How smart is the solar Smart Plan?

The solar Smart Plan is a simple way to get predictable low daytime solar energy rates for $0 upfront. From how it works to how it helps you save, here are the smartest parts of the solar Smart Plan.


Solar Smart Plan simplified.

The solar Smart Plan is different to­­ buying a solar system outright to install on your roof. With a solar Smart Plan, the system is installed and owned by AGL – stress and hassle free.

Put simply, the solar Smart Plan is like having a mini power station on your roof – where you buy the solar electricity it produces during the day for a low rate, instead of buying it from the grid at a higher price.


The energy rates offered start from 12.1c/kwh, plus all solar Smart Plans are only seven years, so you can enjoy predictable low daytime solar energy rates for years to come.

Making the most of the sun.

Converting to a solar Smart Plan is a great way to help save on your power bills each year. But just how much will it really help in the long run?

Well, by switching to a solar Smart Plan, you could save hundreds. Those savings could be used on anything from a family holiday to a new TV, or groceries and school fees.

On top of this, AGL will look after the health of the system, maintaining and monitoring it so the panels will always perform at their best and you don’t need to worry about claiming on warranties or maintenance.

Keeping it flexible. 

The solar Smart Plan is designed to be flexible and meet your needs if your circumstances change. When you sign up for the solar Smart Plan it gives you predictable low daytime solar energy rates for seven years, but doesn’t lock you into the plan – your options are always open.

When your plan is up, you can choose to roll it over and keep saving, or make the final payment and AGL can transfer the system to you as per the terms of the contract.

If you move house and don’t want to buy the system, you may be able to transfer your plan to the new owners so they can start saving too. However, if you decide to exit that’s fine as well – you only need to make a final payment.

AGL solar Smart Plan can help people save with predictably low solar energy rates, while helping them live more sustainably.


Henry Sapiecha


Eguana lords it over Tesla

Bob Moriarty discusses a tiny Canadian technology company based in Calgary with an award winning battery/power converter that is more powerful, more portable and easier to install than the Tesla equivalent. THANK YOU BOB

Eguana-skunks-Tesla image

Distributed Storage

Between 2014 and 2024 solar/wind power systems or Distributed Energy Storage Systems (DESS) are predicted to increase some sixty-fold from 200MW to greater than 12,000MW, according to research firm Navigant. That would put the market for DESS at $16.5 billion. Elon Musk plans on cashing in on the demand for this new technology with his Powerwall 2.0 home battery to be produced in his $5 billion “Gigafactory” in Nevada spanning 135 acres for the building alone.

A tiny Canadian technology company based in Calgary has already skunked Tesla with an award winning battery/power converter that is more powerful, more portable and easier to install than the Tesla equivalent. The average home installation would need two of the Tesla Powerwall devices but Eguana Technologies Inc. (EGT:TSX.V; EGTYF:OTCQB) can provide the same storage capacity with one unit.

A DESS unit is composed of three different elements. You have a power source that can be solar, wind or even the grid itself during non-peak hours. You also have an inverter/power control unit that converts the input power for passing on either to the user or to a storage unit, some form of battery for later use. The power control unit also has to be able to pass higher voltage power back to the grid when necessary or desirable. The third part of the triangle is a battery or storage unit.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of The Telegraph just wrote an interesting article about the technology of batteries for DESS in the last week. In the piece he quotes another industry expert, the consulting group McKinsey, as saying they estimate the total market as $90 billion by 2025.

Evans-Pritchard begins the article suggesting the next energy revolution is no more than five to ten years away. It will be led by battery technology as costs are decreasing far faster than either solar or wind power inputs. Batteries for storage are literally the missing link but costs are plummeting. Between 2011 and 2014, prices for storage dropped 50%. Elon Musk believes he can lower the cost of DESS to $100 per kWh by 2020 at which point solar becomes competitive with carbon-based power generation.

Storage for energy is the missing link, the holy grail of renewable energy. Solar cells and wind turbines have been around for yonks even if hardly economic. But the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. An affordable way to store excess energy for use when it is most needed or to pass back into the grid makes renewable energy possible. At some price it even will surpass the value of carbon-based energy with all its attendant problems. An inexpensive battery/storage system makes the entire concept viable.

