Energy 365

There's a crackdown in my little Southern community -- a kilowatt crackdown -- and it starts on Oct. 1. Today! The goal of the crackdown, as you astute folks have already discerned, is to slash energy consumption and make people rethink their behaviors when it comes to powering their households. The event in question is sponsored by Earth Aid, a Washington-based organization founded in 2007 specifically to educate folks about their energy usage. How?

Artificial Leaf Generates Electricity

Sometimes nature is made to imitate art in startling ways. Consider the tree cathedral in Bergamo, Italy: 1,800 fir poles lashed together with chestnut and hazel branches to create a cathedral with five aisles. Eventually, 42 beeches will grow inside the startling mountainside structure designed by the late environmental artist Giuliano Mauri to celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity.

World's Largest Solar Thermal Project Gets a Green Light

Solar energy, long the linchpin of microgrids and home-energy production, is about to scale up big. In the past three weeks, the California Energy Commission has licensed solar projects with planned energy outputs totaling 1,500 megawatts annually. The biggest of these plants, the Blythe Solar Power Project, got its approval just this week. When the four-part project in the Mojave Desert is complete, it's expected to produce 1,000 megawatts of energy -- a stat that would make it the biggest solar producer in the world.

Spider Silk That's 10 Times Better Than Kevlar

As Peter Parker could tell you if he weren't off fighting the Green Goblin, spiders are amazing creatures. A lot of that awesomeness stems from the silk with which they spin their mighty webs. With its tough but elastic nature, the silk that some arachnids like to loop from spot to spot creates a dragline that's tougher than Kevlar -- the material you want to be outfitted with if you ever decide to take a bullet, not that we're suggesting that. Now a couple of researchers suggest that they've found the toughest biological material ever, as reported in the journal PLoS ONE.

Did electric eels power Marlon Brando's house?

A few years before his death in 2004, eccentric Hollywood legend Marlon Brando summoned actor/environmentalist Ed Begley Jr. to his Mulholland Drive estate. According to Begley, Brando wanted some feedback on a scheme to power his home with electric eels. Dumbfounded, Begley said he wasn't sure it could be done. "Everything's no with you..." grumbled Brando in response, according to the New York Times.

Imagine for a second that you want to buy a hybrid car. You haggle over a price with the salesperson, haggle a little more with the sales manager who inevitably appears, and finally settle on a price. While you're signing the papers, you notice one that stipulates how you'll drive your new hybrid. No jamming on the gas pedal the second the light turns green. No waiting until the very last second to stomp on the brakes. You will coast. You will become a hypermiler. Or else.

Electric History: The Queen's Physician

Reader, would you be deterred if I told you this post isn't for "smatterers, learned idiots, grammatists, sophists, wranglers and perverse little folk"? Personally, I'd worry I'd see my payback in the comments section -- not really an issue for 16th century writers. Still, it's quite a warning to include in any work, yet there it is in William Gilbert's influential book on electricity and magnetism: De Magnete, or in full, De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure, a title I'd agree could attract its fair share of wranglers. For this post, I'm going way back. As much as we've covered the cutting-edge news and fundamentals of energy, we've yet to tap into the historical origins of our understanding.

Pee Power: The Latest Experiments in Turning Waste into Energy

Humans produce 10 billion liters of urine every day, according to New Scientist. That's a lot of raw material with which to power the world. So much in fact, that whatever power-producing process finds the best way to do it won't even have to be that efficient. After all, we're not talking about heading to the moon to mine He-3; there will always be more urine in the world tomorrow.

Hygroelectricity Pulls Power Out of Thin Air

Actually humid air, or at least that's the assertion offered by some Brazilian researchers who've been trying to make Nikola Tesla's dream of taming and using natural electricity a reality. Hygroelectricity, as presented by Dr. Fernando Galembeck at the 2010 American Chemical Society meeting, goes after charged atmospheric water droplets and attempts to collect and convert them into usable energy, similar to the way solar panels operate. In the race for renewable sources of energy, this is welcome news, indeed. Plus, if we mere mortals aren't going to be able to throw lightning bolts around anytime soon, capturing them and making them serve our human needs is almost as good, right?

Springs: The Future of Energy Storage?

The 2010 Hugo-nominated sci-fi novel "The Windup Girl" describes a post-oil world ravaged by genetically modified crops and high sea levels. In this fictional future, the denizens of Thailand turn to previously abandoned technologies such as airships and clipper ships to get by -- and they also depend on spring technology to power everything from ceiling fans to trains.