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Around tech this week ... salt and antifreeze mix for energy storage ... and much more !

Around tech this week ... salt and antifreeze mix for energy storage ... and much more !

Our weekly trip around the news this week will look at alternative energy. It’s quite hard to judge where we actually are in the development of renewable energy because of the enormous amounts of conflicting information we are bombarded with on a daily basis. What is not in dispute is that these problems will be overcome in time. In just this week, I’ve come across many stories around the web that feature teams of researchers making inroads to make renewables viable as a main power source. Here are the best of them.

The main problem with renewable energy is storage. When the sun is out, solar panels generate energy, and when it has set they don’t generate a thing. Unfortunately, the times we need lighting, heating and to watch television usually coincide with the times that the sun is shining on the other hemisphere. The same problem exists with other forms of renewables, the wind doesn’t blow on demand either and tides have their own set agenda, not ours. So developing methods of storage for energy when we’d actually like to use it is of the utmost importance if renewables are to have a place in our lives.

Alphabet is betting that the answer to energy storage could be salt and antifreeze. The company’s X research division is working on a project that should decrease the cost of storage, as well as allow it to be located anywhere. The company has developed a prototype system and is now looking for partners to build a fully functioning example. The system can scale from the size of a garage to a full power plant. It is a design comprising four tanks, two filled with salt, and two with antifreeze. Using electricity as input, the system turns the electricity into hot and cold air streams. The hot air heats the salt, and the chilled air cools the antifreeze. When electricity is needed, the two streams are directed at each other, creating a powerful wind that spins a turbine. The salt stores heat, and the antifreeze stores the cold well, so the system can store potential energy for days with good insulation.

Always in the news, Elon Musk gets another mention this week. After questioning Mark Zuckerberg’s knowledge of the potential of AI last week, Musk decided to reveal that he had installed one of Tesla’s solar roofs in his own home, as did Tesla’s CTO J.B. Straubel. Tesla says it would like to iron out any bugs in the design and an initial fitting at the CEO’s house should ensure that many would be found before installation. Tesla’s solar roofs are quite unique in that they are tiles that look more like traditional roofs, and cost less to install than a premium roof made of shingles or slates.      

Another organisation that is trying to rid the world of ugly solar panels on roofs is MIT. The university has used current wonder material graphene to turn almost any surface into a solar cell. Previously, the problem with creating thin, flexible solar cells was the electronics required for the cells to transfer the energy were brittle. Graphene is transparent, flexible conductive and can be used to provide the functions that previously required electronics. MIT has developed a way to bond a one atom thick graphene layer onto the cell, which can then be fixed to any existing surface. The new method solved two problems that have previously held the technology back – how to deposit the graphene electrode onto the solar cell, and how to ensure that both electrodes functioned in different ways. You can read more here, http://news.mit.edu/2017/mit-researchers-develop-graphene-based-transparent-flexible-solar-cells-0728.

There has been talk of tapping the huge solar potential of the Sahara desert for many years, but it has never come fully to fruition. This could be set to change as developer TuNur has applied to the Tuisian government for permission to build a 4.5 GW facility in the southwest part of the country. The €1.6 billion development could be up and running as soon as 2020 and the developers hope to sell the energy created to Europe, through undersea cables to Malta, Italy and France. If the permit request gains approval, then the 25,000 hectares facility will be one of the biggest solar facilities on earth.

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