Saturday, August 31, 2013

Portable Electric Motor Turns Your Bike Into Electric-Driven In Seconds

Rubbee is an electric drive system which can be mounted on a bicycle in less than a minute. It is a friction drive module for most standard bicycles on the market. With 2 hours charge, Rubbee can take you up to 25km/h, with 25 km cycling range. Rubbee weights about 6.5kg and will sell at less than US$1,000.

Friday, August 30, 2013

New Solar Plane Can Remain In Flight For 5 Years

Titan Aerospace is developing a solar powered high-altitude plane that could remain in flight for 5 years. The plane consists 3,000 solar panels producing about 7 kW of electricity and scheduled for completion next year.

The goal of building this plane is to keep a payload in flight long-term, presumably in a manner similar to communications satellites. They could be used for surveillance applications such as environmental monitoring, fire monitoring and disaster response, among other things.

The advantages are:

(1) Can be safely brought back down to ground level, so old payloads can be offloaded, repaired, or a new one can be put in place.

(2) Unlike satellites which costs millions and millions of dollars to get them up to the desired altitude, and once damaged or break down they become space junk. Titan's solar plane can be safely brought back, repair and reuse.

(3) Launching satellites into space also produces rocket fuel emissions. These black-carbon particles are the only direct source of man-made pollutants in the atmosphere 20 km above ground, which possess a great potential in promoting climate change, according to U.S.A. Aerospace Research and Program  Development Office.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Update On My Grid-Connected Photovoltaic Calculation Android App

I have updated the Android app to estimate Malaysia solar photovoltaic output. I included two more parameters, including module orientation and tilt angle. Now you have the option to face the module to North, East, South or West direction. Also, can see the output of the system at 3 different tilt angles.

You can download the app from or install from Google Play Store searching for "Malaysia Solar Calculator.

World's First Wave Technology Delivering Both Clean Energy & Fresh Water

Carnegie Wave Energy, based on Perth, Australia, announces their new technology of wave-powered desalination plant. The plant will be the first in the world capable of delivering both clean energy and fresh water.

Named after a Greek sea goddess, CETO harnesses the enormous renewable energy present in the ocean's waves and converts it into two of the most valuable commodities underpinning the sustainable growth of the planet; zero-emission electricity and zero-emission desalinated water.

Unlike any other wave energy systems, CETO wave power converter is the first unit to be fully-submerged and to produce high pressure water from the power of waves. The system will be situated on the seabed 25-50 meters below water. This makes it safe from the extreme forces that can be present during storms and creates no visual impact.
Above picture depicts the design of CETO. The top "flying-saucer" like device will be floating up and down, with the base (the yellow color structure) secured in the seabed. The "up" and "down" motion will create a pumping mechanism which push the sea water up to the shore (as shown on the first picture).

By delivering high pressure water ashore, the technology allows either zero-emission electricity to be produced (similar to hydroelectricity) or zero-emission freshwater (utilising standard reverse osmosis desalination technology). The system can also be used for co-production of zero-emission electricity and freshwater.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Is Natural Gas Really A Cleaner Source Of Energy?

In the Commissioning ceremony of Sabah Energy Corporation Sdn Bhd (SEC) Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Project via Virtual Pipeline System at Colourcoil Industries Sdn Bhd in Telipok yesterday, Sabah State Resource Development and Information Technology Minister, Datuk Siringan Gubat said that the usage of natural gas in the industry will help reduce cost and preserve the environment [Source: Sabah Times].

“We will also be able to preserve our pristine environment and maintain our position as preferred eco-tourism destination,” Datuk Siringan said adding that using natural gas is in line with the government’s policy to encourage the use of cleaner energy to drive economic growth.

But Is Natural Gas Really Cleaner?

New research by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S.A., casts doubt on the assumption that gas is less effect on climate change, after considering the pollution associated with the full "life cycle" of gas production. Commonly natural gas is considered 50% less greenhouse gases than coal. But this number only considers the emissions from the tailpipe or smokestack and do not account for the methane and other pollution emitted when the gas was extracted and piped to power plants and other customers.

The EPA's new analysis doubles its previous estimates for the amount of methane gas that leaks from loose pipe fittings and is vented from gas wells. Calculations for some gas-field emissions jumped by several hundred percent. Methane levels from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas were 9,000 times higher than previously reported.

