Friday, 29 February 2008

No impact from Energy Saving Day

The UK's first Energy Saving Day has ended with no noticeable reduction in the country's electricity usage.

E-Day asked people to switch off electrical devices they did not need over a period of 24 hours, with the National Grid monitoring consumption.

It found that electricity usage was almost exactly what would have been expected without E-Day.

Colder weather than forecast in some regions may have led to higher use of heating, masking any small savings.

The event also received very little publicity, despite having backing from campaign groups such as Greenpeace, Christian Aid and the RSPB, and from major energy companies such as EDF, E.On and Scottish Power.
"I am afraid that E-Day did not achieve the scale of public awareness or participation needed to have a measurable effect," said E-Day's organiser Dr Matt Prescott in a message on his website.

The Grid's final figures showed national electricity consumption for the 24 hours (from 1800 Wednesday to 1800 Thursday) was 0.1% above the "business-as-usual" projection.

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Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Nanoparticles could make hydrogen cheaper than gasoline

The hydrogen economy is getting a shot in the arm from a start-up that says its nanoparticle coatings could make hydrogen easy to produce at home from distilled water, and ultimately bring the cost of hydrogen fuel cells in line with that of fossil fuels.
QuantumSphere Inc. says it has perfected the manufacture of highly reactive catalytic nanoparticle coatings that could up the efficiency of electrolysis, the technique that generates hydrogen from water. Moreover, the coatings could also eliminate the need for expensive metals like platinum in hydrogen fuel cells.

Boasting 1,000 times the surface area of traditional materials, the coatings can be used to retrofit existing electrolysers to increase their efficiency to 85 percent--exceeding the Department of Energy's goal for 2010 by 10 percent. The scheme holds the promise of 96 percent efficiency by the time cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells hit automobile showrooms, according to the Santa Ana, Calif., company.

"Instead of switching 170,000 gas stations over to hydrogen, using our electrodes could enable consumers to make their own hydrogen, either in the garage or right on the vehicle," said Kevin Maloney, president, chief executive officer and co-founder of QuantumSphere. "Our nanoparticle-coated electrodes make electrolysers efficient enough to provide hydrogen on demand from a tank of distilled water in your car."

The first commercial product inspired by QuantumSphere's technology will debut later this year: a battery using a cathode coated with the startup's nanoparticles, thereby increasing its energy density 5x over alkaline cells and boosting power by 320 percent. The first commercial nonrechargeable batteries with this increased capacity will be announced by an as-yet-unnamed major U.S. battery maker in the second half of 2008.

QuantumSphere also claims to be able to improve rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride batteries to the point where they perform better than the less environmentally friendly lithium-ion batteries popular today.

QuantumSphere's plan is first to retrofit existing electrolysis equipment with its nanoparticle electrodes to boost efficiency. Next, it intends to partner with original equipment manufacturers to design at-home and on-vehicle electrolysers for making hydrogen from water for fuel cells. Finally, the company wants to work with fuel cell makers to replace their expensive platinum electrodes with inexpensive stainless-steel electrodes coated with nickel-iron nanoparticles.

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Friday, 22 February 2008

Solar cell speeds hydrogen production

A solar cell that mimics photosynthesis has been used to make hydrogen directly from water. The prototype is inefficient, but the researchers who built it believe they can boost its efficiency, perhaps leading to a viable source of hydrogen to fuel cars and other vehicles.

The device, built by Thomas Mallouk of Pennsylvania State University and colleagues, works much like a solar cell called a Grätzel cell, using sunlight to knock electrons off dye molecules. But instead of being used to create a current, as in the Grätzel cell, the electrons are shuttled away from the dye and into a catalyst, where they split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen ions in a reaction similar to one stage of natural photosynthesis.

Other dye-based approaches to splitting water haven't worked very well because the electrons often recombine with the dye before they can be used. Mallouk says that the problem was a matter of arranging the molecular circuitry to channel the electrons effectively, avoiding such “short circuits”.

His solution is to attach ruthenium-based dye molecules to a catalyst particle, clinging so closely that any electrons knocked out of the dye are directed into the catalyst. "The key thing is to get everything small and individually packaged," Mallouk told New Scientist.

