Renewable energy is currently a concern for people worldwide, given emerging new world problems like climate change that have led to perennial droughts, flooding in coastal areas, decreasing water sources, wildfires, and increasing desertification. Solar energy stands out as the perfect source of energy in the green world movement and many technological advancements have been made to facilitate solar power harnessing.
Drivers Of The Solar Boom
Solar companies have continued to experience rising demand for their products, with no end in sight for meeting this need. Solar energy devices like solar panels and water heaters have evolved from minimal use to become ubiquitous items, featuring on most modern rooftops. Various reasons have led people to adopt solar energy for their homes, businesses, and firms.
A Cheap Source Of Power
Apart from installation costs, solar energy is free and readily available for a good part of the year in most places. Besides, the cost of solar panels has reduced over the years, making it affordable to more households. Price per watt costs about $3 as opposed to costs of $10 per watt about ten years back.
A Versatile Source Of Energy
Solar energy offers great versatility and can be harnessed for use in various ways:
Passive heating-This involves letting the sun’s heat freely work, for example, letting harvested cereals lay in the open for the sun’s heat to dry them.
Solar photovoltaic cells-They transform the sun’s light into electricity.
Thermal solar technology-The sun’s heat is used for heating water for home or industrial use.
Additionally, solar energy can power practically anything that runs on electricity, including water heaters, lighting appliances, machines, water pumps, and dehydrators.
How Do Solar Pile Driving Systems Work?
Solar pile drivers, make solar panel installation much easier and faster. They drive piles meant to offer support for solar racks and panels deep into the ground with accuracy and speed, allowing solar installation projects to be completed within reasonable time frames.
Pile drivers are versatile, with an ability to bury piles under the ground even in rugged terrain, including steep inclinations, wetlands, and rocky ground. Pile drivers use diesel, steam, and hydraulics in their functions
Advantages Of Solar Pile Driving
Solar farms are the biggest beneficiaries of solar pile driving technology due to their massive installations that traditionally took much longer to achieve. Solar pile drivers offer a myriad of benefits including.
Speed Up Pile Driving
Modern approaches have slowly replaced conventional methods of pile driving. While past installations involved site surveys, time-wasting excavations, and stringing to achieve linear uniformity, today, the process is greatly automated, enabling multiple piles to be placed in short periods.
Pile driving systems save a lot of costs, from simplified processes and quick pile driving. Their ability to bury piles in their hundreds as compared to a few dozen using old systems enables modern pile drivers to reap from the benefits of economies of scale and offer lower prices.
No Site Clean Up Requirements
Unlike past projects that require site cleaning after the job, solar pile drivers greatly eliminate the need for cleaning as there is no excavation. This means that other more important things can take up the place of site cleaning.
Conventional methods of solar pile installation are not only time consuming but are also labor-intensive. With the need for extra hands eliminated, work can proceed with minimal labor costs. This also ensures uniformity, which is hard to achieve where there is a large workforce.
Accurate Placement of Piles
Solar pile driving systems have significantly improved in their accuracy levels as a result of the incorporation of software and GPS technology that work hand in hand to place piles following the specifications provided.
Can Be Hired Or Leased
With the ever-rising demand for solar installations, owning a pile driving system is a sure way to generate income. These machines can be hired or leased to solar technicians at a premium and are a perfect investment for companies or individuals looking to expand their income streams.
Solar Powered Fresh Drinking Water
Chinese scientists have created a cheap and super-efficient sea water desalination solution that runs on solar energy.
The desalination system employs a Titanium-containing Layer that absorbs solar energy. The solar absorber consists of a unique paper on which they deposit the Titanium-containing layer which uses foam to float on the sea.
The Titanium layer heats rapidly when exposed to sunlight. It is this heat that vaporizes water. Sealing the unit within a transparent container with a slopy roof made of quartz allows the vapor to condense and the fresh water is collected.
Lead author Chao Chang explains that TiNO is already proven to be effective: “In the solar energy field, TiNO is a common commercial solar-absorbing coating, widely used in solar hot water systems and in photovoltaic units. It has a high solar absorption rate and a low thermal emittance and can effectively convert solar energy into thermal energy.”
Together, the scientists came up with an innovative way to deposit the TiNO using the magnetron sputtering technique.
The team worked with airlaid paper – a porous paper that supplies the contraption with seawater. It functions like a wicker.
They assembled three parts to create the evaporation unit: the airlaid paper at the very bottom, a thermal insulator, and the TiNO paper at the very top. Airlaid paper is a component of disposable diapers and is built from wood fibres.
The insulation is made using polyethylene foam and contains many pores filled with air that give the unit the buoyancy it needs to float on seawater. This keeps heat loss at a minimum.
“The porous airlaid paper used as the substrate for the TiNO solar absorber can be reused and recycled more than 30 times,” explained Chang.
The researchers wanted to minimize any negative impact of salt precipitation on the device’s efficiency. But they observed that there was no layer of salt on the TiNO surface even after a long while.
