Climate clippings 46

Herr Doktor Hüttlin’s magical Kugelmotor

From Gizmag via John D comes an invention from the Black Forest area of a spherical engine that can drive directly, generate electricity or store energy from braking in the motor itself. There seems to be considerable potential for it as a range extender in plug-in electrics.

“Pre-production prototypes of 1.18 liter capacity have been in testing for some months and power output at present is 74kW (100hp) at 3000rpm with torque up to 290Nm (213ft-lb). Dr Hüttlin expects efficiency to increase by another 40% with reduced bearing friction and optimization of the combustion. The engine weighs 62 kg and consists of only 62 parts, while a conventional engine has at least 240.”

Hydrogen motoring

Hydrogen car technology hasn’t gone away, but may be on the threshold of mass distribution, according to this BBC report I heard on NewsRadio.

The technology involves a fuel cell which makes electricity which powers the car. It works through a chemical rather than a combustion process. It is said to be cheap, has a range of 500km and a refill takes five minutes.

I said “cheap”, but everyone knows making hydrogen is expensive, right? What I heard, as I recall, mentioned a new process of producing hydrogen from a bacterial hydrolysis cell.

Solar reaching saturation point

From the Courier Mail we are told that applications for rooftop solar systems were being rejected in areas where Queensland’s high uptake threatened the safety and reliability of its network.

Following advice from engineering experts, no more systems will be automatically approved when the penetration of solar photovoltaic systems hits 30 per cent in neighbourhoods.

It seems homeowners are being invited to contribute to grid upgrades.

From tidal power to harnessing ocean currents

Fred Pearce has an article behind the paywall in the New Scientist but available here on work being done in Orkney on harnessing the enormous power of the oceans.

The interest in ocean currents is in the sheer amount of energy available. Also the supply is steadier and less rough on the turbines. But currents are slow, so they are looking at turbines designed to work at 1.8 or even 1.5 metres per second.

Problem is, if the speed halves the power output reduced by a factor of 8. Also they will have to convince everyone that they are not slowing down the current too much.

Will Australia miss global solar boom?

Giles Parkinson says that the IEA prdicts we will be souyrcing 60% of power from solar by 2060.

At a solar summit in Melbourne earlier this month, the Clean Energy Council warned that Australia had a five year window in which to seize the initiative in large scale solar or miss out on a huge economic opportunity. It warned that Australia, despite obvious expertise, risked being left behind because of the massive rate of deployment overseas of large scale solar – both PV, solar thermal and with storage – and the rapid fall in costs.

As the world’s biggest energy groups – GE, Alstom, Areva, Abengoa and Siemens (which has abandoned nuclear) – focus more on their solar technologies, and invest billions in new projects, Australia needed to accelerate its deployment and knowledge so that it, too, would have expertise that it could export rather than import.

Tokelau leads the world

By the middle of 2012 Tokelau, population around 1500, will source 93% of its power from solar, supported by 200 coconuts per day for the rest.

Shanghai struggles to save itself from the sea

If you check out the Fire Tree flood maps you’ll find that large areas of coastal China will go squishy very quickly with sea level rise.

Shanghai with 22 million people is in the front line and has long been busy taking adaptive action. However, they are not neglecting mitigation, including this:

Still, half of the city’s power comes from coal, a high carbon-emitting fuel. To emit less greenhouse gases, Shanghai must consume less energy. To that end, regulators have ordered more buildings to be equipped with solar water heaters. They have also doubled electricity prices for some inefficient industries that are high electricity consumers, including steel, cement and leather makers.

They are serious.

Ports generally are ill-prepared

UNSTAD is trying to promote more vigorous planning for sea level rise by port authorities. Some 80% of trade is water-borne. With 4 feet (1.2 metres) of sea level rise, about three-quarters of the freight facilities and non-freight facilities at ports would be inundated.

Deep heat

On average the world’s oceans are 3.6 kilometres deep with a mass of 1.37 billion gigatonnes of water. The average temperature is, I understand, 3.5C, so the capacity for storing energy in the oceans is massive.

