Not only will atomic power be released, but someday we will harness the rise and fall of the tides and imprison the rays of the sun. Thomas A. Edison

Sunday, June 27, 2010

When hydro-power needs a boost

I've been inviting my students to submit links and articles for this blog. Last Thursday, one of them submitted not just one, but two links on the same subject... pumped hydro-storage.

To tell the truth, I've never considered a resevoir to be a storage battery, but that's exactly what my student discovered. It makes lots of sense. Take excess power available during periods of low demand to pump water up-hill for storage. When customer demand is high, this energy is available for use.

The first article is from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Here is the text of the article found at

Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant is located in southeast Tennessee on a site that overlooks the Tennessee River near Chattanooga.
The plant works like a large storage battery. During periods of low demand, water is pumped from Nickajack Reservoir at the base of the mountain to the reservoir built at the top. It takes 28 hours to fill the upper reservoir. When demand is high, water is released via a tunnel drilled through the center of the mountain to drive generators in the mountain’s underground power plant.

The area around Raccoon Mountain is a state-designated Wildlife Observation Area. The mountaintop is home to whitetail deer, woodchucks, gray foxes, and, of course, raccoons. The most compelling wildlife attraction of the area is a large wintering population of bald eagles, which can be sighted from the overlook as they hunt in the woods and waters.

The Raccoon Mountain Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except major holidays and during the winter months, when it closes at 4 p.m. Tours of the power plant itself are no longer available, but the center has photographs, models, and knowledgeable staff to discuss plant operations and TVA. TVA closes all visitor centers when the homeland security alert level is orange (high) or red (severe).

Racoom Mountain may be the largest pumped storage station that TVA has, but Bath County has the most powerful one in the world. Here's what Dominion Virginia Power has to say about it at

Cradled in Virginia's rugged Allegheny Mountains, the world's most powerful pumped storage generating station quietly balances the electricity needs of millions of homes and businesses across six states.

The Bath County Pumped Storage Station, which went into operation in 1985, is jointly owned by Dominion and the operating companies of the Allegheny Power System, and managed by Dominion Generation. This mammoth station was cited as one of the nation's most outstanding 1985 engineering achievements. The earth and rock fill moved to construct the dams and other project facilities, if piled up, would create a mountain 1,000 feet (305 meters) high. Enough concrete was poured to build 200 miles (322 kilometers) of interstate highway.

The station consists of two large reservoirs — one 1,262 feet (385 meters) higher than the other, a massive power house and the huge tunnels that connect them. When demand is low, water is pumped from the lower reservoir to the upper one.

When demand is high, valves permit water to run through the tunnels to the lower reservoir at a rate as high as 13.5 million gallons (852 cubic meters/second) per minute, turning six 462-megawatt turbine generators. The water level in the 265-acre upper reservoir can fluctuate as much as 106 feet when the unit is operated.

About the Environment

The Bath County Pumped Storage Station is nearly surrounded by the George Washington National Forest and was built in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service. Occupying a relatively small amount of land, it has had minimal adverse effect on the environment. Flows to both streams, Back Creek and Little Back Creek, are supplemented by storage from the station reservoirs. This significantly improves stream flow during periods of drought and enhances the environment for fish and other aquatic life.

The extreme fluctuations in water levels in the two reservoirs make them unsuitable for recreation. However, a separate 325-acre (1.32 sq. kilometers) public recreation area containing two lakes is located just downstream from the lower dam. The area has facilities for fishing, non-power boating, picnicking, swimming, hiking and camping. The recreation area is open on a seasonal basis only.

All that power, and fishing too!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is the fuel cell finally coming of age?

As I pointed out to my class last night, little has changed with the viability of a hydrogen powered fuel cell since its inception in 1839 by Welsh lawyer Sir William Grove. Yes, fuel cells themselves have changed quite a bit. Different materials, different dielectrics, different operating temperatures... However, the fundamental issues of producing hydrogen quickly, efficiently, and affordably have long eluded the most ardent supporters of the long-awaited “hydrogen economy.”

There have been some strides in the area of hydrogen storage. Most take up too much space, are too heavy, or depend upon exotic cryogenic processes that make the cost of hydrogen skyrocket. Additionally, the true sources of power that are used to produce our hydrogen generate at least as much pollution as the systems that hydrogen would attempt to replace.

However, where there is a will there is a way. I began my course with a video demonstration of a process discovered in 1967 by Professor Jerry Woodall of Purdue University. Prof. Woodall was a researcher for IBM at the time. The Woodall process involved melting gallium (it melts at 87 degrees F.) and dissolving aluminum pellets to form a liquid alloy. When water is introduced to this mixture, oxygen quickly bonds with the aluminum, freeing hydrogen gas and forming aluminum oxide (alumina). The gallium is reusable, requiring the replenishment of aluminum and water to resume the process. Science Daily reported this development on August 29, 2007. (

Now, a new company, AlumiFuel Power, Inc. of Philadelphia has developed a commercially viable hydrogen generator using a mixture of powdered aluminum and proprietary catalysts to perform the same basic function. Applications have been developed for stationary fuel cell systems, unmanned underwater vehicles, and military applications.

