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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

QinetiQ North America Sends Unmanned Systems to Japan

It is a sad and shocking thing to read reports about the Fukushima 50, those workers at Japan's stricken nuclear power facility who have already received lethal doses of radiation. They continue to return to the site so they can save the lives of their countrymen. So tragic and maddenly sad that there were no robotic devices to do the work now killing these men. Hopefully, the machines detailed below will arrive on station in time to keep other workers from the necessity to sacrifice themselves as well.

Reston, VA (Vocus/PRWEB) March 28, 2011

QinetiQ North America today announced that the government of Japan has accepted its offer to provide unmanned vehicle equipment and associated training to aid in Japan’s natural disaster recovery efforts. QinetiQ North America’s technology and services will allow Japan’s response teams to accomplish critical and complex recovery tasks at a safer distance from hazardous debris and other dangerous conditions.

The equipment being staged in Japan for rapid, on-call deployment includes QinetiQ North America’s Robotic Appliqué Kits, which turn Bobcat loaders into unmanned vehicles in just 15 minutes. The kits permit remote operation of all 70 Bobcat vehicle attachments, such as shovels, buckets, grapples, tree cutters and tools to break through walls and doors. The unmanned Bobcat loaders include seven cameras, night vision, thermal imagers, microphones, two-way radio systems and radiation sensors, and can be operated from more than a mile away to safely remove rubble and debris, dig up buried objects and carry smaller equipment.

QinetiQ North America is also staging TALON and Dragon Runner robots in Japan in the event they are needed. TALON robots have previously withstood rigorous deployment and twice daily decontamination at Ground Zero. The TALON robots are equipped with CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive) detection kits that can identify more than 7,500 environmental hazards including toxic industrial chemicals, volatile gases, radiation and explosive risks, as well as temperature and air quality indicators. The TALON robots provide night vision and sound and sensing capabilities from up to 1,000 meters away.

QinetiQ North America’s lightweight Dragon Runner robots, designed for use in small spaces, will be available for investigating rubble piles, trenches, culverts and tunnels. Thermal cameras and sound sensors on the Dragon Runners can provide data from up to 800 meters away, permitting the robot’s “eyes and ears” to serve in spaces too small or dangerous for human access.

In addition to the unmanned equipment, a team of QinetiQ North America technical experts will provide training and support to Japan’s disaster response personnel.

“We are honored to have this opportunity to support Japan’s recovery efforts,” said QinetiQ North America Technology Solutions Group President JD Crouch. “Our unmanned vehicles will provide reliable, effective, first responder technology to help protect the brave men and women who are working to save lives and restore critical services.”

QinetiQ North America is a world leader in robotic technology solutions that save lives in defense, security and first responder environments. For more information, follow us on Facebook at or Twitter at

About QinetiQ North America
QinetiQ North America delivers world-class technology, responsive services, and innovative solutions for global markets, focusing on US government and commercial customers. More than 6,000 QinetiQ North America engineers, scientists and other professionals deliver high quality products and services that leverage detailed mission knowledge and proven, reliable tools and methodologies to meet the rapidly changing demands of national defense, homeland security and information assurance customers. Headquartered in McLean, Virginia, QinetiQ North America had annual revenues of more than $1 billion in the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2010. QinetiQ North America is part of QinetiQ Group PLC (LSE:QQ). For more information, please visit

Jennifer Pickett
QinetiQ North America
Technology Solutions Group
703.480.0715 (m) 703.217.7781

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sustainable Plant: DOE Launches ‘America's Next Top Energy Innovator’

Do you think that starting a business to market a new product requires vast amounts of research and development? What if somebody has already done that for you? Instead of investing millions to create something new, what if you could pay $1,000 for the license to market a new idea from the Department of Energy?
There are 15,000 new patents or patent applications "floating around" the 17 national laboratories and they are not hitting the market! Sustainable Plant reports on a new initiative this coming May that might just be the thing for a budding entreprenuer.

DOE Launches ‘America's Next Top Energy Innovator’ By Sustainable Plant Staff March 30, 2011 03:29:37 pm

As part of the Obama Administration's Startup America Initiative, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the "America's Next Top Energy Innovator" challenge, which will give start-up companies the opportunity to license groundbreaking technologies developed by the National Laboratories for $1,000 and build successful businesses. As part of this effort, the Department is reducing both the cost and paperwork requirements for start-up companies to obtain an option agreement to license some of the 15,000 patents and patent applications held by the 17 U.S. National Laboratories.

"America's entrepreneurs and innovators are the best in the world," said Chu. "Today, we're challenging them to create new businesses based on discoveries made by our world-leading national laboratories. Because we've cut the upfront fees and reduced the paperwork, we'll make it easier for start-up companies to succeed and create the new jobs our economy needs. Our goal is simple: unleash America's innovation machine and win the global race for the clean energy jobs of the future."

Currently, only about 10 percent of federal patents have been licensed to be commercialized. This initiative aims to double the number of startup companies coming out of the National Laboratories.

