Future Energy eNews   IntegrityResearchInstitute.org      June 26, 2007       

1) Civilians Claim Space - Billionaire entrepreneurs are moving upward
2) Maisotsenko Cycle Recommended by NREL - Low power consumption
3) Solar Power at Half the Cost - Concentrated solar, Soliant Energy going to market
4) Highest Efficiency Solar PV - Spectralab announces world record of 40%
5) Leftovers to Energy - Put those scraps in a bioreactor rather than into a landfill
6) Cold Fusion-Hot News Again - Honest update on the latest promising developments
7) A Wind-Powered Town and Hot Air - Capitol Hill and energy bill party lines

1) Civilian Aero Startups Claim Their Space
NASA sees role for private-sector missions

Colorado Springs, Colo. --Aerospace industry giants were giving a fresh crop of space cowboys a deferential nod at the National Space Symposium here last week. The startups--some founded by entrepreneurs who made their fortunes in technology--have ambitious plans for the civilian use of space.

Where launch and module ventures garnered snickers from aerospace stalwarts early in the decade, the efforts are now gaining quiet respect. Brewster Shaw, general manager of the NASA systems business unit at Boeing Co., said skepticism about commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) efforts at achieving spaceflight would be a mistake. And anything good for space commerce is good for NASA and the space community at large, Shaw said.

The new crew includes several founders who are veterans of the Internet revolution. Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal, is the CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., which he launched in 2002. SpaceX, as it is known, claimed a partially successful launch of its rocket on March 20, though it did not achieve orbit. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, meanwhile, has been less forthcoming about his company, Blue Origin, which has used a spaceport in west Texas to conduct test launches of a vertical-liftoff reusable vehicle.

From Russia with love
At the symposium, Las Vegas billionaire Robert Bigelow lifted the veil on his plans to develop a series of inflatable space modules over the next five years. Initial test vehicles have flown from Russian Dnepr rockets, modifications of SS-18 missiles, though Bigelow later will rely on special launch vehicles from another startup, Rocketplane Kistler Inc. (Oklahoma City).

Boeing executives see companies like Bigelow Aerospace and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactica, which dangle the possibility of "space holidays" before well-heeled consumers, as breaking ground for the expansion of the space market from government-only applications into the consumer realm. The lure of such a possibility was evident here last week, as former Microsoft Corp. executive Charles Simonyi became the latest "tourist" to plunk down $25 million for a trip to the International Space Station (ISS).

At the official unveiling of his plans last week, Bigelow had to dispel notions put forth by Rocketplane Kistler and some online commentators that he intended to design "space hotels." Not only are his modules less expansive than a true multidwelling hotel, Bigelow said he also intended to narrow his customer base to sovereign (nation-sponsored) clients and corporate clients. The sovereign customers would include only those types of spacefarers who would be cleared for an ISS trip.

Bigelow said his goal of offering a four-week, low-earth-orbit trip at an inclusive training and transportation cost of $14.95 million by the year 2012 was one step toward a goal of bringing the cost of space tourism to $30,000 or $40,000 per journey.

Bigelow's Genesis I was launched last summer by ISC Kosmotras, a commercial launch system jointly sponsored by Russia, Ukraine and the Republic of Kazakhstan. Its successor, the Genesis II, has already been shipped to Russia for a planned launch in late April. The Genesis II will have living passengers--ants and scorpions--and will feature 22 cameras linked via FireWire and Ethernet. The module is 4.4 meters long, with a diameter of 1.6 meters at launch, expanding to 2.54 meters after inflation in space.

Bigelow's Galaxy spacecraft, which is expected to launch next year, will carry test subsystems for human habitation. As early as 2010, the first true module--the three-person Sundancer--will launch. The year following Sundancer's flight, Bigelow will launch a bus-and-node superstructure to link with the BA 330, a six-person full-size module.

"Make no mistake about it, these vehicles will stay on the ground if we cannot show both technical feasibility and economic practicality," Bigelow said. "The manned launches will be based on a dry landing after orbiting, as we don't feel you can justify landing on water with commercial cost constraints."

While the modules are being developed, Bigelow is opening dedicated ground stations to communicate with the spacecraft. Communication nodes already have opened in Alaska, Hawaii and Nevada, and Bigelow wants a minimum of nine ground stations before moving forward.

Aerospace executives running through the details of NASA programs like Constellation and Orion admitted to a twinge of jealousy last week at the ad hoc nature of the startup launch and module companies. Where every vehicular design must go through layers of fault-tolerant and redundant steps mandated by the federal government for commercial spaceflight, entrepreneurs can cut a few corners in their designs.

The startups must assume the liability risk for transporting humans, of course, and the newcomers must comply with regulations from agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, the little information gleaned about Bezos' Blue Origin came from so-called "scoping hearings" the company held in Texas, required by federal law.

But compared with the layers of bureaucracy necessary for the NASA Constellation program, the space-tourist startup program seems easy.

