From: Integrity Research Institute []
Sent: Monday, March 29, 2010 11:15 PM
Subject: Future Energy eNews
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      March 2010

Dear Subscriber,

Last Friday, I was in Houston for an invitation-only panel discussion event with the CEO Peter Voser of Royal Dutch Shell called "Our Energy Future" which was also webcast. I had the opportunity to ask him about the near future when their product will be obsolete. However, the answer that was forthcoming from Mr. Voser was evasive and condescending, with overtures to the "consumer demand" and their internal study that predicts people will still buy gasoline in 2050. Even with their biodiesel and biogasoline pilot plants, I found out that Shell has no desire to scale up ecofriendly fuel to replace their hugely polluting petroleum product, amounting to 40% of the U.S. energy consumption. Even as a whole country like Brazil now powers their cars with sugarcane biodiesel and more electric cars than ever crowd the auto shows, Shell's CEO proved to be unmoved by any moral responsibility for the company's extensive pollution of the planet and instead, seemed determined to wrench every last dollar from U.S. consumers addicted to their "speed" by the gallon, while in the background, the clearly visible brown smog of NO2 car exhaust on the skyline chokes every major city like Houston and the car exhaust CO2 keeps heating up the planet. Surprisingly, the entrepreneur Vinod Khosla on the panel made it very clear with several examples that revolutionary products only take about five (5) years to entirely replace an inferior product previously thought to be untouchable. I guess that is what Shell made clear they are waiting for before they will change. They must be hoping that Bloom boxes (see story #1)will never become available in a year or so for every home at around $3000, thus powering a revolutionary stampede sale for plug-in electric cars that are recharged by home-grown electricity or charging stations along the road for almost no cost. That could never happen right?
Thomas Valone, PhD, PE

1) Blooming Marvels Revolution
2) Tiny Tubular Generators
3) A Hoist To The Heavens
4) Wave Energy Scales Up Off Scotland
5) GE to Make Thin-Film Solar Panels




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1) Blooming Marvels Revolution
Bloom Box 
AN ENERGY revolution started last week that will see fridge-sized boxes in every building generate electricity on demand from natural gas or biogas. At least, that was the story told by the publicity and excitement around the celebrity-backed debut of Californian company Bloom Energy.

The firm's solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), dubbed "Bloom boxes" by the media, are already being trialled by eBay, Google and Coca-Cola, and Bloom says they can shrink a building's carbon footprint by half.

Bloom's claims are plausible, despite few details being released. But the company isn't the vanguard of a revolution in electricity supply; the revolution has already begun. Several more experienced firms already make fuel cells much like Bloom's, and some are cheap enough to be heading into homes already.

The technology at the heart of the excitement looks unspectacular: a chunk of ceramic. But the right ceramic can be an electrolyte that allows the movement of ions needed to combine natural gas with oxygen from the air without burning, driving power around an external circuit in the process. No expensive catalyst is required - an advantage over hydrogen fuel cells, most of which need platinum to work.

An SOFC must be heated to reduce the ceramic's resistance and start the reaction, which then generates its own heat. Despite that, Bloom claims its cell can power a building more efficiently than an electricity grid, which loses power in transmission and is fed by power plants that waste heat from combustion.

Bloom's boxes are impressively compact, but so are most SOFCs. As far as innovation goes, the firm will say only that the chunk of ceramic inside is painted with "secret inks" that act as anode and cathode.

That suggests its interior is held together by the ceramic, says Helge Holm-Larsen of Topsoe Fuel Cell in Lyngby, Denmark, requiring a relatively thick chunk of it that would need heating to at least 900 °C to operate. That cuts efficiency, although a fuel cell serving a constant demand would not need to start from cold very often.

For more variable demands, like those of an office or home, cutting the start-up penalty is crucial. Topsoe uses an enlarged anode to support its own SOFC's interior, allowing a smaller electrolyte that operates effectively at 750 °C, says Holm-Larsen.

Fuel cells can be even cooler, though. Those from Ceres Power in Crawley, UK, operate below 600 °C thanks to a custom electrolyte of lower resistance. The temperature is low enough for steel welds to hold the device together inside.

Domestic boilers powered by Ceres's cells are cheap and advanced enough for 37,500 of them to be heading to homes in the UK this year, as part of a four-year programme for customers of energy supplier British Gas. Once installed, the cell will generate most of a home's electricity, says Ceres.

