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

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

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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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

[caption id="attachment_237" align="alignleft" width="300"]Skybox Imaging satellites A Silicon Valley startup plans to launch a fleet of high-resolution and cheap imaging satellites. Image: Jeff Lysgaard[/caption] Want to See the Full Earth in High Resolution? Who doesn't want to see real-time high-resolution images of our planet? If you have used a service such as Google Earth, you may have been awed by its beautiful depiction of almost any region on our planet. You may even think that the images are real-time or at most just a few days old. Alas, that is not true. Weather satellites which does provide real-time data (updated every few hours) of the entire Earth operates at what's known as geosynchronous orbits (36,000 km from the Earth) and from that distance, can't offer high resolution pictures. Even a global imaging satellite such as NASA's MODIS Terra satellite provides only medium resolution (about 250 meters per pixel). The high-resolution images of Earth beautiful to us and more importantly, useful for government and industry to analyze global shipping, oil spills, crop irrigation, etc., are covered by closer satellites in low earth orbit (several hundred kilometers from the Earth) operated by companies such as GeoEye or DigitalGlobe. Unfortunately, those high-resolution satellites only see small potions of the Earth so there is are complicated algorithms at Google and other satellite image companies to update images with the newest ones and splice them together. Who is Skybox Imaging? Skybox Imaging is a high-resolution imaging and data company recently [June 2014] acquired by Google for $500 million. Starting from 2009 when four Stanford university students worked out of a cramped living room, they have grown into a multimillion dollar backed 125-person company in Silicon Valley with their own satellite manufacturing and operations facilities as well as data equipment and software to handle their satellite information. The company designs its own satellites and cameras and partners with others to build and launch them. Prior to their acquisition by Google, they have raised a total of $91 million in three rounds of financing from venture capital companies. Interested in more of my posts and other writings outside of Impact Hound? Follow me on Twitter: @shenge86

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