Private enterprise will prevail
NASA administrator Michael Griffin said he does not have a problem with commercial launch and module companies applying different standards of redundancy and fault-tolerance to civil space missions than the ones NASA uses. If the FAA had attempted to mandate the structure for passenger airliner operations among the airlines and aerospace manufacturers, he said, the robust air industry that exists today would never have happened.

"The rules of private enterprise will determine the winners," Griffin said. "NASA has worked out a particular way to conduct space missions, but it's not the only way to do so. I would be shocked to the soles of my shoes if we had determined the best way to do things."

Griffin said he assumed the type of customers who might be potential space tourists would be well aware of the general risks involved in spaceflight and the particular risks that might be encountered with a launch vehicle or spacecraft developed in the private sector.

Show me the money
In a panel at the National Space Symposium on investment strategies, Musk and Bigelow joined with Virgin Galactica vice president of operations Alex Tai in stressing the role of private equity in augmenting national civilian space agencies like NASA.

Bigelow said the suborbital business was challenging enough to warrant calling its pioneers the "space musketeers," but it also carried the promise of being profitable within a decade--provided commercial efforts went beyond rich space tourists into sovereign-nation astronauts and corporate leasing clients.

Demand exists today: Virgin Galactica has received $20 million in deposits based on the work of a sales staff of two, Tai reported. The key to making the company viable for regular launch, he said, was to reject the busy Mojave Space Port in California and to work with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson at creating a dedicated Virgin spaceport in that state. Virgin anticipates spending $250 million up front before achieving revenue, he said.

Musk, who is aiming at a mix of cargo and passengers for his SpaceX systems, said that his company expects to have a positive cash flow by the end of this year--notwithstanding the joke that "the commercial space industry turns a large investment into a smaller fortune as quickly as possible." SpaceX has gained customers from developing nations, from intelligence agencies and from NASA's COTS program.

"I'm pretty satisfied," Musk said. "The philosophical objectives of creating a private space company and turning a profit are closely aligned."

Tai said that some space platforms don't really showcase the innovation capabilities of the U.S. engineering community. The impetus of a competitive environment replete with startups could spur the type of innovation seen in the computing industry, he said.

Hoyt Davidson, general partner of Near Earth LLC, said that physical exploration of space needs to be publicized so as to bring young engineers into startups. If it takes billionaires like Bigelow and Branson to jump-start the process, Davidson said, so be it.

2) Maisotsenko Cycle Recommended by NREL

Prof. Valeriy Maisotsenko, May 15, 2007, www.idalex.com and www.coolerado.com

Renewable Energy is advance national energy goal to change the way we power our homes, businesses, and cars.

 The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the USA primary laboratory for renewable energy and it recommends utilizing the Maisotsenko Cycle for cooling applications.  

 Atmospheric air is a clean renewable energy source, and it can be used for many applications, using the Maisotsenko Cycle or M-Cycle a revolutionary new breakthrough in thermodynamics (see our U.S. Patents No 6,497,10 7; 6,581,402; 6,705,096; 6,776,001; 6,779,351; 6,854,278; 6,948,558; 7,007,453; 7,197,887; 7,228,669; etc.). 

 High degree of thermodynamic perfection of the M-Cycle allows atmospheric air to be cooled (without humidification) not the wet-bulb temperature, but the dew point temperature, and it increases psychrometric temperature difference and, consequently, energy resource of the atmospheric air.

 The M-Cycle has transitioned into the Coolerado Cooler from the conceptual stage to commercial applications which offers up to an 80% reduction of power for air conditioning of homes, commercial, and industrial buildings. The Coolerado Cooler has gained Federal recognition through the agencies of the Department of Energy at NREL and FEMP. Our coolers fall into a new category of an “ultra” class cooler because of our extreme energy efficiency and ability to cool air below the wet bulb temperatures without compressor and CFC-ozone depletion. 

 Today the M-Cycle assists Federal agencies reach their energy-use reduction goals and it has been successfully tested and researched for cooling applications by NREL (FEMP), Delphi, SMUD, PG&E, Sanwa, etc. Since then, this product received wide recognition from all over the world: Coolerado Cooler won the 2004 R&D 100 award, the US Green Builder 2006 Top Ten Product award, and just recently, the 2007 Sustainable Business Silver Medal of Honor award.

 However, this is only the first of many practical applications that the M-Cycle can be applied towards in reducing total energy consumption and pollution by increasing thermal transferal efficiencies (see attached 2).

 All of these power generation technologies can be improved through the M-Cycle. For instance, the M-Power Cycle enabled combustion engine will reduce environmental pollution from 75% to 95%, reduce fuel consumption by 25% to 40%, and have a minimum thermal efficiency of 55% (see attachment 3). Also, the M- Power Cycle should have many applications for increasing the efficiency of power systems because it utilizes the best heat recovery process for various forms of combustion engine. Today the M-Power Cycle promises better and cleaner generation technologies (see our U.S. Patents No 6,948,558 and 7,007,453). 

