Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for March 16th, 2008

Mileage maniacs hack Toyota’s Prius for 116 mpg

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2008


In a presumed attempt to prove questionable reports about the Prius’ true fuel efficiency dead wrong, a Japanese group of mileage maniacs (or nenpimania) have assembled to push their hybrids to the brink and utilize a sly combination of hackery and zen-ish ways to elicit extreme miles per gallon figures. One such enthusiast burns his gas money on special tires, cardboard surround for the engine bay (saywha?), and blocks of foam rubber that occupy the grill, and somehow manages about 100 mpg by “hacking into the Toyota‘s computer” and carefully manipulating the accelerator with just his large toe. One upping even him, however, is a fellow mpg freak dubbed Teddy-Girl, who has reportedly become such a master of the “pulse and glide” method of driving that she can crank out 116 miles on a single gallon of fuel. Of course, sustaining such numbers on even mild inclines is entirely unlikely, and we’re fairly sure you’re hearing best case scenarios with all these gaudy numbers, but until we’re all cruising in purely electric whips, this doesn’t sound like a half bad approach to keep those trips to the pump at a minimum.

[Via The Raw Feed]

Posted in Alt Energy | 2 Comments »

Prius Hack: Enjoy the Silence

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2008

hack_your_prius_2.jpg…This week’s post goes out to other North American Toyota Prius owners who, like me, fail to see the logic of having the car beep on the inside when driving in reverse! Are you a 2004-2008 Prius owner suffering from this cacophony? If so read on… while the instructions below have been available on the Internet for a while, I regularly meet Prius owners who are unaware of this and are begging for a way to put an end to the annoyance.

BONUS: a variant on this hack, detailed below, will also turn off your seat belt warning beeps if you so desire. Happy Prius Hacking (ecofabulous takes no responsibility if you choose to apply these tips and then back into a tree or get a ticket for forgetting to buckle up).

Instructions (from our friends at PriusChat.com):

  1. Power on the car with your foot on the brake to IG-ON or READY. IG-ON will do for this purpose.
  2. Using the Trip/ODO button, set the Trip/ODO display to ODO (not Trip A or Trip B ).
  3. Power off the car.
  4. Now power the car to READY (brake on). This is required so that step 6 works correctly.
  5. Within 6 seconds of powering on, press and hold the Trip/ODO button for 10 seconds or more (there is no indication… just count).
  6. While still holding ODO *after* the 10 seconds, shift the “gear” selector to R, then press the P button. Now release the Trip/ODO button.
  7. If the last step was successful, “b on” or “b off” should be displayed in the location where the Trip Odometer or Odometer is normally displayed (front dash area). “b on” is beep on (default), and “b off” is beep off.
  8. Press Trip/ODO to toggle the mode.
  9. Now power the car off to exit the toggle mode.
  10. Power the car on to READY and confirm the reverse beep status by shifting to R. The beep should not be audible if “b off” was selected, and should be audible if “b on” was selected.

Seatbelt beep: The driver and passenger seatbelt reminder chime can be disabled or enabled using similar steps. Instead of shifting from P to R to P in step 6, simply buckle then unbuckle the appropriate seatbelt while continuing to depress the Trip/ODO button. – ecofab

Updated  3.22.2009. The above is also listed on Wikihow with some caveats:

  • To re-enable reverse beep, repeat the procedure. “b off” will be displayed in step 7. Toggle it to “b on” in step 8.
  • Please note that this procedure will work ONLY on a North American model Prius, not on any other model.
  • This procedure will not work if a passenger (or any other object) is sitting in the passenger seat. However, there is some discussion about whether this tip is actually correct. It may work just fine whether or not someone’s sitting in the passenger seat.
  • To disable the seat belt beep use same steps as above, but instead of shifting into reverse, fasten the driver’s seat belt and then quickly press “park”.
  • The reverse and set belt beeps are there for your safety. Be aware that if you turn them off, you will not be warned that you’re in reverse or that someone’s not wearing their seat belt.
  • Whether you disable the reverse beep or not, you should be aware that it is only audible inside the car. It does not warn pedestrians that you are reversing your silent car.

