When we think of advanced technology vehicles, we usually conjure hybrid electric, fuel-cell, and solar cars. But the term, in fact, encompasses a wide-variety of off-the-wall designs including our most fundamental resource- air. Compressed air, as a technology, is nothing new. Seen in everything from power dusters to UPS’s, compressed air has a wide scope of application. But as an ATV variant, compressed air is relatively new (and unproven). French-based Motor Development International (MDI) has, since 1991, taken the lead in creating a viable air-powered vehicle.
A new technology aims to extract energy from that which covers 75% of the Earth— water. Michigan-based Vortex Hydro Energy is researching the natural motion of ocean currents; in particular, how currents interact with cylinders. Take offshore oil rigs, for example. When water impacts the cables that hold the platforms in place, it creates small vortices. When each vortex dissipates, it creates a vibration that poses a long-term risk to the rig’s structural integrity. But ocean engineer Michael Bernitsas, founder of Vortex Hydro, believes these vortices can be harnessed.
Regular Efficiency Zone readers know that photovoltaics is a very inefficient technology. While the technology is environmentally-friendly, and the energy source (the sun) will be viable for billions of years, the conversion process (and viability) is undercut by a number of factors. These include shade, dirt, and panel-to-panel mismatch. In addition, detractors of the technology point to its high cost, but this is a socio-economic factor that won’t be solved by science alone. But scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have made a huge technological leap.
Registration is now open for Premier Farnell’s green event, “Designing for Energy Efficiency,” to be held at the online venue, Live EDGE EcoSphere, on October 15. This coincides with the design competition, “Live EDGE – Electronic Design for the Global Environment.” For the latter, entrants have until January 31, 2009 to submit environmental technologies, with the winner of the student and open/general competitions each receiving a cool $25,000. The online event, “Designing for Energy Efficiency,” will showcase green technologies from such manufacturers as National Semiconductor, Vishay Intertechnology, and Ohmite Manufacturing.
Bicycling is generally considered one of the most efficient forms of transportation. In many countries (particularly ones where the average income precludes weekly gasoline fill-ups), the bike is the primary mode of transport. Yet for a variety of reasons, the bike has yet to catch on in this country as a viable means of transportation. Schwinn could adjust the paradigm with its new Toshiba-powered Tailwind electric bike. Schwinn, a constant fixture in the bicycling industry since 1895, is no stranger to the E-bike market. Their current lineup, including the Continental, World GSE, and Campus, gets 40-60 miles on a 4 hour charge (decent stats for the E-bike market), and costs anywhere from $1,480 to $2,080.
From September 17-18, the Marriott Hotel in San Jose hosted the first annual Embedded Power Conference, focusing on “increasing power-management issues.” I attended this inaugural event, and it was well worth the price of admission (press get in free). Seriously though, it was a great first effort, and will fill a void in the industry. Embedded Power was comprised of over 20 lectures, classes, and discussions. The highlight (in this humble editor’s opinion) was a panel moderated by ECN’s skipper, Alix Paultre. Entitled “Open-Source vs. Proprietary Methodologies in Digital Power Management,” the panel addressed a hot industry topic in a town hall format.
In a recent beer commercial, a woman asks for a low-calorie beer, and the host proceeds to spill out half the bottle, and hand it to her. In similar fashion the EPA believes that, through the use of add-ons, one can improve the innate efficiency of legacy technologies. In reference to their new Energy Star “technical amendment,” the EPA’s Lightning Program Manager, Alex Baker, told me, “With this approach, the Program currently has nearly 12,000 qualified fixtures from more than 120 manufacturing Partners…even incandescent technologies (the latter only allowed when used with a motion sensor to minimize operating time)” (emphasis mine).
The inherent weakness of any portable device is its isolation from a constant power source, such as electricity. Thus, battery technology has evolved alongside the iPod and laptop computer. But batteries themselves are inefficient, because they either deplete themselves, or in the case of rechargeables, require electricity supplied from a power grid. But what if you could harness the energy produced by the natural motion of the human body? Bionic Power is endeavoring to accomplish that with its “Biomechanical Energy Harvester.”
On August 14th, 2008, The Mathworks held the kick-off to “EcoCAR,” a collegiate advanced technology vehicle competition (ATVC). EcoCAR’s subtitle (“The NeXt Challenge”) says it all- this is the spiritual successor to “Challenge X,” a similarly-themed ATVC contest that, last year, ended with Mississippi State University taking home the gold. In speaking with personnel from the DOE, The Mathworks, and GM (all event sponsors), I concluded that the biggest obstacle to ATV’s greater viability is a lack of young, qualified engineers.
According to Doug Ramsey of UC San Diego, “The information technology industry consumes as much energy and has roughly the same ‘carbon footprint’ as the airline industry.” This is because of the unparalleled growth in high-speed electronic equipment, and the corresponding electricity requirements. Not only is energy necessary for the systems themselves, but as IT equipment blossoms, so does their cooling requirements. It’s an implacable scenario that currently plagues the IT industry. Similar to hipster environmentalist celebrities who globe-trot on private jets, how do you conduct scientific research into efficiency issues when your investigative process gobbles up energy?
“Quad A” may soon become part of the common vernacular. Although the AAAA battery (or Quad A) has been commercially available since 1989, it’s mostly been a niche product, difficult to find on shelves. But with consumer electronics moving towards smaller, more lightweight devices, with decreasing power requirements, the battery industry is adapting. Quad A has long been an internal industry standard for 9 V batteries (6 Quad A’s linked together, each generating 1.5 V, equals 9 V), but it could soon displace the AAA as the battery of choice for portable electronics.
Ayn Rand, one of capitalism’s greatest proponents, once said, “I am an innovator. This is a term of distinction, a term of honor, rather than something to hide or apologize for. Anyone who has new or valuable ideas to offer stands outside the intellectual status quo.” Governmental interference in private enterprise is always disastrous. What’s worse is when innovation is stifled by bureaucratic finagling and pc notions of impartiality (or as some would say, preventing a “competitive disadvantage”). You can’t give a chimp a skateboard and call him Tony Hawk.
Advanced technology vehicles are the wave of the future, but they aren’t the elegant solutions advocates posit them as. The conservation of one resource inevitably comes at the expense of another resource. A report by Carey W. King and Michael E. Webber of the University of Texas suggests that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) will place a strain on the nation’s freshwater resources. The research compares miles driven with a conventional internal combustion engine vs. a PHEV.
A Swiss Academic Study, “The 2000 Watt Society,” is gaining a lot of traction in the environmental movement. First developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the latest treatise ("Smarter Living") was coordinated by Novatlantis, and is an urgent call to action. In short, it proposes an overall reduction in energy consumption to the world-wide average of 2,000 watts per capita by the year 2050. Naturally, the US bears the brunt of the scorn.
In 1839, French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the “photovoltaic” effect, or the natural phenomenon which allows the conversion of solar into electrical energy. Over the next 150 years, this inexorably led to solar-powered satellites, solar cars, and solar-panel technology for domestic use. Among their many strengths, financial savings (after the initial investment), environmental conservation, and minimal upkeep, solar panels always suffered weaknesses inherent in a technology that relies on a giant ball of ionized gas 150 million kilometers away.