Categories
Technology

S6 wireless charging pad review

Having given a little bit of background to wireless charging technology, it’s now time for me to review Samsung’s wireless charging pad.

The Good

Galaxy S6 wireless charging
My Samsung Galaxy S6 wirelessly charging on the S6 Qi charging pad

So what’s good about Samsung’s wireless charging pad? It’s a wireless charging pad! It can wirelessly charge your phone!!!!! Providing it’s an S6 of course.

The proximity of the sensor is pretty good, you get the best (fastest) charge by putting the phone – without a case – centrally on the pad. That said, my phone charges perfectly well when it’s in its case, and you can lift it up about an inch in the air, and it will still charge – just a little slower.

The pad is reasonably small and very well designed. Being plastic, it doesn’t have the same quality feel to it that the S6 itself has, but it is still aesthetically pleasing, lighting up blue when your phone is charging, and green when it hits 100% – just like the LED on the S6 does.

The pad has a safety feature built in to stop overcharging, meaning that once your phone hits 100% charge (some people report this is closer to 90%, but for me it’s been 100%) then it stops emitting power.

When I’m at my desk, my phone sits next to me, so I’ve just got it resting on the pad now instead. I can still pick it up and use it as frequently as I like, without damaging the pad or the battery.

It couldn’t be simpler to use, it really is as easy and placing your phone on the pad and so long as its reasonably central, it will charge.

The Not-So-Good

My first S6 charging pad shock came when I realised it doesn’t come with any leads. ‘It’s wireless charging, why do you want leads?‘ you may be shouting, but unless it were battery powered (which it isn’t, because wireless charging is too inefficient to make a battery powered version effective) you need to plug the pad into a power source.

Wireless charging pad fully charged
The S6 on Samsung’s Qi charging pad, showing the green, fully charged lights

Samsung’s recommended retail price for the pad is £40 GBP (or a slightly cheaper $50 USD in the States) and yet that doesn’t include a mains plug, or a micro USB charger. The only other thing that comes in the box is a hefty multi-language instruction leaflet, reminding you not to throw the pad off a cliff, strike it with a hammer or take it for a swim. I’d rather they’d saved the paper personally.

Being wireless, the pad doesn’t charge as fast as a wired connection, and is nowhere near the speed of a fast charger. For some people this is a major gripe, but it doesn’t really bother me. I know that it’s going to charge slower, but it’s also going to be more convenient to use. If my phone’s nearly dead and I’m going out in an hour, I’ll turn it off, plug it into a fast charger and I know that by the time I go out, it’ll be pretty much fully charged. If however my phone is nearly dead, but I’m at my desk all day, I’ll leave it switched on and on the pad, knowing that if I need to use it at any point, I can simply lift it up, without having to fiddle with that annoying micro USB.

Something to be aware of is that you’ll probably need to plug the charging pad into a mains socket, rather than a USB port on your computer. I was hoping to power the pad from my PC, which the first time I used it seemed to work okay – it just charged a bit slower – however from then on it’s not managed to squeeze quite enough energy out of the USB port and down the wire into the pad. As a result the charger keeps disconnecting, meaning my phone keeps dinging and bonging to let me know that it’s charging, not-charging, charging, not-charging – you get the picture.

Is It Worth It?

So is Samsung’s wireless charging pad worth a purchase? Well that’s a tricky one to answer. If you have a phone which is wireless charging compatible, charging wirelessly is undoubtedly a useful feature. If money is no object for you, most certainly run out and get one – or get your butler to buy one for you online.

Had the pad included a mains power plug and a micro USB lead I would say yes. It is £40, but for that you get a ready to use wireless charging pad. The fact that for Samsung has chosen not to include a means to power the pad, means that I think this has to be more of an individual decision. I’m sitting on the fence on this one. A great product, it looks good and is convenient to use, but it’s under-accessorised and overpriced.

Finally, I must say a thanks to Mobile Fun who sent this S6 charger to us for review. We were discussing the review just after 5pm and the pad was delivered ready for the review by 11am the next day – that’s super fast delivery!

Categories
Science Technology

How does wireless charging work?