Related Articles
The 60 Minutes Bloom Box Segments  are below.60 Minutes Bloom box

2) Tiny Tubular Generators
by Saswato R. Das // March 2010 , IEEE Spectrum,

To the many properties of carbon nanotubes, we can now add electrical generation

A team of scientists led by chemical engineering professor Michael Strano of MIT may have stumbled on a new way to produce electricity using carbon nanotubes, as they explain in a recent issue of Nature Materials.

Since their discovery in the early 1990s, carbon nanotubes have turned out to be remarkably versatile for research applications. These thin, cylindrical carbon molecules, typically nanometers in diameter, have a remarkably large number of electrical and structural properties. They are used to reinforce high-end tennis rackets and bicycle handlebars, to craft Lilliputian nanomotors, and to modulate signals in electronics. Potential applications include transistors for computer circuits (demonstrated by IBM), computer memories (being developed by Nantero), and solar cells. In the past couple of years, scientists have also demonstrated loudspeakers and a tiny "nanoradio" made with nanotubes.

 Tubular generatorStrano and his collaborators coated multiwalled carbon nanotubes with cyclotrimethylene trinitramine (CNT), a chemical fuel. When they shot a laser beam or produced a high-voltage electrical spark at one end of a CNT-coated nanotube bundle, the CNT ignited, and a speedy thermal wave was created that traveled through the nanotubes much as a flame travels through a fuse. This wave in turn produced a burst of electricity by pushing electrons through the nanotubes in front of it. (Electricity is produced by the movement of electrons.)

This effect has not been observed before and it's generating quite a bit of interest among scientists and engineers. "Nanotubes are usually regarded as uninteresting for thermoelectric energy conversion because of their very large thermal conductivity. Paradoxically, it is precisely this good thermal conductivity that appears to enable the effect," says Natalio Mingo, a senior scientist at the French Atomic Energy Commission's Laboratory for Innovation in New Energy Technologies and Nanomaterials, in Grenoble, France.

Strano says that as the CNT burns, the heat is directed into the nanotube bundle in a "wicking" effect, so that it travels 10 000 times as fast as it can in the fuel itself. "Nanotubes are extremely good at conducting heat along their length," he explains. "They can conduct heat more than a factor of 100 times faster than a metal."

The entire phenomenon is a combination of combustion and electrical power generation, which Strano calls "thermopower waves." He says that the electrical energy produced by the nanotubes is 100 times as great as what would be produced in a lithium ion battery if you took an equivalent weight of the battery. The exact mechanism by which the electricity is produced is still not properly understood.

"Unlike a battery or supercapacitor, there is zero self-discharge with this approach. Plus, it works well for powering small things, since the power density is very large," Strano says.

Combustion waves have been studied for more than a century. Strano and his collaborators predicted recently that combustion waves could be guided by a nanotube or nanowire, which in turn could push an electrical current along in front of it. However, in the experiments they performed, they reported that "the amount of power released is much greater than predicted."

"There's something else happening here," he says. "We call it 'electron entrainment,' since part of the current appears to scale with wave velocity."

Whatever the mechanism, independent experts are intrigued. "Even though the demonstrated efficiencies are still lower than 1 percent, the experiment is quite spectacular," says Mingo.

Strano envisions such potential applications as transponders, beacons, and actuators in cases where a burst of energy is needed. But the jury needs more evidence. "It will be trickier to motivate an application, especially because scaling degrades the figures of merit for the system in all of the proposed application areas," says electrical engineering professor John Kymissis of Columbia University, who is impressed with the experiment.

Strano thinks that thermopower could be used to create better fuel cells. "The conventional fuel cell has been around since the 1800s, but corrosive fuels and catalytic deactivation have been a hurdle," he says. "Thermopower waves could be a very simple alternative."

About the Author

Saswato R. Das is a science reporter in New York City. In the March 2010 issue he wrote about how Russian scientists had solved the mystery of superinsulators.

3) A Hoist To The Heavens
BY Bradley Carl Edwards // August 2005 , IEEE Spectrum ,

Ed. Note: The technology for the space elevator has progressed very little since this excellent article was published, except that carbon nanotube ROPE and RIBBON have now been patented, which means the strongest fiber known to man for the space elevator can now be manufactured in continuous lengths and spooled. - TV

Space Elevator
A space elevator could be the biggest thing to happen since the Stone Age, but can we build one?