Posted in Alt Energy, Technology, Travel | 6 Comments »

Plans Announced for a Wave Power Plant in Hawaii

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2008

oceanlinx_system_2.jpgOceanlinx, an Australian wave energy company, announced plans for a $20 million project to install three floating wave energy converters (WECs), i.e. wave-powered turbine platforms, to supply up to 2.7MW of electricity to the island of Maui, Hawaii. The company has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Renewable Hawaii, Inc. (RHI), for potential passive investment in a project . RHI is owned by the Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc.The project could be operational by the end of 2009.

Oceanlinx’s unit combines the established science of the Oscillating Water Column (OWC) with its own patented turbine technology, and has successfully completed a full scale trial at its pilot unit at Port Kembla, Australia.

Each WEC is about 65 by 100 feet and 15-25 feet high and will not likely affect views from land.

An OWC, is a chamber which is open underneath the waterline and allows the water inside the OWC to rise and fall, compressing and displacing the air inside, driving it past a turbine which is housed at the narrowest point in the chamber, located above the waterline.

Since the OWC chamber narrows, the air is accelerated to its highest velocity as it passes the turbine allowing for maximal extraction of the energy. The oscillatory wave motion causes a similar oscillatory airflow through the chamber, and the turbine converts energy on both the up and down stroke.

The unique characteristic of this turbine is its blade pitch control system which enables it to rotate in the same direction irrespective of the direction of the air flow. This turbine, converts the energy in the airflow into mechanical energy which drives an electrical generator. The Oceanlinx turbine uses variable pitch blades which, with the slower rotational speed and higher torque of the turbine, improves efficiency and reliability and reduces the need for maintenance.

The turbine uses a sensor system with a pressure transducer which measures the pressure exerted on the ocean floor by each wave as it approaches the capture chamber, or as it enters the chamber. The transducer sends a voltage signal proportional to the pressure which identifies the height, duration and shape of each wave to a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) which adjusts various parameters, such as the blade angle and turbine speed, in real time.

An underwater cable will run from the WEC array along the sea-bed to feed a substation on the Maui Electric Company grid.

Oceanlinx claims the advantage of its system are that all the technical equipment operates above the water, thereby improving reliability and providing easy access for maintenance and repair and that it has only one principle moving part, the turbine, which is also located above water. (Isn’t the generator a principle moving part?) – tfd

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Sandia, Stirling Energy Systems Set New World Record of 31.25% for Solar-to-Grid Conversion Efficiency

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2008

sandia_dish_stirling.jpgOn a perfect New Mexico winter day — with the sky almost 10 percent brighter than usual — Sandia National Laboratories and Stirling Energy Systems (SES) set a new solar-to-grid system conversion efficiency record by achieving a 31.25 percent net efficiency rate. The old 1984 record of 29.4 percent was toppled on SES’s “Serial #3” solar dish Stirling system at Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility.The conversion efficiency is calculated by measuring the net energy delivered to the grid and dividing it by the solar energy hitting the dish mirrors. Auxiliary loads, such as water pumps, computers and tracking motors, are accounted for in the net power measurement.

Each dish unit consists of 82 mirrors formed in a dish shape to focus the light to an intense beam onto a receiver, which transmits the heat energy to a Stirling engine. The engine is a sealed system filled with hydrogen. As the gas heats and cools, its pressure rises and falls. The change in pressure drives the pistons inside the engine, producing mechanical power, which in turn drives a generator and makes electricity.

Several technical advancements to the systems led to the record-breaking solar-to-grid conversion efficiency.

The first and probably most important advancement was improved optics. The Stirling dishes are made with a low iron glass with a silver backing that make them highly reflective —focusing as much as 94 percent of the incident sunlight to the engine package, where prior efforts reflected about 91 percent. The mirror facets, patented by Sandia and Paneltec Corp. of Lafayette, Colo., are highly accurate and have minimal imperfections in shape.

Both improvements allow for the loss-control aperture to be reduced to seven inches in diameter — meaning light is highly concentrated as it enters the receiver.

Other advancements to the solar dish-engine system that helped Sandia and SES beat the energy conversion record were a new, more effective radiator that also costs less to build and a new high-efficiency generator.

While all the enhancements led to a better system, one aspect made it happen on a beautiful New Mexico winter day — the weather. The temperature, which hovered around freezing, allowed the cold portion of the engine to operate at about 23 degrees C, and the brightness means more energy was produced while most parasitic loads and losses are constant.

SES is working to commercialize the record-performing system and has signed power purchase agreements with two major Southern California utilities (Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric) for up to 1,750 megawatts (MW) of power, representing the world’s two largest solar power contracts. Collectively, these contracts require up to 70,000 solar dish engine units.