This is my two hundred and fiftieth (writing it out in full looks better than 250th) article on Technology Bloggers! It’s taken nearly four and a quarter years to get this far, but here I am, still blogging away. 🙂
That’s an average of 5 posts per month!

Not that anyone’s keeping score, but Jonny is hot on my heals now with 165 – just 85 behind me!

Finally, wireless charging on a mainstream mobile phone has arrived. Samsung’s Galaxy S6, S6 Edge and S6 Active all come wireless charging ready. Unfortunately we aren’t yet at the stage where your phone can wirelessly charge in your pocket, you do have to buy a wireless charging pad and have it sit on that, but it’s a step further than we have ever been before. This article gives an incite into the technology behind wireless charging, and then in my next article I’m going to review Samsung’s official wireless charging pad.

Wireless Charging Technology

Tesla coil wireless power
A Tesla Coil being used to wirelessly power a light bulb

The capability to power things wirelessly is not a new phenomenon. Way back in the late 1800s, Nikola Tesla was using his Tesla Coil to power things from across the room. You might have done a similar experiment in science lessons at school, using a Tesla Coil to light up a light bulb.

The reason it’s taken so long for wireless charging to become mass market is because compared to wired charging, it is hugely inefficient. Wireless charging wastes a lot of energy as heat, meaning less is used to actually power the device. Wireless charging also takes longer than wired power, and as such is much more expensive.

Plugging my phone (the Galaxy S6) into a standard micro USB port will charge it from flat in around 2 hours. Plugging it into a fast charger takes just over an hour for a full charge. Charging wirelessly from flat takes over 3 hours. That’s 3 hours of electricity being used, compared to 1 in a fast charger.

Wireless charging has also taken a while to become mainstream because of problems with proximity. Tesla could power a light bulb from across the room, but that wasn’t controllable. If he had 2 light bulbs and only wanted to power one, he had no way of stopping power reaching the other. With so many different devices and radio frequencies about today, it is essential that wireless charging works without interfering with any other signals – for example your mobiles 4G signal. As such wireless charging has a very low proximity range. My S6 quite literally has to be on or within an inch or two of the pad to charge. A range of 1 meter would be fantastic, however that could fry other bits of tech, or ruin the magnetic strip on my credit cards.

Despite over 100 years in the making, wireless charging is still in reasonable early stages of development. It is a great idea, and when it works, it is super convenient and very useful, but still has a long way to go.

If you want to find out more about how wireless charging works, I recommend this YouTube video as a good place to start.

Categories
Computers Internet

Data centers – where would we be without them?

It is hardly a controversial opinion to suggest that data centers are an indispensable part of modern life – it really is impossible to envisage a world without the vast capacity and power that data centers grant the business and information technology sectors – where would we all be without Google, eBay and Facebook? But what exactly are the advantages of a data center that their absence would remove? Let’s take a look…

Firstly, the cost to enterprises of running an in-house own data center is increasingly prohibitive, given the growing size requirements of such facilities. As more and more information is transmitted online and more transactions take place online – just as computing power continues to grow – then a data center needs exponentially more power and more hard disk space. Server racks just keep on getting longer and even keeping them cool enough becomes uneconomically costly for most small, medium or even large-sized enterprises.

Server RoomSecurity is the second big issue – in a world where cyber-crime and espionage is constantly growing, there needs to be a very robust response to security. Most enterprises just don’t have the time and resources to police their IT operations to the level required, and a good data center can give them the reassurances they need. Technicians can be on hand throughout the 24-hour cycle, not just to ensure that the server racks keep on functioning perfectly and that any problems are swiftly dealt with, but also to ensure that information is kept safe and secure and that hacking or phishing attempts are roundly thwarted.

So, where would we be without data centers? The answer is that we would have a vastly more limited cyber-world, with businesses forced to keep their computer operations artificially scaled back due to cost considerations, with the knock-on effect of a hobbled e-commerce sector. Social networks would be slow, unsafe and prone to disastrous infiltration, while search engines would also be grindingly slow and frustrating to use – welcome back to the late 1990s.

It’s safe to say that data centers are not only here to stay, but will keep getting bigger and better so long as the computer world leads the way.

Categories
Smartphones

Are smartphone battery life improvements on the way?

