than our own Sun
The latest discovery has created tremendous excitement among scientists.

Of the more than 200 exoplanets so far discovered, a great many are Jupiter-like gas giants that experience blazing temperatures because they orbit close to hot stars.

The Gliese 581 super-Earth is in what scientists call the "Goldilocks Zone" where temperatures "are just right" for life to have a chance to exist.

Commenting on the discovery, Alison Boyle, the curator of astronomy at London's Science Museum, said: "Of all the planets we've found around other stars, this is the one that looks as though it might have the right ingredients for life.

"It's 20 light-years away and so we won't be going there anytime soon, but with new kinds of propulsion technology that could change in the future. And obviously we'll be training some powerful telescopes on it to see what we can see," she told BBC News.

"'Is there life anywhere else?' is a fundamental question we all ask."

Professor Glenn White at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory is helping to develop the European Space Agency's Darwin mission, which will scan the nearby Universe, looking for signs of life on Earth-like planets. He said: "This is an important step in the search for true Earth-like exoplanets.

"As the methods become more and more refined, astronomers are narrowing in on the ultimate goal - the detection of a true Earth-like planet elsewhere.

"Obviously this newly discovered planet and its companions in the Gliese 581 system will become prominent targets for missions like Esa's Darwin and Nasa's Terrestrial planet Finder when they fly in about a decade."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tailored Nanowires for electron extraction

A cross-section of the nanoscale coaxial cable, in which nitrogen, phosphorus, and gallium atoms are shown in blue, yellow, and magenta, respectively. White spheres represent hydrogen atoms, which help render the surface of the wire chemically non-reactive.

A nano scale co-axial technique developed at the LBNL shows promise in increasing the yield from solar power generators. Read more here. Excerpt from the article.

The nanowire, developed by researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, may solve several problems currently associated with renewable energy applications.
One overarching problem is that current semiconducting materials with the potential for use in renewable energy devices lack one key characteristic. When electrons in these materials are excited by light and jump to higher energy levels (leaving vacancies, known as “holes,” in the lower levels), both the electrons and the holes typically move around in the same region. Thus, they tend to recombine. This is desirable for certain applications, such as light-emitting devices, where electron-hole recombination produces light, but is not ideal for renewable energy devices. A better scenario is the separation of the excited electrons from the holes such that, in the case of solar cells, for example, the electrons can be drawn off and used for electricity.

“Our nanowires were designed to provide this feature, along with a superior electrical conductivity,” said NREL materials scientist Yong Zhang, the study's corresponding researcher, to “Both of these properties are critical in order for renewable energy devices to reach their ultimate efficiency limits.”

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Quantum chlorophyll

The simplest things in nature that make life possible are often the most difficult to comprehend. A recent theory on why plants are green threw up surprising results when it emerged that vegetation on earth works in the red and blue range of solar radiation and not the green. This was even more surprising given the fact that the sun pumps out maximum wattage in the green range. This is probably why the human eye is most sensitive to it. The next big surprise is that chlorophyll seems to use quantum effects to do its magic. In a recent announcement by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory & University of California (UC) at Berkeley:

We have obtained the first direct evidence that remarkably long-lived wavelike electronic quantum coherence plays an important part in energy transfer processes during photosynthesis," said Graham Fleming, the principal investigator for the study. “This wavelike characteristic can explain the extreme efficiency of the energy transfer because it enables the system to simultaneously sample all the potential energy pathways and choose the most efficient one.” The classical hopping description of the energy transfer process is both inadequate and inaccurate," said Fleming. "It gives the wrong picture of how the process actually works, and misses a crucial aspect of the reason for the wonderful efficiency."

Co-authoring the Nature paper with Fleming were Gregory Engel, who was first author, Tessa Calhoun, Elizabeth Read, Tae-Kyu Ahn, Tomas Mancal and Yuan-Chung Cheng, all of whom held joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and the UC Berkeley Chemistry Department at the time of the study, plus Robert Blankenship, from the Washington University in St. Louis.