 The M-Cycle is also the enabling technology around our prototype evaporative refrigerant condenser and is 60 percent more efficient than today's best condensers.

 The unique properties of the M-Cycle makes it the ideal candidate for advanced energy efficient vehicles and fuel cells, power plant systems and micro scale power plants, improve energy efficiency of buildings and solar, thermal, and wind energy based technologies.

 I believe it is a very logical step to extend the proven M-cycle heat and mass transfer technology towards environmentally-friendly and energy efficiency technologies.

 Please allow me a brief introduction of our companies. Idalex Inc. and Coolerado LLC are emerging technology firms.  We have patented the M-cycle for many practical applications.

The world leader in automotive thermal technology Delphi Corp. has since license the manufacturing right to produce the special heat and mass exchanger, which realizes the M-Cycle, and has just begun to mass-produce this product (Coolerado Cooler) for stationary building air conditioning, vehicular air conditioning, etc.

I would like to meet with you and your colleagues in order to discuss the potential for a technology partnership in the pursuit of evolving breakthrough energy efficient products.  I am convinced that the M-Cycle will provide with an opportunity for rapid development of new renewable energy technologies for cleaner environment and greater world. energy independence.

For more information about the M-Cycle, visit web sites at www.idalex.com and www.coolerado.com

Dr., Prof. Valeriy Maisotsenko
Chief Scientist,
Idalex Technologies Inc.
4700 W. 60th Ave., #3
Arvada, CO 80003,
Phone: 303-375-0878
Fax: 303-375-1693

3) Solar Power at Half the Cost

Kevin Bullis, Friday, May 11, 2007, http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/18718/
A new roof-mounted system that concentrates sunlight could cut the price of photovoltaics.

This solar concentrator uses mirrors and lenses to focus light, reducing the amount of semiconductor material needed and cutting costs. The rectangular module is mounted with the same hardware as conventional flat solar panels. Credit: Soliant Energy, Inc.
Patent Pending
A new mechanism for focusing light on small areas of photovoltaic material could make solar power in residential and commercial applications cheaper than electricity from the grid in most markets in the next few years. Initial systems, which can be made at half the cost of conventional solar panels, are set to start shipping later this year, says Brad Hines, CTO and founder of Soliant Energy <
http://www.soliant-energy.com/technology.php>, a startup based in Pasadena, CA, that has developed the new modules.

Concentrating sunlight with mirrors or lenses on a small area cuts the costs of solar power in part by reducing the amount of expensive photovoltaic material needed. But while concentrated solar photovoltaic systems are attractive for large-scale, ground-based solar farms for utilities, conventional designs are difficult to mount on rooftops, where most residential and commercial customers have space for solar panels. The systems are typically large and heavy, and they're mounted on posts so that they can move to track the sun, which makes them more vulnerable to gusts of wind than ordinary flat solar panels are.

Soliant has designed a solar concentrator that tracks the sun throughout the day but is lighter and not pole-mounted. The system fits in a rectangular frame and is mounted to the roof with the same hardware that's used for conventional flat solar panels. Yet the devices will likely cost half as much as a conventional solar panel, says Hines. A second-generation design, which concentrates light more and uses better photovoltaics, could cost a quarter as much. He says that a more advanced design should be ready by 2010.

The Soliant design combines both lenses and mirrors to create a more compact system. Each module is made of rows of aluminum troughs, each about the width and depth of a gutter. These troughs are mounted inside a rectangular frame and can tilt in unison from side to side to follow the sun. Each trough is enclosed on top with a clear acrylic lid. Inside each trough, a strip of silicon photovoltaic material runs along the bottom. As light enters, some of it reflects off the inside surface of the trough and reaches the strip of silicon. The rest of the incoming light is focused on the strip by a lens incorporated into the acrylic lid.

As a solar concentrating system, this design has a few drawbacks. Because the troughs are mounted close together, they shade each other during parts of the day, decreasing the total amount of electricity produced. They can also only track from side to side, which makes it impossible for them to follow exactly the arc of the sun across the sky. This second problem will be addressed in the second-generation design, in which each trough will be divided into sections, each of which can pivot from side to side and also up and down.

But the ease of installation could help convince solar installers to use the technology, says Craig Cornelius, the technology manager for the Department of Energy's (DOE) solar-energy technology program. DOE recently announced $168 million in funding for 13 solar projects, under which Soliant will receive up to $4 million. Cornelius says that the lower installation costs will help reduce the overall costs of solar power from the modules.

Cornelius thinks that some customers, such as those with plenty of roof space, will opt for cheaper, thin-film solar panels, which in some cases can double as shingles, but are less efficient than conventional solar panels. But for those who need more power for the space they have, Cornelius says that Soliant's approach may prove the best option. Its modules produce as much power as conventional flat panels but are less expensive, using 88 percent less silicon. The company's next-generation system would be even better, producing three times as much power per area.

