Friday, May 24, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Culhane shows off a high-efficiency LED-powered street lamp at an energy workshop in Iraq.
Iraq is longing for renewable and sustainable energy solutions, National Geographic Explorer Thomas H. Culhane found out. It just takes a little extra time to don body armor and get through security when you’re packing food-waste grinders, solar panels, water pumps, and bio-gas systems. Culhane filed this report from his travels to Iraq, a place with personal meaning for him as the homeland of his maternal grandfather:
Earth Day is special for me. I celebrated the first one, on April 22, 1970, by organizing all the children in my Dobbs Ferry, New York neighborhood and leading a cleanup of the Mercy College woods and streams that were in my backyard. At that time, they were a dumping ground for garbage and phosphates that came from our apartment complex and made their way downstream to contaminate the nearby Hudson River. I now teach environmental science as a visiting professor at Mercy College in my former home town, and the Hudson River watershed is now much cleaner thanks to U.S. environmental laws enacted beginning with the Earth Day Movement.
I spent this Earth Day, and in fact, the whole “Earth Month” of April overseas in the Middle East where the benefits of environmental thinking are now becoming a priority, where the problems have been recognized, and where I was invited to share in “solution celebrations.
Culhane demonstrates a machine that generates energy when you crank or pedal it.
My trip involved a “Renewable Energy and Sustainability Road Show” sponsored by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, by Eco-Gas Israel in Mikhmoret Beach on the Mediterranean, and by National Geographic Society, Fox TV International, and Bosch Corporation in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir in Turkey. This geographic whirlwind tour took me to nearly a dozen universities, ministries, embassies and missions. They included the United Nations and U.S. Embassy compounds, Iraq’s Ministry of Science and Technology, and Marmara Üniversitesi in Turkey, where we built six functioning bio-digesters in hands-on workshops. As a bonus, the trip started and ended with a stop-over trip to see my family in Germany, and cook organic food for them on clean fuel produced from kitchen wastes by our home biogas system. The road-show gave me a chance to share technologies and practices that I research in our college laboratory and use at home; I’ve found that any family and household can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Thanks to the U.S. Embassy I was able to purchase and bring on the road a wide variety of home-scale environmental technologies, including my personal favorite: food-waste grinders donated by InSinkErator. (You call them “garbage disposals;” I call them “biogas feedstock preparation devices” that turn all kitchen wastes into clean fuel and fertilizer!) I also brought six kinds of solar cookers, two types of “Life Saver” water purification devices, foldable CIGS cell solar electric panels, 12-volt water pumps, micro-inverters, portable Chinook wind generators, micro-hydro and stream generators, bicycle generators, 30- and 100- watt hydrogen fuel cells, high-capacity LED lamps, and wood gasifiers. There were conversion kits to make electric generators run on biofuels, and Chinese biogas system molds that enable any community to easily and inexpensively create their own efficient biogas systems, to turn all toilet and food wastes into endless renewable energy and liquid compost, eliminating diseases caused by organic refuse.
We had to don body armor and helmets for our travels around Baghdad to talk about sustainable energy solutions.
It required both planning and cooperation to get the hands-on technology “to the people,” so they could see it and touch it rather than simply watch pictures on a screen. In Turkey, where we pared things down a bit, it meant having a car and driver so we could transport the suitcases of goodies from lecture to lecture and from airport to airport so I could hand them out to the audience before each show and then engage them in “What do you think this thing is?” discussions. Going through security so many times always provided fun occasions to answer questions about suspicious-looking items that raised eyebrows when viewed through the x-ray. I’m accustomed to this, and for years have held impromptu lessons on environmental technologies at borders from Turkey to India to Nepal to Israel to Egypt. It turns out the many border guards and security professionals I’ve been “interrogated” by have all been really interested in learning about the latest “green tech” and we always leave as friends, with the usual “Welcome to our country, professor, may God bless you and your work.”
Only in a couple of cases have we had to ship certain items separately that couldn’t be carried on the plane or in the luggage. In Iraq, we got the same warm welcome and enthusiasm, but of course, the logistics of moving both the technology and the professor for the road show was a different story altogether.
For one thing, each venue (ministries and schools) had to be coordinated well in advance, but in secret. Nobody outside the embassy except the coordinators among our Iraqi counterparts could know where we were going in advance or what route we were taking. This was to prevent possible kidnappers or insurgents from targeting us. Then we had to wear body armor and helmets (called “PPE” — Personal Protection Equipment, see picture) and travel in an armored vehicle. Our vehicle, containing me and Frank Finver, our embassy spokesman and cultural affairs officer, and Victoria Reppert, the media coordinator, and occasional folks from the economics division, had to travel in a convoy with two heavily armored support vehicles in front and two in back, all sporting massive antennas broadcasting frequency-jamming signals to disrupt any radio signals intended to detonate an IED (Improvised Explosive Device).