We all want a little more power. Smartphone manufacturers have catered to this desire, as they’ve continually pumped out increasingly powerful devices.

This year we’re seeing many quad-core devices with 1.5GHz processors, powered by 4G LTE networks, and with vibrant high-resolution displays. Yet these high-powered devices are about to hit a wall if we don’t see some critical changes in battery efficiency. Without adequate battery life, even the most powerful smartphone is useless.

Thankfully, there are a few reasons to believe that we’ll see appropriate improvements in the near future. Here are three reasons why we will see smartphone battery life improve in the coming months and years. It will be a great boon to consumers, who will be able to use their phones heavily for longer.

1. Consumer disappointment

Earlier this year, Motorola made something of a bold move. In a world of thinning smartphones, it actually released, and heavily marketed, a smartphone that is considerably thicker than many of its other models.

This only worked, however, because with the increased thickness came greater battery life. By most reasonable tests, the Droid RAZR MAXX lasts nearly twice as long on a single battery charge than most of its competitors.

The rationale behind this marketing campaign was simple. People love their smartphones, but get frustrated when they can’t last on a single charge throughout a day. Again, a powerless smartphone is a useless smartphone.

You can stuff all the features in the world under the hood of a phone, but if people need to constantly recharge in order to use those features there’s not a lot to be gained. Improved battery life will simply become a necessity that manufacturers cannot ignore.

2. Changing energy trends

The way we consume energy is always changing. The recent technology revolution will change it yet again. Most of our modern computing devices employ DC power, but our wall sockets deliver AC power. That leads to a few inefficiencies, since the difference requires a converter of sorts, whether that’s in the device or in the power source itself. We might see that change in short order.

As Technology Review notes, there is a growing demand for DC current source. It is possible that we could see power companies start to deliver DC power to our outlets in the next few decades, which should make the whole charging and powering process more efficient. The lack of conversion could make that big a difference.

Yet, given our consume-driven culture, it probably won’t make as much of a difference as my next point.

3. Apple’s doing it

It seems that whatever Apple does, other companies copy. Apple has long been an iconic force in technology, and their iPad and iPhone empire has helped solidify its spot at the top.

What they do with the iPhone 5 could again change the smartphone industry. As GigaOM’s Kevin Tofel notes, Apple could focus on battery life with the new iPhone, rather than creating another thinner model. He cites the increased battery capacity of the new iPad, which seems reasonable enough.

Improving smartphone batteriesIf Apple does indeed create a thicker smartphone that focuses on battery life, others will be pressed to follow suit. Remember, Apple essentially tells consumers what they want. Perhaps they wanted it previously – and plenty of customers have demanded better battery life from smartphones – but Apple does have the definitive word.

It’s hard to explain, but it’s clearly the case based on how the smartphone industry has developed. If Apple goes for battery life, we can expect others to jump on the bandwagon too.

Battery life has become a pressing issue for the future of smartphones. Manufacturers have created devices that are as powerful as full-sized computers of recent memory. Now they need adequate power for them.

Since a powerless smartphone is a useless smartphone, expect companies to jump on the better-battery bandwagon soon enough. Apple could get things kick-started this year. Things will likely develop rapidly from there.

Categories
Computers Gadgets

Sponsored: Samsung launches Samsung Memory campaign

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Samsung. To find out more about sponsored content on Technology Bloggers, please visit our Privacy Policy.

Samsung has recently started an innovative new campaign, to raise awareness of ‘Samsung Memory’.

Their campaign includes three evil characters: Battery Brutus; Fiona Freeze; and Loading Ball Larry. These three characters are presented at the ultimate enemy to any techie! After all, who wants their device (be it a TV, smartphone, tablet etc.) to run out of juice, freeze or take forever to load?

Battery Brutus, Fiona Freeze and Loading Ball Larry - SamsungSamsung have been working really hard to improve user experience, which is why they have decided to launch the campaign, to let people know about it!

Taking an Environmental Approach

As time goes on, more and more firms appear to be altering the way they provide their products and services in order to make them more environmentally friendly. Unfortunately there are many firms which still refuse to take environmental factors into account, however Samsung is (I am sure proud to say) not one of them!

