Categories
Energy

93: Cryogenic energy storage (CES)

Problem:

What to do with excess energy from thermal generation plants, steel mills and LNG terminals.

Solution:

A CRYOBattery


Cryogenic energy storage makes use of excess energy, such as that generated by renewable sources, which cannot be sent immediately to the grid to liquefy air and store the liquid until the electricity is needed and can be distributed. At this point, the liquid air is allowed to evaporate and expand through a turbine, where its latent energy of vaporisation is converted into electric current.

Connecting to thermal generation plants, steel mills and LNG terminals can further boost the system’s efficiency and diversify its offering.

In 2011, a 300 kW, 2.5 MWh storage capacity pilot cryogenic energy system was developed by researchers at the University of Leeds and Highview Power that used liquid air (with the CO2 and water removed as they would turn solid at the storage temperature) as the energy store, and low-grade waste heat to boost the thermal re-expansion of the air.

In April 2014 the UK government announced it had given £8 million to Viridor and Highview Power to fund the next stage of the demonstration. The resulting grid-scale demonstrator plant at Pilsworth Landfill facility in Bury, Greater Manchester, UK, started operation in April 2018.

This was based on research by the Birmingham Centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage (BCCES) associated with the University of Birmingham, and had storage for up to 15 MWh, with a peak supply of 5 MW (so when fully charged lasts for three hours at maximum output) and is designed for an operational life of 40 years.

With Highview Power’s Potentially CRYOBattery is able to deliver anywhere from 20 MW/80 MWh to more than 200 MW/1.2 GWh of energy to power up to 200,000 homes for a whole day.

In June 2020, Highview, teamed up with Carlton Power and announced construction of the world’s biggest liquid air battery with a capacity of 50 MW/250 MWh at a the Trafford Energy Park, a decommissioned thermal power station site in the North of England. With the first system scheduled to go into operation by 2022, another four will be set up in the UK, able to deliver a total of over 1GWh.

Discover Solution 94: Bringing extinct animals back to life.

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Categories
Energy Planet Care

75: Cloud-seeding rain-making chain

Problem:

China has to feed nearly 1.4 billion people, despite 40 % of its arable land suffering from degradation.

Solution:

Cloud-seeding rain-making chain of chambers.


The largest-ever weather modification program worldwide is named Tianhe and located across the Tibetan Plateau in China.

The name Tianhe originates from the ancient Chinese name for the Milky Way, which was the sky river that separated Niulang and Zhinyu in the folk tale “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”.

The project, developed by researchers in 2016 at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, is covering an area larger than Alaska and three times the size of Spain with tens of thousands of fuel-burning chambers for cloud seeding to channel large amounts of additional artificial rainfall into China’s arid northern regions.

In 2018, the installation of hundreds of burning chambers on alpine slopes in Tibet, Xinjiang and neighbouring areas started, with a deadline of 2022.

Throughout the past months the program has been increasingly questioned and criticized, internationally and nationally: the Tibetan plateau feeds most of Asia’s major rivers, including Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween and Brahmaputra.

These streams serve as lifelines for a considerable proportion of the world population. The local and transnational implications of the Tianhe project, not only in terms of water supply, are as yet unknown.

Discover Solution 76: planting trees in arid land

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Categories
Your Home Energy

73: Detergent-free clothes-washing machine

Problem:

Water is an increasingly precious commodity and many washing machines still require large amounts for washing/rinsing as well as  the use of chemicals harmful to the environment.

Solution:

Detergent-free clothes-washing machine.


In 1924, when firms such as the Savage Arms Corporation of New York presented the electrically-powered wash/spin-dry clothes washing machine to the world, neither its energy and water consumption, nor the harmful effects of chemical detergents on the ecosystem, were taken into account. Today, the eco-efficient bio washing machine has become of primary importance.

There have been many developments. Japan Ace, based on research at Nihon University produced a detergentless, ultrasonic bubble-cleansing domestic washing machine in 1985, but the main breakthrough was made by Stephen Burkinshaw at the University of Leeds focusing on the structure of nylon polymer beads.

He discovered that nylon was the best material for absorbing tiny particles, and together with his team of researchers came up with the concept of using nylon polymer beads to remove stains from clothes.

When the wash cycle is completed, the beads automatically return to a holding area inside the machine and are ready to be used again for the next wash. These beads can be used for up to a thousand washes and are then collected to be recycled and exchanged for new one.

From 2009, Burkinshaw and his team collaborated with Stephen Jenkins and William Westwater at Xeros Technologies in Catcliffe, South Yorkshire, England to commercially produce the beads which they called XOrb and a 55 lb (25 kg) capacity waterless washing machine by the end of 2011.

According to Xeros, its technology uses 90% less water than the conventional washing machine. While a conventional front-loading washer uses about 20-25 gallons (75-95 liters) of water, the Xeros Washing Machine is estimated to use as little as one gallon of water.

The machine is also projected to save consumers up to 30% for operating costs in electricity and water. Xeros then presented their XDrum technology to other washing machine manufacturers. Hotel groups such Hilton, Hyatt, or Hampton Inn acquired Xeros to wash their laundry.

