- There seems to be major advancements in solar technology quicker than this short snippet section can keep up with so this month, I turn my attention back to this source of renewable energy. First let’s take a look at some new, innovative materials used to construct solar panels. Silicon is a key component of most solar panels today but it takes temperatures of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit to get the element into a form that is usable. A team from the University of Michigan however has found a way to produce the silicon crystals on a soft metal (gallium) at temperatures less than 200 degrees, saving significant energy and therefore costs. Scientists at Vienna University of Technology hope to replace silicon solar cells with layers of oxide materials which are far more efficient and ultra-thin. Stanford University researchers have replaced metallic compounds in solar panels with graphene and carbon nanotubes. While only in the prototype phase, many of the metallic compounds in solar panels are in short supply; so carbon-based panels will likely be a leading technology in the not too distant future. Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University teamed to develop the first solar panel made of complete renewable materials, cellulose nanocrystals derived from plants and trees. And researchers at the University of Georgia have figured out how to use the photosynthetic structures in leaves which are nearly 100% efficient to produce power from the sun.
In the second part of this snippet, we examine four technologies that could improve energy storage which is a major barrier for renewable power given that it is not produced on-demand as is energy from fossil fuels. First, a University of Minnesota professor has invented a system to store energy in portable pipes filled with compressed air, as opposed to in underground caves. Harvard University has been awarded a USDOE grant to look at low-cost, low-environmental impact liquid batteries based on small organic molecules. Another team of University of Arkansas researchers is investigating low-cost, long-lasting concrete plates to store energy as heat as opposed to packed rocks (a common method now) which damage tanks due to thermal expansion. Finally, University of Missouri engineers have developed a way to harness plasma, the fourth and likely least know state of matter, so that it can be in the same room as a human with no damaging effects. Plasma is hotter than the surface of the Sun and the MU innovation allows it to be stored at room temperature without any containment, using its own self-magnetic field.
- The Hunt for October is on and well, it’s an understatement to say that I am excited for the MLB playoffs that will be starting soon. Go Orioles!!!!! As the postseason approaches, what could be more fun than a baseball-related map I ask? The answer is NOTHING! So here you go, check out this fun map that shows the region where baseball teams are the most popular. While this map was not produced using strict statistical sampling techniques, it is based off more than 31,000 votes so there is some validity to it. Get out your magnifying glass and click around this map to see where the fans of your favorite are located!
- Peach season is on here in Colorado so this month I googled ‘GIS and peaches,’ and much to my surprise and happiness, I actually had a few hits! One of the pieces was written by two researchers at Penn State University with a focus on the economic impacts of land use changes in the urban-rural interface of Berks County, Pennsylvania. The results of the study might not be surprising to those of you who recently purchased or are looking to purchase a home. They found that proximity to open space increased home values the most drastically; while proximity to industrial space decreased it the most drastically. It would be interesting to see how these results might be different in an urban jungle such as Brooklyn where some popular neighborhoods, like Williamsburg, are close to or even encompass industrial-use parcels.
- From Florida we head a bit north to Atlanta, Georgia for our next review of online, city GIS resources. And you might expect for one of America’s largest cities, the GIS resources of Atlanta are robust. For the casual user of online mapping data, there are web maps which display a wide variety of layers, including zoning, education, environment and public saftey. For more advanced users, you are able to browse a catalogue of all the GIS layers maintained by the city and then request them from the agency that owns the data. The data layers maintained by the Office of Planning can be downloaded here. Nice work Atlanta, you have one top-notch GIS website!
Brock Adam McCarty