Natural Resources Roundup May 2017

Natural Resources Roundup May 2017

By Kyle Gracey

As May comes to a close, we round up the latest stories on a super smart water pump, gassy air purifiers, gasless natural gas plants, and competition in solar roofs. Enjoy!

Smarter Water Pump Cuts Energy Use Up to 70%

Water pumps have seen many advances since the one pictured here. Xylem’s smart wastewater pump, Flygt Concertor, continues the trend with its expansion into municipal wastewater systems. The Washington, District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority announced the installation of the pumps at one of its waste treatment facilities.

Xylem introduced the pumps last year. They feature integrated “intelligent controls” software and hardware that help minimize clogging and vacuum cleaning of the pumps. Less clogging means the pumps can move the same amount of water for up to 70% less electricity. Less vacuum cleaning cuts the cost of maintaining the pumps. In theory, these innovations will allow water authorities to provide customers with clean water and waste treatment at lower cost.

Air Purifier Generates Power as It Cleans

Belgian researchers recently developed an air purifier that also generates hydrogen gas as a byproduct. The device consists of two chambers with nanocatalysts embedded in a membrane between the chambers. When polluted air fills one chamber, the catalysts react with the pollutants to break them down. It simultaneously generates hydrogen in the second chamber. The hydrogen can be used to power fuel cells, such as in a car or generator.

The device continues to run as long as it is exposed to light. The current prototype works at a scale of a few square centimeters, so don’t expect to see one in your home anytime soon!

Prototype Natural Gas Plant Emits No CO2

Natural gas power plants are cleaner than burning coal, but still emit a dangerous amount of greenhouse gas pollution. Using a technique called chemical looping combustion (CLC), however, researchers have built a 100 kW plant that does not. Now, they think they have refined the process and are ready to scale to a 10 MW version.

CLC prevents the natural gas from making contact with air. This means it can’t escape into the atmosphere. A circulating metal oxide transfers oxygen from the air to the combustion chamber that contains the natural gas. The oxygen combusts the natural gas, which eventually creates electricity. The almost-pure carbon dioxide (CO2) left over from the combustion remains trapped in the plant.

The CO2 can be used for industrial processes. However, most of it will require very long-term underground storage to keep it from ever reaching the atmosphere. Fortunately, nearly pure CO2 makes a good candidate for long-term storage. The method is also cheaper than previous attempts to contain CO2 pollution from natural gas plants.

Startup Takes On Tesla’s Solar Roof

Forward Labs, a startup construction company with three employees, aims to compete with Tesla’s Solar Roof. The two companies’ goals sound similar—offer a functional roof with integrated solar panels. Forward Labs offers a fairly different design, however. Its approach mimics a more traditional roof much more closely. It aims to be less of a showpiece than Tesla’s roof. Instead, it tries to blend into the look of a typical roof to unobtrusively offer its owners home grown electricity. Supposedly, the more traditional construction techniques will also make it cheaper than Tesla’s.

Whether Forward Labs succeeds or not, it suggests a more important development: competition has arrived in the infant solar roof market. Expect more variants in the coming years.

Image courtesy

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