Rockets are getting us nowhere fast. Since the dawn of the space age, the way we get into space hasn't changed: we spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on a rocket whose fundamental operating principle is a controlled chemical explosion. We need something better, and that something is a space elevator--a superstrong, lightweight cable stretching 100 000 kilometers from Earth's surface to a counterweight in space. Roomy elevator cars powered by electricity would speed along the cable. For a fraction of the cost, risk, and complexity of today's rocket boosters, people and cargo would be whisked into space in relative comfort and safety.

It sounds like a crazy idea, and indeed the space elevator has been the stuff of science fiction for decades. But if we want to set the stage for the large-scale and sustained exploration and colonization of the planets and begin to exploit solar power in a way that could significantly brighten the world's dimming energy outlook, the space elevator is the only technology that can deliver. It all boils down to dollars and cents, of course. It now costs about US $20 000 per kilogram to put objects into orbit. Contrast that rate with the results of a study I recently performed for NASA, which concluded that a single space elevator could reduce the cost of orbiting payloads to a remarkably low $200 a kilogram and that multiple elevators could ultimately push costs down below $10 a kilogram. With space elevators we could eventually make putting people and cargo into space as cheap, kilogram for kilogram, as airlifting them across the Pacific.

The implications of such a dramatic reduction in the cost of getting to Earth orbit are startling. It's a good bet that new industries would blossom as the resources of the solar system became accessible as never before. Take solar power: the idea of building giant collectors in orbit to soak up some of the sun's vast power and beam it back to Earth via microwaves has been around for decades. But the huge size of the collectors has made the idea economically unfeasible with launch technologies based on chemical rockets. With a space elevator's much cheaper launch costs, however, the economics of space-based solar power start looking good.

A host of other long-standing space dreams would also become affordable, from asteroid mining to tourism. Some of these would depend on other space-transportation technologies for hauling people and cargo past the elevator's last stop in high-Earth orbit. But physics dictates that the bulk of the cost is dominated by the price of getting into orbit in the first place. For example, 95 percent of the mass of each mighty Saturn V moon rocket was used up just getting into low-Earth orbit. As science-fiction author Robert A. Heinlein reportedly said: "Once you get to Earth orbit, you're halfway to anywhere in the solar system." With the huge cost penalty of traveling between Earth and orbit drastically reduced, it would actually be possible to quarry mineral-rich asteroids and return the materials to Earth for less than what it now costs, in some cases, to rip metal ores out of Earth's crust and then refine them. Tourism, too, could finally arrive on the high frontier: a zero-gravity vacation in geostationary orbit, with the globe spread out in a ceaselessly changing panoply below, could finally become something that an average person could experience. And for the more adventurous, the moon and Mars could become the next frontier.

So why can't we do all this with rockets? And why is the space elevator so cheap?

The answer is that chemical rockets are inherently too inefficient: only a tiny percentage of the mass at liftoff is valuable payload. Most of the rest is fuel and engines that are either thrown away or recycled at enormous expense. Nuclear and electric rockets promise huge improvements in efficiency and will be vital to the future of solar system exploration, but they are impractical as a means of getting off Earth: they either don't produce enough thrust to overcome gravity or pose a potentially serious radiation hazard. On the other hand, space elevators could haul tons of material into space all day, every day. And the core of the space elevator--the cable--could be constructed from cheap, plentiful materials that would last for decades. A space elevator would be amazingly expensive or absurdly cheap--depending on how you look at it. It would cost about $6 billion in today's dollars just to complete the structure itself, according to my study. Costs associated with legal, regulatory, and political aspects could easily add another $4 billion, but these expenses are much harder to estimate.

Building such an enormous structure would probably require treaty-level negotiations with the international community, for example. A $10 billion price tag, however, isn't really extraordinary in the economics of space exploration. NASA's budget is about $15 billion a year, and a single shuttle launch costs about half a billion dollars. The construction schedule could conceivably be as short as 10 years, but 15 years is a more realistic estimate when technology development, budget cycles, competitive selection, and other factors are accounted for. After the first elevator was built, its initial purpose would be to lift into space the materials for a second elevator. As with conventional elevators in tall buildings, practical realities make it almost certain that more than one elevator would be constructed. With separate "up" and "down" elevators, you could haul cargo and passengers simultaneously to and from space. The second elevator would be much easier and cheaper to build than the first, not only because it could make use of the first elevator but because all the R&D and much of the supporting infrastructure would already be complete. With these savings, I estimate that a second elevator would cost a fraction of the first one--as little as $3 billion dollars for parts and construction.

