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As the world continues its quest to use less fossil fuels, the latest possible solution comes from the most unlikely of sources: the tobacco plant. This latest news comes from the University of California, Berkeley. It will be nice to see tobacco used for something other than lung cancer. This new discovery is based on the possibility of literally programming the cells of the plants to get solar cells from tobacco plants. The science behind it is actually pretty simple (at least in explanation form) and pretty amazing. By using a genetically engineered virus, scientists were able to literally transform the cells of the plants to create synthetic solar cells.
Instead of creating some new form of tobacco plant, they are actually applying their chemistry to full grown tobacco plants. Their custom-made virus is sprayed on the plants and then it is time to sit back and let it work its magic. The virus infects a cell which then enables the virus to spread just as any other virus would. As the infected cells form, they are creating artificial chromophores that make high powered electrons out of light.
Of course, the plants themselves are not used for direct solar energy as they still have to be harvested. Once harvested, the structures are extracted and put into a liquid solution to dissolve. This solution is then applied to plastics or glass and poof, solar cells from tobacco plants is a reality. While the whole process may seem a little off the wall, if this process can be refined and work in mass form, it totally changes solar energy as we know it.
While this technology is exciting, the effect that it could have on an economy that seems to continue to go backwards is even more incredible. One of the hardest hit industries during the last decade has been the farming industry. Farmers have been struggling with their crops and tight times have not made things easier. An influx into the tobacco industry to create solar cells from tobacco plants could be a nice boost in the arm as farmers who are waiting for the bank to come and take their land will now have a viable way out.
These cells would not be expected to last as long as “typical” solar cells, but they would probably be much less expensive. That being the case, solar cells from tobacco leaves could provide both an organic way to produce solar cells and the economic boost that the farming industry needs.
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SPACE is big,” wrote Douglas Adams in his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.”
He wasn’t exaggerating. Even our nearest star Proxima Centauri is a staggering 4.2 light years away – more than 200,000 times the distance from the Earth to the sun. Or, if you like, the equivalent of 50 million trips to the moon and back.
Such vast distances would seem to put the stars far beyond the reach of human explorers. Suppose we had been able to hitch a ride on NASA’s Voyager 1 the fastest interstellar space probe built to date. Voyager 1 is now heading out of the solar system at about 17 kilometres per second. At this rate it would take 74,000 years to reach Proxima Centauri – safe to say we wouldn’t be around to enjoy the view.
So what would it take for humans to reach the stars within a lifetime? For a start, we would need a spacecraft that can rush through the cosmos at close to the speed of light. There has been no shortage of proposals: vehicles propelled by repeated blasts from hydrogen bombs, or from the annihilation of matter and antimatter. Others resemble vast sailing ships with giant reflective sails, pushed along by laser beams.
All these ambitious schemes have their shortcomings and it is doubtful they could really go the distance. Now there are two radical new possibilities on the table that might just enable us – or rather our distant descendants – to reach the stars.
In August, physicist Jia Liu at New York University outlined his design for a spacecraft powered by dark matter (arxiv.org/abs/0908.1429v1). Soon afterwards, mathematicians Louis Crane and Shawn Westmoreland at Kansas State University in Manhattan proposed plans for a craft powered by an artificial black hole (arxiv.org/abs/0908.1803).
No one disputes that building a ship powered by black holes or dark matter would be a formidable task. Yet remarkably there seems to be nothing in our present understanding of physics to prevent us from making either of them. What’s more, Crane believes that feasibility studies like his touch on questions in cosmology that other research hasn’t considered.
Take Liu’s dark matter starship. Most astronomers are convinced of the existence of dark matter because of the way its gravity tugs on the stars and galaxies we see with our telescopes. Such observations suggest that dark matter outweighs the universe’s visible matter by a factor of about six – so a dark matter starship could have a plentiful supply of fuel.
Liu was inspired by an audacious spacecraft proposed by the American physicist Robert Bussard in 1960. Bussard’s “ramjet” design used magnetic fields generated by the craft to scoop up the tenuous gas of interstellar space. Instead of using conventional rockets, the craft would be propelled by forcing the hydrogen gas it collected to undergo nuclear fusion and ejecting the energetic by-products to provide thrust.
Because dark matter is so abundant throughout the universe, Liu envisages a rocket that need not carry its own fuel. This immediately overcomes one of the drawbacks of many other proposed starships, whose huge fuel supply greatly adds to their weight and hampers their ability to accelerate. “A dark matter rocket would pick up its fuel en route,” says Liu.
