Monthly Archives: December 2010

Grant for TURPEL Project Green Turbine and SMO

The Flemish government agency for Innovation by Science and Technology (IWT) has provided Dutch company GREEN TURBINE and the Belgian company SMO with a subsidy for the project TURPEL (turbine /pellet stove).
The project focuses on developing a pellet stove that generates electricity and heat using a small micro steamturbine.

Green Turbine has made an agreement with SMO, an machine shop and engineering company, to enable further development of the Green Turbine.
The Green Turbine is a small light-weight turbo generator, having a relatively high efficiency.
This micro turbo generator is a compact steam turbine, with an output in the range of 1-15 kW. The turbine uses proven technology to capture waste heat from a fuel source i.e. fossil fuel, solar PV or biogas. The heat is being used to provide steam for the turbine, which in turn, converts the steam into electricity.

The second new technology is a stove which burns woodpellets. It produces, in conjunction with the turbine, electricity and heat for an entire household.
This combination of the turbine with the pellet stove provides an environmentally friendly and efficient solution.

Newly discovered phase helps explain materials’ ability to convert waste heat to electricity

Scientists have discovered that a class of materials known to convert heat to electricity and vice versa behaves quite unexpectedly at the nanoscale in response to changes in temperature. The discovery is a new “opposite-direction” phase transition that helps explain the strong thermoelectric response of these materials. It may also help scientists identify other useful thermoelectrics, and could further their application in capturing energy lost as heat, for example, in automotive and factory exhaust.

The scientists — from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, Columbia University, Argonne National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Northwestern University, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology — were studying lead chalcogenides (lead paired with tellurium, selenium, or sulfur) using newly available experimental techniques and theoretical approaches that allow them to “see” and model behavior of individual atoms at the nanoscale, or on the order of billionths of a meter. With those tools they were able to observe subtle changes in atomic arrangements invisible to conventional probes of structure.

To understand the phase transition the scientists observed, think of the everyday response of a gas like steam cooling to form liquid water, and then freezing to form solid ice. In each case, the atoms undergo some form of structural rearrangement, explains Simon Billinge, a physicist at Brookhaven. “Sometimes, further cooling will lead to further structural transitions: Atoms in the crystal rearrange or become displaced to lower the overall symmetry,” Billinge says. The development of such localized atomic distortions upon cooling is normal, he says. “What we discovered in lead chalcogenides is the opposite behavior: At the very lowest temperature, there were no atomic displacements, nothing — but on warming, displacements appear!”

The techniques the scientists used to observe this nanoscale atomic action were high-tech versions of x-ray vision, aided by mathematical and computer analysis of the results. First the lead materials were made in a purified powder form at Northwestern University. Then the scientists bombarded the samples with two kinds of beams — x-rays at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne and neutrons at the Lujan Neutron Scattering Center at Los Alamos. Detectors gather information about how these beams scatter off the sample to produce diffraction patterns that indicate positions and arrangements of the atoms.

The scientists have made an animation to illustrate the emergence of these displacements upon heating. In it, the displacements are represented by arrows to indicate the changing orientations of the atoms as they flip back and forth, or fluctuate, like tiny dipoles. According to the scientists, it is this random flipping behavior that is key to the materials’ ability to convert heat into electricity. “The randomly flipping dipoles impede the movement of heat through the material in much the same way that it is more difficult to move through a disorderly wood than an orderly apple orchard where the trees are lined up in rows,” Billinge says. “This low thermal conductivity allows a large temperature gradient to be maintained across the sample, which is crucial to the thermoelectric properties.”

When one side of the material comes in contact with heat — say, in the exhaust system of a car — the gradient will cause charge carriers in the thermoelectric material (e.g., electrons) to diffuse from the hot side to the cold side. Capturing this thermally induced electric current could put the “waste” heat to use.

“Our next step will be searching for new materials that show this novel phase transition, and finding other structural signatures for this behavior,” Billinge said. “The new tools that allow us to probe nanoscale structures are essential to this research. Such studies of complex materials at the nanoscale hold the key to many of the transformative technological breakthroughs we seek to solve problems in energy, health, and the environment.”

Want to learn more?
Science Daily

Alaska school lights up new wood chip-fired boiler

A new wood energy project in Tok has turned surrounding forests from a fire hazard into renewable fuel. The Tok School lit a new wood chip-fired boiler for the first time several weeks ago.The 5.5-million-BTU steam boiler produces the school’s heat, saving the school district thousands of dollars in heating fuel and saving forest managers untold costs fighting fires and eliminating waste wood. The school district plans to add a steam turbine generator to the system in May to produce 75 percent of its electricity.

