Alternative Energy and SustainabilityThe Glittering Future of Solar Power
One of the higher-impact posts on the blog, featured by both Grist.org and the Wall Street Journal. Deals with the consequences of the power-law learning curve of dropping photovoltaic solar panel prices and the exponential growth of the solar power sector. Importantly, finds that the price of solar power should drop below that of tradational fossil fuels (i.e. natural gas and coal) before solar power becomes a significant portion of the electricity supply. This has major consequences for the intermittancy issues that renewable power sources suffer from. Interestingly, this post was criticized at the time (in 2006) as being overly optimistic in terms of growth rates or the drop in photovoltaic panel prices. Over the past six years, it has actually turned out to be somewhat pesimistic, as the price of solar power as dropped faster than anyone anticipated, both with the introduction of thin films (First Solar) and the growth of Chinese manufacturers.
Solar Thermal Cooling
There is potential for solar-thermal hot water generation to be used to provide space cooling (i.e. air conditioning) via the use of an absorption chiller. This post has the highest hit count of any on the blog (as well as a frequent target of spammers), as the concept has actually been used in the developing world, which has a need for cheap space cooling and has high insolation (incoming solar radiation) due to its typical proximity to the equator.
Solar Power Satellite
Looks at the various issues that would be encountered in transmitting power from a satellite in high orbit to the ground. A staple of science fiction, the solar power satellite sees more radiation than that of ground-based solar and perhaps more importantly there is no lack of power at night. However, the loss of power through transmission from space to ground is significant, with both laser and microwave power transmission being examined. The conclusion is that a solar power satellite would not be able to economically compete with ground-based solar power.
Baby Steps Along the Plug-in Pathway
Compares and contrasts the plug-in hybrid (e.g. the Chevrolate Volt, introduced in 2011) with a pure electrical car, and shows how the plug-in hybrid has more easily achieved incremental steps to achieve high electrical power penetration into total vehicle kilometers.
Uber Atomic Battery
Another somewhat science fiction-themed post, looks at alternative radioisotopes to the standard Plutonium-239??? used in radiothermal generators that are often used to power deep space missions, both for orbiters and the martian landers. The selected radioisotope, Radium-228, can potentially be produced from Thorium mined from the earth and has an enormously high power density, on the order of 25 kW/kg.
Low Power Control Electronics
Electronics form a sizable and growing section of residential and commercial electrical power consumption. Two of the strategies currently being explored to make more efficient computers are examined
Phase Change Thermal Storage Materials
One of the greatest challenges of the alternative/renewable power sector is dealing with intermittency of the resources. For example, the wind is not always blowing at a constant velocity, and solar cell produce less power in winter and none at night. Storage of energy is hence the challenge in making alternative energy as convient as carbon fuels. The storage of energy via a phase change (typically solid to liquid) is examined and the various options for storage of both high and low-temperature solar thermal energy is explored.
Economic Limits to Energy Reserves
The paradigm of 'alternative energy' is that a gamute of power sources, from wind to solar to geothermal to wave to hydro power, will be able to replace our fossil fuel-based energy economy. This post takes apart that paradigm, pointing out that one of the potential sources of renewable power is likely have economic advantageous over the others. The case is made for solar, having a much broader base of economic resource (as compared to wind) for being the eventual dominate source of renewable power for the later part of the 21st century.
Fusion Power, Steampunk-style
General Fusion, located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, is attempting to build a proof of principle fusion reactor that works by compression of the fusing atoms via acoustical waves. The various challenges are examined.
Review of the state of research for organic semiconductors for use in low-cost photovoltaic applications.
Quantum Dot Photovoltaics
Review of the state of research for various quantum confinement strategies for improving the efficiency of solar cells.
HealthSynthesis of Fat in the Liver
The liver is the metabolic clearing house of the body, being a critical organ to the maintenance of good health. When the liver becomes overly full of fat deposits, called ecotopic fat, it has less volume for the cellular machinery that allows it to function. The role of overabundance of fructose (i.e. sugar) in the diet is explored as a potential cause of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is a precusor of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Feast and Fast: the dichotomy of insulin and growth hormone
There are three hormones which help determine the state of the human body with regards to management of blood glucose levels and whether fat deposits can be used to power the energy requirements of the human body or not. These hormones are: insulin, glucagon, and the poorly named growth hormone. The role of growth hormone in the fasting state to liberate energy from fat deposits and protect the protein in muscular tissue from being consumed is explored. The conclusion is that rapid mobilization (i.e. loss) of fat deposits can easily by achieved by short (aka intermittent) fasts of approximately twenty hours.
The Chronic Infection Theory of Heart Disease
The potential role of 'stealthy' latent pathogens in chronic diseases that involve the immune system is often underexplored by medical research. One potential pathogen, C. pneunomiae, has been associated with atherosclerosis. An overview of the role of the immune system in heart disease is provided and the evidence for such a role of this bacterium in heart disease is examined.