Thursday, September 3, 2009

On Vacation, Getting Ready for Grad School

Hola everyone,

I've been on vacation for the past several weeks for a much needed break from work, and for a final respite before grad school. I am very much looking forward to the challenge, education and opportunities that should present themselves over the next several years. However, considering the fact that I will be working while attending school, I would like to mention that while I'm not going away, I will regrettably have a lot less time for blogging.

That being said, I would like to cover some basic themes:

  • Peak oil will invariably occur someday, anybody with at least a few brain cells will concede this. However, the severity of decline rates is up to considerable dispute, and many - including Jean Laherrere, King Hubbert and Kjell Aleklett - have argued that peak oil will result in a slow decline in oil produciton, not a hard crash; and my work demonstrating non-OPEC crude's apparent peak in 2004, plus its snail-pace depletion rate (remember, non-OPEC crude represents a slight majority of global crude production) seems to offer strong support for this argument. Non-OPEC crude, even with drastic drops in Canterell and North Sea production, has been dipping at 1% annual depletion rates at worst; with this going rate, the world will be more than capable to adjust accordingly.

  • Oil's repeated price increases have more to do with manipulative speculation, not supply-and-demand fundamentals. Major banks buying and hording oil is a practice that started in 2004, just as oil began its price climb. As Philip K. Verleger Jr. said fairly recently, the ongoing oil glut: "is the largest and longest continuous glut of supply that I have seen in 30 years of following energy prices."

  • Disruptive technologies are not necessarily overrated. Sure, plenty of them are "flash in the pan" ideas that don't pan out; I personally expect many such works listed on my blog to fizzle out; and no, I'm not counting on fusion-powered hovercrafts anytime soon. However, breakthroughs do occur and they can change the world. Shale gas extraction is one such example: several years ago, the US was suppose to be heading off of a "natural gas cliff," with production going into a nose dive, thus forcing us to become dependent on imported gas overseas. Now thanks to "fraccing," the US has more natural gas than it knows what to do with - 100 years worth - and nations are taking note. Oil Drum writer and energy guru Robert Rapier, a talented individual whom I do respect, is vocal for his frequent skepticism of disruptive technologies; and yet he took nearly a year to finally admit shale gas would provide the US with ample gas supplies, stating that "we have enough natural gas available that civilization isn't going to end any time soon due to lack of energy supplies." Anyway, when one considers disruptive technologies, the difficulties of developing them, remember this: how many pilots had to die to break the sound barrier? While many such developments will fizzle, remember, it only takes one to have a major impact.

  • The peak oil community by in large has a porous, humiliating record of prophecies that's nearly as old as the oil industry is itself. Not much has changed with these goons; they refuse to learn from their mistakes. Ghwar Guzzler, Peakers' Hall of Shame, Peak Oil Debunked and Freddy Hutter's site, Trendlines, goes into into great detail exposing the hype, the far misses and repeated blunders of these goons. Somebody might say: "But Ken Deffeyes is a professor in geology, he has a successful record of assisting drilling companies finding natural gas." I will not dispute this; however, this doesn't help the fact the man has nine failed peak oil predictions to his name. Certain people, when contemplating the future, have a habit of falling for panic first without taking in smart consideration of rationalizing the details; and after all, it was computer geniuses with PhDs who warned us in the '90s of the imminent dangers of Y2K.

  • The peak oil community has a bad habit of greatly underestimating technology. As I've demonstrated on my blog before, the Oil Drum - vaunted haven of peak oil high priests - stooged badly denouncing the prospect of shale gas; here's Oil Drum writer Nate Hagens burying the prospect of gas a month before the Drum admitted their mistake.

And that's it in a nutshell. While the posting will be much more sparse, I'm defiantly not going away and hope you'll pop in from time to time. That being said, I'd like to close with this: the only thing peakers get correct is that oil will peak someday. As you well know, it's paltry beyond that; and that's my theory as to why the peakers are dead wrong, and why we'll shoot for the moon and beyond: judging from the peakers' current record, if they have this much trouble getting much right in the pre-peak world, they're not going to get much right in the post peak world either.


- Brewskie

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Plants "Calls in Sick" to Avoid Lunch

Now for a story that's obscure yet entertaining, minute but informing. Here we have exotic plants that fools hungry critters into thinking they're sick, thus avoiding becoming lunch. Read below to learn of its trickery (link):

Found in the rain forests of Ecuador these sick-looking plants appear to have already been attacked. As a rule of (green) thumb, plants that compromise their ability to transform sunlight into energy via photosynthesis die out. However, in this case the survivors seem to be those that sacrifice light-harvesting capacity for a clever camouflaged appearance.

Typically, the top predator of this particular plant lays its eggs on the leaves , which in turn hatch into larvae that leave a trail of white behind as they feast on the leaves. By displaying a white pattern from the outset, however, these plants look already-inhabited and thus further egg-laying moths are deterred from laying their own offspring.

Nice trick. It would be nice if that worked for humans, but instead, we have hangovers.

- Brewskie

An Interesting Explanation for the US Inventory Drop

The markets were shocked to learn of a steep drop in US inventories last week, a 8.4 million-barrel drop as a opposed to the 1.5 million-barrel expected. Turns out demand had little do to with it:

The surprise drop fed into expectations that the U.S., the world's biggest
oil consumer, would start using more crude as the country's economy pulls out of

However, a big decline in oil imports, to an 11-month low, had more to do with the decline in U.S. inventories than rising demand. Owners of oil being stored in tankers at sea had little incentive to bring their cargo to shore last week, as the front-month futures contract traded at a big enough discount to outer months to make it more profitable to store oil for future sale.

"This rally may not be sustainable until the demand side of the equation has improved, and we haven't seen that yet," said Gene McGillian, an analyst with Tradition Energy in Stamford, Conn. Still, he said the market's rebound on the data "is a little stronger sign of confidence developing and I think there's more risk of upside than downside at this point."

U.S. demand for refined products averaged over the last four weeks did rise to its highest point since March 20, though consumption was still down 2.2% from a year earlier, the DOE said. Even after the big drop last week, inventories are still 16% above this time last year.

The failure of futures to set a new 10-month high indicates that some skepticism remains over whether a recovery will begin to reduce the oil glut in the next few months.

- Brewskie

"Green Shoots of Investments" in the Green Sector

After being the sacrificial lamb during the height of the economic crisis, green companies are again becoming hot investment commodities:

Promising startup firms and cleantech companies who had postponed plans for public offerings are now seeing renewed interest and an influx of venture capital.

In general, these investments are trending away from capital-intensive energy generating technologies such as wind and solar, and moving instead toward those in the areas of efficiency, energy storage and transportation, Reuters said.