Eguana Tech is a fifteen-year-old company that is brand new. The company spent those years and $30 million developing the technology for the power control units that sandwich between the solar panels and the battery storage units. They simply have the best inverters/power control units in the market being 4–12% more efficient than the competition in power conversion.

The company has installed units in over 5,000 storage systems. It is a 3rd generation platform with 35+ MW operational. They have a variety of patents protecting their technology with both a low-cost and high-performance advantage over other companies.

I said the company was fifteen years old but that it is brand new. With the decreased costs of both solar cells and battery/storage units, a year ago the company made the decision to transition from design to market penetration intending to ride the wave of commercialization as lower costs drive demand higher by 45% per year.

Eguana has cash flow now with revenue trending at a $6 million per year run rate. With the 18 design wins over the past twelve months in the US, Europe, Australia and Japan, it’s time to convert design into sales on a massive scale. By my figures, with their penetration in the California, Hawaii, Australian and German market, the company could achieve sales of $60 million per year in the next 18 months. Gross margins should be in the 25% to 35% range.

Automobile manufacturers are starting to enter the residential DESS marketplace with Daimler and Nissan indicating an interest and participation. In June of 2016 Eguana announced delivery to an unnamed German carmaker of their Power Control Solution (PCS) for integration in a European designed DESS.

Currently potential and actual customers are battery manufacturers, distributors of solar or wind power systems, and electric utilities. Eguana’s competitive advantage is in their software technology that optimizes storage performance and power conversion both in and out of the storage unit with a 4–12% advantage over other manufacturers.

The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the brave but that is the way to bet. What the market is going to reward now will be the ability to pivot on a dime. The DESS market is fluid but giant in potential. It will be as important for a company to be able to change direction as to have a technological advantage. Every jurisdiction has different legal and technical requirements. Eguana is targeting the most attractive and economically potential markets first without betting the farm on any particular market.

Elon Musk is bringing a lot of attention to both the automobile and the battery storage market with his $5 billion dollar investment in the future. In one way, he is actually doing the marketing and customer education for Eguana. With the size and penetration of the batteries from the Gigafactory into the market, Tesla will be naturally slower to pivot because of their mass. Eguana can modify products to fit changes in demand in a far shorter time frame. So they get the benefit of his marketing yet retain the flexibility of a small company.

In his speech at the Tesla annual meeting on May 31, 2016, Elon Musk said that the production of batteries could be a bigger business for Tesla than the manufacture of electric vehicles. Tesla believes their DESS business could grow from $160 million per year now to over a billion dollars in a couple of years.

For the next fifteen years, renewable energy is going to be “The Next Big Thing” as the decreasing cost of solar, wind power and battery storage solutions make renewable energy competitive with carbon based power generation. Eguana is perfectly positioned to ride that wave of economic opportunity. They have income now with experience in the market place and are aiming at a major push into serious revenue increases in the next year.

Eguana is just entering the most interesting and highest potential growth phase of what everyone believes will be an enormous market. Their ability to change and manage curvilinear growth will be the key to their success and potential down the road. I’ve talked to management at length about their plans and how they see themselves growing with the market. This is a management issue. The demand exists and will continue to expand. The only question is can Eguana expand with the market.

I believe they can and as a result I bought shares in the open market based on my belief they have both the technology and the management bandwidth to transition from a tiny Canadian junior to a major player in a big market.

Eguana shares were as low at $0.08 in January before starting a climb to a high of $0.39 a share in June. The share price has made a perfectly normal correction down to $0.25 this month and has just broken out higher. I expect them to be making a new yearly high shortly. Eguana did a $7 million private placement that closed in early July and is well cashed up for the next year and a half.

With Eguana you are buying blue sky. The company has a market cap of about CA$60 million. Based on their prior sales and projections for the future, that would seem perfectly reasonable. But I think investors have to take into account the growth rate of the industry and the potential for Eguana to execute.