To test the panels, Soliant is working with DOE and Sun Edison <
http://www.sunedison.com/>, an established solar-system installer and operator based in Beltsville, MD. The second-generation system will be even more challenging to develop because light will be focused on a smaller area, requiring better tracking of the sun. Soliant will also be working with Emanuel Sachs <http://meche.mit.edu/people/faculty/index.html?id=73>, professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, to improve manufacturing techniques and the system for aiming the concentrators.

"In some ways, what's interesting about [Soliant's] approach is [that] the engineering issues they have to solve are relatively mundane," Cornelius says. "This is one of the projects that I'm most excited about in our whole portfolio."
For More Information

* View a slideshow of solar concentrator images and schematics.  <

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* Part I: Planning for a Climate-Changed World </Energy/18723/> 5/14/2007
* Part II: Planning for a Climate-Changed World </Energy/18724/> 5/15/2007
* A New Spin on Silicon Chips </Infotech/18745/> 5/16/2007

4) Ultra-Efficient Photovoltaics
Peter Fairley, Technology Review, June 15, 2007

The new class of materials enabling the world's best solar cell has a bright future.

A solar cell more than twice as efficient as typical rooftop solar panels has been developed by Spectrolab <http://www.spectrolab.com/>, a Boeing subsidiary based in Sylmar, CA. It makes use of a highly customizable and virtually unexplored class of materials that could lead to further jumps in efficiency over the next decade, making solar power less expensive than grid electricity in much of the country.
The cell, which employs new "metamorphic" materials, is designed for photovoltaic systems that use lenses and mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays onto small, high-efficiency solar cells, thereby requiring far less semiconductor material than conventional solar panels. Last month Spectrolab published in the journal Applied Physics Letters the first details on its record-setting cell, initially disclosed in December, which converts 40.7 percent of incoming light into electricity at 240-fold solar concentration--a healthy 1.4 percent increase over the company's previous world-record cell. Other groups are developing promising cells based on the new type of materials, including researchers at the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory <http://www.nrel.gov/> (NREL), in Golden, CO. The NREL researchers will soon publish results in the same journal showing that their NREL's designs are tracking Spectrolab's, improving from 37.9 percent efficiency in early 2005 to 38.9 percent efficiency today.

Metamorphic semiconductors resemble the high-efficiency cells used in space. Like the cells that grace satellites and planetary landers, they employ three layers of semiconductors, each tuned to capture a slice of the solar spectrum (solar panels have only one active layer). These semiconductor layers are assembled, one upon the next, by altering elements fed to a crystal growing in a vacuum. To avoid growing crystals filled with energy-trapping defects, device designers have until recently employed only a limited repertoire of semiconductors, such as germanium and gallium arsenide, which form similar crystal structures.

Metamorphic materials provide flexibility by throwing off this structural constraint, employing a wide range of materials, including those with mismatched structures. "The parameter space you can explore using mismatch opens up a whole world of possibilities," says NREL principal scientist Sarah Kurtz <http://www.nrel.gov/pv/video_dan_david_text.html>.

What makes this possible is the addition of buffer layers between the semiconductor layers. This technique was employed in the early 1990s to make high-speed transistors combining silicon and germanium, and then introduced to photovoltaics later in the decade by Cleveland-based semiconductor developer Essential Research <http://www.essential-research.com/>. Spectrolab has, however, seen the best results. Its 40.7 percent metamorphic cell improves on Spectrolab's best conventional cells by incorporating new semiconductors in the top and middle layers that excel at capturing infrared light that was all but missed by the cell's predecessors.
Such high output may be just the beginning. Raed Sherif <http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2005/354.html>, director of concentrator products at Spectrolab, says there is every reason to believe that these metamorphic solar cells will top 45 percent and perhaps even 50 percent efficiency. Sherif says those efficiencies, combined with the vast reduction in materials made possible by 1,000-fold concentrators, could rapidly reduce the cost of producing solar power. "Concentrated photovoltaics are a relatively late entry in the field, but it will catch up very quickly in terms of cost," he predicts. (See "Solar Power at Half the Cost <http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/18718/page1/>.")
Sherif says that right now his company is focusing commercialization efforts on the older and better-known designs, which currently deliver 35 to 37 percent efficient modules and could improve to 40 percent efficiency within two to three years. But he says the metamorphic approach is more likely to achieve the 45 percent efficiency level the company hopes to hit within six to seven years. Sherif estimates that a 40 percent module would reduce overall cost by about 14 percent if Spectrolab holds at its current $10-per-square-centimeter module price, while a 45 percent cell would trim system costs by an additional 9 to 10 percent.