The photosynthetic technique for transferring energy from one molecular system to another should make any short-list of Mother Nature’s spectacular accomplishments. If we can learn enough to emulate this process, we might be able to create artificial versions of photosynthesis that would help us effectively tap into the sun as a clean, efficient, sustainable and carbon-neutral source of energy.

Towards this end, Fleming and his research group have developed a technique called two-dimensional electronic spectroscopy that enables them to follow the flow of light-induced excitation energy through molecular complexes with femtosecond temporal resolution. The technique involves sequentially flashing a sample with femtosecond pulses of light from three laser beams. A fourth beam is used as a local oscillator to amplify and detect the resulting spectroscopic signals as the excitation energy from the laser lights is transferred from one molecule to the next. (The excitation energy changes the way each molecule absorbs and emits light.)

Fleming has compared 2-D electronic spectroscopy to the technique used in the early super-heterodyne radios, where an incoming high frequency radio signal was converted by an oscillator to a lower frequency for more controllable amplification and better reception. In the case of 2-D electronic spectroscopy, scientists can track the transfer of energy between molecules that are coupled (connected) through their electronic and vibrational states in any photoactive system, macromolecular assembly or nanostructure.

Fleming and his group first described 2-D electronic spectroscopy in a 2005 Nature paper, when they used the technique to observe electronic couplings in the Fenna-Matthews-Olson (FMO) photosynthetic light-harvesting protein, a molecular complex in green sulphur bacteria.

The bavarians switch to LED

A highly distinctive LED light guide system forms the tail-light of the redesigned BMW 5 Series.
Three and a half years after its introduction, the BMW 5 Series has been given a facelift with characteristic design accents at the front and rear, several of which are based around LED lighting systems developed by Hella.

GaN-on-glass process could yield 48% savings for LED epitaxy

A cost of ownership model for a deposition process developed by BluGlass Ltd could result in significant cost savings for LED manufacturing.
Courtesy of Semiconductor Today.

BluGlass Ltd, a Sydney, Australia-based company spun off from Macquarie University in mid-2005, has released figures suggesting that its remote plasma (RP) CVD process for low-temperature deposition of GaN onto glass substrates (rather than conventional MOCVD on sapphire) can cut the cost of manufacturing GaN-based LEDs at both the epiwafer level and the assembled device level.

Independent assessment was carried out by US-based firm Wright, Williams & Kelly Inc (WWK), a cost -of-ownership modeling group for the semiconductor industry.

Wafer-level analysis showed a cost saving of 48% for RPCVD, driven by a significant reduction in materials and consumables costs. Also, in a simple package, the assessment showed that the RPCVD process leads to a 10% cost advantage at the final assembly level for a simple blue LED device.

BluGlass has demonstrated deposition of GaN on 6-inch glass wafers, although the company has yet to demonstrate high quality emission from LED device layers on glass.

Friday, April 13, 2007

T.Rex was a big chicken with teeth

In a path breaking discovery Paleontologist Jack Horner & team have found co-relations in the collagen found in Tyrannosaurus fossils with modern birds. Read more here (yuck was a site :)

Solar update: Nano tower arrays

Georgia tech has come up with an unique 3-D structuring nano technology that allows the creation of tiny nano towers on PV panels. The critical difference seems to be that these panels (or arrays if you will) increase the surface area available for absorption of solar photons due to the 3D structure of Si at the nano level. This could give crystalline Si in solar a much needed boost (and conversely impact thin film solar) as the yields are reported to go up by about 60 times. As observed in this blog, the critical metric for PV costing is the weight of silicon per watt of generation. This technique will hopefully allow us to generate 180 A from the amount of Si used in a conventional 10 W panel that generates about 3 A per day. However there are sill a number of challenges that he georgia tech team has to face as the internal resistance of the cells is too high for commercial use as it does not build up enough voltage. However cracking this is more a question of when rather than if (imho).
To understand the economics of this, consider a drop in solar panel investment by a factor of at least 50 as more than 80 % of the investment in a solar lighting system is the PV used. So an off grid home that invests about $7000 for their power solution will get away with an investment of about $140 for the same functionality. Of course i am mixing physics with trade margins and economics and i am pretty sure that the sale price will not reflect this magnitude jump. Even a factor of 2 or 3 reduction price of PV will be a disruptive innovation with potential of changing the energy map of the world.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Toshiba-Matsuhita announce polymer TV

