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

Monday, July 26, 2010

Nanotech coatings produce 20 times more electricity from sewage

Press release from Oregon State University:

7-21-10Media Release

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Engineers at Oregon State University have made a significant advance toward producing electricity from sewage, by the use of new coatings on the anodes of microbial electrochemical cells that increased the electricity production about 20 times.

The findings, just published online in Biosensors and Bioelectronics, a professional journal, bring the researchers one step closer to technology that could clean biowaste at the same time it produces useful levels of electricity – a promising new innovation in wastewater treatment and renewable energy.

Engineers found that by coating graphite anodes with a nanoparticle layer of gold, the production of electricity increased 20 times. Coatings with palladium produced an increase, but not nearly as much. And the researchers believe nanoparticle coatings of iron – which would be a lot cheaper than gold – could produce electricity increases similar to that of gold, for at least some types of bacteria.

“This is an important step toward our goal,” said Frank Chaplen, an associate professor of biological and ecological engineering. “We still need some improvements in design of the cathode chamber, and a better understanding of the interaction between different microbial species. But the new approach is clearly producing more electricity.”

In this technology, bacteria from biowaste such as sewage are placed in an anode chamber, where they form a biofilm, consume nutrients and grow, in the process releasing electrons. In this context, the sewage is literally the fuel for electricity production.

In related technology, a similar approach may be able to produce hydrogen gas instead of electricity, with the potential to be used in hydrogen fuel cells that may power the automobiles of the future. In either case, the treatment of wastewater could be changed from an energy-consuming technology into one that produces usable energy.

Researchers in the OSU College of Engineering and College of Agricultural Sciences, including Hong Liu, an assistant professor of biological and ecological engineering, are national leaders in development of this technology, which could significantly reduce the cost of wastewater treatment in the United States. It might also find applications in rural areas or developing nations, where the lack of an adequate power supply makes wastewater treatment impractical. It may be possible to create sewage treatment plants that are completely self-sufficient in terms of energy usage.

The technology already works on a laboratory basis, researchers say, but advances are necessary to lower its cost, improve efficiency and electrical output, and identify the lowest cost materials that can be used.

This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.

“Recent advances in nanofabrication provide a unique opportunity to develop efficient electrode materials due to the remarkable structural, electrical and chemical properties of nanomaterials,” the researchers wrote in their report. “This study demonstrated that nano-decoration can greatly enhance the performance of microbial anodes.”

About Oregon State University: OSU is one of only two U.S. universities designated a land-, sea-, space- and sun-grant institution. OSU is also Oregon’s only university designated in the Carnegie Foundation’s top tier for research institutions, garnering more than 60 percent of the total federal and private research funding in the Oregon University System. Its enrollment of nearly 22,000 students come from all 50 states and more than 90 nations. OSU programs touch every county within Oregon, and its faculty teach and conduct research on issues of national and global importance.

Food or Fuel... How About Both?

A great source of contention in the alternative energy field is the argument of "food or fuel". The argument goes something like this... There are finite resources available for the production of biomass and biofuel. Utilizing these resources removes arable land from food production, increasing the strain on the world food supply and increasing hunger. But, what if you can do both as the same time?

PetroAlgae is "a Florida-based leading renewable energy company, licenses a commercial micro-crop technology system that enables the production of green diesel and a high-value protein food source in an environmentally beneficial manner." The co-product of this process is a highly adaptable protein powder that can supplement and fortify animal feeds and human food processing. Therefore, this company can reduce our reliance on foreign oil without negatively impacting our food supply.

Foster-Wheeler has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with PetroAlgae for engineering services that will allow for an unprecedented level of biofuel production. Additionally, the algae-derived oil will be refined into traditional petroleum products (e.g. kerosene, gasoline, and jet fuel) in addition to biodiesel.