All the vehicles were staffed with alert and highly trained armed soldiers or security professionals, wonderful guys who would put their lives on the line for me if anything happened, and who kept us focused on maintaining vigilance and safety as we moved into the “red zone” (greater Baghdad) and out of the “international zone.” (It’s also known as the “green zone,” and it’s getting greener by the day thanks to the solar hot water vacuum tubes on the new embassy housing building, and the new biological water treatment plant and the bio-digesters we built in the garden at both our embassy and at the U.N. compound!)
Once we were inside our venue (such as the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology), I had a security professional, wearing an “FBI-style” earpiece and sporting a loaded weapon, standing next to me at all times while two others continually scanned the horizon for trouble. If I so much as moved more than a meter he would gently but firmly remind me to maintain my position, state where I wanted to move and wait for clearance before moving my feet. This included going to the bathroom. It was surreal, but necessary: on April 15th, the day we were supposed to travel to the Baghdad University of Technology Sustainable Development Center, as we were donning our body armor and the convoy being prepared, we got a report that a string of bombs had gone off all over the city as insurgents tried to scare the Iraqi people from going to the upcoming elections. We were told to abort the mission, and the television monitors started showing carnage and awful statistics of the scores of dead and injured. In the end, we had to conduct the lecture via live video conference, but sadly, we couldn’t do anything hands on!
A brighter spot was the visit to the Iraq Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). After we built a family-sized biodigester on the grounds with their engineers, they surprised us by unveiling a host of great technologies that they are working with: solar vacuum tube-assisted air conditioning, super bright LED street lights, Iraqi-manufactured photovoltaic panels, a different type of biogas system to the ones we had built and purchased. Best of all was a 10-kilowatt wood gasifier power pallette that the female scientists, in their hijab head coverings and white lab coats, demonstrated by filling with wood chips from the carpentry floor and firing up an engine that burned so clean we couldn’t smell anything at the exhaust.
This wood-fired gasifier at the Iraq Ministry of Science and Technology burned so clean we could smell no emissions at the exhaust.
We also met for several days with Iraqi businessmen in the renewable energy sector and with the ministers of electricity who showed me data from 15 new large-scale solar and wind farms throughout the country and showed me maps of their new micro-hydro power installations. “We have an obligation to get our traditional fuel infrastructure working well, but at the same time we are pursuing a wide variety of renewables,” they said. “We just need greater awareness from our public, and that is why we appreciate so much what you are doing here, and the small-scale technology gifts your embassy has provided us. Our goal now, said Dhia Baiee from MOST, is to get a “travelling sustainability road show truck” to reach communities with word of these technologies. Once they have seen these things working and put their hands on them, we will go the next step, he said.
That next step, according to my colleague Dr. Mukdad Al Khateeb from the Baghdad University of Technology Sustainable Development Center, is to pick locations where the communities are enthusiastic about what they see on the road show and then commit funding and expertise to help them develop what Mukdad calls “sustainable neighborhoods” — living, breathing, functional eco-neighborhoods where best practice model technologies are put into place not for demonstration, but for daily living. All the Iraqis we met, being practical-minded survivors struggling through continued hardship with power outages and loss of municipal services, conveyed the message: “Seeing is believing. We don’t just want to talk about these solutions, we want to try them out, live with them, see how much we can rely on them.” That is what the road show and the sustainable neighborhood initiative is about.
Culhane and others at Iraq’s Ministry of Science and Technology work on a biodigester for converting waste into energy.
On April 16th and 17th, I went to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq to give workshops for staff and an assessment of the energy, water, and waste challenges facing the entire compound. The aim was to help them with a “Greening the Blue” initiative which is spreading to other U.N. missions around the world, the result of the hard work of U.N. humanitarian affairs officer Karin Mayer. They agreed that turning wastes into energy and fertilizer was the best core approach to making the compound safer and more sustainable, and we set about building two 2-cubic-meter bio-digesters, the first in Baghdad, after determining the huge volumes of food and cafeteria waste their kitchens generate, how much irrigation water they use and how much space is available for growing food.
These are just the beginning, because one of their head engineers, Noel Park, used to build farm bio-digesters in his native Philippines. “After these workshops we can take it from here,” he said. “As you’ve explained and demonstrated, this urban bio-digester solution is easy stuff. We just didn’t know that food waste was the best feedstock, and that we can grind it up easily with an InSinkErator and feed it to a simple digester made from local water tanks, and now we know.”
