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Energy Storage…Batteries etc.

7:54 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

First rechargeable battery - Chris Tengi/flickr

I decided to begin to look into this area a lot deeper since I became interested in – of all things – running my car audio system separate from the cars own battery. My brother has been doing this for his ham radio equipment for a short while using a solar panel on the roof of his car to keep a separate battery charged. Sounded intriguing so I queried him about it and he sent me the details of what and how.

Since before the industrial revolution energy storage and it’s use has been a major preoccupation of the human race. How to get energy, use it and save it for later. From the first use of fire for cooking and then for early metallurgy and of course warfare.

The use of wood and then hydro carbon compounds for generating heat and then chemical reactions to generate electricity. The first practical use of steam to power was Savery steam pump used in the pump water out of the mines in England. Followed by the Thomas Newcomen “Atmospheric Engine”.

Then came the improvements of James Watt and others.

Around this same time Benjamin Franklin had been experimenting with Leiden jars collecting the static charge in to s series of them he called a “Battery” as he thought them like a battery of guns. But static electricity proved not to be very useful. Then around the same time frame as Flanklin’s experiments, Alessandro Volta began his experiments based on the discoveries of Luigi Galvani and put together his Galvanic Cell or voltaic pile consisting of pairs of copper and zinc discs piled on top of each other, separated by a layer of cloth or cardboard soaked in brine.

Finally a way the generate electricity that was constant and consistent. And there were numerous variations on this battery developed. Including the first rechargeable battery, the lead acid cell which we still have today. In 1899 Waldemar Jungner invented the nickel-cadmium battery and then then nickel iron battery, which he failed to patent since he felt in inferior to the NiCad cell.

Edison picked up on the nickel iron battery in hopes of making a quick buck selling them for electric cars but electric cars fell out of fashion to be replace with gasoline engine cars. Edison lost money on the deal. The nickel iron battery was not dead yet though as it was very tolerant of abuse and found favor in the newly emerging telephone industry, military and even aviation areas because of this. Even though it did have drawbacks such as out gassing and thermal runaway.

Since then there have been major advances in battery technology such as nickel hydrogen battery and nickel–metal hydride battery and the Lithium ion batteries.

But it was the invention of the battery that led to the discoveries of such people as Orsted and Faraday and Ampere and Hertz in the areas of magnetics and electromagnetics and magnetic waves. Giving us electric motors and transformers and radio and nearly everything we take for granted today. In fact even into the late 1940s people in rural areas not yet serviced by the electric grid relied on storage batteries for the radios and even lighting.

And today especially with the move away from carbon base energy systems to those that are more or less ecologically friendly and toward “off grid” personal systems – as well as electric vehicles – there is a major renewal in the interest in batter technology.
However batteries have a lot of draw backs. For one because they are electro-chemical IE base on a reaction between an electrolyte, an acid or base and some metallic electrodes – they have a limited life. Either failing completely or a fixed number of times they can be charged and discharged.

Also they fall into one of two different categories. Either constant voltage or constant current.

The Lithium and Nickle based batteries are constant voltage. That is you can draw current from them up to some maximum and the voltage available will not change but remain constant. Very good for today’s electronics which need a constant voltage to function properly. But there is maximum where if you attempt to draw too much current they will overheat and self destruct. Sometimes very violently.

The so called dry cells and alkaline batteries and lead acid types are constant current batteries. They have a constant amount of current you can draw from them and then the voltage drops. In fact the voltage drops the minute you begin to draw current but becomes more and more noticeable with the more current you draw. Their big plus is that they are less expensive to manufacture and with the case of AGM or Absorbed glass mat lead acid cells, do not out gas or leak and can be stored and operated in most any position. Unlike the so called wet cell lead acid batteries.

Current AGM batteries now can be deep discharged and float charged with little or no problems unlike in the past where these types of batteries could not be deep discharge and float charging them had to be highly regulated. Because of this they have become very popular for UPS systems and even solar powered off grid applications. Though for high current and high availability applications such as industrial sized UPS systems or large scale solar, the wet cell lead acid battery is still preferred.

Some of the newest battery technology is now the lithium iron phosphate battery. These have many advantages over the previous lithium ion batteries. Such as a longer life cycle and fewer environmental concerns. But like other Lithium based batteries they require an intelligent monitor system to make sure they are not completely discharged, or their internal chemistry changes and can no longer be charged. Or over charged or they will be damaged or that too much current is drawn or they overheat and self destruct. All of this makes them considerably more expensive than other cells.

However for a large number of applications they are the battery of choice with their smaller size and lower weight for a particular voltage and current. And in the case of the lithium ion phosphate battery, they have become very popular with the sport vehicle crowd and even as replacements for car batteries. There are even companies that offer them as single 3v cells with current rages up to a couple of hundred amps. Of course these require separate battery monitors for each configuration. This is making them look quite good for solar power energy storage.