Rather than look at a $60 million per year run rate, I think you have to think about a company doing $60 million a year but increasing at an annual growth rate of 45%. If you plug that into a spreadsheet, the numbers get big in a hurry. And the 45% is the average of all companies, not one that is a technical leader in their own niche. I really do believe Eguana has skunked Tesla.

Eguana is an advertiser and as such I am naturally biased. I own shares bought on the open market. Their website is a little too technical for my tastes but it will be easy to follow their financials which will reflect the success or lack of success of their business plan. Do your own due diligence.

Eguana Technologies
EGT-V $.29 (Aug 15, 2016)
EGTYF-OTCQX 199.3 million shares
Eguana website

Source: Bob Moriarty for The Energy Report

1) The following companies mentioned in the article are sponsors of Streetwise Reports: None. The companies mentioned in this article were not involved in any aspect of the article preparation or editing so the expert could write independently about the sector. Streetwise Reports does not accept stock in exchange for its services. The information provided above is for informational purposes only and is not a recommendation to buy or sell any security.
2) Bob Moriarty: I or my family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this article: Eguana Technologies Inc. I personally am or my family is paid by the following companies mentioned in this article: None. My company has a financial relationship with the following companies mentioned in this article: Eguana Technologies Inc. I determined which companies would be included in this article based on my research and understanding of the sector.
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Henry Sapiecha


World’s Largest Solar Plant Sets Itself on Fire

Improperly aligned mirrors redirected the sun’s rays at the wrong spot.

solar-power-station-california image

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a concentrated solar thermal in California and the world’s largest solar thermal power station, suffered a small fire on one of its three boiler towers Thursday, according to the Associated Press. The fire caused the boiler tower to be shut down while firefighters ascended 300 feet to deal with the blaze, leaving the plant at one third power since another tower is already down for maintenance. 

fire-damage-solar-plant image

The Ivanpah plant works by using its massive fields of mirrors to direct sunlight towards the top of the three 459-foot boiler towers, which then creates the steam to drive turbines that create the actual electricity. But several misaligned mirrors directed some of this sunlight to the wrong place, starting a fire amidst some electrical cables, San Bernardino County, California fire Capt. Mike McClintock told the AP. Plant personnel had the fire out by the time firefighters on site.


Henry Sapiecha

Texas Is Drowning in Surplus Wind Energy

Yes, you can have too much of a good thing.

cattle-herd-with-wind-energy image

Texas has made a massive investment in wind power, and the turbines are starting to move. 18,000 megawatts (MW) of wind generation capacity are already up and running, and 5,500 more are coming soon. But there’s a problem: It’s hard to build the infrastructure to get all that energy to people. There’s a serious possibility that turbines will have to be turned off at times to keep from overloading the system.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Back in 2014, Texas unveiled the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ), a $6.8 billion transmission line project that spanned 3,600 miles of the Lone Star State. Meant as a hub for multiple major metro areas including Dallas-Forth Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. “It’s a major milestone,” Terry Hadley, a spokesman for the Public Utility Commission, told The Texas Tribune as it neared completion. Going one step further, Jeff Clark, executive director at the Wind Coalition, a regional partner of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), predicted that “CREZ will turn out to be the most visionary thing this state has ever done electricity-wise.”

That was then. Now Texas is expecting 21,000 MW of electricity, and CREZ is only built to handle 18,500. To put that in context, a typical coal plant handles 600 MW. That might mean that turbines will have to rest idle at times. This isn’t the first time or place for this to happen. The UK has also struggled with the challenge of surplus power, and energy surpluses in Chile—which have resulted in straight-up free power—are starting to have negative effects on the energy industry. It’s not the worst problem to have, but it’s still a problem.

There are two places Texas can go from here. It can build even more infrastructure, which it’s planning on doing with the Panhandle Renewable Energy Zone, or PREZ. But after the large investment in CREZ, the state is taking a cautious view of further transmission projects. It can also export its energy, and considering how Xcel announced a $400 million project to build wires that can reach New Mexico, it’s a safe bet to say that Texas wind will soon be powering homes in the Land of Enchantment.