Boeing anticipates further cost reductions as other components improve or are mass-produced. Under a $29.8 million concentrated-photovoltaic development partnership with the Department of Energy announced this spring, Boeing promises to cut the delivered price of electricity via concentrated solar to 15 cents per kilowatt hour by 2010, from an estimated 32 cents per kilowatt hour today, and to cut that price in half again by 2015. That would make solar power less expensive than electricity from the grid in much of the United States, where the average price of electricity in recent months has been about 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

Spectrolab's competitors, meanwhile, see metamorphic materials as a way to reduce the use of relatively exotic and expensive semiconductor wafers on which they are now produced. NREL's design, for example, can be lifted off of the germanium wafers on which both NREL's and Spectrolab's cells are grown. The expensive wafers could then be reused. Metamorphic photovoltaic startup 4Power, of Windham, NH, proposes to employ metamorphic buffers to grow high-efficiency cells on the same wafers of silicon on which nearly all semiconductor chips are produced. Silicon wafers are cheaper to buy and process than germanium wafers. 4Power founder Eugene Fitzgerald <http://sauvignon.mit.edu/>, a materials engineering professor at MIT and a metamorphic-materials pioneer, claims that this would cut the cost of growing high-efficiency cells in half.

What remains to be demonstrated, notes NREL's Kurtz, who leads the lab's high-efficiency solar research, is whether solar concentrators--especially their sensitive optics--will prove reliable in the field.

Commentary on Spectralab-Boeing Breakthrough

Dr. Paul Werbos, from the National Science Foundation, offers a supportive scientific opinion.

-----Original Message-----
From: global-energy-bounces@mp.cim3.net
[mailto:global-energy-bounces@mp.cim3.net]On Behalf Of Paul Werbos
Sent: Thursday, June 14, 2007 9:56 AM
To: Global Energy Network
Subject: [global-energy] Boeing 40% PV

Hi, folks!

A couple of you have asked me to comment on the recent announcement of a 40% efficient PV (solar cell) from Boeing.

First -- the announcement is 100% credible. The question is: how significant is it?

The cell is apparently a three-level cell. It is very well known that having multiple layers tuned to different frequencies of light does allow higher efficiency. (Some people call these "tandem cells." NSF has funded a number of projects developing tandem cells of various kinds.)
That is the key idea behind concentrator cells, PVs for use with concentrated light. I personally believe that concentrator cells are indeed the best hope for earth-based solar farms using PVs; however,
I view that entire class of technologies as a long-term truly risky option, not a top priority, because of the greater hope for lower costs from solar thermal in the near-term future and from space-based energy.

But: what is the cost of the Boeing cell? That I don't know. If it were cheap enough to replace the 20% efficient cells now used in PV systems... well, twice the electricity for the same cost would improve the economics.

If we develop solar thermal effectively, we really ought to be able to achieve 50-65% efficiency in converting concentrated HEAT to electricity. And dish style systems to focus light to yield concentrated heat are well-proven by now (though not yet well known to places like the World Bank, last I heard). Entech says it is a lot easier to concentrate light for use in space than on earth, and they know both areas quite well.

If vested interests persuade the US to put all its money and efforts all into technologies which are less than the least-cost option, other nations will simply kill us on the marketplace.That has happened in the past. That applies to all forms of solar energy.

The key to the Mankins/Marzwell option for energy from space is the use of "sandwich cells," combining tandem layers, a final heat-to-electricity layer, and a heat dissipation strategy.

The net effect is a much higher efficiency than 40%... though we do need to include documentation of the details in a lot of future work.

Best of luck,


To  Post: mailto:global-energy@mp.cim3.net
Msg Archives: http://mp.cim3.net/forum/global-energy/

5) From Leftovers to Energy 
Emily Singer, Technology Review, June 18, 2007 http://www.technologyreview.com/Biotech/18937/
Scientists develop microbes that convert food scraps into energy.

Nestled in the farmland surrounding the University of California campus in Davis (UC Davis) is a set of giant vats filled with hungry microbes. The bugs are devouring cafeteria leftovers and lawn clippings and converting them into biogas--mostly methane and hydrogen--that can be burned to generate electricity or compressed into liquid to power specialized vehicles. However, scientists know little about the gas-producing microbes living within the reactors. But a new project to sequence the genomes of the microbes could change that, allowing researchers to figure out how the bugs perform their digestive tasks and suggesting new ways to make more-productive bioreactors.
"Sequencing these organisms will give us a better idea of who the players are so we can better control the conditions or improve the design to further improve conversion of waste into biogas," says Ruihong Zhang <http://bae.engineering.ucdavis.edu/pages/faculty/zhang.html>, the UC Davis bioengineer who developed the system.

Similar bioreactors, known as anaerobic digesters, are commonly used at wastewater treatment plants. Zhang's bioreactor, however, is different because it's designed to work on solids, such as food and yard waste. It works 30 to 50 percent faster than conventional systems and presents a promising new way to cut back on landfill waste, producing clean burning gas in the process. (Natural gas, which is primarily made up of methane, releases fewer toxic compounds into the air than gasoline or diesel fuels.)
An industrial-sized demonstration unit has been running at UC Davis since last October, converting eight tons of restaurant waste, cafeteria scraps, and lawn clippings into 300,000 to 600,000 liters of biogas a day--enough to power approximately 80 homes. (In Davis, the gas is used for electricity and powers the nearby wastewater treatment plant.)
Still, scientists know little about the microbes that convert the waste into gas. "In nature, the microbes that carry out degradation of organic waste and generation of methane exist in a very complex anaerobic community, and individual isolates from the community are hard to grow," says Jim Bristow <http://www.jgi.doe.gov/whoweare/bristow.html>, head of the community sequencing program at the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute, in Walnut Creek, CA. But in the past two years, faster and cheaper gene-sequencing methods have offered microbiologists a new tool for studying microbial communities. Scientists can isolate DNA from a drop of bioreactor sludge and generate the gene sequence for the entire microbial community. The Joint Genome Institute will use this approach to sequence the genomes of the microbes in Zhang's digester next year.

