Thursday, 25 April 2013

New Flow Battery Created at Stanford out of inexpensive materials

One of the currently technically feasible battery storage systems for large scale (but intermittent) sources of power from renewables such as wind, solar and wave is flow batteries.

These batteries can be scaled up to pretty large storage sizes such as tens of megawatt hours and so are definitely a technical solution to storage of intermittent power. There are currently a few places in the world where there are ongoing trials, such as a wind farm in Ireland, a couple of places in Japan and some south Pacific islands.

The issue with these batteries is, however, that they are often complicated and made of rare materials such as Vanadium. Also required is a membrane to separate the two liquids between which electrons flow. This membrane has to be replaced every so often, adding to the expense.

A team at Stanford, however, has solved a couple of these problems at least in the lab by the creation of a flow battery without a membrane and also using the relatively inexpensive and abundant materials lithium and sulfur.

A utility scale system would be capable of being scaled up to handle many megawatt hours.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Diesel from Bacteria

So I'm not holding my breath waiting for biofuels from algae or whatever but nevertheless this is interesting as it shows just how far we're coming along in the development of biotech with plug-in parts to the genome that do exactly what we want them to do:

Professor John Love from Biosciences at the University of Exeter and his team have modified the ubiquitos E.Coli bacteria to produce a bio-equivalent version of diesel.

This is revolutionary because it's not just some kind of fatty acid or ester which needs a convoluted and possibly energy intensive method to process the chemicals into diesel or gasoline, instead it's a drop-in replacement.

Prof Love and his team worked with Shell on this and though it's not ready for commercialization and still faces a number of hurdles to bring it there, it's nevertheless very interesting.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Death by Mathusian Collapse: The horseman of famine

Just a short post today.

So the premise of the one particular doom scenario (reminiscent of Thomas Malthus and loosely tying into the Limits to Growth crowd) is that the population will increase to say for example 10 billion people and we will all starve.

The doomers like to tie this together with the fact that the green revolution from the 1960s where we (they would say narrowly) avoided famine by increasing crop yields to keep up with population and that the green revolution recently appears to have stalled.

Well my doomer friends, here is yet another nail in the dieoff-from-famine doom scenario:

By sheer and utter accident it turns out that a scientist trying to replicate some extinction events hypothetically caused hundreds of millions of years ago by the toxic gas Hydrogen Sulphide seeping out of the oceans, has instead discovered that the plants growth faster, germinate quicker and produce significantly more biomass.

Frederick Dooley, a University of Washington doctoral student in biology who led the research has this to say:
"With wheat, all the seeds germinated in one to two days instead of four or five, and with peas and beans the typical 40 percent rate of germination rose to 60 to 70 percent." he said
"They germinate faster and they produce roots and leaves faster. Basically what we've done is accelerate the entire plant process," he said."
"The most significant near-term promise, he believes, is in growing algae and other stock for biofuels."

Oh well. Maybe doom from famine is postponed a bit longer.