In the new device, water is split a thousand times faster than in other dye-based cells.

Elegant and original
“The attractive feature of the work is that the dye is wrapped around the iridium oxide nanoparticles. This is a very elegant and original approach,” says Michael Grätzel of the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, inventor of the Grätzel cell.

The approach may also be more promising than semiconductor approaches, which are incredibly complex, says James Durrant of Imperial College, London, UK.

Mallouk admits that so far the cell is very inefficient, as only around 1% of the light energy falling on it goes into splitting water, but he says that with some optimisation of the geometry and the molecules the efficiency could rise to 10% per cent. “Because we understand the relationship between intermolecular distances and electron transfer rates, we can in principle improve our system by changing the linking groups between molecules.”

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Biofuels 'need strict standards'

Biofuels should only be produced if they meet strict environmental standards, an international group of lawmakers have concluded.

The legislators said the fuels also had to deliver significant savings of greenhouse gas emissions.

If such criteria were met, they said there should be an urgent review of the tariffs that currently block imports into markets such as the EU and US.

The forum was hosted by Brazil, one of the world's biggest biofuel producers.

Biofuels have become a highly controversial issue, with claims that the rapid expansion of energy crops could threaten global food security, and add further pressure to sensitive ecosystems including rainforests.

It is also argued that in some cases the benefits to the climate of burning plant material instead of fossil fuels are outweighed by the energy needed to produce and transport biofuels, and by the release of carbon from soils by changes in land use.

The supporters of Brazilian ethanol argue, however, that huge areas of degraded cattle pasture are available to grow the crop, and that expansion of biofuel production does not require significant conversion of native ecosystems.

The meeting also failed to agree a framework for a new global agreement on measures to tackle climate change beyond 2012, with the Chinese delegation apparently reluctant to pre-empt the position of its government in forthcoming negotiations.

Lord Jay, the former head of the British Foreign Office, who had led the efforts to agree the framework, said there had been consensus over his claim that a massive increase was needed in the funds available to poorer countries to cope with the impacts of climate change.
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Tuesday, 5 February 2008

The £15,000 three-wheeled electric car that can go faster than a Porsche

A car manufacturer has announced they are on the verge of creating a three-wheeled electric sports car that can travel faster than a Porsche.

The enviromentally friendly Zap Alias will cost just £15,000 and does 0 to 60mph in just 5.7 seconds with a top speed of 156mph.
The futuristic looking two-seater is being developed with the help of British car company Lotus. It should go on sale next year though speculation is rife that the launch of the vehicle will be delayed.

It is powered by two electric wheel motors, one driving each of the car's front wheels. Unlike a Reliant Robin the single wheel is at the back. Together the Alias's motors generate an impressive 321.85 horse power - as much as a Porsche 911 Carrera which costs £60,000.
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The hypersonic plane

he project is part of an EU drive to push forward the boundaries of air travel. Scientists were asked to find out if it was possible to build a commercial plane that used the sort of technology more closely associated with travel to the edge of space and beyond.

Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines designs and develops space transport and hi-tech propulsion systems. Its directors are experts in fields ranging from space rockets and weapons systems to nuclear power. One of the firm's main projects is the development of Skylon, an unpiloted reusable spaceplane intended to provide inexpensive and reliable access to space, which is expected to take approximately 10 years to develop and be capable of transporting 12 tonnes of cargo into space.
Reaction Engines estimates that the cost of the flight would be similar to a current first class fare. Moreover, the company claims, the plane would not leave much of a carbon footprint.
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biohydrogen production from palm oil waste

A few years ago, we referred to the large potential for the production of bioproducts and next-generation biofuels from the waste biomass that accumulates at palm oil plantations and mills. The palm oil tree is one of the most productive plants on the planet.
A group of researchers from the Universiti Sains Malaysia now finds that this vast stream of waste biomass holds a considerable potential for the efficient and cost-competitive production of renewable biohydrogen via a process known as supercritical water gasification (SCWG) - of growing interest to bioenergy researchers. The process yields hydrogen twenty times less costly than H2 from electrolysis of water when the primary energy comes from renewables like wind or solar, and one fifth less costly than H2 obtained from steam reforming natural gas - the most likely candidate for large scale hydrogen production in the future. The chemical and energetic properties of the residual palm biomass, especially its high moisture content, make it a 'perfect' feedstock for the novel gasification process. The energy balance ('EROEI') of the biohydrogen was found to be 9.9, indicating a highly efficient use of the resource. The researchers discuss their findings in a recent issue of the scientific journal Energy Policy.
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Climate set for 'sudden shifts'

The melting of Arctic sea ice is one "tipping element"
Many of Earth's climate systems will undergo a series of sudden shifts this century as a result of human-induced climate change, a study suggests.

