Does Mother Nature Hold The Key To Harnessing The Sun's Energy?

My nephew is about to enter his Senior year at the University of Florida, where he is (somehow) managing a double-major in Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautical Engineering (apparently it skips around in my family).

For the last few years I've been trying to nudge him into nanotechnology, partially because I believe it will have applications in all areas of science, but also because of the potential for more effective Solar technology as well as energy efficiency. He says he's been thinking about it, which in nephew-speak means, "I wish you'd quit bugging me about this, Uncle Steve." ;)

But recently I've also been pondering photosynthesis, and the way plant life has evolved over billions of years to capture and process Solar energy. It didn't surprise me to find out I wasn't the only person thinking we might benefit from nature's trial and error, or that the guys over at N.C. State were already working on it:


Inside every leaf and blade of grass, chlorophyll molecules power tiny chemical factories that transform the energy in sunlight into sugars trees and plants need to grow. Hoping to replicate that factory, NC State professors Jon Lindsey and Gregory Parsons are working on a solar cell technology that uses organic materials. The inorganic materials currently used in photovoltaic cells are expensive to process, Parsons says, and making them often produces harmful greenhouse gases as well. “Nature can collect energy from the sun cheaply,” he says. “Humans ought to be able to do it with cheap organic materials, too.”

By the way, just in case anyone's wondering, the Wolfpack rules. Just thought I would, you know, throw that in there.

Lindsey, the Glaxo Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry, is creating molecules that mimic chlorophyll. The symmetrical, snowflake-like molecules, called porphyrins, have a metal atom at the core surrounded by four nitrogen atoms—similar to chlorophyll. Lindsey has experimented with different metals, such as zinc and magnesium, and also is working to chain the porphyrins together in different arrays. “Simply having chlorophyll in a plant is not enough,” Parsons says. “The molecules need to be arranged in a certain matrix for the energy to be transferred efficiently from one to the next.”

I actually understood most of that, although I couldn't turn around and explain it to the person next to me.

Although initial attempts at an organic solar cell have proven less efficient than existing photovoltaic devices—they are even farther away from matching the chlorophyll-run factories inside plants—Parsons says the concept will develop over time. “Mother Nature has had millions of years to perfect the system,” he says. “Humans are just getting started.”

Yes we are, professor, but with people like you and your colleagues working on it I think we'll do just fine. :)


Don't Let Science Scare You ...

Breakthrough ... it's closer than we think.

In fact, it is because we can think that we are even able to contemplate (re)creating life altering technology.

Lindsey has experimented with different metals, such as zinc and magnesium, and also is working to chain the porphyrins together in different arrays. “Simply having chlorophyll in a plant is not enough,” Parsons says. “The molecules need to be arranged in a certain matrix for the energy to be transferred efficiently from one to the next.”

What struck me here is that blood also works in the same way. The Fe molecule must be present in order to carry the oxygen we need in our bloodstream. Without it, we are dead critters.

Interconnected systems - the whole earth is an array of interconnected systems. We forget this at our peril.

I had to read this article twice

to come close to understanding it.

I'm still not sure I do. But I think I do. And if I do - how very cool. How way to use your powers for good.

Thanks for posting this Steve.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

Uncle Steve goes back to college ...

... to assist in his nephew's breakthrough research in harnessing the Sun's Energy. Steve's clever arrangement of organic stuff contributes to rapid progress.

Next year's legislative session will be much cleaner, because dirty energy will no longer be an issue: no more nuke, coal, hog and chicken waste, and mega-landfill manipulations!

A coffee can for the collection of Steve's college fund is available on the corner of Jones Street.

Uncle Steve needs to go back to college,

but he's wating for them to offer a BS in Advanced Basketweaving.

Or maybe just an Associates in Intermediate Basketweaving.

Okay, a certificate for Incomprehensible and Non-Utilitarian Wicker Art, accompanied by a list of inexpensive holistic therapists.

Loss of research funding

I blogged recently about the defunding of the N.C. Energy Office in the current budget, but I figured I would bring it up again just to drive home the issue.

The Office has been subsidized since its inception by the Petroleum Violation Escrow Account, which was a collection of fines levied against petroleum companies for Federal price cap violations back in the 1970's. I say was because those funds have finally been exhausted, meaning new appropriations would have to be made for the Office to continue its programs at the current levels.

From my understanding, the GA has decided to keep the Office itself, but shift much of the program funding to other government entities such as Commerce and the Utilities Commission. Regardless of what they say about this not having a negative impact on the funding for critical programs like the N.C. Solar Center, this disintegration of focus combined with prioritization conflicts will result in a loss of resources to alternative energy research/support and energy efficiency monitoring, just when we need these things the most.

Whatever the legislators think they're saving by this, it's not enough. Not by a long shot.


Mother Nature holds the key.

But corporate greed manipulates the lock. Example: an Energy Office in name only.

You and your nephew would have the science down in no time. (Well, if that coffee can got filled occasionally).