When all these emissions are counted, gas may be as little as 25%, perhaps even less, cleaner than coal.

How Does Natural Gas Affect Global Climate?

Methane, the primary component of natural gas and the most potent of the greenhouse gases. It's 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Using that equation, a ton of methane emissions is the equivalent of 21 tons of carbon dioxide. 

Some scientists argue that the impact of methane gas should be calculated over a shorter time period, because methane degrades quickly, and because gas drilling releases large quantities of methane into the atmosphere all at once, likely concentrating and amplifying the effect. If methane's potency were considered over 20 years rather than 100 years, it would be 72 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in terms of its warming potential.

More data is needed to really understand the impact of natural gas on global warming. It might be to soon to claim that it is milder than other fossil fuels when come to global warming.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Armadillo-T - Foldable Electric Vehicle

Researchers at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have unveiled a prototype electric vehicle (EV) that can fold itself into half. The drivetrain is so compact and free of features like exhaust pipes, driveshafts, and transmissions, allow the Armadillo-T to tuck the front half of its body into the rear “shell”, halving the space it takes up. When folded, the EV shrinks from 2.8m down to 1.65m. Armadillo-T weighs 450kg, has a maximum speed of 60 km/h and traveling range of 100 km.

Friday, August 23, 2013

90% Of New Drugs Are No More Effective Than The Old Ones

Do you know that drug companies spend 25% of their revenues on marketing but only 1.3% on finding new molecules. 9 out of 10 new drugs approved by Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S.A., provides no significant benefit over existing remedies.

According to a recent paper in the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, led by Donald Light, from Harvard's Edmond J Safra Center for Ethics, drug companies are not nearly as "innovative" as they claim to be. They do produce a lot of new drugs, but mostly just iterations, rather than new recipes.

The paper points out that, "Companies are using patents and other protections from market competition primarily to develop drugs with few if any new therapeutic benefits and to charge inflated prices protected by their strong IP rights."

The FDA may be at least partly to blame. For one, drug companies are allowed to test new drugs against a placebo but aren't required to compare them to effective treatments already on the market. The FDA also allows companies to design trials "in ways that minimize detection and reporting of harms and maximize evidence of benefits"--for example, by excluding people from the trial who might react badly to the drug.

The paper is also particularly critical on "user fees" that pay FDA salaries. The authors charge FDA has become "institutionally corrupted" by lobbying in Congress and industry-funded “user fees”. The "fees" may allow FDA to approve drugs more quickly, and also let through more drugs of dubious benefit, including many with serious side effects. "Industry fees have not increased innovation as measured by clinically superior drugs," the paper says.

In the paper, the authors demand:
(1) fundamental reform of the FDA.
(2) create a new independent testing body
(3) end the industry "user fees"

They also recommend consumers be more cautious about new drugs. Don't take anything that hasn't been on the market for at least seven years, unless you have to.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

74% Of Seafood Sold In U.S.A. Sushi Bars Is Not What They Claim!

Oceana, a NGO focusing on ocean conservation, has DNA tested 1,200 seafood samples sold in 674 retail outlets in 21 states in U.S.A. to find out whether they were properly labeled or if certain species were being passed off as other, more commercially desirable ones.

It turns out that out of the 1,200 samples tested 33% were mislabeled. The graph below shows that sushi places are the worst offender, with 3/4 of samples tested not what they claimed to be!
Another shocking finding is that 59% of the fish labeled 'tuna' sold at restaurants and grocery stores in the U.S. is not actually tuna, and 87% of 'snapper' tested is not actually snapper ("In fact, only seven of the 120 samples of red snapper purchased nationwide were actually red snapper. The other 113 samples were another fish.").

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New Wireless-Batteryless Devices Powered By Cellular & TV Towers

Sensors and microcomputers have become part of our life. We use them everywhere like Bluetooth communication, internet wireless, water sensor, etc. All of which require source of power. While putting a battery onboard the device is one solution, but from time to time it needs to be replaced or recharged. Engineers at the University of Washington (UW) could help to do away with the need for a battery for some wireless devices altogether.

