Everything is Better Deep-Fried

by Briton Lee

Scientists have been searching for a way to make batteries hold longer charges, on both a commercial and industrial scale. South Korean researchers have made headway in this development, creating a form of 3D graphene “pom-poms” that have a much more efficient energy capacitance than normal graphene.

Graphene can be used as a supercapacitor due to its stability, high conductivity, and large surface area. 3D graphene capacitors are even better because their greater surface area enhances their capacitance. Graphene capacitors are relatively simple, with a carbon-only structure, and versatile enough to incorporate into batteries as electrodes. However, current ways of manufacturing graphene electrodes yield thin films that may stack and aggregate, which decreases surface area and makes the resulting material more difficult to process. These issues have led to the development of graphene foams and aerogels, but these can’t be used as electrodes because they’re too irregular and not as carbon-dense. Thus, scientists are currently looking to develop ways to create 3D carbon nanostructures for potential use as battery electrodes. Continue reading

Microgrid Micromanagement

by Briton Lee

One of the issues with the integration of alternative energy, such as solar and wind power, into the electricity grid is their volatile load swings. Automation and microgrids seek to address this issue of fluctuating energy and make renewables more amenable to integration. Solar and wind power are unpredictable, and fluctuations occur simply when a cloud passes over a solar grid. Another problem is that solar energy is generally produced during the day and not during the night, whereas human electricity use peaks in the evening. Generally, humans have to manually monitor and balance energy production and consumption in order to manage the electrical loads. The entire grid is tightly monitored, and the formulas used to keep the grid in check are thrown off when renewables are included. Renewables are unpredictable because it’s unclear when the energy will come in, since energy is not stored but rather threaded directly into the grid. Continue reading

Food at what Energy Cost?

by Briton Lee

In a developed society such as in the U.S., there are many things that we take for granted; chief among them being food. The consumer is divorced from how the food reaches the shelves, as well as the labor/energy costs that go into the process. The food industry is heavily energy-consumptive, and while energy consumption per capita may have fallen by 1 percent from 2002 to 2007, food-related energy use increased about 8 percent as more energy-intensive technologies were developed to produce food for our increasing population (Schwartz 2011). In fact, about 80% of the increase in annual U.S. energy consumption is food-related. Some of the significant ways energy is consumed in food production include fossil fuels needed to power machines, synthesis of crop fertilizers, and supplying/transferring water (Biederman 2015). Continue reading

Data Center Energy Consumption

by Briton Lee

Data centers in the United States are using an increasing amount of energy, needing 34 full power plants (capable of producing 500 megawatts of energy each) to power them all (Thibodeau 2014). In 2013, data centers used a total of 91 billion kilowatt-hours, and they are projected to hit 139 billion kilowatt-hours by 2020, a 53% increase (ibid). These data centers alone are contributing to an emission of 97 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, and account for over 2% of the energy used nationwide (Hamilton 2013, Fehrenbacher 2014). Continue reading

A Greener Apple

by Briton Lee

In February 2015, Apple announced at an investors’ conference that it has moved to build a solar farm in Monterey County to power all of its operations in California, including headquarters, data centers, and stores. This agreement with the largest U.S. developer of solar farms, First Solar, is the largest investment in solar power ever by a non-utility company. The projected amount of energy that can be obtained from this solar farm is 130 megawatts, which could be used to power 60,000 homes (Randall 2015). Since its rating as the worst tech offender by Greenpeace in 2011, Apple has made good on its decisions to improve its environmental footprint (Levy 2014). Continue reading

Extending the Range of Wireless Charging

by Briton Lee

Wireless charging has been quite prominent in recent years, and the implications of the technology is obvious, bypassing the need for any physical connection to power any device with energy. However, the technology is still limited and in its early stages, and the implementation of wireless energy is highly restricted by distance, as it was when it was initially introduced in 2009 with the Palm Pre (Miller 2009). Currently, this technology is seen mostly in wireless charging mats that are only slightly more convenient than plugging in a device. However, during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the company Energous debuted their work on long range wireless charging, WattUp. The technology attempts to achieve the goal of never having to worry about charging devices again. While this extent of wireless charging has been introduced before, there were problems with being able to scale up the efficiency. However, Energous has come a long way since it was established in 2012 as WattUp is able to achieve over 70% efficiency (charging mats are approximately 90% efficient) (Souppouris 2015). Continue reading

One Step Closer to Organic PV

by Briton Lee

Recently, researchers were able to produce organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells in a way that can be scalable to an industrial level. One of the barriers facing the widespread adoption of solar power is the cost-prohibitive nature of its production. Additionally, the conditions used to create inorganic solar panels, such as crystalline silicon are harsh; for instance, they must be produced at very energy-intensive high temperatures. Organic solar cells are being explored precisely because the organic materials characteristic of the product have a low production cost, with the added benefit of being flexible. Some of the drawbacks of organic solar cells are that they are not as durable as inorganic solar cells, and have a lower conversion efficiency. These drawbacks are attenuated by the potential of both scaling up the efficiency of the cells and robust mass production of organic solar cells with minimal resource input. While it may have a relatively low conversion efficiency, we have to take into account the amount of energy it can potentially create relative to the energy input; the net return on energy is substantial. Continue reading

Our Future in Feces: Vehicles Fueled by Biomethane

by Briton Lee

The British company Geneco has begun implementing prominent buses with a cartoon graphic detailing its power source: human waste. The concept of using waste to produce fuel is not novel, and is termed biomethane or renewable natural gas (RNG). It is most commonly used to power vehicles. The biomethane is collected from sewage treatment plants that process human waste while producing methane and carbon dioxide as byproducts. Typically, the resulting gases are simply released into the atmosphere, with plants in Oslo, Norway producing and releasing approximately 17,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year (Demerjian 2009). Continue reading