Earth Portation News November 28th

AIR - Air Pollution Linked To Autism
Without a doubt, autism is receiving more and more scientific and popular attention as we move further into the 21st century. A new study has added to our knowledgebase by showing that various sources of air pollution are associated with autism.

Air Pollution Linked to Autism
The study, published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry and headed by Heather Volk, Ph.D., assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine and investigator in the Division of Research on Children, Youth and Families at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, demonstrates for the first time that exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy and during the first year of life is associated with a more than two-fold risk of autism.
Additionally, exposure to regional pollution consisting of nitrogen dioxide and small particles is also associated with autism, even if the mother lives nowhere near a busy road.

"This work has broad potential public health implications," said Volk. "We've known for a long time that air pollution is bad for our lungs, and especially for children. We're now beginning to understand how air pollution may affect the brain."
Volk's research is the first to look at the amount of near-roadway traffic-pollution that individuals have been exposed to and combine that statistic with the measure of regional air quality. Volk notes that the research builds upon previous work she and colleagues conducted, looking at how close subjects lived to a freeway.
"We took into account how far away people lived from roads, meteorology such as which way the wind was blowing, how busy the road was, and other factors to study traffic-related pollution," she said. "We also examined data from air quality monitors, which measure pollution over a larger region that could come from traffic, industry, rail yards, or many other sources."

The study looked at data on 279 autism cases and 245 control subjects enrolled in the California-based Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study. Based on the addresses of mothers, the researchers estimated exposure during each trimester of pregnancy and the first year of life.
Source: Keck School of Medicine of USC
Image Source: Thomanication (some rights reserved)
Air Pollution Linked To Autism was originally published on: CleanTechnica

AIR - New Online Tool Helps Calculate Benefit Of Reducing Air Pollution
Abt Associates launched a new online tool this week that allows large and medium-sized cities the opportunity to calculate the health benefits and monetary value of implementing air quality improvements.
AirCounts is an interactive website that enables anyone to discover how many premature deaths could be avoided as well as the additional economic benefits from reducing emissions.
New Online Tool Determines Benefits of Reducing Air Pollution
"As cities across the globe begin establishing climate change policies and programs that include improving air quality, they will need to answer questions about which health benefits and corresponding economic value can be realized from those programs," said Mike Conti, vice president of the Environment & Resources Division of Abt Associates, adding "AirCounts can deliver those answers."
Abt Associates conducted a case study of Mexico City using the new tool, which can be seen in full here.
The results found that eliminating 2.8 tonnes of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) would result in the prevention of one premature death at a cost of $1.8 million USD.

Conti said AirCounts framework can be used to calculate such public health benefits as decreased cardiovascular and respiratory problems, also associated with PM2.5 emissions. In addition, Abt can develop customized analyses for virtually any geographic area and can incorporate time as an analytical dimension.
Source: Abt Associates
New Online Tool Helps Calculate Benefit Of Reducing Air Pollution was originally published on: CleanTechnica

BIRDS - 50 Forgotten Bird Songs Play in a Sydney Alley
An art installation in Australia reminds us of the destructive force of urbanization.

BIRDS - Light Pollution May Actually Help Some Migratory Birds
According to new research, coastal light pollution may help migratory birds forage for food during their typically lean wintering period.

BOOKS - ITN amplifies 'citizen' video journalism with TruthLoader
From the producer behind the UK's biggest nightly commercial TV newscasts, comes an interesting experiment leveraging online networks and amateur video.
ITN Productions, which makes ITV News and Channel 4 News, has launched TruthLoader - a YouTube channel that will showcase amateur footage from hotspots around the world and whose own investigations will be led by discussion in a subreddit (group) on the Reddit community.

TruthLoader, the latest online video channel launched by the traditionally TV-led news agency, is funded by YouTube's originals program (which gives UK producers up to £500,000) and brings a video spin to a "citizen journalism" construct that has conventionally been focused on text and still images.
"Citizen" video contributions are identified by Storyful.
Presenter Phil Harper will also host a weekly live video debate with citizen journalists over Google Hangouts and Skype.
TruthLoader's challenge will be to bring a degree of measure, fact and balance to much of the raw footage it gets, for example, from protest spots in the Middle East, where some video footage nowadays attempts to paint a misleading picture of events and which large news organizations spend time validating. Often, footage is not just from "citizens" but active participants in stories.

Release (via Journalism.co.uk).

BOOKS - NYT editor unsure if reporters are print or digital - and that's a good thing
The executive editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramson, does not fetishize print newspapers and says the NYT's editorial integrity is as strong as ever. Her remarks suggested that, despite financial hiccups and a mini-contretemps over a new CEO, the celebrated publication's day-to-day operations are in good hands.
Abramson, who has been in the job for a year, made the remarks during a freewheeling interview with Henry Blodget at Business Insider's Ignition conference in New York Tuesday. She offered a frank and confident appraisal of the Times and the evolving business of news.
In response to a question about how the Times divides up the newsroom between print and digital reporters, Abramson says most staff no longer fit into one category or the other. She does not oversee "the paper" or "the web" but rather a global product she calls simply "the news report."
"There was too much focus in the past on the print product," said Abramson. "[We] now make sure energy is 24/7 and not focused on newspaper deadlines and rhythms."
This is a relief to hear because, from a business perspective, the Times has recently been relying on price hikes to its print paper to make up for cratering ad revenue. The price increases, however, provide at best a medium-term solution. Abramson acknowledged as much, noting that when she taught journalism classes at Yale, none of her students read paper newspapers.
Abramson's pragmatism improves the Times' chances of developing the right longterm digital strategy which, for now, relies heavily on an imperfect paywall model. Her presence may also help the Times preserve its role as a news authority at a time when many once-mighty news brands are rapidly waning.
The interview also provided some personal color. Abramson, who grew up on New York's Upper West Side with parents who had two NYT subscriptions, said she is regularly accosted by fellow dog walkers over the Times' Sunday Review.