Blakest black and vibrant colours ! This seems to be the USP for the latest and gratest in TV technology. OLED's have matured enough for this application. From the Digital trends site

Toshiba and Matsushita have announced they plan to introduce organic light-emitting diode (OLED) panels for use in televisions within three years via a joint venture, Toshiba Matsushita Display Technology Company, (TMD). The joint venture has introduced a 20.8-inch OLED display panel, and aims to begin commercial production of OLED panels for flat-screen televisions by 2009.

Interview with Professor Russ Dupuis

An excellent interview with Prof.Dupis one of the acknowledged fathers of LED's and for that matter even MOCVD. Its ironical to juxtapose this post with the previous one. Read more here.

Oleg Vladimirovich Losev : History sometimes remembers

While the generally held view is that LED's were invented in the 60's by american researchers, electrophoresis has been known for more than 100 years. In a new twist it emerges that LED's were invented and even patented by a russian genius Oleg Losev in the 1940's ! The irony is that Losev apparently died of starvation in Leningrad during the Nazi invasion of Russia.New Scientist has this to say
If you look in an encyclopaedia, the LED was invented by four independent American research groups in 1962. But the latest edition of Nature photonics reveals that it was actually discovered by a little-known Russian genius around 40 years earlier.

Oleg Vladimirovich Losev was a radio technician with a fierce talent. In the mid 1920s he noticed that diodes used in radio receivers emitted light when current was passed through them. Then, in 1927, he published details in a Russian journal of the first ever LED. Nikolay Zheludev, at the University of Southampton, has dug up Losev's story.

Losev also published on his discoveries in German and British journals. In sixteen papers between 1924 and 1930 he comprehensively detailed the function of his LED. He used Einstein's then new quantum theory to explain the way electrons dropping in energy produced the light without releasing heat. But a letter he wrote to Einstein asking for help developing the theory of LEDs received no reply.

Most significantly, in 1927 Losev filed a patent for a 'light relay' that used his devices 'for fast telegraphic and telephone communication, transmission of images and other applications...' He therefore foreshadowed the development of opto-electronics, which is fundamental to the fibreoptic links that make modern communcations possible.

Impressive stuff. But sadly not work that anyone picked up to take further. And Losev died of hunger in 1942 during the blockade of Leningrad, at the age of 39. In November 1941, he tried in vain to get a paper based on his discovery that "using semiconductors, a three-terminal system may be constructed analogous to a [vacuum] triode” out of Leningrad. It didn't make it. Zheludev asks: "Was it a paper on what we now know as a transistor? We shall never
know for certain unless his manuscript is found."

Zheludev also points out that Henry Round, assistant to radio pioneer Marconi, was the first to discover that semiconductors could produce light, some hundred years ago. He published only a very short note on the matter and made no further investigations. But the piece was never seen by Losev, who must be retrospectively declared the inventor of the LED.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Death of the cell phone charger

Wireless power transmission has been a moving target.One is typically accused of smoking something if the topic comes up :) However some breakthroughs are happening. This is very important for the low voltage lighting industry (aka LED lighting). Think of no wiring for you room lighting. The sources can be made portable and all that you need to do is ensure that it is within range of the transmitter. Will be a killer app for commercial and home lighting if there is no wiring to do ! From the article:
How much money could you make from a technology that replaces electrical wires? A startup called Powercast, along with the more than 100 companies that have inked agreements with it, is about to start finding out. Powercast and its first major partner, electronics giant Philips, are set to launch their first device powered by electricity broadcast through the air.