Around 90% of heat trapped by greenhouse gases ends up in the ocean.

Recently Roger Jones linked to an excellent post by Kevin Trenberth on the earth’s energy balance. At the end of it Trenberth tells of a new study which finds that energy can easily be “buried” in the deep ocean for over a decade. Whence it can emerge and contribute to surface warming on land as well as sea.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress takes a look at this new study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

While the heat is buried in the deep it can do work like melting Antarctic ice. When it emerges we could be in for some catch-up surface warming.

It should be noted that this study was done with models to explore possibilities. Trenberth says we now need observational studies, which they plan to do but are awaiting better datasets.

63 thoughts on “Climate clippings 46”

  1. For those that are interested in Solar power in homes and some cool architecture – the Solar Decathlon is on in the US at the moment. 18 teams of university students from all around the world have to design and build a sustainable solar home.

    Disclosure statement: My brother is part of the NZ team – which I think is the first from the Southern Hemisphere in this competition ever, but I do think the NZ entry is pretty sweet.

  2. Hey TT: Not quite unfortunately – they’ve just won the engineering part, which is one of ten competitions which make up the decathlon. They came second in the architecture stakes too which is fantastic. My brother’s really stoked because those were some of the areas they wanted to do well in.

    Each day they announce the results of another part of the competition, and the Kiwis are climbing up the rankings nicely at the moment. I think the team might have trouble catching up with the Maryland entry though…

    BTW If you want to show some solidarity with the NZ team, or another team if you really want 🙂 – you can vote in the people’s choice award here.

  3. @6, it’s not an electric motor. It’s an internal combustion engine surrounded by the coils of an electric motor.

  4. For those interested in tidal energy, an interesting paper by one of my undergraduate lecturers Ross Vennell is here, which looks at the energy which can be pulled out of the proposed Kaipara Harbour scheme, and also for a hypothetical scheme in Cook Strait.

    Also they will have to convince everyone that they are not slowing down the current too much.

    I find it difficult to believe that we could build enough turbines to alter a current in this fashion.

    To significantly alter tidal flows through Cook Strait (between the N and S Islands of NZ), some calculations of the optimal energy you could pull out would suggest that you’d need 9000 turbines, causing a reduction in maximum velocity of about 60% (this is from the paper I linked earlier). The total energy you could use would be order 14-15 GW though (although it would be fairly expensive to build & maintain that number of turbines). But it still wouldn’t be enough to shut down the tidal flow.

    Regarding (western boundary) ocean currents – I suspect that they might wander too much to be as much use. At least with a tidal flow through a strait you have a smaller area over which you need to build and maintain turbines. And because these sorts of tidal flow reach through the depth of the water column you can have the turbines at any depth you like – keeping them well out of the way of ecosystems/shipping etc. Western boundary currents of the sorts mentioned in the article are mostly driven at the surface by comparison, so you’d need some pretty ingenious engineering to tap them as well to balance this with other ocean uses/ecological effects.

  5. Meanwhile, my sources tell me that the No Carbon Tax demo outside the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne this morning was attended by the grand total of four people. I hope the police weren’t too overwhelmed.

  6. dear Blair
    a no carbon tax demo at the bureau of met, eh? what an approriate setting. “attended by the grand total of four people”. thanks for the tip-off, i won’t be looking out for it on the evening bulletin, then.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  7. “It warned that Australia, despite obvious expertise, risked being left behind because of the massive rate of deployment overseas of large scale solar – both PV, solar thermal and with storage – and the rapid fall in costs.”

    Australia missed the boat on solar power long ago, as in 20 years ago.

    I really couldn’t see us turning around to compete with the growth of manufacturing in countries like Germany and Japan 10 years ago, and now that so much PV manufacturing is done in China, we have no hope.

    Our main expert in this field is engineers and researchers to work for solar companies overseas (brain drain), and maybe we could export project development activities, but the window for us exporting solar panels is well and truly shut I would think, and has been for some time.

  8. patrickg: No problem!