I was invited to present all the “road show solutions” in a gala dinner event in the U.N. garden where ambassadors and dignitaries from Iraq and Europe and the United States came to discuss the “greening of the U.N.” and the greening of Iraq. Thanks to the hard work of Humanitarian Affairs Officer Karin Mayer, our biogas solution was put front and center and the rest of the pieces of the development puzzle (solar, wind, LED lights, water reclamation) simply fell into place for everyone in the audience, freed from the problems of “intermittency” and price by the constant of transformation of free and problematic garbage into baseline energy and fertilizer whose cost is covered by the need to deal with wastes in the first place. This was the watershed moment for our tour, when it became obvious that the first step toward sustainability is simply turning all wastes into value-added products. The rest then becomes easy. (Imagine a world where it is so clean and efficient that you begin looking toward other energy and fertilizer sources because you’ve run out of garbage!)
On the evening of April 18th, I was conducting a live video class from Baghdad online with my environmental science students at Mercy College, when I was informed that within the hour I had to evacuate Baghdad and get to Kurdistan, where I would be doing three more days of workshops, before the last helicopter left the Green Zone and Iraq shut down all airspace. I had 20 minutes to get packed and to the airfield. The reason: to prevent more suicide bombings and attacks before the Saturday elections, the government felt it had no choice but to impose a sudden surprise, no-travel curfew so insurgents couldn’t set up booby traps and explosive devices in the day before the elections. So I had to drop everything and race back to my room (taking careful note of each labeled missile attack shelter as I had been instructed to do in my security briefing), throw everything together and get to the helipad to be flown in a military transport copter to a special secured part of the airport where they then put me on an embassy jet to Kurdistan. The security checks in these moves were interesting. I found myself declaring my various devices alongside security folks surrendering loaded weapons for inspection as we went through the metal detector.
Culhane demonstrates one version of a solar cooker at a workshop in Iraq.
In Kurdistan, the situation was safer, but I still had to travel in an armored vehicle (but with no convoy) and remain within a heavily secured cement and steel T-wall defended compound that, like the compound in Baghdad, felt a lot like being in the movie, The Truman Show. We did get out to a private home as well as to the government buildings and schools so we had a bit more latitude than Baghdad, where it was just the ministries and universities we visited. Since I arrived a day early, I decided to use the extra time to see if I could schedule a hands-on biogas-building workshop. Unfortunately, getting anything done spontaneously in such a security environment is an anathema. Getting materials for our local bio-digester build would have been impossible except that two soldiers, Bryant Ellis (a.k.a. “animal”) and David Marshall, took a liking to the idea of teaching folks how to turn kitchen garbage into clean reliable energy and introduced me to an Iraqi contractor onsite, Mu’ayyid Shakir, who was a buddy of theirs who builds the security walls. He could freely leave the compound and shop for materials on the local market (normally we had to go through a long and difficult procurement process that Frank took care of long in advance for Baghdad).
This wonderful man, Mu’ayyid, said excitedly: “I know about biogas. I built a small demonstration system years ago when all of our gas and electricity was cut by the war, and I’ve kept the idea in my head that one day I want to build a bigger and more useful one!” I said to him, “This is your chance! I’ll pay for the materials if you will get them.” And so, this was a special opportunity after all my presentations to electric and energy ministers and officials and engineers and governors and planners from Erbil to Kirkuk.The soldiers and Mu’ayyid and I, working by flashlight until midnight, built the first family-size bio-digester in Kurdistan.
To celebrate I took some of the ashes of my maternal grandfather, Iraqi lawyer Noel Rassam, who had died in a nursing home in New York during the war as a refugee, and spread them not only on the land he called home but into the bio-digester we built. My hope is that his spirit can mingle with the microbiome that turns waste into fuel and fertilizer, helping transform his beloved Iraq into a symbol of sustainability, a symbol of hope for civilization, rising from the ashes like a green phoenix.
T.H. Culhane is the co-founder of Solar CITIES and is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer (Class of 2009.) He is a visiting faculty research at Mercy College in New York.
Thursday, May 23, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
U.S. Representative Lamar Smith’s strutting his science cred.
Smith, a Republican, represents the 21st District of Texas, which includes his hometown of San Antonio, and chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. I met him a few weeks ago at a hearing on climate held by the Subcommittee on the Environment. He was the consummate gentleman. Despite the fact that I was testifying as a witness for the Democratic Party, he was cordial and gentle in his questions. I thought, Now there’s a reasonable man.