In March 2018, Xeros acquired Gloves Inc., providing personal protection equipment cleaning, inspection and repair services in the Miami metro areas.

At CES 2018, Xeros unveiled XFiltra to go with XOrb and XDrum technologies XFiltra is designed to help capture the synthetic fibers from fleece and other clothing that are making their way from the wash into oceans. Appliance makers would still have to design around the pump and filter.

The biggest commercial washing manufacturers in China and India both signed up, while Dongguan Crystal Knitting and Garment, a subsidiary of Crystal International Group, the world’s largest apparel maker by volume, are trialling the technology.

In 2019 Xeros signed up with Indian home appliance manufacturer IFB Industries Ltd. in Kolkata to make and sell X technology in India by from 2020-2021. Xeros, a platform technology company that works on reinventing water intensive industrial and commercial processes, believes the reason the Indian market is important for its water-saving technology is that the country is under extreme water stress.

According to the NITI Aayog, more than 600 million Indians face acute water shortages. The Xeros tech can also save water in the tanning industry and, having entered the market itself, Xeros signed a deal which will see at least one Mexican producer convert its re-tanning operations.

What you can do: When you replace your washing machine, check out the Xeros range.

Discover Solution 74: clothing from recycled plastic bottles

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Categories
Energy Your Home

70: Better baseboard heating

Problem:

Traditional domestic heating systems, burning fossil fuels, using heat pumps and/or solar energy are using the most inefficient heat distribution systems in the real consumption place, the room.

By creating an unbalanced distribution of hot and cold air, this in turn is detrimental to human health and is giving the highest energy consumption in the room and hereby the highest loss in the transportation of the heat to the room.

Solution:

Baseboard or skirting board central heating system.


In 1974, Erik Christian Vilhelm Keldmann, a mechanical engineer from Odense, Denmark improved the efficiency and energy consumption of central heating and air conditioning systems.

His ‘’heat embracement’’ skirting board systems he called Elpan for an electrical system and Wanpan for a hot water-heated system.

Both systems involve interconnecting module elements in such a way that the apparatus can extend along all the walls of the room.

The key in his invention is the balance in each module between heat delivered by radiation and convection. The created even comfort temperature, all over the living zone of the room, is created by the all embracing system by about 65 – 75 % radiation and approximately 25 – 35 % convection (circulating air ).

This created the experienced comfort temperature constant from floor to ceiling, which is the condition for having the highest thermal comfort for the lowest energy consumption.

Keldmann’s Elpan/Wanpan system which he patented in 1978, could be easily mounted by persons without special education.

It is today, after 45 years, still an elegant timeless designed product, the world’s smallest heating system giving freedom in furnishing even small rooms.

Keldmann also innovated an eco-friendly silent cooling system he called Norpan, where panels hung from the ceiling, over the office desks, with chilled water circulating in and out of the panel.

The human body radiates heat up to the panel and the panel sends back chilled air to cool the body. This is cooling for human beings at the lowest energy consumption.

Keldmann’s innovations threatened to disrupt the steel-based traditional radiator industry.

The Elpan – Wanpan systems proved the basis for disruption in a two year comparable test in four homes made by the biggest Danish newspaper “Berlingske Tidende – Boligen”, proving energy savings of 20 – 37 %., the system was then accepted.

But despite the world’s need for heat-saving systems, Elpan-Wanpan has not yet disrupted old fashioned traditional heating systems.

Erik Keldmann is still the president and owner of Keldmann Innovation A/S. With his son and partner Troels, they are now workings on new inventions to add value to Elpan/Wanpan all embracing heating systems.

Discover Solution 71: the French connection

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Energy Planet Care

59: Solar farms on canals reduce evaporation and generate power

Problem:

In Gujarat, India, some 9,000,000 litres (2,000,000 imperial gallons; 2,400,000 US gallons) of water would evaporate annually from the Narmada canal network while many of the villages alongside did not have access to electricity.

Solution:

Use the State’s 19,000 km (12,000 mi) long network of Narmada canals across the state for setting up solar panels to generate electricity.


In April 2012, Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, inaugurated a 1 Megawatt (MW) pilot project to be built on the Narmada branch canal near Chandrasan village of Kadi taluka in Mehsana district by SunEdison India.

The project virtually eliminated the requirement to acquire vast tracts of land, limited evaporation of water from the 750 metres (2,460 ft) long canal and providing electricity to a small village of 40 homes with thatched walls and tin roofs.

The system was called canal-top solar.

Its success led to the first large-scale canal-top solar power plant in the Vadodara district of Gujarat in 2015, at a cost of $18.3 million.

Since the first solar canal project, a number of others have been commissioned in India, including a 100MW canal-top solar power project atop the branch canals off the Narmada River, stretching for a distance of 40km, at an estimated cost of 1bn Indian rupees.

Overall, Gujarat has more than 80,000km of canals meandering through the state. According to Gujarat State Electricity Corporation, if 30% of this were converted to canal top solar, 18,000MW of power could be produced, saving 90,000 acres of land.

What you can do: Share this solution in other countries suffering from aridity.

