Archive for December 2009

Interview: Ma Yansong from MAD

December 31st, 2009 — 1:22pm

Designboom, which regularly has short interviews with leading designers, recently interviewed Ma.

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Multi-directional PV at a $1 per watt

December 30th, 2009 — 4:14pm

CleanTechnica has a post about PV panels made from a holographic film which is able to capture light from any direction:

Prism Solar Technologies in Highland, NY has innovated a breakthrough holographic thin-film (Holographic Planar Concentrator™) that makes possible a very parsimonious use of crystalline PV cells to counteract that problem for Northern regions.

This brings the cost down to $1 a watt.

Each of their solar modules is actually made up of both crystalline PV and their unique holographic thin-film. The thin-film strips diffract both direct and reflected energy to the PV cell strips integrated between strips of thin-film. Solar modules made in this way are cheaper because they use 50-72% less silicon to make the same energy. Read more…

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Thorium-Powered Nuclear Reactors

December 30th, 2009 — 10:42am

Wired has a great piece about the possibility of using Thorium to produce nuclear power.  Turns out Thorium is more abundant than either Uranium or Plutonium, is more efficient for energy production, can be used in smaller, safer plant designs, and the byproducts can’t be used for weapons (which explains why we don’t use it).

Named for the Norse god of thunder, thorium is a lustrous silvery-white metal. It’s only slightly radioactive; you could carry a lump of it in your pocket without harm. On the periodic table of elements, it’s found in the bottom row, along with other dense, radioactive substances — including uranium and plutonium — known as actinides.

When he took over as head of Oak Ridge in 1955, Alvin Weinberg realized that thorium by itself could start to solve these problems. It’s abundant — the US has at least 175,000 tons of the stuff — and doesn’t require costly processing. It is also extraordinarily efficient as a nuclear fuel. As it decays in a reactor core, its byproducts produce more neutrons per collision than conventional fuel. The more neutrons per collision, the more energy generated, the less total fuel consumed, and the less radioactive nastiness left behind.

Even better, Weinberg realized that you could use thorium in an entirely new kind of reactor, one that would have zero risk of meltdown. The design is based on the lab’s finding that thorium dissolves in hot liquid fluoride salts. This fission soup is poured into tubes in the core of the reactor, where the nuclear chain reaction — the billiard balls colliding — happens. The system makes the reactor self-regulating: When the soup gets too hot it expands and flows out of the tubes — slowing fission and eliminating the possibility of another Chernobyl. Any actinide can work in this method, but thorium is particularly well suited because it is so efficient at the high temperatures at which fission occurs in the soup.

In 1965, Weinberg and his team built a working reactor, one that suspended the byproducts of thorium in a molten salt bath, and he spent the rest of his 18-year tenure trying to make thorium the heart of the nation’s atomic power effort. He failed. Uranium reactors had already been established, and Hyman Rickover, de facto head of the US nuclear program, wanted the plutonium from uranium-powered nuclear plants to make bombs. Increasingly shunted aside, Weinberg was finally forced out in 1973.

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One perspective on Copenhagen’s failure (it’s China’s fault)

December 28th, 2009 — 12:42pm

Mark Lynas writes for the Guardian that despite the general consensus that Obama screwed up Copenhagen, it was in fact China who killed the process

Here’s what actually went on late last Friday night, as heads of state from two dozen countries met behind closed doors. Obama was at the table for several hours, sitting between Gordon Brown and the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi. The Danish prime minister chaired, and on his right sat Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN. Probably only about 50 or 60 people, including the heads of state, were in the room. I was attached to one of the delegations, whose head of state was also present for most of the time.

What I saw was profoundly shocking. The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country’s foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal, as was the practical implication: several times during the session, the world’s most powerful heads of state were forced to wait around as the Chinese delegate went off to make telephone calls to his “superiors”.

To those who would blame Obama and rich countries in general, know this: it was China’s representative who insisted that industrialised country targets, previously agreed as an 80% cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal. “Why can’t we even mention our own targets?” demanded a furious Angela Merkel. Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd, was annoyed enough to bang his microphone. Brazil’s representative too pointed out the illogicality of China’s position. Why should rich countries not announce even this unilateral cut? The Chinese delegate said no, and I watched, aghast, as Merkel threw up her hands in despair and conceded the point. Now we know why – because China bet, correctly, that Obama would get the blame for the Copenhagen accord’s lack of ambition.

