Mar 22, 2009

Offshore Wind Farms

I was watching Planet Green the other day, and I saw a special on the first wind farm in the Netherlands, the Offshore Wind Farm near Egmond aan Zee.

The farm is a 36 turbine, 200 million Euro project built on the initiative of the Dutch government and managed by NoordzeeWind, a joint venture between Nuon and Shell Oil.

The Planet Green documentary explained how these turbines were set up. They were built in pieces and transported by truck to the coast. From there, they shipped them on giant cargo ships to the sea, where they had to take great care in making sure all the pieces fit perfectly. One wrong move, and the entire turbine would have to be sent back to shore to get fixed.

According to its Wikipedia article, the farm produces a total of 108MW of power, enough to provide 100,000 households with energy.

Since the Offshore Wind Farm near Egmond aan Zee, many other North Sea windfarms have been constructed near the Netherlands, most recently the Princess Amalia Wind Farm (also near Egmond aan Zee) built by Enoco energy, a Dutch energy company, and Econcern, a European company that provides sustainable energy solutions.

After a little more digging (or rather, more link-clicking on Wikipedia), I learned that the United Kingdom is actually the world's leading generator of offshore wind power - makes sense, since space is generally an issue for small island countries. One of the offshore wind farms in the UK, the Lynn and Inner Dowsing Wind Farm, is the world's largest, generating 194MW, enough to power 130,000 homes.

It's great to see energy companies in European countries invest in offshore wind farms. While it may make sea transport a little more difficult, it's an excellent solution to the problem of space, size, and noise issues that wind power is sometimes associated with, and they may be options to consider for many other coastal countries.

Source of images: Flickr Creative Commons

Mar 21, 2009

Why Pirates Like Being Green...

I've put together a short list of why pirates (in the romantic, Pirates of the Caribbean sense...not the literal take-over-Ukranian-tankers-with-tanks-and-weapons-and-hold-it-for-ransom sense...) like environmental sustainability and clean technology:

1) Pirate ships run on one of the cleanest sources of energy available: Wind.

(The above picture shows you how Pirate ships are case you were wondering)

It's no surprise then, that companies these days are looking again at wind to power the world's fleet. Not only does it reduce costs for shipping companies, it makes ships emission free. A German company called SkySails is bringing that one step closer to that ideal, making giant parachute looking sails for cargo ships. The company's website claims that ships can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 35% and in optimal cases as much as 50%.

2) Pirates like recycling.

Recycling instead of dumping stuff into landfills and dumps means there are more places to bury your booty. Pirates like to bury stuff: gold doubloons, chalices, precious stones, etc. They particularly like to bury stuff in remote areas where no one will find it.

Unfortunately, people like to build landfills in remote areas, since no one will be affected. If people keep dumping trash in landfills, then how are pirates going to bury stuff and keep it safe?!

Thankfully, some people are taking this pirate's woes into consideration. A company called RecycleBank is offering some incentives for individuals who recycle - drugstore discounts, grocery coupons, etc. According to this Newsweek article, communities with RecycleBank programs have seen 10-fold increases in recycling rates.

3) Pirates like clean air.

Pirates need to be able to actually see land if they want to know where they are going, and they can't do that if the coast is covered in smog and haze from pollution.

One company in Lima, Peru called Tierra Nuestra has developed an Urban Air Cleaner to hopefully fix this vexing problem. It uses a liquid filtration system that runs on the electricity of a vacuum cleaner, but has the air cleaning power of 1200 trees. The machines cost $100,000 to produce and the mud and wastewater by-products from the machine are deposited in the city sewage system.

You can check out a video about the UAC by National Geographic here.

4) Desalination projects are a pirate's best friend.

Pirates are constantly surrounded by water as they sail, but they can't drink a single drop ("Water, water everywhere, not a drop to spare," anyone?). However, desalination technology which allows salt water to be converted to drinkable fresh water is one of the best things ever, allowing us to tap into the vast resources of the ocean.

(The future of water on Pirate ships...)

While water desalination presents other problems (like what do to with all the salty junk taken out of the salt water and how to make desalination cheaper), there are companies like NanoH2O which has developed nanotube membranes that can process salt water much faster than the traditional reverse osmosis process.

So there you have it, with all these clean technologies being developed to make the world a cleaner place, the future of pirates (and probably everyone else in the world...) is looking pretty bright.

Source for pictures: Flickr Creative Commons

Mar 19, 2009

Name Change

While on my computer, trying to combat insomnia, I came up with an amazing idea.

I like Pirates.

And I'm interested in Clean Technology.

So why not combine the two?!

Now, I haven't exactly thought this through, but I imagine that I'll come up with something in my next post that will find some way to link Pirates and Cleantech.