The results should shed light on the types of microbes living in the bioreactor and the types of genes that predominate. Researchers will also be able to examine how the community changes under different temperatures and acidities, which can drastically alter the efficiency of the system. "We want to compare what kind of microbes are there at different conditions and try to figure out why one [set of conditions] works better than the other," says Martin Wu <>, a geneticist at UC Davis who will lead the genomics part of the project.
Zhang has partnered with Onsight Biosystems <http://www.onsitepowersystems.com/index.html>, a Davis-based startup, to commercialize the system. She says the technology has garnered interest from food producers and municipalities.

6) Cold Fusion - Hot News Again

Bennett Daviss,  May 5, 2007, New Scientist http://www.newscientisttech.com/channel/tech/mg19426021.000-cold-fusion--hot-news-again.html

FROM a distance, the plastic wafer Frank Gordon is proudly displaying looks like an ordinary microscope slide. Yet to Gordon it is hugely more significant than that. If he is to be believed, the pattern of pits embedded in this unassuming sliver of polymer provides confirmation for the idea that nuclear fusion reactions can be made to happen at room temperature, using simple lab equipment. It's a dramatic claim, because nuclear fusion promises virtually limitless energy.

Gordon's plastic wafer is the product of the latest in a long line of "cold fusion" experiments conducted at the US navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego, California. What makes this one stand out is that it has been published in the respected peer-reviewed journal Naturwissenschaften, which counts Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg and Konrad Lorenz among its eminent past authors (DOI: 10.1007/s00114-007-0221-7). Could it really be true that nuclear fusion can be coaxed into action at room temperature, using only simple lab equipment? Most nuclear physicists don't think so, and dismiss Gordon's pitted piece of plastic as nothing more than the result of a badly conceived experiment. So who is right?

The notion that cold fusion might be possible burst onto the scene in March 1989. That's when chemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, working at the University of Utah, announced that they had run a table-top electrolysis experiment in which a fusion reaction took place, producing more energy than it consumed. A world of endless, virtually free fuel seemed to be in the offing - but not for long. Fleischmann and Pons's results quickly proved elusive in other research labs. The hapless pair were laughed out of mainstream science, and most nuclear physicists since have refused to give the slightest credence to the idea. (See "Short History of Cold Fusion" http://www.newscientisttech.com/data/images/archive/2602/26021002.jpg )

Not everyone gave up on cold fusion, however. Electrochemists Pamela Mosier-Boss and Stanislaw Szpak at the San Diego centre's navigation and applied sciences department were intrigued. Fortunately, so was Gordon, their boss, who provided limited funding for experiments. Mosier-Boss and Szpak have now run hundreds of tests at weekends and during their spare moments, and have published more than a dozen papers in various peer-reviewed journals (New Scientist, 29 March 2003, p 36).

Typically, these table-top experiments have involved lowering an electrode made of the precious metal palladium into a solution of an inert salt dissolved in "heavy water" - in which a large proportion of the hydrogen atoms are of the element's heavy isotope deuterium. In deuterium, the atomic nucleus contains a neutron in addition to the usual single proton. (See "Test-tube Fusion" Diagram http://www.newscientisttech.com/data/images/archive/2602/26021001.jpg ) 

When an electric current is passed through the solution, deuterium atoms start to pack into spaces in the palladium's lattice-like atomic framework. Eventually, after a period of days or weeks, there is approximately one deuterium atom for each palladium atom, at which point things start to happen.

Quite what happens or why isn't clear. Whatever it is appears to release more energy, as heat, than the experiment consumes. Proponents of cold fusion claim that the excess energy comes from a nuclear fusion reaction involving the deuterium nuclei.

To get a fusion reaction going normally requires temperatures of millions of degrees, to give the nuclei enough energy to overcome the repulsion between the positive charges of their protons. The result is that two deuterium nuclei combine to produce either tritium - an even heavier hydrogen isotope - plus a free proton, or an atom of helium-3 and a free neutron. Either way the reaction also liberates a large amount of energy.

There is, however, no consensus for how cold fusion might work, and with research groups struggling to reproduce each other's results, most physicists dismiss the few watts of extra energy that emerge from experiments like Mosier-Boss and Szpak's as some kind of aberration. So rather than just looking for extra energy, the pair have deployed a detector long used by nuclear scientists, in an attempt to come up with convincing evidence that nuclear events are taking place.