That impression of reasonableness was soon undercut when I learned that Smith is leading the charge in new legislation that would mandate a new layer of political review at the National Science Foundation (NSF) before granting funding for research projects. This is a bad and radical idea for any number of reasons, including its violation of a tried-and-true conservative maxim: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The U.S. R&D program is the envy of the world. The United States receives more patents than any other country, and families from all over the globe spend huge sums of money to send their sons and daughters to American universities to study with our researchers and work in our labs. Much of that effort is grounded in the funding of grants by the NSF. Smith’s legislation would undermine all that.
Another reason you don’t want to have politicians mucking around in the nuts and bolts of science is that they often have a shaky grasp of the science at best. A case in point, Rep. Smith’s understanding of the state of climate science.
Lamar Smith’s Take on Climate Science
On Sunday the Washington Post published an op-ed written by Congressman Smith entitled “Overheated rhetoric on climate change doesn’t make good politics.” Can’t argue with that premise. Nor can one argue with his conclusion that we “think critically about the challenge before … [d]esigning an appropriate public policy response” to climate change.
What one can argue with is the spin he puts on climate science to justify his conclusion that there is no urgency to begin that response. How so? Here are three examples.
No Recent Warming
Rep. Smith rolls out the well-worn — but factually incorrect — meme floating out there that “global temperatures have held steady over the past 15 years.” It is true that the rate of warming in the 2000s has slowed, but concluding that global warming has halted would be a misread of the evidence. While warming in the atmosphere has slowed, the oceans continue to absorb heat, and some of that heat will undoubtedly eventually find its way into the atmosphere.
Secondly, the statement that temperatures have held steady is not strictly true. As illustrated below, a simple linear regression of average global temperatures running from 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 or 2000 to 2012 all produce a positive trend — that is, the temperatures have not held “steady” but have tended to increase over time. Depending upon whether you start the regression on a relatively warm or cool year, the trend is smaller or larger, but they are all positive.
However, there is a problem. The time period used to calculate the trends is quite short (< 20 years), while the natural variability from year to year is quite large. As a result, it is not possible to establish the statistical significance of these trends. And so, we cannot statistically eliminate the possibility that there has been no temperature change. This is very different from saying there has been no temperature increase. A subtle point that a politician might miss, but significant nonetheless.
So what’s going on? A lot of the slowdown in warming is likely related to the changing cycles of La Ninas and El Ninos. For a nice explanation of this, check out this Skeptical Science post.
U.S. Emissions Irrelevant
Then there’s the argument that the United States is simply not a player in the global carbon emissions game and thus doesn’t need to be a contributor to lowering global emissions. Hard to swallow given that the United States is one) the second largest emitter of carbon, accounting for about 17 percent of global emissions, and two) the largest contributor to the current stock of global warming carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.
How hard to swallow? Well, open wide — here’s how Smith makes the argument. U.S. emissions in the coming decade are projected to be relatively flat while emissions from developing countries, and especially China, are projected to increase significantly. It’s those other countries, the argument goes, that will be responsible for most of the future global warming, and so there’s no need for countries like the United States to do anything.
To bolster such an argument, Rep. Smith refers to a white paper [pdf] published by Paul Knappenberger of the Science and Public Policy Institute, a nonprofit that discounts the role of humans in and challenges the scientific consensus on climate change.
Using model simulations (which Smith himself discounts as unreliable), Knappenberger concludes that “If the U.S. as a whole stopped emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions immediately, the ultimate impact on projected global temperature rise would be … approximately 0.08°C by the year 2050.” Yikes, only 0.08 degrees Celsius! That’s tiny! Great news, Americans, the United States is off the hook, right? Well, that’s what Smith would have you believe.
The problem is that such calculations focusing on a single country are misleading. Global warming is a global problem requiring participation of all major emitters. No single country can do it alone. And from the opposite point of view, any country can justify not participating by looking only at its contribution to global warming. For example, take the big bad carbon emitter China. Extrapolating from Knappenberger‘s calculations and emissions projections for China from a report [pdf] by the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, I estimate that if China completely stopped its emissions in 2050, global warming would decrease in 2050 by about 0.1 to 0.2 degrees Celsius depending on the emissions scenario.*
That’s larger than the U.S. contribution but not by all that much. One could imagine a Chinese official, perhaps even one who chairs the Politburo’s version of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, using this argument to similarly argue that there is no need for China to lower its emissions.
As I have previously written:
“As long as individual countries focus on their own little contribution, nothing will ever happen. It’s sort of like this:
You’re at a party with 29 other revelers. The beer just ran out and $30 is needed to get more beer. The hat is passed around for contributions, but each person thinks, ‘If I put in a dollar all it will add is 1/30th or 3 percent of what is needed. That’s a tiny amount, too small to worry about … I think I’ll just pass.’ And no one adds to the hat, and no beer gets bought.”
