Continuity in Renewable Energy


Renewable Energy

Here at Technology Bloggers we are all great fans of renewable energy developments, so I was extremely interested in a project that has just received funding on the Northern Irish coast.

As we all know there are problems with wind and tidal electricity generation, not least due to the weather, lack of wind, sun and sea swell being the obvious thoughts. But developers have an interesting proposal that may work towards alleviating some of these problems.

The idea is to use excess power to compress air and store it in huge caverns underground, to then use it to drive turbines when the wind drops. Sounds like a great idea, but of course there are always pros and contras for these things.

The caverns have to be mined, about 1.5 km below ground, and this will be done using a salt water erosion process. Simply put, a bore is drilled down, water pumped in that will circulate as if in a bottle, erode the surrounding rock salt and be washed out of a drain hole into the sea. The salt solution that comes out with then disperse into the wider sea.

When the cavern is ready, wind turbines will be used to force air into them, which can then be released in a controlled manner to turn turbines on days when you couldn’t dry a handkerchief in the back garden.

Environmental Concerns

So it sounds great, but there are of course those who argue that it is not a good idea. What will the impact be of pumping all of this salt solution into the sea? I think everyone concerned realizes that it will kill wildlife over an area, but how big that area might be, how long it will take to recover and how much damage it will do seems to be under debate.

Some locals suggest that it might lead to an industrial wasteland.

More is explained on this BBC report. Once again a new and possibly extremely positive power development brings the many complexities surrounding renewable energy sources. Issues of responsibility loom large, as do issues of public engagement and risk.

One to follow.

3D Printing Developments


3D Printing

3D printing is great, but it does have its downsides. Take a look at this article for example, it gives some idea of possible applications and uses for the technology.My colleague Christopher wrote that one, and it is a joy to see some young and optimistic blood writing about technology. As an old pessimistic dog however, I cannot overcome my cynical streak. Check out this article that I wrote about possible negative effects upon health related to 3D printing.

Anyway, on a blog with the grandeur of this one there is room for everything, and today I am going to dive into the abyss of optimism!

Now when we think of 3D printing we often think of small plastic models, and we all know that plastic is a problem for the world. It is cheap, does not degrade, you cannot get rid of it, it washes into plastic floating islands and it’s made from oil. But 3D printing offers much more than plastic models today.

Alternative Materials

A Dutch design company plans to use special robots to 3D-print a steel bridge across the Amsterdam Canal. A company called MX3D, which specializes in using robotics to 3D print, and Dutch designer Joris Laaram are behind the project. You see these kids can print with metal, as can the people who supply parts for Boeing, and use is far more common that we might imagine.

But MX3D go one better. They can print metals in position, so not in a lab or workshop but wherever they want, outside, in the open air, or over a canal. So they have robots that can build a bridge on site using 3D printing technology, as they sit on the half constructed bridge.

But that is not the end of it, of course. Printers can also use recycled products to produce artifacts. Plastic is a simple idea, but what about other materials? What about food waste? Well obviously you can.

Food Waste

Italy-based designer Marina Ceccolini is doing some experimenting in the field. Inspired by the rigidness of a dehydrated tangerine peel, the designer began creating her own potential 3D printing material called AgriDust. Ceccolini’s AgriDust is made from foods found in her local landfill: everything from coffee grounds to peanut shells, orange and lemon peels, tomato skins, and bean pods. Held together with potato starch Ceccolini believes that using a paste extruder, the material could be 3D printed into new objects. The 64.5% waste/35.5% binder composition could, the designer proposes, limit the plastic waste generated by 3D printers.

Now Check out this article, it describes everything and includes an interview with the designer.

One thing that comes to mind however is the problem of allergies. Can you make something that contains nuts? I doubt it. But the idea sounds really promising to me. And I certainly look forward to watching the bridge go up, it’s just down the road (or canal) from here.

A Drinkable Book

drinkable book


Water Filters in a Book

Dr Teri Dankovich, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh USA has developed and tested a book whose pages can be torn out and used to filter drinking water. Trails are impressive, with the process bringing the water up to US drinking water standards.

The book’s pages contain nanoparticles of silver or copper, which kill bacteria in the water as it passes through. Some of the particles do remain in the water however, but they remain within the legal limits.


Now here I have to add my own input to the debate. As readers might know I have written several posts about nanomaterials and it is one of the fields that I work in, and I would question how legal limits are defined.

Nanoparticles are treated like any other particles, and their scale is not taken in account, but this seems to raise some questions. The fact that they are so small means that they can pass easily into the blood stream, so their effects may not be the same as larger particles of the same materials.

So I have to leave an open question mark over the legal issue, but the fact that the water is drinkable is a great advantage. And this leads me to ponder the fact that innovation, and its level of responsibility and ethical justification, must be local. An invention or innovation that brings drinkable water to millions, is portable and cheap and could save many lives, must be seen within its context. Nanoparticles in the water in this situation, may not be same an nano particles found in water because of factory pollution or deliberate addition when other processes might be readily available.

An article on the BBC explains that “All you need to do is tear out a paper, put it in a simple filter holder and pour water into it from rivers, streams, wells etc and out comes clean water – and dead bacteria as well”. And one page can clean up to 100 litres of water. A book could filter one person’s water supply for four years.

The project is looking for funding, so if you are interested and have some money to spare click on the link at the start of the post and pass them over your pocket money.

As a final thought, nanotechnology has come in for criticism from the academic community for its lack of regulation, and rightly so. But it also brings a world of possibilities, many of which like the story above that could transform people’s lives. This is the fine line that interests me in my work, how to make the most of scientific developments at the least environmental and social costs, and for the highest number of people.