Sunday, February 8, 2009

Better Bulbs, Cleaner Nuclear, and Alternate Energy Galore

Last summer, I wrote a piece that showed the difference in using incandescent light bulbs and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) in my house. The power savings are real, but CFLs have major disadvantages, chief among them their mercury content. Now scientists in the UK have discovered a method that might make the manufacture of light emitting diodes (LEDs) inexpensive enough to compete with CFLs. LED lights come on instantly, contain no mercury, and last ten times longer than CLFs (over 100 times longer than incandescent bulbs). Bring 'em on, please.

The debate over disposal of the radioactive waste produced by nuclear fission power plants has gone on for decades here in the U.S., and it doesn't show any sign of slowing down. While the overall greenness of nuclear fusion is questionable when compared to other alternatives, having a method of disposing the waste products would go a long way toward giving us more options in its use. Physicists at the University of Texas at Austin are working to make that dream reality, using a fusion-fission hybrid reactor to destroy radioactive waste, and generate power while doing it. It's not the pure fusion reactor that would give us truly green nuclear power, but eliminating 99% of heavy nuclear waste is a really big step in the right direction.

Seeing creative solutions emerge is a big reason I enjoy following green tech as much as I do. For example, in Scotland, plans are in place to build a data center powered entirely by tidal energy. But that's nothing compared to a group of distilleries partnering with a power company to create a biomass power plant fueled entirely by the byproducts of whisky manufacture. Estimates say the plant will produce enough power for the distillery and around 9000 homes.

And finally, multiple sources reported on figures from the Global Wind Energy Council showing the U.S. becoming the world's leading producer of wind power by expanding its generation by 50% in 2008. The report also notes China's explosive growth in wind power and the continued expansion of solar production in the U.S. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the low price of oil and capital-starved economy are predicted to have a negative impact on the growth of alternative power this year.

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