A number of these shifts could occur this century, say the report's authors.

They argue that society should not be lulled into a false sense of security by the idea that climate change will be a gradual process.

At greatest risk is Arctic sea ice, the Greenland ice sheet and the west Antarctic ice sheet.

The researchers have listed and ranked nine ecological systems that they say could be lost this century as a result of global warming. The nine tipping elements and the time it will take them to undergo a major transition are:

Melting of Arctic sea-ice (about 10 years)
Decay of the Greenland ice sheet (about 300 years)
Collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet (about 300 years)
Collapse of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation (about 100 years)
Increase in the El Nino Southern Oscillation (about 100 years)
Collapse of the Indian summer monsoon (about 1 year)
Greening of the Sahara/Sahel and disruption of the West African monsoon (about 10 years)
Dieback of the Amazon rainforest (about 50 years)
Dieback of the Boreal Forest (about 50 years)
The paper also demonstrates how, in principle, early warning systems could be established using real-time monitoring and modelling to detect the proximity of certain tipping points.
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Monday, 4 February 2008

Landlords should prepare for EPCs

Paragon Mortgages, the specialist buy-to-let mortgage provider, has urged landlords to review the energy efficiency of their properties ahead of new energy performance rules being introduced later this year.

From October 1st landlords will be required to make an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) available to prospective tenants as part of the lettings process. The EPC, which is valid for 10 years, will rate a property's energy performance and make recommendations about how to improve the energy efficiency of the property.

Although landlords are under no obligation to carry out any recommendations made, prospective tenants could use the EPC as one of the factors to determine which property they choose to rent.

The certificates have already been introduced into the home sales process and could play a valuable role in boosting energy efficiency across the housing sector when they are extended to the private rented sector. Landlords and tenants can access a range of grants to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

Schemes include:

The Landlord Energy Saving Allowance

The LESA was introduced by the Government in 2004 and allows private and corporate landlords who pay income tax to claim back up to £1,500 per property for the installation of energy saving measures, including loft, cavity wall, floor, hot water system and solid wall insulation, as well as draft proofing. The scheme applies per property, rather than per building, so a house converted into four flats would be able to claim up to £6,000. However, the allowance does not cover holiday lets or resident landlords.

To claim the relief, landlords must include the expenditure as a deduction in their self-assessment tax return. For more information, landlords should visit HM Revenue & Customs at

Warm Front

Grants of up to £2,700 are available to tenants of private landlords if they are in receipt of certain benefits to make insulation and heating improvements to a property. The landlord doesn't have to make any financial contribution, only give permission to their tenants for the work to be carried out on the property.

The tenant must apply for the grant and a Warm Front assessor will visit the property to suggest which improvements should be made. People entitled to the grant include householders aged 60 or over in receipt of income support, council tax benefit, housing benefit, job seekers allowance or pension benefit, and householders with a child under 16 also in receipt of the same benefits. For a full list of the type of tenant eligible for the grant visit This scheme is only available for households in England.

Local council benefits and grants

Local authorities and councils in the UK offer a range of different grants and financial assistance to landlords to help them improve the energy performance of their property, but the level of assistance differs from council to council. To check what grants landlords are entitled to from their local authority, they should call the Energy Efficiency Advice Centre, a service funded by both the Government and the Energy Saving Trust, on 0800 512 012.

Energy Supplier Grants

Energy companies offer subsidised rates on insulation and certain grants to their customers. Many of these grants are available to customers that rent a property as well as homeowners, so tenants could be entitled to discounts on measures such as cavity and loft insulation. The Energy Saving Trust,, has the full range of grants and subsidies available to energy customers.