That's where Gordon's sliver of polymer comes in. It is made of CR-39, a clear polycarbonate plastic that is commonly used to make spectacle lenses and shatter-proof windows - and which can also record the passage of subatomic particles. The neutrons, protons and alpha particles that spew from genuine nuclear reactions shatter the bonds within the polymer's molecules to leave distinctive patterns of pits and tracks that can be seen under a microscope.

Plastic fantastic

The use of CR-39 as a detector goes back decades. In the cash-strapped Soviet Union, most physicists were unable to afford state-of-the-art nuclear instruments. Instead, they became expert at "reading" CR-39 detectors, identifying particles from the shape and depth of the tracks they left behind.

Cold-fusion researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Minnesota have used CR-39 since the 1990s, laying the foundation for Mosier-Boss and Szpak's latest experiment. "You don't need complicated instrumentation," Gordon says. "It's an easy detection tool."

Spzak has also developed a technique called co-deposition that speeds up the process of packing deuterium atoms into a palladium lattice. Instead of using palladium for the negative electrode in his electrolysis experiment, he uses nickel or gold wire which is bathed in a solution of palladium chloride and lithium chloride dissolved in heavy water. When a current passes through the solution, equal amounts of deuterium and palladium are deposited onto the wire (see Diagram). Within seconds, the palladium is packed with deuterium atoms and the reaction - whatever it is - begins.

Mosier-Boss and Szpak say their cells show telltale signs of nuclear reactions, including anomalous amounts of tritium and low-intensity X-rays, just minutes after co-deposition starts. They say the electrode can sometimes become a few degrees warmer than the surrounding solution.

In their latest experiment, Mosier-Boss and Spzak placed wafers of CR-39 against the electrode. When they examined them after running the experiment, they discovered that regions nearest the electrode were speckled with microscopic pits, while those further away were not. A control experiment without any palladium chloride in the solution produced only a few randomly scattered tracks that could be accounted for by background radiation. The researchers have also deliberately inflicted chemical damage on the CR-39: it "looks like fluffy, popcorn-shaped eruptions" on the plastic, Mosier-Boss says, not pits or holes. They are trying to identify which particles might have left the tracks.

Nuclear scientists associated with the project who are well versed in reading CR-39 detectors say the results appear convincing. The pits "exactly mimic typical nuclear tracks in their depth, size, distribution, shape and contrast", says Lawrence Forsley, a physicist who has worked in fusion research for 16 years and is president of JWK Technologies in Annandale, Virginia, one of the San Diego centre's research partners.

Gary Phillips, a nuclear physicist who has used CR-39 detectors for 20 years to capture nuclear signatures and also works for JMK Technologies, is no less enthusiastic. "I've never seen such a high density of tracks before," he says. "It would have to be from a very intense source - a nuclear source. You cannot get this from any kind of chemical reaction."

Many outsiders are less impressed. Some physicists who have seen the initial results of the CR-39 experiments say Mosier-Boss and Szpak must have set up their equipment incompetently, read their data incorrectly, or somehow allowed radioactive detritus to contaminate their cells. Others suggest that anomalous background radiation from an unknown source or even showers of cosmic rays are responsible.

Forsley insists that those objections don't hold water. If there was enough background radiation in the San Diego lab to pock CR-39 wafers with so many pits in such a short time, Mosier-Boss and Szpak "would be cooked", he says. He also points out that any contamination of the experiment or external sources of radiation ought to scatter tracks randomly across the detectors, not concentrate them near the cells' electrodes as their detectors show.

Objectors also point to the difficulty of reproducing these results. While Mosier-Boss and Szpak claim they can produce the reaction at will, other labs have struggled to reproduce consistent, if any, results using co-deposition. One researcher who has had some success is Winthrop Williams at the University of California, Berkeley, who has replicated the navy's experiment with CR-39. At a meeting of the American Physical Society in March he reported similar numbers of pits around the negative electrode. "It is encouraging," says Williams. "I have more work ahead of me to precisely understand and interpret what I am observing."

The lack of a consistent theory to explain how the claimed fusion reaction might occur is another stumbling block. The science writer and debunker Shawn Carlson, who in the past has done research in nuclear physics, listened to Gordon and Mosier-Boss make their case at the National Defense Industrial Association conference in Washington DC last year. He was not convinced. "A collection of disjoint anomalies is more consistent with bad experimental technique than a great discovery," he says. "It would take independent verification from a number of labs to swing the tide in favour of cold fusion."

The sceptics are not having it all their own way, though. Several respected scientists at universities in the US, Europe and Asia are attempting to replicate the US navy's lab experiments. David Nagel, a physicist and research professor at George Washington University in Washington DC who has followed the cold fusion saga since its inception, reports a growing willingness by the US Department of Energy to consider funding experiments to follow up these tantalising hints.

