News Nuggets: Boating (Slowly) by Solar

Around the States in a Solar Boat

The cause is noble, the trip is long, and the vessel is a little ridiculous. Every year, hundreds of boaters circumnavigate all or part of the eastern United States on a months-long trip called the “Great Loop.” People have made the voyage in sailboats, pleasure cruisers and jet skis.

Now Captain Jim Greer hopes to be the first to complete the voyage in a solar-powered boat

“I wanted to go for a boat ride and I didn’t have enough money for fuel, so we came up with the idea of powering it by the sun,” Greer told USA Today. “I thought the technology was there and I thought it would be fun to step ahead.”

The boat, called Ra, would be sleek and svelte were it not for a pair of wide outriggers and a long flat roof that together support 15 thick black solar panels. And it would be swift, were it not for the pair of comically tiny outboard motors hanging off the stern, which look better prepared for pushing a fishing raft than a 48-foot, tri-hulled, ocean-going boat.

With such small engines pushing such a big boat, the Ra tops out at five miles an hour. The trip—which can take several routes from Florida to New York City, across the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes, down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers and then across the Gulf of Mexico—varies between 5,000 and 7,500 miles depending on the route. Greer started the journey in New Port Richie, Florida, on January 14, and by July 17 passed under the George Washington Bridge. As for how long the rest of the trip will take, Greer declines to venture a guess.

Greer’s plan for when he finally returns home to New Port Richey? Win a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records and a free glass of Guinness beer (which Greer seems to believe are somehow related).

Sterile Medicine From the Sun

Many areas in the developing world are rich in sunlight but poor in the equipment needed to sterilize medical equipment and human waste. A group of researchers at Rice University announced a new technology in July to bridge that divide, using solar power to generate sterilizing steam.

The system is so efficient that it converts up to 80 percent of solar energy into heat, making it possible even to transform ice water into sterilizing steam efficiently and quickly, the researchers said.

Average conversion efficiency is 24 percent during operation, compared to 15 percent for most solar panels.

“Sanitation technology isn’t glamorous, but it’s a matter of life and death for 2.5 billion people,” Naomi Halas, director of Rice’s Rice’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics, said in a press release. “For this to really work, you need a technology that can be completely off-grid, that’s not that large, that functions relatively quickly, is easy to handle and doesn’t have dangerous components. Our Solar Steam system has all of that.”

The heart of the new system is anther Rice University invention called light-harvesting nanoparticles, which convert the full spectrum of sunlight into heat. When submerged in water and exposed to the sun, the particles heat up instantly, vaporizing the water and producing steam hot enough to kill microbes.

Halas hopes to begin field tests of the sterilization system soon at three sites in Kenya.

Solar. It’s the New Black.

Solar panels are efficient, cost-effective and eco-friendly. Some people also think they’re ugly. While we at CleantechIQ enjoy the look of a building with a roof of blue-black panels shimmering in the sunlight, apparently the aesthetics of solar panels are not to everyone’s liking.

That includes Daniel Akst, a staff writer at the Wall Street Journal, who asserts in a recent piece that “(o)ne reason that solar energy hasn’t been adopted faster is that solar panels can have a major—and usually unwanted—impact on the appearance of a building.”

That may be about to change. Researchers at the nonprofit  Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering in Jena, Germany, announced that they’ve created solar panels in many different colors including green, gold, red and blue. For an idea of how such panels could be used to spruce up the institute’s own building, click here.

The manufacturing process for such multicolored panels involves covering them with an antireflective oxide coating, changing the thickness of the coating to achieve different colors. The treatment costs the panels a loss of between 1 and 5 percent of their sun-to-electricity conversion efficiency.

The next step towards commercialization is to reduce the cost of the new panels. The researchers are exploring ways to apply the coating using an inkjet printer, and also swapping expensive indium tin oxide for zinc oxide in the coating material.

Solazyme Makes Sweet Biofuel Byproduct for Bakers

While struggling with its original plan to develop biofuels, Solozyme is producing a tasty array of oils used in foods or fuels by growing genetically tuned algae fed on sugar, reports Scientific American.  These include: whole “algalin” flour and healthier replacements for eggs, milk, and butter in a wide variety of products varying from baked goods to ice cream. It’s also making anti-aging algal acids in cosmetics and fiber for digestive health.



On Green Homes, Brits Won’t Take “No” for an Answer.

Tens of thousands of British households have explored ways they could use green technologies including solar panels to lower their utility bills.

The number of households that have actually moved forward on such overhauls? Four. In the entire country.

Against that bleak backdrop, the British government announced recently that it will set aside about $30 million to send teams of energy efficiency experts house-to-house to assess homes for potential savings. Officials believe this proactive approach may be more effective than the current system, which relies on homeowners to seek out the program themselves and take out loans for the improvements, which are paid off through increased energy bill payments. Low-income households can apply for government subsidies.

“I think this could be the biggest single way of getting sign-up – going street by street,” said Greg Barker, the country’s climate change minister, told the Guardian newspaper.


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