Key to the system is the ability to contain the reactants in an easily removed canister about the size of a can of Arizona Iced Tea. Should such a generator be integrated into a fuel cell vehicle, one could “gas-up” the family car by pulling up next to a vending machine!

You can check out this up and coming development at

Monday, June 21, 2010

U.S. Military is Developing Smart Microgrids with Solar Power

How can solar and other alternative energy systems save lives? Easy... the less you rely on fossil fuels that have to be transported through dangerous areas held by terrorists and insurgents, fewer manned convoys have to brave bullets, rocket-propelled grenades, and IEDs. That's why the Pentagon is embracing alternative energy (including microgrids) in a big way.

Tina Casey wrote in her June 18th post in, "These microgrids can draw energy interchangeably from solar arrays and other sources to cut costs, improve logistics, and reduce the troop safety risks involved in fossil fuel convoys. As part of the military’s drive to lead the civilian sector to more secure and sustainable energy sources, the projects are designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of microgrids at large civilian facilities as well as military installations."

You can read Tina's entire post at

Friday, June 18, 2010

Windmills on my mind

Round, like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel.
Never ending or beginning,
On an ever spinning wheel
Like a snowball down a mountain
Or a carnaval balloon
Like a carousell that's turning
Running rings around the moon

Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes on it's face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

Windmills are fascinating... the visible set in motion by the invisible... a tiny fragment of energy torn from an infinite resource. It's almost like the hand of man trying to grasp the hand of God.

Enough philosophy. My class explored residential wind turbines this week. We learned how modern wind turbines with three blades are far more efficient than the old-style windmills of the American West, how to size up the power generating capability of a given turbine by the rotor length (r), standard atmospheric density (ρ) and the annual average wind speed (v).

When it comes to alternative energy, the Internet is a rich resource of information. Many reputable manufactures make the specifications of their turbines available to all. With so many vendors and installers available, it’s a good idea to find an independent source of information and advice.

As it turns out, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind and Water Power Program provides a wealth of information to those interested in energy freedom. You can check out their resources at

Friday, June 11, 2010

NS Norfolk starts green roof project

WAVY-TV reports that Naval Station Norfolk has commenced a "green" roof project designed to reduce run-off, moderate the "heat island" effect, and reduce carbon dioxide.  The article can be found at WAVY-TV's website by clicking here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

China Auto Maker Turns Over a New Leaf? YeZ!

Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) is a Chinese component of General Motors Corporation.  The concept car pictured above uses photovoltaic (PV) cells to convert sunlight into electricity from the array mounted on a roof designed to look like a leaf.  Electrical cables in the "leaf" simulate the veins of leaves found in nature.  Additional electricity is generated by the four windmills mounted on each wheel. 

The concept car is named "YeZ" after the Chinese word for "leaf".  What really bends your mind is the body.  It's constructed of material that recreates photosynthesis artificially.  In this case it takes carbon dioxide and water vapor from the air and produces oxygen and refrigerant.

You can read all about it here

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Navy Green Hornet Goes Supersonic with Biofuel

The author of this article, John Croft, was kind enough to let me copy his article.  You can find his original article by clicking here.

The US Navy marked "Earth Day" today with a M1.2 supersonic demonstration of a "Green" F/A-18 Super Hornet using a 50/50 mixture of JP-8 jet fuel and biofuel developed in part by Honeywell subsidiary UOP.

The flight, out of the Navy's Patuxent River location, was the first of 15 flight demonstrations and 23 flight hours through mid-June that will be used to certify the 50/50 mix. The 45-minute flight was also the first flight of a supersonic jet with afterburners using a biofuel blend, says the Navy.

Preliminary results from test show that there was no difference in engine performance metrics attributable to the fuel mix, officials say.

Once the entire flight envelope is cleared for the F/A-18's GE F414 engine, the Navy plans to expand its certification efforts to other Navy and Marine Corps aircraft and Navy tactical systems.

The UOP process converts the raw camelina oil, which in this case was produced by Seattle-based Sustainable Oils from the inedible camelina plant, into a renewable fuel through a hydro-treatment at a facility in Texas. The renewable fuel portion, which does not have the aromatics associated with petroleum derived fuels, must be mixed with JP-8 to prevent damage to certain seals and other engine components, says a UOP spokewoman.