Investors seem to be betting that makers of lithium-ion battery and startups in the smart grid sector will do well in the years ahead.


Experts and industry executives are predicting a significant pickup as early as this fall in green technology investments, with continued improvement through 2010. However, the level of activity is not likely to hit the $2.6 billion peak seen in the third quarter of 2008, they warn.


Total green technology venture investments surged 73 percent to $572 million in April to June from the previous quarter, according to the Reuters report citing data from Ernst & Young.


Investors now are more interested in less capital-intensive technology such as those associated with energy efficiency and smart grid technology, Vollen said.

"Everybody still recognizes that energy storage is the holy grail of the sector," he told Reuters.

Inventing in less costly ways to store energy has been a major hurdle in the widespread adoption of renewable energy.

- Brewskie

Putin Promises Venezuela First-Rate Oil Technology

In the latest show of goodwill between the Russian-Venezuelan alliance, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has pledged splendid Russian oil technology for Venezuela's oil fields.
Russia will use the most modern oil extraction and processing technology if it wins access to Venezuela's oil deposits, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told a Venezuelan official delegation on Tuesday.

Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA and a consortium of Russian firms expect next month to present a joint venture that aims to develop the Junin 6 block in the Orinoco oil belt, which Venezuela says has the world's largest hydrocarbon reserves.
"If we will work in Venezuela and realise all our plans, the technology and equipment which will be used in Venezuela will be even more modern," Putin said.

"The Russian companies will use the latest technology available in global markets," Putin said.

A formal contract to jointly develop the Junin 6 block with an estimated production capacity of 200,000 barrels per day should be signed before the end of the year.
- Brewskie

Australia Becoming World's Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas Suppliers

Australia has been a real mover with inked deals aimed at supply other nations with LNG:

Western Australia is set to become the "Saudi Arabia of natural gas" as other deals follow the signing of a A$50 billion (US$41.315 billion) agreement to supply liquefied natural gas to China, Premier Colin Barnett says.

The Chevron-led joint venture contract with Chinese energy giant PetroChina to supply LNG from the Gorgon development off the West Australian coast is Australia's biggest ever resources deal.

It comes a week after the signing of a A$25 billion contract to supply gas to India from the same project, breaking the A$12 billion record set a few years ago by the North West Shelf Pluto LNG project, now under construction.

Barnett said it appeared a "whole series of projects is queueing up."

"What you are seeing now is that the future production of Gorgon is being purchased around the world -- China, India, Japan and Europe and other places," Barnett told Fairfax Radio Network.

"Today I'm about to go to a signing between a major French group and Santos, who are are developing a relatively small field right up off the Kimberley coast.


This is for 2.25 million tonnes of LNG a year."

He said the Gorgon project would produce many times this amount and several other contracts were being pursued. He said while the state government had already given its final environmental approval to the project, the commonwealth had agreed on the issue of long-term liability for the carbon dioxide to be extracted from the gas.

The carbon dioxide would be reinjected below the surface as part of the largest geosequestration project ever implemented. Barnett said while the process was already being used in the North Sea, it was "world-breaking technology."

"The Gorgon gas reservoir, which is in commonwealth waters, has a 12 per cent carbon dioxide content that's naturally occurring," Barnett said. "

One of the conditions is that as the gas is brought on shore to Barrow Island, the gas is separated and reinjected hundreds, maybe even thousands of meters, below the surface into a porous body that's got a sealed structure above it. "

It will stay there during the life of the project, which will be 60 to 100 years.

- Brewskie

G. Allen Brooks Ponders Possible Blue Gas Market Meltdown

Okay, I feel pretty ballsy making the gas glut call earlier in the year; I'm by all means not a ball hog, though. I feel obligated - honored, actually - to hand over the privileged baton to G. Allen Brooks, of Parks Paton Hoepfl & Brown, who is forecasting a nat. gas meltdown due to rampant supply, lackluster demand, and a bull-headed devotion by rig workers to fester for their "queen bee" CEO.

Click here or read below...

Natural gas prices after rallying on surprisingly strong labor market news have retreated in recent days as the prospect of full storage suggests the industry will be forced to curtail production unless demand picks up. At the end of July, natural gas in storage was almost 3.1 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), or about 25% above the 5-year average for volumes at this time of year. Estimates of full storage capacity range from 3.7 Tcf to 4.1 Tcf. At the date of this report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), there were 10 weeks left to the storage injection season meaning that without a strong pick up in gas demand or a collapse in production, domestic gas producers are facing the eventuality of all having to curtail their production. When that happens, we should expect a meaningful drop in natural gas prices.

Chesapeake, you're not planning to do what?

This industry-wide predicament was highlighted by Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy (CHK-NYSE) on his company's earnings conference call. Mr. McClendon, the poster child for aggressive gas production management during periods of weak gas prices, announced his company was not planning to curtail production since it expected storage to max out and thus they, along with all
other producers, would be forced to shut in flowing gas volumes. For the first
time, Chesapeake was not about to exhibit discipline in supporting gas prices for the benefit of producers who did not curtail their production. Does this suggest that leaders of the natural gas industry are prepared to ignore production economics to demonstrate a point to their fellow producers?

Moving on.

The May 914 gas production was 62.84 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), down from the revised April monthly data showing production of 63.35 Bcf/d. Many analysts, gas producing company executives and forecasters jumped on this decline as confirmation the long-anticipated gas production decline was underway. On closer examination, however, we can't be totally sure because there have been a number of other recent months when the initial monthly gas production estimate was revised lower. The initial May production estimate now is virtually identical to the revised December 2008 estimate.

The initial gas production estimate for April was revised down, but only from 63.37 Bcf/d to 63.35 Bcf/d. The revised April production estimate was down from the March revised figure by approximately 200 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d), but it was essentially flat with the revised February production estimate of 63.58 Bcf/d. Can we take solace in the May production estimate decline? Is the recent monthly revision pattern being reduced a sign that when the May estimate is revised it too will show even lower production?

Since January 2005, there have been 52 revisions to the initial monthly production estimate. One revision showed no change. Of the remaining revisions, 33 were higher than the initial estimate and 18 were lower. Increased estimates were made nearly two-thirds of the time. Admittedly, there were stretches when the revisions were always up, just as there were stretches when they were all lower. At the moment, we appear to be in a period marked by mostly lower revisions, but we can't find
any rhyme or reason why historical patterns of revisions shifted from mostly up to down or vice a versa.

Given the data history showing such a strong bias in favor of increased monthly production estimate revisions, we remain skeptical in calling for a further reduction for May's initial estimate.

