Archive for July 2009
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You are browsing the archives of 2009 July.
Yesterday, the DOE announced that it plans to offer up to $30 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy projects and $750 million for grid projects (presumably for Smart Grid efforts, although the DOE conspicuously didn’t use that term).
Secretary Chu said in a DOE news release, “This administration has set a goal of doubling renewable electricity generation over the next three years. To achieve that goal, we need to accelerate renewable project development by ensuring access to capital for advanced technology projects.”
The guarantees are being funded with a combination of American Recovery & Reinvestment Act and 2009 appropriations.
It’s a little unclear exactly how this will work. The DOE release hedges these numbers a bit, saying the $30 billion depends “on the applications and market conditions.” Regardless, here is how the propose divvying up the loans:
|$8.5 billion||Direct loans for renewable energy||2009 appropriations|
|$2 billion||Loan subsidies for renewable energy and electric power
|$500 million||Loan subsidies for “cutting edge” biofuel projects||ARRA|
Loan subsidies for large U.S. transmission infrastructure using commercial technologies; must begin construction by Sept. 30, 2011.
How does the DOE reached the $30 billion total number it is using? It would appear that there is an underlying assumption that the $3.25 billion in loan subsidies will be leveraged for an additional $18.25 billion in loans, i.e., the DOE will be putting 15% down on the loan.
If you’ve ever had a pregnancy in the family, you know that the first two trimesters go by relatively quickly, but the last trimester seems to take forever. Days crawl by. Now, I see a similar phenomenon being played out in the science community, where the rest of this summer and much of the fall are going to feel like slow motion as everyone waits for the science portion of the economic recovery to begin. I know of several lab equipment suppliers, postdocs, grad students, college administrators, etc. who have put their lives on hold waiting for the DOE and NSF cash to start flowing.
At first glance, the light-emitting diode, or LED, beats the venerable incandescent bulb in every way. It’s compact, bright, long-lasting and, in its latest form, can produce a warm, white light. Best of all, it saves more than enough money on electricity to cover the extra cost.
But the LED is bedeviled by a problem, known as droop, that kicks in just as the power levels begin to get high enough for general lighting. At that point, the efficient device begins to turn wasteful: To get a little more light you have to put in a lot more power, and soon you kiss the extra efficiency goodbye. Nobody, as of yet, can explain droop in a way that is generally acceptable.
In the August issue of IEEE Spectrum, Richard Stevenson, a Wales-based physicist turned science writer, reviews the theories on droop and describes how scientists are finding ways to mitigate the problem - even without fully understanding it. Stevenson describes in clear terms exactly how an LED is made, how the modern blue-emitting ones – based on nitrides – differ from the older design, where the problem is believed to arise and what’s been done to redesign that region.
One group of scientists, led by the inventor of the blue nitride LED, Shuji Nakamura, began their reasoning with the observation that LEDs turn electricity into light by allowing electrons to recombine with their doppelgangers, positively charged “virtual” particles known as holes, to produce photons, or particles of light. The scientists argue that recombination takes place in certain apparent defects that in fact are necessary for the functioning of the device. They conclude that the limited number of defects puts a cap on how much power the LED can use efficiently - and thus explains droop.
Another group of scientists believes that some of the electrons and holes leak out of the place they’re supposed to be, and that this leakage prevents recombination.
Still another group asserts that the problem is in the inefficiency of the recombination process itself. In certain cases, recombination yields not photons but phonons - virtual “particles” of vibrations or heat that drain the energy away uselessly.
Meanwhile, as theorists squabble, practitioners have been making progress. Philips Lumileds Lighting Co. claims that it has conquered droop with a device based on specially engineered structures that increase the rate at which electrons and holes recombine.
Tiny particles in consumer products pose health and environmental risks and need to be tracked, a group of New Zealand scientists say.
Amid growing worldwide concern about the potential effects of nanoparticles, Kiwi scientists, academics and officials want the government to introduce a labeling system identifying nanomaterials used in products on supermarket shelves and to maintain a public database of nanoproducts.
Finely-ground feed stocks have been around for quite a while, so the commercial use of nano-sized materials is not necessarily new – although thinking about them as such is relatively novel. But manufacturers have stepped up the conscious use of nanomaterials and reportedly they are already used in more than 800 consumer products, including cosmetics, sunblock, clothing, food, washing machines and refrigerators.
A report on the opportunities and drawbacks of nanotechnology has just been published by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology. It lists more than 70 actions the government should take.
Report editor and University of Canterbury physicist Simon Brown told The Press that apart from nanotechnology’s obvious advantages in the computer and electronics world, there are known and unknown hazards.
Brown conveys a belief that the New Zealand government has yet to face up to nanotechnology.
“My impression is they’re keen to work on the issues, but their departments don’t see it as a priority. Fundamentally, it’s been well-established that some nanoparticles cause negative health impacts. We know that certain nanoparticles cause cancer, damage to genes and can accumulate in your brain if they get into your body,” says Brown. “How should we regulate new products when there is a lack of clarity about the risks? And how do we balance the benefits and risks?”
Silver nanoparticles used in disposable diapers were an example of the possible risks.
“Do they accumulate in sewage ponds, which may stop them breaking down the sludge because they are antibacterial, or if it is then used as fertilizer, is it possible those nanoparticles will accumulate in those plants that grow?” Brown asks.
Another example of unintended consequences had been found in Australia, where sunblock containing nanoparticles used by roofing workers had been shown to cause unpredicted chemical reactions when it fell on to a roof, prematurely corroding the iron.
“It is this potential for the unexpected that makes this difficult to deal with. There’s not just the potential for health and environmental risk, but a business risk too. Labeling gives people a choice and instills a bit of discipline on the system, but it’s not a solution in itself. The worst thing we can do, which is what we’re doing at the moment, is sit around and do nothing,” Brown says.
Here is a chance to get, first-hand, a business report from one of the United State’s most successful ceramic products company. Ceradyne Corporation’s founder and CEO, Joel Moskowitz, describes the history and ceramic technology behind the ceramic armor products his company is best known for. But, interestingly, he also describes some the the company’s strategy to expand into non-armor areas such as specialty crucibles for preparing solar-grade polysilicon, cosmetics raw materials and ceramic replacements for carbon cathodes used in smelting aluminum. He says Ceradyne should be known as an advance technical ceramic company and not just a defense company. “Next year they may call us a solar company and in five years maybe they will call us an aluminum company.” He talks about the current economic environment and we learn how, even in a recession, Moskowitz has kept Ceradyne cash-rich and in a good position to make acquistions for the Ceradyne portfolio at discount prices. 16 minutes.