Climate clippings 171

1. 3D solar towers

MIT researchers have developed and tested a range of 3D solar towers to achieve power output that is up to 20 times greater than traditional fixed flat solar panels with the same base area. Here is an example of two of the models tested:


The towers provide a more even output across the whole day and through the seasons, capturing more power when the sun is lower in the sky and through cloudy and shady conditions.

The cost of the 3D modules is higher per the amount of energy generated when compared to conventional flat solar panels, but could come into their own where you have flat rooves and high land prices. They could be installed at car parks to provide clean energy for electric vehicles.

I imagine they could also reduce the need for batteries.

2. Solar Buddy

A Brisbane man has created a small solar light designed to be used in refugee tents and dwellings without power in the developing world. It is a small sealed unit with an integrated solar panel, which will run for 10 hours.

Solar buddy_7400090-3x2-700x467_550

The idea came to him as he lived in a tent after a marriage breakup where he lost contact with his three children. He fell to thinking how refugees got on living in tents for long periods of time.

He developed a prototype and flew to Geneva where he walked into UN HQ hoping to talk to someone. For a while he couldn’t get past the foyer, but eventually someone took some interest in this strange Australian. As it happened someone in the UN had just been tasked to investigate lighting for refugees living in tents, and he made contact. Now he is supplying his lights to where they are needed around the world.

In my opinion his web sites could be better, but there’s no doubt it’s a good news story.

3. Hybrid electric system for road transport

A French company is using graphene supercapacitors to capture energy produced when a semi-trailer uses its brakes, and return the power to boost acceleration. They actually call them “ultracapacitors”. The graphene ultracapacitors can store much more of the braking energy as power and return it much faster than most battery storage options.

The system saves around 25% in fuel used, and hence reduces emissions.

The ultracapacitors are fitted under the tray of the truck and are connected to electric motors in the wheels.

4. Earth getting greener due to rising carbon dioxide levels

With global warming some parts of the earth’s surface are browning, but as mentioned elsewhere overall the earth is greening.

    researchers found between 25 to 50 per cent of all vegetated areas of the land have become greener, only 4 per cent have become browner.

    These included Mongolia, Argentina and areas of North America close to Alaska.

    While south-eastern Australia also showed browning, overall the Australian continent was greening, said Dr Canadell.


Plant coverage has grown by 18 million square kilometres in the past 33 years. Photosynthesis absorbs about 25 per cent of the carbon we emit, so while greening helps to maintain this percentage, more and more carbon remains aloft.

However, the extra growth will not solve the world’s food problems, as high CO2 levels significantly reduce essential nutrients in staple crops such as wheat, rice, maize and soyabeans. Many can’t afford to eat meat, which is a handy nutritional package, but environmentally problematic. Some 2 million already suffer from zinc and iron deficiencies.

See Dietterich et al for a more extensive, more sophisticated study.

5. Scientists compare climate impact of 1.5°C and 2°C

Prior to the Paris climate conference not a lot of scientific attention had been given to the difference 1.5°C of global warming would make compared with 2°C. Carl-Friedrich Schleussner at Climate Analytics in Berlin and the Potsdam Institute with his colleagues from Potsdam, Switzerland, Austria and The Netherlands were already on the case, and have now produced a final paper.

It’s worth a longer post, but in relation to Item 4 above, they show that wheat and maize will produce less as the climate warms, whereas soybeans and rice will produce more.

Coral bleaching increases from 90% of reefs affected at 1.5°C to 98% of reefs at 2°C.

6. US agriculture cleaning up its act

    Last April, the United States Department of Agriculture announced plans to tackle agriculture’s contribution to climate change. Dubbed the USDA’s Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture & Forestry, the plan included a set of voluntary but incentive-based programs in ten key areas, from soil health to nutrient management. All told, the USDA estimated that the programs would help agriculture cut its emissions by 120 million metric tons by 2025 — the equivalent of taking more than 25 million passenger vehicles off the road.

And yes, they are spending money on their programs. However, because the changes made are also improving farm economics they think it doesn’t matter who sits in the White House next year. If they want to know how irrationally destructive conservative politicians can be they should visit Australia, and think again.

9 thoughts on “Climate clippings 171”

  1. All good items, Brian. I’ve been busy with National Manufacturing Week in Sydney so haven’t had time to participate. A young engineer (female) came to our stand and in conversation I found that she had the new Solar Engineering (or something along those lines) Degree and is working on solar thermal storage towers. I have to do some follow up to learn more about this company. Things are happening all over. There were quite a few ex CSIRO people doing interesting things. I suggested to one of these that there is a need for a new strategic development agency along the lines of the US DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) which I have dubbed CARPA…Civilian Advanced Research Projects Agency…, to work strategically to tie up many of the renewable energy loose ends where the market has failed to tie the technology knots. There was some big news on smart meters that I can’t talk about just yet.