In their recent upgrades and updates, Samsung have gone that step further to ensure that your devices stay ‘alive’ longer, need fewer charges, and perform better for longer.

That means you should be able to keep Battery Brutus at bay for longer! Check out the video (Samsung ad) below to see him in action.

%CODEUMSC1%

The below image shows just how much power Samsung’s devices conserve. That saving means less charges, which means less power being used, which is ultimately better for the environment!

Power savings Samsung devices haveSamsung also take into account the environment in terms of the materials they use. Below is a quote directly from Samsung.

“Our products continuously evolve. We use the latest technology. The most advanced materials. The safest components for you, and for planet earth. Samsung Memory is only manufactured with the most environmentally responsible materials.”

Top Speed Processing

Samsung’s latest devices are fitted with the high-spec memory and processors, to ensure that you can multi-task with ease, without your device freezing or loading. This means that you can also keep Fiona Freeze and Loading Ball Larry at bay!

Here is the Samsung ad which features Fiona Freeze at work.

%CODEUMSC2%

The last of the characters in the Samsung campaign, Loading Ball Larry, demonstrates just how frustrating loading can sometimes be. Please don’t smash up your device though, next time it loads!

%CODEUMSC3%

To find out more about the campaign, the characters and the technology involved, please visit the Samsung Semiconductor webpage.

Categories
Computers Internet Search Engines

The journey of an email – as told by Google

Today, when I opened up Google, I saw something new. In the past Google has used the space directly below the search box to notify users of holiday events, privacy policy updates, tributes to industry legends – such as the Steve Jobs tribute, among other things.

Google's Tribute to Steve Jobs
Google's tribute to industry legend - Steve Jobs

Today however Google is using this spot to advertise its new feature, which lets you follow the journey of an email: ‘The Story of Send’.

Google's homepage with a link to 'The Story of Send'
Google advertises 'The Story of Send: Follow an email on its journey.' on its homepage

When you click the link, you are taken to a page on Google’s Green website (.google.com/green) which tells you how you can

“Take a journey through Google’s data centers by following an email along its path.”

Click ‘Start the story’ and the journey begins! Google takes you through an interactive journey of a Gmail email, from when you hit send on your device, to when it arrives at its destination.

The tour takes about 5 minutes (around 50 if you watch all the videos) however, as we all know, the journey of a real email, takes seconds – if that sometimes.

It is evident that the project is meant to be promotional for Google, as it points out all the good points along the journey. For example, how they have ‘built an extensive Internet backbone across the U.S.‘ to speed things up; how they ‘protect your message with a wide range of security measures‘ and how their data centres use ‘50% less energy than typical data centers‘ etc.

What the journey fails to point out is the less desirable things that go on. One example being how your email is read (or spidered) by Google Bots/Spiders, keywords are picked out, and then relevant ads are displayed alongside the message. Another being how Google want not only to own the systems which deliver your emails, but also the infrastructure (the cables and power) which gets it there – is that not a bit of a monopoly?

I like Google, I think it does a wonderful job, and it is great that it offers us all so much for free, however they do also do a good job of covering up the stuff they don’t want us to here.

Check out the video below for more. I found it and tweeted about it a while ago, however never really found an article for it to go in.

So, have you taken the journey yet? Aside from the obvious PR (public relations not PageRank) stuffed in, it does make interesting viewing.

More interested in talking about the ethics of Google? Add your view below 🙂

Why not talk about them both!

Your views?

Categories
Environment Science Series

A review of the environment and power series

Here I would like to review the series and look at the way people commented the individual posts, before concluding with a few lines about the experience.

Renewable energy renewing the Earth

In my first post I introduced the idea of environmental cost. This was the measurement that I wanted to use to address the issue of pollution, and more specifically that produced through energy use.

I tried to avoid the term ‘clean energy’, as I feel this overlooks certain aspects of all forms of production. Modern solar panels for example may provide clean energy from the sun but they themselves present issues during their manufacturing and disposal phases.

Another point I hoped to raise is that the problem needs to be viewed from a realistic standpoint. We are not all going to convert to a zero emissions life overnight any more than we are going to return to being a hunter and collector society that lives in caves. The world will continue to operate more or less as it does now, and it is through this framework that the problem should be addressed.