IPCC Says No Severe Weather Effect?
Finally there’s Rep. Smith’s statement that “last year’s IPCC report stat[es] that there is ‘high agreement’ among leading experts that trends in weather disasters, floods, tornados and storms cannot be attributed to climate change.” I presume by last year’s IPCC report, Smith is referring to: “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.”
While it’s true that the report discusses a number of weather-related trends in which scientists have yet to see a global warming signature — such as hail, tornadoes and river flooding — there are others — including temperature and extreme precipitation — where they noted high or medium confidence that the impact of global warming was already visible. Looks like Rep. Smith got that one wrong as well.
In summary I’m all for avoiding “overheated rhetoric,” but how about we include misstatements about and misrepresentations of science in that category? And oh yeah, leave NSF out of politics.
* China’s avoided contribution was calculated to a first approximation by using the maximum and minimum emissions scenarios in the Lawrence Berkeley Lab report [pdf] between 2015 and 2050. The avoided temperature rise stemming from eliminating that estimate of cumulative CO2 emissions was calculated using a metric developed in a paper by H. Damon Matthews and co-authors discussed here.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013 | By National Geographic News | No Comments
Amid a decimated field of E.V. startups, Tesla Motors is riding high. But can its feats help take electric cars mainstream?
Tuesday, May 21, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
For several years running, French engineering students from two neighboring Loire Valley schools, Polytech Nantes and La Joliverie, have shared engineering and effort to build rocket-shaped vehicles that captured top prizes at Shell Eco-marathon Europe fuel efficiency race. But the students began to feel there was something lacking in their cars’ perennially award-winning profile.
“It didn’t look like a car,” explained Nantes student Frederic Calvez.
So the students designed Cityjoule, a super-compact, but street-legal electric blue coupe powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. This weekend in Rotterdam, Polytech Nantes left all other competitors in the dust by clocking a result of 145.7 kilometers (90.5 miles) per kilowatt-hour, the energy equivalent of traveling 1,296.7 kilometers on a liter of gasoline, or 3,049.9 miles per gallon. Not only did Polytech Nantes take first prize in the hydrogen-powered urban concept (street-legal) category, it bested its nearest competitor, Bulgaria’s University of Sofia, by more than 75 percent and achieved nearly double the mileage of last year’s winner. (Related Quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Cars And Fuel“)
For good measure, Nantes’ partner school La Joliverie from Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loire showed that the team’s traditional aerodynamic styling still is effective. Team Microjoule, as it is called, sailed to victory in the gasoline prototype vehicle category for the third consecutive year, with a result of 2,980.3 km/liter (8,420.4 mpg)—enough, race organizers noted, to drive from Rotterdam to Athens on a single liter of fuel. (Related: “French Teams From Loire Valley Grab Top Prizes in Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2012“)
Microjoule’s result fell short of the competition record it set for its category in 2011: 3,688 km/l (8,674.7 mpg.) But that previous record was set on a race track in France, before the competition moved last year to the 10-mile (16.3-kilometer) street circuit in Rotterdam, a course that includes five 90-degree turns. It makes the achievement even more impressive for the Cityjoule car, with a result marked a 40-percent improvement over the Shell Eco-marathon Europe record for urban concept hydrogen vehicles, set on the more forgiving track.
“Winning has blown our minds!” said team member Maxime Cheval after the race.
The French students prevailed among more than 180 college and high school teams from 24 countries. Each year, students vie to design, build, and race the most fuel efficient vehicle in Shell Eco-marathon, a 29-year-old race that now encompasses three separate annual events on three continents. The Americas edition took place in Houston in April, while the Asia competition is scheduled for July in Kuala Lumpur. (Related: “Super-Efficient Cars Cruise to New Victories at Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2013“)
In an interview before the race, Polytech Nantes students Frederic Calvez and Stéphane Aubert explained why the team opted to retire their winning prototype vehicle and take on the greater challenge of building and racing an urban concept car.
The French students were so methodical about the competition that they purposefully set out to be first in line for the rigorous pre-race technical inspection, where everything from the brakes, steering, weight, dimensions, energy system, and even the decibel level of the horn are tested for conformity to the rules. “Being first in the queue is part of our overall strategy,” said the team’s manager, Valentin Evon, at the time. “If we have a problem and don’t pass the inspection, then we have all day to create a solution.”
