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Squeezing Liquid Fuel From The Sun

by Michael Keller

Earlier this month, we spotlighted promising research that has successfully produced biofuel by feeding electricity to bacteria. If it can scale up, this work would answer several current problems inherent in converting solar energy into fuel, a necessity in a world that runs on powerful vehicle engines that need energy-dense liquids to run.

Figuring out solutions to lowering society’s fossil fuel use could potentially help with global issues from energy insecurity to global warming. Yet contemporary biofuels are rife with their own set of problems. Often biofuel crops compete with acreage for food production and increase pressure to clear forests for cultivation. In the case of commodities like corn, which can be used for fuel feedstock and food, fuel production directly competes with food supplies. 

Meanwhile, plants are highly inefficient at converting sunlight into chemical energy, averaging little more than 3 percent efficiency. And if fertilizers are needed or trees must be cut to grow biofuel crops, then the process wouldn’t be carbon neutral, a requirement to slow the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But electricity-eating bacteria aren’t the only contenders for the next generation of renewable biofuels. There are also a number of projects that are starting to see dividends in taking sunlight and converting it directly into chemical energy.

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Snow Lets Scientists Study Real-World Turbulence From Wind Turbines

Engineers in the Midwest have been using the region’s bone-chilling winters to their advantage. Unhappy with the computer modelling and small wind tunnels normally used to study how spinning wind turbines interact with the air around them, they turned to the weatherman.

The team from the University of Minnesota and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign set up a powerful light behind a full-sized 2.5 megawatt, 260-foot-tall wind turbine and waited for snow. When a heavy storm eventually started blanketing the area, they recorded how the turbine’s spinning blades left turbulent airflow and swirling vortices behind it.

The snowflakes acted as flow tracers in the turbulent wind and provided the researchers with a new method to understand what happens when the machines operate. The results could be used to fine-tune machine-level and wind farm construction to make both more efficient at harvesting energy from the air.

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University of Minnesota engineers demonstrated the power of moving water during the USA Science and Engineering Festival held in Washington, DC, in April. Their presentation showed visitors that submerged turbines in the path of flowing water can generate electricity.

The method is called hydrokinetic power generation, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reports there are a number of projects operating or coming online in the future. As of April 22, the agency lists 16 marine and inland projects around the US with pending preliminary permits that potentially offer 3,969 megawatts of renewable electricity.

See videos below.

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energyfactcheck:

Comprehensive stats on sustainable energy!
Infographic from the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Factbook report series

Some interesting tidbits here on renewables.

energyfactcheck:

Comprehensive stats on sustainable energy!

Infographic from the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Factbook report series

Some interesting tidbits here on renewables.

(Source: americancouncilonrenewableenergy)

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