The team at UW has developed a technique called "ambient backscatter", which can let devices use the cellular and TV transmissions already being broadcast around us, reflecting those signals to send and receive their own data to similar devices, without the need for a battery or other power source.
“We can repurpose wireless signals that are already around us into both a source of power and a communication medium. It’s hopefully going to have applications in a number of areas including wearable computing, smart homes and self-sustaining sensor networks.” - Shyam Gollakota, lead researcher and UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering.
“Our devices form a network out of thin air. You can reflect these signals slightly to create a Morse code of communication between battery-free devices.” - Joshua Smith, co-author and a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering and of electrical engineering
Researchers set up a small testing network in Seattle, and the devices were able to communicate with each other, as sensors would in a real-world application, even up to 6.5 miles away from a TV tower.

Ambient backscatter technology is suitable in vast applications, like enabling cellphones to send text messages while the battery were to die; embedding sensor into bridges, tunnels, subways, etc., for real-time monitoring of the conditions or integrity of the structures, without requiring a remote power source.

August 19 - World Orangutan Day!

How many of us living on the Borneo island know that yesterday, 19th of August, was World Orangutan Day? Including myself wasn't aware of that until reading the post Today is World Orangutan Day on Tree Hugger.

According to the IUCN Red List, the two main subspecies of orangutans are in big trouble: the Sumatran orangutan is critically endangered and the Bornean orangutan is endangered. The official World Orangutan Day website writes:
From 1992-2000, the population of the Sumatran orangutan declined by more than 50% and only an estimated 7,000 animals are left in the wild. Its relative, the Bornean orangutan population fell nearly 43% in the past decade and estimates place their population at about 45,000 animals. Since the last population estimates were done, deforestation rates have continued to climb which means the actual populations could be well below these.
Few actions were taken by the Sabah state government in hope to assist the survival of orangutan in North Borneo. You can read:
Embedded-Type Tracking Device For Orangutan In Sabah
Malua Biobank Key Area For Orang-Utan Conservation In Sabah

Monday, August 19, 2013

Europe's Largest Rooftop Solar Photovoltaic System

8.1 MW, consisting of 33,000 pieces of solar panels and occupying 11 hectares of roof space, of grid-connected photovoltaic system has been installed in Germany with the project becoming the largest self-consumption solar plant in Europe.

The system is built on top of the distribution centre for Pfenning Logistics in the Heddesheim municipality, south of Frankfurt. The system was connected to the grid at the end of July and can generate enough power for approximately 1,800 families.

Dennis Seiberth, president of international large-scale projects at the project development company Wirsol, said: “In this size we usually build solar parks.” He added that Wirsol was ambitious in its aims to build the plant in four weeks.

“We are happy that we can now partially generate electricity by ourselves,” said Karl-Martin Pfenning, owner and managing partner of the Pfenning group. “With the photovoltaic installation we can annually save up to 5,171 tons of CO2.”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

New Technology Enables Crops To Be Made Self-Fertilizing

Nitrogen fixation is the process by which nitrogen in the air is converted into ammonia to support the growth of the plants. However, only limited number of plants, such as peas, beans and lentils, have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere with the help of nitrogen fixing bacteria. The vast majority of plants have to obtain nitrogen from the soil. Currently, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is used to replenish the soil's nitrogen, which is expensive and creating plenty of environmental issues.

Professor Edward Cocking, Director of The University of Nottingham’s Centre for Crop Nitrogen Fixation in UK, has developed an unique technology of putting nitrogen-fixing bacteria into the cells of plant roots. His major breakthrough came when he found a specific strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar-cane which he discovered could intracellularly colonise all major crop plants. This ground-breaking development potentially provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. The implications for agriculture are enormous as this new technology can provide much of the plant’s nitrogen needs.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Solar Photovoltaic Energy Cost Is Cheaper Than SESB's Tariff Now

Solar Love compared the photovoltaic energy cost around the world and saw it falling fast. Below are the finding of Solar Love and they are all unsubsidized prices.

EU solar as low as US$1.20/watt.
UK solar down to US$1.59/watt.
Spain solar down to US$1.47/watt.
Germany’s average solar PV price at US$2.08/watt.
India solar farm comes in at US$1.52/watt.
Australia rooftop solar for as low as US$1.90/watt for residential solar.

I have done a quick calculation of using the lowest and highest prices listed above of saying installing 10 MW PV plant in Kota Kinabalu (where I live).

