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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Powering Your Car with Waste Heat

Technology Review
May 25, 2011

At least two-thirds of the energy in gasoline used in cars and trucks is wasted as heat. Thermoelectrics, semiconductor materials that convert heat into electricity, could capture this waste heat, reducing the fuel needs of the vehicle and improving fuel economy by at least 5 percent. But the low efficiency and high cost of existing thermoelectric materials has kept such devices from becoming practical in vehicles.

Now researchers are assembling the first prototype thermoelectric generators for tests in commercial cars and SUVs. The devices are a culmination of several advances made independently at thermoelectric device-maker BSST in Irwindale, California, and at General Motors Global R&D in Warren, Michigan. Both companies plan to install and test their prototypes by the end of the summer—BSST in BMW and Ford cars, and GM in a Chevrolet SUV.

BSST is using new materials. Bismuth telluride, a common thermoelectric, contains expensive tellurium and works at temperatures of only up to 250 °C, whereas thermoelectric generators can reach 500 °C. So BSST is using another family of thermoelectrics—blends of hafnium and zirconium—that work well at high temperatures. This has increased the generator efficiency by about 40 percent.
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A Car Battery at Half the Price

Technology Review
May 25, 2011

Last year, the battery startup A123 Systems spun out another company, called 24M, to develop a new kind of battery meant to make electric vehicles go farther and cost less. Now a research paper published in Advanced Energy Materials reveals the first details about how that battery would work. It also addresses the challenges in bringing the battery to market.

A big problem with the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids is that only about 25 percent of the battery's volume is taken up by materials that store energy. The rest is made up of inactive materials, such as packaging, conductive foils, and glues, which make the batteries bulky and account for a significant part of the cost.

24M intends to greatly reduce the inactive material in a battery. According to estimates in the new paper, its batteries could achieve almost twice the energy densities of today's vehicle battery packs. Batteries with a higher energy density would be smaller and cheaper, which means electric and hybrid cars would be less expensive. The paper estimates that the batteries could cost as little as $250 per kilowatt hour—less than half what they cost now.

A Gas Power Plant to Make Renewables More Practical

Technology Review
May 27, 2011

General Electric announced on Thursday that it's designed a gas-fired combined-cycle power plant that can start up rapidly. The goal is to help electricity grids adapt to the variability of renewable energy.

With a small but growing proportion of electricity in Europe being supplied by wind and solar power, grid operators need new ways to deal with fluctuations in supply. The supply from solar drops dramatically at night, while wind installations only provide power when the wind is blowing. GE's new plant can ramp up electricity generation at a rate of more than 50 megawatts a minute twice the rate of current industry benchmarks. The plant can start from scratch in less than 30 minutes.

GE is testing a pilot plant at its facility in Greenville, South Carolina, but the plant won't come into operation any earlier than 2015.

The plant will have a base load fuel efficiency of 61 percent, higher than other gas combined-cycle power plants. A base load power plant is one that's dedicated to providing a continuous supply of energy. Nuclear and coal plants commonly provide base load power. Such plants offer relatively cheap energy, but they can take hours or days to start up, which isn't fast enough to meet fluctuations in supply from renewables.

Flexible films for photovoltaics

May 30, 2011

Displays that can be rolled up and flexible solar cells – both are potential future markets. Barrier layers that protect thin-film solar cells from oxygen and water vapor and thus increase their useful life are an essential component.

What do potato chips and thin-film solar cells have in common? Both need films that protect them from air and water vapor: the chips in order to stay fresh and crisp; the solar cells in order to have a useful life that is as long as possible. In most cases, glass is used to protect the active layers of the solar cells from environmental influences. Dr. Klaus Noller from the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising explains the advantages of a plastic film: “The films are considerably lighter – and flexible. They make new production processes possible that enable significant reductions in the cost of manufacturing a photovoltaic module.“ Instead of working with individual glass plates, the solar cells could be printed onto a plastic film and then encapsulated with the barrier film: photovoltaic modules on a roll.

Solar inverters: losses are cut in half

May 30, 2011

A switching trick makes it possible to cut the losses of a series-production inverter in half and increase the efficiency from 96 to 98 percent. The HERIC®-topology makes it possible to achieve a world-record efficiency of more than 99 percent.

It was a matter of minutes,« Dr. Heribert Schmidt remembers the day in spring of 2002. To find opportunities for improvement, he had often pondered about the switching plan of an inverter while in his office at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Freiburg, Germany. A sudden flash of inspiration – and a solution that was ingeniously simple came to his mind. He immediately went to get an inverter from the laboratory, laid a few new strips and installed two additional semiconductor switches. »Then it required only a little bit of work on the controls - and we already had the proof!« This is how the electrical engineer, who holds a doctorate in electrical engineering, described the revolutionary step in brief: the losses could be halved and the degree of effectiveness could be increased from 96 to 98 percent.

Merkel Will Scrap German Nuclear Plants by 2022 After Fukushima Disaster

May 30, 2011

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition endorsed a blueprint to shut its nuclear-power plants by 2022, repealing the law she pushed to extend the life of the reactors to become the biggest nation to exit atomic power.

EON AG and RWE AG (RWE), the two biggest utilities, led declines on the benchmark DAX stock index, with RWE falling to its lowest since December 2004 as the government retained a tax on spent fuel rods. Solar-power companies Q-Cells SE (QCE) and Solarworld AG (SWV)rallied.

The decision in the early morning hours today by coalition leaders in Berlin underscored Merkel’s flip-flop from a 2009 re- election promise to extend the life of nuclear reactors. She did her about-face after the March meltdown in Japan as the anti- nuclear Green Party gained in polls. Her party lost control of Baden-Wuerttemberg state to the Greens in March and finished behind them in a state election for the first time on May 22.

Brazil’s Vale gears up for rare earths

Financial Times
May 30, 2011

Vale, the world’s biggest iron ore producer, is gearing up to move into rare earth mining as Brazil tries to compete with China to supply some of the world’s most sought-after metallic elements, says Brazil’s science and technology minister, Aloizio Mercadante.

The government has met several industrial companies to line up customers for rare earths, a group of 17 elements which are primarily used to make components for such items as wind turbines, electric cars, and computer screens.

Japan to invest in quake-struck auto-parts industry

May 30, 2011

(FT) -- The state-backed Development Bank of Japan is setting up a fund that could be as large as $619m to help the country's auto-parts industry to recover from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Disruption to the auto supply chain caused the country's biggest disaster since the second world war has underscored just how important Japanese auto-parts makers are to domestic and global vehicle manufacturers, from General Motors to Toyota.

China talent has designs on smallest rooms

Financial Times
May 30, 2011

Luxury goods manufacturers have long tailored products from cars to jeans for affluent Chinese consumers. Now, Chinese tastes are beginning to influence the design of the products the rest of the world buys – including toilets.