Do you love shale gas? Read the end of this paragraph and you'll love it even more!

One aspect of the drilling industry decline that has been of particular significance for the gas business has been the difference in the type of drilling rigs that were being laid down. This interest has gained significance by the emergence of the gas-shale plays. Data has shown that wells drilled horizontally in these gas-shales have tended to be more prolific than wells drilled vertically. The guiding principal behind the significant initial production volumes coming from gasshale wells has been the successful marriage of horizontal drilling technology with improved formation fracturing capability. Drillers have been able to rapidly drill long lateral well sections in the heart of many of the gas-rich formations. Well stimulation technology has enabled the development of multiple stage fracturing applications within the same well bore. Together these technologies have produced gas wells with initial production volumes multiples of conventionally drilled and completed gas well volumes.

Getting into the thick of things,

Given the growing importance to the nation's production of natural gas from wells drilled horizontally, we examined overall gas production figures versus measures of drilling rig activity. When gas production is paired with gas-oriented drilling rigs, one sees a dramatic fall-off in rigs since last fall with barely any movement in the Form 194 monthly gas production volumes so far this year, based on the initial monthly production estimate.

Check these three graphs out:

Gets very interesting, doesn't it? Some predicted months ago that natural gas may drop to $2 per MMbtu.

- Brewskie

US Doesn't Need Mexican, Venezuelan Oil

While Mexico's largest oil field, Cantarell, makes fantastic belly-flop dives straight from the diving board, onto the sun-bathed pavement, I've made this assertion in the past: Who needs Cantarell anyway? With declining oil consumption, increased exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico, plus our friendly neighbor to the north (along with investments for pipelines running that way), I say let Cantarell crap out, let Hugo Chavez fester. This Reuters commentary strongly agrees:

Growing volumes of crude oil from Canada and the Gulf of Mexico should assure U.S. Gulf Coast refiners adequate supplies for years to come despite fast-declining imports from Mexico and Venezuela.

Imports from the two major Latin American suppliers have dwindled by 24 percent in the past four years, but the huge refining region they serve is unlikely to run short due to billions of dollars planned for new pipelines from Canada and exploration in the deepwater Gulf, analysts said.

Canadian oil sands production alone could make up for both losses, said analyst Martin King of Calgary-based FirstEnergy Capital Corp. "You're essentially switching to Canadian crude from Mexican and Venezuelan," King said.

In its June forecast, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said it expects output from northern Alberta's vast oil sands to nearly double to 2.2 million barrels a day by 2015. Weak oil prices and the credit crunch led numerous companies to delay development projects, forcing CAPP to cut expectations from its previous forecast.

Still, pipeliners have zeroed in on the Gulf Coast -- site of 40 percent of U.S. refining capacity -- as the next big market for Canadian oil. There, Mexican and Venezuelan imports have fallen by 700,000 bpd since 2004, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.TransCanada Corp's (TRP.TO) proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline expansion would ship as much as 500,000 bpd to Gulf Coast refineries by 2012.

Enbridge Inc (ENB.TO) and BP Plc (BP.L) are working to develop a 250,000 bpd system to the Gulf Coast by that same year at a cost of up to $2 billion.

Several other proposals, including one to move Canadian crude to the region by rail, are on the drawing board.

U.S. Gulf output is expected to rise 300,000 bpd to 1.5 million bpd by 2013, largely due to deepwater expansion, and could grow to 1.9 million bpd if ultradeep discoveries prove out, the U.S. Minerals Management Service said.

Twenty-eight offshore Gulf projects are expected to come on line by 2015, more than a dozen of them in waters below 5,000 feet, the accepted threshold for ultradeep water, according to IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

The expected growth in Gulf production is an expectation I highlighted a while back...

- Brewskie

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Potentially Game-Changing Battery May Make Smart Grid Unnessary

(Hat tip: Peak Oil Debunked)

Now this is a paradigm shift: instead of blowing a wad remolding our antiquated grid system, gearing it to become "smart," perhaps, instead, we should let individual homes become their own power stations, generating and storing their own power. That's the fantastic idea behind this new battery. Great article.

In a modest building on the west side of Salt Lake City, a team of specialists in advanced materials and electrochemistry has produced what could be the single most important breakthrough for clean, alternative energy since Socrates first noted solar heating 2,400 years ago.

The prize is the culmination of 10 years of research and testing -- a new generation of deep-storage battery that's small enough, and safe enough, to sit in your basement and power your home.

It promises to nudge the world to a paradigm shift as big as the switch from centralized mainframe computers in the 1980s to personal laptops. But this
time the mainframe is America's antiquated electrical grid; and the switch is to
personal power stations in millions of individual homes.


Taking a load off the grid through electricity production and storage at home would extend the life of the system and avoid the expenditure of tens, or even hundreds, of billions to make it "smart."

The battery breakthrough comes from a Salt Lake company called Ceramatec, the R&D arm of CoorsTek, a world leader in advanced materials and electrochemical devices. It promises to reduce dependence on the dinosaur by hooking up with the latest generation of personalized power plants that draw from the sun.

Solar energy has been around, of course, but it's been prohibitively expensive. Now the cost is tumbling, driven by new thin-film chemistry and manufacturing techniques. Leaders in the field include companies like Arizona-based First Solar, which can paint solar cells onto glass; and Konarka, an upstart that purchased a defunct Polaroid film factory in New Bedford, Mass., and now plans to print cells onto rolls of flexible plastic.

The convergence of these two key technologies -- solar power and deep-storage batteries -- has profound implications for oil-strapped America.

"These batteries switch the whole dialogue to renewables," said Daniel Nocera, a noted chemist and professor of energy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who sits on Ceramatec's science advisory board. "They will turn us away from dumb technology, circa 1900 -- a 110-year-old approach -- and turn us forward."


Inside Ceramatec's wonder battery is a chunk of solid sodium metal mated to a sulphur compound by an extraordinary, paper-thin ceramic membrane. The embrane conducts ions -- electrically charged particles -- back and forth to generate a current. The company calculates that the battery will cram 20 to 40 kilowatt hours of energy into a package about the size of a refrigerator, and operate below 90 degrees C.

This may not startle you, but it should. It's amazing. The most energy-dense batteries available today are huge bottles of super-hot molten sodium, swirling around at 600 degrees or so. At that temperature the material is highly conductive of electricity but it's both toxic and corrosive. You wouldn't want your kids around one of these.

The essence of Ceramatec's breakthrough is that high energy density (a lot of juice) can be achieved safely at normal temperatures and with solid components, not hot liquid.