Check out their videos at:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Geothermal Technology Could Tap 120,000MW of Energy

New to me... this article first ran in 2008:

On August 22nd, Raser Technologies and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson broke ground on New Mexico’s first geothermal power plant. Situated at Lightning Dock near Animas, the new plant will incorporate an innovative binary liquid technology that allows it to make use of the site’s low levels of geothermal energy. If more of these modular plants are built then they could be mobilized to take advantage of over 120,000 MW of untapped low-temp geothermal energy across the US.
The project will be one of the first geothermal plants in the nation to incorporate the new breed of low-temperature technology featured in Raser’s proprietary modular power plants. Each individual generation unit is manufactured off-site, delivered to the location, and rapidly installed to create, in essence, a geothermal farm with multiple 450 kW units. Raser Technologies anticipates the first 10 MW of power generation will be online by early next year (2009). Phase II of the project will add another 15 MW of power, for a total of 25 MW, which is enough to power nearly fifteen thousand homes.

Thank you to and Bridgette Steffen who wrote the piece. The original posting may be found at

Monday, July 19, 2010

During peak demand, Navy bases generate own power

Published on (


Eight local Navy installations produced 35 megawatts of their own electricity Wednesday - less than half of what they typically pull from the power grid - as part of a new program to reduce power consumption during times of peak usage.

Bases, including Norfolk Naval Station, Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, Oceana Naval Air Station, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek and Norfolk Naval Shipyard, typically draw power from an electrical grid that serves several states on the East Coast.

Last year, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic signed a contract with PJM Interconnection to reduce the amount of power those bases take from the grid at times of peak demand. Wednesday, with a heat wave causing triple- digit temperatures in the Northeast, the bases executed the contract for the first time, according to Navy spokesman Tom Kreidel.

The 35 megawatts the bases produced is enough to power 35,000 homes, Kreidel said.
The Navy's contract with PJM could require 10 such curtailments per year. In return for reducing its impact, the Navy could receive up to $2 million a year in credits.

Kate Wiltrout, (757) 446-2629,

Sunday, July 18, 2010

From earth2tech: TerraPower: How The Traveling Wave Nuclear Reactor Works

The following is a February 15th article from Katie Fehrenbacher reports on TerraPower and Bill Gate's project on micronuclear power:

When Microsoft Chairman and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates mentioned TerraPower in his speech at the exclusive tech conference TED last week, it was the first time that many had heard of the nuclear project. I was monitoring Twitter during Gates' talk and ma ny audience members at TED tweeted wondering why "TerraPower" was getting special attention in a speech from one of the most famous computer technologists of all time.

Well, first off TerraPower is a nuclear spinoff project from incubator Intellectual Ventures. Former Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold founded Intellectual Ventures, and Bill Gates is a principal owner of TerraPower. TerraPower uses a "traveling wave reactor design," which is technology that has been researched since the 1990's, but according to MIT Tech Review TerraPower is the first company to "develop a practical design," for traveling wave nuclear reactors.

There's been a lot written about TerraPower over the past few years, and the company has done a good job of explaining how traveling wave reactors work in these videos on its incubator webiste ( TerraPower's President John Gilleland explains the process in one video as a new type of nuclear reactor that can provide an infinite amount of power, and unlike the current reactor design that uses only enriched uranium for fuel, TerraPower's reactor largely uses waste byproduct of that enrichment process, or waste uranium.

TerraPower uses a small amount of enriched uranium at the beginning of the process (see slides at the bottom of the post), but then the nuclear reactor runs on the waste product and can make and consume its own fuel. The benefits are that the reactor doesn't have to be refueled or have its waste removed until the end of life of the reactor (theoretically a couple hundred years). Using waste uranium reduces the amount of waste in the overall nuclear life cycle, and extends the available supply of the world's uranium for nuclear by many times.

