- In my rotating look at advances in renewable technologies, this month I focus on news stories that caught my attention in the past few months but are harder to categorize. Did you know that 58% of the energy generated in the US is wasted as heat? A team at Purdue University has developed a nanocrystal fiber coating that could help to recover some of this lost heat in factories, power plants and even cars. The researchers developed a thermoelectric material which creates an electric current as electrons from the hot side of the material flow to the cooler side. To create the material, glass fibers are dipped in a solution containing nanocrystals of lead telluride and are then heated to fuse them together. The coated fibers can also cool items without the use of chemical refrigerants. While this material contains less than 5% telluride which is an expensive compound, scientists at Northwestern University have developed the most efficient thermoelectric material ever. Their material contains more telluride but it is able to convert 15 to 20% of waste energy to electricity. And at The Ohio State University, engineers developed the most efficient microbial wastewater treatment system which produces 10 to 100 times more electricity than current technologies. In the OSU system, microbes oxidize organic matter in wastewater (or for that matter, any organic waste product), stripping off electrons and passing them through the anode to the cathode; and thereby creating an electric current. If the system can be scaled up to municipal operations, there is a chance that wastewater treatment can actually produce energy rather than consume an estimated 3% of developed countries’ power supplies. Here are two ideas that generate power from the movement of water. In many rural communities, water moves slowly through ditches and canals that trace the outlines of farmers’ fields. By installing turbines that are turned by slow, ambient movements of water between canal systems, rural communities could tap into a clean and low-cost energy source that up till now has not been utilized. You can read more about a canal hydropower system that is being built in Oregon here. For communities close to the ocean, wave-generated power seems like the obvious choice for a reliable and clean source. Several groups of researchers are looking at carpets that could harvest constant wave energy. The carpets would be installed on the ocean’s floor or float in the water column; and produce energy from the undulations created by waves. Those researching wave carpets include the Navy, a commercial firm KBSI and the University of California, Berkeley.
- University of California, Berkeley geographer, Darin Jensen and his colleges are working on a book that features maps about food. Well, actually, to me the samples they shared from the soon to be published book are more about society and our relationship to our food supply. The two sample maps show models of food distribution (and re-distribution) that could be emulated by any of our communities. You can read more about the coming book here.
- Having a slow day at work? If so, give this Google Search a try, ‘GIS and coffee.’ After you shift through the 3.5 million or so results, you will find an undergraduate thesis written by Ellen Mickle of the University of Nebraska which uses GIS to locate areas for growing coffee in Honduras. Mickle used 13 geospatial layers to identify areas where coffee production could expand into. In many cases, the new areas were close by fields with high-quality coffee already growing on them. She also suggests that Honduran coffee growers could benefit from online marketing; given that Costa Rican coffee, which is well marketed, trades at approximately 7% higher prices.
- Our tour of government GIS websites heads north to Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage. The city GIS department has made a treasure trove of data available for both online viewing and download in shapefile/geodatabase format. For those without their own mapping software, there is an online mapping utility which is a bit out-dated looking but still effective. For those with their own GIS software, there are more than 30 layers which can be downloaded including easements, parcels and even seismic data. For a fee, you can also order highly accurate LiDAR data from the city.
Brock Adam McCarty