Take the $6,400 “smart” toilet from Kohler, for example. The global plumbing fixtures company designed its top of the line “Numi” toilet in the US and China. While the Numi is targeted at US and Chinese consumers, it has several features inspired primarily by China’s entertainment- obsessed consumers – not to mention their cold loos.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Background: Developments that make a difference

Financial Times
May 19, 2011

The European Inventor Awards are a very visible riposte to those who regard the creation and protection of intellectual property as a boring, specialist activity of little interest to the general public.

Established by the European Patent Office in 2006, they aim to “give a face” to patents by honouring individual innovators with a prestigious prize, while raising awareness of the role of patents in promoting economic, social and technological progress.

The 15 finalists and five winners this year highlight a range of appealing developments that have made a difference to the lives of people around the world – and in the process made money for their inventors.

The winning innovations, announced in Budapest, Hungary, on Thursday involve strengthening concrete (in the industry category), burning biofuels (SMEs), identifying Alzheimer’s genes (research), implanting teeth (lifetime achievement) and disinfecting water (non-European). Four are profiled in separate articles.

Swiss researchers boost efficiency of flexible solar cells to new world record

Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology
May 19, 2011

Scientists at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, have further boosted the energy conversion efficiency of flexible solar cells made of copper indium gallium (di)selenide (also known as CIGS) to a new world record of 18.7% – a significant improvement over the previous record of 17.6% achieved by the same team in June 2010. The measurements have been independently certified by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Freiburg, Germany.

It's all about the money. To make solar electricity affordable on a large scale, scientists and engineers worldwide have long been trying to develop a low-cost solar cell, which is both highly efficient and easy to manufacture with high throughput. Now a team at Empa's Laboratory for Thin Film and Photovoltaics, led by Ayodhya N. Tiwari, has made a major step forward. "The new record value for flexible CIGS solar cells of 18.7% nearly closes the "efficiency gap" to solar cells based on polycrystalline silicon (Si) wafers or CIGS thin film cells on glass", says Tiwari. He is convinced that "flexible and lightweight CIGS solar cells with efficiencies comparable to the "best-in-class" will have excellent potential to bring about a paradigm shift and to enable low-cost solar electricity in the near future."

Two-dimensional graphene may lead to faster electronics, stronger spacecraft and much more

National Science Foundation
May 19, 2011

In the 19th century novel, Flatland, by Edward A. Abbott, residents of that fictional country exist in only two dimensions. Women are born as line segments, while men come in a range of geometric shapes reflecting their rank, from lowly isosceles triangles, to middle-class squares, to six-sided hexagons, reserved for nobility.

The constraints of life on a flat plane satirically reflect the rigid Victorian class structure of Abbott's time. When the narrator of the story discovers a third dimension, height, he tries to communicate this freeing concept to fellow Flatlanders, and winds up in jail.

Graphene, a real-life version of Flatland, consists of row upon row of hexagonal rings of carbon atoms fitted together in a flat honeycomb pattern only a single atom thick.

This atomic scale makes graphene part of the nano-world, where objects a thousand times thinner than a human hair no longer follow familiar natural laws such as friction and gravity.

Just as the narrator of Flatland rises above his restricted existence to experience life in another dimension, objects on the nano-scale obey a new set of rules: the "spooky" laws of quantum mechanics.

One of the most exciting quantum mechanical effects in graphene is the high speed at which electrons can flow through it due to a lack of friction. This so-called "ballistic" transport could lead to a new generation of superfast, super-efficient electronics.

In addition, for its size, graphene is stronger and more flexible than steel. It conducts heat 10 times faster than copper and can carry 1,000 times the density of electric current as copper wires.

In fact, graphene's structure gives it many unique optical, thermal, mechanical and electrical properties, exciting engineers and scientists all over the world with grand new possibilities for all sorts of applications.
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Working to Drive Electric Vehicles From Niche to Mass Market

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)
May 19, 2011

With several new models of electric vehicles hitting the market this year and more next year, President Obama’s goal of putting 1 million EVs on U.S. roads by 2015 is tantalizingly within grasp. But what will it take for that number to reach 10 million or even 100 million in 20 years?

The answer: batteries need significant improvements. Specifically, they need to be cheaper, safer, last longer and have higher energy. The battery research team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), recognized as one of the best in the country, is engaged in high-risk, high-reward research in each of those four areas, striving for technology breakthroughs as well as incremental advances. Their work could help drive a transformation of the vehicle industry and make EVs as common as laptops and cell phones for American consumers.

“I think with incremental improvements in batteries, engineering advances in the car and support from the government, these are all things that will make it a reality,” says Berkeley Lab scientist Marca Doeff. “And there’s considerable enthusiasm among the population as a whole, so I think it’s going to happen.”

California Energy Commission Accelerates Renewable Energy Research at UC San Diego Through $1.4 Million Grant

UC San Diego
May 20, 2011

The California Energy Commission’s (CEC) Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) today announced $1.4 million in funding for UC San Diego that will accelerate the development and deployment of renewable energy technologies for Californians. UC San Diego’s portion will boost solar forecasting research, support the campus’ deployment of solar powered electric vehicle charging stations, solar integrated energy storage systems and improved information technology architecture with grid operators.

“Our investment in research on renewable energy projects will help accelerate its development and application in California,” said Energy Commission Chair Dr. Robert B. Weisenmiller. “The partnership with UC San Diego expands on the campus’ expertise in clean energy.”

Turning to Academics for Analytic Insight

Technology Review
May 20, 2011

Since 2007, the online ticket broker StubHub has been trying to study the buying habits of its customers more closely. Every month, it randomly selects 2,000 first-time buyers and tracks their behavior on its site over time. But analytics experts at the company were already swimming in too much data to make full use of the added information.

So last month StubHub provided all that data to academic researchers to see if they could tease out new insights. StubHub wants to know whether its discount offers get dormant buyers to return to the site, whether buyers who are regularly offered discounts stop buying at full price, and which of its e-mail campaigns are successful in retaining customers.

StubHub agreed to work with the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative, a three-year-old organization that aims to make connections between companies with lots of data and academics from multiple universities who want to figure out new ways to analyze it. Originally called the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative, it changed its name this year to reflect its goal of working with more traditional companies rather than just online media. Cofounder Peter Fader, a Wharton marketing professor, hopes it will soon be working with a pharmaceutical company, a financial services firm, and some nonprofit organizations. With growing pools of data, he says, many kinds of companies that want to understand their customers' behavior need tools more sophisticated than focus groups.

Researchers create nanopatch for the heart

Brown University
May 19, 2011

Engineers at Brown University and in India have a promising new approach to treating heart-attack victims. The researchers created a nanopatch with carbon nanofibers and a polymer. In laboratory tests, natural heart-tissue cell density on the nanoscaffold was six times greater than the control sample, while neuron density had doubled. Results are published in Acta Biomaterialia. 

Do Biofuels Reduce Greenhouse Gases?

Technology Review
May 19, 2011

Greenhouse-gas emissions from biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, may be lower than many researchers have estimated, according to a new study. The findings could further fuel a debate over whether biofuels actually reduce greenhouse-gas emissions compared to gasoline, and if so, by how much.