Nagel also detects a more receptive climate at US military research outfits like DARPA and the Office of Naval Research, where he served as administrator and still has close ties. It's not just global warming or the end of oil that's opening people's minds, he says. "It's the weight of the evidence," with new results encouraging physicists to reconsider the case that was so swiftly and firmly closed 18 years ago. "This could be the year when things change for cold fusion," he says. Then he pauses. "Or maybe next year."

Bennett Daviss is a science writer in New Hampshire
From issue 2602 of New Scientist magazine, 05 May 2007, page 32-34

Related Links

Canon patent (EP 568 118) for putting large amounts of deuterium in a metal carrier (1994) http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg14219314.000;jsessionid=IPPFCJKKKBOA

7) A Wind-Powered Town, an Energy Bill and a Lot of Hot Air

 Dana Milbank, June 15, 2007; Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/14/AR2007061401876_pf.html

There's a certain irony in Washington's failure to devise a modern energy policy. This is, after all, the one place on earth that is powered almost entirely by wind.

Lawmakers are growing further apart on energy legislation, as Democrats demand alternative fuels and Republicans insist on more drilling. But for both sides, the ability to talk about energy is both plentiful and renewable.

While the Senate held its fourth day of debate on an energy bill, three congressional committees held hearings on the subject yesterday, and the House and Senate Renewable Energy Caucuses held an all-day "expo and forum" in the Cannon Caucus Room. Democratic senators held two news conferences on the subject, Republican senators held a third, and bipartisan groups of lawmakers contributed a fourth and fifth.

Not to be left out, the National Association for Business Economics, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, the Electric Power Supply Association, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and a coalition of environmentalists all hosted energy events of their own.

Talk about a large carbon footprint. The amount of CO2 emitted from the mouths of all these lawmakers, lobbyists and activists was enough to cause part of Greenland to melt into the sea.

"This bill's going to have a tough time," said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), demonstrating his mastery of the obvious at one of yesterday's many news conferences. "My guess is there are many hours of lengthy debate ahead." That's a safe guess, given that the Senate plans for about eight days of debate on the bill -- and Republicans such as Craig are hinting at a filibuster that could derail the whole thing.

"I don't think it's ever going to become law," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) forecast after his own news conference, staged in front of two plug-in hybrid cars. "It's lamebrained." The courtly senator reconsidered. "I shouldn't call it lamebrained," he revised. "But that's how I feel."

Lamebrained or not, the Senate energy legislation is fairly modest. It stays away from radical policies, such as a carbon tax or a cap on carbon emissions. Its toughest provision, a plan to increase fuel-efficiency standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, is under siege by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from car-manufacturing states.

"The Senate energy bill started out fairly weak, and we don't see the debate getting any better," complained Eric Pica, who represented Friends of the Earth at a protest by environmentalists on the Senate grounds yesterday.

The coalition of conservation groups had planned to dump a ton of coal on Senate parkland -- they had hauled the anthracite from Baltimore in a rented cargo van (12 miles per gallon). But Capitol Police objected, and the environmentalists had to settle for 20 small buckets of the stuff. "We're going to blacken our hands with the coal," one of the organizers offered the disappointed camera crews.

Minutes later, Republican lawmakers assembled in the Senate television gallery to voice similarly bitter objections to the bill -- for completely opposite reasons. "It doesn't do anything to lower the price of gasoline," argued Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the Senate Republican leader.

Next, Craig lamented a plan to produce 15 percent of the nation's electricity with renewable sources by 2020. The proposal "skews dramatically the reality of what a country can or cannot do," he said. "In the Southeastern states, this is a very big tax because they don't have wind."

It's unclear why the calm winds of the southeast would trouble a man from Idaho, but he warned that Republicans are "very concerned."

Did that message get out? Not without some difficulty. The Republican event was squeezed in between a Senate hearing on "the impact of rising gas prices," and a pair of House committee sessions on biofuels and "climate change mitigation." Within minutes of the GOP's departure from the television studio, Democrats walked in with a rebuttal.

"We do not believe in the president's theory, the Republicans' theory: Drill, drill, drill, more of the same," Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, taunted. "It reminds me of Iraq."

The senators displayed a chart contrasting two families: The energy-efficient "Baileys," who spend $1,600 a year less than the inefficient "Martins." "You notice it's not just any old chart," said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). "There are families mentioned on that chart."

His colleagues had forgotten to tell Casey that the Martins and the Baileys were fictitious.

The subject had been pretty much exhausted, but Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) wanted to add an anecdote about her own "Energy Star" light bulbs. "My husband first bought the wrong ones and so all of our hallways were blue," she said, "and my daughter said it looked like we were living in a bowling alley."

That line would have brought down the house over in the Cannon Caucus Room, where the renewable energy caucus was caucusing among displays of pea pellets, switch grass and filament-free light bulbs. Exhibitors were on hand to talk about landfill gas and to hand out lollipops and bumper stickers saying "I {heart} Wind Energy."

It was a festive gathering, but Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), a champion of renewable energy, delivered a somber message about progress in the capital. "We've been crawling at a snail's pace," he said. "We've been doing little more than nibbling at the edges."

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