Tag Archives: clean energy

Filling your car with gas at -256*F: liquid air engines

I always love finding new and interesting ideas.  This one may not be too practical, but it’s an interesting take on alternative fuels:  Using liquid air to power an engine.

“Liquid air” means air – the stuff you’re breathing right now – chilled and stored in a liquid form at -256 degrees Farenheit.  When it’s injected into the engine along with a room-temperature heat-exchange fluid (which won’t freeze in the engine), the liquid air boils – it turns into a gas, creating a lot of pressure and powering the engine.

The “pros” of this idea (compared to hydrogen, at least, which is the other volatile gaseous fuel being considered as an alternative to hydrocarbons) are that A) industry already produces liquid gases in huge quantities, B) there’s already well-established distribution infrastructure for it, C) it’s easier to store than hydrogen, and D) there’s much less of a chance for it to explode.

There are still big hurdles for the tech, if it wants serious consideration.  First, we need to know how much energy it takes to liquify air, transport it, and then use it in a car engine – the stuff is a way to store energy in liquid form, so the efficiency of the process is important.  Storage is also a problem – liquid air evaporates even under pressure and while insulated, so if you leave your car alone with a full tank of “gas,” and come back after a month, you might find it’s emptied.  That might be a bit of a problem.  And let’s not forget that it’s still a gas (in liquid form, admittedly) being held under pressure – it will go “pop” under the right (wrong?) conditions, and is quite capable of creating a burst of shrapnel.

TL;DR – cool idea, don’t know if it’ll work.

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Britain’s developing a new kind of wave power plant

Ocean-based wave energy is tricky to harvest.  The energy is there, and is fairly constant, but the hardware necessary to harvest large quantities of it has so far proven to be unequal to the task in economic terms.  This is partly due to the fact that the energy is diffuse – there’s a lot out there, but it’s spread out over a large area of ocean surface.  But the problems the industry’s faced have also got a lot to do with how badly electricity and sea water mix: wave-power generators need to be well sealed and insulated in order to function in the ocean, which really ups the capital cost.

Now, what if you moved where the power was generated, so that you didn’t have to worry about seawater leaking in and frying your generator?  That’s what a company’s trying to do in England, by using wave energy to pump water into a reservoir on land, which can then function as a gravity-powered hydroelectric plant.  Think of it as a miniature Hoover dam near the shore: pumps in the ocean use wave energy to pump water up into it, and as the water flows back down to the ocean it generates power.

The big question is, how much will it end up costing per MW?  They’ve got some promising estimates, but we’ll have to wait and see if it actually lives up to their promises.

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GE sells solar panels to wind farms

This is more than a little bit of a “well, duh, somebody has to have thought of that before” thing, but I can’t recall anybody actually proposing it prior to this: installing solar panels in (or next to) a wind farm facility.

The biggest problems (other than cost) for wind and solar energy is that they’re both inconsistent and produce more energy in areas that tend to be unpopulated.  This means that they require large capital costs to build power storage and transmission infrastructure in order for them to function like gas/coal/oil power plants, which can be turned up or down as needed and can be built right next to where the power’s needed.

So GE and Invenergy have teamed up to construct a solar facility right next to a wind farm in Illinois, allowing the two facilities to use the same transmission lines and support each other in their respective low-production periods.  Efficient, no?  Like I said, I’m wondering why I can’t recall hearing about this before.  Other than my memory being faulty (which it is, sadly) are there reasons this hasn’t been done up till now?

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Hollow cylindrical design could improve solar cells’ efficiency

Luminescent solar concentrator cells are one method of improving the efficiency of a solar cell: converting the light hitting the cell into a particular wavelength, and using a photovoltaic cell tuned to convert light of that particular wavelength into electricity.  A new way of designing the concentrator cells is, instead of making them into flat sheets like traditional solar panels, form them into hollow cylinders, which apparently significantly increases their efficiency.

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Sucking the power out of warm water

Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is something that I’ve known about for a while, but never thought would get anywhere.  Now, I’ve seen two different stories about it in the last month, so maybe it’s actually going to start producing results.

The latest story, from Co.Exist, is about the one big (literally) hitch in the application of the technology: a water pipe bigger than any ever built.  We should be able to build one, but the question, as ever, is “is it worth the investment?”

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Wave and tidal energies have potential to power a third of the US grid

That’s the conclusion of a Department of Energy study.  Of course, considering how little we’ve seen of wave and tidal energy generation projects, I’m not sure how much of that resource would actually be used in the next twenty/thirty years…

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Algae-biofuel plant gets funding, set to start operations this summer

Joule, a biofuel company, announced that it had gotten $70 million in funding to build a large demonstration plant.  Joule is working on algae-based biofuel production, using solar-panel-like facilities that expose the algae to as much sun as possible.  Always good to see actual progress being made – we’ll see whether it proves to be scalable to industrial production levels.

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