CLIMATE - Arctic sea ice larger than US melted this year
(AP)-An area of Arctic sea ice bigger than the United States melted this year, according the U.N. weather agency, which said the dramatic decline illustrates that climate change is happening "before our eyes."

CLIMATE - Everything You Need to Know About Global Climate Negotiations in a Video and a Chart
Watch, look, and be up to speed.

CLIMATE - New study shows how climate change could affect entire forest ecosystems
The fog comes in, and a drop of water forms on a pine needle, rolls down the needle, and falls to the forest floor. The process is repeated over and over, on each pine needle of every tree in a forest of Bishop pines on Santa Cruz Island, off the coast of Santa Barbara. That fog drip helps the entire forest ecosystem stay alive.

CLIMATE - Scientists develop new approach to support future climate projections
Scientists have developed a new approach for evaluating past climate sensitivity data to help improve comparison with estimates of long-term climate projections developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

EARTH - Ancient Microbes Survived 3,000 Years Without Light or Air
Researchers in Antarctica have found an ancient bacteria thriving in one of the continent's least hospitable ecosystems, a discovery that may change our understanding of what's needed to support life.

ECONOMICS - Digital Business: How Technology Will Support Growth
By Mark P. McDonald and Andy Rowsell-Jones

EDUCATION - Have an idea for a great guest post? Here's what you need to know
While most of the pieces that we publish on GigaOM and paidContent are staff-written, every week we run a handful of posts by guest contributors. The authors are at the center of the industries and trends we cover - they are corporate executives, technologists, VCs, entrepreneurs and thinkers - and they offer fresh and timely insights about emerging technology topics. These pieces are an important part of what we offer readers, and they often stir up great discussion on and off the site.
So how do these guest posts come to be? Every week, we get dozens of emails asking us that very question. Some of the emails include story pitches, others simply want to know more about the process for contributing articles. So, below, we've provided answers to the most commonly asked questions. Take a minute to read through this - hopefully it will clear up any confusion. We look forward to seeing your submissions.
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ENERGY - A startup that squeezes electricity out of city water
The water that sloshes through city pipes can both quench your thirst and generate electricity. However, the latter is far less common. But that's the proposition from startup Rentricity, which has developed equipment that uses water pressure to produce electricity and helps water suppliers reduce their energy costs.
The New York City-based company was the runner-up for the grand prize in this year's Cleantech Open competition and has seen its technology installed at two water treatment plants in the Pittsburgh region and one in Keene, New Hampshire. Its biggest project, its fourth one, is scheduled to come online in the first quarter of 2013 in the Palos Verdes area of Los Angeles County.
Finding multiple uses for the same resource is a good thing. It maximizes resources and reduces waste, especially if the resources are difficult to come by or finite. More advanced natural gas power plants, for example, use waste heat from gas turbines to generate steam and produce more electricity on site. Some solar technology also uses waste heat produced by solar cells to heat up water.
Rentricity's technology makes use of the highly pressured water that flows through pipes to be delivered to neighborhoods. After leaving the treatment plant, water typically goes through the water utility equivalent of substations (concrete underground regulator vaults) where the flow and pressure are reduced as the water gets ready to enter the smaller pipes of homes and businesses.

The company's technology includes a reverse pump, a generator, and controllers that would typically be installed at a water treatment plant or underground vaults. The pump harnesses the highly pressurized water and sends that through the generator to produce electricity. The controllers monitor and manage the valves and make sure the electricity moves on to the grid.
"We can monitor, control and optimize the pressure in the system so that we can get the most electricity potential out of the system," said Frank Zammataro, the company's CEO and founder.
The gear is designed to handle pipes from 10-inch to 36-inch in diameter; the generators range from 30 KW to 350 KW. Rentricity also has designed equipment in the 5-30 KW range in a partnership with water pump and treatment equipment maker Xylem. The two companies are looking at demonstrating the new gear in two sites, located in Pennsylvania and Nova Scotia, Canada.
Rentricity's intellectual property lies in the control system, Zammataro said. Rentricity also can install flow and pressure sensors that collect data and detect leakage for water utilities, particularly if the water treatment systems are located in remote areas.
The company is targeting selling its technology to water utilities at the moment, though it would like to see its equipment installed at industrial sites that use a lot of water, such as pharmaceutical plants, food and beverage factories or mining operations.

Knowing that the upfront financing is often a hurdle for new infrastructure technology - especially for municipal water utilities - Rentricity began offering financing options to customers earlier this year. The financing makes the company the sole or co-owner of the power generation equipment for the 30-40 years of expected lifespan of the gear or until the water utilities pay to own it. In return, Rentricity gets a share of the revenue from selling the electricity. Zammataro said he's talked with three fund managers who are interested in providing the money for the installations, but he declined to name them.
Rentricity has signed a letter of agreement to finance a 100 KW system with the city of Albany, New York, Zammataro said, and is now in the process of doing due diligence. The company hasn't finalized the budget for the project but estimates that it could cost somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million.
Rentricity, the name of which is a mash up of "renewable" and "electricity," was founded in 2003. But the company was a "part time project" for the three co-founders, Zammataro said. It wasn't until 2008 when the company began to market its technology to water utilities in earnest, he said, that the project became a full time gig. Rentricity has been self-funded and raised $1.5 million from friends, family and government grants. The company is working on raising a $3.5 million round.