Source: MIT Technology Review



Modern Off-Grid Lighting Could Create Two Million Jobs in Developing World

modernoffgrid-lighting image

Many households in impoverished regions around the world are starting to shift away from inefficient and polluting fuel-based lighting—such as candles, firewood, and kerosene lanterns—to solar-LED systems. While this trend has tremendous environmental benefits, a new study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has found that it spurs economic development as well, to the tune of 2 million potential new jobs.

Berkeley Lab researcher Evan Mills, who has been studying lighting in the developing world for more than two decades, has conducted the first global analysis of how the transition to solar-LED lighting will impact employment and job creation. His study was recently published in the journal Energy for Sustainable Development in a paper titled, “Job creation and energy savings through a transition to modern off-grid lighting.”

“People like to talk about making jobs with solar energy, but it’s rare that the flip side of the question is asked—how many people will lose jobs who are selling the fuels that solar will replace?,” said Mills. “We set out to quantify the net job creation. The good news is, we found that we will see many more jobs created than we lose.”

While there are about 274 million households worldwide that lack access to electricity, Mills’ study focuses on the “poorest of the poor,” or about 112 million households, largely in Africa and Asia, that cannot afford even a mini solar home system, which might power a fan, a few lights, a phone charger, and a small TV. Instead this group can afford only entry-level solar lighting.

In countries such as Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone, India, Indonesia, and Kenya, fuel-based lighting is not particularly “job-intensive.” Individual entrepreneurs sell lanterns, wicks, candles, fuel dippers, and kerosene in small quantities, often in local markets or on the roadside, but few jobs are created and many are part-time.

In all Mills found that fuel-based lighting today provides 150,000 jobs worldwide. Because there is very little data in this area, his analysis is based on estimating the employment intensity of specific markets and applying it to the broader non-electrified population. He also drew on field observations in several countries to validate his estimates.

He did a similar analysis for the emerging solar-LED industry and also collected data on employment rates for larger manufacturers and distributors representing the majority of global production of products quality assured by the World Bank’s Lighting Global initiative at the time. He found that every 1 million of these lanterns provides an estimated 17,000 jobs.

These values include employees of these companies based in developing countries but exclude upstream jobs in primary manufacturing by third parties such as those in factories in China. Assuming a three-year product life and a target of three lanterns per household, this corresponded to about 2 million jobs globally, more than compensating for the 150,000 jobs that would be lost in the fuel-based lighting market.

Furthermore Mills’ research found that the quality of the jobs would be much improved. “With fuel-based lighting a lot of these people are involved in the black market and smuggling kerosene over international borders, and child labor is often involved in selling the fuel,” he said. “Also these can be very unstable jobs due to acute shortages of kerosene and government subsidies going up and down. It’s a very poor quality of livelihood, and the commodity itself is toxic. These new solar jobs will be much better jobs—they’re legal, healthy, and more stable and regular.”

While there is some overlap in terms of skillsets required for the , retraining and education would be necessary. The new  span the gamut, from designing and manufacturing products to marketing and distributing them. “The challenge of re-employing some of these people is not trivial,” Mills said. “A lot of them aren’t literate. So there are some real human considerations to account for.”

In fact, a transition to modern lighting technologies could have immense benefits for the health and education of these populations. Mills, an energy analyst specializing in the energy efficiency of buildings and industry who also founded the Lumina Project, published a separate paper in the same journal recently that identified many of the risks of fuel-based lighting, such as child poisoning, slum fires, indoor air pollution, and lantern explosions leading to significant burn injuries.

Solar lanterns also provide far more and better light, allowing children to study in the evening and businesses to stay open later into the evening. “As long as people are using kerosene lanterns, candles, and other fuels for light, it’s actually reinforcing poverty because they’re spending so much on energy and getting so little in return. So many are stuck in that vicious circle,” he said.

Solar-LED lanterns and flashlights are gaining in popularity in the developing world thanks to being “a rugged, affordable, reliable, compact and very manufacturable technology and one that is effectively wireless,” Mills said.

In addition to , the potential environmental benefits are also enormous. A study Mills published in Science in 2005 estimated global off-grid lighting energy expenditure at $38 billion per year. That corresponds to CO2 emissions of 190 million metric tons per year, or the equivalent of those from about 30 million typical American cars.