Specifically, as part of "America's Next Top Energy Innovator:

1. On Monday, May 2, 2011, the department will kick off the challenge by posting a streamlined template option agreement online for entrepreneurs to submit to Laboratories. Entrepreneurs must identify the technology of interest and submit a business plan to be considered for the program. Participants will have until December 15 to make their submission to the laboratory.

2. Any of the 15,000 unlicensed patents and patent applications held by the national laboratories will be available for licensing by startup companies.

3. From May 2 to December 15, the department will reduce the total upfront cost of licensing DOE patents in a specific technology to a $1,000 upfront fee for portfolios of up to three patents. This represents a savings of $10,000 to $50,000 on average in upfront fees.

4. Other license terms, such as equity and royalties, will be negotiated on a case-by-case basis and will typically be due once the company grows and achieves wide-scale commercial success. These fees help support the department's continuing research activities to develop new technologies.

5. The department will simplify the licensing process and establish a standard set of terms for start-ups, who generally lack the resources, time or expertise to negotiate individual licensing agreements. This will significantly reduce both the time and cost required to process the license, allowing faster access to the department's patents and enabling the department to process more licenses in a shorter amount of time.

Remember, for every dollar that you don't have to spend in R&D, there's that much available for production and marketing. Money can be very ecologically friendly... it's already green!

Monday, March 28, 2011

UCLA researchers, colleagues at U.S. Energy Dept. make breakthrough in biofuel production

Story from UCLA Newsroom

By Wileen Wong Kromhout March 08, 2011 Category: Research

In the quest for inexpensive biofuels, cellulose proved no match for a bioprocessing strategy and genetically engineered microbe developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center.

Using consolidated bioprocessing, a team led by UCLA's James Liao for the first time produced isobutanol directly from cellulose. The team's work, published online in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, represents across-the-board savings in processing costs and time. In addition, isobutanol is a higher grade of alcohol than ethanol.

"Unlike ethanol, isobutanol can be blended at any ratio with gasoline and should eliminate the need for dedicated infrastructure in tanks or vehicles," said Liao, the Chancellor's Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. "Plus, it may be possible to use isobutanol directly in current engines without modification."

Compared to ethanol, higher alcohols such as isobutanol are better candidates for gasoline replacement because they have an energy density, octane value and Reid vapor pressure — a measurement of volatility — that is much closer to gasoline, Liao said.

While cellulosic biomass like corn stover and switchgrass is abundant and cheap, it is much more difficult to utilize than corn and sugar cane. This is due in large part because of recalcitrance, or a plant's natural defenses to being chemically dismantled.

Adding to the complexity is the fact biofuel production that involves several steps — pretreatment, enzyme treatment and fermentation — is more costly than a method that combines biomass utilization and the fermentation of sugars to biofuel into a single process.

To make the conversion possible, Liao, UCLA postdoctoral researcher Wendy Higashide, and Yongchao Li and Yunfeng Yang of Oak Ridge National Laboratory had to develop a strain of Clostridium celluloyticum, a native cellulose-degrading microbe, that could synthesize isobutanol directly from cellulose.

"This work is based on our earlier work at UCLA in building a synthetic pathway for isobutanol production," Liao said. While some Clostridium species produce butanol, these organisms typically do not digest cellulose directly. Other Clostridium species digest cellulose but do not produce butanol. None produce isobutanol, an isomer of butanol. "In nature, no microorganisms have been identified that possess all of the characteristics necessary for the ideal consolidated bioprocessing strain, so we knew we had to genetically engineer a strain for this purpose," Li said.

While there were many possible microbial candidates, the research team ultimately chose Clostridium cellulolyticum, which was originally isolated from decayed grass. The researchers noted that their strategy exploits the host's natural cellulolytic activity and the amino acid biosynthetic pathway and diverts its intermediates to produce higher alcohol than ethanol.

The researchers also noted that Clostridium cellulolyticum has been genetically engineered to improve ethanol production, and this has led to additional, more detailed research. Clostridium cellulolyticum has a sequenced genome available through the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute. This proof-of-concept research sets the stage for studies that will likely involve genetic manipulation of other consolidated bioprocessing microorganisms.

This work was supported in part by the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and by the UCLA–DOE Institute for Genomics and Proteomics. The BESC is one of three bioenergy research centers established by the Energy Department's Office of Science in 2007. The centers support multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research teams pursuing the fundamental scientific breakthroughs needed to make production of cellulosic biofuels, or biofuels from non-food plant fiber, cost-effective on a national scale. The centers are led by ORNL, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, in partnership with Michigan State University. The University of Tennessee–Battelle manages ORNL for the DOE's Office of Science.

The UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, established in 1945, offers 28 academic and professional degree programs and has an enrollment of almost 5,000 students. The school's distinguished faculty are leading research to address many of the critical challenges of the 21st century, including renewable energy, clean water, health care, wireless sensing and networking, and cybersecurity. Ranked among the top 10 engineering schools at public universities nationwide, the school is home to seven multimillion-dollar interdisciplinary research centers in wireless sensor systems, nanoelectronics, nanomedicine, renewable energy, customized computing, and the smart grid, all funded by federal and private agencies.

