Tag Archives: storage

Hydrogen – the perfect renewable

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 (5000โ€“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 -252.8ยฐC’ [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 โ€“ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚


Drought proofing Australia

Drought is nothing new in Australia. Dorothea McKellar wrote about it in My Country, a poem that I, and all Australians of my generation, learned off by heart in school:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.

But last night I saw something that truly shocked me. It was an aerial view of the reservoir of a small town in NSW. The reservoir was half empty, and the water was an unpleasant green.

But that was not what shocked me.

Snuggled up next to the reservoir was a huge tanker. It was pumping water into the reservoir because the town had run dry:


But that was not what shocked me.

What shocked me was the realisation that much of the precious water going into the reservoir would soon begin to evaporate. Even as it was being pumped in, it was starting to evaporate out. And all of Australia’s dams and reservoirs are like that – open to the air, the wind, the sun and the heat. Water wasted by the gigalitre.

Open reservoirs were the only way water could be stored in the past. But it doesn’t have to be like that.ย It would take money, a terrifying amount of money, and a political will that has not been seen since World War II, but those outdated, primitive reservoirs could be updated into underground water storage units.

It is possible. If we can build concrete swimming pools, and massive damns like the Snowy Hydro scheme, we can build concrete reservoirs for the most threatened, inland towns of Australia. Or perhaps we wouldn’t use concrete at all. Maybe we could repurpose all that plastic waste and use it to line those underground water storage reservoirs.

We could also stop giving away the life blood of our rivers to mates with deep pockets. Our food security relies on irrigation. The water for that irrigation comes from our river systems. But instead of protecting those river systems, we’ve allowed them to be plundered for cash crops like cotton:

Part of why cotton takes up so many nutrients from the soil is its extensive root system. In order for the roots to develop enough to obtain those nutrients, lots of moisture is needed, especially early on.

Could someone explain to me why cotton is being grown [by huge agribusinesses] in an arid country like Australia? Without massive irrigation, taken largely from our rivers and flood plain harvesting, cotton could not possibly survive in inland Australia. Yet it’s happening, and it’s generating huge profits for multinational businesses such as CS Agriculture Pty Ltd:

“….(which owns Cubbie Station) in Australia. Shandong Ruyi is the ultimate shareholder of this new Australian group…”

“Since CS Agriculture took control of Cubbie Station, the struggling cotton property has been transformed by a major reinvestment into the business, including upgrades of water-saving infrastructure…”


The ‘water-saving infrastructure’ includes massive damns that harvest flood plain water. I should also point out that Shandong Ruyi is a huge Chinese textile company:


Australia needs foreign investment, but as one of the most arid countries on Earth, exporting cotton via Shandong Ruyi is akin to exporting our water. In my not-so-humble opinion, that is insane. Allowing this to continue when said export is destroying land and communities in the rest of Australia is…criminal.

Every Australian needs to understand that the flood plains of a river are vitally important to the river and the land, both above and below:

‘The layered sediments of many flood plains can create important aquifers. Clay, sand, and gravel filter water as it seeps downward.’


When you harvest the water of a flood plain, you starve the river and the land. You also starve the towns that historically relied on that river for their water. One such town is Broken Hill.

Broken Hill is not some small country town with a pub and not much else. Broken Hill is a major inland centre, and it too is running out of water. It used to supplement its water from the Darling river, but the Darling is almost dead so a ‘hurry-hurry’ pipeline is being built to the Murray river:

“The Wentworth-Broken Hill pipeline will fix things for Broken Hill, which can no longer rely on the Darling for its water supply. It will also ensure secure water supply for two new mines, Perilya Mines and Hawsons Iron Project.”


Makes you wonder whether the pipeline is actually for the town or the mines…

The biggest problem with the Broken Hill pipeline, however, is that the water it takes from the Murray will impact all the communities south from there, in Victoria. Victorian communities rely on the Murray too, as does South Australia. Allowing the Darling to be destroyed up north in Queensland and northern NSW will have a knock-on effect all the way down the line, with each ‘fix’ creating problems further south.

There is one ‘fix’ I haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s desalination. We built a desalination plant here in Victoria, after the Millennium Drought. That desal plant may stop Melbourne from running dry, but what of the inland?

Australia currently has six desalination plants – one for South-East Queensland, two in Western Australia near Perth, one near Sydney [NSW], one for Melbourne [Victoria] and one for Adelaide [South Australia]. All of these desalination plants are on the coast…dah…because they make fresh water out of seawater. All of the communities supplied by those desalination plants are on the coast as well.