  2. That’s all good, BilB. I didn’t know about National Manufacturing Week. Bill Shorten should have paid you a visit instead of going to Melbourne this week to spruik manufacturing! Good to know that there is enough critical mass around to have a week like that.

    I’m a bit over the way the election is going, and have fallen behind in climate stuff. I’ll try to catch up a bit in the next little while. I’ll probably put the item on electric planes in a future CC to make it part of the record, and because some people don’t read comments, plus it attracts hits from searches.

  3. BilB I’m interested in that stuff.
    I’ve been talking to some Profs up here looking for a course to do but so far undecided. I was looking at Development Planning but not committed yet. ‘Love to join some program…
    I was interested to see the post on the electric light. There are some lights like that already using a solar panel the size of a novel it sits on the roof and charges a small battery. That can revolutionise village society. There is also a neat gravity light – a weight is allowed to descend on a string via a geared pulley. The pulley drives a small generator that feeds a light. When the weight gets too low it is lifted up and starts dropping again.

  4. Geoff, for years now we’ve used torches we got from the mail order outfit Innovations. They are flat with a solar panel on one side. I park mine on the windowsill each morning to keep it charged. A bit expensive, from memory, but no batteries ever. Not a brilliant light but more than enough to get about at night.

    When we went across the Simpson we used to tape it to the vehicle window on the north side every day.

  5. Talking about torches, I bought this torch on a whim and it has become my standard portable light

    This torch provides light that illuminates an area with light sufficient to work properly. It has magnets in its base and back for mounting as well as a hook for hanging all of which I use regularly particularly the body end magnet. But the key feature is that it charges via USB socket on the side and has a battery life remaining indicator.

    The negatives are that the switch is a little awkward and it cycles through all 3 settings to turn it off. The other negative is that the light is so “natural” and the mounting so convenient that it is easy to walk away and forget to turn it off.

    Old guys need more light, and this one does it for me. Not cheap, but I am buying 3 more.

    Another thing that came from NMW was a awesome little stick welding machine that weighs just 2 kg and is only as long as your hand. Its tiny, but welds like nothing else (3.2mm stick effortlessly with power to spare). I’ve got a cheap welder at home that must weigh 20 kg, this one is far better. If you think about resource consumption for work done these switch mode devices are a major saver. I’m thinking about importing a batch as they make getting work done a breeze. I think they will be popular with the 4wd overlanders for those emergency mid desert patchups. There is also a TIG welder and plasma cutter in the range.

    Technology can really make a difference.

  6. Thanks for the good news about solar panels, essential lighting and “cordless” aircraft.

    Like the slippery shape of the aircraft; was surprised to see it had side-by-side seating. 2-hour endurance + reserve is fine for most applications. Can I have one for Christmas, please? 🙂

  7. Geof Henderson,

    Please keep us posted on what you decide to do. Which side of age fifty are you?

    My advice is that you can’t make a living out of LED lighting, the Chinese are all over it like ants and most of the possibilities are being worked on.

    Development planning needs fresh minds and fresh ideas, but I suspect it would be a frustrating future. I have a project that focusses on European design styles and that will require a hefty battle against the 1/4 acre block mindset when I get to that stage.

    The fundamental problem with property affordability is that where we can produce dwellings for less than half the market price for equivalent conventional property and make good profits, we can’t sell it for that price because people with money will simply buy it at the half price and sell it the next day at the inflated market price for the profit. Its called the Howard affect. Put your energetic mind to solving that dilemma.

  8. BilB I’m nearly 70, but only slightly used.
    I have not settled on a course yet. I’ll spend some time over the weekend. My uni (James Cook, Cairns) is preferred but I might have to look else where. There are many options.
    Part of the trouble is the uncertainty plaguing tertiary institutions especially in the area of funding. That goes to courses that might not be offered even next semester. It’s not just that funding is diminished, it is the possibility that funding will be further cut mid-stream. I am also concerned that the options available to students – like funding assistance – will also drive down numbers and that will impact on uni funding and course.
    My interest is in sustainability, energy, coasts & catchments, geomorphology and development in developing regions. That’s where I saw a special and meaningful use for LED’s. Making a living out of them would be nigh impossible unless you were hooked into the distribution of them, maybe through an NGO.
    I have a friend who is heavily into affordable housing in SA, has been for years now. If you are interested I can ask how they cope with the situation you mention. I recall years ago when Adelaide sold off a lot of Housing Trust residences – Mercs and cruisers soon peppered the area. The wrong people benefited.
    If you want a dialogue on things off-forum that’s fine with me, I’d like that.

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