    SCPritch: There’s more to solar than just photovoltaics, although I’d see our failure to keep up there as a warning. A lot of the larger-scale advances in large solar plants are being made by Australian companies and universities (see here for the example closest to my office). But if the government keeps defunding the research and discouraging investment with rapid policy flip-flops then we will fall behind quite rapidly.

  9. I love that bacterial hydrogen generator. Must be a down side surely.

    The details in the article were vague, but it seems to need a supply of organic matter as well as water. That sounds like a down side.

  10. Not saying it’s useless Jess, just that it’s unlikely to be able to produce enough hydrogen for the “hydrogen economy”. The world doesn’t produce enough sewage for that (thankfully). 🙂

  11. @6, it’s not an electric motor. It’s an internal combustion engine surrounded by the coils of an electric motor.

    Ah, right. I feel a tad silly now. Thanks for the info though!

    @7 “electric motor” should be “electricity generator”

    Meh, same thing anyway: just depends which way you’re pointing it. Actually in this case it’s both, if I read the post right.

    This time around, maybe I did!

  12. I’m wondering what the point of calling (or making) it spherical is though. Surely a cylindrical coil is the basic building block, so is the end shape more a matter of aesthetics than anything else?

    Some people find cylinders very attractive.

  13. Okay, now I see there’s much more complexity than I thought.

    Still, I think they COULD make it cylindrical. 😉

  14. Great video FDB! There’s some awesome CAD-CAM work gone into that engine. It would be interesting to know how many years since that sort of work has become possible.

  15. sg @7: The generator is also an electric motor. (The same is true for most EV motors) I not sure that combining all this into “one motor”. Main aim of alerting Brian to this one is that it highlights the work that is going into alternatives that may have roles in plug in hybrids.

  16. An update on the cosmic-rays-causing-cloud-cover hypothesis – people might be interested in this paper which is currently in press at the Journal of Climate (paywall), with the latest data on cosmic rays and cloud cover (which goes as far as 2008 at the moment).

    What’s particularly interesting is that Svensmark’s supposed correlation between cosmic rays and lower tropospheric cloud cover has disappeared in the last solar cycle – cosmic rays have increased but cloud cover decreased.

  17. Thanks Brian and thanks Jess fo rthe link to the Tyndall lecture, i esp liked the picture of the lab at the end.

  18. Debbie anne. Barrie O’Farrel’s estimates of the cost of the carbon tax to the NSW government would, if true, mean that all the after compensation costs of the tax would be born by his government. Which means there wouldn’t be any costs left to be covered by the Ipswich council.
    It would be interesting to see the calculations supporting the $2m claim.

  19. The Ipswich Council is being set up for a rip off, in my opinion. Tip rubbish is, if handled correctly ie layered with clay soil regularly, effectively having most of its Carbon content sequestered. There will be large amounts of methane and CO2 released from a rubbish tip during processing and for some years after, but the bulk of the carbon stays in the pile. So to claim the full rubbish carbon content as being an emission is way off track.

  20. Bilb: I would have thought that most of the carbon in a garbage tip would have been taxed (or exempted) before the garbage got to garbage bins. Does anyone have some hard data?

  21. Good point JohnD,

    In that case then the councill is entitled to a credit for the taxed part of the carbon that can be proven to be sequestered. The opposite of what is being claimed by the council. This does bringup issues of sequetration of carbon in countries other than that of the origin, and gives some strength to the notion of an international emissions trading scheme.

  22. I think it’s a good idea to tax landfills regardless of John D’s and BilB’s points. Carbon emissions only come from organic waste which should not go to landfill and needs to be composted for fertiliser or mulched.

  23. Tip rubbish is, if handled correctly ie layered with clay soil regularly, effectively having most of its Carbon content sequestered. There will be large amounts of methane and CO2 released from a rubbish tip during processing and for some years after, but the bulk of the carbon stays in the pile. So to claim the full rubbish carbon content as being an emission is way off track.

    But landfills are not regarded as giving their entire carbon content up as emission. There are a range of methods for estimating emissions from landfills under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Technical Guidelines and they all allow for the fact that a large percentage of the carbon deposited is not degradeable.