Ceramatec says its new generation of battery would deliver a continuous flow of 5 kilowatts of electricity over four hours, with 3,650 daily discharge/recharge cycles over 10 years. With the batteries expected to sell in the neighborhood of $2,000, that translates to less than 3 cents per kilowatt hour over the battery's life. Conventional power from the grid typically costs in the neighborhood of 8 cents per kilowatt hour.

Re-read that last paragraph and let the information really sink in. Five kilowatts over four hours -- how much is that? Imagine your trash compactor, food processor, vacuum cleaner, stereo, sewing machine, one surface unit of an electric range and thirty-three 60-watt light bulbs all running nonstop for four hours each day before the house battery runs out. That's a pretty exciting place to live.

And then you recharge. With a projected 3,650 discharge/recharge cycles -- one per day for a decade -- you leave the next-best battery in the dust. Deep-cycling lead/acid batteries like the ones used in RVs are only good for a few hundred cycles, so they're kaput in a year or so.

A small three-bedroom home in Provo might average, say, 18 kWh of electric consumption per day in the summer -- that's 1,000 watts for 18 hours. A much larger home, say five bedrooms in the Grandview area, might average 80 kWh,
according to Provo Power.;Either way, a supplement of 20 to 40 kWh per day is
substantial. If you could produce that much power in a day -- for example through solar cells on the roof -- your power bills would

Ceramatec's battery breakthrough now makes that possible.

Clyde Shepherd of Alpine is floored by the prospect. He recently installed the second of two windmills on his property that are each rated at 2.4 kilowatts continuous output. He's searching for a battery system that can capture and store some of that for later use when it's calm outside, but he hasn't found a good solution.

"This changes the whole scope of things and would have a major impact on what we're trying to do," Shepherd said. "Something that would provide 20 kilowatts would put us near 100 percent of what we would need to be completely independent. It would save literally thousands of dollars a year."

Shepherd is connected to the grid through Rocky Mountain Power, which charges a variable rate for power depending on demand during a given 24-hour period. With his windmill setup, Shepherd has what's called "net metering" -- an electric meter that spins both ways. He pays for electricity coming in, but gets a credit from Rocky Mountain for any excess power generated by his windmills that flows back onto the grid. Already, he's cut his power bills in half, and with good storage batteries he thinks he could reduce the bill to zero.

While Shepherd opted for windmills over solar at the time he was planning his alternative energy installation, he said he would reconsider that decision today as the bottom continues to fall out of the cost of solar cells.

"Batteries and PV are about to merge," said MIT's Nocera, using the shorthand for "photovoltaics" or solar power. "First Solar is now saying that it takes $1 a peak watt to manufacture, and another 80 cents for installation. So they're saying that you can get PV for under $2 a watt. That's a reduction of cost by a factor of four. Only a few years ago, it was $8. If CoorsTek and Ceramatec come up with a good battery, the market will develop quickly."


In 2000 Ashok Joshi, a native of India, took the helm at Ceramatec. His international reputation in ion technology and fuel cells kept the company among the first rank of innovators.

Joshi (he prefers A.J.) looked to the potent combination of sodium and sulphur for the basic components of a new battery. That was known chemistry. But while he wanted to achieve a high energy density offered by those elements, he also wanted to get rid of the extreme heat, corrosion and toxicity of liquid sodium batteries.

The key would be found in a paper-thin, yet strong and highly conductive, electrolyte material -- an advanced ceramic -- to serve as the barrier between the battery's sodium and sulphur. The thinner the barrier, the cooler the battery can operate. If you can get below the melting point of 98 C, sodium stays in its solid state, and you've got enough energy to run a house with safety.Charged particles of sodium and sulphur -- ions -- now scoot so effortlessly through the new ceramic wafer that the sodium doesn't even approach 98 C, let alone 350.

I like the closing quotes of the article. "What we're talking about is the ability to take the edges off," Hunter said. "We're at a tipping point for alternative energy."


In Salt Lake City, Grover Coors agrees: "This will be the largest industry of all time," he said. "But it's all about cost and reliability."

- Brewskie

Honda Betting on Hydrogen Only

Honda has long been a maverick in the auto industry. It currently does not produce a V-8 engine; years back, during SUV's heyday, an American Honda dealership begged Honda America to consider a V-8 block for its pickup trucks or SUVs. The dealership recieved a box of V8 tomato juice.

Going further against the vehicle mainstream, Honda is also staying away from EV development, instead focusing on hydrogen only. Is this a good decision? Is hydrogen more practical; will it not matter, meaning we'll use both; or is Honda on the path of foolhardiness?

Read below or click the link.

Despite recent blows to hydrogen infrastructure development, Honda this week reaffirmed that it will be mass-produced. The automaker still has plans to make a future version of the FCX on a mass-production scale within ten years.

California has kept with that long-term vision, along with a short-term one to build up the infrastructure before the vehicles. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been bullish on hydrogen, pushing ahead for more hydrogen vehicles and an expanded infrastructure, and even declaring his love for the FCX. And that was after the Obama administration had made some strong moves away from federal funding of hydrogen projects and toward battery technology and charging infrastructure, with Energy Secretary Steven Chu declaring that hydrogen vehicles were still 10 to 20 years from viability.


Toyota president Akio Toyoda last week said that the company also plans a publicly available fuel-cell car within six years, according to Bloomberg. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi and Nissan are betting on electric cars, with Nissan recently unveiling its LEAF, a car that will be mass-produced in the U.S. beginning in 2012. General Motors is preparing its much-publicized extended-range electric vehicle, the Volt, but it's also still moving ahead with fuel-cell development, says Automotive News, despite tremendous cost hurdles to overcome.

An important point to remember is that these two technologies aren't completely independent. However, a Honda engineer explained to earlier this year that electric-vehicle technology is a building block for hydrogen tech. Honda is working on lithium-ion batteries, motors, and charging as part of its fuel-cell development, so if electric vehicles end up being the popular solution, the company will be prepared.

- Brewskie

Sony Offers New, Improved Lithium-Ion Battery

(Note: Before you get too excited, it should be noted that Sony's improved battery is for motor-driven devices, not EV's)

Sony announced an improved lithium-ion battery. This battery offers a lifespan four times greater than current lithium-ion batteries, possessing a retention capacity of 80% after 2,000 charge-discharge cycles (link).

Without getting too technical about the whole thing, the new battery uses as its cathode material olivine-type lithium iron phosphate, which Sony says is ideal for the job "due to its robust crystal structure and stable performance, even at high temperatures."

The material also apparently contributes to the battery's faster charging time--it can hit 99 percent of its full capacity in 30 minutes (approximately half the charge time of Sony's current lithium ion battery line, which mainly use cobalt oxide-based cathodes).