All of which brings us back to Benjamen Franklin and the Leiden jars. Leiden jars being the first capacitors. Capacitors also store electrical energy but until recently very small amounts and were used mainly in various electronic circuits. But this technology has been advancing as well. Such that we now have what are called super capacitors. And the price of these are dropping like lead shot in a swimming pool. And because they are not electro-chemical devices, can be charged and discharged almost an infinite number of times. They can also deliver as much current as needed without any physical damage.

These super capacitors are now available up to 100s of farads. To give you and example of what this means, when I got into electronics a 10 micro farad [that's 0.000001 farads] capacitor was the size of small pop bottle. And had a finite longevity. They would go bad after a while. If you talked about a 1 farad capacitor, images of something the size of stem ship boiler came to mind and was considered impossible to build.

Now we have super capacitors that are reasonably small and relatively inexpensive. They are by no means a panacea but combined with new battery technology could make our quest for energy and better way to store and use it more and more feasible. The combination of these ultra capacitors and newest batteries together is making electric energy generation by means other than carbon based fuels look quite good indeed.

The Earth vs The American Dream. At least one of them must go.

12:21 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

The End of The American Dream

My current vehicle has hit the end of the line.  The clutch and throw out bearing expired in a puff of foul smoke. This is the 5th time I have had this happen. It’s a 1998 Subaru and needs other work as well. It served me will taking me up and down I95 and around central Fl. but it’s time to let it go.  The replacement will be of a similar sort. Newer but not new. I do not require a brand new car as I do not drive that much, but do need to on occasion.

As the saying goes we are living in interesting times. What Morris Berman calls the Waning of the Modern Ages.   Like The Waning of the Middle Ages  described by Dutch historian Johan Huizinga and the collapse of the Roman Empire as explained by Joseph Tainter in his “The Collapse of Complex Societies“  our modern capitalistic society is coming apart. And as Morris Berman says

….like our own age, not much fun to live through.  One reason for this is that the world is literally perched over an abyss. What lies ahead is largely unknown, and to have to hover over an abyss for a long time is, to put it colloquially, a bit of a drag. The same thing was true at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire as well, on the ruins of which the feudal system slowly arose.

The right knows this. The right knows that by admitting that our current free market capitalistic system is the direct cause of climate change and global warming is the death kneel of this system.

But the Right is not fooled: it sees Green as a Trojan horse for Red, the attempt “to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism.” It believes—correctly—that the politics of global warming is inevitably an attack on the American Dream, on the whole capitalist structure. Thus Larry Bell, in Climate of Corruption, argues that environmental politics is essentially about “transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth distribution”; and British writer James Delinpole notes that “Modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, greater government intervention, [and] regulation.”

That’s right. That Green is the new Red and that the left is out to torpedo the American Dream and Free Market capitalism. And they are absolutely correct or should be because that is exactly what needs to happen.

But no…the left insists that we can have a kinder, gentler, more economically sound version of the American dream. All we need to do is to trade in our gas guzzling SUV for a Prius, replace those old incandescent bulbs with florescent or LEDs , install some solar panels and all will be fine.


As Naomi Klein says in a piece from the November Issue of Nation:
Read the rest of this entry →

The biggest evils of Capitalism.

9:27 am in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Deforestation - Peter Blanchard flickr

While having breakfast this morning I was watching a segment on DW Global 3000 on how people in Asia and the Pacific are having a hard time with illegal logging and deforestation. As well has habitats for wild animals.  Like the Bengal tiger.

There was a segment a while ago I watched on Neil deGrasse Tyson NOVA Science NOW about making artificial diamonds. That they can make them as good as or even better than the ones dug out of the ground.

We are all aware of how OPEC controls the price of oil by manipulating the supply.  And there was a segment on RT on genetic seeds, so called Terminator Seeds.  That are good for one harvest only so that farmers are forced to buy more seeds for the next harvest.

How products are kept off the market on purpose because they would upset the economic apple cart as it were.

Here is the biggest evil of capitalism in my opinion.  It encourages and rewards the raping of the planet, decimation of life and holding hostage of ideas for personal gain.

The scarcer the resource – the more likely it is to be pillaged with complete disregard for the consequences.   The more likelihood an idea is to effect a some person/group from making money, the greater the chances are of it being summarily buried.

Capitalism is the antithesis of real growth and survival. Preying on peoples greed and self interest to the detriment of all else.   It has to be completely destroyed if we are to survive.

Paul Gilding: The Earth Is Full

8:42 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Paul Gilding on The TED channel says “The earth is full”. That we have run out of……..nearly everything. That growth is unsustainable.  And when we can no longer grow, civilization collapses.

