More interesting energy stories that you might have missed

Guest blog by Mr. R. U. Cirius: Here are some interesting and somewhat offbeat energy stories that haven’t gotten much media attention that OWOE readers might have missed.

Very Small Modular Reactors There has been a lot of press coverage for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) recently, with some touting them as the solution to the world’s energy challenges to others expressing doubt that they can actually be successful (see also OWOE blog Nuclear Power: Climate Solution or Hype). However, a new version of these nuclear reactors has just been announced that may actually meet the high expectations. William Fences, the entrepreneur and philanthropist, and his company MicroPower, claims to have developed the first Very Small Modular Reactor (VSMR). This is a stand-alone suitcase-sized micro nuclear reactor for both private and commercial use. The reactor includes: molten salt nuclear fuel module, molten salt pump, thermo-electric battery with inverter to export power at 480v, water coolant system that connects directly to the home or business water supply, and auxiliary air cooling motor that plugs easily into a standard 220v power receptacle, all enclosed withing an easily movable case (see Figure 1). Although not yet available for purchase, MicroPower is planning to sell units with power generation capability ranging from 5kW to 50kW.

Figure 1 – Very Small Modular Reactor (VSMR) (courtesy MicroPower)

HPZ Rigid Dirigible Aircraft On March 15th, accompanied by the soaring lyrics of the rock classic “Stairway to Heaven”, the first modern-day commercial hydrogen powered rigid aircraft made its inaugural flight from Seattle, Washington  to Portland, Oregon. The HPZ, which stands for Hydrogen Powered Zeppelin, is a so-called rigid dirigible aircraft, consisting of a fabric-covered rigid metal framework made up of transverse rings and longitudinal girders and containing individual gasbags. The gasbags are filled with a lighter-than-air gas, which gives the buoyancy necessary to fly. The HPZ is approximately the size of the ill-fated Hindenburg Zeppelin at 800 feet long (more than three times the length of a Boeing 747) and with a diameter of 135 feet. It can cruise at 75 mph and travel as high as 20,000 feet above sea level. Hydrogen gas is used both as the fill gas, but also as the fuel to power the aircraft. By utilizing the same gas, the HPZ was able to eliminate costly and heavy fuel tanks.

Figure 2 – Hydrogen powered HPZ rigid dirigible aircraft (courtesy HydroFlight)

The HPZ was built by start-up technology firm HydroFlight. When asked whether there was a concern over safety using hydrogen gas, given the history of the Hindenburg Disaster, a media spokesman for HydroFlight responded: “There is absolutely no risk of such a thing happening to the HPZ. For one, we have very strict rules against smoking on board. But also, we are using ‘blue’ hydrogen for our gas that is provided by major oil companies. They have assured us that the ‘blue’ hydrogen they provide is much safer than the ‘green’ hydrogen that many other companies are trying to sell.”

The HPZ will attempt a cross-country flight later this year from Seattle to New York City.

Wind Turbine Recycling No energy system is entirely neutral in terms of waste produced, including wind power. Fortunately, there are several consortiums of researchers and industry taking on this challenge, specifically how to reuse or repurpose the composite material wind turbine blades:

  • Turbocrete – a mixture of turbine blade pellets and concrete. Researchers at the Denver School of Litho Technologies and Earth Sciences (aka Denver SLATE) have developed a use for end-of-life turbine blades as a binding material for concrete. Preliminary mixtures suggest that adding shredded wind turbine composites to cement will increase the strength and thermal insulating property of the cement while also making it lighter. Furthermore, researchers believe that they can also fabricate turbine towers form the Turbocrete which would result in turbine blades having two lifespans in wind power generation.
  • Turbotires – a mixture of reformed turbine blade laminates and rubber. Again, research conducted by Mikkelon and GoodYarn tire manufactures indicates promising results with a compound consisting of synthetic rubber and turbine blade laminates. Many years ago the industry touted the benefits of steel radial tires, but now the industry is preparing to tout the benefits of composite blade tires, including longer tread life, faster road killing capability and, of course, lighter weight. Costs are still an issue, but the industry consortium expects road testing on EEL-Vs soon enough. (Note: Turbotires should not be confused with Turbitires, which OWOE reported on in a previous blog.)
  • Turbofoam – Not to be outdone by industry, consumer firms are also examining ways to use turbine blade composite material waste in their products. One global supplier of shaving products, 2-Dollar Shave, is trialing shaving cream made with micro composite turbine blade residual particles. Said one executive, “We’re amazed at how turbine blades slice through the air, so we thought, ‘No Brainer’, the material could also be used to shave through tough beards on faces.”
  • Vitae Farms – When thinking about wind farms, folks immediately think of those large clusters of blade-spinning, bat-shredding power producers scattered around the world. Well, now there is a new kind of wind farm rising up from the ground. Engineers and agricultural scientists at giant food firm, Midland Drug Manufacturing and Agriculture (MDMA) are ecstatic over their novel concept vertical farms using waste composite turbine blades. The MDMA team envisions dozens of these vitae farms interspersed with existing wind farms so that both power and food can be produced from the same area.

Bio-power Research Growing Corporate America is looking to improve their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standing by using more animals for tasks, such as blog editing and remote tech support (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 – Animal Power

Quote one corporate CEO. “To be truly carbon neutral, you have to return to animal power for many activities.” Animals are part of the green cycle and they consume fewer critical minerals and require less power per kilogram than humans for many labor intensive and high tech / high cost solutions.

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