For the moment, the batteries will just be showing up in motor-driven devices like power tools--so if you own a cordless band saw, you're in luck. Those of us who just need to worry about powering our iPods and laptops, however, will have to wait a little while.

- Brewskie

Ford's "Smarty Pants" Hybrid Plug-In System

An interesting article of Ford's new, "intelligent" hybrid plug-in system that communicates with the electric grid (link):

Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) announced today that it has developed an intelligent vehicle-to-grid communications and control system for its plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that "talks" directly with the nation's electric grid.

This new technology - which builds on Ford's advancements such as SYNC(R), SmartGauge(TM) with EcoGuide and Ford Work Solutions(TM) - allows the
vehicle operator to program when to recharge the vehicle, for how long and at what utility rate.

"Electric vehicles are an important element of our strategy for improving fuel economy and reducing CO2 emissions," said Bill Ford, Ford's executive chairman. "This vehicle-to-grid communication technology is an important step in the journey toward the widespread commercialization of electric vehicles."

All 21 of Ford's fleet of plug-in hybrid Escapes eventually will be equipped with the vehicle-to-grid communications technology. The first of the specially equipped plug-in hybrids has been delivered to American Electric Power of Columbus, Ohio. Ford's other utility partners' vehicles will also be equipped with the communications technology.

When plugged in, the battery systems of these specially equipped plug-in hybrids can communicate directly with the electrical grid via smart meters provided by utility companies through wireless networking. The owner uses the vehicle's touch screen navigation interface and Ford Work Solutions in-dash computer to choose when the vehicle should recharge, for how long and at what utility rate.

For example, a vehicle owner could choose to accept a charge only during off-peak hours between midnight and 6 a.m. when electricity rates are cheaper, or when the grid is using only renewable energy such as wind or solar power.

"We are designing what plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles will be capable of in the future," said Greg Frenette, manager of Ford's Battery Electric Vehicle Applications. "Direct communication between vehicles and the grid can only be accomplished through collaboration between automakers and utility companies, which Ford and its partners are demonstrating with this technology."

Over the past two years, Ford and its energy industry partners have logged more than 75,000 miles on the plug-in hybrid test fleet. The plug-in hybrid research focuses on four primary areas: battery technology, vehicle systems, customer usage and grid infrastructure.

"Broad commercialization of electric transportation is not something a car company can achieve on its own," said Nancy Gioia, Ford director, Sustainable Mobility Technologies. "Developing and producing the vehicles is just one part of the electric transportation equation. We are well on our way to delivering the vehicles, but for widespread adoption the infrastructure to support the technology needs to be in place and we need to ensure that the national electric grid can support increased electric demand."

Real-world usage and laboratory research is helping to accelerate the advancement of electrified vehicles. Ford and its research partners are now focusing on ways to make the recharging process easy and efficient for consumers. In addition to low-cost recharging at home through the use of a smart meter, Ford researchers say recharging away from home - whether at work, in a shopping mall parking lot or at a curbside station - needs to be as simple as plugging in and swiping a credit card.

- Brewskie

OPEC's Reserves Climb Past 1 Trillion Barrels

Due to a boost in Venezuela's proven reserves (primarily from unconventional sources, such as heavy oil located in Orinoco Belt), OPEC's cache now stands at 1.02 trillion barrels:

The OPEC Annual Statistical Bulletin for 2008 released recently now claims that proven oil reserves of the group has gone up by more than 75 billion barrels in 2007 to reach 1.02 trillion barrels in 2008. The main source of the increase is Venezuela increasing its reserves to 172 billion barrels, a rise of about 73 billion barrels over 2007.

The ASB said that this makes Venezuela the second largest crude holder within the OPEC after Saudi Arabia. And with some minor adjustments in the reserves of the rest of the world, the OPEC's share of world oil reserves after this adjustment is seen going up to over 79%. Indeed the development could be unsettling for some, one has to concede.

The increase in Venezuela's reserves in recent years has been very sharp from the 76 billion barrels in 2003, as the country now adopts the policy of adding non conventional heavy oil deposits to its conventional oil reserves.

And interestingly, if a similar practice is adopted by the US and Canada, the reserves picture in the world would alter completely. However, the world still lacks an agreed way of assessing a country's reserves independently and therefore, reports like the ASB take whatever a country claims to be its reserves, one needs to point out.


Venezuela claims that at "USD 50 per barrel, a portion of the Orinoco tar sands becomes commercially viable; enough to bring the country's proven reserves up to 312 billion barrels."

That's a lot of oil. Too bad Venezuela is infected by a Putin wannabe dick head: Chavez gunning to strong arm media critics.

And what's this? Amy "I heart Fidel Castro" Goodman sycophantically chatting with Mr. Chavez.

Amy, your stoic, depressed face needs some endorphins. Go flock to your solidarity bros. in Cuba, Ms. Goodman. Sweat, farm, help purge the scoliosis-infected state farms and help Cuba wean itself off of the capitalistic decadents in the US of whom Cuba so desperately needs to eat.

- Brewskie

CO2-to-Plastic Magicians Gets $14 Million

Demonstrations of converting CO2 into methane, gasoline and plastics have been successfully demonstrated. In better attempt to demonstrate the CO2-to-plastic scheme, Novomer has received a $14 million cash injection (one obstacle: it isn't cheap):

The Cornell spin-out has devised a catalytic process that it believes could potentially solve a few big waste problems. The company effectively transforms captured carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into binders and other chemicals for the plastics industry.

Thus, in one swoop, you get reduction of atmospheric carbon, carbon credits in jurisdictions that recognize them, reduced demand for oil, and a method for giving captured carbon an economic value beyond carbon credits.

Industrial chemicals also often sell for far higher prices than oil or gas. Thus, companies like algae makers like Biolight Harvesting are focusing more on chemicals than fuel.

The sticking point, as seen with other bioplastic and green chemical companies, is the price. Making binders from pollution isn't cheap. Novomer's binders, which contain 40 percent carbon dioxide, cost between $50 and $200 per pound in 2008, compared with an average cost of between $50 and $125 per pound for traditional electronics-industry binders.

- Brewskie

China Puts the Heat On Germany's Solar Industry

Only a few years ago, Germany was the declared leader in the world's solar industry. This is no longer the case. Asia, China especially, is where the hot solar action is at, being able to produce solar cells quicker and cheaper (link):

Q-Cells, the world's biggest solar cell producer, last week issued a far from glowing set of results, with losses of 700 million euros (984 million dollars) in the first half of the year.

As a result, the German firm said it would cut 500 jobs from its workforce of 2,600 and put others on part-time working arrangements.