People say we need this, that growth is essential to the survival of our civilization. It’s so central that the idea itself is never questioned. Gilding is fascinated by argument that “We can bend the rules of physics to suit our needs.” In the face of the possibility that unrestrained growth will strain resources to exhaustion, people claim that without growth the world is in trouble, therefore everything will be fine.

But the truth is, ”The planet doesn’t care what we need. Mother nature doesn’t negotiate.” These are not esoteric limits, they’re about food and water and basic needs. The idea that we can transition smoothly, that growth and economics as we know them will innovate the problems away, that we can gently move to a system at 100% of the Earth’s capacity is, says Gilding, a delusion. The idea that we’ll heed the warnings would make sense, but we’ve had 50 years of warnings, and what has happened? Last year there were more carbon emissions than ever in history. We know that the eventual cost will be cheaper the earlier we act, and yet we’ve never acted, “We’re not even slowing down.”

So here is his talk


And as he says we need to act like we have only one planet. Because that is all we have.

What do we do with our junk ?

11:05 am in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

The inspiration for this diary came from Crane-station’s post on What not to take to the scrap yard.

When I was young – around 14 or so – after my father passed away, my mother moved my brothers and sisters and I down to Naples Fl. to live. The ends of the earth as far as I was concerned. We had little from my father’s estate and my mother decided to open a kindergarten rather than being a nurse in some hospital – where the pay was low and the hours horrible.

My main interest at that time was radio and electronics but had very little in the way of money to acquire parts etc.  So I became very good a scrounging for radio parts from the back of TV service shops. There were three main ones in town at that time and a couple of smaller ones. So I would get on my bicycle and head downtown and make the rounds, putting what ever I found on my bike and tying it down with some rope and then make my way home. Where I would use a drill and what ever other tools I had to remove those parts that I though useful. Tubes and tube sockets, capacitors and resisters. Transformers and coils and what not.

I became rather good at it and still use these skills today. Not because of money issues but because a lot of the parts are no longer available and are still useful for some of my projects.  I built audio amplifiers and power supplies and even a short wave converter to use ahead of an auto radio to listen to shortwave broadcasts. It worked very well and as it turned out this approach was considered much better than the typical one used in most commercial units.

This was the 1960s though when reusing and re-purposing technology was practical and useful.  Our current technology is much less so.  The small parts in our cell phones and laptops and ipods etc. are not as easy to reuse. Removing them can destroy them unless one has the proper equipment to do so.  Most of the chips are only useful for the device they are in. Proprietary  with little or no documentation on how one would use them.  Or flash programmed with proprietary code.

Sow what happens when we replace them do to failure or just want something new and better and more shiny ? We pitch them out. In to the dumpster or have them hauled of to somewhere. Out of site and out of mind.

E-waste is expected to grow with the profusion of DVDs, pagers and cell phones with shorter life-spans that are yet to hit store shelves.

“As technology increases and the demand for technology increases, more and more products will be entering the waste-stream,” Wood said. “As we use more circuit boards and introduce things like flat-panel TVs, we are putting whole new types of toxins into the environment, for which toxicological data are not yet available.”

“We’re not just talking about electronics,” Bender agreed. “We’re talking about any materials that manufacturers produce with large amounts of plastics, metals or hazardous constituents.”

Earlier this year, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and the Basel Action Network issued a report revealing just how big the e-waste problem is.

According to the report, “Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia,” between 50 and 80 percent of e-waste collected for recycling is shipped overseas.

“It’s cheaper to put (electronic junk) on a container ship to China than it is to find a company in the United States that will recycle it responsibly,” Wood said.

In South China, residents with no safety equipment recover metal parts from electronic waste by smashing monitors to get CRT tubes, exposing themselves to toxic poisons.

According to the report, the United States is the only developed country in the world that has failed to ratify the Basel Convention, a United Nations environmental treaty which has adopted a global ban on hazardous waste exports from the most developed countries to the developing world.

Activists say that the United States should follow Europe’s lead and pass a directive on e-waste. Manufacturers should pay the cost of collecting and recycling electronic goods, they argue.

But as this article also points out a lot of this is changing but for the individual, this is not easy as one has to find a center that will take our tech-trash.   And as Crane-station has ponted out in her posts, a lot of it still winds up in the dumpster.

The problem is that our capitalistic system does not allow for junk. And not just our personal junk, but when houses and buildings and factories become junk, they are simply left to rot and decay and rust away. Capitalism does not account for that which cannot turn a profit. Ney…it discourages activities that cost people and business and governments time and money and resources.  It encourages waste and inefficiency.  And any system like that will itself be discarded.