It may sound futuristic, but Powercast's platform uses nothing more complex than a radio--and is cheap enough for just about any company to incorporate into a product. A transmitter plugs into the wall, and a dime-size receiver (the real innovation, costing about $5 to make) can be embedded into any low-voltage device. The receiver turns radio waves into DC electricity, recharging the device's battery at a distance of up to 3 feet.

Picture your cell phone charging up the second you sit down at your desk, and you start to get a sense of the opportunity. How big can it get? "The sky's the limit," says John Shearer, Powercast's founder and CEO. He estimates shipping "many millions of units" by the end of 2008.

For years, electricity experts said this kind of thing couldn't be done. "If you had asked me seven months ago if this was possible, I would have said, 'Are you dreaming? Have you been smoking something?'" says Govi Rao, vice president and general manager of solid-state lighting at Philips (Charts). "But to see it work is just amazing. It could revolutionize what we know about power."
So impressed was Rao after witnessing Powercast's demo last summer that he walked away jotting down a list of the industries to which the technology could immediately be applied: lighting, peripherals, all kinds of handheld electronics. Philips partnered with Powercast last July, and their first joint product, a wirelessly powered LED light stick, will hit the market this year. Computer peripherals, such as a wireless keyboard and mouse, will follow in 2008.

Broadcasting power through the air isn't a new idea. Researchers have experimented with capturing the radiation in radio frequency at high power but had difficulty capturing it at consumer-friendly low power. "You'd have energy bouncing off the walls and arriving in a wide range of voltages," says Zoya Popovic, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Colorado who works on wireless electricity projects for the U.S. military.

That's where Shearer came in. A former physicist based in Pittsburgh, he and his team spent four years poring over wireless electricity research in a lab hidden behind his family's coffee house. He figured much of the energy bouncing off walls could be captured. All you had to do was build a receiver that could act like a radio tuned to many frequencies at once.

"I realized we wanted to grab that static and harness it," Shearer says. "It's all energy."

0-60 in just 3.1 seconds

A hyper fast lithium based electric car that seems to blow the pants of any thing else in featured on Popular mechanics.Seeing is believing.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

nenpimania : Ninja Hybrid Hackers

A new wave of Japanese hackers who squeeze more out of their Petro Electric Hybrids have hit the scene. They compete with each other and one thing they have in common is that they seem to beat the toyota engineers in the quest for hybrid nirvana. reports :
Toya, a 56-year-old manager for a tofu maker in central Japan, puts special tires on his Prius, tapes plastic and cardboard over the engine and blocks the grill with foam rubber. He drives without shoes and hacks into his car's computer -- all in the pursuit of maximum distance with minimum gasoline.

Toya is one of about 100 nenpimania, Japanese for ``mileage maniacs,'' or hybrid owners who compete against each other to squeeze as much as 115 miles per gallon out of their cars. In a country where gasoline costs more than $4 a gallon, at least $1 more than the U.S. price, enthusiasts tweak their cars and hone driving techniques to cut fuel bills and gain bragging rights.

``My wife thinks I've joined some strange secret society,'' Toya said in January at a nenpimania gathering in Nagoya in central Japan.

Mileage maniacs aren't alone in pushing the limits of hybrid vehicles. As U.S. automakers General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. race to introduce their own models, first rolled out by Japanese companies in 1997, engineers at Toyota and Honda Motor Co. are trying to boost hybrid performance to maintain their advantage.

``With higher oil prices and tightening environmental regulations, people will focus more on hybrid technology,'' said Koji Endo, an auto analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston in Tokyo.

Hybrid Power

Hybrids combine a conventional gasoline engine with an electric motor. The motor powers the vehicle at low speeds, and the gasoline engine kicks in as the car accelerates. The motor uses the motion of the wheels to recharge the batteries.

Toya said he switched to a hybrid after years of driving sports cars, trading muscle ``for the fun of maximum mileage.'' Nicknamed ``The Shogun,'' Toya said he drove 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) on a single 13-gallon (49-liter) tank 17 times last year, an average of 79 mpg. At the advertised efficiency rate, a driver would get 715 miles per tank.