Now imagine how much it would cost to pump water inland from those desalination plants…

All of Australia’s water problems are of our own making, and could be fixed properly, but it would take serious nation building by a succession of Federal governments. It hasn’t happened.

Now ask yourself this: if we can’t fix the problems we created, what are we going to do when climate change truly starts to bite?

Sadly, the answer to that question appears to be ‘nothing’. Successive governments have sat on their hands, denying that we’re destroying the rivers, denying that climate is changing, denying that anything needs to be done. And we, the voting public have allowed them to get away with it because we’re scared our cushy lifestyles will become a little less cushy.

I truly hope I’m no longer around when life stops being ‘cushy’ and becomes a fight for survival.


#MXene for batteries of the future?

At this moment in time, the biggest stumbling block to new, clean, renewable technology is old technology – the tech of the battery – but MXene, and new materials like it, could be the trigger that kickstarts general acceptance of renewable technologies.

Why? Because :

‘While MXene wonโ€™t be commercially available or integrated into current technology for about three years, the material has the potential to disrupt current charging tech by rectifying inefficient, long charge times, device deterioration, and systems with relatively short battery lives.’

Now, imagine having vehicle charging ports on every block, like fire hydrants, and electric vehicles capable of recharging their batteries at these port in just a few minutes. In such a scenario, even currently produced electric cars would be convenient enough for general use. Add new car technologies that extend driving range, for example, and you have a world in which there is no reason to have internal combustion engines.

Now think bigger still. Once car batteries become truly efficient, why not extend the technology to the generation of power as well? Tesla already offers storage solutions for electricity generated from renewables. What if these storage batteries become so efficient [and common] that every house or apartment building can afford to generate and store its own power?

Thinking further still, what if all these small, local power plants could talk to each other and shift energy sideways to wherever it’s needed within an entire city?

I may be letting my imagination run away with me, but in such a future, I can see electricity prices coming down and clean air going up. ๐Ÿ™‚



Australian invention for the micro-grid

“In distributed power generation, rather than having a massive centralized grid, you’re talking about much smaller micro-grids,” says Moghtaderi. “This system, in the Energy on Demand mode, has been designed for a micro-grid application. So essentially, if you deploy to a retirement village, and you hook it up to natural gas, that retirement village would be entirely independent of the national electricity network, and they can produce their own power and other utilities, 24/7.”

That quote comes from an exciting article I read in New Atlas today. Essentially, an Australian university – the University of Newcastle – and an Australian company called Infratech Industries have together developed ‘…a Chemical Looping Energy-on-Demand System (CLES)’ which not only generates electricity, but can store it as well.

CLES is the brainchild of Professor Behdad Moghtaderi of the University of Newcastle, and could well be the answer to Australia’s energy woes. Despite being a major exporter of natural gas, Australia has somehow mismanaged things so badly that now we are the ones likely to run out of power. It’s happened already in South Australia and is likely to happen in other states as well in the near future.

Tesla has offered to create a battery-powered fail-safe for us before next summer, but I’d much rather see Australia embrace a homegrown product, especially as it could lead to a rapid uptake of distributed power generation. If we get that right, we could export the technology to the rest of the world instead of continuing to rely on the export of resources. We have so much inventive talent here, let’s celebrate if for once instead of forcing it off-shore through lack of interest.

You can find the New Atlas article here:


And now an apology. I’ve been missing in action a bit lately, and it’s due to a number of things. First, my teaching schedule exploded unexpectedly. Second, I’ve been trying to complete the print version of Innerscape, and that has required upgrading some of my most critical software to ensure that the finished product is commercially ‘legal’. [For ebooks I use Storybox, which is fine, but for print I have to use a commercial version of Word, and I only had a ‘Home and Student’ version before]. Finally, I haven’t been well. Since about June last year, I’ve had recurring infections in my teeth which have resulted in having one tooth pulled and root canal treatments on three others.

Despite all the treatments, and the associated cost, I developed another infection last week, and I now have to go see an endodontist. Endodontists are dentists who specialise in root canal treatments [amongst other things]. My first appointment is next week. Until then I’m on antibiotics that hurt my stomach and anti-inflammatories that also hurt my stomach. Not sleeping very well either so…those creative juices just aren’t flowing. I will try to catch up with your creativeness though. ๐Ÿ™‚



#Solar powered micro-grid + #Tesla batteries = the future?