The first comment I received contained the following line from Vicky, and it really is worthy of note:

“I believe that each of us can help a lot in improving the health of our planet, the only problem is that we have great vision but no action. Why don’t we act first and through that action we start making some vision?” This is echoed by the quote from Gandhi that I used to open the first post, and could really be a manifesto for the series.

The second post was about cutting fuel emissions from transport systems, and it received a couple of interesting comments. Darci commented that even cutting emission by 30% (referring to the commercial use of Kites on ships) would be a great improvement, and I must agree with her. Neil’s comment included the following lines that are worth thinking about:

“It seems to me that over the past decade the builders of internal combustion engines have made some great breakthroughs in generating more energy from their engines with the same amount of input and we have seen the KW output of many engines jump significantly. It would be good to see these same producers working backwards to produce smaller engines that produce an adequate amount of power from a minimal amount of fuel.” An extremely astute comment I would say.

Post 3 entitled Cleaner Energy Production was one of the most commented of the series. I think this is because the technology described is on the verge of becoming commercially available, and because solar panels are now an every day piece of urban furniture.

The article also provoked a series of comments lead by the following from Custom Items:

“These are a great bunch of suggestions. It’s really sad that we all what we need and what is right but can’t do anything about it. I’ve always felt that the government was taking sides with the big corporations. In this world of ours, money and power talks.”

This obviously provoked discussion with the other commenters in agreement with the sentiment, some seeming to suggest that development is hindered by large corporations and governments and that although the people recognize the need for change they may be incapable of achieving it.

Not all doom and gloom though and I for one am optimistic and agree with some of the brighter outlooks expressed.

Post 4 was all about a report published by the Royal Society for Engineering in which they looked at possible ways of artificially cooling the planet. Again many comments were left, a couple of which raise issues that should be addressed.

The post involves the problematic debate around global warming. Two comments really show the diversity of belief that surrounds the issue, even though not taking radical standpoints. The following comment was made by Shane Ryans:

“In my opinion the earth has gone through many different cycles, throughout its lifetime. The earth has gone through ice ages so why would there not have been, for lack of a better word, “hot” ages. What makes today so different from the past. We are just going into yet another cycle. Now that being said, I am sure that we as a race have made the circumstances different and added to the problem and sped up the process, with all the different chemicals and air pollutants we have introduced into our environment. I do hope that scientists can come up with a viable solution”.

Although Shane does not make the line that humans do not contribute to the problem, many people do, and go on to argue that the greenhouse effect does not exist. From their point of view any change is merely a product of nature. People that espouse this line have powerful lobbies, and invest large sums of money to promote their line to the point that the debate has become a business, and dirty tricks and smear campaigns abound. See this page on Wikipedia for plenty of information and links to further reading

Returning to the post a second comment made by Virtual Stock Trading runs as follows, the edit is mine but you can see the original comment where it was left:

“I don’t think there is any doubt on global warning…….. But the process is very gradual and will not significantly affect anyone living today.”

I cannot agree with the final line. Global warming is affecting communities all over the world as we speak. Sea levels are rising and threatening the very survival of some of theMaldivesIslands, flooding is rife in low-lying countries and London has to thank the Thames Barrier to avoid Joe Strummer’s classic prediction. And a simple look at its use tells a story, it was closed four times in the 1980s, 35 times in the 1990s, and 80 times since 2000.

Post 5 was a review of inventions and power generating machines that profess to generate free or pollution free energy. It did not generate the number of comments that the previous posts managed, but Samantha returned to the non support from governments and big business argument once more:

“Actually, there are so many inventions nowadays that can actually lessen our cost and pollution as well. However, they are having problems of getting support from our government. Of course, this body is after of money from businesses like big petroleum companies.”

From a personal point of view writing the series gave me great satisfaction. I have all the articles on a single file and it looks like a small book! I wrote 2 of the articles before posting the first, as Christopher suggested, and it was a very good idea. I wanted to reply to each comment and that took a lot of time, so I found it quite a strain researching while the series was running (each post took about 6-8 hours to research and write).

