Monthly Archives: March 2011

Hydra Tower: Skyscraper Harnesses Lightning For Energy

Hydrogen power is becoming an increasingly popular alternative energy source since it burns cleanly and its only emissions are water vapor and heat. The downside has always been the need for a considerable amount of energy to burn hydrogen fuel. While urine is one source recently found to cheaply and efficiently extract hydrogen from, there has to be something more powerful – ahem – or at least just something cooler.
The Hydra Tower, a concept skyscraper, channels lightning bolts to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The futuristic and eerie looking exoskeleton is created from graphene, a carbon material 200 times stronger than steel and, of course, highly conductive to heat and electricity, allowing the structure to harness heaven-sent electricity.

Designed by Milos Vlastic, Vuk Djordjevic, Ana Lazovic, Milica Stankovic, the Hydra Tower received a mere Honorable Mention at 2011 Evolo Skyscraper Competition, alongside the Water-Scraper. With sights set for implementation in the tropics, where 70 percent of all lightning is said to occur, the designers felt the Hydra Tower would be best implemented in places such as Singapore, Central Fla., Venezuela, and Kifuka of the Dem. Republic of Congo. Inspired by the “hydra,” a simple freshwater animal possessing radial symmetry, the designers chose a twisting, dynamic form for the tower.

How it works: when the highly conductive graphene shell is struck by lightning, electricity is channeled into a massive array of batteries in the base of the spire. The energy obtained is used to split water molecules into hydrogen gas via electrolysis. The project also includes areas for scientists to work and live such as a research facility, housing, and recreational spaces. However, I imagine 1 billion volts of energy could really disrupt a game of pool.

For more info and graphics see:

Pee power could fuel hydrogen cars

The shower is well known as a source of good ideas. But the toilet? Equally promising, says Gerardine Botte, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio University who has developed a technology to generate hydrogen fuel from urine.

Botte recognized that urine contains two compounds that could be a source of hydrogen: ammonia and urea. Place an electrode in wastewater, apply a gentle current, and voila: hydrogen gas that can be used to power a fuel cell.

Her system operates similarly to the electrolysis of water, a process that can be used to produce hydrogen for fuel cells – except that ammonia and urea hold their hydrogen atoms less tightly than water does, so less energy is required to split them off. Botte isn’t the only scientist with her mind in the sewer. A group of scientists in the UK, for example, is working on a fuel cell powered directly by urine.

Botte’s technology has the greatest potential for power generation in settings where large numbers of people gather – airports and sports stadiums, for example. An office building with 200 to 300 workers could generate 2 kilowatts of power, Botte has calculated. Granted, that’s not enough to power the building, but every drop in the bucket helps.

The approach could also address pollution associated with animal feedlots. The urine produced by 1,000 cows could generate 40 to 50 kilowatts of power, Botte estimates – getting rid of noxious ammonia in the process.

Earlier this year, E3 Clean Technologies was launched to commercialize “pee power,” with Botte as chief technology officer. The company aims to have a “GreenBox” prototype ready by the end of next year and sees cities as its first potential customers. “You can clean the water in a municipal wastewater treatment plant with much less energy,” Botte says.

Via: The Guardian

Waste heat-powered thermoelectrics find investors

Rather than burning stuff to make electricity, a handful of thermoelectric-technology companies are trying to tap waste heat as an energy source.

Phononic Devices yesterday said that it raised $10 million to further develop and commercialize its semiconductor material for converting heat into electricity and efficient cooling. Investors in the series B round were Venrock and Oak Investment Partners.

The Raleigh, N.C.-based company is improving on technology originally developed at the University of Oklahoma that can be embedded in small chips. Initially, the company plans to make modules for refrigeration or cooling electronic equipment.

Twee weeks ago, another thermoelectric company, Alphabet Energy, said it has received two contracts worth $1.48 million from the U.S. Air Force and Army. The San Francisco-based start-up, which licensed technology developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will develop prototype thermoelectric chips for mobile power generation products that run on waste heat.

Thermoelectric chips use materials that are relatively efficient at converting a difference in temperature into a flow of electricity. Similarly, they can also take electricity and remove heat. Cooling with solid-state devices has been done in small refrigerators for years.

The challenge for thermoelectric technologies is making semiconductor materials that are relatively inexpensive and efficient at the heat-to-power conversion. In addition to cooling and portable power, thermoelectric chips have been tried on cars where engine or exhaust heat is used to power electronics.

Phononic Devices received a $3 million grant from the Department of Energy ARPA-E program for funding research into clean-energy close to commercialization.