Friday, March 25, 2011

NASA plans sun-energy project on Wallops Island, VA

I grew up farming. Cultivating land gives you a unique appreciation for the lowly acre. According to, the term “acre” is “from the Old English æcer, which as early as 1000 A.D. had come to be used for referring to a particular measured area of agricultural land (as much as a pair of oxen could plow in one day).” Modern agriculture has vastly expanded the amount of ground a farmer can till. My father and I could cover an 80 acre plot of ground in one day.

So what does that mean to alternative energy?

The Virginian-Pilot reports:

“NASA announced plans Thursday to develop a solar-energy facility that would meet part of the energy needs at its Wallops Island Flight Facility. The project, to be built in stages, would have as many as 80 acres of solar panels.”

Let me give you some perspective. A section is one square mile or 640 acres. A quarter section is therefore 160 acres, or ½ mile x ½ mile. Half of that (80 acres) forms a rectangle of ¼ mile x ½ mile, a significant amount of space.

The entire project, when completed, will supply energy equivalent to the needs of 850 homes. According to ( ), the average power consumption per home is 8,900 kW/hrs per year. A little arithmetic reveals that over a one-year period, 7,565,000 kW/hrs (7,565 MW/hrs) will be generated. That breaks down to 630.4 MW/hrs each month.

The full text of the article follows:

NASA plans sun-energy project on Eastern Shore
By Tom Shean
The Virginian-Pilot
© March 25, 2011

NASA announced plans Thursday to develop a solar-energy facility that would meet part of the energy needs at its Wallops Island Flight Facility. The project, to be built in stages, would have as many as 80 acres of solar panels.

As part of its alternative-energy project at Wallops Island, it also plans to install two residential-scale wind turbines capable of generating 2.4 kilowatts, NASA said. One turbine would be built near the NASA visitor center and one near the entrance gate and security-guard station at the Eastern Shore facility.

NASA said it expects the electricity output to alleviate rising utility costs at its Wallops Island facility and enable the agency to meet energy-conservation requirements imposed by the Federal Energy Policy Act. When complete, the project would generate enough electricity to supply about 850 typical American homes, it said.

NASA said its alternative-energy plan for Wallops Island no longer calls for installing the two utility-scale wind turbines that it proposed earlier. These were dropped, it said, because of concerns that agencies and organizations expressed about the potential impact on birds and bats.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

3M Awarded $4.4M to Develop Ultra Barrier Solar Film

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), 3M has been awarded $4.4 million by the DOE SunShot Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to reduce total costs of photovoltaic (PV) installations by 75% in order to be cost-competitive with other sources of energy. Funds will be disbursed to 3M over a 3-year period.

So, what is 3M going to be doing with this money? The company will accelerate development and marketing of their Ultra Barrier Solar Film. During this time, 3M will be working with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) outside Denver, Colorado to demonstrate performance and reliability.

So what is this film used for? The intent is to substitute glass with a flexible film. Why is this important? Well, there are a few difficulties with traditional glass:

- Glass is heavy. Care must be used to prevent overloading of a rooftop installation.
- Glass is rigid and inflexible (reminds me of some people I know).
- Glass-covered PV arrays are limited in their size to make them manageable for transport and installation.

How is Ultra Barrier Film better than glass? According to 3M:

- Ultra Barrier Solar Film requires less installation time.
- It removes the need for metal racking (installed to keep glass PV arrays from overheating and providing the perfect hiding place for your kid’s frisbee).
- By reducing logistics expenditures (logistics… think UPS). It weighs less, is flexible, and therefore less expensive to transport.
- The film allows manufacturers to commercialize large area modules, effectively reducing fixed costs associated with module manufacturing, assembled in a continuous roll-to-roll process.
- An effective film barrier would allow for permanent installation of inexpensive, light-weight PV arrays that are flexible and follow the contours of the surface they are attached to.

The reason that glass is used in the first place is to keep dirt and moisture out while allowing the maximum amount of light to reach the semi-conductor material. 3M claims that Ultra Barrier Solar Film has “high light transmission, superb moisture barrier performance, and excellent weatherability”. Weatherability must include resistance to ultraviolet (UV) rays that are well-known to degrade plastic over time. To be truly effective, a homeowner will expect his or her array to last as long as the mortgage (up to 30 years).

Moisture is troublesome if it gets inside a PV array. The stated performance for Ultra Barrier Solar Film is “moisture vapor transmission rates (MVTR) below 5 * 10-4 g/m2/day”.

OK… so what is that?

10-4 is another way of saying 0.0001, so the amount of vapor transmitted through this film is 0.0005 grams (a gram is about the weight of one paper clip) of water over one square meter (a meter is 3.3 feet) per day. In other words, it would take 10,000 days (27 years and 3 months) for 5 paper clips worth of water to accumulate over a 10 square foot area). That’s pretty dry.

Will the reality match the hype? I’ll let you know in a couple of years when I will be reporting from my local hardware store.