Some recent studies have suggested that the indirect effects of biofuels production, such as higher food prices, could encourage farmers to clear forested land to grow more crops—thereby worsening climate change. At least one study suggested that the emissions resulting from such decisions would make biofuels even advanced biofuels made from cellulosic materials such as switchgrass worse for the environment than gasoline. These studies use economic analysis to predict the effect of future biofuels production on land use, while attempting to control for other factors that influence farmers, such as the amount of grain stocks on hand and changes in food demand.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Hyundai accelerates in its move to quality

Financial Times
May 18, 2011

Hyundai’s cars were never traditionally bywords for quality. When he travelled South Korea in the 1970s, Hyundai’s founder, Chung Ju-young, used to count the clapped-out cars left deserted by the highways. He knew he had market share of 60 per cent, so if only 50 per cent of the abandoned cars were Hyundais, he was reassured he was doing well.

Hyundai’s status is very different in 2011. At an exclusive launch in a Seoul art gallery this week, Hyundai joined Italian fashion house Prada in launching a Genesis family sedan decked out with palladium, chrome and luxury leather, destined for rich motorists in the Gulf and China.

Hyundai’s 1,200 Prada Genesis cars will be of negligible commercial value but the partnership illustrates how the once-derided South Korean carmaker is shifting its strategic focus from volume to building a classier brand, gaining ground on Toyota, which faced the recall of millions of vehicles last year and a huge earthquake this year.
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Lessons in cultural awareness

Financial Times
May 18, 2011

It is 9.04am and a group of Chinese businessmen have assembled solemnly outside a hotel conference room in São Paulo. Brazil’s stock exchange operator, BM&F Bovespa, was scheduled to kick off its first ever capital markets forum with China four minutes ago but, like many meetings in the Latin American country, it did not start on time. As the Brazilian guests arrive, complaining loudly about the morning’s traffic and heading straight for the free breakfast, the huge cultural gap between the two emerging market powers becomes apparent.

Since China displaced the US in 2009 as Brazil’s biggest trading partner, Brazilian company executives and politicians have been scrambling to understand better the Asian giant in their midst and work out the best way to deal with it. BM&F Bovespa, for example, has long wanted to list Brazilian stocks in Shanghai – as it has done in places such as Hong Kong and Paris – but wooing the Chinese mainland has proved painfully slow.

“They’re not like the Americans or the Europeans,” Edemir Pinto, the exchange’s chief executive, explains in exasperation. “Sometimes, you have to sign a memorandum of understanding just to have lunch with the Chinese.”

Embraer, the aeroplane manufacturer, has also experienced a long struggle to expand operations in China while deals in other sectors have fallen through over such seemingly trivial things as a misinterpreted e-mail.
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Hospitals Misleading Patients About Benefits of Robotic Surgery, Study Suggests

John Hopkins Medicine
May 18, 2011

An estimated four in 10 hospital websites in the United States publicize the use of robotic surgery, with the lion’s share touting its clinical superiority despite a lack of scientific evidence that robotic surgery is any better than conventional operations, a new Johns Hopkins study finds.

The promotional materials, researchers report online in the Journal for Healthcare Quality, overestimate the benefits of surgical robots, largely ignore the risks and are strongly influenced by the product’s manufacturer.

“The public regards a hospital’s official website as an authoritative source of medical information in the voice of a physician,” says Marty Makary, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study’s leader. “But in this case, hospitals have outsourced patient education content to the device manufacturer, allowing industry to make claims that are unsubstantiated by the literature. It’s dishonest and it’s misleading.”
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Autonomous robot for underwater intervention tasks

Universitat Jaume I
May 16, 2011

Researchers from the national project RAUVI [Reconfigurable autonomous underwater vehicle for intervention], which is coordinated by Pedro Sanz, a lecturer of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the UJI, have successfully tested the autonomy of the robot for developing underwater intervention tasks. The robot has achieved to recover an object similar to an aircraft black box without the direction of any operator.

The test was performed last week at the Universitat de Girona, where there is a pool suitable for experimentation on underwater robotics. During the meeting, the researchers also tested the performance of the three parts involved in the experiment: the robotic arm, which is being improved by the UJI; the vehicle, in which the Universitat de Girona is working, and the computer vision techniques, which are being developed by the Universitat de les Illes Balears.

In the first part of the experiment the vehicle in which the robot was anchored descended to the bottom of the pool to survey the area using computer vision techniques and to draw a map. After that, the researchers asked the robot to recover an object (a black box), and the vehicle with the robotic arm plunged again, sought the object with the required characteristics, picked it up and pulled it to the surface.
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Horsepower v cash cows

The Economist
May 17, 2011

AS IF petrolheads did not already have reasons aplenty to hate electric vehicles. With oil prices rising inexorably (the recent dip notwithstanding) drivers of these silent, soulless battery-powered contraptions are set to look smugly on as gas-guzzlers burn a hole in their owners' pockets. Now, adding insult to injury, research suggests that electric cars might actually make a profit for their owners.

At present, in order to meet sudden surges in demand, power companies have to bring additional generators online at a moment's notice, a procedure that is both expensive and inefficient. If there were enough electric vehicles around, though, a fair number would be bound to be plugged in and recharging at any given time. Why not rig this idle fleet so that, when demand for electricity spikes, they stop drawing current from the grid and instead start pumping it back?

The idea, known as vehicle-to-grid (V2G), sounds great in theory. But what about in practice? To find out, Willett Kempton and Nathaniel Pearre, of the University of Delaware, has for the past three years been running a fleet of seven electric cars linked up to his local electricity company's servers by a wireless system that monitors their activity, in order to predict when each car is likely to be available as a power supply.
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Related Article:

Same Fungus, Different Strains - A Comparative Genomics Approach for Improved “Green” Chemical Production

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
May 13, 2011

Fungi play key roles in nature and are valued for their great importance in industry. Consider citric acid, a key additive in several foods and pharmaceuticals produced on a large-scale basis for decades with the help of the filamentous fungus Aspergillus niger. While A. niger is an integral player in the carbon cycle, it possesses an arsenal of enzymes that can be deployed in breaking down plant cell walls to free up sugars that can then be fermented and distilled into biofuel, a process being optimized by U.S. Department of Energy researchers.

Published online ahead of print May 4, 2011 in Genome Research, a team led by Scott Baker of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory compared the genome sequences of two Aspergillus niger strains to, among other things, better harness its industrial potential in biofuels applications. As more than a million tons of citric acid are produced annually, the production process involving A. niger is a well understood fungal fermentation process that could inform the development of a biorefinery where organic compounds replace the chemical building blocks normally derived from petroleum. Learning more about the genetic bases of the behaviors and abilities of these two industrially relevant fungal strains, wrote senior author Baker and his colleagues in the paper, will allow researchers to exploit their genomes towards the more efficient production of organic acids and other compounds, including biofuels.
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Strong, Tough, and Now Cheap: Caltech Researchers Have New Way to Process Metallic Glass

May 13, 2011

Stronger than steel or titanium—and just as tough—metallic glass is an ideal material for everything from cell-phone cases to aircraft parts. Now, researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have developed a new technique that allows them to make metallic-glass parts utilizing the same inexpensive processes used to produce plastic parts. With this new method, they can heat a piece of metallic glass at a rate of a million degrees per second and then mold it into any shape in just a few milliseconds.

