Renewables and battery storage have become mainstream topics in the last few years, and everyone knows about lithium ion batteries. Correction: everyone owns at least one, in their smartphones. But those batteries do have a number of downsides, including the fact that they can start fires .
On a more global scale, the concern is cost, so finding cheaper, safer forms of large scale storage is critical if we want to transition away from fossil fuels before we all turn into shish kebabs. Given the corporate obsession with profit at any cost, ‘cheap’ and ‘change’ seem to be joined at the hip, so I hope these new-old technologies become mainstream soon.
The video below describes one of the oldest and cheapest contenders for large scale battery storage:
I put solar panels on my roof soon after I built this house because I was trying to plan for my retirement. That makes me one of the lucky ones, but what about those who are renting? Or simply can’t afford to put solar panels on their roofs?
Given the soaring cost of energy, this article by Citizen Mum, an Aussie blogger, really hit the nail on the head:
‘The concept of a solar garden is new in Australia, and is being developed by Pingala, a citizen led co-operative focused on developing people-centred and socially just energy solutions. At its core the concept is very simple and based along the lines of a community garden, in that cooperative members have the opportunity to purchase plots (panels) in the solar garden and have the energy that is generated from the plot credited to their power bill. It is ideal for people in rental accommodation, apartments or homes that are not suitable for rooftop solar.’
To give a little context to that quote, Citizen Mum is talking about ‘mid-scale solar arrays’. These are like the solar panels we’re used to seeing when we see photos of solar farms – fields and fields of solar panels almost as far as the eye can see:
Yeah, like those but smaller, much, much smaller. Mid scale solar arrays are big enough to provide a decent amount of solar energy, but small enough to be ‘owned’ by a small town. Or as the quote suggests, owned by the individuals of that town.
If you’re interested in mitigating climate change, and perhaps saving yourselves some money long term, I strongly suggest you read the whole article on Citizen Mum’s blog.
Further along in the article, Jason Allen talks about how he set up the parameters for Midjourney [the software/AI] to use. Then he chose what he considered to be the best from three outcomes. And it won first prize at the Colorado State Fair.
When I first read this article, my initial reaction was horror. How could a piece of software, no matter how sophisticated, produce something this…beautiful? But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it was the parameters set by Jason Allen that had created an image of great beauty, so in that sense, Midjourney was simply another tool.
I admit an AI is a bit more high tech than a paintbrush, but the creativity still came from Allen.
What do you think? The beginning of the end for artists? Or just one more tool?
Hydrogen has become something of a buzz word lately, but is it really a magic bullet for solving our energy problems? The answer is a qualified ‘yes’.
But first, what is hydrogen?
Hydrogen is the ‘H’ in H2O.
What is H2O? Why it’s good old fashioned water, that’s what!
About 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, so if we can find a cheap, easy way to extract hydrogen from water we’ll be half way there to our renewable magic bullet.
We can already use electrolysis to split water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen, but the process requires both energy AND catalysts like platinum and iridium. If we use solar or wind power to extract the hydrogen then we’re still left with the problem of the platinum and iridium, neither of which is cheap.
Luckily, a lot of research is being directed at the extraction process. One team, headed by Dr Alexey Ganin of the University of Glasgow, is working on ‘pulsing electric current through a layered catalyst’ in order to extract the hydrogen. With this discovery, the pulse is the key.
Another team, from Stanford University, ‘developed a low-voltage, single-catalyst water splitter that continuously generates hydrogen and oxygen for more than 200 hours’. The beauty of this discovery is that the catalyst used is nickel-iron oxide. Not platinum or some other rare earth.
Clearly then, the extraction process is being improved in leaps and bounds, but what of the other side of the equation, the use of hydrogen as an energy source?
At the moment, hydrogen ‘…can be physically stored as either a gas or a liquid. Storage as a gas typically requires high-pressure tanks (5000–10,000 psi tank pressure). Storage of hydrogen as a liquid requires cryogenic temperatures because the boiling point of hydrogen at one atmosphere pressure is -252.8°C’ [Hydrogen Storage – Basics].