ENERGY - Breakthrough could help optimize capture of sugars for biofuels
(Phys.org)-Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) combined different microscopic imaging methods to gain a greater understanding of the relationships between biomass cell wall structure and enzyme digestibility, a breakthrough that could lead to optimizing sugar yields and lowering the costs of making biofuels. A paper on the breakthrough, "How Does Plant Cell Wall Nanoscale Architecture Correlate with Enzymatic Digestibility?" appears in the current issue of Science magazine.

ENERGY - Off-The-Grid Mansions
From geothermal systems to solar panels, these "green" abodes offer owners the opportunity to unplug from the electrical grid.

ENVIRONMENT - Fracking in Michigan: Researchers study potential impact on health, environment, economy
University of Michigan researchers are conducting a detailed study of the potential environmental and societal effects of hydraulic fracturing, the controversial natural gas drilling process known as fracking.

HOMES - D*Haus Designs D*Dynamic, Origami-Inspired, Shape-Changing House
Yeah, that title could be a little confusing. But it probably also gives you a sense of the unique awesomeness that's about to come....

D*Haus' D*Dynamic Origami-Inspired Shape Changing House (via Green Building Elements)
Architecture in origami form is a remarkable concept which is hard to envision but D*Haus has come up with a house design that follows the very dynamics of the paper folding art. D*Haus' transformation house, D*Dynamic, has yet to be built but the conception is likely to take hold. They have designed...

D*Haus Designs D*Dynamic, Origami-Inspired, Shape-Changing House was originally published on: CleanTechnica

HOMES - Designer Lives and Works in 271 Square Foot Brooklyn Apartment
It's based on Disneyland's Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. Really.

MUSIC - The Power of Diversity: Innovation In A Song
The next time someone questions the value of diversity, tell'em to go whistle up a tune; Autumn in New York to be specific. This rather modest "jazz standard" is a microcosm of how diversity adds to the creativity of a society.

PEOPLE - For Winning The Nobel Prize, Niels Bohr Got A House With Free Beer
Niels Bohr is one of the greatest scientists who ever lived and a personal hero of mine. He was also a favorite of his fellow Danes when he lived in Copenhagen. Today, however, I found out just how much they loved him. Apparently, after he won the Nobel Prize in 1922, the Carlsberg brewery gave him a gift - a house located next to the brewery. And the best perk of the house? It had a direct pipeline to the brewery so that Bohr had free beer on tap whenever he wanted.

PERMACULTURE - How to Use a Raised Garden Bed as a Compost Bin
This neat little trick is an efficient way to keep fallow garden beds fertile.

PLANTS - Tiny algae shed light on photosynthesis as a dynamic property
Many of the world's most important photosynthetic eukaryotes such as plants got their light-harnessing organelles (chloroplasts) indirectly from other organisms through endosymbiosis. In some instances, this resulted in algae with multiple, distinct genomes, some in residual organelles (nucleomorphs). To better understand why nucleomorphs persist after endosymbiosis, an international team including researchers at the DOE Joint Genome Institute collaborated to sequence and analyze two tiny algae. Their report appeared online Nov. 29, 2012 in Nature.

SCIENCE - New experiments challenge fundamental understanding of electromagnetism
(Phys.org)-A cornerstone of physics may require a rethink if findings at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are confirmed. Recent experiments suggest that the most rigorous predictions based on the fundamental theory of electromagnetism-one of the four fundamental forces in the universe, and harnessed in all electronic devices-may not accurately account for the behavior of atoms in exotic, highly charged states.

SCIENCE - Unexpected data from the Large Hadron Collider suggest the collisions may be producing a new type of matter
Collisions between protons and lead ions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have produced surprising behavior in some of the particles created by the collisions. The new observation suggests the collisions may have produced a new type of matter known as color-glass condensate.