"We've redefined how you process metals," says William Johnson, the Ruben F. and Donna Mettler Professor of Engineering and Applied Science. "This is a paradigm shift in metallurgy." Johnson leads a team of researchers who are publishing their findings in the May 13 issue of the journal Science.
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US Northwest power surplus may halt wind energy

Associated Press
May 18, 2011

The manager of most of the electricity in the Pacific Northwest is running such a surplus of power from hydroelectric dams that it put wind farms on notice Friday that they may be shut down as early as this weekend.

The Bonneville Power Administration has more than enough electricity during a cold, wet spring that has created a big surge in river flows where hydroelectric dams are located. The agency responded by announcing its intentions to curtail wind power until the grid has more capacity, in a move likely to cost the industry millions of dollars.

The decision reflects an overlooked issue amid the push to add wind farms around the country: The capacity of power grids has not kept pace.
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The Engineer - "Tidal turbine set for two-month trial on the River Thames" & "Accident-prevention systems trialled at German intersection"

The Engineer
May 18, 2011

Tidal turbine set for two-month trial on the River Thames

A tidal turbine is to be installed alongside the HQS Wellington in the River Thames in order to trial the technology over a two-month period.

The proof-of-concept trials are said to be the first stage in plans to locate a tidal energy farm in the Thames that would generate enough electricity to power 35,000 homes.

Accident-prevention systems trialled at German intersection

A range of accident-prevention technologies has been successfully demonstrated at a cordoned-off public road intersection in Wolfsburg, Germany.

It is the culmination of an EU-funded project, Intersafe-2, which has gathered 11 partners from industry and research to address the problem of collisions at intersections — which account for 43 per cent of all traffic accident-related injuries in Europe.
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US presses green growth in Asia

May 18, 2011

Warning that the era of cheap fuel was over, the United States has called for Pacific Rim economies to knock down trade barriers to spur growth in clean energy.

President Barack Obama's administration, which faces domestic opposition on climate change, is putting a high priority on the environment as the United States this year chairs the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Meeting senior APEC trade officials at the snow-covered ski resort of Big Sky, Montana, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said that millions of green jobs are waiting to be created from the factory floor to the construction sector.

"In the next few decades, world economies will need to rebuild and reinvent virtually every industrial activity -- from power generation and transportation to manufacturing and construction -- all to succeed in an energy environment that looks drastically different from the one that we're used to," Locke said.

"For well over 100 years, much of the world enjoyed two luxuries that helped propel the greatest burst of sustained economic growth in human history.

"Fossil fuels were cheap and abundant. And number two: we either didn't know about or didn't care about impact to our planet from greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning those fuels," he said. "Those days are over."

But Locke said that clean energy needed entrepreneurs -- and that the Asia-Pacific region had too many barriers to trade.

He pointed to US concerns about lack of protection for intellectual property, along with transportation costs, customs clearance delays and lack of access to financing.

APEC includes rising powers in clean energy such as China, which has surpassed the United States as the top investor in green technology even as its carbon emissions keep soaring forward.

The United States has been seeking incremental progress with China in setting the guidelines for fighting climate change, amid an unsure outlook in UN-led talks on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

Obama's rivals in the Republican Party gained ground in congressional elections last year and are deeply suspicious about action on climate change, with many saying that it would prove too costly at a time of high oil prices and unemployment.

With Republicans on the offensive and US gas prices near record highs, Obama recently defied environmentalists by agreeing to speed up oil and gas drilling.

Separately, APEC -- which accounts for nearly half of the world's food production -- signed an agreement with the World Bank to improve the safety of produce as the global supply chain becomes increasingly complex.

While in its preliminary stages, the agreement called for training programs to improve controls over food safety.

"At every step along the way, there are opportunities unfortunately for the introduction of contamination, or adulteration, of products," said Margaret Hamburg, head of the US Food and Drug Administration.

"We have an obligation to do everything we can to ensure the safety and integrity of the supply chain," she told reporters.

The Big Sky talks are also looking at a way forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free trade agreement linking nine countries that set a goal of reaching a framework in time for APEC's November summit in Hawaii.

The talks involve Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. An agreement would mark a rare success in global trade diplomacy amid the deadlock in World Trade Organization talks.

The Obama administration is hoping to win over critics of free trade by including labor and environmental standards in the deal.

Copyright © 2011 AFP.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Volkswagen to Make Electric Vehicles in China; BYD Ships Electric Buses

May 16, 2011

German automaker Volkswagen announced plans to make electric cars for the rapidly growing Chinese market, with partner FAW Group.

The cars will be sold under a new brand, called Kaili.

Volkswagen says it expects to begin production in China by the end of 2013 or early 2014. A Volkswagen spokesperson notes the Chinese government is encouraging joint ventures between domestic and foreign car makers.

China's ministry of industry and information technology certified FAW-Volkswagen's Kaili electric vehicle on May 3.

Other foreign companies building electric cars for the Chinese market include Daimler, General Motors and Nissan.

GM is working with China's SAIC Motor Corp, Nissan has a venture with Dongfeng Motor Group, and Daimler is working with BYD.

BYD Begins Shipping Electric Buses

China's BYD Company has begun shipping its first long-range (>300/Km), electric buses for a 300 bus fleet that will serve the 2011 International Universiade Games held in Shenzhen, China.

After the Universiade Games, these 300 eBU-12's will be incorporated into Shenzhen's city bus fleet--creating the largest electric bus fleet in the world.

The eBUS is the first pure electric bus designed and manufactured independently by BYD. At the core of the eBUS technology is BYD's in-wheel motor drive system and the Iron Phosphate or "Fe" battery technology.

Because the drive system requires no axle, the eBUS floor can sit lower than any other bus, making it very rider-friendly. BYD says the Fe battery boasts the highest safety, longest service life and most environmentally friendly rechargeable chemistry. With these technologies, the BYD eBUS achieves a "loaded bus" city driving range of more than 150 miles (or 250 Km) and it only takes about half an hour to achieve a 50 percent state-of-charge using BYD's fast charging system, the company said.

The eBUS also integrates BYD solar panels on the bus roof, converting solar energy to electricity which is stored in the Fe batteries and can completely offset the eBUS air-conditioning load (extending the range on sunny days).

China 'hit by power crunch' amid drought

May 18, 2011

Chinese factories are facing curbs on electricity use as coal prices soar and a severe drought hits hydropower plants, state media have said, with possible major shortages ahead this summer.

