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The Two Day Battery

Battery Stanford researchers have figured out a way to incorporate silicon nanowires into rechargeable lithium ion batteries and extend their life from 4 to 40 hours. The work, described in a paper in Nature Nanotechnology, could lead to iPods, laptops and camcorders that could be run nearly for an entire weekend without requiring a re-charge. Of course, this is still in the lab stage, and there are undoubtedly quite a few steps and hurdles between the campus and commercialization, but we're optimists. So, here's to the end of the ABC (Always Be Charging) Rule of electronics.—Gregory Mone

Via News.com

Turning Manure Into Power

Huckabay7860cropped A company called Environmental Power is building the country's largest facility for converting cow manure into natural gas. The company is constructing eight enormous tanks outside Stephensville, Texas, that will each be able to hold 916,000 gallons of manure. The plan: Add high-carb materials, cook to above 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and let the bacteria start converting all that refuse into methane. There's a great, detailed piece on the company's plans for turning poop into profit on Xconomy.—Gregory Mone

First CO2-Free Coal Power Plant Announced

Coal_infographic FutureGen picks Illinois for carbon-sequestering facility

Coal is almost the perfect fuel. It’s cheap and absurdly abundant—especially in the U.S., which has the world’s larges reserves. There’s just that tiny problem of massive climate-altering carbon dioxide emissions. Or is there?

The FutureGen Alliance—a coalition of private power companies and the U.S. Department of Energy—thinks it can make power cleanly by siphoning off the carbon dioxide and pumping it into underground reservoirs. The Alliance spent the past year evaluating four locations around the country that applied to host the first full-scale power plant using the technology; and today it chose Mattoon, Illinois as the winner.

Unlike a regular coal power plant, the FutureGen plant won’t actually burn coal but gasify it by exposing powdered coal to oxygen in a high-pressure heated chamber. The system yields several gases which are processed into hydrogen, which burns in a turbine to produce electricity, and carbon-dioxide, which is pumped into deep geologic formations that researchers expect to hold the gas indefinitely.  Proponents say that gasification is easier than capturing CO2 from a regular power plant because it produces it produces a smaller volume of exhaust and it easily traps most other pollutants from coal, such as Mercury.

Pop Sci reported on the FutureGen project in February 2007, and we’re anxious to see if the Alliance can make good on its bold promise.—Sean Captain

(Image Credit: Kevin Hand)

Using Sunlight to Turn Carbon Dioxide Into Fuel

Richdiver Say this five times fast: Counter-Rotating-Ring Receiver/Reactor/Recuperator. OK, so it doesn't quite roll off the tongue, but this new device, which its designers wisely refer to as CR5, could help solve our planet's carbon dioxide problem.

The device, developed at Sandia National Labs as part of the Sunshine to Petrol project, uses sunlight and steam to neutralize carbon dioxide instead of spewing the stuff up into the atmosphere. The process would produce methanol, which could be used for fuel. The downer? The engineers say it could be a decade or more before the device is available.—Gregory Mone

Via Discovery News

Sucking up Wave Energy Off Rhode Island

Sci0206energy_485 Oceanlinx, an Australian company that makes devices capable of converting the juice from ocean swells into electricity, has signed a deal with the state of Rhode Island to produce two separate offshore facilities that could end up powering more than 15,000 homes. One of the facilities will boast a bunch of the devices, each of which will be about 60 feet wide and 30 feet tall. Read more about how they work here. They're big, but they'd sit far enough offshore so they wouldn't be an eyesore.

We wrote about the technology at the beginning of last year—at that point the company was called Energetech—and back then everyone was a bit more optimistic in terms of the timetable. Now it will be at least two years before the devices start generating electricity. But at least things are moving along again.—Gregory Mone

(Image credit: John MacNeill)

Not Quite Rushing Into a Nuclear Future

Normal_hamoakachubu Several companies are planning to build new nuclear reactors in the United States, and they'd like to speed up the approval process to get these plants online as soon as possible, but that might not be happening. All plant designs have to be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, so if a company wants to construct a new model, or import a proven one from France or Japan, it still has to get the NRC's OK, and this can take a while.

According to the New York Times, three companies have filed applications to build and operate five new reactors - but they've all either substantially modified approved designs or suggested models that haven't gotten NRC approval yet. Which means they're probably not going to be breaking ground as soon as they'd like. For many environmentalists, this is good news, considering the fact that we still haven't figured out what we're going to do with the waste yet. But others insist that we need nuclear, and we need to start planning new plants now, to meet our growing energy needs and assure that fossil fuels don't consume an increasing slice of that budget in the coming decades as today's nuclear power plants are retired. For more on that idea, settle down with this enormous study.-Gregory Mone

10 Million Points of Light

544pxcompactflourescentbulb Starting in April, the China Lighting Conversion program plans to distribute 10 million compact fluorescent lightbulbs in China. Most Chinese people cannot afford the energy-efficient bulbs, but the Clinton Global Initiative's Joint U.S.-China Cooperation on Clean Energy is raising funds for the project. Partners already include China's Ministry of Construction, Tsinghua University and the media company Bertelsmann.

Replacing 10 million conventional lamps with compact fluorescent lamps will prevent the release of about 3.5 million tons of carbon dioxide over four years and eliminate the need for ten 50-megawatt coal-fired power plants. Put another way, an investment of $20 million is expected to eliminate the need for a $500 million investment in new power plants.—Dawn Stover

Image: PiccoloNamek

Off the Grid, But Living in Style

Zerohouse The zeroHouse, a concept home designed by the New York architecture firm Specht Harpman, would run on solar power and rain water, use gravity-fed plumbing instead of traditional energy-demanding pumps, and recycle its waste.

SF site Technovelgy.com likens it to the advanced abodes described in the Arthur C. Clarke novel Childhood's End, which could be anywhere on land, or even in the sea. The zeroHouse isn't quite there yet, but it certainly would make its occupants feel like the characters in an SF novel. Even the winged solar panel design is reminiscient of the International Space Station. Unfortunately, though, the couches don't look very comfortable.—Gregory Mone

Coal Burning: 200 Million Tons and Counting

Narmcoalwall This'll give you an idea of how much coal Americans are burning: Peabody Energy, the world's largest private-sector coal company, has a ticker showing its estimated 2007 coal sales. The ticker goes up by seven or eight tons every second.

Peabody says its coal products fuel approximately 10 percent of all U.S. electricity generation and more than 2 percent worldwide. Which means we're burning roughly 70 to 80 tons per second in this country alone. A large power plant operating in peak season may burn as many as 500 train cars' worth of coal in a single day.

Coal is relatively cheap, and we have lots of it. But despite constant references within the industry to "clean coal," nobody has yet come up with a cost-effective way to burn large amounts of coal without releasing heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere.—Dawn Stover

Image: Peabody Energy

Wave Energy Setback

Aquabuoy_20_deployedsm AquaBuOY is sunk. The $2 million buoy, deployed off the Oregon coast by the Canadian energy company Finavera Renewables, disappeared beneath the waves a day before its test run was to be completed. The 74-foot-tall device, a floating buoy meant to convert wave motion into electricity, had been in place for less than a month.

Finavera plans to retrieve the buoy from its resting place 150 feet below the ocean surface, but that will have to wait until calmer weather next spring. Despite the sinking, a company spokesman said the test was successful because data collected from the system's computer will be used to build a better buoy next time around.—Dawn Stover

Image: Finavera Renewables

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