SOLAR - Cost Of Solar Systems In US Continues To Decline
A new report from the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has shown that the installed price of solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems across the United States fell substantially in 2011 and continued the decline through the first half of 2012, supplanting solar as an integral part of the American economy and mindshare.
The news was reported in the latest edition of Tracking the Sun, an annual PV cost-tracking report released by Berkeley Lab.
The report found that the median installed price of residential and commercial PV systems which were completed in 2011 fell by approximately 11-14% from the year before.
The Installed Price of Solar Photovoltaic Systems in the U.S. Continues to DeclineAdditionally, prices in California fell by an additional 3-7% within the first six months of 2012.
The drop in price for installed systems is due in part to the massive reduction in PV module prices, which have been falling dramatically since 2008, and part of the reason why balance of system manufacturers are now accounting for 68 percent of the total costs for the average PV project.
Even though balance of system is making up a higher percentage of project costs, overall prices have fallen. The report notes that non-module costs such as balance of system, labour, marketing, overhead, and inverters have all fallen significantly over time.
"The drop in non-module costs is especially important," notes report co-author Ryan Wiser of Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division, "as these costs can be most readily influenced by local, state, and national policies aimed at accelerating deployment and removing market barriers."
The median installed price of PV systems installed throughout 2011 was $6.10 per watt (W) for residential and small commercial systems less than 10 kilowatts (kW) in size, and was $4.90/W for larger commercial systems of 100 kW or more in size, whereas utility-sector PV systems which are larger than 2,000 kW in size averaged $3.40/W in 2011.
Report co-author Galen Barbose, also of Berkeley Lab, stresses the importance of keeping these numbers in context, noting that "these data provide a reliable benchmark for systems installed in the recent past, but prices have continued to decline over time, and PV systems being sold today are being offered at lower prices."
The authors of the report also believe that US PV prices will continue to drop as a result of large-scale deployment programs, but that other factors are also important in achieving installed price reductions.
There were variations in the PV system pricing when compared across states. The median installed price of PV systems less than 10 kW in size that were completed during 2011 ranged from $4.90/W to $7.60/W depending on which state they were being constructed in.
Additionally, the report shows that PV installed prices are good indicators of economies of scale, with the median price for systems smaller than 2 kW coming in at $7.70/W while the median price for a large commercial system greater than 1,000 kW in size was only $4.50/W. Utility-scale systems larger than 10,000 kW were even lower, with most systems ranging from $2.80/W to $3.50/W.

Sadly, as the cost of installed PV systems have fallen, so have the incentives. According to the report, the median pre-tax value of such cash incentives ranged from $0.90/W to $1.20/W for systems installed in 2011, depending on system size. But these numbers have decreased by roughly 80% over the past ten years, and by a massive 21-43% from just 2010 to 2011.
The report, Tracking the Sun V: An Historical Summary of the Installed Price of Photovoltaics in the United States from 1998 to 2011, by Galen Barbose, Naïm Darghouth, and Ryan Wiser, may be downloaded from: http://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/LBNL-5919e-REPORT.pdf.
Source: Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Cost Of Solar Systems In US Continues To Decline was originally published on: CleanTechnica

SOLAR - MIT Researchers Propose Solar Energy Funnel to Produce More Electricity from Sunlight
The concept would use an exceptionally thin stretched material to capture a broader spectrum of sunlight's energy.

SOLAR - New Concentrating Solar Power Storage Material From Yara
Yara International is a Norway-based company focused on sustainable environmental and agricultural solutions. The company recently made an announcement about a breakthrough technology used in concentrated solar power. Below is an interview with Emilio Iglesias Sola, a Yara business manager.
YaraPorsgrunnBulkWhat about your use of potassium calcium nitrate is new and unique?
This is the first time that potassium calcium nitrate has been used in the concentrated solar power (CSP) market, and therefore opens up many opportunities for utility-scale growth.
Calcium nitrate is not new; it has been used in other industries and application for years. What is unique is that our new potassium calcium nitrate grade - patent-pending - has been specifically developed to meet the performance demands of the solar thermal power industry. Our researchers identified a challenge related to heat storage using existing molten salts available in the market, and applied Yara's chemistry expertise to overcome this obstacle.
At its core, this reflects what Yara does every day. With over 100 years of experience in nitrogen-based applications, we provide products and integrated solutions using nitrogen - one of the building blocks of life - and help make the world a better place by optimizing industrial processes and environmental compliance. For instance, our diesel exhaust fluid helps abate harmful nitrous oxides from heavy-duty trucks.
What practical advantages are there to using it and the way you are using it?
In addition to cost advantages, the new potassium calcium nitrate offers plant engineers and operators technical advantages:
First, the properties of potassium calcium nitrate bring down the melting point of the molten salt mix, a huge improvement for all CSP technology. For plants using parabolic trough technology with thermal oil and thermal storage, the current temperature range is 290ºC to 390ºC. Thermal oil's maximum temperature is 400ºC. The new ternary salts using potassium calcium nitrate have a wider Tª (131-560ºC). The wider temperature range and significantly lower melting point means plants have more storage time and require less molten salt to function. In addition, the lower melting point helps owners prevent blockage caused by molten salt solidification, which can be very costly in terms of plant down-time and repairs.
We've also seen the market develop a trend to avoid thermal oil as a heat transfer fluid (HTF) for several reasons, including thermal oil is more expensive, not environmentally friendly and requires an (often expensive) heat exchanger between the oil and the molten salt. The broader temperature range of the new ternary salts using potassium calcium nitrate allows for new lower working temperatures, and provides a higher turbine yield when working at higher temperatures.
Finally, our new potassium calcium nitrate is much less corrosive than common calcium nitrate grades. It also contains fewer impurities than common grades of calcium nitrate. More pure and less corrosive, Yara's synthetic molecule helps reduce corrosion of plant components, related maintenance costs and safety issues.
Your use of potassium calcium nitrate is said to be more cost effective, how much more cost effective is it and why?
The price of Yara's new potassium calcium nitrate is more competitive than that of potassium and sodium nitrate, offering significant CAPEX reductions in the purchase of the nitrates during plant construction. Not only is potassium calcium nitrate very competitively priced, but given the wider temperature range noted earlier, less salts need to be purchased overall.
As the world's largest nitrates producer, our global scale and production efficiencies mean we can provide the product to our customers at an even lower rate than our competitors to anywhere in the world.
Based on size of the plant (which determines the volumes of molten salts required during construction) and the current price of potassium and sodium nitrate, we can estimate a wide range of total capital expense savings. Additionally, due to the potassium nitrate (KNO3) and sodium nitrate (NaNO3) price trends, we anticipate savings for customers using our potassium calcium nitrate will increase over the coming years.
It is these cost savings, along with operational expenses, that we believe will make solar thermal more profitable for plant operators and investors, significantly improving the commercial viability of CSP.
Is your new technology currently operating in CSP facilities, if so, where, and if not, where might it be employed soon?
We have advanced negotiations with several companies, although due to Non-Disclosure Agreements I am not at liberty to share more. That said, the product is ready for sale today and we anticipate the first plant running our proposal will come out of field tests in 2014.
In which parts of the world do you expect it to be used first and why?
The United States and Spain, the countries with the most advanced CSP development, will be the places where this technology is first implemented.
Going forward, we anticipate the next large area of CSP growth to come from the US for several reasons:
  • First, the US has the potential to offer better yields than Spain. Land availability and better radiation locations will allow plant managers to develop larger, more-efficient CSP plants which will lower costs and produce better yields.
  • Secondly, the US currently has a renewable energy pool policy, which is a good political and social environment to develop CSP plants.
How long can potassium calcium nitrate be used before its storage potential is exhausted?
Thermal storage using nitrates lasts the whole lifetime of the CSP plant, which is about 30 years.