The situation has highlighted the difficulties faced by China, the world's largest energy consumer, as global fuel prices climb and the country battles soaring inflation.

Businesses in coastal areas and some inland provinces have grappled with power cuts and full blackouts since March due to surging demand and a drop in hydroelectric output, the China Daily said.

The shortage -- the worst since 2004 -- is likely to get worse in the summer when demand peaks, with coastal Jiangsu, an export powerhouse neighbouring Shanghai, the hardest hit, it said.

Power supplies could be as much as 16 percent lower than the province needs, it said.

The drought plaguing central China for months has left more than one million people without proper drinking water and crimped output of hydroelectric power, China's second-biggest energy source, previous media reports said.
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Japanese electric car 'goes 300km' on single charge

May 18, 2011

Japanese developers have unveiled an electric car they said Wednesday can travel more than 300 kilometres before its battery runs flat.

Electric vehicle specialist SIM-Drive, which hopes to take the car to market by 2013 but gave no projected cost, said its four-seater "SIM-LEI" had motors inside each wheel and a super-light frame, allowing for 333 kilometres (207 miles) of motoring on one charge in a test.

Its designers say they hope the prototype, a joint project among 34 organisations including Mitsubishi Motors and engineering firm IHI, will be sold to car manufacturers for mass production.

Automakers such as Nissan, which launched its all-electric Leaf last year with a 160-kilometre range, are gambling that electric cars with zero tailpipe emissions will catch on and, some time in the future, start to drive traditional petrol-guzzlers off the road.

Electric cars still face key hurdles such as costly batteries and the lack of conveniently-located recharging points, which limits their operating radius.

GM to build first electric motor plant in U.S

International Business Times
May 18, 2011

General Motors will build its first major electric motor plant near Baltimore in Maryland, which will be the first of its kind to manufacture critical components for vehicle electrification. It is scheduled to open in 2013, the carmaker said in a statement.
Electric motor design and production is a core business for GM in the development and manufacture of plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles and this new motor plant will entail an investment of $269.5 million, it said.

"We believe the future of sustainable transportation is electrically driven vehicles and this facility will help us maintain a leadership position within this category," said Mike Robinson, GM vice president, Energy, Environment and Safety Policy. "It's fitting that green 'motors of the future' are being built at a facility well recognized for ongoing efforts to reduce its environmental impact.

Besides, GM said that the plant will be powered in part by a 1. 23-megawatt rooftop solar array, which is expected to generate nine percent of its annual energy consumption and save approximately 330,000 dollars during the life of the project.

GM said last week it plans to invest two billion dollars into 17 U.S. facilities nationwide over the next few years.

Sharpening the Nanofocus: Berkeley Lab Researchers Use Nanoantenna to Enhance Plasmonic Sensing

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)
May 17, 2011

Such highly coveted technical capabilities as the observation of single catalytic processes in nanoreactors, or the optical detection of low concentrations of biochemical agents and gases are an important step closer to fruition. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), in collaboration with researchers at the University of Stuttgart in Germany, report the first experimental demonstration of antenna-enhanced gas sensing at the single particle level. By placing a palladium nanoparticle on the focusing tip of a gold nanoantenna, they were able to clearly detect changes in the palladium’s optical properties upon exposure to hydrogen.

“We have demonstrated resonant antenna-enhanced single-particle hydrogen sensing in the visible region and presented a fabrication approach to the positioning of a single palladium nanoparticle in the nanofocus of a gold nanoantenna,” says Paul Alivisatos, Berkeley Lab’s director and the leader of this research. “Our concept provides a general blueprint for amplifying plasmonic sensing signals at the single-particle level and should pave the road for the optical observation of chemical reactions and catalytic activities in nanoreactors, and for local biosensing.”

ASME Articles:"CAD: Not Just For Engineers", "Wind Turbine Under Stress", "Internal Combustion Engine: The Road Forward"

American Society of Mechanical Engineer(ASME)

CAD: Not Just For Engineers
March 2011

The CAD programs that engineers use every day for highly technical design and implementation of engineering concepts have other, far flung uses. Fashion designers, video game creators, landscapers, and interior designers have used the programs to make their work more efficient, and more transparent to their clients.

Kathy Dickinson, for instance, has knit, sewn, and crocheted clothes for dolls since she was a child. As an adult she started a small home-based business selling vintage patterns. Her business, Halea’s Doll Clothes grew steadily from her home in Averill Park, New York, helped along by the rise of the internet, which gave doll lovers the world over a new means to find each other. Unfortunately, though, a series of seizures left her with trembling hands.

Wind Turbine Under Stress
March 2011

Wind turbines are impressive structures. But, even the mightiest wind generator can be brought down by something as small as a bearing. A new, high-fidelity Bearing Simulation Tool (BEAST) provides a clear picture of the behavior of bearings, wind turbine gearboxes, and rotating shafts during simulation. It is helping the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Gearbox Reliability Collaborative identify gearbox weaknesses and improve designs, and individual companies improve reliability.

Transient forces from the wind put enormous stress on wind turbine main shafts, gearboxes, and other rotating parts. End users and owner-operators report their gearboxes generally last only three to five years, according to Sandy Butterfield, principal engineer at NREL. Simulating the wind’s interaction with mechanical components can identify problems across a broad range of operating conditions very efficiently.

Internal Combustion Engine: The Road Forward
April 2011
Here come the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, the early entrants in the U.S. electric vehicle marketplace and the end products of more than 20 years of automotive innovation and advanced research and development.

Environmentalists and green car advocates—along with a loyal following of public policyholders, car buyers, and engineers—herald the Leaf, Volt, and other electric vehicles (EVs) due to arrive in the next few years as symbols of hope for clean, energy-efficient transportation.

Time will tell if the new battery-powered automobiles establish a significant foothold in the marketplace. But for now, the technology the electric vehicle aims one day to replace–the internal combustion (IC) engine—is thriving and enjoying significant gains in research and development activity.

Green Ocean Energy secures funding for Wave Treader

The Engineer
May 18, 2011

Green Ocean Energy has secured £45,000 funding through ITF to develop its Wave Treader technology for the oil and gas industry.

According to a statement, the six-month project will examine the potential of the Wave Treader device to provide sustainable electricity to unmanned platforms and offshore installations being decommissioned.

The device works by rotating to face into oncoming waves and converting the motion of the wave into electricity. This electricity is then fed back to the shore through the offshore windfarm’s existing cable network.

Graeme Bell, chief executive officer of Green Ocean Energy, said: ‘Wave Treader was originally designed to attach onto offshore wind turbines, but this project is to explore using Wave Treader with either new or existing offshore oil and gas installations.

‘Remote manned and unmanned offshore platforms currently rely on diesel generators for electricity. These incur fuel and maintenance costs, additional vessel activity and health and safety issues, as well as contamination and pollution risks. There is great potential for our wave energy project to revolutionise how the oil and gas sector is powered.’