The crisis in the German solar industry is affecting small companies as well as giants such as Q-Cells. Only three months ago, start-up Sunline declared bankruptcy with the loss of all its 78 employees.

A glance at the TecDax, Germany's tech-heavy stock market index, nicknamed
"SunDax" for the predominance of solar firms, tells the story, with some companies losing around 30 percent of their value since the start of 2008.

"The fact is that Germany is losing more and more of its market leading position in renewable energy production to the United States and China," said Matthias Fawer from Swiss bank Sarasin, quoted in German weekly Die Zeit.

"Asian cell and module producers are going to squeeze out the Germans," Anne Kreutzmann, the chief editor of solar trade newspaper Photon, told the Financial Times Deutschland.

The main reason is simple: Chinese solar power companies are able to produce cells much more cheaply, due to lower labour costs and also the plummeting price for silicon, the raw material for solar cell manufacture.

Whereas German firms are tied in to long-term contracts for silicon deliveries, Chinese firms have been sourcing it from the spot market, where the price has dropped by around 70 percent in the past few months.

According to a survey from Photon Consulting, while it costs a German firm such as Ersol 1.01 dollars per watt to produce a solar cell, Chinese company Suntech can manufacture the same cell for 35 cents per watt.

All in all, production costs for the solar industry are as much as 30 percent lower in
China than in Germany, according to a UBS study.

Chinese firms also benefit from state support and the effect has been to push prices for solar cells down significantly in the past few years.

Adding to its troubles, the German solar industry's export market, which accounts for over 40 percent of turnover, is beginning to dry up in key areas.

- Brewskie

China's Water Battles

Economic growth, rampant industrialization and overutilization of agricultural soil has loaned China a prospective water dilemma. Here's some creative steps being taken to combat the problem:

With less water, Chinese cities are forced to get creative. Brewery capital Qingdao is using seawater to flush its toilets. A pilot project is underway to use Pacific waters in the city’s commodes, saving potable water for a thirsty population. Across the country, one-third of household water consumption goes down the drain every time a toilet goes flush.

Qingdao wouldn’t be the first Asian city to look to the sea to clean its pipes. In Hong Kong, 80% of the city’s population relies on seawater to take care of their flushing needs.

Already, China has some 20 desalination plants operating around the country to help alleviate water shortages in 400 of the country’s more than major 600 cities, according to China Daily.

- Brewskie

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Flying Taxi" Flunks Test Flight; Inventor Killed in Crash

A "flying taxi" prototype crashed during a test flight, killing its inventor Michael Robert Dacre:
A prototype of the ‘flying taxi’ belonging to British-based Avcen Ltd crashed and burst into flames during a test flight from Tekah airstrip, killing its inventor Michael Robert Dacre.

Dacre, 53, who is also Avcen’s managing director, died in the 12.30pm crash yesterday. He was piloting the newly-assembled Jetpod.
Avcen Limited Malaysia is based at Patimas Technology Centre, Technology Park, Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur and Dacre had intended for the eight-seater flying taxi to be ready in 2010.
- Brewskie

Weird Science Leads to Weird Theoretical Shield

Imagine a field that protects buildings from earth quakes, makes subs undetectable to sonar, protects coastal structures from hurricanes. Well, the technology isn't here yet; instead, researchers have demonstrated the mathematical possibility of it:

We have shown that it is numerically possible to cloak objects of any shape that lie outside the cloaking devices, not just from single-frequency waves, but from actual pulses generated by a multi-frequency source," says Graeme Milton, senior author of the research and a distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Utah.

"It's a brand new method of cloaking," Milton adds. "It is two-dimensional, but we believe it can be extended easily to three dimensions, meaning real objects could be cloaked. It's called active cloaking, which means it uses devices that actively generate electromagnetic fields rather than being composed of 'metamaterials' [exotic metallic substances] that passively shield objects from passing electromagnetic waves."

Milton says his previous research involved "just cloaking clusters of small particles, but now we are able to cloak larger objects."

For example, radar microwaves have wavelengths of about four inches, so Milton says the study shows it is possible to use the method to cloak from radar something 10 times wider, or 40 inches. That raises hope for cloaking larger objects. So far, the largest object cloaked from microwaves in actual experiments was an inch-wide copper cylinder.

A study demonstrating the mathematical feasibility of the new cloaking technique – active, broadband, exterior cloaking – was published online today in the journal Optics Express. A related paper was published online Aug. 14 in Physical Review Letters.


Compared with passive cloaking by metamaterials, the new method – which involves generating waves to protect or cloak an object from other waves – can cloak from a broader band of wavelengths, Milton says.

"The problem with metamaterials is that their behavior depends strongly on the frequency you are trying to cloak from," he adds. "So it is difficult to obtain broadband cloaking. Maybe you'd be invisible to red light, but people would see you in blue light."

Most previous research used interior cloaking, where the cloaking device envelops the cloaked object. Milton says the new method "is the first active, exterior cloaking" technique: cloaking devices emit signals and sit outside the cloaked object.


"We proved mathematically that this method works when the wavelength of incoming electromagnetic radiation is large compared with the objects being
cloaked, meaning it can cloak very small objects," Milton says. "It also can
cloak larger objects."

Because visible light has tiny wavelengths, only microscopic objects could be made invisible by the new method.

"The cloaking device would have to generate fields that have very small wavelengths," Milton says. "It is very difficult to build antennas the size of light waves. We're so far from cloaking real-sized objects to visible light that it's incredible."

But imagine incoming waves as water waves, and envision breakwater cloaking devices that would generate waves to create a quiet zone that would protect oil rigs or specific coastal structures against incoming tsunami waves. Or imagine cloaking devices around buildings to generate vibrations to neutralize incoming seismic waves.

"Our method may have application to water waves, sound and microwaves [radar]," including shielding submarines and planes from sonar and radar, respectively, and protecting structures from seismic waves during earthquakes and water waves during tsunamis, Milton says. All those waves have wavelengths much larger than those of visible light, so the possible applications should be easier to develop.

"It would be wonderful if you could cloak buildings against earthquakes," Milton says. "That's on the borderline of what's possible."

The new method's main disadvantage "is that it appears you must know in advance everything about the incoming wave," including when the pulse begins, and the frequencies and amplitudes of the waves within the pulse, Milton says. That might require placement of numerous sensors to detect incoming seismic waves or tsunamis.

- Brewskie

New Polymer Semiconductors Allows Positive and Negative Charges

New organic electronics allows charges to run both ways:

A major drawback with existing organic semiconductors is most transmit only positive charges (called "holes" because the moving areas of positive charge are
actually places where an electron is missing). In the last decade a few organic
materials have been developed that can transport only electrons. But making a
working organic circuit has meant carefully layering two complicated patterns on
top of one another, one that transports electrons and another one that
transports holes.

