28 Mar Energy: ARES, Energy Storage with Gravity

Introduction to ARES

The global market for energy storage (already 2% of generation capacity in just the US) is growing rapidly with the growth of renewable energy.  Solar, wind, and other renewable energy generation are fundamentally intermittent and their aggregate peak output rarely matches that of peak system loads, delivering on annual an average of less than 30% of their rated capacity into the electrical grid. Without energy storage technology, a significant amount of energy produced is simply lost.
Advanced Rail Energy Storage uses a train rushing down a mountain to produce electricity when needed. Credit: Popular Mechanics
Advanced Rail Energy Storage uses a train rushing down a mountain to produce electricity when needed. Credit: Popular Mechanics
Advanced Rail Energy Storage (ARES), based in Santa Barbara, California uses modified railway cars rolling downhill on a specially built track to release energy and off-peak electricity to pull the cars to the top of a hill. The ARES system requires specific topography but its founder and primary inventor, William Peitzke, says ARES uses 100-year-old technology which delivers more power for the same height differential with a round-trip efficiency—the ratio of energy out to energy in—of more than 85%, compared with 70-75% for pumped-storage hydropower (PSH). Furthermore, ARES has a much wider geographic scope than PSH since it does not require water and has far less negative environmental impact (no need for drilling or flooding). Peitzke co-founded the company with San Diego engineer Matt Brown and hired James Kelly, a retired Southern California Edison executive, as CEO. ARES has raised $25 million as of July 2015. ARES CEO James Kelly said, "The basic concept is how do I move mass with the force of gravity? It finally dawned on us to use 100-year-old technology, and that's electric railroads, and to add modern digital control systems to automate electric railroads for storage." Francesca Cava, Chief Operating Officer of ARES, said, "Gravity energy storage has been around for a while but no one has thought of combining railway technology with it."
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16 Aug Energy: GravityLight, An Electricity Generator for 1.2 Billion

Introduction to Deciwatt's GravityLight

The impact of gravity light can be 1.2 billion people, or about 20% of the world population.
The impact of gravity light can be 1.2 billion people (~20% of the world).
UK firm Deciwatt has set out to solve one of the world's pressing problems -- lack of access to electricity -- by a new device called the GravityLight. About 20% of the world population has no access to what's now considered a basic necessity. With a rising population, especially in developing countries, unfortunately, this percentage is expected to remain the same for the next 20 years. Without cost-effective alternatives, most people have to rely on kerosene lamp. A kerosene lamp is a bottle filled with a fuel and lighting with a wick at the top. Kerosene lamps have four major disadvantages:
  • Breathing kerosene fumes everyday is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day.
  • The cost of kerosene is high relative to the income of the poorest. Poor households often spend at least 10% of their income on this power source -- as much as $36 billion according to the World Bank.
  • Kerosene lamps are dangerous since the light comes from an open fire. In India alone, 1.5 million people have been burned by kerosene lamps.
  • The world suffers from carbon dioxide pollution caused by kerosene lamps which is estimated to be about 3%.
A company called Deciwatt proposed a solution via a prototype device called the GravityLight. Unlike other power sources, the device invented by UK industrial designers Jim Reeves and Martin Riddiford requires no battery, sunlight, or wind. Its energy source is based on fundamental physics -- gravity. Seconds is all that's needed to lift the 12 kg bag which powers the device. As the weight slowly falls, GravityLight can produce 20 minutes of light. Riddiford, now 60, a cofounder of London-based product design firm Therefore and now a cofounder of Deciwatt, got the idea six years ago after leaving a meeting with a charity interested in solar tech. “I just sort of had this vision of, well, why can’t you use human power and store it as potential energy rather than in a battery,” he says. Riddiford has a record for innovative devices including the Brinlock Abacus calculator which was the first calculator with number-shaped buttons. He stated that he regrets not having done charitable work overseas in his youth and hopes to make up for it with his light. In 2013, Deciwatt raised £265,000 on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo to fund the tooling, manufacture and distribution of its first 1,000 lights. More recently, in 2015, Deciwatt won the Shell Springboard program, which supports young entrepreneurs with innovative low-carbon ideas. It received £150,000 to help develop the product further and expand into new markets, beating 150 other applicants to take the prize. Deciwatt says the GravityLight can cost as low as $10 for the owner. The actual price varies across different markets. The price will reduce in the future as mass manufacturing and the increasing efficiency of LEDs drive the cost down. Even with current prices, the owner can see a return on investment after just three months.
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10 Jul Energy: Nautical Torque

Introduction Note: This post was written by one of two founders of Nautical Torque, Galon Maloney, with minor edits by Shen Ge. Shen Ge recently contacted Galon to acquire an overview of the company. Two and a half years ago, on November 1, 2012, Nautical Torque Technology, a designer and manufacturer of innovative mechanical equipment and processes to produce continuous renewable electricity, announced that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued the company its first U.S. patent. This patent is the first step towards bringing a new type of renewable to the market and help utility companies meet their renewable portfolio standards. [caption id="attachment_348" align="alignleft" width="462"]“Our next milestone is to raise seed capital to complete our first prototype and bring this essential renewable to the market”, states inventor and founder Cahill Maloney. “Our next milestone is to raise seed capital to
complete our first prototype and bring this
essential renewable to the market”, states
inventor and founder Cahill Maloney.[/caption]