I found all of the comments interesting, and thank everyone who took the time to post. I did not have the problem that I sometimes have of people missing the point. I do not like to express my arguments too openly and rely on a bit of intuition, and sometimes this is lacking and I find comments that express the opposite of what I wanted to convey. This was not the case during the series, and that pleases me.

I can definitely recommend the experience, and will undoubtedly write another.

UPDATE: Jonny has compiled a fantastic PDF publication of his series which contains every article in the series, and the responses each article got. You can view it on the blog here Can We Improve the Health of the Planet? A series by Jonny Hankins.

Categories
Environment Science Series

Is cost and pollution free power already here?

In this the fifth post in my series I will introduce some of the inventions that claim to produce free and/or pollution free energy. I would like to make it clear from the outset however that I do not know whether these techniques actually work. Many of them have been patented, some replicated and some demonstrated several times. Some defy the accepted laws of physics. Some have been proven false.

The magnet motor promises free endless power

The following examples are just a few drawn from dozens found on the internet.

The patenting of machines that claim to harness energy directly from the atmosphere has a long history. At the turn of the 20th century Nikola Tesla registered several patents for inventions of this type. One particularly simple device is known as his ‘aerial device’. It is something like a large insulated sheet of metal with a capacitor and transformer attached below it. The metal plate vibrates, possibly due to static and the capacitor is charged. The transformer lowers the voltage and the current can be fed into the system. It works day and night and the size of the metal sheet determines how much power is produced. Tesla’s biography is here.  As you see he was not a crank, without his work we would probably not have computers today.

Tesler’s invention might be described as producing free energy, and this is certainly one aim for inventors of these types of objects. Another objective however is to build a machine that produces more power than it uses to operate it. Simple enough, I use 10 units of power to make the machine work, and the machine provides me with 11 units of output, or more. There are several machines that claim to succeed in this goal. It even tells you how easy each project is to construct, how well it is likely to work and how reliable the ideas upon which it is based are.

First to free energy. The internet is full of demonstrations of magnet motors and how to build them. This video is an example. The builders claim that using only magnets they can build a motor that spins without any external force being applied. A quick search will find plans and detailed explanations of materials needed and results expected. The only problem seems to be that the results are ‘physically unexplainable’ and many people say impossible. Are these machines fraudulent? I would love to know, because if they are not then it looks like clean electricity is possible today.

Other systems involve using different types of fuel from those conventionally thought of. A current example is the claim made about recent successes in what we in the non-science world call ‘cold fusion’ and is correctly termed a low energy nuclear reaction.

Early last year engineer Andrea Rossi and Physicist Sergio Focardi built a machine in Bologna Italy that they claim can produce huge amounts of power without polluting or causing radiation using only nickel as a fuel. The nickel is turned to copper during the process (proof of a nuclear reaction taking place) but only tiny amounts of fuel are used. There is however an undisclosed secret ingredient to the operation, and Rossi will not divulge his secret to anyone, including Focardi. The two demonstrated the machine on at least 2 separate occasions last year and are currently constructing a huge version for trials later this year. See this article on the Bassetti Foundation website for a fuller explanation and links to a video of their demonstration.

The water powered car is another thing to look at, and has been in existence for many years. There are several videos on the Internet demonstrating converted internal combustion engines that run on water. In this video inventor Paul Pantone demonstrates his “GEET Plasma Reactor Motor”, explaining how it works and showing it running. Here we get into conspiracy territory however, as the video states that after posting the video on Youtube the inventor was arrested and denied medical therapy while under arrest. There is an implicit claim that those in authority did not want his invention to be made public, but this is not backed up by any evidence however.

A related story is of the guy who invented a car that ran on water in the 1980’s.  Stanley Meyer built a sort of dune buggy and the Pentagon reportedly showed interest in his invention.  He died in strange circumstances however in a car park outside a restaurant in Ohio in 1998, probably poisoned. Some (as this video demonstrates), go as far as to say that he was murdered by the state but again without providing evidence, but the conspiracies abound once more. Several other sites claim that his car was then stolen along with all of his plans and technology, although there are several long videos and rediscovered tapes on Youtube in which he explains how the car works. As the photo below demonstrates, modern versions do exist today. This water powered car was built in Japan, watch the video on this website.