The intent is not only to not proactively fund, but also to block potential funding for, anything that would bring competition to established corporations. (Think net-metering cap of 2/10 of a percent).
Long (will) live oil, coal, nukes, hog &chicken waste and landfill methane!

We will be able to harness the sun's energy when we are able reign in corporate greed. Perhaps adequate Sunshine Laws will help. :)

My grandfather was a coal miner

in Arkansas, and died of black lung when he was barely fifty years old. The death benefit the mine paid my grandmother was just enough to put him in the ground, but she had to save up for a few years to get him a headstone.

That was over a half-century ago, and we're still digging this stuff out of the ground and burning it. We might as well be living in the Stone Age if fire is the only element we can figure out how to take advantage of, and getting a tan is the best idea we have of utilizing Solar radiation.

We're smarter than that, and we damned sure better start acting like it.

Hmm ...

Your quest to harvest the sun's energy is a tribute to your Grandfather.

There is an energy being harvested here at BlueNC in the process of the exchange of environmental/energy ideas. Stone Age? No, we are on the brink of a brand new age. I don't know what it will be.

But I do know that we will not be burning coal forever. At what point will the costs to all outweigh the benefits for the wealthy? What will be those costs, and in what order presented?

Things are happening fast. Think how much more we will learn over the next ten years, compared to what we have learned during the past ten years. I believe we will have harnessed the sun.

Just to reiterate

steps the N.C. Utilities Commission has taken to discourage residential Solar and Wind generation:

The maximum capacity of net-metered residential systems is 20 kilowatts (kW); the maximum capacity of net-metered nonresidential systems is 100 kW. Net metering is available on a first-come, first-served basis in conjunction with the utility's interconnection standards, up to an aggregate limit of 0.2% of the utility's North Carolina jurisdictional retail peak load for the previous year. Utilities may not charge customer-generators any standby, capacity or metering fees, or other fees and charges in addition to those approved for all customers under the applicable time-of-use demand-rate schedule. The NCUC's July 2006 order extended net metering to eligible renewable-energy systems with battery storage. Previously, system owners with battery storage were not allowed to net meter. (The NCUC noted that "gaming" a net-metering arrangement by using battery storage to manipulate a time-of-use tariff is not allowed.)

North Carolina is the only state that requires customers to switch to a time-of-use tariff in order to take advantage of net metering. In its July 2006 order, the NCUC clarified that on-peak generation may be used to offset off-peak consumption (but not vice versa). Previously, the utilities’ net-metering tariffs and riders only allowed excess on-peak production to be used to reduce on-peak consumption and excess off-peak production to be used to offset off-peak production.

Net excess generation (NEG) is credited to the customer's next bill at the utility's retail rate, and then granted to the utility (annually) at the beginning of each summer season. Any renewable-energy credits (RECs) associated with NEG are granted to the utility when the NEG balance is zeroed out. This provision is designed to limit the size of individual facilities to match on-site power needs, according to the NCUC. Significantly, customer-generators who choose to net meter are not permitted to sell electricity under the NC GreenPower Program.

As anybody in business will tell you, there's no such thing as breaking even. If you think you are going to barely cover your costs, you're actually about to lose money. Maybe a lot. It may appear that, by setting these restrictive standards, the Commission is merely trying to regulate residential power generation so that individuals aren't encouraged to become little power companies themselves.

But I believe there is a darker reason for this. It's not to discourage individuals from generating surplus energy, it's to discourage residential energy generation altogether, by ensuring it's not economically viable. This may not rise to the level of Antitrust when examined on a case-by-case basis, but I believe the overall impact does, or at least should be approached in this fashion.

Thanks, Steve

N.C. Utilities Commission

Their Mission Statement

The Commission is responsible to both the public and utilities and, by law (G. S. 62-2), must regulate in a manner designed to implement the policy of the State of North Carolina to:

* Provide fair regulation of public utilities in the interest of the public.
* Promote the inherent advantage of regulated public utilities.
* Promote adequate, reliable, and economical utility service.
* Promote least cost energy planning.
* Provide just and reasonable rates and charges for public utility services and promote conservation of energy.
* Assure that facilities necessary to meet future growth can be financed on reasonable and fair terms.
* Encourage and promote harmony between utility companies and their customers.
* Foster planned growth of public utility services.
* Coordinate energy supply facilities with the state's development.
* Cooperate with other states and the federal government in providing interstate and intrastate public utility service and reliability of energy supply.
* Facilitate the construction of facilities in and the extension of natural gas service to unserved areas.

As you can plainly see, they have FAILED in many areas of their own mission statement.

So - what do you suppose we should do about these failures?

Heard this on NPR - Some students (NCSSM perhaps)

who are finalists in the Westinghouse competition have developed bacteria that generate electric current as part of their metabolism. Eeels do it on a larger scale right, so not so unusual. They can of course group them together to get larger continuous currents and should be able to power small devices. Current electronics use rather low currents and function quite well.
We could soon be growing our electricity. Bechtel schmectel.

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?

Go Gators!