Patent US 8,143,733 B2, relates to the capturing of the kinetic energy from the rise and fall of large particles of floating mass such as ships, barges, and tankers. Rather than use the horizontal force of water to turn a turbine or generator, Nautical Torque utilizes the lifting and lowering of water to capture the kinetic energy from the slow moving mass that rises and falls with the incoming and outgoing tide. The design utilizes equipment and facilities that can be securely located and protected on a dock rather than underwater or offshore, offering lower development and transmission costs than any other wave and tidal technologies on the market. Nautical Torque uses mass as the input source for simplicity and scaleability achievable within current mechanical technology.

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26 Jun Energy: Autonomous Marine Systems

Introduction [caption id="attachment_330" align="aligncenter" width="760"]Datamaran, a surface robot, by Autonomous Marine Systems. Credit: Autonomous Marine Systems Datamaran, a surface robot, by Autonomous Marine Systems. Credit: Autonomous Marine Systems[/caption] On June 18, 2015, I had the chance to talk with Eamon Carrig, the Chief Roboticist of the surface ocean drone startup Autonomous Marine Systems. The CEO, TJ Edwards, and Eamon Carrig were friends at Princeton University and later both worked at Planetary Systems Corp., a spacecraft mechanisms company in Maryland. Due to a combination of interest in robotics and sailing as well as concerns about climate change which is directly indicated by ocean health, they built their first sailing robot in 2006. The company was incorporated in 2009 and after several years of work, the founders quit their jobs to focus full-time on AMS in late 2012. The primary motivation came from the emergence of company Liquid Robotics which TJ and Eamon saw to be much too expensive for the mass deployment. They decided their technology could do better at far lower cost. In 2012, they launched a successful Kickstarter campaign where they raised over eighty thousand dollars to build a prototype. They underwent a 6 week training session through the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps Program in Washington D.C. Later that year, they were accepted into the startup accelerator SURGE in Houston. Thanks to the mentorship and connections made through SURGE, they acquired funding to execute pilots and demonstrations.. When asked about the SURGE experience, Eamon had only positive things to say, "SURGE was awesome. Everyone there, from mentors to entrepreneurs, to the staff were top-notch."
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11 Jun Energy: Smart Cooling Device Mistbox

Mistbox - A Smart Cooling System for Air Conditioners

Mistbox (http://www.mistbox.com) announced today the official retail launch of its smart misting system for improving the efficiency of residential air conditioners and will also begin shipping out units to its Kickstarter backers. Powered by solar energy, Mistbox is an IoT technology that’s compatible with any residential air conditioning unit. It comes complete with built-in sensors to automate the cooling process, Wi-Fi integration to track savings and power consumption, and a mobile app for managing and analyzing power consumption in real-time. Mistbox commercializes evaporative cooling technology for residential application and sprays a fine mist to cool outside air as it enters the AC unit, enabling it to cool the home more effectively while reducing energy consumption. The computer inside of Mistbox can automatically sense ideal operating conditions to cycle mist at the appropriate times. Offering the easiest way for people to minimize their carbon footprint and their energy bill, Mistbox monitors its own performance for optimal efficiency. The self-contained system comes fully assembled and can be set up in less than five minutes -- owners simply have to attach Mistbox to their AC units and the tubing to a water source. “Sustainability and practicality were the biggest drivers behind the development of Mistbox,” said Josh Teekell, CEO and co-founder of Mistbox. “During our Kickstarter campaign, we received a lot of valuable feedback from our backers, which ultimately helped us to better refine the product and its design. We’re excited to begin shipping Mistbox units to our Kickstarter backers today and hope to help people save money and reduce their carbon footprint at the same time.” [caption id="attachment_309" align="aligncenter" width="464"]The Mistbox Control Unit The Mistbox Control Unit[/caption]
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07 Nov Energy: Hydraulic Fracking for Geothermal Energy

What is Geothermal? Geothermal has been used in hot water heating since antiquity. In Europe, the Romans piped hot underground water and steam for public baths. On the other side of the globe, the Japanese have luxuriated since the Heian era in hot-spring onsens which populate their volcanic archipelago. Yet, as a source of renewable energy, geothermal electricity has gone largely ignored as fortunes have been heaped on its rivals. Presently, most geothermal electricity directly taps into volcanic areas. It is just a matter of directing it and using it—not a project that needs state subsidy. As the US DOE states, “Present geothermal power generation comes from hydrothermal reservoirs, and is somewhat limited in geographic application to specific ideal places in the western U.S. This represents the 'low-hanging fruit' of geothermal energy potential.” However, this is limiting. In most places, you have to dig deep to get at useful amounts of heat, and it is certainly true that exploration and drilling costs have remained stubbornly high for the deeper wells needed outside hot-spring regions, and that developers have been slow to devise better ways of extracting heat from such rocks, even if wells are sunk. Hydraulic Fracking for Geothermal Energy [caption id="attachment_292" align="aligncenter" width="736"]As the US DOE illustrates, fluid injection allows previously untapped hot rocks to become a geothermal source (Image: US Department of Energy). As the US DOE illustrates, fluid injection allows previously untapped hot rocks to become a geothermal source (Image: US Department of Energy).[/caption] An important advance has been made—or, rather, borrowed from the oil and gas industry. This is the use of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), in which, in the case of oil or gas, water is injected into rocks whose hydrocarbons are too tightly bound to the rocky matrix to rush to the surface on its own. The high-pressure water shatters the matrix, releasing the bound hot rocks. Hydraulic fracking for geothermal energy works in a similar manner. Interested in more of my posts and other writings outside of Impact Hound? Follow me on Twitter: @shenge86
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03 Nov Energy: Flywheel Startup Temporal Power