The Shell Eco-marathon victory was the second win this month for the Polyjoule team, as Polytech Nantes and La Joliverie call their combined super-mileage car effort. Earlier in May, the blue Cityjoule won the Educ Eco competition in Colomiers, France, with an even more impressive result of 1,402 kilometers-per-liter-equivalent, or 3,297 miles-per-gallon-equivalent. (Read their blog on their experience: “Making a Stop Before Eco-marathon“)
Here’s a list of the other winners:
- Team SCS Pasquet of France’s solar car smashed previous records in the battery-electric category with its winning result of 1,224.1 km (760.6 miles) per kilowatt-hour. Based on gasoline equivalency (1 gallon delivers the same energy as 33.7 kilowatt-hours of electric power), that’s tantamount to mileage of 10,897.4 km/l (25,632.2 mpg). Under a rule change this year, solar and battery-electric cars were combined in one category, and students had to integrate the solar panels into the body of the car, rather than have large overhanging panels. Team SCS Pasquet bested the previous battery electric record by 45 percent, and marked a 60 percent leap in fuel-efficiency over last year’s solar car winner.
- Another French team, INSA from Toulouse, topped the alternative petrol (ethanol and biodiesel) category, with a result of 2,846.2 km/l (6,696 mpg).
- In the Prototype alternative diesel category, Team Roses-4-Eco from the Netherlands, running on natural gas-to-liquids fuel, won with 314.6 km/l (750.1 mpg.)
- Dutch team H2A of Hogeschool van Amsterdam took first place in the Prototype hydrogen category, with a result 342.2 km (212.6 miles) per kilowatt-hour, the equivalent of 3,046 km/l (7,164.6) mpg.
- In the diesel category, Team GMP Valenciennes won with 1,236.1 km/l (2,908.1 mpg) equivalent.
- In the battery-electric category, Team Electricar Solution of France won by beating its own 2012 record by more than 40 percent with a result of 376.2 km (233.8 miles) per kilowatt-hour, the energy equivalent of 3,349.8 km/l (7,879.1 mpg) on gasoline.
- Another record came from German Team Schluckspecht, achieving 315.4 km/l (741.9 mpg) to win the diesel category.
- The DTU Roadrunners of Denmark beat their own record from 2012 with 612.3 km/l (1,440.5 mpg) in the ethanol category.
- Team SKAP from Poland came first in the gasoline category with 334.2 km/l (786.3 mpg), edging record-holders Lycée Louis Delage of France, who achieved 425 km/l (999.6 mpg) in 2005.
The full results are available at Shell’s Eco-marathon website.
“Photos: Cool Cars Designed by Students to Sip Fuel”
“Pictures of Cars that Fired Our Love-Hate Relationship With Fuel”
“Pictures: A Rare Look Inside Carmakers’ Drive for 55 MPG”)
Tuesday, May 21, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
In his first official remarks as Energy Secretary Tuesday, Ernest Moniz focused on an aspect of energy policy that lends itself to consensus perhaps a bit more easily than others: the need for greater efficiency.
Speaking at the Energy Efficiency Global Forum in Washington, Moniz noted it was fortuitous that the annual event followed his swearing in just three hours before: “Efficiency is going to be a big focus as we go forward.”
The 68-year-old physicist and MIT professor was unanimously confirmed as energy secretary by the Senate last week. He succeeds Steven Chu, who resigned the post earlier this year and will return to Stanford University, where he had previously taught physics.
Moniz pointed to efficiency as a key tool in addressing climate change. “I have never seen a credible solution to the climate challenge [that can] reach the kinds of goals we need to reach without the demand side playing an important part,” Moniz said. “[Efficiency] will be critical.”
Moniz, who has long voiced support for natural gas and nuclear energy along with development of renewables, holds a viewpoint consistent with the “all of the above” energy strategy that he is now charged with implementing. (See also: “Mixed Reactions to Moniz Nomination for Energy Secretary“) The fate of natural gas development, and whether to promote exports of the nation’s vast shale gas supply, will be among the contentious issues that Moniz will face in the months ahead.
Before his tenure at MIT, he served as under secretary at the DOE from 1997 to early 2001. Implementing new efficiency standards for air conditioners, he said, was his last act before leaving that post.
To help deliver on the goal of doubling energy efficiency by 2030, Moniz said his department would focus on better technology; improvements in the manufacturing sector; working more directly with states and regions, particularly via the “race to the top” program for the nation’s grid; continued support of building improvements and fuel economy; and getting a backlog of appliance standards approved. (See also: “If It’s Good for Schools, Will It Be Good for Energy?“)
He also signaled support for the efficiency bill sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and awaiting a vote. “This is the kind of initiative that I think has a real chance to move forward,” he said.
As he stepped into his new post, Moniz inaugurated a new presence on social networks as well. His first Tweet as Energy Secretary featured a photo of him being sworn in; he also has a new Facebook account, on which he promises to “help fulfill President Obama’s plan to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, keep America at the forefront of the clean energy race, and invest in renewable energy.”