For more than a decade Jenekhe's lab has been a leader in developing organic semiconductors that can transmit electrons. Over the past few years the group has created polymers with a donor and an acceptor part, and carefully adjusted the strength of each one. In collaboration with Watson's lab, they have now developed an organic molecule that works to transport both positive and negative charges.

"What we have shown in this paper is that you don't have to use two separate organic semiconductors," Jenekhe said. "You can use one material to create electronic circuits."

The material would allow organic transistors and other information-processing devices to be built more simply, in a way that is more similar to how inorganic circuits are now made.

The group used the new material to build a transistor designed in the same way as a silicon model and the results show that both electrons and holes move through the device quickly.

The results represent the best performance ever seen in a single-component organic polymer semiconductor, Jenekhe said. Electrons moved five to eight times faster through the UW device than in any other such polymer transistor. A circuit, which consists of two or more integrated devices, generated a voltage gain two to five times greater than previously seen in a polymer circuit.

- Brewskie

Lunar Nuclear

How will we one day power our moon colonies? Nuclear power is a given option. NASA and the DOE have recently tested key technologies that could one day make this a reality:

Now nuclear power is being considered for lunar and Mars missions because, unlike alternatives such as solar power, it can provide constant energy, a necessity for human life-support systems, recharging rovers, and mining for resources. Solar power systems would also require the use of energy storage devices like batteries or fuel cells, adding unwanted mass to the system. Solar power is further limited because the moon is dark for up to 14 days at a time and has deep craters that can obscure the sun. Mars is farther away from the sun than either the Earth or the moon, so less solar power can be harvested there.

The new nuclear power system is part of a NASA project started in 2006, called Fission Surface Power, that is examining small reactors designed for use on other planets. While nuclear power remains controversial, the researchers say that the reactor would be designed to be completely safe and would be buried a safe distance from the astronauts to shield them from any radiation it would generate.

The recent tests examined technologies that would see a nuclear reactor coupled with a Stirling engine capable of producing 40 kilowatts of energy--enough to power a future lunar or Mars outpost.


To generate electricity, the researchers used a liquid metal to transfer the heat from the reactor to the Stirling engine, which uses gas pressure to convert heat into the energy needed to generate electricity. For the tests, the researchers used a non-nuclear heat source. The liquid metal was a sodium potassium mixture that has been used in the past to transfer heat from a reactor to a generator, says Palac, but this is the first time this mixture has been used with a Stirling engine.

"They are very efficient and robust, and we believe [it] can last for eight years unattended," says Lee Mason, the principal investigator of the project at Glenn. The system performed better than expected, Palac says, generating 2.3 kilowatts of power at a steady pace.

The researchers also developed a lightweight radiator panel to cool the system and dissipate the heat from the reactor. The prototype panel is approximately six feet by nine feet--one-twentieth the size required for a full-scale system. Heat from a water-cooling system is circulated to the radiator where it dissipates.

The researchers tested the radiator panel in a vacuum chamber at Glenn that replicates the lack of atmosphere and the extreme temperatures on the moon--from over 100 degrees Celsius during the day to below 100 degrees Celsius at night. The panel dissipated six kilowatts of energy, more than expected--a "very successfully test," says Palac. On the moon, the panel must also survive the dusty environment cause by the regolith.

Lastly, the researchers tested the performance of the Stirling alternator in a radiation environment at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM. The objective was to test the performance of the motor, ensuring that the materials would not degrade. The alternator was subjected to 20 times the amount of radiation it would expect to see in its lifetime and survived without any significant problems.

Mason says that the tests are very important in showing the feasibility of the system and that the next step is for the researchers to conduct a full system demonstration, by combining a non-nuclear reactor simulator with the Stirling engine and radiator panel. He says that these tests should be completed in 2014.

- Brewskie

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Krap Out" Kunstler Blows 5th Dow Meltdown Call

Interesting news from Mark Perry at Carpe Diem today: the ECRI Weekly Leading Index, a U.S. future economic growth gauge, rose to its highest level in 26 years, suggesting economic recovery could be its strongest since the early '80s recession.

Mark Perry has been consistently predicting, since the beginning of the year, the current recession would bottom out around mid- to late-summer. Factoring in improvements in the housing market, the Dow's accession above 9,000, China's prelude to promising growth and Europe's recent revitalization, it seems safe to say - even a few months early - that James Kunstler has officially blown his 5th Dow Jones meltdown call.

Aside from prophesying a crash of 4,000 for this year, "Kaptain Krappy" has also made these fabulous Dow forecasts:

And in his most Joe Montana-like effort ever, James predicted a thousand-point drop during Thanksgiving week of '07. The Dow jumped up 1,000. Did I write Joe Montana? I should have wrote Dr. Wirth=)

Now naturally, this recession has been brutal, and we're not quite out of the woods yet. But for peakers to make comparisons to the Great Depression seems absurd. For a contrast of the two downturns, let's consider...

The Great Depression:

Versus the current recession:

  • Peak unemployment: 9.5% (so far).

  • # of bank failures: 109 (the S&L Crisis experienced nearly 3,000).

  • GDP of last, this and next year: -1.3%, -2.0% (projected), +2.2% (projected).

Also, has anyone seen this natural phenomenon?

I heard a while back that James is writing a sequel to his most recent book, "World Made by Hand." Judging from how his and the peakers' fame has swirled down the toilet recently, it may be more suitable for James to hide in a dark corner, and remorsely fiddle "World Stroked by Hand."

- Brewskie

Added: The federal government's spendthrift policies are scary, yes, but for those concerned about drowning in an ocean of inflation, check out another excellent post by Mark Perry. Accompanied by promising graphs.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Energy-Efficient Port Cranes

A post on port cranes using less fuel:

What kind of power can a 30-ton shipping container generate?

Roughly 100 kilowatts to 200 kilowatts, says Louis Romo, the vice president of sales for Vycon Energy.

In one of the more titanic examples of energy harvesting on the market, Vycon has created a flywheel that captures the energy contained in cargo containers being lowered by cranes and feeds it back to the crane for the next hoist.

Port operators using the system have managed to cut diesel consumption by 30 percent on average with the company's REGEN system and in some cases by 45
percent. Maintenance and downtime is also improved.

In California, the technology is seen as a way to reduce emissions. Groups have formed to lobby federal and state agencies to clean up ports and use them as incubators for new technologies.

