There is a new energy generating idea based on floating the buckets of a bucket elevator running backwards in a column of water. Its almost that simple. Add an air compressor to blow the water out of the buckets for the ride up and a generator connected to one of the elevator shafts and you about have it.

Image Source: screen grab from Livestream and labels by Sterling D. Allan on May 2, 2015.  Click image for the largest view.

Image Source: screen grab from Livestream and labels by Sterling D. Allan on May 2, 2015. Click image for the largest view.

A group of Central Europeans organized as the “Global Association for Independent Energy and Altruism” (GAIA) has released and licensed their efforts to Rosch Innovations of Serbia, Germany and Switzerland. Rosch is said to be pursuing commercial sized generator sets and has re-licensed small unit production to a new start up firm called GAIA Energy.

The idea is based on the buoyancy of the air filled buckets riding up compared to their water filled weight coming down. That gravity to buoyancy is where the energy is. Getting the energy is a matter of efficiently emptying the bucket of water at the bottom, low speeds and an efficient generator engineered to harvest the shaft torque and make useful electrical power.

More simply, blow a bubble into the bucket at the bottom, get a series of these on a chain in a tall column of water and you can make a massive torque on the shaft.  If you do the math, remember the bubble at the bottom of the water column gains volume as it rises.

This new technology almost sounds ridiculous. But its not a form of perpetual motion – no air compressor and its no go. The people developing this technology, however, say that its basis “is the use of the laws of buoyancy in conjunction with a special generator.”

What they do exploit is the energy differences between two systems. The question is, is there more energy invested in blowing the bubble or more energy to harvest in the stack of rising air filled buckets?

There are detailed descriptions, pictures, and videos of the system in operation on the Rosch Innovations AG website, when its working, for those interested in better understanding how this technology works.

GAIA Energy’s first of their 5 kW units has been demonstrated to the public near Cologne, Germany. Orders have already been received for 350 units at about $20,000 each. That’s a lot of money for a PVC pipe tank, a bucket elevator, an air compressor and a generator. Still, for early adopters if the math works out and the device in fact works, this is a deal.

The public demo lasted from April 25th to May 6th, attracted nearly 800 visitors, many of whom had already paid a deposit to purchase the device and wanted to see a buoyancy generator in action. During the demonstration the Internet sites covering the event went wild with naysayers and skeptics asserting that the demonstration that was streamed on live video, couldn’t possibly work as claimed and that the developers were perpetrating a giant scam.

But.

Rosch held a “measurement day” during which visitors were allowed to use their own measuring devices, inspect the device and all its attachments closely, search for hidden wires to supply it outside energy, and measure the current flows coming from the generator, going into the air compressor and the load the generator was powering.

That should have cleared things up. But.

The hard core skeptics were still certain that there must be hidden wires coming through the floor or through the braces supporting the water tank. So Rosch held a “disassembly day,” that was streamed on the web and attended by ten outside observers who closely watched the device being lowered to the ground and taken apart. No hidden wires, motors, or anything else suggesting that the buoyancy energy generator was a fraud were found. Most skeptics either disappeared or had the grace to admit that the device seems to produce energy for as yet unexplained reasons.

GAIA Energy hopes to sell all 500 devices it has ordered parts for by the end of May and to start delivering them to customers for this summer’s installation. If the plan holds the first of these devices, producing about 5 kW each, will be operating this year.

For its part Rosch says (obviously) these devices can be scaled to produce far more than 5 kW and is already at work on larger units. A 20 kW generator has been moved to the site where the 5 kW demonstrations took place and should be operational soon. Parts for a 100 kW generator are also on site and will be assembled next. Rosch already has plans for commercial-scale power plants consisting of multiple water columns sunk into the ground and designed to be capable of generating up to 100 megawatts.

Well, they’re not lifting the water back up for each bucket, only displacing it with air. Hauling the water back up would not be a net energy gain.

We’ve seen a lot of odd ideas over the years, but this might just work. Soon we’ll have solid proof that it is a valid technology, or not.