Discover Solution 60: Calculate your carbon footprint

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Energy Planet Care

58: Prickly pear ‘petroleum’

Problem:

Crops such as corn, sugar cane, soybean and palm oil, which make up 97% of biofuels worldwide, are often grown in large monocultures. This takes up land that could otherwise be used to produce food, destroys habitats and leads to less balanced ecosystems. It also leads to intense pressure on water resources, and has been linked to drought.

Solution:

Use nopal cactus (prickly pear) as the biomass


Wayland Morales, head of Elqui Global Energy in Santiago, Chile argues that ‘an acre of cactus produces 43,200 m3 of biogas or the equivalent in energy terms to 25,000 liters of diesel.

In the year 2000, Elqui Global built the first biogas plant using nopal cactus (prickly pear) as the biomass. Nine years later, in the Naucalpan de Juárez Area of Mexico, Rogelio Sosa Lopez who had already succeeded in the corn-made tortilla industry, teamed up with Miguel Angel Ake who had been experimenting with Nopal cactus as biofuel to found Nopalimex.

Nopal crops produce between 330 and 440 tons (300 and 400 tonnes) of biomass per hectare in less fertile lands, and up to 880 – 1,100 tons (800-1,000 tonnes) in richer soils. Nopal also requires minimum water consumption and its waste, if properly processed, can be turned into biofuel.

First, the cacti are cut and processed to extract flour, which is used to make tortilla chips. The remaining inedible scraps of the plant are mixed with cow dung in a bio-processor, a fermentation tank that heats the wasted cactus pulp. Then the fuel is distilled from the remaining liquid and collected via tubes and into a tank.

While Nopal biofuel produces enough fuel for the buildings that process all parts of the nopal plant in a sustainable way, a commitment has been signed with the local government of Zitácuaro, in the state of Michoacan, to provide official vehicles, from police cars to ambulances, with cactus-based fuel with world’s first cactus-based biogas refueling station selling at 2 pesos (US$ 0.61) per liter since March 2018.

With the amount of Nopal growing in Mexico, this biofuel could eventually replace the traditional use of gas and fuel of non-renewable sources.

Discover solution 59: Solar farms built on top of canals

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Materials Energy

56: Buildings made of organic materials

Problem:

The vast majority of large buildings in the world are still made with energy intensive, inorganic single-use concrete and steel.

Solution:

Buildings incorporating algae and other nature-sourced materials.


In 2012, one of the world’s largest engineering/development/construction companies, Arup, teamed up with Splitterwerk Architects of Graz, Austria, Colt, and Strategic Science Consult to design and build a five-storey 15-apartment residential building in Hamburg, covered by panels filled with algae, a fast-growing form of biomass.

The panels are on the  two south-facing sides to help provide internal shading, and the micro-algae growing in the glass louvers provide a clean source of renewable energy.

Called Solar Leaf, the building pumps water, nutrients, and compressed CO₂ between 129 “bioreactors.” These bioreactors have four glass layers. The two inner panes have a 6 gall (24-li) capacity cavity for circulating the growing medium.

Either side of these panes, insulating argon-filled cavities help to minimise heat loss. The front glass panel consists of white anti-reflective glass, while the glass on the back can integrate decorative glass treatments.

Compressed air is introduced to the bottom of each bioreactor at intervals. The gas emerges as large air bubbles and generates an upstream water flow and turbulence to stimulate the algae to take in CO₂ and light. At the same time, a mixture of water, air and small plastic scrubbers washes the inner surfaces of the panels.

SolarLeaf integrates all servicing pipes for the inflow and outflow of the culture medium and the air into the frames of its elements.

When the sun shines, the algae multiply as a result of photosynthesis. The system collects the residue, then converts it to biogas, which is burned in a boiler. Together with a heat recovery system and solar panels on the roof, the building is completely energy independent.

The system can be operated all year round. The efficiency of the conversion of light to biomass is currently 10% and light to heat is 38%. For comparison, PV systems have an efficiency of 12-15% and solar thermal systems 60-65%.

The flat photo-bioreactors are highly efficient for algal growth and need minimal maintenance. The building, also called BIK, completed in 2013, was part of Hamburg’s International Building Exhibition. (arup.com)

In 2015, Guglielmo Carra of Arup Berlin working with Kasper Jørgensen of GXN Innovation in Copenhagen, developed BioBuild, the first self-supporting façade panel made out of bio-composite materials.

Developed as part of the €7.7 million EU-funded BioBuild program, the design reduces the embodied energy of facade systems by 50% compared to traditional systems with no extra cost in construction.

The 13 ft x 7.5 ft (4m x 2.3 m) panel is made from natural flax fabric and bio-derived resin from agricultural processing of corn, sugar cane and other crops.

Intended primarily for commercial offices, the glazing unit features a parametrically-derived faceted design, and comes prefabricated ready for installation. The panel is also designed to be easy to disassemble, making it simple to recycle at the end of its life.

The panel won the JEC Award 2015 for the best composites innovation in the construction field. (gxn.3xn.com)

In 2017, Arup published a report entitled “The Urban Bio-Loop: Growing, Making and Regenerating” in which it demonstrates that a different paradigm for materials in construction is possible. The report highlights the following organic matter products already available: peanut, rice, banana and potato.

