Semprius, a startup company manufacturing tiny concentrated solar cells that forgo any cooling systems has achieved a truly amazing leap in solar cell efficiency. The company was able to hit 33.9 percent efficiency with their solar panel, the first time a commercially-viable solar technology has passed the one-third mark.
Semprius's solar cells use gallium arsenide, rather than silicon, which is able to absorb sunlight and dissipate heat far better. The solar panel that scored this major efficiency record is made up of hundreds of these tiny cells that are about the width of a pen-drawn line. Lenses atop the cells concentrate sunlight 1,000 times.
To capture a better chunk of the solar spectrum, Semprius uses three layers of gallium arsenide, each one tweaked to convert a different part of the spectrum into electricity. Silicon solar cells, by contrast, only absorb a narrow band of sunlight and have efficiency rates that typically fall somewhere in the sub-15 percent area. The record for silicon cell efficiency is 22.9 percent and the previous record for commercial-level solar technology was 32 percent.
Possibly the greatest thing about the Semprius solar panel is that it's not some far distant future technology. It's been designed to be commercially produced and a factory opens this summer to start manufacturing the cells.
Stanford University researchers are working on a wireless EV charging technology that could eventually lead to highways that automatically charge vehicles as they drive over them. Such a technology could lead to a basically infinite range for EVs.
The wireless power transfer that the scientists are working on uses magnetic resonance coupling. Two copper coils are placed a few feet apart and tuned to resonate at the same frequency. One coil is connected to an electric current that generates a magnetic field that causes the other coil to resonate. This process leads to an electric current being transferred invisibly from the first coil to the second.
Previous studies have found the technology to be safe. The current is only transferred between the two in-tune resonators. People or objects standing near or between the coils would not be affected at all and even with obstacles in between, the two coils will still transfer the current without interruption.
MIT researchers have already been working on a stationary version of this technology for EV charging that transfers 3 kW to a parked car, but the Stanford researchers are taking the concept and modifying it to transfer 10 kW over a distance of 6.5 feet, or enough to charge an EV cruising down the highway. A series of coils connected to a current would be embedded in the highway with a receiving coil installed on the bottom of an EV. The receiving coils would resonate as the car drove along the road, continuously feeding the battery.
After running different mathematical models, the researchers figured out that a coil bent at 90 degrees and attached to a metal plate can transfer 10 kW to a twin coil 6.5 feet away. They say the efficiency of this wireless power transfer is 97 percent!
The researchers have filed a patent and will now move on to testing it in labs and then in real-world driving conditions to make sure it's completely safe and doesn't have any negative affects on other cars or drivers. Check out a video explaing the technology above.
Nissan has unveiled a new energy-efficient cargo ship for carrying its cars around the world. The Nichioh Maru features solar panels for powering the ships LED lighting system, a low-friction coating on the hull and an electronically-controlled diesel engine that optimizes fuel consumption. Compared to a conventional car carrier of its size, the Nichioh Maru will save 1,400 tons of fuel and prevent the emission of 4,200 tons of CO2 each year.
The Nichioh Maru is the first Japanese cargo ship to be outfitted with solar panels. The ship's deck is covered by 281 panels for powering the LED lights through the hold and crew quarters, eliminating the need for a diesel-fueled generator. The ship began its first voyage on January 27 and will begin carrying as many as 1,380 cars along the Japanese coast to Oppama Wharf, Kobe and Kyushu.
This isn't Nissan's first foray into energy-efficient car carriers. It also uses The City of St. Petersburg ship to transport its LEAF vehicles around Europe. That cargo ship is designed to reduce fuel use by 800 tons and cut CO2 emissions by 2,500 tons per year compared to carriers of its size.
Rising temperatures around the world are affecting many food crops and according to a new study done by a Stanford University scientist, wheat will be particularly vulnerable.
David Lobell looked at nine years-worth of images captured by the MODIS Earth-observation satellite to analyze the growing season of wheat in the Ganges plain of India. What he found was that in the years with higher average temperatures, the wheat fields turned brown earlier meaning that they were no longer growing.
Previous studies have predicted that wheat yields would fall by about 30 percent by 2050 in places like India, but Lobell thinks that realistic yield losses could be about 50 percent greater than existing models show. That's a scary figure since other studies have shown a need for wheat yields to increase by 50 percent in order to feed a growing global population.