In my studies, I have found that the schedule for more elevators, after the first, could be compressed to as little as six months. The first country or consortium to finish an elevator would therefore gain an almost unbeatable head start over any competitors. Five years ago, the space elevator was considered science fiction by most of the space community. With the advent of carbon-nanotube composites and the conclusions of recent studies, the space elevator concept is moving toward mainstream acceptance. The estimated operational cost for the first elevator is several hundred dollars per kilogram to any Earth orbit, the moon, or Mars, a drop of two orders of magnitude over the cost of current launch technologies. With the completion of subsequent elevators, the cost would drop even further, to a few dollars per kilogram.

So how exactly would it work? Springing out from an anchor point on the equator, the space elevator cable would rise straight up, passing through geostationary orbit at 36 000 km and continuing for another 64 000 km until it terminates in a 600-ton counterweight. The cable would be held up in a manner similar to that which holds a string taut as a weight tied to it is swung in a circle. The key detail that would make the elevator work would be the fact that its center of gravity would be at the geostationary orbit mark, forcing the entire structure to move in lockstep with Earth's rotation.

Electrically powered elevator cars, which I call climbers, would crawl up the cable, carrying people or cargo. Each car would weigh about 20 tons fully loaded, of which about 13 tons would be payload. These payloads could be in the form of inflatable structures, like those proposed for the International Space Station, with about 900 cubic meters of space, or roughly as much as a five-bedroom house. For passengers, a climber would be like a space-going cruise ship; there would be small sleeping quarters, a tiny kitchen and other amenities, and, of course, windows with some of the most stunning views in the solar system. Ascending at 190 km per hour, the climbers would reach geostationary orbit in about eight days [see illustration, ].

The biggest challenges to building an elevator are finding a strong enough cable material and then designing and constructing the cable. The cable would be the heart of the elevator, and finding the right stuff for its manufacture has historically been the main obstacle to turning the elevator into reality. In fact, the space elevator concept is an old one--Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky proposed the basic concept more than a century ago. The idea resurfaced in the 1960s, but at the time there was no material in existence strong enough for the cable. To support its own weight as well as the weight of climbers, the cable has to be built out of something that is incredibly light and yet so strong that it makes steel seem like soft-serve ice cream. The space elevator faded back into the realm of sci-fi. Then, in 1991, Japanese researcher Sumio Iijima discovered carbon nanotubes. These are long, narrow, cylindrical molecules; the cylinder walls are made of carbon atoms, and the tube is about 1 nanometer in diameter.

In theory, at least, carbon-nanotube-based materials have the potential to be 100 times as strong as steel, at one-sixth the density. This strength is three times as great as what is needed for the space elevator. The most recent experiments have produced 4-centimeter-long pieces of carbon-nanotube materials that have 70 times the strength of steel. Outside the lab, bulk carbon-nanotube composite fibers have already been made in kilometer-long lengths, but these composite fibers do not yet have the strength needed for a space elevator cable. However, we think we know how to get there. There are two methods being examined at academic institutions and at my company, Carbon Designs Inc., in Dallas. The first approach is to use long composite fibers, which are about as strong as steel and have a composition of 3 percent carbon nanotubes, the rest being a common plastic polymer. By improving the ability of the carbon-nanotube wall to adhere to other molecules and increasing the ratio of nanotubes to plastic in the fiber to 50 percent, it should be possible to produce fibers strong enough for the space elevator cable.

The second approach is to make the cable out of spun carbon-nanotube fibers. Here, long nanotubes would be twisted together like conventional thread. This method has the potential to produce extremely strong material that could meet the demands of the space elevator. Both processes could be proved in the next few years. With a suitable material on the horizon, the next question is the design of the cable itself. Prior to 2000, in both science fiction and the scant technical literature, the space elevator was a massive system--with huge cables 10 meters in diameter or inhabited towers more than a kilometer across. These systems also required snagging asteroids to use as the counterweight at the end of the elevator. Suffice it to say, it's all well beyond our current engineering capabilities--mechanical, electrical, material, and otherwise.