Toya isn't the best, though. A woman from Akita prefecture, nicknamed ``Teddy-Girl,'' is cited on mileage maniac Web sites as getting almost 116 mpg. That's enough to drive from New York to Wichita, Kansas -- 1,386 miles -- without refilling.

By comparison, a 2007 two-wheel drive Ford F-150 pickup running at peak efficiency burns through five times as much gasoline over the same distance.

Friday, April 06, 2007

LED lighting in Cadillac CTS sedan

Rear of the Cadillac CTS, showing vertical LED light tubes next to the vertical rear light (containing multiple red LEDs). Below this is a white backup (reversing) light comprising two high-power white LEDs. A horizontal strip of red LEDs run above the badge, and comprises the center high-mounted stop lamp (CHMSL).
The beauty of light is its interpretation by the human brain. This seems to be the meme driving auto designers who are increasingly using LED accent and niche lights to visually enhance the overall automotive experience. While Daimler and Audi have been the leaders in this (the high end S class, not your pedestrian C class :) the yankees seem to have woken up to the possibilities of using LED's in auto lighting (this is happening even in India and my firm is neck deep in auto-LED projects). From LED Mag

Cadillac focused on new lighting systems to make the 2008 CTS sport sedan as recognizable at night as its new styling does in the light of day, according to an article in the Detroit Free Press.

A total of 127 LEDs illuminate the CTS's interior and exterior, creating a unique look that builds on the brand's heritage of innovative lighting and design, according to Cadillac product director John Howell.

LED light pipes -- clear tubes that direct light -- for the CTS's brake, turn, backup and running lights are the latest example of the vertical tail lamps that have distinguished Cadillacs since 1948.

"Lighting is one of the last frontiers to differentiate cars," said CTS design director John Manoogian, adding that "countless hours and days" went into designing the CTS's stacked vertical lights. "We decided to make lighting a key element of the car's appearance and character."

The interior also uses white ambient LED lighting in the door pulls, foot wells and recessed between the upper and lower instrument panels. The result, says Cadillac, is a dramatic effect similar to recessed lighting used in contemporary homes.

Kiwi boffins achieve PV breakthrough

In an exciting development Massey Univ in Kiwiland have perfected a new Titanium dioxide based syntethic dye that replaces Si in PV panels. this could be a major beakthrough as the blurb seems to indicate that the technology uses amorphous crystals (an oxymoron) and will work in low light conditions. From Stuff

New solar cells developed by Massey University don't need direct sunlight to operate and use a patented range of dyes that can be impregnated in roofs, window glass and eventually even clothing to produce power.

This means teenagers could one day be wearing jackets that will recharge their equivalents of cellphones, iPods and other battery- driven devices.

The breakthrough is a development of the university's Nanomaterials Research Centre and has attracted world-wide interest already - particularly from Australia and Japan.

Researchers at the centre have developed a range of synthetic dyes from simple organic compounds closely related to those found in nature, where light-harvesting pigments are used by plants for photosynthesis.

"This is a proof-of-concept cell," said researcher Wayne Campbell, pointing to a desktop demonstration model.

"Within two to three years we will have developed a prototype for real applications. "The technology could be sold off already, but it would be a shame to get rid of it now."

The key to everything is the ability of the synthetic dyes to pass on the energy that reaches them - something that mere coloured water could not do.

"We now have the most efficient porphyrin dye in the world," said the centre's director, Ashton Partridge.

"It is the most efficient ever made. While others are doing related work, in this aspect we are the world leaders."

The development of the dyes has taken about 10 years and was accomplished with funding from the Royal Society of New Zealand for fundamental work and the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology in the later stages.

Now the team is seeking extra funding to go commercial.

"This particular technology does not require the large infrastructure required for silicon chips and the like," said Professor Partridge. It lends itself to being taken up by local and New Zealand industries.