“All of this energy and pollution can potentially be saved with a conversion to solar-LED systems,” he said.

Mills notes that some regions have actually become more impoverished since his 2005 study.

“These numbers may have fallen somewhat in the past decade, given modest expansion of centralized electrification programs, temporarily low world oil prices, and initiatives like Lighting Global that have already brought solar lighting to nearly 100 million people, but the need remains quite high, and the number of un-electrified households continues to grow in some regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.


Henry Sapiecha

Regulating Energy Storage


Increasing demands from utility companies on the energy industry have once again placed distributed energy resources, including renewable energy, in the spotlight as a significant regulatory issue. This is because utility companies require the ability to accurately forecast connection with the grid in a safe, reliable, and efficient way. These requirements, coupled with issues of grid connectivity, smart grids and micro grids, are bringing major changes to the power generation, renewable energy, and energy storage industries.

This environment has created tremendous growth potential for the energy storage industry, which is currently equivalent to 2.3 percent of energy capacity in the United States. Energy storage systems (ESS) provide many benefits to the industry through integration of different components and technologies such as power conversion, utility grid connection, cooling, and communication and control. These components include equipment for charging, discharging, protection, and fluid movement and containment, and can come in the form of battery, stored/pumped hydroelectric, compressed air, gaseous system, ultracapacitor, and flywheel devices.

With these capabilities, however, come strict requirements on ESS equipment. ESS evaluation involves an assessment of individual equipment and of the system as a whole, including consideration of the final connection, installation, application, and environment of the system. Any potential safety concerns for ESS also receive intense scrutiny and are considered on electrical, mechanical, energy and chemical levels.

In light of this, efforts are underway to develop and apply suitable safety standards for the rapidly evolving energy storage and renewable energy industries.

ANSI/UL 9540 currently serves as the “umbrella” standard for ESS, applying broad requirements for ESS equipment. Published in 2014, ANSI/UL 9540 covers ESS that store energy from various sources and provide energy to loads or power conversion equipment. The standard establishes general requirements for ESS, as well as more specific measures for safety analysis and control systems, safety critical electrical and electronic controls, as well as electrical, mechanical, and environmental tests.

In addition to the requirements placed on ESS and associated equipment, standards have been established for interconnection, with a focus towards general construction, safety and grid protection, and power quality requirements. IEEE 1547-2003 and IEEE 1547.1-2003, both published in 2003, serve as the current standards for grid connection requirements. The requirements of IEEE 1547-2003 Standard for Interconnecting Distributed Resources with Electric Power Systems, are concerned with performance, operation, testing, safety considerations, and maintenance of the interconnection. IEEE 1547.1-2003, the Standard for Conformance Test Procedures for Equipment Interconnecting Distributed Resources with Electric Power Systems, specifies the type, production, and commissioning tests that must be performed to demonstrate that the interconnection functions, and distributed energy resources (DER) equipment comply with IEEE 1547-2003.

The latest amendments to these standards, IEEE 1547a and 1547.1a respectively, are short-term permissible revisions to the established standards. Currently, manufacturers may opt for the existing IEEE 1547 and 1547.1 standards with or without considering the amendments IEEE 1547a and 1547.1a. These amendments are not mandated and will be cancelled after new version IEEE 1547 and 1547.1 standards are released.

Under IEEE 1547a, voltage regulation is allowed, assuming coordination with, and approval of, the area electric power systems (EPS) and DER operators. In addition, the requirement for field adjustable voltage settings is reduced from 30kW to 300W, and the requirement for field adjustable frequency settings now applies to equipment with any power level.

In response to requirements of IEEE 1547a for “modulated power output as a function of frequency,” IEEE 1547.1a presents real power reduction tests where equipment under test (EUT) responds to over frequency, and real power increase tests where EUT responds to under-frequency. IEEE 1547.1a also responds to the “permitted voltage regulation” requirement in IEEE 1547a with four categories of voltage regulation testing. These will test the manufacturer claimed response characteristics of the EUT where it actively participates to regulate the voltage by changes of real and reactive power.