Initially the project will assess the suitability and level of demand for a local energy source at a range of locations. Detailed investigation of wave resources, potential deployment methods and structural loading impacts will be carried out, alongside establishing a power matrix to quantify power demand and indicate the required size of Wave Treader.

Dorothy Burke, operations director of ITF, a not-for-profit organisation owned by 26 major global oil and gas companies, said: ‘Sustainability is a constant thread to new technology developments and this pioneering project could lead the way for the future of the offshore oil and gas sector.

‘ITF invested £25,000 from our Pioneer Fund, which supports the early-stage development of… technologies and also secured a further £20,000 investment from one of our operator members.

‘The Wave Treader device may be the key catalyst to a clean source of electricity to power offshore operations.’

Further funding for the project has been raised from GDF Suez, Tata Steel and Bosch Rexroth.

Additional Information:

The World’s Smallest 3D Printer

Vienna University of Technology (TU Vienna)
May 17, 2011

A research project at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Vienna) could turn futuristic 3D-printers into affordable everyday items.

Printers, which can produce three-dimensional objects have been available for years. However, at the Vienna University of Technology, a printing device has now been developed, which is much smaller, lighter and cheaper than ordinary 3D-printers. With this kind of printer, everyone could produce small, taylor-made 3D-objects at home, using building plans from the internet – and this could save money for expensive custom-built spare parts.

Several scientific fields have to come together, to design a 3D-printer. The device was assembled by mechanical engineers in the research group of professor Jürgen Stampfl, but also the chemical research by the team of professor Robert Liska was of crucial importance: first, chemists have to determine which special kinds of synthetic material can be used for printing.

Malaysia unveils plan to build 'green economy'

May 18, 2011

Malaysia is launching an ambitious plan to build a "green economy" with the help of an advisory council that includes economist Jeffrey Sachs and the UN climate change chief.

The initiative is part of economic reforms instituted by Prime Minister Najib Razak since taking power two years ago, aimed at pushing the Southeast Asian country towards developed-nation status by 2020.

His administration has already promised major infrastructure projects and financial market liberalisation to attract foreign investment and boost growth, but critics say the results have been limited.

Najib on Tuesday convened the first meeting of an eminent 42-member Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council in New York to help the nation achieve ambitions of becoming a science and technology innovation destination.

Malaysia's vision of a "green economy" would see it moving beyond its status as a manufacturing hub, and establish "low carbon emissions, highly efficient use of resources, and a healthy, well-educated populace."

"Malaysia's ambitious goal is to simultaneously reduce poverty and achieve a green economy," Najib said in a statement from New York.

"We see science and technology innovation as key to achieving that goal, guided by the advice and active support of some of the world's most distinguished entrepreneurial, scientific and economic experts."

"These experts will liaise and work actively with key Malaysian agencies and institutions to develop 'quick wins' in the palm oil industry, in the creation of a smart city and smart village, and in education."

As well as Sachs and Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the panel also includes media tycoon Steve Forbes and two Nobel laureates.

Najib said the council would aim to "raise the number of scientifically and technically-trained individuals, entrepreneurs and innovators in our country."

Malaysia also hopes to develop smart cities and villages, where the Internet is available and resources, such as water and electricity, are managed efficiently through information technology.

Currently, the middle-income nation of 27 million people suffers from urban sprawl and traffic congestion in its capital Kuala Lumpur, and a lack of basic services in rural areas.

Citigroup economist Kit Wei Zheng said Najib's administration had achieved some successes including boosting foreign direct investment, but was under pressure to deliver ahead of elections tipped to be called within a year.

"At least on some fronts, there seem to be some results coming in... There are some steps forward but it's slow and probably not as big as the announcements that are being made," said the Singapore-based economist.

The export-dependent Southeast Asian nation saw a sharp decline in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2009, tumbling 81 percent to $1.4 billion from $7.3 billion in 2008.

However, FDI jumped 141 percent to 17.1 billion ringgit ($5.5 billion) in the first nine months of 2010, in a rebound partly attributed to the reforms.

Malaysia has previously sought out high-profile international advisers like Microsoft's Bill Gates when it launched its Multimedia Super Corridor project to build up its information technology industry in the 1990s.

"It's a very fuzzy thing; we don't know what it is... The word 'green' is used very broadly," Gurmit Singh, chairman of the Centre For Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia, said of the latest scheme.

"There seems to be a lot of hot air. In terms of what happens sometimes at the ground level, it's a repackaging of projects," he told AFP.

Najib has said he expects the economy to expand by 5.0-6.0 percent this year despite the challenges of slower global growth and rising crude oil prices.

A Worldwide Nuclear Slowdown Continues

Technology Review
May 18, 2011

The bad news from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to reverberate around the world, dimming nuclear energy's future and boosting the fortunes of low-carbon power sources. Last week's decision by Japan's prime minister to scrap plans for 14 new reactors is just the latest sign of a global nuclear slowdown, and the technology faces renewed scrutiny even in countries with pronuclear governments, including the U.S., China, and France.

"Due to both the time needed for integrating the lessons learned from Fukushima in new reactor designs and the likely hesitations of the public and decision makers, the deployment of nuclear power will be delayed," says Jan Horst Keppler, principal economist at the Nuclear Energy Agency, a Paris-based arm of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

What has not changed, says Keppler, are the drivers that were fueling new reactor construction: concerns over energy security and climate change. In the past, nuclear technology has been perceived as the cheapest option. But with nuclear on hold, governments are looking to accelerate renewable-energy development, and the latest cost estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Agency provide support for that position.

‘Nobody should have to choose between a cheap used Ferrari and a 3D printer’

Financial Times
May 17, 2011

In a dilapidated former brewery in an up-and-coming neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York, Bre Pettis is beaming as he shows off his latest creation. An assemblage of gears and wires the size of a microwave oven, this is a machine that can print in 3D and, as such, exemplifies a technology that could democratise complex areas of industrial manufacturing.

Mr Pettis, tall and gangly with a shock of greying hair and thick black glasses, is the co-founder of MakerBot Industries, a small company that has created a cheap device that prints sturdy plastic models of a multitude of shapes.

3D printing, long dismissed as a futuristic dream of inventors, is today enjoying a welcome party, as MakerBot Industries and other companies find ways to bring it to the wider public.

“One of our biggest challenges is convincing people that this is within their grasp,” says Mr Pettis. “Put it together like Ikea furniture – and all of a sudden you’re living in the future.”

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Is College Worth It?

Pew Research Center
May 15, 2011

The typical college graduate earns an estimated $650,000 more than the typical high school graduate over the course of a 40-year work life, according to a new analysis of census and college cost data by the Pew Research Center.

Of course, this difference doesn’t apply in all cases; some high school graduates are high earners, and some college graduates are low earners. Also, the monetary return to college is influenced by a variety of factors, including type of college attended and major field of study.