Are there limits to how much you can produce?
As the world's largest nitrates producer, Yara can produce more than enough potassium calcium nitrate to meet the needs of the solar thermal market. Although the volumes of molten salts needed for the CSP sector are set to surge, they remain only a fraction of Yara's production capacity. Our global production platform and international supply chain can currently support the US and Spanish CSP markets, as well as future CSP markets in China, North Africa, India and Australia.
What is the future of concentrated solar power and what does this breakthrough development mean for the global solar power industry?
Two things have always plagued the utility-scale adoption of solar power: storage and cost. Concentrated solar power technology solved the first issue, by providing a way to store thermal energy and provide on-demand, reliable electricity from the sun, even after dark, when demand for electricity peaks. This allows CSP to be baseload, something PV and wind power cannot achieve in any scalable way at the moment. It also will enable CSP to achieve grid parity with its traditional gas, coal and nuclear counterparts.
The next generation of molten salts using Yara's potassium calcium nitrate address the second and final barrier, making utility-scale CSP plants less costly to construct and more profitable for plant operators and investors - for the first time, CSP will be commercially viable.
How did Yara's commitment to innovation lead to the identification of this new grade of CN, developed specially for heat storage and transfer applications?
Through ongoing R&D, we identified a new grade of potassium calcium nitrate with promising thermal properties, and developed it specifically for heat storage and transfer applications. We then tested the CSP application in partnership with Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain.
As noted earlier, Yara has over 100 years of experience in nitrogen-based applications. Ongoing R&D is an important part of our commitment to "shape" the industry, and as the market develops in the coming years, we will continue to follow this track.
Image Credit: Yara International
New Concentrating Solar Power Storage Material From Yara was originally published on: CleanTechnica

SOLAR - New Way To Create Electricity Out Of Sunlight Discovered, A Solar Energy Funnel
The discovery of a revolutionarily different way to generate electricity from sunlight has been made by researchers at MIT. The new technology, which is essentially a solar energy funnel, is able to use a much broader spectrum of sunlight's energy than conventional solar does, by utilizing materials under elastic strain.
"We're trying to use elastic strains to produce unprecedented properties," says Ju Li, an MIT professor and the lead author of a paper describing the new concept.
The 'funnel' in this case is a metaphor, though - it is electronic forces creating the funneling effect, not gravity as in a literal funnel. "Electrons and their counterparts, holes - which are split off from atoms by the energy of photons - are driven to the center of the structure by electronic forces." But, interestingly, as the process occurs, the material actually assumes a funnel shape. The material is a stretched sheet of "vanishingly thin" material, pushed down at a center point with a microscopic needle, producing a curved shape similar to a funnel.

The pressure from the needle creates an elastic strain that increases toward the needle point. Because of the variation in the strain, the atomic structure is changed to the point where different sections are 'tuned' to different wavelengths of light. Making it possible to make use of not only visible light, but also the rest of the spectrum, most of which is invisible. The majority of the energy in sunlight is invisible.
The material used is a thin layer of molybdenum disulfide, which is a semiconductor that can form a film just a single molecule in thickness. And it possesses a 'crucial characteristic' called bandgap, which allows it to be formed into solar cells. But unlike the material used in most solar cells, silicon, "putting the film under strain in the 'solar energy funnel' causes its bandgap to vary across the surface, so that different parts of it respond to different colors of light," the MIT press release notes.
"It turns out that the elastic strain, and therefore the change that is induced in electrons' potential energy, changes with their distance from the funnel's center - much like the electron in a hydrogen atom, except this 'artificial atom' is much larger in size and is two-dimensional."
The funnel will also lead to better charge collection, the researchers think. In typical solar cells, the excitons randomly move throughout the material after they've been generated by photons. But in the funnel, the characteristics of the material direct them to the collection site at the center, which should lead to more efficient charge collection.
"People knew for a long time that by applying high pressure, you can induce huge changes in material properties," Li says. But more recent work has shown that controlling strain in different directions, such as shear and tension, can yield an enormous variety of properties.
The work was just published this week in the journal Nature Photonics.
Source: Massachusetts Institute Of TechnologyImage Credits: Yan Liang; Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license
New Way To Create Electricity Out Of Sunlight Discovered, A Solar Energy Funnel was originally published on: CleanTechnica

SOLAR - Solar Power Installation Prices Fell Up to 14% in Past Year, Even More in California
New stats show that there have been significant declines in the cost of installing solar power last year, with large regional variations.