One solution is breeding for wheat plants that have bigger roots and are less stressed by dryer and warmer conditions. Another option is to breed for plants that are slower growing and can be planted earlier in the season. That way the wheat could be harvested before the high spring temperatures while retaining its hardiness. Scientists are already working on these solutions, but either approach will need to have a breakthrough soon to keep up with growing demand and warming temperatures.
Last year was the ninth warmest year on record (since 1880). Global average surface temperatures has continually risen since 1950, when the average global temperature was 0.92 degrees F (0.51 C) cooler than in 2011.
An updated video compiled by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies illustrates this warming trend in colorful detail. Red in the video represents temperatures higher than the average during the 1950 - 1981 baseline period while blue represents temperatures lower than that average.
While 2011 was the ninth warmest year, 2010 was the warmest year on record. The difference in average temperature between 2010 and 2011 was 0.22 degrees F (0.12 C). Temperatures may fluctuate slightly from year to year, but, as this analysis shows, the overall trend of rapid warming continues.
The DOE plans to release additional resource assessments for ocean current, ocean thermal gradients, and new hydropower resources later in the year so that we'll have a full picture of the water power potential in the U.S.
Tesla won't be producing its all-electric SUV until 2014, but luckily we'll get a look at the design far sooner than that, though later than originally announced. Tesla is set to unveil the Model X prototype on February 9 at its design studio in California, just a few short days away.
In a filing with the SEC, Tesla said that it was "designing the Model X to incorporate the functionality of a minivan with the consumer appeal of a sports-utility vehicle." This leaves quite a bit of room to imagine its design. With both the Roadster and the soon-to-be-launched Model S, the carmaker pulled right from the luxury car style sheets. No doubt that the Model X will have that luxury feel too, but it will be very interesting to see what details Tesla will add to set it apart.
Even more importantly, what new performance specs will we get when the prototype is revealed? Check back on February 9 to see what we learn.
New radar facilities are being installed in Great Britain in order to "unlock" large sections of potential wind farm area for development. Because of potential interference, dozens of wind farm projects have been blocked by the Ministry of Defence (MOD). But now, the MOD has tested these new radar systems, and is satisfied that they will not suffer adverse effects from wind turbines.
One recent installation of a new Lockheed Martin air defense radar has let to the Ministry withdrawing its objection to five offshore wind farms that had been stalled over the issue. Wind farm developers are underwriting the cost of these new radar systems, but that investment could allow them to build as many as 4 gigawatts of additional wind farms.
Japanese home and business owners with solar power installations sold 2,150 GWh of electricity back to their power utilities last year, a huge 50 percent increase over the amount sold back to the grid in 2010. The sellers collectively made a nice $1.2 billion off their surplus electricity.
The Japanese government has a feed-in-tariff scheme that requires the utilities to purchase the extra power which was small beans compared to the average 884,000 GWh of electricity that those utilities sell to customers per year.
The government is set to introduce even more subsidies for domestic renewable energy power developers. The new scheme will include electricity from solar, wind, small hydroelectric, biomass and geothermal plants, but only solar panel owners with systems of 10 kW or less will still be able to sell their excess power.
The study found that the sun's output is likely to decrease until 2100, but that decrease will only lead to a global temperature reduction of 0.08 °C. Compared to the forecasted warming of at least 2.5 °C over the same period from greenhouse gases, a solar activity decline doesn't get us very far.
The study found that even if the sun's output fell to it's lowest known levels that occurred between 1645 and 1715, global temperatures would still only be reduced by 0.13 °C.
While the study's authors concede that their model doesn't fully capture all of the uncertainties in the climate system and solar output, the results do certainly let us know that a decline in solar activity is no match for greenhouse gas emissions.
We love seeing the world's architectural icons retrofitted to become more energy efficient, especially when they're major energy hogs like skyscrapers and huge bridges. Now we have another icon to add to that list.
As part of GE's Ecomagination initiative and in time for this summer's Olympic games, London's Tower Bridge will be given a green lighting makeover, switching out the street and artistic lighting for more efficient LEDs.
GE is teaming up with London's City Hall, City of London Corporation and EDF to complete the new installations. GE is replacing the existing street lighting with LEDs and more efficient floodlights, which will result in a 45 percent decrease in energy use. For the artistic lighting on the upper level of the bridge, GE is replacing the current neon lighting with its more energy efficient Tetra Contour Cable to light up the towers in multiple colors for the games. LED projector lights will also be installed.
The new artistic lighting system willl use 40 percent less energy than the previous lighting system.