What you can do: Tell local architects and builders about the Arup Bio-Loop

Discover Solution 57: The extraordinary tale of 80 thousand silent buses.

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Energy Human Effort Materials

54: Turning beer bottles into building sand

Problem:

Bottles thrown away can end up in landfills or in Nature.

Solution:

In 2017, DB Breweries in New Zealand built a machine which pulverizes glass bottles then turns them into fine-grain substitute building sand in just 5 seconds.


Two thirds of the world’s beaches are retreating as people across the world use non-renewable beach sand for construction, roading and other uses. There were even some beaches in New Zealand where they were taking the sand off one beach and putting it on another beach, which seemed crazy to DB.

All a drinker needs to do is deposit his or her bottle in the machine, a laser triggers a wheel of small steel hammers spinning at 2,800 rpm to crush it into 7 oz. (200 gm.) of sand in only five seconds. After extracting the plastic labels and silica with two vacuum systems, the sand is then processed through a screener which sorts it into a fine grades between 1.1 – 0.4mm particle sizes.

In several months, a fleet of these machines recycled 100 tons of sand, which is the equivalent of 500,000 DB Export Bottles. Until recently about 11,000 ton (10,000 tonnes)of glass at Visy Recycling in Auckland could not be recycled, so, rather than have it diverted to landfill, it now goes into the industrial beer bottle sand machine.

The resulting sand substitute was then given to their construction and retail partners to use in place of beach sand. Finding partners for the program was a critical step in achieving scale for the project.

The brewer has finalized a two-year deal to supply Solution 54 in a 1-a-day series of 366 creative, hopeful ideas to clean up, repair, protect our planet: the company now delivers DB Export Beer Bottle Sand to #DryMix to make a super easy eco concrete Solution 54 in a 1-a-day series of 366 creative, hopeful ideas to clean up, repair, protect our planet: the company now delivers DB Export Beer Bottle Sand to #DryMix to make a super easy eco concrete , leading to a new brand of eco-concrete, sold to consumers through the country’s biggest home improvement chain.

Beer Bottle sand is now used by Downer in road-making projects, commercial and residential construction, and even golf bunkers and resurfacing projects, and Drymix, which has created a ‘‘super easy eco concrete’’, available through Mitre10.

In 2018, DB Export’s beer bottle sand was combined with recycled ink toner cartridges to make an aggregate for resurfacing the 430,000 ft² (40,000m²) Queenstown Airport apron, the first project of its kind. Requests for machines arrived from as far away as Dubai, with scoping to supply 500 machines currently underway. DB’s trucks carry the slogan “Drink DB Export. Save Our Beaches.” (db.co.nz)

Norway

From May 1999, Norsk Resirk launched a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and aluminum beverage cans which has led to 97% of all plastic drinks bottles in Norway being recycled, 92% to such a high standard that they are turned back into drinks bottles.

Norway’s model is based on a loan scheme, which means when a consumer buys a plastic bottle, they are charged a small additional fee equivalent to about 13 to 30 US cents.

The scheme is open to all consumers who can either take a bottle or can to a reverse vending machine which returns the money after scanning the verifiable barcode of the deposited bottle, or they can return it to various small shops and gas stations for cash or store credit.

These shop owners also receive a small fee for each bottle they recycle, and some argue it has even increased their business.

Three processing plants were opened to receive the bottles, one in Fetsund outside Oslo to handle approximately 80% of what is collected in Norway.

First step in the process is sorting out the aluminum and steel cans. Next step is sorting out clear and light blue bottles. Then follow the colored bottles. Some of the material has been recycled more than 50 times.

The company is now called Infinitum. All the materials are then structured into ballots and sent further for recycling: metals go to the company Norsk Hydro in Holmestrand, Norway; PET bottles are sent to Cleanaway AB in Sweden.

Nevertheless, even in Norway, there is still room for improvement. During the year, Infinitum estimates that 150,000 bottles will not be returned, and if they had, it would have saved enough energy to power 5,600 households for the year.

The same system is now being used in neighbouring Sweden, Denmark, and Germany and a number of US and Canadian states.

There are ten states in the United States with container deposit legislation, popularly called “bottle bills” after the Oregon Bottle Bill (established since 1971), the first such legislation that was passed. Container deposit legislation (CDL) also known as a Container Deposit Scheme (CDS) was first implemented in South Australia in 1977 and has since been extended all over that continent.

Tomorrow’s solution: Kaisei, the ship that goes plastic fishing

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Materials Energy

30: Batteries made of seawater

Problem:

Many battery materials, including metals such as nickel and cobalt, pose tremendous environmental and humanitarian risks.

Cobalt in particular, which is largely mined in central Africa, has come under fire for careless and exploitative extraction practices.

Solution:

Batteries made from seawater.

IBM Research has joined with Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America, Central Glass, one of the top battery electrolyte suppliers in the world, and Sidus Energy, a Silicon Valley battery startup to create a new next-generation battery development ecosystem.

In December 2019, a team led by Young-Hye Na at IBM Research Center in Almaden in San José, California, USA announced the development of a new battery built from minerals and compounds found in seawater (magnesium, potassium, boron, strontium, fluoride etc.).