Photo: Tesla Motors
Now *That* Is a Tax Break
The state of Colorado is trying to encourage the adoption of “alternative fuel vehicles” by offering tax credits based on the difference in cost between the said vehicle and a comparable non-green version. This means you could get about $3k in tax credit on a 2010 Toyota Prius or 2010 Honda Insight, or even $3.8k on a Honda Civic GX that runs on compressed natural gas. But the real eye-popper is the rebate on the all-electric Tesla Roadster: $ 42,083. That’s about 38% of the car’s $109k sticker price!
Photo: Tesla Motors
How is the Tax Credit Calculated?
Colorado has been giving tax credits for alt-fuel vehicles for years, with the bigger ones going to “zero emissions vehicles” (at the tailpipe, anyway).
What they do is they calculate the difference in cost between the ZEV and “a comparable liquid-fuel automobile”, in this case the gas-powered Lotus, and the tax credit is 85% of that price difference (I know some of you were hoping it was a fixed amount — that would have been the deal of the century on the Model S, no?).
Since the Tesla is so much more expensive than the Lotus, this ends up being quite a lot of money ($42k).
Good timing for the brand new Tesla Motors store in Boulder… But if you’re interested, hurry up because the special tax credit is due to end on December 31st.
For more details on which vehicles are eligible and how the tax credit works, see this document from Colorado’s government.
The vast potential of energy efficiency
Thursday 8/06/2009 09:10:00 AM
(Cross-posted from the Public Policy Blog)
It’s no surprise that the cheapest and most available solution to the climate problem is simply to use energy more efficiently. But a recent study issued by McKinsey & Co. details just how compelling an opportunity we are missing. McKinsey predicts that an annual investment of roughly $50 billion over the next 10 years would cut energy demand by 23% and yield savings to the U.S. economy worth $1.2 trillion! The energy savings would be equal to taking the entire U.S. passenger fleet of cars and trucks off the road.
Such efficiency gains are possible only if we overcome some major hurdles. For instance, most people have no idea how much energy we use in our homes on a daily basis or which of our appliances or devices are consuming the most energy. That’s one of the reasons that we created Google PowerMeter, a software gadget that shows users detailed information on their home electricity consumption. Studies show that when people have access to this kind information they reduce their energy use by up to 15%. Greater savings are possible if people use the information to buy a more efficient refrigerator or air conditioner, insulate their home, or take advantage of off-peak electricity rates.
The McKinsey report acknowledges that energy efficiency alone won’t solve our energy and climate challenges. We must continue to put major resources into low-carbon sources of energy like renewable energy, and the federal economic stimulus, with its tens of billions of targeted dollars and incentives, is a good start. But the McKinsey findings are a wake up call. As we enact more comprehensive energy policies, energy efficiency — and giving people the information, tools and incentives to take advantage of it — should be front and center.
Posted by Michael Terrell, Program Manager, Google.org
Turning on the Solar Power Tower
Thursday 8/06/2009 01:23:00 PM
In 2007 Google.org launched our Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal initiative and announced a $10 million investment in the early-stage clean power company eSolar, Inc. Yesterday in Southern California, eSolar flipped the switch on what is to be the first solar power tower facility in the U.S. that will enter full commercial operation.
Success here could signal the emergence of a clean energy technology by which we might — for the first time — economically harness the sun to produce large quantities of electricity. And we would be harnessing a massive and, for all practical purposes, inexhaustible energy supply.
In many respects eSolar has turned conventional thinking about solar power tower technology on its head in order to drastically reduce the capital and operating cost of solar thermal power plants. Instead of employing a small number of large and expensive specialty mirrors eSolar takes the opposite approach – incorporating thousands of small mirrors that can be made cheaply in massive quantities. And instead of having to reinforce large mirrors to stand up to high winds, eSolar’s small mirrors have a low profile, reducing material costs including steel and concrete for the mounting structures.
Of course this massive number of mirrors requires more sophisticated software so they accurately track the sun leading to high heat output and system efficiency. At Google we’re particularly intrigued with this aspect of the eSolar product — that is, how the performance of energy technology can be enhanced by information technology. Call it ET meets IT.
The eSolar team has taken a giant step toward cracking the code on solar power tower technology. I’m hopeful that just a few years from now we will see this facility – and many more like it – focusing the sun’s energy to produce a brighter future for our children and the planet they will inherit.
Posted by Dan Reicher, Director of Climate Change & Energy Initaitives
Alternative Energy News (become a fan on Facebook, its dope): Solar-Panel Wi-Fi Bus Stop
There is lot’s of information regarding orgone, Wilhelm Reich, chemtrails, and energy. I’m very proud to bring the world my beatuful energetic pieces as well. Shred users get discounts of course. So, please, have a look around, and more categories will be added soon. *leaps for joy*