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Crystals, algae and ocean currents

Andrew Seifert
Andreas Seifert
Permanent writer in MODERN TIMES within technology/environment.
ENERGY / MODERN TIMES's commentator Ole Seifert will in future regularly cover ecological technology and innovations. Various innovations in energy and power are presented here: ocean current turbines, solar power with ferroelectric crystals, hemp batteries and mechanical storage of excess power – which replaces batteries.


In 1980 I was still a teenager and took up wind and solar power with the dad of a classmate. He was employed in NVE. "Possible, but far too expensive and unrealistic," he thought. My point was that it was expensive to start oil exploration and to build hydroelectric plants, but it was not heard. Had it been up to him and his like-minded people, neither of these two would have been possible.


Wind power has high efficiency and earning potential. The total offshore windpark is now in the UK (1,2 GW), but China is in the lead with wind power.

On the small-scale side, there are a number of different ones windmills which are both quiet and efficient. Some can even generate power from passing traffic. Placed in the middle of the motorway, they can draw wind from both directions.

The prototype Kairyu for use in sea currents. Ihi Corp./Nedo

Sea power

Ocean currents should not be unknown to Norwegians as we have bathing temperatures in the summer due to the Gulf Stream.

Although tidal power has faster flow of water masses, this does not fit equally well everywhere. Ocean currents are colossal and stable. Ocean current turbines have high efficiency, 70 percent, far higher than wind and solar power – almost as high as coal power with its 80 percent – without polluting.

Outside Japan, a multi-year test on deep-water turbines has now been completed. It all began in 2011. The actual testing of the turbines only started in 2017. In Japan, they believe that the price is roughly the same as for solar energy. According to Ocean Energy Systems, established by the International Energy Agency, can ocean power provide 300 Gigawatts of energy by 2050 – equivalent to the electricity needs of 210 million households.

Solar power

It can be mentioned here that between the mentioned windmills there will be floating islands with solar panels in several places. In France, for example, an order was introduced in 2015 that all new buildings with flat roofs in business and industrial areas must have solar panels.

In 1991, the popular science television program Beyond 2000 aired solar panelis from Texas Instruments that could be integrated into windows. Then there was silence about it, for about twenty years. Now in July, the breakthrough finally came, from the University of Michigan. The degree of efficiency is 10 percent with hopes of increasing it to 15, i.e. approximately half of ordinary solar panels. The panel will be inserted between two layers of glass. Currently, they are only 50 percent transparent, with a green tinge. Otherwise, there are flexible, bendable and even rollable panels. Solar-powered cars have also started to gain a foothold. The nimble, aerodynamic three-wheeler Aptera has a starting price of around NOK 200.

The facade was covered in panels, almost like aquariums, filled with algae

Even more interesting are the prisms that concentrate the sunlight and give solar panels a much higher efficiency. The technology already arrived in 2016. Solar panels have a relatively low utilization rate, but this can be changed with the help of an outer layer of optical glass pyramids that focus the sunlight so that utilization increases threefold, to around 90 percent. According to researchers at Stanford University, this can be made with few raw materials at a reasonable price and replace the outer layer of ordinary solar
cell panels.

Until now, silicon-based solar panels have been the leader, but that may change.

Ferroelectric crystals should be a thousand times more efficient than traditional silicon-based solar panels, according to researchers at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany. Unlike silicone-based panels that require positively and negatively charged layers, they consist of ultra-thin layers of different materials. Using a special laser technique, a material consisting of 500 layers is made that is 200 nanometers thick. A strand of hair is approximately 100 nanometers thick.

There are now actually "solar panels" that work at night and panels for indoor use ("Zombie panels"), which harvest artificial light.

Battery power

Hemp batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are the most popular and widely used rechargeable battery. Tesla uses Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) to achieve longer life. But there are other types with other properties and not least better performance.

Vanadium Flow (Redox) bacteriaare water-based and non-flammable, thus far safer than many other types. As Vanadium Flow batteries are larger and bulkier, they are better suited for storing larger amounts of power for the grid.

Hemp has had a renaissance in many areas and can also be used in batteries, with far better performance than traditional lithium-ion or LFP batteries. The manufacturers are also not burdened with extensive use of rare raw materials. Hamp grows quickly and it is the bast fibers in the plant that are otherwise rarely used, which can be used as a supercapacitor on par with graphene (graphene) – but at a fraction of the price. Hemp batteries can be used in almost everything, including electric cars. American and Canadian researchers believe hemp batteries last eight times longer than lithium batteries and outperform graphene for a thousandth of the price! Hemp is an annual plant and absorbs CO2 twice as good as trees.


Storage without batteries

Energy does not disappear, but can change "form". The "new" thing in storage now, instead of expensive and often not environmentally friendly batteries, is the storage of kinetic Energy solutions – kinetic energy, known from some clocks. Simply explained, it is charged automatically by movement, which is converted into a magnetic charge that becomes electricity. You can use "surplus power", for example solar power from daytime in a process where you store using kinetic energy. It can be compared to pumping water up into tanks on a water tower so that the force when the water flows down (gravity) is enough to give pressure in the tap. You build up the pressure when the power is most available. Of course, it doesn't have to be water-based. It might as well be sand or something else. The point is to both release batteries and to store the energy sensibly from the power when it is most available. This is also a method that can work well in high-rise buildings and skyscrapers.

Ocean current turbines have a high efficiency of 70 percent, far higher than wind turbines
solar power.

In 2013, a fifteen-story# Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) apartment block was completed in Hamburg, Germany. The facade was covered in panels, almost like aquariums, filled with algae. The facade generates enough electrical power to light up the entire building. Microalgae grow with the help of CO2, nutrients, daylight and sunlight and produces biomass and heat. The biomass is converted into methane (biogas) with an efficiency of up to 80 per cent, and further into electricity and heat. The excess heat that is produced in the 129 bioreactors and that is not used by the algae is extracted via an energy center and either fed into the district heating network or temporarily stored in the ground.

Hemp batteries last eight times longer than lithium batteries.

Neutrinos are an elementary particle that is found literally everywhere and penetrates anything, even the earth, and was first mentioned in 1930 and detected and confirmed in 1956. Now we move into subatomic physics. The Nobel Prize in Physics in 2015 went to Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald for the discovery that neutrinos have mass and can change character – neutrino-oscillation – which can in turn be used to generate power. Here we are talking about constant alternative energy, also at night, and this can be of enormous importance for future alternative power production. Simply explained, super-thin layers of graphene and silicon are used which vibrate when they are hit by neutrinos. Since the vibrations are both in the vertical as well as the horizontal plane, these can be converted into electrical energy. This is called "Neutrinovoltaic technology".

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