  24. Exactly so Martin B,

    And that is why properly managed refuse locations should be heavily carbon sequestration positive and therefore income positive for the councils running them. Salient Greens point about composting is also important. Well managed waste management operations do compost good quality green waste , and earn an income from tht part of their business.

  25. Bilb: The sequestration argument is interesting. The key question would be how permanent the sequestration would be. Keep in mind that anaerobic bacteria will still be functioning under a sealing clay layer creating things like methane that will get back into the atmosphere unless collected. Different garbage dumps in different environments may give very different results.

  26. Just a general question, perhaps RWDBs could explain: why is the involvement of medium -sized countries like Australia “critical” when it comes to wars, but “wont make a difference” when it comes to climate change action?

  27. Lefty E asked:

    why is the involvement of medium -sized countries like Australia “critical” when it comes to wars, but “wont make a difference” when it comes to climate change action?

    There is no such answer. It’s all the way with the USA on war, parochialism on most everything else.

  28. Thanks jumpy. This might be a problem:

    He is also frank that electric cars aren’t a solution. A world of electric automobiles would produce a global garbage nightmare, spreading millions of tonnes of toxic metals across the planet. “Present-day searches for ever better batteries are, as a practical matter, searches for ever-more toxic metals to put in them,” he says. Greens, please take note.

  29. Brian quoted Robert Laughlin:

    He is also frank that electric cars aren’t a solution. A world of electric automobiles would produce a global garbage nightmare, spreading millions of tonnes of toxic metals across the planet.

    The language here is extravagant, but he does have the beginnings of a point. This is an expression of the basic reality that we humans live by manipulating the resources of the planet into forms that serve our needs. Inevitably, that creates waste products and therefore places where the waste winds up — a kind of global midden. If humans were to replace fossil-HC powered vehicles with electric vehicles wherever this was technically feasible there would indeed be a sizeable mess, though it would of course be a trade for the even larger mess that we are authoring now. It’s unlikely (given the cost of them) that in the short term, there would be anything like a one-for-one swap so allowing both for the smaller biospheric footprint of electric vehicles and the reduction in vehicle miles that would likely ensue, our waste would decline, per capita. Bear in mind also that the connection of large numbers of rechargeable batteries to the grid is being mooted not only to power vehicles but to load balance stationary supply.

    Present-day searches for ever better batteries are, as a practical matter, searches for ever-more toxic metals to put in them

    That seems hard to credit. The search is for materials/media that can store power (and discharge it quickly) at lower cost and lower mass and improved round trip efficiency. The challenge of improving capacitors to allow better use of regenerative braking, and even ways of charging vehicles while they are on the road (which would obviate the need for such large battery packs) is being considered. Likewise, improvements in PV may make it possible to very greatly reduce the need both for charging from the grid and for large batteries.

    Electric vehicles are not a complete solution but they are in practice likely to make a substantial contribution to mitigation of the contribution to waste we humans make trying to live well.

  30. I think you’d have to be mad to suggest that we can all get around in our own electric cars, Canberra-style. I think that public transport and better urban planning would be the best answer to the problem – you get much better ‘bang for your pollution’ when you only have to power light rail or buses with electricity.

  31. The fallacy in the assumption that electric vehicles will pollute the world is that elecetric vehicles are the same as petrol cars only with different engines. Wrong. Electric vehicles have an entirely different service life to petrol powered cars. Electrically powered chassis’ have a relatively indefinite life.

    Vehicle interiors and batteries have a shorter life. Interiors can be refurbished; batteries can be renewed.

    How electric vehicles will be used in the long term is very much an open question. One thing is absolutely certain, the world’s depleting resources with its still increasing population is going to require a rethink of how we view the life of our possessions.

    Other topics:

    Total carbon and silicon constructions of the future.
    Future hybride Fuelcell/battery powering systems.
    Remodelling our communities for sustainability, efficiency and financing.
    Entirely different modes of transport.
    Minmal mobility solutions.