China, backed at times by India, then proceeded to take out all the numbers that mattered. A 2020 peaking year in global emissions, essential to restrain temperatures to 2C, was removed and replaced by woolly language suggesting that emissions should peak “as soon as possible”. The long-term target, of global 50% cuts by 2050, was also excised. No one else, perhaps with the exceptions of India and Saudi Arabia, wanted this to happen. I am certain that had the Chinese not been in the room, we would have left Copenhagen with a deal that had environmentalists popping champagne corks popping in every corner of the world.

I’m sure this isn’t the last word on what happend, but it’s an interesting bit of data.  Mark’s conclusion is that China doesn’t want to bother with dealing with climate change because its economy is primarily coal-fired, and any cuts in emissions will necessarily lead to a diminishment in its ability to expand.

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Calatrava Chicago Tower saved by the union?

December 15th, 2009 — 11:48am

Chicago Spire

In an interesting example of desperate times calling for desperate measures, the local trade union is looking to become the key investor in The Chicago spire:

North America’s tallest tower was stopped dead in its foundations last year as the recession bells clanged and key players argued over alleged non-payment of millions of dollars in fees. But now the fate of Calatrava’s Chicago Spire looks much brighter as union boss Tom Villanova, president of the Chicago and Cook County Building and Construction Trades Council (CBTC), has entered talks to loan $170million to the project’s Irish developer, Shelbourne Development Group in a bid to create work for 1000 workers. More…

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More badass video

December 11th, 2009 — 1:34pm

This one’s of people fire-breathing, shot in super-slow motion. Unfortunately it’s also not embeddable, so you’ll have to click this link. (you want to click the link)

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Using tractor exhaust to fertilize crops

December 10th, 2009 — 1:30pm

Here’s an interesting tidbit:

But Mr Linklater is literally ploughing ahead, injecting his tractor’s fossil fuel exhaust fumes directly into the ground, where they enhance the biochemical interaction between plants and soil microbes. And it seems his home-grown version of carbon sequestration, introduced in 2007, is getting results, with this year’s crop, aided by better rainfall, his best since 2001.

“It might not seem that emissions from one tractor could do a lot, but per hectare it emits 1100 kilos of carbon,” Mr Linklater says.

Adapting methods developed by Canadian farmer Gary Lewis, of BioAgtive Technologies, Mr Linklater spent $20,000 customising equipment that cools the tractor’s fumes to 30 degrees then expels them into the soil as gas fertiliser when he sows his crop.

His trials, which are being replicated in Canada, Britain and South Africa, are gaining global attention and are now the focus of scientific research. ”When I heard about it, I listened and the science of it seemed to make sense, but with fertiliser costs at about $1200 to $1500 a tonne, the economics of it got me into gear,” Mr Linklater says.

At today’s prices it would have cost him $500,000 in phosphorous and nitrogen fertilisers to prepare 3900 hectares for planting. But in the two years since he and his sons began trialling the new technique, no fertiliser has been applied. The saving is enough to wipe a healthy chunk off the debt that he, like many drought-stricken farmers, has racked up through years of meagre rain and below-break-even wheat prices.

This just drives home the extent to which most of our food is made out of oil.  At least this guys is using the direct route.

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Guess what’s powering 10% of US Elecricity Consumption

December 9th, 2009 — 1:25pm

(Hint: it’s not wind power)

No, in fact it is recovered fissile material from nuclear bombs, largely Soviet bombs.  From the Times:

“It’s a great, easy source” of fuel, said Marina V. Alekseyenkova, an analyst at Renaissance Capital and an expert in the Russian nuclear industry that has profited from the arrangement since the end of the cold war.

But if more diluted weapons-grade uranium isn’t secured soon, the pipeline could run dry, with ramifications for consumers, as well as some American utilities and their Russian suppliers.

Already nervous about a supply gap, utilities operating America’s 104 nuclear reactors are paying as much attention to President Obama’s efforts to conclude a new arms treaty as the Nobel Peace Prize committee did.

Now if we could just start another nuclear arms race, maybe we could solve the whole global warming problem (Iran, I’m looking at you).

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Beautiful video of the alps

December 8th, 2009 — 1:24pm

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Natural Pool Filtration

December 7th, 2009 — 1:22pm


A natural pond is usually larger than a normal pool to accommodate the plants, rocks, and natural vegetationthat comprise the filter zone (separate from the designated swimming area). Once water filters through the plant zone, it is then pumped through a UV filter to ensure maximum cleanliness and aeration. Typically, natural ponds have a waterfall to pump water back into the swimming area.

The idea is to use the plants in place of chlorine and whatever other chemicals pools need.  It would be nice if the UV filter could be eliminated and the whole system could be ‘natural’

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