IN MY STUDY , I sought a design that could be built soon and could annually lift 1500 tons, or 10 times as much mass as the United States now launches into space in a typical year. In 2000, I received a grant from NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts to begin a new study on space elevators. The study formed the basis of a book I coauthored with Eric A. Westling, The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System (Spageo Inc., 2002). Work continued at the Institute for Scientific Research Inc., in Fairmont, W. Va., and now at Carbon Design. The result is a preliminary design for a simplified, cheaper, and lightweight elevator.

This design calls for a ribbon instead of a round cable. The flexible ribbon, just 1 meter wide and thinner than paper, would be made of carbon-nanotube composite fibers arranged in long strands, cross-braced to evenly redistribute the load if a strand were cut. Space debris that would sever a small round cable would pass through the broader ribbon, creating small holes and a manageable reduction in cable strength, letting it survive impacts from small debris and meteoroids, which would be fairly common [see illustration, ].

Choosing a ribbon rather than a circular cable also greatly simplifies the design of the tread system for moving the elevator car along the cable. The climbers would pull themselves up the cable using pairs of motorized treads that clamp the cable between them. The broad, flat treads would sandwich the ribbon, exerting significant forces against each other to grip the cable securely. The treads are based on conventional treads, the drive system is built with fairly standard dc electric motors, and the control systems are no more complex than what you'd find in a typical auto today. A round cable, on the other hand, would require a far more complex arrangement of wheeled gripping systems. Because of the thinness of the ribbon, it would be surprisingly light: the entire 100 000-km length would have a mass of just 800 tons, not counting the counterweight's 600 tons. But this is still obviously substantial, and it leads us to the other big problem in building the elevator: how would we get all that cable and counterweight mass up into space in the first place?

Currently, the largest rockets available can place only a 5-ton payload into the 36 000-km geostationary orbit where construction would have to begin. Remember that to keep the elevator fixed above one spot on Earth's surface, its center of gravity must always remain at the 36 000-km mark. Launching and assembling hundreds of 5-ton payloads would be impractical, so my colleagues and I devised an alternative plan. An initial "deployment spacecraft" and two smaller spools of ribbon massing 20 tons each would be launched separately into low-Earth orbit using expendable rockets. The deployment spacecraft and spools would be assembled together using techniques pioneered for the Mir space station and the International Space Station. The deployment spacecraft would then follow a spiral course out to geostationary orbit using a slow, but fuel-efficient, trajectory.

Upon arrival, the spacecraft would begin paying out the two spools side by side toward Earth. Meanwhile, the deployment spacecraft would fire its engine again, raising it above geostationary orbit. The spacecraft's motions would be synchronized with the unreeling cable so that the spacecraft would act as the counterweight to the rest of the cable: this would keep the center of gravity of the entire elevator structure in geostationary orbit [see illustration, ]. When the two halves of the ribbon reached Earth's surface, a special elevator car would be attached that would ascend the elevator, stitching the two side-by-side halves of the ribbon together. This initial system would have a 20-cm-wide ribbon and could support 1-ton climbers.

Other specialized climbers would then be sent up this initial ribbon, adding more small ribbons to the existing one. When one reached the far end of the elevator cable, the climber's mass would be added to the counterweight, keeping the elevator in balance so that its center of gravity would stay in geostationary orbit. After 280 such climbers, a meter-wide ribbon that could support 20-ton climbers would be complete. The climbers, like most of the elevator system, would use off-the-shelf components wherever possible. One of the reasons the climbers would be so simple and have so much room for payload is that they would not carry power-generating equipment. Power would be delivered to climbers by lasers beaming 840-nm light from Earth onto an array of photovoltaic cells; at this wavelength, photovoltaic cells can generate electricity at an efficiency of 80 percent [see illustration, ]. The lasers required are not yet available, but components are being tested, and free-electron or solid-state lasers at the power levels we need (hundreds of kilowatts) are expected to be available in a few years.

Once an elevator is deployed , keeping it operating would be the next big challenge. Serious threats to an elevator would come from: The weather--lightning, wind, hurricanes, tornadoes, and jet streams. Airplanes, meteors, space debris, and satellites. Erosion from atomic oxygen in the upper atmosphere. Radiation damage. Induced oscillations in the cable. Induced electrical currents. Terrorists. Some of these challenges would be met merely by locating the elevator's Earth anchor in the eastern equatorial Pacific, west of the Galapagos Islands, where the weather is unusually calm and the threats from hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning, jet streams, and wind are greatly reduced. This location is also about 650 km from any current air routes or sea lanes, significantly reducing the chance of an accidental collision and making the site easier to secure against terrorists. An anchor in the Pacific obviously implies a floating platform, but such structures are already commercially available, thanks to the offshore oil industry [see illustration, ].

