May/June 2011

Automation by the Numbers


In a step toward taking the most advanced atomic clocks on the road, physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have designed and demonstrated a super-stable laser operating in a cramped, vibrating location-a minivan. The experiment, according to ScienceDaily shows how advanced lasers can be made stable and transportable enough for field use in geodesy, hydrology, improved radar and space-based tests of fundamental physics. Scientists evaluated the infrared fiber laser's performance with the vehicle stationary, with the motor alternately off and idling, and moving over uneven ground at speeds of less than 1 meter per second (i.e., 3.6 km/hr). NIST scientists stabilized the test laser's frequency using a common technique-locking it to the extremely consistent length of an optical glass cavity.


For a bargain price of $1,000, start-up companies can get up to three of the thousands of unlicensed patents in the Department of Energy's (DOE's) portfolio. The offer is part of the department's America's Next Top Energy Innovator challenge and is available until 15 December, according to Chemical & Engineering News. The challenge kicked off in May and aims to double the number of start-upcompanies emerging from DOE's 17 national laboratories, which hold more than 15,000 patents. Only 10% of federal patents are currently licensed to be commercialized, according to the agency. "Our goal is simple: Unleash America's innovation machine and win the global race for the clean energy jobs of the future," said DOE Secretary Steven Chu. Applying for a patent license usually costs $10,000 to $50,000 and involves months of paperwork.


Constellation Energy Group Inc., is building the largest U.S. rooftop solar-energy project, at a Toys "R" Us Inc. distribution center in New Jersey, according to Bloomberg. Constellation will use 37,000 solar panels from Energy Conversion Devices Inc. for the 5.38-megawatt project, Paramus, N.J.-based Toys "R" Us said. The system is expected to meet about 72% of the Flanders center's power needs. The rooftop system would be the largest at a single building when complete, overtaking SunPower Corp.'s 4.8-megawatt array that's being built on top of Glimcher Realty Trust (GRT)'s Jersey Gardens mall, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set out a rosy vision of our green future-alongside a bleak warning of an alternative outcome, reported New Scientist. With the right governmental backing, we could get almost 80% of our energy from renewable energy sources by 2050, according to the IPCC's Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. The report's super-green scenario assumes we become so energy efficient that the predicted 9-billion-strong population of 2050 uses less energy than 7 billion of us do today-407 exajoules per year, compared with 490 exajoules. For instance, by 2050, forests of large wind turbines across the planet could supply more than a fifth of our energy, it suggests. As if to acknowledge that the 80% assessment is overly optimistic, the IPCC report also lays out a bleaker future vision. Without green support, we could consume 749 exajoules by 2050, with only 15% coming from renewables, it suggests.