Mar 8, 2009

TerraCycle Inc

I was watching a show on Planet Green TV - a very good channel recently started by the Discovery Company- called Eco Tech. This particular episode was about how scientists are devising ways to ultimately reach zero waste by converting garbage into useful energy and products

One of the companies they were showcasing is a company called TerraCycle Inc. This company was started by Princeton students for a business plan competition, and as they won more and more business plan competitions and as retailers like Home Depot and Whole Foods started stocking their products, the company grew. The basic idea is to take garbage, feed it to worms, collect their poop, liquefy the poop, and sell the poop as fertilizer.

What is most unique about this company is that every aspect of the operations use recycled products. They collect used soda bottles from schools and other sources, strip the old packaging, put their liquefied worm poop into the used bottles and slap on their own packaging. The squirt heads for these bottles are extras from other companies, and the boxes used to ship their products are misprinted boxes that other companies would have thrown away.

They also make household cleaners from water, oils, and minerals, drain cleaners using microorganisms, and fire logs made from cardboard boxes, which are made of wax cardboard and are not degradable, taking up space in landfills.

According to the founder, Tom Szaky's blog, the company has recently started making office and school products, partnering with Office Max to sell these products: corn plastic pens, pencils made from old newspapers and paper made from coffee leaves and banana peels, among others.

Mar 5, 2009

Artificial Trees that Generate Energy

I ran across this company while I was searching the web called Solar Botanic

They essentially have this concept to develop artificial trees which would act like solar panels to capture sunlight and generate electricity. Plus, the trees would also utilize the wind through the swaying motion of its leaves and branches whenever the wind blows.

The most important concept of this artificial tree is a technology they call the Nanoleaf. This leaf not only uses photovoltaic elements to covert sunlight into energy, but the wind would sway the leaf, which would move a mechanism in the joint of the leaf and the branch, converting kinetic wind energy into electrical energy. One leaf by itself may not generate enough power, but if you have thousands of leaves in a tree-like structure, then it has the potential to generate quite a bit of energy, enough to power an average household. Now if we had groves of these trees, then the effect could be very high, so it's a concept with a lot of potential.

Not only that, the tree will apparently act as some sort of air filter, using an agent on the membrane of the artificial tree that mimics the processes of the human lung in converting unwanted air molecules.

Right now, the company seems to still in the research and development stages and is looking for partners to fund its research, but I think if they are able to develop this idea further and eventually manage to create an aesthetically pleasing prototype that is relatively cost-effective, then they have the potential to change the face of alternative energy sources.

Mar 4, 2009

Good News for Solar Power

In my last post, I'd talked about how First Solar made a breakthrough with their photovoltaic cell fabrication process to reduce the cost of solar to under $1 per watt. 

My roommate, Zach, forwarded me an article about First Solar, which relates to my last post. The article, from CNet Green Tech, is about how First Solar acquired the rights to complete projects that a rival solar company called OptiSolar could no longer complete due to the economic recession. More details on the deal can be found here.

What's more interesting than the deal itself is the implications of these types of consolidations for the solar industry. There's a recent trend going on with solar power that brings both good news and bad news, but I think the positives for the industry outweight the negatives.

As this Economist article points out, the costs of manufacturing solar panels have been declining partly lately due to an excess supply of silicon. Since silicon producers catered less to the solar industry because of the uncertainty of the industry, the costs of acquiring silicon for solar panels was much higher. However, as solar power started becoming more popular, more and more sources of silicon opened up, leading to lower prices for silicon and lower costs for solar companies. These costs were further reduced due to better manufacturing techniques and increased solar cell power efficiency.

Since First Solar hit the $1 per watt mark manufacturing cost of their solar modules, other solar companies have been scrambling to reach that target. As these costs go down, more and more solar companies are able to offer their solar panels at lower prices, which is great news for consumers. The price of panels was probably one of the biggest hurdles for the adoption of the technology (that and the low energy efficiency of solar cells). However with cheaper prices, people can more easily adopt solar power as an alternative energy source, benefiting from its clean, virtually emission-free energy generation.

This does, however, pose problems for some solar companies. With decreasing costs, and with solar companies pushing to deliver panels at lower prices, companies unable to keep pace will either have to sell to rival companies or go out of business. These companies also face the additional challenge of increasing difficulty in funding from venture capital firms, who will most likely start to look to invest in companies that are in a stronger and better position to manufacture solar modules.

On the bright side, companies who are in a strong position, such as First Solar and Sharp among others, now have the opportunity to expand their business and grow by acquiring a greater share of the solar market. As the industry consolidates, these key players will be in a better position to manufacture solar power modules in large scales and potentially combine research from acquired rivals to discover new ways to make solar power cheaper and more efficient.

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