But on average—and after taking into account the fact that a dollar earned at the start of someone’s working life is more valuable than a dollar earned toward the end of that person’s working life the analysis finds that the typical or average high school graduate with no further education earns about $770,000 over a 40-year work life. The typical worker with a (two-year) associate degree earns about $1.0 million, and the typical worker with a bachelor’s degree and no advanced degree earns about $1.4 million.

Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe Agree to $7 Billion Port, Railway Project

May 11, 2011

Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana signed a memorandum of understanding for a $7 billion port and rail project, Paulo Zucula, the Mozambican transport minister, said.

The countries agreed to build a new deepwater port in southern Mozambique and a rail system linking the three southern African countries, Zucula said in a mobile-phone text message from Maputo, Mozambique’s capital.

Funders, who he didn’t identify, back the project that will start next year and take a decade to complete, Zucula said.

Chery, Bayer partner up on lightweight materials

China Daily
May 13, 2011

China's automaker Chery Auto and Bayer Group have jointly set up a lab to research and develop lightweight materials for automobiles, Chery announced Friday.

"The establishment of the lab with Bayer MaterialScience is an important step for Chery Auto on the research and development of automobile material technologies," said Jin Yibo, a spokesman with Chery Auto.

"Chery Auto aims to promote automobile lightweight technologies and develop energy-saving and environmentally friendly lightweight automobiles with the help of Bayer technologies," Jin added.

Bayer MaterialScience, a branch company of Germany-based Bayer Group, is a renowned supplier of high-performance materials and is among the world's largest producers of polymer.

Jin said Chery Auto and Bayer MaterialScience will jointly conduct research on applications of a wide range of materials such as polycarbonates and polyurethanes on automobiles.
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BMW doubles investment in China

China Daily
May 16, 2011

BMW Group recently announced it will almost double the investment in its new Shenyang factory to around 1 billion euros ($1.42 billion) to enable higher production and increased local content.

With its joint venture partner Brilliance Auto, the automaker started construction on the new plant in the capital of Liaoning province in the middle of last year. At the time the announced investment was 560 million euros ($795 million).

The additional investment will be shared between the two partners and used to build press and paint shops and to expand infrastructure at the new plant in Tiexi district of Shenyang, the company said in a statement.

The new factory will have an initial capacity of 100,000 cars a year when it is completed early next year, according to BMW. Planned products made at the facility include the X1 SUV.

Green works: City becomes 'test case' for facing country's environmental challenges

China Daily
May 13, 2011

Losing a job at 52 would seem disastrous for any working-class man. But for Mao Baoxing, it might not be a big deal. Mao works at China's largest epoxy resin manufacturing plant in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, or the Wuxi Resin Factory of Bluestar New Chemical Materials Co Ltd, but while he used to be proud of working for such a large company he says he no longer is.

Over the past 50 years since the company was established in the city, industrial pollutants from the manufacturing of chemical products have been taking a heavy toll on the air and water quality in the region.

"All the local people know just how environmentally hazardous the factory is," Mao says. "Now that the government has realized this and asked it to relocate, I strongly support the decision, although that would very likely mean the loss of my job."

Mao's experience is just a tip of the iceberg of what is happening in Wuxi, a city which has championed itself as a new "test case" for solving the glaring environmental challenges faced by a fast developing China, by experimenting a new way of development that highlights sustainability and environmental responsibility. That is, of course, after harsh lessons from previous mistakes and disasters.

Honeywell takes flight in China

People's Daily Online
May 17, 2011

A test flight of the AC311 commercial helicopter last month. The aircraft contains parts by Honeywell International Inc. Ke Xin / For China Daily

Aircraft components manufacturer to supply parts for COMAC's C919

US-based Honeywell International Inc is in the final stages of establishing three joint ventures with Chinese firms to supply aviation parts for the C919 - China's homemade narrow body commercial airplane - said its top executive.

Honeywell signed a $11.3-billion master contract last year with the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) to provide parts for the C919's flight system, which includes the auxiliary power unit, flight controls, and the wheel and brake systems.

The signing of the master contract was a prelude to the upcoming three joint ventures with Harbin Dongan Engine Corp Ltd, a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), Hunan Boyun New Materials Co Ltd, and AVIC's Flight Automatic Control Research Institute.

Expert: China's industry continues rapid growth

People's Daily Online
May 17, 2011

Slowdown in industrial growth is reasonable

The growth rate of the industrial added value of Chinese enterprises above the designated size (enterprises with annual sales of more than 20 million yuan) in the first quarter of 2011 was 5.2 percentage points lower than that of the same period of last year. The rate in April was 1.4 percentage points lower than that of March. The Chinese economy has entered a period of steady growth after recovering quickly from the global financial crisis with the help of a stimulus plan. A slowdown in industrial growth is an inevitable result of the ongoing industrial restructuring. Furthermore, there are also some other reasons behind the slowdown.

First, enterprises above the designated size witnessed rapid and considerable growth in industrial added value last year, which was a high base of comparison.

Second, the slow global economic recovery is facing increasing uncertainty. Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis have produced direct and indirect effects on the supply of key components in the automotive, electronics and other industries, and have affected China's industrial output to a certain degree.

Third, some industries are faced with the increasingly serious problem of overcapacity. Due to the central government's strict real estate control measures, domestic consumption dropped for items such as household appliances, furniture and building materials, which are closely related to the property industry, and some preferential policies and subsidy plans for auto purchases were terminated. As a result, the domestic demand for certain industrial products declined, and the steel, building materials, automobile, and some other industries are facing growing pressure from overcapacity, which affected the country's industrial growth to some extent.

Fourth, rising costs of factors of production and the global surge in the prices of energy and raw materials have placed domestic industrial enterprises under considerable pressure and caused certain industries to grow slower. Due to the imported inflation pressure and high inflation expectations, Chinese currency authorities have tightened up the monetary policy and imposed strict controls on bank loans. As a result, many enterprises, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, are suffering from capital shortages. In addition, the imbalance between energy supply and demand has become more serious because of the rapid development of high-energy-consumption industries.

Geothermal without the Earthquakes

Technology Review
May 17, 2011

A startup in Connecticut says it has a way to improve the reach of enhanced geothermal energy, without the financial or geological risks associated with such projects.

Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) represents a promising source of clean power generation in geographies that lack the ideal combination of underground heat, water, and rock permeability needed for conventional geothermal. But with EGS, developers typically have to engineer the conditions they require, and this involves fracturing solid rock by pumping fluids into wells at high pressure, an approach that has raised concerns about the potential to trigger earthquakes and contaminate aquifers.

The problem, called "induced seismicity," led to the cancellation in 2009 of a project in Basel, Switzerland, after the high-pressure fracturing of rock around the well caused hundreds of seismic events, some large enough to damage property. In North America, EGS developer AltaRock Energy has been caught up in a similar controversy.

Successful first test drive of “sighted” wheelchair

Luleå University of Technology
May 11, 2011

Research on an electric wheelchair that can sense it´s environment and transmit information to a person who is visually impaired, has been tested at Luleå University of Technology. Daniel Innala Ahlmark, a prospective graduate student in the research project, and himself visually impaired, dared to make the first public test.