Source: Sandia

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DOE Enhanced Geothermal Systems Projects

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2008

In a move that I greet with great enthusiasem DOE has embarked on a project with a number of partners to test Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) technologies at a commercial geothermal power facility near Reno, Nevada.

habanero_html_6509302a_2.gifEGS technology enhances the permeability of underground strata, typically by injecting water into hot underground strata at high pressure. The concept was initially developed to create geothermal reservoirs in hot underground strata where no water existed—a technology called “hot dry rock”—but has since been extended as a means of enhancing the performance of existing geothermal reservoirs.

Under the DOE project, EGS technology will be tested in a well at the 11-megawatt Desert Peak facility, which is owned by Ormat Technologies, Inc. The well is currently not able to produce commercially useful quantities of hot geothermal fluid, but with the help of EGS, the site is thought to have the potential to produce 50 megawatts of power or more.

Meanwhile, an application of EGS in a true hot dry rock application in Australia is continuing to make progress. Geodynamics, Limited (ASX: GDY) announced on February 5th that the company has completed its production well, called Habanero 3. The Company is now moving forward with preparations for an open circulation test, planned to commence 10 to 14 days from the date of the announcement, by injecting water into Habanero 1 and removing the heated geothermal water from Habanero 3. The test should give the company an indication of the potential power production of the artificially created geothermal reservoir. – tfd

Continue reading “DOE Enhanced Geothermal Systems Projects” »

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Emissions from Photovoltaic Life Cycles

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2008

A new report has found that thin-film cadmium telluride solar cells have the lowest life-cycle emissions primarily because they consume the least amount of energy during the module production of the four types of major commercial PV systems: multicrystalline silicon, monocrystalline silicon, ribbon silicon, and thin-film cadmium telluride (CdTe).

The study, published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal, based on PV production data of 2004–2006, presents the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, criteria pollutant emissions, and heavy metal emissions of the four types of PV systems considered. Life-cycle emissions were determined by employing average electricity mixtures in Europe and the United States during the materials and module production for each PV system.

They found that thin-film cadmium-telluride solar cells had the best life-cycle profile. Even though the process emitted  heavy metal cadmium, it still had a lower overall level of “harmful air emissions” than the other PV technologies in the study.

The report stated that “Overall, all PV technologies generate far less life-cycle air emissions per GWh than conventional fossil-fuel-based electricity generation technologies. At least 89% of air emissions associated with electricity generation could be prevented if electrity from photovoltaics displaces electricity from the grid.”

The fact that Cd-Te technology was found to have the lowest emissions profile is interesting, but the main point, to me, is that all technologies had low emissions profiles, that are insignificant when compared to the emissions of the fossil fuel technologies that they replace. While I do not find it suprising that all solar PV systems have a low emissions profile, I find it suprising that the authors did not include thin-film silicon or copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) cells in their study.  I assume the overall results would have been the similar, but it woud have given a fairer comparison to the technologies now in use.  One problem with scientific research is that it takes so much time to do the study and get it published that by that time the information is made public it is sometimes outdated. – tfd

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End in Sight for Silicon Shortage in Solar industry

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2008

Severe shortages of silicon have plagued the solar photovoltaic market over the past few years. According to a Frost & Sullivan press release a turnaround can be expected this year with polysilicon catching up with the demand . Quoting from the press release:

It was estimated that the demand for silicon feedstock neared 26,000 tonnes in 2004. In 2005 there was a rise in wafer production by nearly 7 per cent. However, this increase was not sufficient to keep up with the market need. In 2006 the shortage of feedstock reached a critical point affecting the production of solar panels and, consequently, the industry growth.

However, things are about to change. “We expect polysilicon supply to catch up with the demand already in 2008″ – says Alina Bakhareva, Renewable Energy Programme Manager at Frost & Sullivan. “The majority of the new quantities will be supplied to the market by top 4 producers that are expanding their existing production capacities.”

In fact, four top polysilicon producers are expected to add more than 17000 tonnes of capacity in 2008. This would represent over 50% increase over their current capacities.

On the demand side, demand from the semiconductor industry is expected to grow at steady one-digit rates. Demand for solar-grade polysilicon is expected to reach over 50% of the total demand for high purity silicon in 2008-2009.