Rosch Innovations says a demonstration project is planned to be set up in Texas in the fall – perhaps we can all go and see it.

I happen to have an unused well about 50 feet deep and three feet wide . . .

Thanks to Sterling Allan for keeping up with the unconventional and posting so much on his site PESN.

Aalto University researchers have obtained the record-breaking efficiency of 22.1 percent efficiency on nanostructured black silicon solar cells. This critical almost 4 percent absolute increase to their previous record was achieved by applying a thin passivating film on the nanostructures and by integrating all metal contacts on the back side of the cell.

Black Silicon Solar Cells Developed at Aalto University.  Image Credit: Hele Savin, Aalto University.  Click image for the largest view.

Black Silicon Solar Cells Developed at Aalto University. Image Credit: Hele Savin, Aalto University. Click image for the largest view.

Most folks simply think solar cells are a uniform item over all latitudes. Not so, as you go further north or south the sun light is lower in the sky and other matters come into play.

Professor Hele Savin from Aalto University, who coordinated the study explains, “This is an advantage particularly in the north, where the sun shines from a low angle for a large part of the year. We have demonstrated that in winter Helsinki, black cells generate considerably more electricity than traditional cells even though both cells have identical efficiency values.”

Due to the ability of black cells to capture solar radiation from low angles, they already generate more electricity over the duration of one day as compared to the traditional cells.

Savin added, “The energy conversion efficiency is not the only parameter that we should look at.”

The researchers improved their previous record by over three absolute % in cooperation with Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. They obtained the record-breaking efficiency of 22.1% on nanostructured silicon solar cells and the result has been certified by Fraunhofer ISE CalLab.

The thin passivating film on the nanostructures is made by the film on the nanostructures by atomic layer deposition, and by integrating all metal contacts on the back side of the cell.

The surface recombination has long been the bottleneck of black silicon solar cells and has so far limited the cell efficiencies to only modest values. The new record setting cells consist of a thick back-contacted structure that is known to be highly sensitive to the front surface recombination. The certified external quantum efficiency of 96% at the 300nm wavelength demonstrates that the increased surface recombination problem no longer exists and for the first time the black silicon is not limiting the final energy conversion efficiency.

The team’s results have been published Nature Nanotechnology.

For the near future, the goal of the team is to apply the technology to other cell structures, particularly, thin and multi-crystalline cells.

Professor Savin predicts, “Our record cells were fabricated using p-type silicon, which is known to suffer from impurity-related degradation. There is no reason why even higher efficiencies could not be reached using n-type silicon or more advanced cell structures.”

The development of the cells fabricated last year will continue in the upcoming “BLACK” project, supported by the European Union, in which Professor Savin together with her team will develop the technology further in cooperation with industry.

“The surface area of the best cells in the study was already 9 cm2. This is a good starting point for upscaling the results to full wafers and all the way to the industrial scale, she added.

Snow bird solar cells are a very large market niche that is poorly addressed. As well as the low solar angle there are other concerns such as hail damage, snow loads, and the demands are quite high for power over longer nights. Imagine trying to design a solar cell that can survive a hail storm and be affordable and insurable, snow loads measured in feet and a means to clear the snow. These are challenging problems. Add to that the power demand for long nights and again, how do they get cleared after a snow, which might happen every day?

One step at a time, and allow for a lot of time. Meanwhile congratulations are in order for closing the gap with conventional cells.

University of Maryland researchers have found extremely small batteries built inside nanopores show that properly scaled structures can use the full theoretical capacity of the charge storage material. Is looks like the case is being made that anode cathode and battery shape and dimensions are ripe for further development.

The results and lab sample batteries are part of assessing the basics of ion and electron transport in nanostructures for energy storage. The ultra tiny batteries, formed inside a structure of nanopores, demonstrated that properly scaled nanostructures can use the full theoretical capacity of the charge storage material. These “nanobatteries” delivered their stored energy efficiently at high power (fast charge and discharge) and for extended cycling.