(1) 21 years total energy output (assuming yearly 1% degradation in performance): 256,962,514 kWh.

Using US$1.2/watt
(2) Total installation cost: 10,000,000 watts x US$1.2 x RM3.1/US$ = RM37,200,000.
(3) Generation cost per kWh = 14.5 Malaysia cents [(1)/(2)]

Using US$2.08/watt
(4) Total installation cost: 10,000,000 watts x US$2.08 x RM3.1/US$ = RM64,480,000.
(5) Generation cost per kWh = 25.1 Malaysia cents [(1)/(4)]

Currently, SESB (the utility company of my state Sabah) is charging 34.5 cents for domestic heavy user. Even though the above calculations were crude but I believe that solar power has reached grid parity - it means at par with fossil fuel power plants.

Monday, August 12, 2013

U.S.A. Solar Power Plants Land-Use

National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S.A., published a report presenting the total and direct land-use results for various solar technologies and system configurations, on both a capacity and an electricity-generation basis. The total area corresponds to all land enclosed by the site boundary. The direct area comprises land directly occupied by solar arrays, access roads, substations, service buildings, and other infrastructure.

The table below summarizes the land-use results.

The first category shows solar photovoltaic plants of capacity less than 20MW, with various mounting structure. "Fixed" means the solar arrays are fixed on the ground. 1-axis and 2-axis mean the solar arrays will rotate with respect to the Sun to maximize receiving sunlight. CPV means concentrating photovoltaic which has some kinds of concentrating mechanism, like parabolic disc or lens to focus the sunlight for increasing receiving sun power.

Second category shows plants of capacity greater than 20MW.

Third category is concentrating solar power plants, including solar thermal plants, Stirling device, through, etc, which utilizing solar thermal energy to generate electricity (non-direct electricity generation).

Friday, August 9, 2013

Crayola's New Recycle Program Turns Used Markers Into Clean Fuel

Crayola recently announced a program called ColorCycle that uses a process to convert markers to energy - a process that repurposes the entire marker, regardless of the different kinds of plastic or how they are assembled.  You can learn more about this process at

Partnering with U.S.A. K12 schools, the program provides students the opportunity to recycle used markers through an in-school collection program. Combining with a “unique technology” the markers are then be converted into a usable clean fuel.

From the program, Crayola aims: 

As part of the “COLORCYCLE” program, Crayola developed a unique offering of classroom lesson plans that have been designed to help teachers educate their students on the important role sustainability plays in the world. The lesson plans engage students in environmental solutions, teaching them how to protect the planet in new and relevant ways, while also encouraging them to take environmental responsibility into their own hands.

What can be accomplished from the recycled markers?

- One box of 8 recycled markers creates enough energy to prepare a breakfast that consists of brewing a pot of coffee, frying an egg, and making two pieces of toast.

- 81 markers produces 1 liter of fuel.

- 40 markers is enough to produce fuel to move a city bus for 1 km.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Lab Grown Burger Meat

Scientists have been experimenting to "manufacture" burger in the lab. This is because 18% of greenhouse gases are coming from livestock production, and the widely use of antibiotics in livestock production also causing antibiotic-resistance. Dr. Mark Post, professor at the Netherlands’ Maastricht University, spent 7 years in researching in-vitro, lab-grown, burger meat. Now, along with Chicago food writer Josh Schonwald and researcher Hanni R├╝tzler, they tried the world’s first stem-cell grown burger produced by Post. Using the muscle cells scraped from a cow, Post's team grew 20,000 strands of tissue in a nutrient-rich solution with antibiotics and fetal calf blood, then mashed those strands together into a five-ounce burger patty. Researchers added beet juice and saffron to bring out a more “natural” color.

“It had a very sort of bland, neutral flavor. I think the thing that made it most similar was the texture,” Schonwald said after trying the pan-fried burger. “I was impressed with the bite.”

