So I poked fun at the Solar BBQ and solar bag earlier today. But recovering a little perspective from what tech writer Matthew Sparkes has to say after trying to take his gadgets off grid, I have to unpoke the bag…and maybe the BBQ, though I still find that silly.
In a fit to prove to colleagues at PC Pro that running gadgets on green energy is possible, practical, and more than ready for today’s consumer – even foggy London dwellers – Sparkes decided to try out different methods of powering his electronics with solar, wind, and human-powered chargers.
Tacking on a HYmini (hybrid between wind and solar energy generator) to his bike to generate wind power, Sparkes was able to charge his cell phone…about half way, but enough to keep it running. To get more energy, he added the Freeplay FreeCharge to his artillery and replaced his iPod with an Eco Media Player from Baylis – but the hand-cranking was a pain. To be expected. Finally he tried portable solar panels. The Powermonkey-eXplorer gave great results, charging his phone on non-biking days, with extra energy to power his MP3 player, all while foldable and light enough to cart around.
While he found that he could renewably charge his gadgets, ditching the ease of plugging in to readily available power means sacrificing exactly that – ease. In other words, there are products ready for us to use to renewably charge our hand-held devices, (less readily) our laptops, and so on. But there is still a lot of work to do to make charging up renewably as easy – and as cheap – as charging up from the coal- and nuclear-powered grid.
Despite putting in work to power up, Sparkes ends on this note: "Taking one small gadget off the grid may not seem like a big step, but it's the thin end of the wedge. In five years' time, let's hope people look back and wonder why that bloke from PC Pro thought it was such an achievement to never plug a gadget into the wall."
It is a heartening note, reminding us that each penny adds up to a full piggy bank. So the solar bag is cool. At least cool enough for now, while I keep in mind that more is coming down the line.
Via TreeHugger, PC Pro
EnerDel, a car battery company, predicts that advances in lithium ion batteries in development now will significantly cut the cost of hybrid cars, so folks who wait to buy their hybrid could see their gas savings in as few as two years after purchase. According to Wall Street Journal, should you sell your gass-guzzler and run out and buy a Prius today, it’d take about 7 years before you notice a savings on gas money since the car is pretty pricey. But should the planned advances for lithium ion batteries see daylight, that amount of time will be cut down to less than two years.
EnerDel plans to start a manufacturing line capable of making 300,000 lithium ion batteries a year for hybrid electric cars, starting in 2010. They like lithium ion because compared to nickel-based batteries, lithium is smaller, lighter, and holds twice the energy density…and is far cheaper.
Getting more life for the charge is a big deal in lithium ion battery research. While lithium ion batteries have a habit of losing their charge capacity after awhile, EnerDel says their batteries keep their charge capacity for up to 300,000 cycles, or 10 years of life. That's a long time for a battery's charge capacity. EnerDel has a deal to supply car batteries to Think Global for their all-electric towncar, plus two more deals in the works. They are making another prediction that by 2011, lithium ion batteries will be utilized by 75 different car models, showing that car manufacturers are getting serious about ditching all-gas vehicles in the very near future.
Photo via Burning Image
MIT just announced that its engineers have improved the power output of one of their fuel cells, by over a startling 50%. What’s even more surprising is that the new material that makes this increase in efficiency possible, is actually cheaper than conventional methods.
The research was done on direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs), which utilize methanol as a fuel rather than the more commonly known hydrogen cells. Among the advantages of using methanol over hydrogen is that being a liquid, and not highly volatile, it is easier to store and transport, it has a high energy density, and it’s easy to refuel, there is no specialized fuel station necessary, just pump (or pour) and go.
Traditional DMFCs have a membrane made of Nafion, an expensive material, and one that is also permeable to methanol, which means you waste some of your fuel without getting anything out of it. So the team at MIT designed a new nanomaterial, using a technique known as layer-by-layer assembly, to create an alternative. “We were able to tune the structure of [our] film a few nanometers at a time,” says one of the researchers. This new film, which is cheaper to produce, is also 2 orders of magnitude less permeable to methanol, thus conserving fuel and greatly improving power output.
This advance could play a big role in portable electronics (such as the LG latop pictured). We recently saw that DMFCs are already on the market, and coming soon for cameras, though they are a bit bulky, but this new technology could halve the size of the units, making them more attractive for compact portable electronics.
The researchers are now looking at seeing whether their membrane could be used in improving the efficiency of photovoltaics. We certainly hope so.
Popular Science has just gotten a scoop that I've been waiting for ages to see. Ultracapacitors, which are completely shunned by most auto companies, have been quietly continuing development at small companies and in universities all over the world. The reason they've been so largely ignored is that they hold so much less energy than batteries. The best commercially available ultracaps have about 5% of the energy density of batteries.
Yet they also have tremendous advantages. You can charge them all the way up and all the way down without damaging them (lithium ion batteries stop functioning when charged all the way down.) They contain no chemical reagents and so are thermally stable under all conditions. And they can charge and discharge much faster than batteries.
Popular Science was recently able to visit a lab at MIT working on advanced vehicle technologies. One of these technologies is a nano-tube ultracapacitor that could potentially hold half the charge of a lithium ion battery. And while this alone doesn't sound all that exciting, it's a lot cooler when you realize that most batteries in hybrid cars hardly ever use more than 20% of their charge in order to extend the batteries life.
That's right, 80% of the battery just sits there and never discharges. Ultracapacitors could discharge completely, over and over again, and never need to be replaced.
Unfortunately, after two years of work, the nano-tube capacitors still haven't hit their theoretical capacity. And while it might not take long for them to make capacitors that have competitive energy levels, it will certainly take years, if not decades, to scale the technology up to industrial level.