UOP is under contract to US Defense Energy Support Center to produce for the Air Force and Navy 600,000 gallons of hydro-treated jet fuel delivered by seven vendors using a variety of feedstock, including camelina, animal fats and algae.

The Air Force in March successfully performed the first flight of an A-10 Thunderbolt II using the camelina mixture.

UOP's "Green Jet Fuel" process technology was originally developed in 2007 under a contract from the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to produce renewable jet fuel for the US military.

Little Homestead in the City

Check out the new link to "Little Homestead in the City."  This website and blog follows the Dervaes family which raises nearly all of their food on 1/4 of an acre of land in urban Pasadena, CA...just adjacent to a freeway entrance.  Through raising fruits, vegetables, bees, goats, and chickens, all in this small space, the family is nearly entirely self-sufficient.  This includes living off the utility grid in the house and using recycled cooking oil from area restaurants to fuel their vehicles.

Link to pic of the bio-diesal processor:

Virginia Joins Coalition for Atlantic Wind Farms

From the Tidewater, Virginia Virginian Pilot newspaper
By Julian Walker

The Virginian-Pilot

© June 9, 2010

With new offshore drilling on hold as a result of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is backing another federal effort to promote energy production.

McDonnell and governors in nine other states have joined an effort organized by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to promote, coordinate and expedite the development of offshore wind facilities along the Outer Continental Shelf in the Atlantic Ocean.

Other members of the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium are Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and North Carolina.

Virginia will be home to a regional renewable energy office, though officials said a site hasn't been identified.

"Appropriate development of... wind power will enhance regional and national security and create American jobs," Salazar said Tuesday in a statement about the partnership.

As much as one-fifth of the nation's electricity could come from wind in the next 20 years if it is effectively harnessed, he said.

Salazar presented the consortium idea to McDonnell and other officials during a February meeting in the nation's capital.

All Atlantic Coast states were invited to join the group, whose members are to produce an initial report with goals and recommendations within the next month.

McDonnell, a strong supporter of offshore drilling, said in a statement that he has "long advocated an 'all of the above' approach to our energy needs." He called the consortium "a major step forward" for Virginia.

The announcement comes more than a month after Salazar approved a permit for offshore wind facilities near Cape Cod, Mass., a potentially groundbreaking project that the secretary has said could be the first of many similar ventures.

News of the consortium was welcomed by environmental advocate Eileen Levandoski, Hampton Roads coordinator for the Sierra Club, who hopes it will allow for quicker approvals of offshore wind projects that are "commercially viable right now."

Julian Walker, (804) 697-1564,

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

George Jetson...Where's my Flying Car?

Green Energy IS the wave of the future.  Back in the 20th century, the focus was on "Better Living Through Chemicals."  Man-made materials were thought to be the solution to everything; synthetic fabric; the invention of convenience foods like cake mix and canned soup; DDT pesticide; bigger, souped up gas guzzling carse; tc.  Who would think that the most "modern" thing we can do is go back to windmill energy in the 21st century? We've learned that the by-products of man-made materials had consequences that no one thought about during the Baby Boomer 1950's. 

In an interesting article called "Miracles You'll See"  from the February 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine, scientists made some predictions about what the world would be like in 2000. Here are some of the predictions:

An airport is the hub of each town, with concentric circles beyond it housing factories, businesses, hotels, and then residential areas.   (We love jet noise and be sure that folks are as far away from possible from work to use even more gas!)

No one burns coal and all factories burn gas, which is produced in sealed mines.  (We've been lazy with energy innovation.  60 years later and we're still burning coal.)

Housing is cheap, with a typical house costing $5,000, including furnishings. (Don't we wish!)

To clean the interior of your home, you turn on a hose that dispenses detergent with the water. This is possible because everything in the house is made of synthetic fabric or waterproof plastic. The water runs down a drain in the middle of the floor and you dry the house with blasts of hot air.   (We'll swiffer.)

Electronic intelligence is integrated into industrial production and machines are run by this intelligence so you don't need many humans on the production lines. (Amazingly true.)

Weather forecasting is accurate and storms can be controlled by man. (Nope.)

Facsimile systems are used to send documents and it takes only a minute to receive a five page letter. (Spot on.)

Antibiotics are no longer needed because chemists have discovered the molecular structure of viruses and other diseases and can easily cure them.  (over use of antibiotics has created "super virus" strains resistent to current medication.)

TVs are attached to phone lines so people can talk and see each other at the same time and people do much of their shopping on television. (Skype and QVC anyone?)

Businessmen have television conferences. (Yep, all the time.)

Scientists have figured out how to change sawdust and wood pulp into sugary foods and create candy from paper table linen and rayon underwear. (Uh, not so much)
Okay, we'll pass on hosing down the house and eating underwear candy.

Thanks to ACS Technologies for some of the information in this post.