Nanobattery Array from the University of Maryland.  Click image for more info.

Nanobattery Array from the University of Maryland. Click image for more info.

The Department of Energy press release reports that precise structures can be constructed to assess the fundamentals of ion and electron transport in nanostructures for energy storage and to test the limits of three-dimensional nanobattery technologies.

The nanostructured batteries, when properly designed and built, offer promise for delivering their energy at much higher power and longer life than conventional technology. To retain high energy density, nanostructures (such as nanowires) must be arranged as dense “nanostructure forests,” producing three-dimensional nanogeometries in which ions and electrons can rapidly move. Researchers have built arrays of nanobatteries inside billions of ordered, identical nanopores in an alumina template to determine how well ions and electrons can do their job in such ultra small environments.

The nanobatteries were fabricated by atomic layer deposition to make oxide nanotubes for ion storage inside metal nanotubes for electron transport, all inside each end of the nanopores. The tiny nanobatteries work extremely well: they can transfer half their energy in just a 30 second charge or discharge time, and they lose only a few percent of their energy storage capacity after 1000 cycles. Researchers attribute this performance to rational design and well-controlled fabrication of nanotubular electrodes to accommodate ion motion in and out and close contact between the thin nested tubes to ensure fast transport for both ions and electrons.

Amazing results. Although nothing has been mentioned on the construction costs, this first experimental build wouldn’t be low cost. But those charge, recharge and cycling results are entrancing. The team’s study paper, “An All-in-One Nanopore Battery Array” has been published Nature Nanotechnology.

Here’s the weird part. The study paper was submitted over a year ago, published back in November of 2014, and the YouTube video about the same time. The press release came out in the third week of May 2015. What ever the cause is for the news delay, the news is welcome, very welcome. Lets hope the past year or six months has seen the team make useful progress.

Researchers at Temple University and the University of Maryland has discovered a new class of magnets that expand their volume when placed in a magnetic field and generate negligible amounts of wasteful heat during energy harvesting.

The researchers, Harsh Deep Chopra, professor and chair of mechanical engineering at Temple, and Manfred Wuttig, professor of materials science and engineering at Maryland, have published their findings, “Non-Joulian Magnetostriction,” in the journal Nature.

In the 1840s, physicist James Prescott Joule discovered that iron-based magnetic materials changed their shape but not their volume when placed in a magnetic field. This phenomenon is referred to as “Joule Magnetostriction,” and since its discovery 175 years ago, all magnets have been characterized on this basis.

This transformative breakthrough has the potential to not only displace existing technologies but create altogether new applications due to the unusual combination of magnetic properties.

Never before seen highly periodic magnetic ‘cells’ or ‘domains’ in iron-gallium alloys responsible for non-Joulian magnetism.  Image Credit:Harsh Deep Chopra at Temple University.  Click image for the largest view.

Never before seen highly periodic magnetic ‘cells’ or ‘domains’ in iron-gallium alloys responsible for non-Joulian magnetism. Image Credit:Harsh Deep Chopra at Temple University. Click image for the largest view.

Chopra, who also runs the Materials Genomics and Quantum Devices Laboratories at Temple’s College of Engineering, said, “Our findings fundamentally change the way we think about a certain type of magnetism that has been in place since 1841. We have discovered a new class of magnets, which we call ‘Non-Joulian Magnets,’ that show a large volume change in magnetic fields. Moreover, these non-Joulian magnets also possess the remarkable ability to harvest or convert energy with minimal heat loss.”

Wuttig added, “The response of these magnets differs fundamentally from that likely envisioned by Joule. He must have thought that magnets respond in a uniform fashion.”

Chopra and Wuttig made the discovery when they thermally treated certain iron-based alloys by heating them in a furnace at approximately 760º C for 30 minutes, then rapidly cooled them to room temperature, the materials then exhibited the non-Joulian behavior.

The researchers found the thermally treated materials contained never before seen microscopic cellular-like structures whose response to a magnetic field is at the heart of non-Joulian magnetostriction. “Knowing about this unique structure will enable researchers to develop new materials with similarly attractive properties,” Wuttig explained.