The goal of the new version of IEEE 1547 is to address DER interconnection and interoperability, including associated interfaces. Under this version, the interoperability and associated interfaces aspects will build from the IEEE 2030 standard (Guide for Smart Grid Interoperability of Energy Technology and Information Technology Operation with the Electric Power System (EPS), and End-Use Applications and Loads, published in 2011), in addition to the IEEE 1547 series. As mandated by IEEE, these must be completed by 2018.

Additionally, the updated version of IEEE 1547 will bring an increased focus to criteria such as the introduction and incorporation of advanced evaluation and testing approaches, such as enhanced modeling and simulation requirements, interoperability and intelligent devices integration, and the potential interactive effects among advanced requirements and specifications, among others.

Along with these more general requirements for ESS, there are also specific requirements for certain areas that manufacturers will want to examine when attempting to enter those markets. California, for example, has established Rule 21 for generating facility interconnections within the state.

Rule 21 is generally harmonized with IEEE 1547-2003, and in the event of any conflicts with other standards, Rule 21 takes precedence. The rule includes many smart inverter functions, and manufacturers must claim what function their inverter can provide. For a specific test item, Rule 21 provides flexibility for manufacturers to make set points themselves or by agreement with their local utility.

Hawaii is another state, which, in addition to the IEEE 1547-2003 and IEEE 1547.1-2003 standards, establishes local requirements for grid connection. Locally, these requirements are stated through Standard Interconnection Agreement Rule 14H. The inverter requirements of the rule are intended to be consistent with IEEE 1547-2003 and 1547a. In the event of a conflict between Rule 14H and IEEE 1547-2003, Rule 14H takes precedence.

Together with Rule 14H, File TrOV-2 states two part requirements for the Hawaiian market. The first, transient over-voltage (TrOV) is a test to verify the effects of the DER system on overvoltage on the area EPS. The second, frequency and voltage ride-through (FVRT) testing can be conducted under a similar procedure as abnormal voltage and frequency testing in the existing IEEE 1547.1-2003. It does, however, contain different requirements on voltage and frequency tripping percentage magnitude and tripping time than are currently featured in IEEE 1547-2003.

In addition to these regional requirements, there are additional standards specific to batteries that manufacturers should be aware of when bringing ESS to market. Different standards are currently established for a wide variety of battery products including lithium batteries (ANSI/UL 1642), household and commercial batteries (ANSI/UL 2054), uninterruptable power systems (UPS) batteries (ANSI/UL 1989), and batteries for electric vehicles (ANSI/UL 2580/2271).

To bring energy storage solutions to market across rapidly growing and changing industries, it is crucial for manufacturers to understand all global and regional regulatory requirements. Having an in depth knowledge of what is required will improve speed to market and ensure that you are bringing safe, high-quality, and high-performing products to market.


Henry Sapiecha

Public Urinal Generates Electricity from Urine


pee-power-generator image

Pee can be transformed into electricity with the help of bacterial metabolism, thanks to a device created by researchers at the University of the West of England, where Spanish researchers are working. A test cubicle was installed at Glastonbury festival, but the final aim is to improve sanitation facilities in Developing World countries or in areas where there is limited electricity generation, such as refugee camps.

One of the public urinals installed this year at Glastonbury, the United Kingdom’s largest music festival, can generate enough electricity to light the cubicle’s LED tubes using a system developed by scientists at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol.

“The technology in the prototype is based on microbial fuel cells (MFC), which, like batteries, has an anode and a cathode,” explains Irene Merino, who is a researcher on the team thanks to a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and works alongside another Spanish worker, Daniel Sánchez.

The cells are installed inside a container which collects the urine, currently only from male users due to the design of the urinals. Inside, bacteria colonise the anode electrode and act as a catalyst, decomposing the organic material in the pee.

This decomposition releases both protons, which travel from the anode to the cathode across a semipermeable membrane, and electrons, which travel through an external electrical circuit. To complete the cycle, an oxygen reduction reaction also takes place in the cathode. The process generates enough energy to power light bulbs or LED tubes.