Tuesday, May 21, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
A mere few days after Shell Eco-marathon 2013, everyone from Eco-Runner Team Delft is still in a whirl. The team did a great job getting second place in the hydrogen prototype class. Even though we fought and hoped for first place, second is still a great achievement.
The week started perfectly. The Ecorunner managed to get through technical inspection without many problems. That enabled us to do some test laps on the real track at Ahoy on Wednesday. This gave us insight on the things that still needed improving in order to get the most out of the Ecorunner. We set about doing this Wednesday night, and were completely prepared to do more test laps on Thursday.
However, the weather was terrible on Thursday. Due to it raining all day, we were not able to do test laps. We were, however, able to test our electronics and fuel cell statically.
Friday, the pressure was on. We had to perform now, in our first official attempt. Everyone was focused and the attempt went very well. We set a score of 2,521 km/l (5,930 mpg), which was a team record. However, we noticed some flaws after we finished, so there was still room for improvement. Unfortunately a second attempt was impossible on Friday, because the rain had started once again.
Saturday we had some bad luck when our accessory battery got overheated and one of the cells melted down. This caused us to set no valid attempt on Saturday, but we were convinced that we could do it on Sunday.
Sunday everybody was very tense. The team from Amsterdam, H2A, had beaten our score on Saturday, so we were in second place now. This caused us to be under a lot of pressure, since we were going for first place! Our first attempt ended after little more than one round due to a light crash, when one of the vehicles had come to a stop in a corner. The second attempt on Sunday turned out to be our best. We set a score of 2,914 km/l (6,584 mpg), which turned out to be enough for second place.
All in all, we had a great week full of fantastic experiences and we learned a lot. All of this will be put into good use to set an even better score next year, hoping we’ll get first place then!
Monday, May 20, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
After a really hard night, with some very last minute tweaking, we installed a Kinetic Energy Recovery System on our car at Shell Eco-marathon Europe. Even though the KERS system was pretty untested, we still chose to give it a chance, since we already had already set a new record of 612.3 kilometers on one liter of gasoline yesterday. (See also DTU Roadrunners 2013: Focusing On Evolution Instead of Revolution and At Eco-marathon Europe, Testing Commences)
But nothing comes easy when pushing the boundaries. Almost right at the start line, the KERS system had an unexplained malfunction, but after some desperate system restarts the KERS was finely charging the super capacitor. Expectations were high, as we expected the KERS to regain energy enough for 50 extra kilometers on top of the 612km we made yesterday without KERS.
The result was delivered, a disappointing 502km. What went wrong? Immediately after leaving the track, we inspected the car and found that the 20-kilogram luggage had broken off the hinge and was resting on the KERS pinwheel. Running the car without suspension on this last run induced too much stress, and the aluminium luggage hinge came off.
Gluing on carbon fibre has, in all, been somewhat of a challenge. Also, choosing the right resin (glue) and procedures is difficult, and requires some further testing.
So until next year, the best record in the popular Urban Concept class is still defended by DTU Roadrunners from Denmark’s from Denmark’s Technical University at 612.3 km/l.
Thanks to Pascal Mikkesen for this post: Pascal is an engineering student at the Technical University of Denmark. He’s been a part of the Danish DTU Roadrunners eco car team since summer 2012 as the official team leader.
Monday, May 20, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
A lot of the debate over energy and climate change has focused on changing how people live. But in a lot of ways, where someone lives is as important as how they live.
Not all parts of the United States are the same when it comes to how much and what kind of energy is used. That makes a huge difference in how to attack our energy problems.
There’s evidence for this in the latest federal statistics on carbon emissions by state and per capita. Some regions are just pumping a lot more greenhouse gases into the atomosphere than others. Consider this chart from the Energy Information Administration of carbon emissions per state, per capita:
A pretty big spread, isn’t it? And there are several reasons why some places pump out more carbon per person than others:
Economics: Some states have economies that produce more carbon than others. The top five per-capita states (Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, West Virginia and Louisiana) are all big fossil-fuel producers, and you can’t produce fossil fuels without also using fossil fuels to extract and process them. By contrast, New York and Washington D.C. are dominated by office work: finance, government, media and so on. People sitting in offices use fossil fuels, but not as much as people in industry. Plus, these are places with large numbers of people who use public transit as opposed to driving, thus producing less carbon.
Climate: Some of these differences can be explained by geography. Wyoming and Alaska are cold, whereas Hawaii is, well, Hawaiian. So the heating and cooling demands in Hawaii are much less.