It uses a cobalt and nickel-free cathode material, as well as a safe liquid electrolyte with a high flash point, thereby reducing flammability, which is widely considered a significant drawback for the use of lithium metal as an anode material.

When optimized for this factor, this new battery design will exceed 10,000 Watt per Litre (W/L), outperforming the most powerful li-ion batteries available. Additionally, tests have shown this battery can be designed for a long cycle-life, making it an option for smart power grid applications and new energy infrastructures where longevity and stability are key.

Moving forward, the team has also implemented an AI technique called semantic enrichment to further improve battery performance by identifying safer and higher performance materials.

Using machine learning techniques to give human researchers access to insights from millions of data points to inform their hypothesis and next steps, researchers can speed up the pace of innovation in this important field of study. (www.research.ibm.com)

Discover solution 31: mechanical beach cleaners

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Energy Materials

29: Nuclear waste to diamond batteries

Problem:

Waste from a nuclear fission generating plant can remain radioactive for 250,000 years.

Solution:

Recycle the nuclear waste for diamond battery power.

A team of physicists and chemists led jointly by Professor Tom Scott and Dr Neil Fox at the University of Bristol have grown a man-made diamond that, when placed in a radioactive field, is able to generate a small electrical current in a nuclear-powered battery.

Unlike the majority of electricity-generation technologies, which use mechanical energy to move a magnet through a coil of wire to generate a current, the man-made diamond is able to produce a charge simply by being placed in close proximity to a radioactive source.

The Bristol team have demonstrated a prototype ‘diamond battery’ using Nickel-63 as the radiation source.

They are now working to significantly improve micropower battery efficiency by utilising carbon-14 incorporated within the diamond battery.

One available source of this radioactive version of carbon, is found in decommissioned nuclear reactors where it is generated in graphite blocks used to moderate the reaction in nuclear power plants.

Extracted from waste at the Berkeley power station in Gloucestershire, Carbon-14 was chosen as a source material because it ​is a pure beta emitter, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material. ​

Carbon 14 is naturally present in the ecosystem at a background level as it is easily taken up by living matter. This would only make it dangerous to ingest or touch with your naked skin if present in unnaturally large quantities, but safely held within a diamond, no short-range radiation can escape.

Neutron irradiated (Magnox) reactor graphite blocks form the bulk of the existing legacy feedstock. Each block contains machined ‘through-hole’ channels for accommodating fuel rods and gas cooling.

The wall surfaces of these channels contain the bulk of the carbon 14 carbon which can be harvested by robots and converted into gas such as carbon dioxide and into methane. Gas centrifuges will be used to purify C14 methane and there are techniques to efficiently separate light  isotopes.

The UK currently holds almost 105,000 tons (95,000 tonnes) of graphite blocks and by extracting carbon-14 from them, their radioactivity decreases, reducing the cost and challenge of safely storing this nuclear waste.

Radioactive material from a nuclear power plant being decommissioned in the U.K. could soon be used to create “ultra-long-lasting” power sources. Using carbon-14 the battery would take 5,730 years to reach 50% power, which is about as long as human civilization has existed.

Neil A. Fox et al., “A theoretical study of substitutional boron-nitrogen clusters in diamond” Journal of Physics Condensed Matter 30(42) · August 2018

Discover solution 30: A battery made from seawater

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Energy

20: Solar panels triggered by rain

Problem:

Systems that rely on electricity from solar panels can encounter problems during extended periods of rain and cloud and require draining power from batteries.

Solution:

Researchers from the Ocean University of China in Qingdao and Yunnan Normal University in Kunming have invented a type of solar cell that also works on rainy days.

Rain water contains ammonium, calcium and sodium, which become electrically charged ions when in solution.

This new kind of solar cell takes advantage of that . It is coated in graphene, a highly conductive material made up of layers of carbon just one atom thick that allows electrons to move freely across its surface.

When rain and water sit on top of a layer of graphene, those ions create spots of unbalanced charges. The free running electrons in the graphene bind with positively charged ions in the rain water, and generate an electric current.

A typical solar panel averages 15-20% efficiency in full sun conditions, while these  proof-of-concept panels have been able to achieve about a 6.5% efficiency in the rain.

Other scientists led by Professor Baoquan Sun at Soochow University in Suzhou, Jiangsu, China, have overcome a design flaw of solar panels by allowing them to collect energy in both the rain and sun.

Now, almost any home can install solar panels. So even if you live in a rainy area, you can use solar panels to produce electricity for your home. This innovation could change renewable energy completely. Currently, these hybrid solar panel designs are not ready for home and business use.

Researchers still need to find ways to increase the efficiency from rain and sun.

However, the efficiency of the Soochow University design was 13%, which makes it a viable alternative to standard solar panels. Comparatively, current solar panel designs convert 15 to 20 % of the sun’s energy into electricity.

Thus, the new design is a viable solar panel solution. Collecting energy from rain is something the team would like to develop further. Electricity efficiency from its triboelectric nanogenerators was not reported and again the graphene model had an efficiency from rain of around 6.5%. There is still much work to do.

