Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Geothermal HVAC

Here's a video that nicely summarizes geothermal cooling an heating in HVAC design. The startup that put this together is getting mentoring help through a partnership between the US DOE and SBA.

Indie Energy Smart Geothermal™ for Buildings from Indie Energy on Vimeo.

I made some reference to this kind of process in a recent presentation on biomimicry for one of my Environmental Studies classes. Looking at a termite mound, you can see the inspiration for both solar chimneys and geothermal cooling.
The sun heats the tower potion of the system, using convection to passively drive air flow. Air is drawn in through tunnels that go well below the surface, accessing the cooler temperatures below ground. Thus the termites are able to keep certain chambers very consistent in temperature and humidity in hot, arid climates.

When building employ these kinds of systems, they can cut their heating and cooling costs drastically.
Amory Lovins' did an excellent article in the April '05 Scientific American that included a field tested prototype in a home near Bangkok, Thailand.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Deriving 3D Models From Photos

Alright! I may soon be able to bullet-time photograph a broken plastic widget and 3D print out a replacement from a homegrown 3D printer, like Bowyer's RepRap. Then I won't have to send as much to the landfill. Repairmen can expand their revenue stream: 1) scavenging at Goodwill or eWaste yards 2) look up the broken part online or inverse-panoramic photograph it, and 3) print out the replacement. Boom, fixed machine for a low, low price.

Although this is not the first venture into this space, I'm glad to see Microsoft throwing some weight behind it. We will need lots more development. I visualize a day when I can call in a contractor, who shows up with a laser grid projector and a camcorder, and then brings an accurate blueprint/3D model to the next meeting.

I wonder if the intellectual property protectionism will be as ineffective for manufacturers as it has been for the music industry.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bacteria Making Cellulosic Butanol

Energy Secretary Chu has announced success at the DOE's BioEnergy Science Center: they have a bacteria that makes isobutanol from cellulosic plant materials. Bottom line: farmers will be able to sell their crop waste for making a fuel that should run in regular gasoline engines.

This implies:
- added farm income from making fuel out of waste
- less retooling of the auto industry, less retrofitting of the vehicle fleet
- clearing forests of fuels can result in fuel
- US energy independence courtesy of the agricultural sector

Thursday, March 3, 2011

US Navy Half Off Fossil Fuel by 2020

This wide ranging Scientific American article discusses how the Navy and Air Force are becoming less dependent upon foreign oil in the interest of security. The Secretary of the Navy says his department will be halfway off of fossil fuels by 2020. The Air Force has a similar goal. It is already the leading purchaser of renewable energy in the federal government. [BioFuel test flight video]

With the Defense Department's fuel budget at $14 billion in 2010, this means a massive change in the economics of alternative energy. To help justify their strategy, a report has just been released showing a ratio of about 1 dead soldier for every 24 fuel convoys in Afghanistan. But what really bugs the brass is the notion that the US military might could be suppressed by foreign manipulation of the oil market.

As with computer chips and railroads, I expect the US Military will again buy down the price of a new technology. [see Breakthrough: the Death of Environmentalism] So consumers will soon have many more clean energy options courtesy of the military.

Here's a notion for how the California alternative energy goals can align nicely with the military's counterpart:
Pipe some of the exhaust from the state's natural gas power plants through algae tanks. Add some sunlight and harvest huge amounts of algae. Spend a bit more solar energy on conversion to liquid fuels, and a waste stream becomes a fuel supply for the Navy & Air Force. The utilities address their obligations to reduce their CO2 footprint while the military is willing to throw lots of money at domestic fuel production. Everyone's happy except OPEC.

BTW, the Navy's first hybrid electric ship saved $2 million in fuel on its maiden voyage to San Diego.

Reference: DOD's Energy use

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Food Prices Driving Revolutions

NPR has a story about how droughts and high food prices might be driving the people of Africa and the Middle East towards overthrowing their governments.

UN Anticipates 50mil Displaced by Climate Change by 2020

Yes, 50 million climate change refugees by 2020. This PhysOrg article relays the announcement at an AAAS meeting in LA.

With global society strains like this, I expect the US will become more concerned about borders. The GOP will push hard for a wall on the southern border. The accommodation might include a wall, and probably will include drone patrols, added border personnel, maybe even robotic patrols on the ground.

I expect there will be more US Military missions of a humanitarian nature. If soldiers can help people survive where they are, then they won't have to shoot them at our borders. Better strategically to spend our money than their lives.

How to help people stay in a climate stressed region? And how would the military approach a solution? Desalination & water filtering. Localized education in permaculture, composting, solar thermal applications, etc.