SPACE - Astronomers measure most massive, most unusual black hole
Astronomers have used the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory to measure the mass of what may be the most massive black hole yet-17 billion Suns-in galaxy NGC 1277. The unusual black hole makes up 14 percent of its galaxy's mass, rather than the usual 0.1 percent. This galaxy and several more in the same study could change theories of how black holes and galaxies form and evolve. The work will appear in the journal Nature on Nov. 29.

SPACE - Incredible raw image of Saturn's swirling north pole
Ok, are you ready for this? I know... WOW.

SUSTAINABILITY - The Sustainability of Tablets (Infographic)
This infographic describes the pros and cons of the tablet devices that have taken over the gadget scene.

TECH - 10 Incredibly Simple Things You Can Do To Protect Your Privacy
These are the really, really simple things you should be doing to keep casual intruders from invading your privacy.

TECH - Just Like Social TV, Big Data Is Coming To The Movies [Infographic]
When Nielsen bought SocialGuide a few weeks ago, it left little doubt that Social TV metrics have become an important tool for networks to assess their shows' impact. But is the same true of their cousins over on the silver screen?

TECH - People trust the internet but lie to it anyway
Most people view the internet as a place of free-flowing information where people go to learn, develop their business opportunities and can share scientific discoveries. It's a place where passwords can be shared among family and friends and people don't use services to cloak their identity, yet it is also where almost half of us lie about relevant personal information. All of this and some other contradictions have emerged from the Internet Society's Global Internet User Survey.
The Internet Society is an organization that tracks the use and influence of the web and releases policy recommendations associated with online access. For its annual survey it asked more than 10,000 people in 20 countries their thoughts on a series of questions. The results in some cases were surprising. For example, the U.S. had the highest percentage of people who never used audio/visual conferencing online, with 56 percent saying they never used services like Skype or WebEx. Globally, only 27 percent said they never used an IP-based web conferencing tool.
U.S. respondents also were the second most likely to avoid instant messaging, with 42 percent of Internet users saying they didn't use an IM service compared to 16 percent globally. Only Germans were less likely to use IM - 47 percent said they don't use instant messaging services. And while a majority of the respondents were concerned about their online privacy and took some steps to control access to their online profiles or turning off location tracking on occasion, a surprising large percentage did little else to safeguard their data or to preserve their legal rights.
For example, even when users know they are sharing personal data with a site or service, four out of five users do not always read privacy policies and 12 percent never read privacy policies. Only 47 percent of the respondents reported that they always use separate passwords for sensitive data, and only 13 percent said they never share permissions with family or friends.
Maybe we hope to mitigate some of our trusting nature by giving out false information - more than half of those surveyed give incorrect personal data when creating an account at least some of time. But, a staggering 44 percent say they always provide correct personal data. Apparently we are large and contain multitudes.
A good example of this can be found in the chart below, which compared the U.S. response on two questions with the global average and three other countries. When asked if the government should ensure people's right to access the Internet, the U.S. was surprisingly reluctant to agree with that statement when compared to the rest of the surveyed countries. Yet, like most other people, the U.S. sees the Internet as a source of knowledge. Apparently we recognize that the internet is awesome, but aren't willing to ensure everyone has access to it.
Opinions on the Internet

TECH - Report: Mobile hardware will be a $500-billion industry by 2015
We already know mobile is a big and rapidly growing industry, but research firm IHS iSuppli has painted a picture of just how expansive mobile communications has become. This year mobile equipment revenues globally will be $374 million, and in the space of three years wireless devices and infrastructure will be a half-trillion-dollar industry, a new IHS study found.
Despite crappy economic conditions, the mobile equipment market - which IHS defines as not just consumer handsets and tablets but also cellular network equipment - is growing 13 percent this year and will experience an 18 percent spurt in 2014, growing to $444 billion, the firm projects. IHS chalks up the coming boom to mobile broadband, particularly the growing adoption of LTE technologies.
The LTE infrastructure market is still quite small, accounting this year for only $8 billion and a mere $4 billion in 2011. But the LTE ecosystem has a long tail. Device revenues are increasing due to the growing number of smartphone and tablet sales., which take advantage of 4G's increased bandwidth. What's more those same mobile broadband trends are increasing wireless semiconductor sales, increasing demand for more powerful applications processor, more advanced radio silicon and a bevy of different device sensors.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock user Reno Martin

TECH - Spain's carriers unite on Joyn - is this the future of mobile?
It's finally here: the saviour of the mobile industry, Joyn, also known as Rich Communications Services or RCS. Industry body the GSMA said back at Mobile World Congress in February that all the big carriers would be backing it, and now Spain's big three - Movistar (Telefonica), Orange and Vodafone - have launched it for their customers.
Joyn (let's just call it that, given it's the brand name) lets customers IM each other and 'enrich' voice calls by tossing each other videos and files mid-conversation. It's operator-agnostic, in the sense that you only need to be on an operator that offers it, regardless of the country, and Spain's the first country in the world where the biggest operators all offer it.
Vodafone Germany also has it, as will Deutsche Telekom from December. In the U.S., MetroPCS has also introduced Joyn.
The GSMA says VoIP and IP video-calling is on the horizon too, as a function of Joyn. Here's some marketing from GSMA chief marketing officer Michael O'Hara:
"This initial implementation of a new technology clearly required a major effort and strong leadership in the alignment of the ecosystem of manufacturers, developers and integrators, and operators. Consumers across the world will benefit from the leading efforts of these three operators in Spain."
Still struggling to envision what sort of thing we're talking about? Here's a perky video that demonstrates the file-sharing capabilities of Joyn:

All this is based on the same embedded-deep-in-the-network IMS architecture as Voice over LTE. You need a special Android app to use it at the moment, although there should soon be 'Joyn-embedded' devices coming onto the market in early 2013. As it's IP-based, of course, you can use Joyn services through the cellular network or through Wi-Fi.
Those Joyn-embedded handsets have to undergo rigorous interoperability testing and, once they've passed, you will know them by the bright yellow Joyn logo that shows up when you power the handset on. The same logo will be displayed next to contacts' names in your phonebook.
In case you can't already tell, all this represents a severely major effort on the part of the carrier industry to get its act together. Why? Because the operators want to stay relevant.
The question is, are they already too late?
The last year or two has seen all sorts of seemingly self-defeating apps come out of major carriers - T-Mobile USA's Bobsled, Telefonica's Tu Me and, most recently, Orange's Libon. These apps all offer free voice and messaging, and they offer it to any customer of any network.
In every one of these cases, the aim has been to stop customers thinking of services like WhatsApp and start remembering their operator again. The carriers have belatedly woken up to the fact that their customers increasingly think of them as flat-rate data providers, and that scares the living daylights out of them. There's no differentiation anymore.
Now, the industry may just be pulling itself together. That fact alone betrays their desperation - it's not like some players haven't tried this sort of thing before (for a stunningly downbeat assessment of IMS's chances a couple of years back, check out this 2010 post from Disruptive Analysis's Dean Bubley).
The fundamental problem is that users already have these services. People are already invested in WhatsApp and Skype. The operators are now counting on Joyn becoming so ubiquitous that late adopters pick it up en masse, and it becomes a new standard in terms of usage as well as installation.
Do they themselves believe in it? Maybe. One might even look at Tu Me, Bobsled and Libon and see these 'over-the-top' services as a sign that the operators launching them don't really have faith that Joyn will take off.
This is not to say that Joyn won't be a success. These are huge companies we're talking about, and if they manage to keep their my-enemy's-enemy alliance together, they've got a lot of clout. But, in the worst-case scenario (for them), we're looking at a last gasp.

TECH - The Big Green Opportunity: Transforming Clean Tech Into "Main Tech"
This guest post was written by Vinod Khosla, the founder of Khosla Ventures and a leading Silicon Valley clean tech investor.

TECH - The One-Sided Problem of Oversexualization in Video Games
image thumbnail - see full story for attributions
I've been reading about this recent rather fantastic Twitter trend among the gaming crowd, #1reasonwhy, over the past few days. It was sparked by Luke Crane of Kickstarter who asked why there were so few female game developers in the industry. That set off a chain of responses from many, many

TECH - The Times Are Changin': The Evolution Of Enterprise Software
Guest post written by Brian Murray