Just found this amazing article on New Atlas. It concerns a small island being powered almost exclusively by a micro-grid made up of solar panels and Tesla batteries. The batteries can be fully charged in 7 hours and can keep the grid running for 3 days without any sun at all:

Why do I find this so exciting? Distributed systems, that’s why.

“And what’s that?” you ask, eyes glazing over as you speak.

In computing, which is where I first heard the term, a distributed systems is:

a model in which components located on networked computers communicate and coordinate their actions by passing messages.[1] The components interact with each other in order to achieve a common goal.

Distributed computing also refers to the use of distributed systems to solve computational problems. In distributed computing, a problem is divided into many tasks, each of which is solved by one or more computers,[3] which communicate with each other by message passing.[4]


Okay, okay. Here are some nice, juicy examples instead:

  • the internet,
  • your mobile phone network
  • MMOs [massively multiple player online games] like the one I play,
  • virtual reality communities, and even
  • the search for extra terrestrial intelligence [SETI].

There are heaps more examples I could name, but the point is that all these systems rely on the fact that the power of the group is greater than the power of its individual components. In fact, the world wide web could not exist at all if it had to be run from just one, ginormous computer installation.

So distributed systems can be insanely powerful, but when it comes to powering our cities, we seem to be stuck on the old, top-down model in which one, centralised system provides energy to every component in the system – i.e. to you and me and all our appliances.

Opponents of renewables always cite baseload as the main reason why renewables won’t work in highly developed countries. What they don’t tell you is that to create baseload, they have to create electricity all the time. That means burning fossil fuels all the time and creating pollution all the time.

Centralised power generation also does something else – it concentrates the means for producing this energy in one place, so if there is a malfunction, the whole grid goes down. But that’s not all. If all power is produced in one place, it’s all too easy to strike at that one place to destroy the ‘heart’ of the whole system. It can happen. If you read the whole article on New Atlas, you’ll learn that the supply of diesel to the island was once cut, for months. When the diesel ran out, so did the electricity. Now imagine an act of sabotage that destroys the power supply to a city of millions. It hasn’t happened yet, but I think it’s just a matter of time.

By contrast, distributed processing means that you would have to destroy virtually every component of the system to shut it down completely. A good example of this is our road system. In most areas, if one part of the road is closed for whatever reason, we can still get where we want to go by taking a detour. It may take us a little bit longer, but we get there in the end. Something very similar happens with the internet. Digital information is sent in ‘packets’ which attempt to find the quickest route from point A to point X, usually via point B. However if point B goes down, the packets have multiple alternate routes to get to X. Why should power generation be any less efficient?

In the past, electricity could not be stored, so it had to be generated by big, expensive power plants. That volume of electricity still can’t be stored, but in the future, it may not have to be. I foresee a time when neighbourhoods will become micro-grids, with each house/building contributing to the power needs of the whole neighbourhood. Surplus power generation will be stored in some form of battery system [it doesn’t have to be Tesla batteries, but they obviously work well in distributed systems] to provide power 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. More importantly, the type of micro-grid used could be flexible. Communities living inland with almost constant sunshine would obviously use solar, but seaside communities might use wave power, others might use hydro or geothermal.

But what of industry?

I may be a little optimistic here, but I think that distributed power generation could work for industry as well. Not only could manufacturing plants provide at least some of their own power, via both solar and wind, but they could ‘buy in’ unused power from the city. The city, meanwhile, would not generate power but it’s utilities companies could store excess power in massive flywheels or some other kind of large scale storage device. And finally, if none of that is enough, companies could do what utility companies already do now – they could buy in power from other states.

In this possible future, power generation would be cheaper, cleaner and much, much safer. All that’s required is for the one-size-fits-all mindset to change.

Distributed is the way of the future, start thinking about it today. ๐Ÿ™‚



Converted bus #TinyHouse

When I was a kid I was fascinated by the idea of Gypsy caravans. Now, I’m fascinated by Tiny Houses, and this converted bus is one of the best I’ve seen!

My favourite part came almost at the end when Andrew demonstrated the storage under the bed. Did you notice the cat? If you didn’t, go back and watch that bit again. It’s hilarious!

Have a happy weekend,



#Cloud storage & #sync.com…….or a positive tech post for a change!