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d like to be anywhere near a hydrogen car if/when it collides with a truck and goes boooom!
To be a true magic bullet, hydrogen has to be both cheap and easy to produce and cheap and easy to store [and then use]. It also has to be safe. This is where new research is really powering ahead. Recently, not one, but two, separate research teams have come up with novel ways to store and transport hydrogen.
I’m very pleased to say that a team from Deakin University, right here in Australia, has come up with ‘a super-efficient way to mechanochemically trap and hold gases in powders’. Powders!!!
The neat little gif below [not mine] illustrates the process:
The steel balls pounding away in the cylinder separate the gases and then bind one of them to the boron nitride. That’s why it’s called a mechano + chemical process. The resultant powder can be stored safely at room temperature. To release the gas, you simply heat the powder.
Hot on the heels of that discovery comes another, this time from a Hong Kong based company EPRO Advance Technology (EAT). They’ve made a silicon based powder that doesn’t contain hydrogen – it makes hydrogen… when you add water.
‘The Si+ powder can be made using a (preferably renewable) energy source, as well as metallurgical-grade silicon – which itself can be made from sand, or from crushed-up recycled solar panels and electronics. EAT’s process results in a porous silicon powder that’s completely safe and easy to transport.’
Two completely different approaches to the storage, transport, and use of hydrogen. Will either one become our magic bullet? I have no idea, but breakthroughs like these give me hope that we will be able to stop climate change before it stops us. 🙂
As someone who has had a brush with cancer myself, I know at first hand how invasive and unpleasant the current treatments are. That’s why the fireworks went off in my head when I read about the ‘Drug factory” beads implanted in mice’ that eliminated tumours within a week. And without causing damage to the surrounding healthy tissues!
Interleukin-2, a drug already approved by the FDA in the US, is made on-site by the drug factories [beads]. And the results were nothing short of miraculous:
“Once we determined the correct dose – how many factories we needed – we were able to eradicate tumors in 100 percent of animals with ovarian cancer and in seven of eight animals with colorectal cancer.”
Mice are not the same as humans so clinical trials will need to be carried out to see if this novel delivery system works as well in us as it does in lab animals, but we could be looking at a major revolution in the treatment of at least some cancers.
Death is not something any of us like to think about. Perhaps that’s why we try to hide the signs of ageing so much, but now the New Atlas has published research about the last moments of a person’s life – and the research seems to show that those moments involved parts of the brain associated with dreaming and memories.
The researchers recorded about 15 minutes of brain activity:
‘They focused in on the 30 seconds either side of when the heart stopped beating, and detected increased activity in types of brain waves known as gamma oscillations. These are involved in processes such as dreaming, meditation and memory retrieval, giving a glimpse into what a person may be experiencing during their final moments.’
One, single recording doesn’t prove a thing, especially as the patient suffered from epilepsy so their brain was hardly ‘normal’, but the mere thought that the research might be true gives me a strange sense of comfort. I’m in no danger of dying, but I sat with my father for the last two days of his life, and I hope that he passed gently and in peace. I hope that’s how I go too…in about 30 odd years time. 🙂
I hope none of you have found this post to be morbid. It wasn’t meant to be.
I just stumbled across the Mayo Stryker in an article about ’12 Medical Miracle Technologies’ on Medium. All twelve will save countless lives, but this one made my heart skip a beat:
Those of you who’ve read the first book of the trilogy – Miira – may remember the scene in which an autonomous AI controlled robot pares Miira’s body back to the bits that still work. The process is overseen by a team of surgeons who never touch the patient at all.
That scene was more or less in its finished version by May, 2015.
I don’t have a crystal ball, nor do I have the kind of expert knowledge that results in a breakthrough like the Mayo Stryker, but I am a problem solver, and it seems that my theoretical, fictional solution was logical enough to become real.
Before I get too fat a head, however, I have to acknowledge how much I get absolutely wrong, starting with the speed of development. I think a great many of these logical solutions will become reality decades before I thought they would. Ah well… I’ll take my wins where I find them. 🙂
In the Terminator movies, the robot played by Arnold Schwarzeneger looks like a human on the outside thanks to artificial flesh – i.e. skin and muscle. Well now the researchers at Freiburg University have made an all-protein muscle:
‘For the new study, researchers at the University of Freiburg created artificial muscles that are entirely “bio-based.” They’re made of elastin, a natural protein that gives tissues like skin and blood vessels their elasticity.’
