Liquid electricity for cars of the future

refill batteryThe reason why electric cars aren’t everywhere is simple — at the end of their range, they have to be stationary for hours while the batteries are recharged.

This is a pity, because even cars recharged from ‘dirty’ power stations are three times more environmentally friendly than conventional vehicles. That’s because only 20 per cent of the energy from gasoline or diesel actually reaches the wheels; in an electric car, it’s 60 per cent.

What recharging does is to change the state of the electrolyte fluid in the batteries. Now a Dutch government research organisation, the Innovation Network in Utrecht, has come up with a solution by standing the problem on its head.

Just pump the spent electrolyte out and pump in freshly charged electrolyte — literally, liquid electricity. This would take little more time than filling up with fossil fuel and the spent electrolyte can be recharged and re-sold: you would pay for the difference in electric charge.

It gets better. The Innovation Network foresees a new generation of ‘photon farmers’ using wind, solar or waste biomass to make clean electricity to recharge electrolyte and sell it at filling stations.

Nearly all farmers have enough space on their properties to build wind turbines, solar collectors or biomass plants. And it would end the craziness of using food plants such as corn and sugar cane to produce ethanol, a practice that is already driving the price of food almost beyond the reach of the world’s poorest populations.

More information from the Radio Netherlands Earthbeat program.

US shifts $16 blllion toward renewable energy

There’s some hope out there.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday passed a Democratic rewrite of U.S. energy policy that strips $16 billion in tax incentives away from Big Oil and puts it toward renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

The 786-page bill, passed in a rare Saturday vote, was a top priority for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and is an amalgam of bills assembled by about a dozen of the chamber’s committees in recent months.

Republicans called it a “no-energy bill” because it lacks new drilling incentives, and they derided the new emphasis on renewables as “green pork.” The White House threatened to veto the bill on concerns that it could boost energy prices.

House Republican leader John Boehner said the bill “cuts the lifeblood of our economy off at the knees by increasing taxes to pay for green pork projects,” referring to billions of dollars of “energy conservation bonds” that would finance renewable projects.

The bill, the New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act and the related tax title would spur a massive redistribution of federal incentives to wind, solar, geothermal and away from producing energy from oil, natural gas and coal.

“It’s an historic turn away from a fossil fuel agenda and toward a renewable energy agenda for America,” said Rep. Ed Markey, Massachusetts Democrat. “It has been a long time coming.”

Super-skinny solar cells soak up the sun

 solar panel

The cost of producing solar panels could be sliced by more than 60% thanks to technology being developed by Australian researchers.

Professor Andrew Blakers, director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems at the Australian National University, says ‘sliver technology’ could reduce the price of solar power to below the current retail price of electricity.

And he says this could make it cost-effective for householders to buy solar panels rather than electricity from the grid.

Blakers described the latest refinements in the technology at the Australian Institute of Physics conference in Brisbane.

The system works by taking a standard solar cell about 1 millimetre thick and cutting it into tiny slices that are just 120 micrometres wide.

“Imagine a standard solar cell is a loaf of bread. When you put it out in the sun it generates energy based on its surface area,” Blakers says.

“Now imagine you cut that loaf up into slices and lay them horizontally. You get a lot more surface area.”

This technique allows researchers to use much smaller amounts of expensive silicon to generate the same amount of electricity.

New World Record Achieved in Solar Cell Technology

A concentrator solar cell produced by Boeing-Spectrolab has recently achieved a world-record conversion efficiency of 40.7 percent, establishing a new milestone in sunlight-to-electricity performance.

This breakthrough may lead to systems with an installation cost of only $3 per watt, producing electricity at a cost of 8-10 cents per kilowatt/hour, making solar electricity a more cost-competitive and integral part of the world’s energy mix.

Attaining a 40 percent efficient concentrating solar cell means having another technology pathway for producing cost-effective solar electricity.

Almost all of today’s solar cell modules do not concentrate sunlight but use only what the sun produces naturally, what researchers call “one sun insolation,”  which achieves an efficiency of 12 to 18 percent.

However, by using an optical concentrator, sunlight intensity can be increased, squeezing more electricity out of a single solar cell.

Spain requires new buildings use solar power

Solar-Spain

Solar panels are now compulsory on all new and renovated buildings in Spain as part of the country’s efforts to bring its building rules up to date and curb growing demand for energy, ministers said on this week.

Until now Spain’s building standards have done little in seeking to improve energy efficiency.“We have to make up the time we have lost,” Environment Minister Cristina Narbona said, inaugurating a seminar on the new technical building code

The code will come into force fully next March.

This means new homes have to be equipped with solar panels to provide between 30 and 70 percent of their hot water, depending on where the building is located and on its expected water usage.

New non-residential buildings, such as shopping centers and hospitals, now have to have photovoltaic panels to generate a proportion of their electricity.

Wind and sun power cute commuter car

solar car

The Venturi Eclectic, touted as an “autonomous energy vehicle,” gets its charge from wind and a roof of solar panels.

The four-person ‘car’ boasts a 22-horsepower electric engine, powered by liquid-cooled NiMH batteries, and can reach a top-end speed of nearly 52kmh.

Range is only 50km but that should be ideal for most town runs, and if its sunny you could park and charge.

solar car and wind vane

The car does sport an option to recharge via AC power.

Scheduled for production in June 2007 it is expected to sell for $US30,500, but don’t hold your breath for one, the first 200 have already been sold.

If you can read German there’s lots more information here.

solae car and wind vane