These platforms would be mobile, which would allow the elevator, with sufficient warning, to avoid orbiting satellites and debris by moving the anchor end of the cable back and forth about 1 km, pulling the ribbon out of the path of an oncoming object. While debris and other objects down to 10 cm in diameter are currently tracked, objects with diameters as small as 1 cm are a potential threat to the elevator. As a consequence, the current elevator system design includes a high-sensitivity ground-based radar facility to track all objects in low-Earth orbit that are at least 1 cm wide. A system like this was designed for the International Space Station but never implemented.

Eliminating erosion from atomic oxygen at altitudes of 100 to 800 km would be the job of thin metal coatings applied to the cable. Radiation damage would be mitigated by using carbon nanotubes and plastic polymer materials that are inherently radiation resistant. To avoid problems with cable oscillations induced by tidal forces, my ribbon design calls for a natural resonant period--7.2 hours--that does not resonate with the 24-hour periods of the moon and sun. Any oscillations that do occur would be damped by the mobile anchor station. Induced electrical currents would be generated only if the ribbon cut through Earth's, or an interplanetary, magnetic field. Because the ribbon would be stationary relative to Earth's magnetic field, only dynamic changes in the magnetic field could cause currents in the ribbon, and these would be small. The interplanetary magnetic field is also small, except in cases of extreme solar activity, and even then, the currents generated would be on the order of milliwatts and easily dissipated. Currents caused by charged plasma in Earth's ionosphere would also be negligible, because the ribbon's composite material would have high electrical resistance.

The last challenge , and the one that sparks the most interest in today's geopolitical climate, is terrorism. Despite the elevator anchor's remoteness and defensibility, an attack that severs the elevator cable--for example, by detonating a bomb planted on an elevator car--is a possibility. So what would happen if the cable were cut? Science-fiction scenarios have portrayed a space-elevator cable failure as a global disaster, but the reality, for my design, would be nothing of the sort. Remember that the ribbon's center of gravity is in geostationary orbit, and the entire cable is under tension as the counterweight swings around Earth. If the ribbon were to be severed near the bottom, all the cable above the cut would float up and start to drift. Calculations show that the ribbon and counterweight would most likely be thrown out of Earth orbit into open space.

Of course, the cable below the severed point would fall. But because the linear density of the ribbon would be just 8 kg/km, literally lighter than a feather, proportionally speaking, it would be unlikely to do much, if any, physical damage. In the worst-case scenario, where the cable is severed near the top, in space, the released counterweight would fly out of Earth orbit and nearly the entire ribbon would begin to fall down and wrap around the planet. As the ribbon fell it would gain velocity, and any ribbon above the first 1000 km would burn up when it hit the atmosphere, producing long, light ribbons that are meters to kilometers in length. It would be a mess and a financial loss, and probably an impressive light show in the upper atmosphere, but nothing like a planetary disaster. Some toxicity issues are being investigated in connection with inhalation of ribbon debris, but initial results indicate that the health risks would be small.

Five years ago, most of the space community considered the space elevator a far-future proposition at best. With the advent of carbon-nanotube composites and the conclusions of recent studies, the space elevator concept is moving toward mainstream acceptance. The current ribbon design has attracted considerable interest from NASA headquarters, the European Space Agency, and the U.S. Air Force. Independent evaluations by NASA and ESA are under way, and it is my belief that their findings will add substantial credibility to the program. If the initial estimates are confirmed and a space elevator is constructed, it will open space for applications we can barely imagine. With a space elevator providing cheap, easy, low-risk access to space, people's lives on Earth could be immeasurably enhanced as the wealth of the solar system is brought to their door.

Humanity would at last be poised to make its next move into space and onto the moon and Mars--not as a horribly inefficient, one-shot deal but as a continuing enterprise. Space travel would become part of our everyday culture. Just as the development of stone tools opened up huge new habitats and ways of life to our distant ancestors, so, too, will the space elevator transform humanity's destiny.