Japanese water powered car

And here to the thorny matter, many of these machines are available to buy today, well the plans are at least. The Hojo motor promises free electricity for example, but at a price, and what if you buy the plans to discover that you can’t get the thing to run?

This article describes how the Federal Trade Commission investigated allegedly false claims by a well-known inventor and character in this field named Denis Lee. They found that the promoters ‘are marketing a product that cannot exist and function as claimed’ and allowed complaints to be filed. Pseudo-science and marketing at its best we might say.

If you want to read more about these devices the free energy website will keep you occupied for days. Chapter 16 should be your stating point.

I would love to hear from anyone that has either constructed or seen any of these machines in real life. Next week I will conclude the series so speak now, of forever hold your peace!

Categories
Environment Science Series

Cleaner Electricity Production

Producing electricity is often a dirty and polluting affair. Here in the US most is still produced by burning coal, rather like in the 19th century. Nuclear power production is seen by some as an answer as it doesn’t throw a tone of gasses and toxins into the atmosphere and can produce an enormous amount of power in comparison to the fuel it uses. But nuclear power brings its own sets of problems, you only have to look at recent events in Japan or take a trip to Ukraine to see that. And parts of the North Sea round the British Isles are contaminated from leaks from an infamous UK nuclear power station that shall remain nameless (although like New York it too was so good they named it twice) and the unforeseeable problems involved in storing radioactive waste for tens of thousands of years to name but a few rather thorny issues.

However some people that define themselves as fighting for a cleaner environmental electricity production policy, do argue that nuclear power is a move in the right direction, that alternative forms could never provide enough power to feed the planet and the very fact that nuclear power production does not create tons of carbon means it is advantageous in fighting the possible problems of global warming. There are undoubtedly advantages and disadvantages to this form of power production, but political and financial interests are also important factors to bear in mind.

Clean electricity for a better world

There are several other ways of producing cleaner electricity though as we know, but they too have their problems. Building a dam to use the water to drive turbines can have devastating effects on the surrounding areas. Look at the Yangtze Dam project in China and the effect of this engineering project on the people and animals that used to inhabit the newly flooded areas.

Wind farms also seem a good solution but some people say they are ugly and here in Cape Cod in the US there is a large protest movement growing out of claims by people that live near wind turbines who claim health problems, stress and migraines due to the flickering effect of the blades turning in the sun.

Solar panels are always sold as a good option, but they are expensive to manufacture because processed silicon is costly due to its high demand. There are also the problems of how to dispose of the panel when it is no longer efficient and the nature of the silicon purification process.

In Italy farmers have taken government subsidies and covered their land with solar panels in a bid to improve profits. In some cases the panels form a sort of protection for the crops while they produce electricity, but in a lot of cases the agricultural land is just lost to a sea of silicon, causing people to complain both about the aesthetics and the land use issue. Government green incentives mean that there is no need to ask for planning permission so these ‘silicon farms’ as they are known are cropping up in some rather inopportune places (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) and are in massive expansion as this article demonstrates.

But fortunately as we would hope in a blog like this there have been some really interesting developments recently in non silicon based solar energy production that we can look at.

The sun between someones hands
Harnessing the sun

A couple of years ago researchers in Italy unveiled something called the Dye Solar Cell (DSC). It doesn’t use silicon to produce electricity but guess what? It uses vegetable dye from egg plant (aubergines). Well not being a scientist myself I thought, ‘yes, plants do photosynthesis don’t they, why didn’t I think of that?’, and I wasn’t far wrong.

The cells don’t have the same productive power so the area needs to be bigger to produce the same amount of power but they are incomparably cheaper and greener. Ideal for use for example on large low buildings such as barns or industrial units that can have the entire roof covered in vegetable cells and produce the electricity the occupants require for free. Good news.

But what if you haven’t got a huge roof? Well an Austrian company called Bleiner AG has developed a type of paint called Photon Inside that has the same capability. It has to be applied in a few coats and cost more than standard paint but a 50 square metre wall generates 3 Kw of electricity. It was developed for use on sailing boats so that they could operate a radio and radar while out at sea. Sorry but the only articles I can find online are in Italian.