The system essentially exploits the unusual circumstances of the cargo business. Cranes need large amounts of power in rapid bursts in quick succession for several hours a day. A single hoist might require 160 kilowatts to 300 kilowatts, take about 30 seconds, and get repeated every five minutes, says Octavio Solis, a product manager for the company.

Although cranes now mostly run on AC motors, they aren't grid connected, he noted. The constant movement (and gigantic power requirements) wouldn't allow that. As a result, cranes derive their power from smoke-belching diesel generators. And because cargo loads vary in size, port operators have to install generators for the worse case scenarios, leading to more fuel consumption and emissions that are warranted in most circumstances. Some of the generators are capable of generating 500 kilowatts to 800 kilowatts.

Besides needing power for the lift, cranes burn diesel when lowering cargo to control the descent. On the drop, the AC motor is run in reverse. In a Toyota Prius, that generates power for the battery. On a cargo crane, the power is burned off as waste heat.

"You generate 200 kilowatts of power when lowering a container but you have to use it immediately," Solis said.

In Vycon's system, the energy is absorbed into the rotating mass of the flywheel, which stores the energy and feeds it back into the system. The fuel saving largely come in through the fact that port operators can employ smaller generators once they have a flywheel.
- Brewskie

Carbon Nanotubes Can Now Sprout Independent of Metal Catalyst

Lab rats have learned how to grow carbon nanotubes without metal catalysts:

Carbon nanotubes — tiny, rolled-up tubes of graphite — promise to add speed to electronic circuits and strength to materials like carbon composites, used in airplanes and racecars. A major problem, however, is that the metals used to grow nanotubes react unfavorably with materials found in circuits and composites. But now, researchers at MIT have for the first time shown that nanotubes can grow without a metal catalyst. The researchers demonstrate that zirconium oxide, the same compound found in cubic zirconia "fake diamonds," can also grow nanotubes, but without the unwanted side effects of metal.

The implications of ditching metals in the production of carbon nanotubes are great. Historically, nanotubes have been grown with elements such as iron, gold and cobalt. but these can be toxic and cause problems in clean room environments. Moreover, the use of metals in nanotube synthesis makes it difficult to view the formation process using infrared spectroscopy, a challenge that has kept researchers in the dark about some of the aspects of nanotube growth.


The conventional model for nanotube growth goes like this: A substrate is sprinkled with nanoparticle seeds made of a certain metal, of the same diameter of the desired nanotubes. The substrate and nanoparticles are heated to 600 to 900 degrees Celsius, and then a carbon-containing gas such as methane or alcohol is added. At the high temperatures, molecules break apart and reassemble. Some of these carbon-containing molecules find their way to the surface of a nanoparticle where they dissolve and then precipitate out, in nanotube form.

The researchers found that if they just used zirconium oxide nanoparticles on the substrate, they could coax carbon into nanotubes as well. Importantly, the mechanism for growth seems to be completely different from that of metal nanoparticle-grown tubes. Instead of dissolving into the nanoparticle and precipating out, zirconia-grown nanotubes appear to assemble directly on the surface.

In collaboration with Professor Stephan Hofmann at the University of Cambridge in England, the MIT researchers took images of the oxide-based nanotubes using X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy during growth. This allowed them to see that when nanotubes formed, zirconium oxide persisted, and didn't form into a metal, bolstering their conclusions.

One of the most exciting implications of the finding is that it means that carbon fiber and composites, used to make different types of crafts, could be strengthened by nanotubes. "Composites are durable, but fail under certain loading conditions, like when plywood flakes and splinters apart," says Stephen Steiner, an MIT graduate student and the study's first author. "But what if you could reinforce composites at the microlevel with nanotubes the way that rebar reinforces concrete in a building or a bridge? That's what we're trying to do to improve the mechanical properties and resistance to fracturing of carbon composites."

Steiner says the reason that planes like Airbus' A380 and Boeing's new 787 are made of only 40 percent composites and not 90 percent is because composites aren't strong enough for all parts of the craft. But if they were bolstered by nanotubes, then the planes could be made of more composites, which would make them lighter, and less expensive to fly because they wouldn't need as much fuel.

- Brewskie

Quantum Leap in Superconducting Circuitry

UC Berkley researchers have developed a new superconducting circuit that acts quantum mechanically, but takes a nice leap in energy levels (link):

These circuits act like artificial atoms in that they can only gain or lose energy in packets, or quanta, by jumping between discrete energy levels. "In our previous work, we focused on systems with just two energy levels, 'qubits,' because they are the quantum analog of 'bits,' which have two states, on and off," said Matthew Neeley, first author and a graduate student at UCSB.

He explained that in this work they operated a quantum circuit as a more complicated artificial atom with up to five energy levels. The generic term for such a system is "qudit," where 'd' refers to the number of energy levels –– in this case, 'd' equals five.

"This is the quantum analog of a switch that has several allowed positions, rather than just two," said Neeley. "Because it has more energy levels, the physics of a qudit is richer than for just a single qubit. This allows us to explore certain aspects of quantum mechanics that go beyond what can be observed with a qubit."

Just as bits are used as the fundamental building blocks of computers, qubits could one day be used as building blocks of a quantum computer, a device that exploits the laws of quantum mechanics to perform certain computations faster than can be done with classical bits alone. "Qudits can be used in quantum computers as well, and there are even cases where qudits could be used to speed up certain operations with a quantum computer," said Neeley. "Most research to date has focused on qubit systems, but we hope our experimental demonstration will motivate more effort on qudits, as an addition to the quantum information processing toolbox."

- Brewskie

Proglonged Lithium-ion Battery Life Hangs by the Nanowire

A look at nanotechnology is touching lithium-ion batteries:

A new type of nanowire electrode developed by materials science and engineering professor Yi Cui at Stanford is a step toward that goal.

The new electrodes, discussed in last week's Nano Letters, can store six times as much charge as the graphite electrodes in current lithium batteries--that means electric cars that give more mileage per charging session.

When a lithium battery is charged, lithium ions move from the positive electrode (cathode) to the negative anode. Silicon is a promising material for anodes because it can store over 10 times as many ions as graphite at the same weight. But when silicon absorbs charge, it swells to four times its original volume, cracking after a few charging cycles.

The new nanowires exploit the properties of silicon and graphite. Cui and his colleagues make the material by depositing amorphous silicon on carbon nanowires. The wires can store a charge of about 2,000 milliamp hours per gram, while graphite anodes store less than 360 milliamp hours per gram. Meanwhile, the carbon core makes them robust. "Lithium ions can also get absorbed into carbon," says Cui, "but the volume expansion of carbon is 10 percent or smaller, so it provides a stable backbone." In tests, the nanowires performed well for more than 50 charging cycles.

- Brewskie