What are flywheels? [caption id="attachment_285" align="aligncenter" width="625"]A 500 kW flywheel being lowered into the vault at flywheel company Temporal Power’s manufacturing facility to undergo testing (Image: Temporal Power). A 500 kW flywheel being lowered into the vault at flywheel company Temporal Power’s manufacturing facility to undergo testing (Image: Temporal Power).[/caption] Lux Research, an independent firm that assesses emerging technologies, predicts that the global energy storage market will grow from a $200 million industry in 2012 to an $11 billion giant by 2017. Chemical batteries have recently made some strides forward and many more companies have jumped on board. However, the most promising way of storing energy for the future might come from a more unlikely source, and one that far predates any battery: the flywheel. A flywheel is nothing more than a wheel on an axle which stores and regulates energy by spinning continuously. The device is one of humanity’s oldest and most familiar technologies first used in the potter’s wheel 6000 years ago as a stone tablet with enough mass to rotate smoothly between kicks of a foot pedal. Leonardo da Vinci invented one with a variable moment of inertia. It was an essential component in the great machines that brought on the industrial revolution. Today, flywheels are under the hood of every car – regulating the strokes of pistons. Interested in more of my posts and other writings outside of Impact Hound? Follow me on Twitter: @shenge86
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29 Oct Energy: Solar Powered School Boats in Bangladesh

Problem: Massive Flooding in Bangladesh In Bangladesh, annual flooding can disrupt school for almost a million students. In many areas, roads are impassable during the rainy season from July to October, when rivers rise as much as 4 meters (12 feet). In the worst scenarios, people are drowned and left homeless. In 1998, flooding inundated two-thirds of the country, killing 700 people and leaving 21 million people homeless. The future is not going to get better with scientists projecting over one million Bangladeshis displaced by rising sea levels by 2050. [caption id="attachment_273" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Floating school rooms (Image: Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha). Solar powered school boats offers education to kids in Bangaldesh (Image: Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha).[/caption] A homegrown nonprofit organization called Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha has built a fleet of solar powered school boats to ensure education regardless of flooding or rising sea levels. Shidhulai is the name of a village in Bangladesh and Swanirvar Sangstha means self-reliant organization. Mohammed Rezwan, Shidhulai’s founder and executive director, grew up in the country’s northwest, where his organization operates. Growing up, his family owned a boat, which meant that he was one of the lucky ones who could attend classes all year. “Many friends and relatives were denied access to education,” he said. “I thought if the children cannot come to school because of floods, then the school should go to them by boat.” Interested in more of my posts and other writings outside of Impact Hound? Follow me on Twitter: @shenge86
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25 Oct Energy: Rocket Stoves for Developing Countries

Big Problem of Gathering Firewood Though this may shock most of us in the developed world, half the world still cooks with wood, coal, or animal dung. These people living in developing countries have no access to electricity or gas and need some means to cook food and boil water. For those using firewood, they face numerous hardships and dangers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), they have to walk over 10 miles and spend over 30 hours a week to collect wood, spend up to 35% of their income on purchasing fuel, and expose themselves to harm and smoke the equivalent of 40 cigarettes a day just to cook. In Africa, for example, women walk up to 15 miles each trip to find wood for cooking, often carrying loads of 40 to 60 pounds under extreme conditions, plus deforesting already strained environments. [caption id="attachment_263" align="aligncenter" width="631"]Since cooking often fall to women, they are the primary victims of smoke-related illnesses. (Image: Smithsonian Magazine / Ami Vitale / Ripple Effect Images) Since cooking often fall to women, they are the primary victims of smoke-related illnesses. (Image: Smithsonian Magazine / Ami Vitale / Ripple Effect Images)[/caption] Because cooking chores most often fall to women, and children are typically at hand, they are the primary victims of smoke-related respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Smoke inhalation from cooking over an open fire annually kills 1.6 million adults and children annually. Furthermore, in war zones, gathering firewood to cook your meal so you won’t starve presents the choice between getting raped or killed. Veronique Barbelet of the World Food Program says, "You hear women in northern Uganda and places like that telling you, 'My choice is between going out there and collecting firewood and being raped, or for my husband to go out and get killed, and I would rather go and get raped.'" Interested in more of my posts and other writings outside of Impact Hound? Follow me on Twitter: @shenge86
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