Konarka is an interesting American company who have developed a power generating plastic. It can be made very thin and comes in a roll that you just cut to size, stick on your Venetian blinds or any other surface that takes a lot of sun and away you go. They also sell Power Fibre, as you would imagine it is a thread that you can weave, so you can make textiles that produce energy and can be made into clothes. I like this idea, you could buy a computer case that charges the computer using sunlight as you walk to work.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) they have recently unveiled their ability to print solar panels on to paper. A great breakthrough as it makes the technology easy to transport and place in position but also cheap and hardwearing (you can laminate it). Research at the University of Verona in Italy goes one step further, they are developing completely transparent thin sheets of solar panels that you can attach to the window and look through.

These final applications described above really take solar electric production to a higher level, as practically any surface can be used to produce electricity. The breakthrough here is in the technology required to transport the current more than its production, as attaching the diodes has long been the most difficult part of thin surface electricity production as they tend to come off with any movement in the surface.

Using the sea is also an option. Off the UK there is the giant Sea Snake trial taking place as well as the Oyster wave generator installation, and in the US buoys have been developed that generate electricity from their constant up and down motion, easy to place and a help rather than a hindrance to shipping.

As Christopher pointed out in a recent post, global warming is a real and serious problem and electricity production could be a major element in pollutant gas production, but as I hope to have shown above there are many interesting developments if we allow ourselves a slightly different point of view on electricity management.

A less centralized way of thinking and we could produce a lot of the electricity we need in situ, using our own buildings as power plants.

I have written more extensively on this problem on the Bassetti Foundation website and there are also various related articles about renewable energy sources and the problems involved in their use.

Next week I will have a look at possible engineering solutions for the problematic issue of global warming.

Categories
Environment Science Series

Can We Improve the Health of the Planet? A Series.

“Have a bias towards action – let’s see something happen now. You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step right away.” – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

A couple of weeks ago I read Christopher’s article on this blog entitled ‘We Need to Act on Climate Change For The Sake Of Others’ and it started me thinking about green technology.

Scientists are in general agreement that the Earth is warming, there is plenty of debate as to why however. A large proportion claims that this warming factor is caused (or at least worsened) by human actions such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation.

Members of this group therefore believe that we need to produce energy without burning fossil fuels and that we should take other steps to avoid releasing carbon into the atmosphere such as stopping deforestation (incidentally this is cause number 1, burning fossil fuels is secondary in comparison). I should say I count myself amongst them.

An unhealthy planet

Every Thursday over the next month or so I am going to post one of a series of articles that will look at different aspects of these problems. I want to propose an argument that I borrow from the sociological study of science and is directly drawn from an economic analysis. It is simple, and should be borne in mind when reading the posts.

When we think about costs we only think about money. How much for example does a litre of petrol cost? Or a flight to Boston from London? “Oh $3.50 a litre” or “$1200 dollars” we might say. But this excludes social and environmental costs that should be added on, a bit like governments add on VAT.

The real cost of my litre of petrol should include various other factors. How did the raw materials come out of the ground? Did the company leave a mess and pollute the local drinking water in the process? How was it refined, and transported? How much did the local people who live nearby suffer or benefit from its production? And finally how much pollution will it cause when I burn it?

And here we have a sliding scale, LPG is environmentally less damaging and therefore environmentally cheaper than petrol. By this logic natural gas might be cheaper than wood to heat your house too (unless produced through fracking some would argue), and taking the train might be cheaper than taking the bus. I hope this is a little clearer than a bland phrase about ‘going green’  and offers a slightly more defined point of view.

The series will be structured something like the following:

  • Environmentally cost efficient transport
  • Electricity production
  • Engineering climate change
  • Problems faced and the miracle cure
  • Conclusions and a review of comments

I hope to present you with some interesting new technologies that really offer a much ‘greener’ future, as well as looking at some of the ways that different institutions view and approach the problems that I will address.

I am certainly not pessimistic about the future but I don’t believe that ‘technology will save the day’ on its own, but a little thought and a few small actions from a lot a people can make an enormous difference (as someone once said).

I hope you will follow and comment, and don’t hold back on your criticisms, that is what I am here for.