As well as a popular indie band, British Sea Power is rapidly becoming more accepted as a valid alternative to nuclear and fossil fuel energy. Whereas the nuclear proponents in the UK civil service have previously neglected the sector (as London Mayor Ken Livingstone explains to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke in this week’s Observer Magazine), a number of companies in the UK have made great advances in harnessing the power of the oceans despite the lack of enthusiasm at government level.
The water around the British Isles makes it a key resource and as the Independent explains, could account for huge percentages of the electricity demand of the country. With a feasibility study into the Severn Barrage underway and products like SeaGen and Pelamis coming into use, it seems like the tide might be turning in more ways than one. Nuclear energy will undoubtedly be a factor in the UK’s future energy use but with such a huge resource sloshing around our coastlines it would to take advantage of this clean and renewable power source.
[picture by SeaGen]
The ever compelling Alex Steffen over at WorldChanging is talking about Infrastructure a lot lately. A lot of the US and much of the world is built on an infrastructure of highways, electric grids and waterways, which are struggling to keep up with population growth and increased costs, especially of fuels. Whilst new technologies like superfast trains and solar panels are good, they need investment in the infrastructure for it to work – as seen by Britain having to spend millions to replace track for the Eurostar because Margaret Thatcher chose the cheaper infrastructure in the eigthies, whilst the rest of Europe put in place track suitable for what became the TGV.
There’s a lot of interesting ideas out there, from Alexander Trevi’s use of carbon-harvesting nanocrystals and radiation reprocessing to produce a green ‘New Chernobyl’, to architects IwamotoScott‘s ‘Network Hydrology’ reimagining of a water and hydrogen-producing algae based 2100 San Francisco. There’s plans to artificially create a new river delta to protect the Louisiana coastline and Amsterdam might drain its canals to create a new underground subcity. Or what about BLDGBLOG’s idea to create housing projects in the same way people make zoos? By combining good design in new infrastructure with the inventions already out there we can start looking at a future way of living rather than just trying to extend the one we have beyond its lifetime. And is it coincidence that most of best ideas also look ridiculously cool?
[picture by IwamotoScott]
It’s easy to forget how reliant we are on our technologies … until we are unexpectedly deprived of the means to use them, that is.
Deprived by … oooh, let’s say, an electricity grid fault that leads to an automatic shutdown at a nuclear power station and leaves a big chunk of Florida completely blacked out for an evening? [image by dogfrog]
[As a side note, I never knew that nuclear reactors could just be switched off. Disconnected from the grid, sure, but switched off?]
And that’s just one little hardware failure, hence quickly fixed. But imagine for a moment another highly electricity-dependent country, like the UK for example, being hit by some sort of environmental disaster to which it isn’t accustomed, which causes a large number of grid hardware problems which are hard to trace and fix in the absence of the electricity they provide …
… I think we have a potential cookie-cutter techno-thriller movie plot, folks! Now, who shall we cast as the plucky Prime Minister?
Lithium-ion batteries, such as those used in your laptop, mobile phone or hybrid car, are extremely important in today’s world but are limited by the amount of lithium ions that the typically carbon anode can hold. Stanford announced this week they’ve developed a new method that can increase the amount of charge held by as much as 10 times.
The new battery uses what is perhaps the technology of the next ten years – nanowires. At large scale, the swelling of the lithium ions when they absorb positive charge breaks the structure of the silicon holding them. The researches instead used a mesh of microscopic silicon nanowires that bend and swell under the pressure but do not break. The researcher, Yi Cui, said:
Manufacturing the nanowire batteries would require “one or two different steps, but the process can certainly be scaled up,” he added. “It’s a well understood process.”
I’ll look forward to my laptop with 25 hour battery life in a few years, then.
[via Daily Kos, image from the Stanford article, apologies for my absence this week – I’ve been wrestling with my wireless connection on Ubuntu Gutsy]