Financed by the Beijing Natural Science Foundation, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, External Cooperation Program of BIC, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the 2015 Annual Beijing Talents Fund and China’s Thousand Talents Program, researchers NanoYa Yang, Zhong Lin Wang and colleagues integrated two energy-harvesting technologies in one: a silicon solar cell and a nanogenerator that can convert wind energy into electrical output.

The solar cell component of the system delivers 8 milliWatts of power output (1 milliWatt can light up 100 small LEDs). The wind-harvesting component delivers up to 26 milliWatts.

Together, under simulated sun and wind conditions, four devices on the roof of a model home could turn on the LEDs inside and power a temperature-humidity sensor. Installed in large numbers on real rooftops, the hybrid device could help enable smart cities.

Megan Ray Nichols, “Scientists design new solarcells to capture energy from rain” EuroScientist, May 21, 2018;

Discover solution 21: The artificial leaf

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Energy Materials

16: Electrical energy from animal dung

Problem:

As all transport transitions to electric propulsion, the increase in the demand for electrical energy will call on a diversity of sources.

Solution:

Anaerobic digesters that convert the dung of horses, cattle, pigs and other livestock to electricity.

Anaerobic digestion is a sequence of processes by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen and create and capture biogas – a flammable fuel with high methane content which  can be used to run turbines and create electricity.

In the Fall of 1998 two ex-Aachen University students from farming families, Hendrik Becker and Jörg Meyer zu Strohe, built an anaerobic digester at a prototype biogas plant feed facility in Münsterland, north-west Westfalen.

Unlike other biogas technology, their innovative solids injection process can operate using  100 percent manure or manure mixed with difficult to process substrates such as straw and grass.

They started a company, PlanET, to manufacture their green dome-shape digesters for use in rural areas.

During the past two decades, PlanET has sold and implemented nearly 480 biogas plants of between 40 kW and several MW to France, the UK, the USA and Canada.

The total electric power of PlanET installations currently in operation is 142,000 kWel. The plant also processes other waste such as that of cereal farmers (the unusable part of the harvest).

Finland

In 2015, Finland’s state energy company, Fortum, led by Anssi Paalanen, also looked at anaerobic digesters as a fuel source and began trials at Lake Järvenpää, gathering raw materials from four stables from Espoo and Kirkkonummi for their units.

They found that the manure and bedding of three horses could provide heat and light for a single-family Finnish home in a colder climate.

Finland has 70,000 horses, enough to provide heat and electricity for up to 23,000 homes. Fortum began with a small plant, with the manure forming just 10% of the wood-shaving mix used for burning.

By autumn, with more stables taking part, the manure proportion was raised to 20%. The number of horses in society is increasing.

According to Statistics Sweden, there are more than 360,000 horses in Sweden, of which three-quarters are situated in urban or near-urban environments. With a dry matter manure content of 40%, this equates to a quantity of 1,500 tons (1,360 tonnes) of horse manure per annum and corresponds to an annual biogas production of 641 GWh.

In 2016, Finland banned the disposal of manure in landfill sites, along with many other organic, biodegradable materials. This meant that stables risked being stuck with a pile of ordure they could not shift.

The manure can be given to farmers for use as fertilizer, but in the EU this is now permitted only on flat fields because of the risk that exists on sloping fields that the manure will leach into water courses. Flat fields are still fair game for muck-spreaders, but the E.U. bans the strewing of horse manure on any sloping site, as a sensible precaution against equine faeces leaching into the water system.

This means that Finland’s manure does not have many places to go, making the manure biomass plan a double win. The Fortum solution, which they called quite simply “HorsePower”, seemed the most logical.

From August 2017, Fortum set up a pilot project in Bergslagen, southern Sweden, requesting manure from the 400-500 horses in the region, the electricity produced going to households in the town of Hällefors.

Fortum was looking for local suppliers and asked that there are at least 10-20 horses in the stable in order to cover transport costs. By the end of the year 3,000 horses were producing energy.

If Fortum could process the manure mix from 280,000 of Sweden’s horses it would be enough to heat all of the houses in Östergötland and Gotland.

Following the 2017 FEI European Equestrian Championships held in the city of Gothenburg in August, Renova, the municipal waste management, created around 360 000 kWh of district heating and 60 000 kWh of electricity, from the estimated 330 tons (300 tonnes) of horse manure and straw left by the 600 horses participating in the competition.

Two months later, Finland’s Horse Show in Helsinki Ice Hall followed suit. During the event, HorsePower delivered wood-based bedding for the 250 or so horses that stayed in temporary stalls, their dung at Fortum’s Järvenpää power plant anaerobically generating 140 kW to meet all of the electricity needs of the event from lighting to scoreboards to support infrastructure. (fortum.com)

According to a report compiled in 2006 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAOSTAT), there are an estimated 58 million horses in the world.

In terms of HorsePower potential, one is therefore talking about gigawatts of electricity. If the manure of the world’s horse population were put to work, this would provide electricity for 19.5 million homes or two New York cities, not to mention electric vehicles.

At the beginning of 2016, the global number of four-wheeled electric vehicles in use came to around 13 million units: 6.18 million electrified power trains will be produced by 2020. This does not take in the hundreds of millions of two- and three-wheeled vehicles, particularly in China.