This might mean that the paper wicks are porous enough to keep salt from depositing on the TiNO, and that all the salt in the seawater goes back to the main reservoir of water.
Normal seawater is highly saline, at 75,000mg per liter. This is vastly different from normal drinking water whose salinity is only 200mg per liter. After going through the desalination unit, seawater goes all the way down to 2mg per liter of salt.
The Chinese team of researchers puts together a winning combination of affordability, high efficiency, and hygiene to create desalination that could help make fresh water available to people who face scarcity of water.
A Florida-based team of scientists suggested harnessing geothermal energy to desalinate water without using carbon fuels.
Neural network and digital camera used to detect soil moisture
Researchers have created a new way to check soil moisture with a normal digital camera and a synthetic neural network.
The United Nations predicts that by 2050 some parts of the world will not have the fresh water they need to sustain agriculture. This means that we urgently need to adopt more efficient methods of soil irrigation to alleviate the coming crisis.
According to the researchers from the University of South Australia, the techniques currently in use for detecting soil moisture are contributing to the problem.
The sensors they bury in the soil are affected by salts and this calls for specially designed hardware to facilitate the connections.
At the same time, the thermal imaging cameras necessary for the operations cost too much and are sensitive to too much clouds, sunlight, and fog.
“The system we trialed is simple, robust and affordable, making it promising technology to support precision agriculture,” explained researcher Dr Ali Al-Naji referring to his newly innovated solution based on machine learning. “It is based on a standard video camera which analyses the differences in soil color to determine moisture content. We tested it at different distances, times and illumination levels, and the system was very accurate.”
They connect the camera to an artificial neural network that is already trained to identify a range of moisture levels under a variety of sky conditions.
They can train the monitoring system on the network to precisely identify soil conditions regardless of the location. This makes it a customizable solution that each user can adapt to their climatic conditions and make it as accurate as possible.
“Once the network has been trained it should be possible to achieve controlled irrigation by maintaining the appearance of the soil at the desired state,” Professor Javaan Chahl added. “Now that we know the monitoring method is accurate, we are planning to design a cost-effective smart-irrigation system based on our algorithm using a microcontroller, USB camera and water pump that can work with different types of soils.
“This system holds promise as a tool for improved irrigation technologies in agriculture in terms of cost, availability and accuracy under changing climatic conditions.”
Lowering Carbon Emissions in Cement Manufacturing
For the most part, concrete is the stuff that man-made structures are made of. Cement is an essential ingredient in the making of concrete, but most people have no idea that 8% of the carbon dioxide we produce globally is in the production of cement.
Cement manufacturing generates massive amounts of carbon dioxide. It is such a massive carbon dioxide producer that this one industry produces more carbon dioxide than all other countries except for the US and China.
Global cement production is expected to grow from the present four billion tons a year to five billion tons a year within the coming three decades, according to Watchdog Chatham House.
Cement factory emissions mostly come from fossil fuels burned to produce heat to facilitate cement formation. This includes the chemical processes that convert limestone to clinker within kilns, after which the kiln is ground and combined with other ingredients that form cement.
The construction industry resists change. Safety concerns, issues of reliability are not necessarily always compatible with reducing the carbon footprint of the industry.
The Global Cement and Concrete Association in 2018 launched a set of Sustainability Guidelines for the industry that sets standards for key measurements like emissions and water usage with a view to improve transparency and encourage improvement.
At the same time, experts are pursuing lower-carbon processes for manufacturing cement. A New Jersey startup for example is working on a chemical process that reduces the carbon dioxide produced in cement manufacturing by 30%.
Solidia which is based in Piscataway, N.J., uses a larger quantity of clay and less limestone than the typical cement making process. The company also uses less heat, which reduces its reliance on carbon fuel.
Another startup, CarbonCure based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, harnesses carbon dioxide from other chemical processes using a process of mineralization. It turns a potential by product from a hazard.
A Montreal company CarbiCrete has opted to create concrete without any cement at all. They use steel slag, a steel manufacturing by product to replace cement.
Norwegian cement producer Norcem wants to create the first zero-emissions cement manufacturing plant in the world. Norcem is currently using alternative fuels harnessed from industrial waste and now wants to invest in carbon capture as well as storage methods that completely eliminate emissions.
Researchers are also researching with bacteria that absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide in concrete formulations and thus create a better and more environmentally friendly concrete.
Multiple startups including N.C.s BioMason are experimenting with ‘live’ building materials. BioMason works with bacteria and aggregate particles to grow bricks a lot like cement.
Researchers based at the University of Colorado Boulder have published their research with cyanobacteria, micro-organisms which they use to build a concrete alternative.
By inoculating a scaffold of sand and hydrogel with bacteria, they created brocks that are capable of healing cracks.
Even though these replacement concrete bricks cannot replace the many uses of concrete, they can be used in place of concrete for things like facades, pavers, and other structures that don’t bear heavy loads.
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