Other dyes being tested in the cells are based on haemoglobin, the compound that gives blood its colour.

Dr Campbell said that unlike silicone-based solar cells, the dye- based cells are still able to operate in low-light conditions, making them ideal for cloudy climates.

They are also more environmentally friendly because they are made from titanium dioxide - an abundant and non-toxic, white mineral available from New Zealand's black sand.

Titanium dioxide is used already in consumer products such as toothpaste, white paints and cosmetics.

"The refining of silicon, although a very abundant mineral, is energy- hungry and very expensive," he said.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sharks in trouble

Sharks have been in trouble for a while now as they are apex predators in thier environment and have a very slow reproduction rate. I personally gave up eating sharks (except on very rare occasions) more than 5 years ago. This was due to the fact that immature sharks were coming into the market. George monbiot has this to say on shark conservation.

Sharks deserve the conservation status we give to the giant panda

Marine predators are on the verge of extinction, but the fishing industry still rips the environment to shreds with impunity

If these animals lived on land there would be a global outcry. But the great beasts roaming the savannahs of the open seas summon no such support. Big sharks, giant tuna, marlin and swordfish should have the conservation status of the giant panda or the snow leopard. Yet still we believe it is acceptable for fishmongers to sell them and celebrity chefs to teach us how to cook them.

A study in this week's edition of Science reveals the disastrous collapse of the ocean's megafauna. The great sharks are now wobbling on the edge of extinction. Since 1972 the number of blacktip sharks has fallen by 93%, tiger sharks by 97% and bull sharks, dusky sharks and smooth hammerheads by 99%. Just about every population of major predators is now in freefall. Another paper, published in Nature four years ago, shows that over 90% of large predatory fishes throughout the global oceans have gone.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tata inks deal for Indonesian coal

Tata Power has neatly bought a 30 % stake in PT Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC) and PT Arutmin Indonesia for US$1.3 billion. While the rest of the world is worried about the Asian twins (India and China) eating into the golbal oil reserves, these deals slip under the scanner. Coal is and will remain the mainstay for power generation for a long time to come. This includes china and the US. What is interesting is that India has enormous coal reserves of her own. Read more in the Jakarta post

LED cityscape lighting

Survey shows LEDs improve public’s perceptions of city safety. From LED Mag

When Raleigh, NC, the first "LED City", and Cree, Inc. turned on LEDs in the municipal parking garage, people’s opinion of the quality of the lighting improved threefold.

Raleigh exchanged the previous garage fixtures and their dull orange light for LED fixtures with bright white light, and people felt safer. The number of respondents who perceived the garage as "very safe" increased by 76% after the LED fixtures were installed, according to a survey by Mindwave Research of Austin, TX.

Cree (Nasdaq: CREE) produces LEDs that provide a source of energy efficient light which can serve as the foundation for cost-effective lighting solutions. Lighting Science Group Corporation (OTCBB: LSGP) of Dallas, TX, supplied the LED fixtures installed in the Raleigh garage.

"LED technology provides a clear benefit to municipal infrastructure, as well as to the citizens it serves," said Charles Meeker, mayor of Raleigh. "This survey shows that LEDs can do more than improve light quality. In addition to the proven environmental and energy efficiency benefits the city has already documented, the survey shows that LEDs’ bright white light can help improve public feelings of safety in city spaces."

The survey results showed that the parking garage generated a more positive reaction from most of the respondents after the addition of LED fixtures:

* Both men and women felt significantly safer post-installation: 74% rated the garage as feeling "very safe," while only 2% did not. These figures contrast with the pre-installation numbers: only 42% felt "very safe" with the original lighting, and 13% did not.
* The percentage of respondents who gave the garage an overall rating of "excellent" increased by 100%. The number of people who rated it as "poor" decreased from 8 to 1%.
* The lighting quality of the garage was "excellent" according to 86% of the respondents, a 258% increase from pre-installation respondents. The number of people who rated it as "poor" decreased from 18 to 2%.
* The cleanliness of the parking garage was perceived as "excellent" by 76% of the respondents, while only 58% rated it this way before the LEDs were installed, showing a 31% increase.