The wheelchair has a joystick for steering and a haptic robot that acts as a virtual white cane. With the help of a laser scanner a simplified 3D map is created of the wheelchair surroundings. The laser scanner uses Time-of-flight technique. The 3D map is transferred to the haptic robot so that a visually impaired wheelchair driver can "feel or see" obstacles such as open doors or oncoming people, and navigate past them.

The “sighted” wheelchair has been developed by Kalevi Hyyppä, a professor at Luleå University of Technology and his research team at the LTU division EISLAB. The other members of the research team are prospective Ph.D. student Daniel Innala Ahlmark, assistant professor Håkan Fredriksson and Ph.D. student Fredrik Broström.

Looking inside nanomaterials in three dimensions

Risø National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy
May 13, 2011

The Journal Science publishes a paper where scientists from Risø DTU in collaboration with scientists from China and USA, report a new method for revealing a 3D picture of the structure inside a material.

Most solid materials are composed of millions of small crystals, packed together to form a fully dense solid. The orientations, shapes, sizes and relative arrangement of these crystals are important in determining many material properties.

Traditionally, it has only been possible to see the crystal structure of a material by looking at a cut surface, giving just 2D information. In recent years, x-ray methods have been developed that can be used to look inside a material and obtain a 3D map of the crystal structure. However, these methods have a resolution limit of around 100nm (one nanometer is 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair).

In contrast, the newly developed technique now published in Science, allows 3D mapping of the crystal structure inside a material down to nanometer resolution, and can be carried out using a transmission electron microscope, an instrument found in many research laboratories.

YikeFusion: same design, heavier frame, less expensive

May 16, 2011

Some of you may be familiar with the YikeBike. For those you who are not familiar with the YikeBike it is a computerized bike that can be folded up and packed away when it is not in use. The bike, which looks like it belongs to a classic cartoon character, allows users to tool around on the sidewalk much faster than most of us could walk, or even pedal on a standard bike.

The standard version of the YikeBike weighs in at 10.8kg or 24 pounds, which is about the same as a Brompton folding bike. That low weight comes with the help of a carbon fiber body. The carbon fiber is lighter than other materials on the market, but it also makes the bike fairly expensive. Anyone who wants to buy the original YikeBike would have to pay $3,800.

If $3800 is not in your budget then you should be glad that Yike has created the Fusion. The Fusion is significantly less expensive, at $2000, because it is made from an aluminum composite, which makes it notably heavier at 14kg or roughly 31 pounds. This change of materials in the frame has added about seven pounds. This less expensive bike still carries over the same design from the original YikeBike, and features the same 450-watt motor. That motor will take you about six miles in total with a top speed of 14mph.

Since both the YikeBike and the YikeFusion are meant only for short-term commutes the extra weight should not be a significant issue for the majority of users, who could stash it in the trunk of a car or rolling suitcase. The YikeFusion is already on the market.
Additional Information:

New Solar Product Captures Up to 95 Percent of Light Energy

MU News Bureau
May 16, 2011

Efficiency is a problem with today’s solar panels; they only collect about 20 percent of available light. Now, a University of Missouri engineer has developed a flexible solar sheet that captures more than 90 percent of available light, and he plans to make prototypes available to consumers within the next five years.

Patrick Pinhero, an associate professor in the MU Chemical Engineering Department, says energy generated using traditional photovoltaic (PV) methods of solar collection is inefficient and neglects much of the available solar electromagnetic (sunlight) spectrum. The device his team has developed – essentially a thin, moldable sheet of small antennas called nantenna – can harvest the heat from industrial processes and convert it into usable electricity. Their ambition is to extend this concept to a direct solar facing nantenna device capable of collecting solar irradiation in the near infrared and optical regions of the solar spectrum.

ETI commissions project to develop blades over 90 metres long for next generation of offshore

Energy Technologies Institute
May 17, 2011

A project to develop long high-performance blades for the next generation of large offshore wind turbines has been commissioned by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI).

Developers will be asked to design, build and test blades in excess of 90 metres long each blade will be nearly the same height of Big Ben.

These would be used on the next generation of large offshore wind turbines with a capacity of 8 - 10MW.

Blades that are currently deployed offshore are between 40 and 60 metres long.

ORNL energy harvesters transform waste into electricity

US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)
May 16, 2011

Billions of dollars lost each year as waste heat from industrial processes can be converted into electricity with a technology being developed at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The high-efficiency thermal waste heat energy converter actively cools electronic devices, photovoltaic cells, computers and large waste heat-producing systems while generating electricity, according to Scott Hunter, who leads the development team. The potential for energy savings is enormous.

"In the United States, more than 50 percent of the energy generated annually from all sources is lost as waste heat," Hunter said, "so this actually presents us with a great opportunity to save industry money through increased process efficiencies and reduced fuel costs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

Initially, Hunter envisions the technology being used for cooling high-performance computer chips, thereby helping to solve an enormous problem facing manufacturers of petaflop-scale computers. These mega machines generate massive amounts of heat that must be removed, and the more efficient the process the better. Turning some of that heat into electricity is an added bonus.

Iridium soars on high-tech gadget demand

The Financial Times
May 16, 2011

The popularity of smartphones, tablets and flatscreen televisions has triggered a 150 per cent jump in the price of a little-known metal used in the manufacture of backlit screens.

Demand for iridium, one of the earth’s rarest metals, more than quadrupled last year, according to Johnson Matthey, the precious metals refiner that compiles benchmark supply and demand statistics on the market.

The sudden rush of buying in the tiny market has sent the price of iridium soaring to an all-time high above $1,000 a troy ounce. The 150 per cent surge in prices since the start of 2010 dwarfs the rallies in silver, gold, platinum and palladium. The market for iridium is very small, less than $500m a year compared with $30bn for silver and $10bn for platinum, but the metal is crucial for some new technologies.

Most important, iridium is used in crucibles for growing crystals that are used in the manufacture of light-emitting diodes (LEDs). These, in turn, form the basis of backlit screens, which are essential in devices such as iPads and flatscreen TVs.

Which technologies get better faster?

MIT News
May 17, 2011

Some forms of technology think, for example, of computer chips — are on a fast track to constant improvements, while others evolve much more slowly. Now, a new study by researchers at MIT and other institutions shows that it may be possible to predict which technologies are likeliest to advance rapidly, and therefore may be worth more investment in research and resources.

In a nutshell, the researchers found that the greater a technology’s complexity, the more slowly it changes and improves over time. They devised a way of mathematically modeling complexity, breaking a system down into its individual components and then mapping all the interconnections between these components.

“It gives you a way to think about how the structure of the technology affects the rate of improvement,” says Jessika Trancik, assistant professor of engineering systems at MIT and co-author of a paper explaining the findings. The paper’s lead author is James McNerney, a graduate student at Boston University (BU); other co-authors are Santa Fe Institute Professor Doyne Farmer and BU physics professor Sid Redner. It appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.