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Decarboni.se 5 this week, a 1,000 mile electric car, supercritical steam from solar and the rise of the personal power plant


Alcoa/Phinergy's 1,000 mile range battery car prototype (Credit: Phinergy)

The rise of the personal power plant
The US town of Fort Collins, Colorado is embarking on a complete restructure of the way its 150,000 residents get electricity.  Their aim is to reduce carbon emissions by 80% and build a distributed, smart power network using rooftop solar and other technologies.  The article draws parallels between the disruption that has occurred in information technology in the last twenty years to what's happening in the energy sector right now.  With each new solar rooftop installation, how energy is delivered moves farther away from a central control paradigm to the edge of the network and a household controlled energy supply.  This causes problems with the sometimes much older technology in our energy grid.  More than ever we need an Internet for power.

Solar powered supercritical steam breakthrough
The CSIRO and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency have announced a breakthrough in harnessing solar power to create supercritical steam.  This is steam held at a high pressure and extremely high temperature - and usually used in fossil-fuel powered electricity plants.  This new development means that solar power can produce the same basic output that a traditional plant would use to power a turbine and provide electricity.  The linked article notes that the coal-rich nation Australia gets 90% of its electricity from fossil fuel.  The promising technology could allow for fuel switching so existing coal power-plants in Australia may use solar energy as their fuel source.
 
Capturing atmospheric CO2 to make hydrogen fuel and more
Researchers at the Swiss technology institute EPFL have announced a method to transform hydrogen into a more stable fuel source and capture CO2 for textile use.  One problem with hydrogen as a fuel  is its volatility.  Hydrogen likes to explode.  The new process converts hydrogen to formic acid using atmospheric CO2.  Formic acid is much safer to store as it's less volatile even than petrol used in cars.   A reverse process converts the formic acid back to hydrogen in small amounts when it's ready to use.  The article notes that the same process could be used with CO2 and formic acid to build textiles, thereby permanently sequestering the greenhouse gas into usable substances.
 
Additional Gigawatt of wind energy for Scotland
Scotland generates 46% of its energy from renewable sources and has an ambitious goal to be 100% powered by clean energy by 2025.  Scotland has recently been given the all clear to build more wind generators in a spot that was previously off limits.  A blanket ban on wind turbines near a sensitive seismic instrument used for detecting nuclear explosions and other events had been in place for some time -  but a new paper (PDF link) has indicated that the turbines will not interfere with its detection powers.  This is a good example how competing uses for land can sometimes conflict with renewable energy needs - but it's good when a solution is reached.
 
New battery for electric cars has a range of 1,000 miles
Finally, 2014 might be remembered as the year of the electric car.  Tesla is surging with record sales and an expanded recharger network - and Google is getting into the game with its new prototype electric self-driving cars.  The biggest bottleneck for acceptance of electric vehicles in the public eye is "range anxiety" - worrying that you will be left stranded at the side of the road with a dead battery.  A new venture started by aluminium company Alcoa and battery company Phinergy hopes to alleviate range anxiety with a new type of battery that boasts a range of 1,000 miles (1,609 km).  Phinergy’s aluminum-air battery works by allowing oxygen from the air to react with the battery’s aluminum plates which make up its core. As an added benefit - aluminum is a much lighter battery core than other substances and the weight savings also help with the range.  Check out the video below:

Don't miss last week's Decarboni.se 5: self-driving Google cars, giant solar-wind hybrid towers and the "Year of Concentrated Solar"

Decarboni.se 5 is an end-of-week summary of what's happening in the world of decarbonisation. To get the weekly update in your mailbox, along with other decarbonisation publications and updates, subscribe now.

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