“We’re the first school in the state to be heated entirely by wood,” said project manager and assistant superintendent Scott MacManus, who has been trying to spur wood energy in Tok for 10 years. “As far as I know, we’d be the first public school in the country to produce heat and power from biomass.” At the school’s new biomass facility, trees and slash are fed into a Rotochopper grinder, processed into chips that resemble wood shavings, spit into a bin and carried by conveyor belt into the boiler, which is 17 feet tall, six feet wide and 12 feet long. Fuel comes from forest thinning projects, scraps and nearby sawmills. The forest around the school has yielded enough biomass for the first year, according to Alaska Division of Forestry spokeswoman Maggie Rogers. Project leaders hope the system will be used as a model of energy independence for other school districts, communities and utilities.

The project was a partnership between the Division of Forestry, the Tok community, the Alaska Gateway School District and the Alaska Energy Authority and used research from University of Alaska Fairbanks and elsewhere. Funding came from a $3.2 million state renewable-energy grant as well as about $750,000 in grants from the Alaska Legislature. A long-term fuel contract is in the works between the state and the school district.The project started nearly four years ago as a way to get rid of wood from thinning projects and lessen fire danger. Tok is prone to wildfire because it sits amid 40,000 acres of continuous fuel. In the past 25 years, nearly 2 million acres in the area have burned, costing more than $60 million in fire suppression and causing six evacuations, according to the state. Last year, the Eagle Trail fire scorched 18,000 acres.

The carbon emitted by the boiler is offset by the carbon absorbed during the life of the tree. “The beauty of it all is that it grows back. It’s carbon neutral and our foresters can finally manage our forest,” said Dave Stancliff, vice president of the Tok Chamber of Commerce and partner in the project.It’s also cheaper than wildfires, which cost between $10,000 and $20,000 per acre to fight near urban areas.

The boiler should burn 40 acres worth of wood per year, using only one-third of the area foresters want to clear in the boiler’s 30-year life span. The boiler is supposed to be as clean as burning heating fuel, and the school district will monitor its emissions. It burns at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and generates very little smoke, thanks to air that moves up through the wood chips and fans the flame. The boiler system, designed by German engineers, is a proven technology. More than 100 are operating around the country. It was designed to meet any air quality regulations Tok could see in the next 20 years (Tok has none now). Tok School spends more than $300,0000 annually on heating fuel and electricity, said school district superintendent Todd Poage. The boiler will save an estimated $125,000 per year on fuel, and the generator will further erode their bill.

Administrators hope the project will inspire other communities in the district and the state to take advantage of local resources. Villages without forests can consider other resources, like fish waste, peat, stream or wave power, project leaders said.

Via: The Alaska Journal

New kind of uranium could power your car

A newly discovered form of uranium could lead to a nuclear power plant small enough to fit in your car and eventually even power it.

Scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory have created a long-sought molecule known as uranium nitride. Besides offering cheaper and safer nuclear fuel, the new molecule could extract more energy from fossil fuels, making cars more fuel-efficient, and could also lead to cheaper drugs. “Actinide nitrides are candidate nuclear fuels of the future,” said Jaqueline Kiplinger, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory who led the team of researchers on the recent Nature Chemistry paper. “But they can also break carbon-hydrogen bonds, which are very strong.” Uranium nitride rips the hydrogen atoms off a carbon atom — no easy task.

A similar process happens every day in car engines. Unfortunately a lot of energy in those bonds is lost as heat. If the two atoms could be split apart without losing all that energy, gasoline could be used much more effectively not only to fuel a car, but also to improve a whole variety of petroleum-related products, from plastics to drugs. Unfortunately the new molecule is destroyed when it rips hydrogen atoms off a carbon atom. For uranium nitride to become commercially viable, it would have to knock one hydrogen atom after another and not destroy itself in the process.

The scientists would, in other words, have to turn uranium nitride into a catalyst. That should be possible, said Kiplinger, but right now it is not. Scientists might not have a cheap, reliable and reusable molecular bond-breaker, but nature already does. Found in virtually every organism on Earth, cytochrome P450 is an enzyme involved in a massive number of chemical transformations, from from creating energy in mitochrondria to drug metabolism.

Despite uranium’s association with deadly radiation, the new molecule contains depleted uranium, which is relatively harmless from a radiological standpoint and offers many opportunities in catalytic and industrial applications. If this new molecule could do the job at room temperature, room pressure and in a single step, it would save time and money.