With such a demand for electrical energy, it is inevitable that horse manure – not to mention manure from cattle, pigs and other livestock – will play its part alongside other sustainable energy sources.

Discover solution 17: the new antibiotics.

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Energy

14: A solar cell that works at night

Problem:

Solar cells cannot function at night.

Solution:

Jeremy Munday and Tristan Deppe at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California Davis have developed a thermoradiative cell which generates electrical current as it radiates infrared light (heat) toward the night sky and extreme cold of deep space.

ACS Photonics, a publication of the American Chemical Society, says of the illustration at the top of this solution “The Perspective featured depicts a nighttime photovoltaic device that generates power by looking up at the night sky, behaving like a solar cell in reverse.”

The abstract of the research paper on the cell says:

In order to produce electrical power after the sun has set, we consider an alternative photovoltaic concept that uses the earth as a heat source and the night sky as a heat sink, resulting in a “nighttime photovoltaic cell” that employs thermoradiative photovoltaics and concepts from the advancing field of radiative cooling.

Such a cell could generate up to 50 watts of power per square meter under ideal conditions at night, about a quarter of what a conventional solar panel can generate in daytime.

Jeremy Munday and Tristan Deppe, “Nighttime Photovoltaic Cells: Electrical Power Generation by Optically Coupling with Deep Space,” ACS Photonics January 7, 2020.

Discover solution 15: water bomber super scoopers

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Energy Materials

12: Carbon-free aluminium smelting

Problem:

Nearly all aluminium smelting has for many years been done with hydroelectric power from generators dedicated to the purpose, with the smelters built next to the dams that store the water.

However, smelting is the largest single producer of toxic fluorides worldwide. ‘Scrubbers’ are usually used to remove the majority of fluorides from factory smoke today, but when those scrubbers are spent they are also dumped in landfills where the soluble fluorides absorbed into them can leak out into the soil.

Solution:

In May 2018, Alcoa and Rio Tinto unveiled what they describe as the world’s first carbon-free aluminum smelting process, through a partnership called Elysis, which refers to the electrolysis of alumina, a process at the centre of aluminum smelting.

Apple, which is planning to use the metal in its iPhone and laptop computers, as part of its own efforts to decarbonize its operations and supply chain, is also investing in Elysis.

On August 16, 2019, construction began on the Elysis R&D centre in Quebec’s Saguenay-Lac-Saint Jean region, located within Rio Tinto’s Complexe Jonquière, the site of the Arvida smelter, Vaudreuil refinery and Arvida research and development center.

The project is expected to be fully operational by the second half of 2020, employing 25 technical experts.

By 2024, commercialisation on a world scale could eliminate the equivalent of 7 million tons (6.5 million tonnes) of GHG emissions if fully implemented at existing aluminum smelters in Canada – roughly equal to taking nearly 1.8 million light-duty vehicles off the road. (alcoa.com)

Meanwhile, Russian aluminum giant Rusal En+, which uses hydropower from rivers in Siberia to power most of its smelters, is targeting 2021 to roll out its own line of carbon-free aluminum, based on an inert anode system.

Rusal has teamed up with US manufacturer Braidy Industries to build a mill in Kentucky, which will be the world’s largest low-carbon rolled aluminum producer, as well as the first new greenfield aluminum mill in 37 years to be constructed in the United States.

En+ Group, the holding company for Rusal reckons the trend for lighter and more efficient electric car bodies will boost demand for “green” aluminum. (enplusgroup.com/en)

Discover solution 13: floating neighbourhoods that can adapt to changes in water level

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Energy

8: AWES aircraft that generate electricity

Problem:

Land-based generation of electricity is limited.

Solution:

Alongside aircraft using electricity, there are also aircraft which will be used to regularly generate electricity.  The technology is known as AWES: Airborne Wind Energy Systems.

It was in 1978 that Mi. L. Lloyd at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California applied for Patent US4251040 for large-scale wind power production by means of aerodynamically efficient kites.

Based on aircraft construction, these kites would fly transverse to the wind at high speed. The lift produced at this speed is sufficient to both support the kite and generate power. This would come to be known as crosswind kite power.

28 years later, Australian inventor Saul Griffith and kite designer Don Montague teamed  up to build a similar type of generator, calling their company ‘Makani’ after the Hawaiian word for wind.

Funded by DARPA, they built a 20 kW turbine-carrying glider and flew it in 2009; the higher the altitudes where the winds are stronger and more reliable, the more electrical energy is harvested. By 2011 Makani were testing developed models from the tarmac of the former Alameda Naval Air Station.

In 2013 they were bought up by Google. Although facing significant regulatory obstacles including wildlife preservation issues as well as the technological challenges, they were eventually able to produce their eighth generation prototype designed by Damon Vander Lind, a 600-kW carbon-fiber energy kite with eight rotors rotors each of 7.5 ft (2m³0) in diameter and with the 85 ft (26 m) wingspan of a small jet airliner.

The turbine driven generators would also function as motor-driven propellers in a powered flight mode, which could be used for vertical take-off and landing. A perch adapted to facilitate the take-off and landing would pivot such that the pivot is oriented towards the tension direction of the tether.