Then again, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are cold, too, and yet they’re near the bottom of the scale on carbon emissions. Which leads us to the third and biggest factor:
Energy choices: Vermont hardly produces any carbon emissions at all from producing electricity, and the answer is pretty straightforward: the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant supplies almost all the state’s needs. The other states with low per capita carbon profiles, like Oregon, Idaho, and New York, also get large shares of their electricity from nuclear plants or hydroelectric dams, which don’t produce any greenhouse gases.
This can be a trick question, however, depending on whether a state produces most of its own electricity or ends up buying it from other states. Wyoming and West Virginia not only produce their own electricity using coal, but they also export it to other states. So they produce a lot of greenhouse gases, even if the electricity itself is used elsewhere. In addition to its own hydropower, Idaho imports about half of its electricity, so the state’s carbon profile is low. The same goes for California, which consistently imports a lot of the electricity it needs.
All this means that the impact of energy policy varies significantly by state. Huge amounts of effort have been spent on “think global, act local” initiatives, but the impact of those efforts is going to vary. It’s useful when someone in Vermont or Idaho swaps out swap out light bulbs and buys energy-efficient appliances, but the energy saved was probably not produced using fossil fuels. Those same changes will have a much bigger per capita impact in places that get most of their power from coal, like West Virginia or Indiana.
By contrast, carbon emissions in California and Vermont most come from petroleum, so changes in the way people drive would have the biggest payoff there.
The fact is that most people around the nation don’t know where their electricity comes from, and don’t have that much say about it, at least on a day-to-day basis. If you live in the Pacific Northwest or New England, you probably get your electricity from hydropower or nuclear plants. If you live in the Midwest or South, you’re probably getting more of your energy from coal or natural gas.
Those are the decisions where the public needs more of a voice. Nationally, the trend is to replace coal with natural gas, which is cleaner than coal but still a fosil fuel (and controversial because of the technique of fracking).
But too many citizens don’t pay enough attention to the pivotal choices being made in their own cities and states. So the next time you glance at a headlines in the local paper about the plans for a new power plant or ideas for increasing solar and wind power locally, or changes that would reduce commuting in your area and make it easier to telecommute, remember these decisions are really where the action is in curbing fossil fuel use. Making your voice heard here could be just as good for the planet as ditching your old incandescent light bulbs—maybe more so.
Sunday, May 19, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
A hot pink wind turbine turned above one paddock at Shell Eco-marathon Europe this year; it was the stall of the team from Inholland University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. The students, all studying aeronautical engineering, have designed a vehicle with a detachable rear end that can be changed in few minutes and converted to a wind-powered vehicle.
There’s no category for wind-powered cars in Shell Eco-marathon, but for the past five years, the Inholland students have been competing in an annual competition called Racing Aeolus, which will take place in August in Den Helder, the Netherlands.
For Shell Eco-marathon, even though the team couldn’t use direct wind power, they sought to have as green a footprint as possible. For fuel, they used ethanol, because it can be processed from agricultural waste. Eighty-percent of the vehicle material is cork, a waste product of the wind industry. Senior Toon Gerritsen explains that the car is optimized for low carbon emissions, not necessarily low mileage. “It’s about the whole eco-footprint of the car, not only about mileage,” he explains. Still, the car achieved 522.68 km/l (1,229.68 mpg) on the Eco-marathon track.
When the wind turbine is attached to the vehicle, it is called the Anemo, named for the Anemoi, the Greek wind gods. Seeking a similar deified name for their turbine-less vehicle, the team decided to call it Apollo, also hearkening back to the daring of the U.S. space program.
Toon and fellow senior, Thys Metz, talk about the car in the video, and the team organization, called Stitchting Rootbox (Rootbox Foundation); its goal is sustainable design through collaboration.
Sunday, May 19, 2013 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Students from Turkey’s Celal Bayar University’s EcoMagnesia team work on their solar electric vehicle, Tarzan II. Photo by Marianne Lavelle
Kağan Meijer of Celal Bayar University in Turkey explains the changes made to the vehicle to conform to new rules for Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2013. Celal Bayar’s car last year, Tarzan, had large over-hanging solar panels, but this year, the solar panels needed to be smaller to be integrated into the body of the vehicle. (Related: “A Solar Car Inspired by Manisa’s Own Tarzan“) Celal Bayar’s car is called Tarzan II, named for the first environmentalist of Turkey, “Tarzan” of Manisa, whose real name was Ahmet Bedevi. He is legendary for his work in the first half of the last century planting thousands of trees on Mount Spil, or Mount Sipylus in Manisa. The team completed a best run of 128 miles (206.8 kilometers) per kilowatt-hour, the energy equivalent of 4,313.6 miles per gallon (1,834 km/l).