This should bode very good news for the silicon solar PV cell manufacturers. With silicon supply no longer a constraint manufactures can ramp up production to meet demand and as a market driven supply chain develops the price of silicon should eventually settle out at a lower price. Then competitive prices and technical merits can let consumers choose what type of cells they prefer, rather than having to use what is available.  This more importantly means that solar PV can be a significant (10s of gigawatts) source of renewable energy in a shorter time period — perhaps in as short as five years. – tfd

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GM, Toyota Dismiss Fuel Cells for Mass Use

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2008

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that executives from General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., at the Geneva Auto Show Tuesday, “expressed doubts about the viability of hydrogen fuel cells for mass-market production in the near term and suggested their companies are now betting that electric cars will prove to be a better way to reduce fuel consumption and cut tailpipe emissions on a large scale.”

Both GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz and Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe expressed strong opinions that fuel cells are too expensive and will be for some time and that advances in lithium-ion batteries make them much more practical as a mass-market product.  . . . read the WSJ article

in a somewhat related post, the MIT Technology Review has a little more information on GM’s BAS+ mild hybrid system that further explains how the Hitachi Li-ion batteries fit in with that system that increase the mileage by 20% and indicates that GM will use about 100,000 of these batteries annually by 2010.

The new battery pack, a lithium-ion pack made by Hitachi, combined with an improved alternator-generator, can deliver three times more power than the company’s older system, which used nickel metal hydride batteries. GM claims that this system will be a perfect complement to another fuel-saving strategy: downsizing the engine and adding a turbocharger for bursts of power. The turbocharger doesn’t kick in right away, and it doesn’t work well at low engine speeds. But the battery and motor kick in right away, compensating for the so-called turbo lag.

That is quite a change in attitude, considering the large amounts of money that these companies and others have spent developing fuel cells for light vehicles. This agrees with my assessment of the technology that I have expressed several times, most recently in my comments on my post EU Research Shows that Hydrogen Energy Could Reduce Oil Consumption in Road Transport by 40% by 2050. – thefraserdomain

Posted in Alt Energy | 2 Comments »

New Enzyme Promises to Reduce Ethanol Costs

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2008

University of Maryland research that started with bacteria from the Chesapeake Bay has led to the development of a bacterium, called Saccharophagus degradans which can break down almost any source of biomass, or plant life, into sugars, which can then be converted into ethanol and other biofuels.

That process, developed by University of Maryland professors Steve Hutcheson and Ron Weiner, professors of cell biology and molecular genetics, is the foundation of their incubator company Zymetis.

They discovered how to produce the enzyme in their own laboratories. The result was Ethazyme, a bacterium that creates a mixture of enzymes—through a patent-pending system which degrades the tough cell walls of cellulosic materials into bio-fuel ready sugars in one step, which are then converted into ethanol and other biofuels at a significantly lower cost and with fewer caustic chemicals than current methods.

We believe we have the most economical way to produce biofuels from cellulosic material

– Steve Hutcheson, CEO of Zymetis Inc.

Continue reading “New Enzyme Promises to Reduce Ethanol Costs” »

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The Hydrogen Economy

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2008

Although the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) in your car can burn hydrogen, the hope is that someday fuel cells, which are based on electrochemical processes rather than combustion (which converts heat to mechanical work), will become more efficient and less polluting than ICEs.1 Fuel cells were invented before combustion engines in 1839 by William Grove. But the ICE won the race by using abundant and inexpensive gasoline, which is easy to transport and pour, and very high in energy content.2

… Here is how a hydrogen tank stacks up against a gas tank in a Honda Accord:

Amount of fuel Tank weight with fuel Driving range Tank cost
Hydrogen 55 kg @3000 psi 400 kg 165 miles13 $200021
Gasoline 17 gallons 73 kg 493 miles $100

According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA), “Vehicle weight reduction is probably the most powerful technique for improving fuel economy. Each 10 percent reduction in weight improves the fuel economy of a new vehicle design by approximately eight percent.”

The more you compress hydrogen, the smaller the tank can be. But as you increase the pressure, you also have to increase the thickness of the steel wall, and hence the weight of the tank. Cost increases with pressure. At 2000 psi, it is $400 per kg. At 8000 psi, it is $2100 per kg.20 And the tank will be huge — at 5000 psi, the tank could take up ten times the volume of a gasoline tank containing the same energy content. -skeptic

Posted in Physics, Politics, Popular Culture | 1 Comment »


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