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Sunday, 3 February 2008

auto hydrogen fuel tank

An Israeli-Russian-German venture said it had developed a safe and lightweight hydrogen tank, overcoming a significant obstacle to the mass manufacture of automobiles operated by hydrogen fuel.
The venture, known as C.En, has completed a design and test programme aimed at producing the tank for use in cars, Moshe Stern, who leads the investors in the project, told Reuters on Thursday.
One of the biggest hurdles to building hydrogen-powered cars has been the safe and lightweight storage of hydrogen. Stern said C.En's technology solves three main storage problems: weight, volume and safety.
"We can build a 60-litre tank that can travel up to 600 km and weighs no more than 50 kg," Stern said, adding this compares with about 150-200 km for existing hydrogen cars. Unlike others working with hydrogen, C.En uses hydrogen gas rather than liquid.
"Our breakthrough is that we have succeeded in accumulating hydrogen in a glass material that is very small, only a few microns," said Stern, who is also president of Israeli waste treatment company Environmental Energy Resources (EER).
"You don't need to transport hydrogen to fuel stations and you don't need pipelines. The tanks will be like a battery that can be replaced and you can carry a reserve in the car."
He said this technology could also be used for laptops, mobile phones and military applications.
Long a centre for technological innovation, Israel is seeking to leverage that experience in the field of clean energy that has become popular due to soaring oil prices and pollution from heavy use of fossil fuels.

"It will help to achieve a practical solution for the hydrogen era," he said. "When you run out of fossil fuel you need another fuel source and you don't want everything to run on electricity. You also want a mobile source of chemical energy."
Storing hydrogen in the needed quantity has been one of the biggest obstacles to using it as a fuel source, as it has to be in a limited volume and weight, he said.
"It seems that they succeeded. Their tank is roughly the size and weight of a normal fuel tank," Riess said, noting that hydrogen fuel tanks currently in use are too heavy and therefore limited in how much they can store.

By Tova Cohen

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Honda’s hard cell can lead motorists to a fuel paradise

LATER this year a few lucky drivers will have the chance to experience a car that represents the holy grail of green motoring – a zero-emissions vehicle. The Honda FCX Clarity may not look much different from any of the company’s other medium-size cars but it is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and the only emission from its engine is water.

The fuel cells in these cars generate the electricity that drives them from the chemical reaction of pure hydrogen from the tank with oxygen from the air. Hydrogen has many attractions as a fuel: it is the most common element in the universe and can be produced by methods that create hardly any emissions. A fuel cell needs no combustion and produces no emissions from the engine.

At present most hydrogen for vehicle use is produced by a process known as “reforming” from natural gas, a fossil fuel. But the technology has existed for more than a century to produce it by electrolysis, passing a current through water to separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Until now that would have involved using large amounts of electricity generated from fossil fuels, cancelling out any advantage of zero-emissions running, but Honda says it is now feasible to use electricity from renewable sources for this process, thus producing the fuel with virtually no emissions.

However, the introduction of the Clarity illustrates some of the problems that even the biggest of car-makers face when trying to launch technologies that will slash the rate of carbon emissions rather than simply reduce the way in which vehicles use fossil fuels.

John Kingston, environment manager at Honda UK, would relish the chance to try the Clarity here. But, in the absence of a fuel infrastructure, he accepts that he is unable to put a date on when that will be possible: “Unfortunately, it is not imminent. We have looked at many alternative fuels: solar power, battery electric and hybrid. But this is no longer an experiment. Honda is convinced of the role that hydrogen vehicles can play in reducing emissions. We now have to maintain progress in bringing the cost down and getting infrastructure in place.” The company has been investing heavily in the development of a home energy station, a compact unit that could produce hydrogen domestically both for heating and vehicle use.

An experimental filling station in Hornchurch, East London, was used during the trial of fuel-cell buses, but that was dismantled when the first experiment with just three vehicles ended last year. Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, has announced plans to acquire 70 fuel-cell vehicles – including ten buses – for Transport for London, the police, fire brigade and other services. They will rely on a network of fuel stations to be installed on Greater London Authority premises but these could be made available to other fuel-cell vehicles at a later stage of the trial.
Alan Copps
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