“Our project is aimed at developing countries, with a view to improving or incorporating sanitary facilities. In addition to producing electricity, the system reduces chemical oxygen demand (COD); in other words, it also serves to treat the urine,” Merino emphasises.

At present, the researchers have carried out two field tests: one at the campus of their university, with limited numbers of participants, and another at Glastonbury festival, where last year it was tested by around a thousand users per day. The findings have been published in the journal Environmental Science: Water Research and Technology. More cells, more milliwatts.

In both experiments, the electricity generated was used to illuminate the interior of the cubicle where the urinal was installed. The university campus prototype contained 288 MFC cells and generated an average of 75 milliwatts, whereas the Glastonbury prototype included 432 cells and generated 300 mW. COD removal was above 95% with the campus device and around 30% at the festival.

Now, in collaboration with Oxfam and other organisations, the researchers are planning to test these urinals in India or in some regions of Africa. Specifically, at refugee camps, in communities, at schools and in public toilets that lack lighting. “The ultimate purpose is to get electricity to light the toilets, and possibly also the outside area, in impoverished regions, which may help improve the safety of women and children, in countries where they have to use communal toilet facilities outside their homes,” concludes Ioannis Ieropoulos, the Director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre (BRL, UWE), who leads the research.


Henry Sapiecha


near perfect blue pigment was an accidental discovery for Oregon State University scientists, its superhero qualities make it ideal for roofing

The near perfect blue pigment was an accidental discovery for Oregon State University scientists, its superhero qualities make it ideal for roofing. Photo: Oregon State University

Scientists at Oregon State University have accidently stumbled upon a superhero blue hue with amazing qualities.

Lead scientist Mas Subramanian, discovered the colour in 2009 after mixing manganese oxide (a black colour) with other chemicals and heating them to nearly 1093 degrees celsius. It has just become available on the market.

It has an extremely high infrared reflectivity of 40 percent and when used in roofing, acts as an eco-friendly method of cooling a building.

“The more we discover about the pigment, the more interesting it gets,” Subramanian says. “We already knew it had the advantage of being more durable, safe, and fairly easy to produce. Now it also appears to be a new candidate for energy efficiency.”​

Subramanian says “It was serendipity actually; a happy, accidental discovery.”

The new shade, named YInMn for the combination of elements it is made from (yttrium, indium and manganese) is described by the Oregon State University as a near-perfect blue pigment.

YInMn has a unique crystal structure that allows the manganese ions to absorb red and green wavelengths, but only reflect blue – which explains why it has such a vibrant blue hue.

The compound structure is so stable that the colour will not fade, even in oil or water. Better yet, YInMn, unlike other blue hues, cobalt and Prussian blue, is non toxic.

This combination of characteristics makes YInMn  perfect for commercial products, such as plastics and paints, but also roofing.

This story first appeared in


Henry Sapiecha

NASA’s ‘Maxwell’ is a plane that is powered by electricity

An artist’s concept of NASA’s X-57 Maxwell aircraft showing the plane’s specially designed wings and 14 electric motors. NASA image

An artist’s concept of NASA’s X-57 Maxwell aircraft showing the plane’s specially designed wings and 14 electric motors. Photo: NASA

An experimental plane being built by NASA could help push electric-powered aviation from a technical curiosity and pipe dream into something that might become commercially viable for small aircraft.

At a conference of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics on Friday in Washington, Charles Bolden Jr, the NASA administrator, announced plans for an all-electric airplane designated as X-57, part of the agency’s efforts to make aviation more efficient and less of a polluter.

“The X-57 will take the first giant step in opening a new era of aviation,” Bolden declared.

The steps taken by NASA will not translate into all-electric cross-country jetliners. But the agency hopes the technology can be incorporated into smaller, general aviation and commuter aircraft some years from now.

The X-57 will look more like a Cessna, unlike some of NASA’s earlier sleek, futuristic X-planes. Its cruising speed might hit 280 km/h. Its wings, however, will be unique — far skinnier than usual and embedded with 14 motors.