This announcement comes shortly after Raleigh agreed to become the nation's first LED City. The LED City initiative focuses on installing LED lighting, based on Cree's LEDs, throughout the city to save energy and money, and boost the quality of life for its residents by using the best lighting technology commercially available. As a result, the city has conserved energy and improved the lighting of its municipal city parking facility, the first of a series of projects aimed at delivering the environmental and economic benefits of LED lighting throughout Raleigh’s "living laboratory."

US Supreme court asks EPA to regulate Auto emmisions

A landmark case and a surprising judgement given the lobbying power of the US auto industry and the EPA's own reluctace to do so (wonder why). Excerpt below

Supreme Court Declares EPA Reasons for Not Regulating Carbon "Arbitrary, Capricious"

This is a landmark case, or at the least the beginning of a series of landmark cases: in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court today sent the issue of whether or not the EPA can regulate carbon dioxide back to the lower courts, declaring the EPA's decision not to regulate carbon emissions "arbitrary, capricious or otherwise not in accordance with law."

The EPA had previously declared that the Clean Air Act does not give it the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Monbiot on biofuels - 2

Monbiot has more to say on biofuels and this time around has hard data to substantiate his argument. As ever he is right... From the Guardian op-ed.

It used to be a matter of good intentions gone awry. Now it is plain fraud. The governments using biofuel to tackle global warming know that it causes more harm than good. But they plough on regardless. In theory, fuels made from plants can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by cars and trucks. Plants absorb carbon as they grow - it is released again when the fuel is burned. By encouraging oil companies to switch from fossil plants to living ones, governments on both sides of the Atlantic claim to be "decarbonising" our transport networks. So what's wrong with these programmes? Only that they are a formula for environmental and humanitarian disaster. In 2004 I warned, on these pages, that biofuels would set up a competition for food between cars and people. The people would necessarily lose: those who can afford to drive are richer than those who are in danger of starvation. It would also lead to the destruction of rainforests and other important habitats. I received more abuse than I've had for any other column - except for when I attacked the 9/11 conspiracists. I was told my claims were ridiculous, laughable, impossible. Well in one respect I was wrong. I thought these effects wouldn't materialise for many years. They are happening already.

Since the beginning of last year, the price of maize has doubled. The price of wheat has also reached a 10-year high, while global stockpiles of both grains have reached 25-year lows. Already there have been food riots in Mexico and reports that the poor are feeling the strain all over the world. The US department of agriculture warns that "if we have a drought or a very poor harvest, we could see the sort of volatility we saw in the 1970s, and if it does not happen this year, we are also forecasting lower stockpiles next year". According to the UN food and agriculture organisation, the main reason is the demand for ethanol: the alcohol used for motor fuel, which can be made from maize and wheat.

Monbiot's previous mentions in this blog


Bio fuels 1
Idiot science

Monday, April 02, 2007

The greaseball challenge

The Greaseball Challenge is a charity biofuel car rally from the USA to Central America. Inspired by the tradition of the classic car race, Greaseball is a cross-continental adventure promoting sustainability on a shoestring using renewable fuels.

The inaugural Greaseball Challenge departs on April 1, 2007. Armed with nothing but a sense of adventure and some cheesecloth, five teams will drive 4,500 miles on grease power from the USA to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Rudolf Diesel, who invented the diesel engine, demonstrated one of his first engines running on peanut oil at the World Fair in 1900. He said at the time "The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may in the course of time become as important as petroleum…”.

Despite his prediction, veggie oils have remained on the “specials” menu ever since, along with just about every other renewable fuel source. Veggie car enthusiasts make a distinction between waste vegetable oil (WVO) discarded from restaurants and straight vegetable oil (SVO). Filtering waste grease is a must or bits of fried chicken will clog up your fuel lines.

Read More here.