On May 18, 2017 the Makani 600-kW kite produced power for the first time. The rotation of the 85 ft. wide kite’s rotors drives magnet motors/generators on board, producing electricity that transfers down the tether where it can be connected to an energy grid.

The electricity comes down in DC (direct current), but is converted to AC (alternating current) at its base station. In February 2019, Royal Dutch Shell invested in the firm, but unfortunately during the COVID epidemic, Makani had to file for bankruptcy.

Similar projects are taking place in the Netherlands with the Ampyx tethered glider and in Norway with Kitemill and their Spark airplane. And Swiss startup Skypull has developed an autonomous drone that can fly to almost 2000 ft (600m) – about three times the height of a traditional wind turbine.

The Skypull current prototype is a rigid wing, multi-copter “box-wing” drone that can take off and land by itself, with no need for a launcher or ground wind. The take-off is battery-powered, but once in the air the battery is recharged every time the kite loops back down towards the ground.

Discover solution 9: electric airplanes

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Energy

4: Air conditioners that operate with water

Problem:

Leaking CFC and HCFC-based air conditioners contribute to GHG and ozone depletion.

Solution:

In 2018 a team of scientists at the National University of Singapore announced the development of a prototype of a sustainable air conditioning unit which uses water instead of refrigerants, and consumes 40 % less electricity to operate, and can cool a space to as low as 18° Celsius.

After four years of government-funded research on Project Drawdown, Dr. M. Kum Ja, Dr. Bui Duc Thuan, Associate Professor Ernest Chua, and Dr. Md Raisul Islam have produced two new technologies.

The first is a membrane dehumidifier which uses special water-absorbing materials and a difference in air pressure to extract water from ambient air as it is passed through the membrane.

The water removed is potable and almost as pure as bottled drinking water.

The drier air is then passed through what is called the counter-flow dew-point evaporative cooler, the team’s second invention.

This device removes heat through evaporative cooling, the same process that reduces body temperature through perspiration. Instead of relying on HCFCs, the drawdown air conditioner can cool a room using rain water.

It requires 2 pints (one liter) of water to cool a master bedroom unit for 15 to 20 hours. While regular air conditioners expel hot air as a by-product, the prototype releases humid air that is still likely to be cooler than ambient temperatures.

This helps to avoid disrupting the urban microclimate outside.

If a city replaces all its compressor-based coolers with this innovative air-conditioner, then it reduces its electrical demand enormously. Cities may slash their need for new power plants in developing countries, with a resource found wherever humans thrive.

In October 2018, team member Ernest Chua was conferred the Best Paper Award at the IEEE-organised “International Conference on Green Energy for Sustainable Development held in Phuket, Thailand. He also presented a paper in January 2019 at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting at Davos.

He has emphasised that the 5 ft. (1.6 m) tall prototype was not the finished version, and his team is now looking to create a more compact and commercially viable product for the market in three to five years’ time. (nus.edu.sg)

Ernest Chua,“A hybrid air conditioning system employing membrane dehumidification and dew-point cooling” International Conference on Green Energy for Sustainable Development, October 2018

Discover solution 5: a bus that takes particles OUT of the air as it travels.

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Energy

3: Air breathing battery that exhales oxygen

Problem:

Li-ion cobalt batteries are difficult to produce and to recycle, hence expensive.

Solution:

A research team including Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a type of battery which uses cheaper, abundant materials, and could be used for both short and long-term energy storage.

The researchers estimate that the total chemical cost of the battery could be as little as 1/30 the cost of current storage technologies, including li-ion.

The battery utilizes a sulfur anode (a by-product of fossil fuel production) dissolved in water of which there is an abundant supply, and an aerated liquid sodium salt solution in the cathode. Oxygen flowing in and out of the cathode causes the battery to discharge and charge.

This battery literally inhales and exhales air, but it does not exhale carbon dioxide, it exhales oxygen.

Although the initial prototype of the air-breathing sulfur flow battery was about the size of a coffee cup, flow batteries are known to be easily scalable and thanks to its low materials cost, the battery could be the first technology to compete in cost and energy density with pumped hydroelectric storage.

The battery has a slow self discharge rate, and could therefore be used in seasonal storage – an increasingly important concept as solar moves into regions further from the equator, where sunlight levels vary more greatly between seasons.

Soon after Yet-Ming Chiang and Mateo Jaramillo had founded Form Energy in Somerville, MA to market the battery, they were able to raise US$11 million, including US$9 million from Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), launched by a group of billionaires including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Richard Branson, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, Masayoshi Son, and Michael Bloomberg.

In August 2019, Italian oil and gas major Eni signed on as lead investor, joined by Capricorn Investment Group and most of the existing investors from the original US$9 million, pushing it to US$40 million. (engine.xyz)

Yet-Ming Chiang et al., “Air-Breathing Aqueous Sulfur Flow Battery for Ultralow-Cost Long-Duration Electrical Storage” Joule. October 12, 2017.

Discover  solution 4: an air conditioner that uses water instead of
hydrofluorocarbons AND uses 40% less electricity

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