“The problem with traditional aircraft design is you have to size the wings so that you have safe takeoff and landing speeds, and so the wing tends to end up bigger than you need for cruise flight,” said Sean Clarke, co-principal investigator for the project at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

For the X-57, NASA researchers are designing narrower wings that are efficient during cruise flight, powered by two 60-kilowatt electric motors at the wingtips that spin 1.5m-wide propellers.

For takeoffs and landings, 12 smaller, 9-kilowatt motors powering 60cm-wide propellers will kick in to blow extra air over the skinny wings to generate the necessary lift. In flight, the smaller propellers are folded away.

NASA already has purchased the Italian-designed Tecnam P2006T twin-engine four-seat aircraft that it will transform into the X-57. In the first step, NASA will replace the gasoline-powered motors with electric ones, aiming for takeoff in about a year. Swapping out the wing will take another one to two years, Clarke estimated.

The X-plane designations are handed out by the US Air Force for experimental, cutting edge aircraft, starting with the X-1 that broke the sound barrier in 1947. NASA’s last X-plane effort, more than a decade ago, was the X-43A, a pilotless black dart that accelerated to almost 11,265 km/h, which set the speed record for a jet-powered aircraft.

The NASA researchers have nicknamed the new plane “Maxwell,” after James Clark Maxwell, a 19th-century Scottish physicist who came up with the basic equations underlying electromagnetism.

The X-57 is far from the first electric airplane, and a solar-powered electric airplane called Solar Impulse is making a series of flights that will take it around the world. But Solar Impulse cruises at 48 to 65 km/h, of which Clarke said, “I don’t think anyone would classify as high speed.”

At 280 km/h, the X-57 would be as fast as the original P2006T and other similar general aviation planes.

“That’s a speed that could enable much greater market share for a technology like this,” Clarke said.

Operational costs could be cut by as much as 40 per cent, and electric motors are much quieter.

The design does not overcome the shortcomings of electric propulsion. Its 363kg of batteries will replace the rear two passenger seats, and the seat next to the pilot will be replaced with instrumentation, leaving space for only the pilot and no passengers. It can stay aloft for only about one hour.

Clarke said the technology could be scaled upward for commuter or regional airliners, and NASA is investigating using fuel cells rather than batteries to provide the electricity. But limits in the speed of propeller-driven aircraft means they are unlikely for cross-country airline flights.

“I think all-electric would be a stretch for jetliners,” he said.

But NASA has four other X-plane projects in the pipeline, part of a 10-year aviation research program proposed by the Obama administration in February.

“This will be NASA’s moonshot for aviation,” Bolden said.

That includes a supersonic airplane that would not generate supersonic booms.

“Talking about going around the world in six hours or going from Dubai to New York in an hour,” Bolden said. “That’s absolutely incredible.”

The New York Times


Henry Sapiecha

Scientists Use Silver to Make Lights Shine Brightly

fiber_optics_blue image

The toxic and expensive phosphors used widely in fluorescent lighting could be eliminated thanks to a new study conducted by a materials scientist at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

Writing in the journal Nature Materials, the international group of scientists modified a mineral called zeolite, more commonly found in washing powder, to incorporate tiny clusters of silver atoms.

At this very small scale (less than 10 atoms), the silver clusters act very differently and can even emit light.

Lead author Dr Oliver Fenwick from QMUL’s School of Engineering and Materials Science, said: “We’ve shown that silver atoms can be assembled in the porous framework of minerals known as zeolites with a level of control not reported previously. This has allowed us to tailor very precisely the properties of the silver clusters to meet our needs — in this case an efficient phosphor.

“The high efficiency of the materials along with cheap, scalable synthesis makes them very attractive as next generation emitters for fluorescent lamps, LEDs and for biological imaging, for example for highlighting tumours or cell division.”

Zeolites are porous minerals that can be found naturally or produced synthetically on an industrial scale. They are rigid and have a well-defined framework made of molecular-scale channels and cavities.

The researchers from Université de Strasbourg in France, where Dr Fenwick was based when carrying out the study, and KU Leuven in Belgium manipulated the characteristics of the zeolite pores to fine-tune the properties of the clusters of silver. By tailoring of the zeolite host, they demonstrated luminescence efficiencies close to 100 per cent.

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Henry Sapiecha