The earthquake, tsunami and then ongoing nuclear disaster that hit Japan’s east coast in March 2011 has given the Japanese a lot of pause for thought. Indeed, according to the Japanese advertising agency known as TBWA\Hakuhodo, the disaster – which killed 15,000-plus and left around 4.4 million households without electricity and 1.5 million without water – has altered the country’s fundamental view of the world, “bringing home to us the realisation that infrastructure is fragile and energy is never guaranteed.” EarthTechling reports that it was this line of thinking that then led the ad agency to address two questions: “Can we live without modern infrastructure? And if so, what will the future of Japan look like?” And together with its long-term client Nissan, and 19 other companies, the company has also provided an answer: a house known as Mirai Nihon, or Future Japan.
As EarthTechling reports, Mirai Nihon uses technologies developed – but not yet in commercial production – by TBWA\Hakuhodo’s clients. The home’s base is Solar Design Laboratory’s Aerohouse, a basic box-shaped kit-home made of wood and plywood that can be set up wherever needed. Off-grid power is generated by Altima Corporation’s organic PV film, which is backed up with an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) system from Japan Capacitor Industrial Systems and a Home Power Storage System from NEC Corporation. A Home Energy Management System from Nissin Systems Corporation helps to ensure the home operates at peak efficiency. And then if all this technology fails, or fails to meet your power needs, just plug into a Nissan Leaf, which should have enough energy stored to power your home for up to two days.
Other features of the Future Home include a water purification system capable of bringing polluted and unsanitary water up to potable standards. The system uses the New Meridian Tech Company’s Crystal Valley Water Purification System which, accompanied by a seawater unit, pass water first through activated charcoal, then through a reverse osmosis filter, to provide safe drinking water. AND you can live in one today – the homes (minus the EV) are commercially available through TBWA and its partners, for $US211,570 for the 66-square-meter version and $US180,257 for the 49-square-meter — including all the off-grid bells and whistles; not including shipping costs from Japan. And did we mention, they look pretty good, too.
Gravel energy storage
British startup Isentropic announced this week that it has raised $22 million in project funding and an equity investment from the UK government-backed Energy Technologies Institute to go towards developing its concept that could yield a much-longed for breakthrough for utility-scale energy storage. Earth2Tech reports that the innovation behind Isentropic’s idea is an advanced heat pump connected to a super simple, low-cost energy storage design. As Katie Fehrenbacher explains, an isentropic process is a thermodynamic process that can be reversed. And the key to the company’s heat pump is that it can be reversed extremely efficiently, and has an isentropic efficiency of 99 per cent.
As for the energy storage, the Isentropic team decided to connect their heat pump to two silos full of plain old gravel. Using the heat pump, the system compresses argon gas to produce a temperature differential and deposits heat and cold into the two separate silos. Energy is stored in the gravel and when the process is reversed, it can be released. Such a system could be very low cost, quick and easy to set up and could be built in a variety of locations, says Fehrenbacher – which puts it ahead of most batteries and location-specific alternatives. Isentropic will use part of the funds it has raised to build a 1.5MW demonstration energy storage system at a primary substation owned by UK power company Western Power Distribution.
Carbon, to methane, to biofuel
In Germany, a research team from the Freiburg Materials Research Center is working on turning carbon dioxide into methanol to use later as a green fuel. CleanTechnica reports that the researchers, led by Dr Ingo Krossing, have developed a new system that produces methanol from CO2 and hydrogen. They hope to eventually be able to harness the power of CO2 on a large scale and integrate it back into the mix as a sustainable form of energy production.
Theoretically, CO2 would be filtered out of waste gas from a combined heat and power plant and used to create methanol – to do this, Krossing’s team combines the CO2 with hydrogen in a high pressure process known as hydrogenolysis. The methanol would then be used in motors. They say that the amount of methanol that could be converted from 10 per cent of the yearly CO2 emissions in Germany would meet the country’s annual fuel needs.
“There is enough energy out there, but it needs to be stored,” says team member and Doctoral candidate Elias Frei. “As a sustainable means of energy storage, methanol has potential in a wide range of areas. We want to use that potential, because the storage and conversion of energy are important topics for the future.”