  32. The absolute best battery for EV’s is the Sodium Nickel Chloride.
    Raw materials:
    Common Salt – like really hard to find
    Iron – plenty of that
    Little bit of aluminium – no problem
    Energy density:
    About the same as Lithium ion
    Problem: Present versions are made using 1960’s technology – for a number of reasons.

  33. @BilB #49

    I really can’t see why the non drive train parts of an EV will last any longer than those of a vehicle powered by ICE. Wheel bearings, steering racks and linkages, ball joints, springs, shocks, cv joints, suspension bushes, seals etc etc should all have roughly the same service life. Body and paintwork should be similar.

    It’s possible to keep almost any car on the road indefinitely if parts are available. It doesn’t happen because 1. At some point it’s not economic and 2. Engineering developments have resulted in far better and safer cars.

    I’m quite unconvinced that EVs are likely to be any different in these respects.

  34. I agree Jess … getting people out of personal and ad hoc transport and onto mass transport as often as possible is much the best “bang for the buck” option.

    Once you’ve done that though — and in practice that can’t be done in a couple of years in most places since the cities are huge brownfields sites — what else can you do?

    Having EVs doesn’t preclude those really important system wide changes in transport, housing development etc and it needn’t await it either.

  35. You did not read the content Quokka. CV joints are not a part of an electric vehicle with individual wheel motors. Bearing life is a function of manufacturing tolerances, heat cycles, bearing diameters, and design type. Ball joints are now improved to be life of vehicle service. Suspension bushes are also vastly improved but where necessary will be replaced for another 20 years service. I’ve never heard of a spring failing, not that they can’t…but are very rarely likely to.

    If you read the content you should have noticed that future servicing of EV’ s will be focused on interior refurbishment and electronics/battery servicing.

    I talk about these issues with my next door factory vehicle mechanic neighbour who will be severely affected by the dropping of ICE’s if it happened quickly. Fortunately there will not be a rapid change. But if you think the issue through carefully you will finally understand why EV’s will have at least 3 times the life of conventional ICE vehicles.

  36. BilB, that reminds me of GM’s ‘skateboard’ or Hy-wire concept car (which I don’t think went anywhere). Common drivetrain and floorpan, with embedded engines and moulded batteries, choose your own superstructure.

  37. You’ve got to recognise, Wilful, that the ground rules are changing, and concepts that were rejected in the past, ideas such as engines that can deliver 100 kilometres per litre, are in today’s Peak Oil and Climate Change world considered to be good ideas.

  38. EV’s as such are not low energy solutions. If all we are doing is using electricity to power the the equivalents of current car models we are going to have to spend a lot on batteries and consume a lot of electricity.

    In the short term it would make more sense to focus on developing vehicles that are inherently low energy. Low energy vehicles mean that it becomes economical/practical to consider energy sources that would be ruled out for current car models. We need a conversation re what is stopping the spread of low energy cars. We might ask for example why cars have to satisfy crash survival requirements rather than crash avoidance. We might also ask why we tolerate motor cycles but wont consider light weight cars with better safety?

    As
    http://www.icis.com/v2/chemicals/9075153/ammonia/pricing.html

  39. Also,if ya dig into each team name link you can find a “walk around video presentation”

    Here’s the winners one. Maryland.

    http://2011.solarteam.org/design

    (a clever chap could compile them all into a list of links for publication in an upcoming thread, if the clever chap had the time that is 🙂 ,just for the convenience of the lazy or stupid sods, unlike myself of coarse)

  40. Hey jumpy, yeah the NZ team came third which they were really stoked about. If you look the Maryland team has finished in the top three in the last three decathlons, so they were tough competition. A good house too. I didn’t think much of Purdue’s effort though – looked too much like your average US suburban McMansion for my liking.

  41. Jumpy: There’s going to be a solar decathlon in Australia soon I understand (some delegates were at the current one in the states this year), so we might get to see these things close up which would be cool.

    China is also going to run one of their own competitions as well. And there’s already a sister competition in Europe. Would be nice to see more sustainable designs from young architects-to-be.

    I understand the NZ house will be auctioned off on it’s return home, so maybe you should get in there! 🙂

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