Solar Power Satellite, Wind Up Car, and Other Energy News

Stories about the feasibility of a solar power satellite system and wind up cars that recapture braking energy were among the energy news stories covered in brief in this ongoing feature.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
November/December 1981
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A solar power satellite system would use large orbiting arrays of solar panels to collect energy and transmit it back to earth via microwave.
ILLUSTRATION: FOTOLIA/G.NICOLSON


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SOLAR POWER SATELLITE: Too costly and too uncertain were the words used by the National Academy of Sciences in evaluating the solar power satellite (SPS) concept. The Department of Energy had proposed an SPS system comprising 60 photovoltaic-cell-equipped satellites—each the size of Manhattan Island—which would supply electricity to earth. The project's cost was estimated at more than $3 trillion.

WIND UP CARS: UCLA engineers believe that the car of the future may be equipped with devices fitted with giant elastic bands that—in effect—recycle braking energy for use in acceleration. The project's directors point out that as much as 30% of the fuel burned in urban driving is wasted in braking. However, the researchers admit they've been unable to whip one problem encountered in their testing: the rubber bands keep breaking.

VIEW FROM THE EXECUTIVE SUITE: A recent study has shown that while 55% of the general public prefer solar power to that generated by coal or nuclear facilities, only 9% of the corporate executives surveyed view sun power as a desirable energy alternative.

COCONUT WATTS: Natives on the South Seas island of Bora Bora have returned to the power source they used prior to World War II: a generating plant fueled by coconut husks. It's estimated that each Bora Bora household requires the equivalent of six coconut husks an hour to produce its electricity.

AN AC BREAKTHROUGH? About the same time Exxon's Reliance Electric Company announced that it was abandoning its research on alternating current synthesis technology (a technique that was aimed at increasing the efficiency of electric motors), NASA revealed that it has developed a device to reduce the energy consumption of such powerplants by half.

A SOLAR/LIQUID METAL SYSTEM, developed by an Israeli scientist, employs a collector containing a metal alloy which, when heated and mixed with a volatile liquid, causes the latter substance to vaporize. The vapor then drives the metal, at high speed, through piping in a high-intensity magnetic field. Electrodes tap the electricity that's produced, and the metal and liquid are then separated and recycled. The system has no moving parts, will cost about $70,000 for a 100-kilowatt unit, and should last 30 years without repairs.

ICE AIR CONDITIONING: The concept of using an ice-filled basement as a replacement for conventional air conditioning will soon be a reality. Engineers are beginning work on an ice pond that'll be incorporated into the cooling system of a 130,000-square-foot Prudential Insurance Company building now under construction.

NUCLEAR EVACUATION: After evaluating estimates of the time necessary—in an emergency—to evacuate persons living within a ten-mile radius of atomic power plants, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has classified 17 of the estimates as "poor." The NRC rated 27 plants' reports as "adequate," and five were termed "excellent." (Two of the facilities didn't even bother to respond.)

RENEWABLES NEWS: The National Solar Heating and Cooling Information Center has now become the Conservation and Renewable Energy Inquiry and Referral Service (CAREIRS} and is offering information about energy conservation and such technologies as wind, biomass, photovoltaics, ocean and solar thermal, and more. The service operates from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern time

CATTAIL FUEL: Cattails can yield up to 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre, as opposed to the 200 gallons possible from corn or 640 gallons from sugar cane, according to an experimental study called the Aquahol Project. Furthermore, the plants can be grown in swamps and thus do not compete for agricultural cropland.

TOP SEED: After successful tests using peanut oil to fuel diesel engines, Gold Kist (a large agricultural concern) is forging ahead with research on other vegetable oils—such as cottonseed, sunflower, linseed, and coconut—as replacements for petroleum-derived fuels. Gold Kist says the results are promising because the plant's protein meal can be used as food after the oil has been extracted.

Researchers at Israel's Ben-Gurion University have developed a SOLAR GREENHOUSE COVERING, filled with a pale gray dye, that can collect the sun's rays for heating while still allowing the light necessary for photosynthesis to filter into the structure .... Georgia Tech is converting a FAMILY-OWNED DAIRY FARM INTO AN ENERGY- INDEPENDENT MODEL: It'll feature a methane-fueled generator, a hydroelectric plant, wood-fired boilers and furnaces, solar water heaters, and an alcohol fuel distillery .... After an absence of ten years, the EFM COAL-FIRED, WARM-AIR STOKER FURNACE is back on the market. General Machine Corporation is producing the coal-burner in response to consumer demand for a less costly-to-operate home heating system .... GLASS-REINFORCED CONCRETE may provide a lightweight, strong, and low-cost material for solar- and wind-energy applications. Researchers say the substance can be readily formed into curved or angled shapes .... THE WOOD STOVE TAX CREDIT that was originally part of the Reagan administration's proposed tax cut legislation has been eliminated from the final bil


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