Monthly Archives: May 2012

Electricity from viruses

Nowadays you seem able to turn almost everything into electricity, as universities all around the world discover in their labs. The latest one is perhaps a little more unusual than it´s predecessors, it being a virus. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed a way to generate power using harmless viruses that convert mechanical energy into electricity.

Mechanical energy is energy created by the physical movement of
things. The Berkeley researchers developed an electrode approximately the size of a postage stamp. They coated the electrode with a specially engineered harmless viruses that, when tapped with a finger, generated enough electricity to power a small LCD display.

This technique is based on the piezoelectric effect, which was
discovered in 1880. According to Wikipedia piezoelectricity is: “the charge that accumulates in certain solid materials (notably crystals, certain ceramics, and biological matter such as bone, DNA and various proteins) in response to applied mechanical stress.” Stress could be pressure of vibrations. The word piezoelectricity means electricity resulting from pressure. Some of the devices that use piezoelectricity are electric cigarette lighters and scanning probe microscopes, but this is the first time it has been generated by biological materials.

Most piezoelectric devices are toxic (such as lithium and lead) and
very difficult to work with so the researchers wondered whether a
particular virus known as M13 might be piezoelectric. The M13
bacteriophage only attacks bacteria and is not harmful to people.
Being a virus, it replicates itself by millions within hours, so
there’s always a steady supply. It’s easy to genetically engineer and the viruses arrange themselves into an orderly film. These are the traits that scientists look out for.

The results are promising, but according to Berkeley researcher Seung-Wuk Lee further research is needed. In future the technique might be used in our shoes, or on our doors or in some of the other objects that (we) move frequently during a day. The result of the research was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.


Solar energy beats costs of fossil fuel by 2017

Within a few years time, according to a new report by energy experts, solar energy is expected to be more affordable than fossil-fuels. GlobalData. As a result the sector is expected to lower it’s average retail prices in the future, fostering growth in the renewable energy sector.

The research shows that the global cumulative installed solar PV
capacity has increased by 100% between 2009 and 2011. It is expected that this percentage will keep on growing since China and the United States are searching for ways to reduce costs and increase the efficiency of the panels.

In the US, solar PV technology is expected to reach grid parity for
some PV projects in 2014, and by 2017 most regions in the country are expected to reach grid parity in alignment with average electricity prices in the residential sector. China is also due to witness similar developments, with grid parity for solar expected to reach in most regions by 2015-2016. Spain and California, have already achieved grid parity on the price of solar, but only for large installations rather than small-scale ones for homeowners.

From 2017 onwards, solar energy will be the most affordable form of
power, according to the report. Also, the cost of fossil fuels will
continue to rise. Last years British Gas announced 18% and 16% rises to it’s gas and electricity prices, just eight months after it raised prices by 7%.

Consultancy giant McKinsey &Company brought out their latest research on solar energy in April, predicting solar power will be cost competitive with fossil fuels in hot countries within two to three years. According to them, further cost reductions will be delivered as a result of classic industrialisation levers, not because of any major technological breakthroughs. The company explained that cost reductions would be possible due to improvements in manufacturing processes, more sophisticated procurement and greater efficiency in the supply chain. These factors explain a 75% drop of prices over the the last 7 years.

Solar energy accounts for 14% of the world’s alternative energy capacity, making it one of the largest forms of sustainable power. It is considered to be the fastest growing renewable energy source currently available.