Post’s burger arrives at a time when demand for meat from India and China is skyrocketing, as are technological hacks to a complex and sickened agricultural system. But, it might take another 10 years for the technology to fully mature and can be made a consumer product out of it.

eSpyder - Electric Airplane Costs Under US$40K

Greenwing International, California, has just released pricing for its latest all-electric airplane, eSpyder.  For just US$39,990, the price of a Honda Civic sedan in Malaysia, you can be the owner of a plane.

eSpyder measured 2.4m high, 5.9m long, with wingspan of 10.13m and weighted 186 kg. It is equipped with a 32 hp electric motor which can propel it to a maximum air speed of 109 km/h. When flying at "economy cruise" mode, for peak efficiency, you can cruise eSPyder at 60 km/h, with about 90 minutes of flying time. It takes 2 to 3 hours to recharge the batteries. You need a 100m runway for take off and landing.

eSpyder has already been certified by German aviation authorities, but yet to be certified in U.S.A. As such, the eSpyder will be offered as a kit-built plane, initially. The company hopes to offer it as a completed light sport aircraft soon.

You can visit Greenwing for more information.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Bank Of America Tower - A Certified Green Skyscraper Is Actually Energy Hungrily

Bank of America Tower, Manhattan, U.S.A., received Platinum certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) when opened in 2010, the first skyscraper to receive this highest LEED certification. It was praised as one of the world’s most environmentally responsible high-rise office buildings.

3 years later, Sam Roudman uncovers that the Bank of America Tower actually produces more greenhouse gases and uses more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan and reveals the weakness of LEED rating system in predicting the actual future energy usage during the certification state.

The nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) unveiled LEED in 1998 as a way to measure a building’s environmental footprint. Currently, 50,000 buildings across the world either have been certified or in certification process. LEED takes into account of building materials, air quality, water conservation and energy performance in the certification. When accumulates enough points, the building will be awarded certification, from Certified, Silver, Gold, to Platinum (the highest).

The problem of this rating system is that real-estate developers have been able to game the system, racking up points for relatively minor measures. Also, USGBC has no control over how the buildings it certifies are used. LEED certifies new buildings before they are even occupied, basing its ratings on computer models that often end up overestimating a building’s performance.

The reason that Bank of America Tower fails to live up its Platinum status is as mentioned. LEED failed to predict the tenants actual usage. The biggest drain on energy in the Bank of America Tower is its trading floors, those giant fields of workstations with five computer monitors to a desk. Also, the servers supporting all those computers require enormous energy, as do the systems that heat, cool, and light the massive trading floors beyond normal business hours.

All of which goes to show that how businesses like Bank of America use their buildings is just as important as how they design them. Hopefully, the equivalent certification system in Malaysia, Green Building Index, will not make the same mistake.

Friday, August 2, 2013

2010 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Depicted In 7 Balloons

In 2010 human activity caused 50 Gt (billion tons) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These emissions were 76% carbon dioxide (CO2), 16% methane (CH4), 8% nitrous oxide (N20) and 2% F-gases (follow the original publish even they added up to 102%).

The big terrestrial emitters were China (23%), the USA (14%), Europe (10%), India (5%) and Russia (5%).

And the primary sources of emissions were energy (35%), industry (18%), transport (13%), agriculture (11%), forestry (11%), buildings (8%) and waste (4%).

Shrink That Footprint used balloons to explain the contribution of GHG emission by sources and shows below.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Transparent Solar Cell Doubles Its Efficiency

Transparent solar cell absorbs only infrared and ultraviolet light. Visible light will pass through the cell unimpeded, so our eyes won't notice the present of the cell.

Previously, transparent cell had only achieved about 4% of efficiency. Researchers at University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA) have come out with a new design using 2 thin polymer solar cells that collect sunlight and convert it into electricity. The team has achieved an efficiency of 7.3%, which nearly double the efficiency.

Researchers led by Yang Yang, professor of engineering at UCLA, said the new cells could serve as a power-generating layer on windows and smartphone displays without compromising users' ability to see through the surface. The cells can be produced so that they appear light gray, green or brown, and so can blend with the color and design features of buildings and surfaces.

A single-layer solar cell absorbs only about 40% of the infrared light that passes through. The tandem device — which includes a cell composed of a new infrared-sensitive polymer developed by UCLA researchers — absorbs up to 80% of infrared light plus a small amount of visible light.

Transparent solar cell is ideal to be used on windows of tall buildings with limited roof space. One day, hopefully all of our windows will be integrated with transparent solar cells which could generate clean electricity to be consumed internally and exported to the grid to help curbing global warming.