Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sustainability & Basic Human Needs

(Outside of Pune, India - Photo:RLW)

The next time you flush your toilet…

India has roughly 1.1 billion people. Well over 700 million of them do not have toilets in the privacy of their own homes. Over 30% of India’s 700,000 villages do not have access to a public latrine. This isn’t a problem for the men. They just walk out of doors whenever they want. It is a problem for women, as they cannot make such a display in public.

So Indian village women walk together in small groups to fields they do not own well outside their villages very early in the morning. Then they hold it all day until the fading light hides their journey in the evening. Often these groups will walk a quarter of a mile or further for privacy, which takes time away from their work day and their children. They cannot go alone, as the owner of the land might harass them, which is embarrassing. Often men will follow them and hide in the bushes and watch, which is humiliating.

This is such an indignity for Indian woman that brides have started to demand an unusual dowry item for matrimony – a toilet. These women see this as a human rights issue.

While in India I walked through several of these rural villages. You can feel the centuries pressing down upon you. I specifically told my Indian business hosts that I wanted to visit a village market and a few small villages. They were perplexed and asked me why. But of course they were men…

Richard Wottrich

Thursday, June 03, 2010

"Go Fly A Kite" Takes On New Meaning

Example of an AWE blimp

Wind turbine kites have taken to the skies as a form of Alternative Energy. Inventor JoeBen Bevirt of Joby Energy is mounting a test for a series of large kites that are designed to "harvest" high winds found at high altitudes. Airborne Wind Turbines are part of a wider Alternative Energy Sector known as Airborne Wind Energy Systems (AWE).

The Bevirt airborne wind turbines will fly to around 2000 feet (600m), where they will float, generating power that can be transferred to the ground via a tether.

"Global wind is a tremendous source of energy - carrying nearly 870 terrawatts in global tropospheric winds," says Bevirt. "In comparison, the global demand is 17 terawatts. Harnessing a tiny fraction will transform the way we power our civilization."

As of 2010 no commecially viable kite farms are in operation, but the concepts involved have been contemplated since the 1970s, but was not technically possible. Advances in materials, computing resources and unmanned aerial vehicles have brought the concept closer to reality. As a result, several companies are exploring harvesting wind power at high altitudes.

Magenn Power's Air Rotor System called (MARS) uses a helium filled blimp design. Sky WindPower is building flying electric generators. Kite Gen is focused on creating power kites.

Joby Energy's technology is based upon a large multi-winged kite, similar to a World War I multiwing airplane. Each kite is computer-controlled and can guided remotely to a desired altitude. Flight is controlled by its onboard computer system and harvested electricity is sent down a tether to a substation where it is converted from DC to AC power.

There are risks and limitations to contemplated AWE systems. Kites and 'helicopter' designs must be grounded when there is insufficient wind. Kytoons and blimps could allow fixed positioning. However, bad weather such as lightning or thunderstorms, could temporarily suspend use of the machines, probably requiring them to be brought back down to the ground and covered. Some schemes require a long power cable and, if the turbine is high enough, an aircraft exclusion zone. When the generator is ground-based, the tether need not be conductive.

Sky Windpower estimates that this technology will be capable of producing electricity for $0.02 per KWh, while a system of raising a kite to a high altitude while turning a generator on the ground, and then changing its shape so that it can be drawn back down with less energy than it produced on the way up, has been estimated to be capable of producing electricity for $0.01 per KWh - both numbers being significantly lower than the current price of non-subsidized electricity.

Richard Wottrich

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Tracking the Cosmos Via Crystal Clear Blue Ice

ICE CUBE neutrino array suspended in the Antarctica Ice Cap

The Wall Street Journal reported today that a new scientific instrument, called the Ice Cube, is under construction at the South Pole. The $271 million observatory built into the Antarctica ice cap is pointed towards the earth and utilizes it as a screen to stop all particles excepting neutrinos. Ice Cube is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Neutrinos are almost without mass, have no electric charge and thus can pass through matter "like a hot knife through butter." This means that neutrinos are not affected by gravity or radiation. Hence in theory they can be traced backwards to image the universe in a way that visible light and other forms of radiation cannot achieve. The trick is to see them.

Holes are being melted in the ice cap to a depth of one mile or more. Strings of spherical glass sensors are being hung down the holes like Christmas tree lights - there to freeze in place. Over 5,000 sensors are being suspended in a quarter cubic mile of pure Antarctic ice. The water in this ice is so pure than these sensors can pick up the tell tale miniscule flash of blue light emitted when a neutrino hits a water molecule from several hundred yards away.

The exciting mystery is that no one really knows what these neutrino images of the cosmos will look like.

Richard Wottrich