Bradley Carl Edwards spent 11 years on the staff of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, leading advanced technology efforts for lunar missions and a Europa orbiter mission. Since leaving Los Alamos, Edwards has led development of the space elevator, organizing conferences and conducting research. He is the founder and president of Carbon Designs Inc., in Dallas, which is developing high-strength materials for a range of applications, from aerospace structures to sports and recreational products.

For more information about the space elevator project, visit

4) Wave Energy Scales Up off Scotland
 By Peter Fairley, March 25, 2010, MIT Technology Review
Ten wave and tidal projects will generate 1.2 gigawatts of power.

Scotland hopes to ride the next renewable energy wave. Site leases for several big wave and tidal power projects were awarded last week by the U.K. government, concluding a two-year bidding process that elicited strong interest from major utilities and energy entrepreneurs. The awards open the way for six wave energy projects and four tidal energy systems around Scotland's Orkney Islands that could collectively generate up to 1.2 gigawatts, exceeding the U.K.'s 700-megawatt target for the bidding round. This is an immense scale for an industry that so far has installed only pilot projects involving a handful of small devices.

power energy"This industry is about to grow up," says Martin McAdam, CEO of Edinburgh-based Aquamarine Power, which secured a 200-megawatt site in partnership with the U.K. utility Scottish and Southern Energy, presently the country's top renewable energy generator. Construction of the projects could begin as early as 2013.

Scotland offers extraordinarily powerful seas, squeezed between a wide-open expanse of the Atlantic and the notoriously raucous North Sea. Waves off the Orkneys's west coast average two meters and annually exceed 10 meters. Marine energy could provide 15 to 20 percent of the country's total power needs, according to the London-based Carbon Trust, a government-funded entity supporting low-carbon development. The Orkney-based European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), which includes a test-bed facility, also provides R&D support for such efforts.

If wave and tidal technologies can scale up in Scotland's waters, marine energy experts say they will find plenty of potential elsewhere, much as the wind turbine technologies nurtured by Denmark in the 1970s and 1980s have gone worldwide. "There's definitely a global market for both wave and tidal energy, hence the reason that you've got big companies looking at it," says Amaan Lafayette, marine development manager at European power giant E.ON, which won two of the 10 Scottish leases.

The challenges are still significant. The first is proving that the technology is ready for the punishment of the open water, where many wave and tidal prototypes have met their match. For example, the fiberglass rotors on early tidal turbine prototypes installed in New York City's East River in 2007 were fractured by unexpected turbulence. The following year, Pelamis Wave Power pulled its snake-like 750-kilowatt generators out of Portuguese waters amid technical difficulties.

EMEC director Neil Kermode acknowledges that the entire industry is still "working through a huge list of technical challenges." But he also sees "huge progress" at Pelamis, which is assembling a second-generation machine for E.ON to be installed at EMEC this summer. E.ON's Lafayette agrees, and says that this progress explains why Pelamis's technology will be used at three of the 10 Scottish sites, including E.ON's.

Another challenge, says Lafayette, is environmental planning. "You need to do a specific environmental assessment for each site and the specific technology to be used there," he says. A tidal power project that E.ON backed in Pembrokeshire hit the brakes this month when the government decided to include marine energy projects in an overarching environmental assessment of offshore development for England and Wales.

Technical and environmental challenges could, of course, slow some marine energy technologies more than others. That is what McAdam is betting for Aquamarine's Oyster wave converter, a buoyant steel flap that uses wave power to drive a hydraulic piston and send high-pressure water to a turbine generator on the shore. The design puts no fast-moving parts or power generator in the water, and McAdam claims this will minimize both technical failures and threats to marine life. In contrast, the tidal devices selected by all of the Orkney site developers, made by OpenHydro, Marine Current Turbines, and Hammerfest Strøm, use underwater turbines.

McAdam says that Aquamarine has worked through minor valve and pipeline glitches since installing the first Oyster demonstrator, a 315-kilowatt device, at EMEC in October. Aquamarine is now building its commercial-scale device--a three-flap array feeding a single 2.5-megawatt turbine--which it plans to test at EMEC next year.

Building that device is expensive, and this is the biggest challenge of all facing the industry. Developers of the Orkney sites will benefit from marine energy's favorable treatment under the U.K.'s renewable energy mandates. However, that value only kicks in when the projects reach full scale, and developers say additional small-scale installations are needed.