But wait…there’s more. The new, artificial muscle can respond to certain kinds of stimuli which means it can react to the outside world. This is huge, not just for robotics but for all sorts of prosthetics and implants.
And then there’s the development of artificial nerves.
‘Sensory nerves carry information from the outside world to our spinal cord and brain. In particular, our ability to perceive touch sensation is achieved by a type of sensory nerve ending called mechanoreceptors which are located in our skin. When pressure is applied to the skin, the mechanoreceptors respond by changing their electric voltage (i.e., a measure of electrical energy). The voltages from multiple mechanoreceptors are combined and transmitted to a single neuron, or nerve cell. At a certain voltage threshold, the neuron generates repetitive electrical pulses that are forwarded to other neurons via junctions called synapses, eventually reaching the neurons in the brain to register the touch sensation. The frequency at which the electric pulses are generated (measured in hertz, i.e., number per second) is determined by the applied pressure. Higher pressures produce electrical pulses at higher frequencies, while lower pressures produce lower frequency pulses (Figure 1). These electrical pulses are eventually transmitted to and processed by the brain to feel the pressure of the external stimulus, according to the pulse frequencies.’
If we could make artificial skin and muscle, and then give that skin artificial nerve endings, we could create robots capable of ‘feeling’.
‘Artificial sensory nerves are at a very early stage in their development… To mimic its biological counterpart, the artificial sensory nerve is constructed using three components: resistive pressure sensors, ring oscillators, and a synaptic transistor, corresponding to the biological mechanoreceptors, neurons, and synapses, respectively (Figure 2).’
Why am I so interested in these developments? Because there are all sorts of stories in the world of Innerscape, including that of Jaimie and Ari. Jaimie is on the ‘inside’. Ari is on the ‘outside’. They can never really be together unless Ari gets very sick and is inducted into Innerscape, not a fate either of them would wish for.
But what if Jaimie could somehow project himself outside? If he could invent a robot capable of ‘feeling’, he could ride the robot in the outside world but ‘feel’ what the robot feels via the Innerscape AI. It would be like the reverse of the gaming suits and biofluid that outsiders use to temporarily project themselves inside Innerscape.
I’ve been thinking about the possibilities for some time, but couldn’t see how I could make it happen, not without making it all up. Now I won’t have to. 🙂
I know you guys aren’t really interested in my tech posts but…I don’t write them for you. I actually write them for myself so I can find important information months or even years after I originally discover it.
One of the criticisms always levelled at renewable energy is that it’s intermittent. Or in layman’s terms, unreliable.
In recent years, that failing has become less acute thanks to all sorts of batteries, but to supply the kind of energy the modern world needs, the capacity of batteries has to become bigger, much bigger.
The link below leads to an article that describes an energy storage system being developed by MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. The system uses a variation of hydro power…under the sea:
The idea is that you’d build humungous hollow concrete balls and place them on the ocean floor. When wind farms floating on the surface produced energy, the excess energy – i.e. the energy not immediately needed by the grid – would be used to pump seawater out of the balls. Then, when the wind farms stopped producing energy, water would be allowed back into the balls via generators. That water would turn the turbines which would produce electricity until the balls filled with water again.
The bigger the ball, the better. 😉 Ahem…
I love the simplicity of the MIT concept. My Dad was a mechanical engineer and I loved watching his prototypes working simply because the laws of physics or whatever made it so. Think gravity, or water always flowing downhill etc. As a result, I absolutely love the idea of this underwater hydro system. Nevertheless, achieving such apparent simplicity would not be cheap. As the article says, there is no ship currently powerful enough to tow even one ball from the land to its resting place on the ocean floor. The problem is not insurmountable, but the startup costs would be substantial.
I’m really looking forward to the next ten years when so many of today’s wild ideas become reality. I hope this is one of them.