TECH - The future of the internet is intelligent machines
An internet revolution is upon us.
As we know it today, the internet has been largely about connecting people to information, people to people, and people to business. Monetization strategies range as widely as the options available, and for all the success, there are more failures. While many of the advancements have been extraordinary - even unthinkable a short time ago - too often we're still left asking, "to what end?"
The internet can give consumers nearly anything with just a click, but global economies remain challenged. The internet has become the biggest library in the world, but education is just now beginning to take advantage and change. The internet can provide businesses with unprecedented data, but true insight remains contentious and change is slow.
The real opportunity for change is still ahead of us, surpassing the magnitude of the development and adoption of the consumer internet. It is what we call the "Industrial Internet," an open, global network that connects people, data and machines. The Industrial Internet is aimed at advancing the critical industries that power, move and treat the world.
There are now many millions of machines across the world, ranging from simple electric motors to highly advanced MRI machines. There are tens of thousands of fleets of sophisticated machinery, ranging from power plants that produce electricity to aircraft that move people and cargo around the world. There are thousands of complex networks ranging from power grids to railroad systems, which tie machines and fleets together.
This vast physical world of machines, facilities, fleets and networks can more deeply merge with the connectivity, big data and analytics of the digital world. This is what the Industrial Internet Revolution is all about.
Productivity Revolution
The Industrial Internet leverages the power of the cloud to connect machines embedded with sensors and sophisticated software to other machines (and to us) so we can extract data, make sense of it and find meaning where it did not exist before. Machines - from jet engines to gas turbines to CT scanners - will have the analytical intelligence to self-diagnose and self-correct. They will be able to deliver the right information to the right people, all in real time. When machines can sense conditions and communicate, they become instruments of understanding. They create knowledge from which we can act quickly, saving money and producing better outcomes.
As an example, we have pushed the boundaries of physical and material sciences in our aircraft engines to the point where these engines are more powerful and efficient than ever. We will continue to improve them physically, but at the same time we can use software, monitoring and big data analytics to attack the $284 billion in annual waste in the airline industry that is caused by fuel inefficiency, unscheduled aircraft maintenance, and delayed flights.
Consider that just a one percent improvement in aircraft engine maintenance efficiency can reduce related costs by $250 million annually. A similar one percent fuel savings in power generation could add more than $4 billion annually to the global economy.
Whether in terms of operations, performance or maintenance excellence, all industries are looking for their next major productivity gains. Health care is burdened by a system where doctors and caregivers have to go searching for vital information; it is inefficient at best and life threatening at worst. We need to make the data more intelligent and integrated, more predictive and proactive, so information finds the doctor instead of the other way around.
Intelligent data flows speed up care delivery and can prevent chronic conditions by getting the treatment right the very first time. Similarly, in terms of health management costs, "intelligent" hospitals are deploying systems that behave like air traffic control for medical staff and devices, and provide a full detailed view of hospital resources. Better utilization cuts capital expenses. Better asset location leaves nurses more time to focus on patients. Better management improves patient flow, cuts operating costs, and saves hospitals millions.
There are similar scenarios in every other major industry, and the economic benefit can be huge. Assuming growth similar to what prevailed during the internet boom, the Industrial Internet revolution will add about $15 trillion to global GDP by 2030. That's the equivalent of adding another U.S. economy to the world.
The amazing aspect of this growth is that it stems from what appears to be minor productivity improvements. At GE, we have 5,000 software engineers and another 9,000 IT engineers. We're focused on mining for just one percent gains in productivity. The potential is irresistible.
Roadmap to the Revolution
In the near future, I expect nothing short of an open, global fabric of highly intelligent machines that connect, communicate and cooperate with us. This Industrial Internet is not about a world run by robots, it is about combining the world's best technologies to solve our biggest challenges. It's about economically and environmentally sustainable energy, curing the incurable diseases, and preparing our infrastructure and cities for the next 100 years.
To do this industry and government need to work together on two critical areas: standardization and security. We need to establish common standards so that innovative minds can develop the best solutions for the machines and systems that move our world. Just as the advancement of mobile devices and operating systems have brought forth a prosperous "app" economy, a standard language for machines will unleash waves of innovation that will truly change how the world works. This is a critical step and needs government policies that favor advancement.
Attaining the vision set forth for the Industrial Internet will also require an effective internet security regime. Cyber security should be considered in terms of both network security (a defense strategy specific to the Cloud) and the security of devices that are connected to the network. We need industry to effectively secure facilities and networks and governments to enforce a regulatory regime that promotes innovative solutions and international standards.
The Industrial Internet era has already begun. And during a time when the global economy is recovering but remains volatile and where resources are constrained for people, governments, and companies, what we need most is to not lose sight of a real opportunity to create meaningful change around the world.
After all, this is what revolutions are all about.
Jeff Immelt is the chairman and CEO of GE.

URBAN - A Visit to the World's Only City-Sanctioned Homeless Camp
Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon, is not your typical municipal solution to homelessness. It just might be better.

URBAN - Adventures in Engineering: ARUP and the Metropol Parasol
The design by Jürgen Mayer H. is pretty amazing, but so is the engineering that holds it up

URBAN - Light therapy at bus stops to cheer north Sweden commuters
Bus stops in the northern Swedish town of Umeaa have been fitted with light therapy panels to help commuters fight off the winter blues, the energy company behind the move said Tuesday.

WATER - Australia urged to 'bank' its water
Australia should prepare now for dry times ahead by 'banking' its water underground when rainfall is plentiful, according to an important new scientific study.

WATER - New Biocatalyst Technology Improves Water Quality in Wastewater and Sewage Canals
A biocatalyst containing microorganisms and enzymes could be the answer to improving the quality of water from sewage and wastewater in the developing world.

WIND - MISO Wind Output Blows Past 10,000 MW
Overnight on Friday November 23rd, Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator Incorporated (MISO) made some serious headwind by blowing past the 10 gigawatt (GW) mark for wind energy produced. Production topped out at 10,012 megawatts (MW) during that faithful evening, according to a statement from MISO.
The organization, which watches over the high-voltage system and offers open-transmission assistance over 11 states in the Midwest United States and the Canadian province of Manitoba, yesterday announced the milestone.
This is quite significant, considering during the same period that day, wind output represented 25% of the energy being used within the MISO region.
Officials have been supportive of wind energy's upward trend as an energy solution in the Midwest US and Canada.
"Wind represents one of the fuel choices that helps us manage congestion on the system and ultimately helps keep prices low for our customers and the end-use consumer," said MISO's Executive Director of Real Time Operations Joe Gardner in the release.
"When we have significant quantities of wind being generated, we use less of other, more expensive, generation types to keep the system in balance."
Since 2006, wind capacity in the region has rapidly advanced, with the organization watching over 12,000 MW of registered wind capacity this year, in comparison to just 1,112 MW six years ago.
MISO is one of the largest energy markets in the world, grossing $23.6 billion in energy market transactions annually. The organization covers 11 states, including: Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and the Canadian province of Manitoba. MISO's headquarters are located in Carmel, Illinois, and the company has centers both in Carmel and in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Source: MISO
MISO Wind Output Blows Past 10,000 MW was originally published on: CleanTechnica

WORK - So You Hate Your Job: 5 Things You Can Do About It
Many of us feel stuck. We're creative, ambitious, and paying our dues, but the final payoff is far from guaranteed. At many firms, there is a constant threat of layoffs looming. And that might be the best case scenario. Companies don't have the staying power of decades anymore. Big names can blow up: think BearSterns, Dewey & LeBoeuf.

WORK - The Top 10 Cities For Green Jobs


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