"Where we're lacking at the moment is this capital intensive phase of installing equipment to prove that it's feasible," says McAdam. He notes that Alex Salmond, who leads Scotland's government, is planning a green energy conference later this year that will consider further incentives for marine energy.

A 2005 study by the Palo Alto, CA-based Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) suggests that wave energy could be generated at comparable cost to onshore wind power off Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Massachusetts. EPRI has previously said that wave and tidal energy could meet about 10 percent of U.S. electrical demand. Paul Jacobson, ocean energy leader for EPRI, says these first-pass estimates are now being updated by a comprehensive national wave energy assessment that EPRI will complete next year, and a national tidal assessment underway at Georgia Tech.

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FEI 2010 - The Annual Front End of Innovation Conference A New Front End: The Era of Collaboration
Boston, MA
Monday, May 03, 2010 - Wednesday, May 05, 2010

BIO International Convention
Chicago, IL
Monday, May 03, 2010 - Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tech Connect World
Anaheim, CA
Monday, June 21, 2010 - Friday, June 25, 2010

2010 IEEE Conference on Innovative Technologies for an Efficient and Reliable Electricity Supply
Waltham, Massachusetts
Sunday, September 27, 2009 - Tuesday, September 28, 2010
5) GE to Make Thin-Film Solar Panels
By Kevin Bullis, March 24, 2010, MIT Technology Review,

Its entrance to the market could help make solar power cheaper.
solar light cell 
GE has confirmed long-standing speculation that it plans to make thin-film solar panels that use a cadmium- and tellurium-based semiconductor to capture light and convert it into electricity. The GE move could put pressure on the only major cadmium-telluride solar-panel maker, Tempe, AZ-based First Solar, which could drive down prices for solar panels.  Last year, GE seemed to be getting out of the solar industry as it sold off crystalline-silicon solar-panel factories it had acquired in 2004. The company found that the market for such solar panels--which account for most of the solar panels sold worldwide--was too competitive for a relative newcomer, says Danielle Merfeld, GE's solar technology platform leader.

She says cadmium-telluride solar is attractive to GE in part because, compared to silicon, there's still a lot to learn about the physics of cadmium telluride, which suggests it could be made more efficient, which in turn can lower the cost per watt of solar power. It's also potentially cheaper to make cadmium-telluride solar panels than it is to make silicon solar cells, making it easier to compete with established solar-panel makers. Merfeld says GE was encouraged by the example of First Solar, which has consistently undercut the prices of silicon solar panels--and because of this has quickly grown from producing almost no solar panels just a few years ago to being one of the world's largest solar manufacturers today.

GE will work to improve upon cadmium-telluride solar panels originally developed by PrimeStar Solar, a spin-off of the Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO. GE acquired a minority stake in the company in 2007, and then a majority stake in 2008, but it didn't say much about its intentions for the company until last week, when it announced that it would focus its solar research and development on the startup's technology.

"It definitely makes sense that they would avoid silicon at this stage," says Sam Jaffe, a senior analyst at IDC Energy Insights in Framingham, MA. Especially in the last year, the market for silicon solar panels has been extremely competitive, with companies making little or no profit. "There's a lot more space to wring profits out of making cadmium telluride."

GE appears to be shying away from newer thin-film solar technology based on semiconductors made of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium (CIGS). Merfeld says that it is uncertain how well that material can perform at the larger sizes and volumes needed for commercial solar panels. Cadmium telluride is a simpler material that's much easier to work with than CIGS, which makes it easier to achieve useful efficiencies in mass-produced solar panels.

Merfeld says GE hopes to compete with First Solar by offering higher performance solar cells and reducing the overall cost of solar power. In addition, its name recognition could encourage installers to buy its panels and could help secure financing of solar projects from banks. GE also has extensive distribution networks, especially for new construction, says Travis Bradford, president of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, a consultancy in Chicago.

Yet challenges remain. Tellurium is a rare material, so to keep its costs down, it will be important for GE to secure large supplies of tellurium rather than buying it on the open market, Jaffe says. He says having another large manufacturer of tellurium-based solar panels may make it necessary to discover new sources of the element.

What's more, First Solar has a large lead on GE in terms of its experience manufacturing cadmium telluride and finding ways to bring down prices. It could be challenging to even get close to First Solar's costs. "If GE wants to get into photovoltaics, the crystalline silicon boat already sailed," Bradford says. "The problem is that the thin-film boat may have as well, particularly for cadmium telluride."

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