After coping with the security issues of Windows 10, it was such a pleasant surprise to find an ‘app’ that is unabashedly security conscious! And yes, Sync.com, I’m talking about you. But first, a quick word about the problems that sync.com solves: storage, backup and version control.

Normally, when you create a file on your computer, you save it to your computer – i.e. onto the harddrive inside theย physical ‘box’. If you’re super organised, you may also save that file to an external harddrive or USB device, as a form of ongoing ‘backup’. Belt-and-braces type people might save that data to a DVD as well, giving them multiple backups in case of disaster.

But all of these various types of storage have one, critical downside – a change made in one copy of the data will NOT be reflected in the other copies. If you have 3 copies of a particular file, you will have to manually update each copy.

There is also another issue that can be a nightmare – version control. Let me give you an example. Every time I work on my WiP [work in progress], I save it to my desktop, and then I copy it to my USB device. The latest version from the desktop always over-writes the version on the USB. Obviously, this is so I always have at least one copy of my work no matter what happens [e.g. the house burns down in a bushfire or some other catastrophe].

But what if I have 2 computers and want to add to my WiP on both?

That is the problem I’ve been struggling with for the last few days: there’s no point having the laptop if I don’t use it for my work, but if I do use it while I’m away from home, how do I keep the versions straight?

My fear is that if I continue with the USB device, sooner or later I am going to get the latest version of the WiP wrong. In a moment of madness or tiredness or distraction, I’ll over-write the wrong copy and then I’ll be up the creek without a paddle. Enter cloud storage.

Like the USB drive or DVD etc., cloud storage saves your files outside your pc, usually in a server on the other side of the world. The file is ‘up-loaded’ to the cloud via your internet connection, and once it’s there, you can access it from any computer device you choose. You can also share that file with others if you wish.

For me, cloud storage means I can work on my WiP at home and have it synced to my laptop so if I go out, I can continue working on the WiP where I left off.

Lovely concept, right?

Unfortunately, the grand-daddy of cloud storage – Dropbox – showed that cloud storage can be hacked, and most reviews I’ve read say their security has not improved much if at all since then. Now, I’m not working on anything ‘naughty’ that I need to hide from anyone, but privacy is very important to me, and I would die if I lost four years worth of work through someone else’s ‘oopsie’. So no Dropbox.:(

I was trawling through the umpteenth review/comparison of cloud storage offerings – there are heaps of them! – when I came across Sync.com. And guess what! The thing that sets sync.com apart from the rest is its security. ๐Ÿ™‚ Plus it’s Canadian, so not subject to some of the, um, government sponsored hacking found over the border.

And now for the acid test – does sync.com work?

Yes, yes, it does. ๐Ÿ™‚

The two screenshots below show my desktop and the laptop. They’ve been synced via sync.com and the test files I used have shown up on both computers with only a very short delay – approx. 20 seconds or thereabouts.

sync com screenshots

So now I know the system works, and thankfully, getting it to work is really simple too.

How to use Sync.com

  1. First, register for the sync.com free, 5 GB plan: https://www.sync.com/install/
  2. Then download the installer to the first pc. Install Sync to the first pc using the account name you setup in step 1. Part of the setup process is the creation of a folder called ‘Sync’.
  3. Now, download and install the Sync installer to the second pc. Make sure you have a ‘Sync’ folder on the second pc as well.
  4. Drag and drop [or copy/paste] a file into the ‘Sync’ folder on the first pc.
  5. Wait 20? seconds and you will see that the file now appears in the ‘Sync’ folder of the second pc as well.

The Sync presence on your pc is minimal. If you need to do something with the actual app., you can find it inside ‘Show hidden icons’ on your taskbar:

sync taskbar icon

All other work is done on the website itself. Once I’ve worked out how to share files with friends, I’ll detail that in a separate post. For now, I’m really happy with my new way of working.

Last question: was finding and installing Sync as easy or convenient as using the default OneDrive cloud storage app offered by Windows 10?

Simple answer: no. Installing and learning how to use Sync didn’t take me long, but it still required some time and effort on my part, the payoff, however, is more than worth it:

  • I have an excellent cloud storage app.
  • It has excellent security features, and
  • I am in control, not Micro$oft
  • oh…and Sync is free [unless I want heaps more storage]

By contrast, I pay for the ‘convenience’ of Windows 10 by handing Micro$oft my privacy on a plate. No contest.




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