The researchers noted that conventional magnets can only be used as actuators for exerting forces in one direction since they are limited by Joule magnetostriction. Actuation, even in two directions, requires bulky stacks of magnets, which increase size and reduce efficiency. Since non-Joulian magnets spontaneously expand in all directions, compact omnidirectional actuators can now be easily realized.

Because these new magnets also have energy efficient characteristics, they can be used to create a new generation of sensors and actuators with vanishingly small heat signatures. The magnets could also find applications in efficient energy harvesting devices; compact micro-actuators for aerospace, automobile, biomedical, space and robotics applications; and ultra-low thermal signature actuators for sonars and defense applications.

Also of great interest is the new magnets are composed of alloys that are free of rare-earth elements, they could replace existing rare-earth based magnetostriction alloys, which are expensive and feature inferior mechanical properties.

Tomasz Durakiewicz, National Science Foundation condensed matter physics program director said of the work, “Chopra and Wuttig’s work is a good example of how basic research advances can be true game changers. Their probing of generally accepted tenets about magnetism has led to a new understanding of an old paradigm. This research has the potential to catapult sustainable, energy-efficient materials in a very wide range of applications.”

This research is quite interesting in that the new results have great potential. But the potential is yet to even be realized because the research is so very basic.

Yet the 175 year old assumption has been turned upside down, or is it inside out or doubled up? Whatever the description there will be some confirmations, fails and naysayers. But this discovery is important, with implications that today can only be imagined.

The Department of Energy, Office of Science has announced the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) discovered a new metal oxide that allows oxygen ions to move through the material quickly and easily at lower temperatures.

The new metal oxide’s atomic structure includes highly ordered arrays of missing oxygen atoms. This structure allows oxygen ions to move through the material quickly and easily at lower temperatures, close to ~250º C (480º F).

Materials that allow easy movement of oxygen ions are essential for solid oxide fuel cells. The material discovered in this research could enable more efficient solid oxide fuel cells to operate at much lower temperatures than current technology running at ~800°C (1470º F).

The group’s study paper has been published in Nature Communications.

Metal oxides are important materials found in many energy technologies such as fuel cells, superconductors, and thermoelectric systems. Most metal oxides contain oxygen deficiencies or vacancies as point defects which are often uniformly distributed in the material.

Improved Metal Oxide for Fuel Cells. Click image for more info.

Improved Metal Oxide for Fuel Cells. Click image for more info.

A challenging goal is controlled generation and positioning of these oxygen deficiencies to create novel structures and functional properties. PNNL researchers have accomplished just that in their discovery of a new, non-stoichiometric metal oxide SrCrO2.8. While attempting to prepare thin films of stoichiometric SrCrO3.0, they found that a non-stoichiometric form with the composition SrCrO2.8 is formed instead.

This new material contains ordered arrays of SrO2 planes interleaved between layers of tetrahedrally coordinated Cr+4 ions and separated by ~1nm. Moreover, when mildly heated in air, it reversibly transforms from a semiconducting form with rhombohedral (diamond-like) structure to a metallic form with a so-called cubic perovskite structure. The ordered oxygen vacancies in the rhombohedral form allow oxygen ions to diffuse through the material quickly and easily at the lower temperatures.

This property is exceedingly important for solid oxide fuel cell technology which currently requires very high operating temperatures. First-principle calculations provided insights into the formation and stability of the non-stoichiometric SrCrO2.8 and how oxygen ions could move so easily through the material. The aggregation of oxygen vacancy defects into ordered arrays is a property of interest for not only more efficient solid oxide fuel cells but also would be useful for other applications such as thermoelectrics.

Operating temperatures of 800º C (1470º F) coming down to 250º C (480º F) is no small thing and should help a great deal in getting economically viable fuel cells closer to mass market. All the other components in a fuel cells may well be less expensive and last much longer. Hopefully this is a breakthrough that makes a big difference.


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