Not surprisingly, with its Microsoft connection, TerraPower has leaned heavily on supercomputing to design and model the reactor and the lifecycle of the fuel. the TerraPower team is using "1,024 Xeon core processors assembled on 128 blade servers," which is a cluster of that is "0ver 1000 times the computational ability as a desktop computer." On Intellectual Venture's site, the explain the importance of computer modelling as:

"Extensive computer simulations and engineering studies produced new evidence that a wave of fission moving slowly through a fuel core could generate a billion watts of electricity continuously for well over 50 to 100 years, without enrichment or reprocessing. The hi-fidelity results made possible by advanced computational abilities of modern supercomputer clusters are the driving force behind one of the most active nuclear reactor design teams in the country."

How close to reality is this technology? According to this presentation by Gilleland (, "operation of a traveling wave reactor can be demonstrated in less than ten years, and commercial deployment can begin in less than fifteen years."

So, that's what Gates was talking about.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Alternative Energy in Transportation

Propane School Bus Fleet Launched in Gloucester County, Virginia
Some lucky students in Virginia are now enjoying a cleaner ride to school. Gloucester County Public Schools re­cently launched the state’s first propane school bus fleet.

“Using propane-powered school buses is a step in the right direction to significantly decrease vehicle emis­sions and improve the air quality for our students,” says Roger Kelly, director of transportation for Glouces­ter County Public Schools. “We are excited to be involved in this clean school bus initiative.”

And cleaner air isn’t the only benefit the five propane buses offer. Gloucester County Public Schools estimates they will save about $1.50 per gallon in fuel costs and more in maintenance costs due to the cleaner engine and pro­longed oil change intervals.

“We are pleased and impressed with the forward thinking and actions of the Gloucester County School Board and administration,” says Chelsea Jenkins, director of Virginia Clean Cities. “The propane school buses are providing opportunities for students and the community to observe and learn first-hand about alternative transpor-tation technologies.”

Virginia Clean Cities worked with Gloucester County Public Schools to develop the project, and was contract­ed by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Air Management Association to assist with project management.

A $221,355 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Clean Diesel Program funded half of the project and Gloucester County Public Schools funded the remaining amount.

From U.S. Dept. of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy magazine "Clean Cities Now", Vol. 14, No. 1, March 2010, pg. 10.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A new slant on harnessing the wind

The really wonderful thing about the field of alternative energy is that it taps the creative juices of so many people. As a result, things that are old become new again. Case in point is the windmill. Windmills have been around for hundreds of years. We can all remember pictures of the windmills of Holland in the background with a little Dutch girl in wooden shoes walking among a field of tulips. Very bucolic in a Euro-centric sort of way.

However, this age-old method of harnessing the wind is only a shadow what what has come since. The western windmill that dotted the plains and prairies in the latter half of the 19th century was widely used to pump water for settlers, ranchers, and cattle. Early in the 20th century, "wind-jammers" brought electric light to those farmers who could afford this luxury before rural electrification.
The late 20th century saw the emergence of the now familiar three-bladed air foil wind turbine. This very effective design has been the defacto standard for the majority of wind-powered electrical generation. The practical limitation has been just how tall can you make the supporting tower.
One of my students recently sent me a link to a radical departure from the familiar bladed turbine. Instead of a supporting tower to gain the required altitude required for catching the best wind, this Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine (HAWT) uses impellers integrated into a lighter-than-air bag filled with helium. The advantage of this design is the ability to soar hundreds of feet higher than the towers it replaces without the engineering requirements to erect a tall structure. You can view this design at
Not satisfied with one design, our intrepid student submitted two more. The second design incorporates whatever roof peak line that might exist facing the prevailing winds. Inside a cowling is a horizontally oriented turbine whose blades are roughly the same length as the roofline. You can view this concept at

The last design is for a sea-going configuration of multiple turbines. The purpose of these turbines is not for delivering electricity to businesses and residences. These turbines are in place to produce hydrogen gas at a large scale for transport and delivery to those subscribers who need this clean-burning fuel to operate fuel cells, thus providing residential and business electricity. This concept can be viewed at