Nike Unveils a Sustainable Warehouse

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At the end of May, Nike opened its new warehouse, which will be used to serve all of Europe from a single location. This warehouse is incredibly sustainable, which is always welcome when it comes to large companies. The Nike European Logistics Campus as the place is called spans an area of 1.6 million sq ft (150,000 sq m) and is located 31 miles (50 km) outside of Antwerp, Belgium.

According to Nike, the warehouse is built to LEED standards, though they did not provide a LEED rating. It is also energy-neutral, while 100 percent of its power comes from renewable energy sources. These include solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric and biomass sources. The wind turbines located near the warehouse are 492-ft (150-m-high) and are reportedly able to generate enough electricity to power 5,000 households. And the on-site PV array covers an area the size of three soccer fields.

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About 99 percent of containers bringing in the goods reach the facility by water, though there is also a network of railways, canals and highways, which provide access. They estimate that this reduces the number of needed truck journies by about 14,000 a year. For moving the products, Nike uses a number of fast moving hybrid robot cranes, which are able to regenerate energy much like hybrid cars do.

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The structure itself is completely supported by the racks on which the goods are stored. By building it this way, they were able to use less material and create less waste during the construction process, compared to a steel and concrete-built structure. They also recycle 95 percent of waste products, and all the pathways around the warehouse are made from recycled footwear.

They fitted the warehouse with large windows to let in plenty of natural light, and equipped it with smart, automated LED lighting to be used when required. They also have water efficiency systems in place in the form of storm and discharge water buffering, infiltration and recycling. The building also has a green roof. In addition to that, they also added beehives to help with flower pollination in the area, and they will be using sheep instead of lawnmowers.

Wind Turbine That Stores Power

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The main problem with using renewable energy sources is that they are not as reliable or consistent as traditional sources. This is especially true of wind energy, since wind turbines work at generating power until the wind is blowing, but stop once the wind stops. Because of this, even areas that get a lot of wind can’t transfer solely to wind power. Furthermore, wind turbines have a cap as to the maximum speed at which they can rotate and generate power, which is in place to prevent the machine from getting damaged in high winds. However, this also leads to “spillage” of power.

An electrical engineering doctoral student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Jie Cheng recently came up with a new technology, which would solve both of these problems. The tech he proposes is able to harness the excess wind energy, which is wasted as spillage. The system he developed is also able to store this excess wind energy to be used in times of little or no wind.

Cheng’s device works by converting and directing the unused wind energy into an air compression tank. This is achieved via a rotary vane, placed between the turbine’s gearbox and generator, which works to divert the excess energy and stores it in the tank. Once the winds die down, the airflow is reversed back to the rotary vane and the machine is able to generate electricity again.

According to tests with a prototype, a 250-kW system built in this way would produce an additional 16,400 kWh per month compared to traditional wind turbines and using the wind data for Springview, Nebraska. To put in in perspective, this additional electricity is roughly 18 times the total monthly energy usage of a typical US household.

Cheng is currently working with the Lincoln Electric System, the American Public Power Association and UNL’s NUtech Ventures office in an effort to continue to research an develop this technology, as well as to market it to the industry.

MIT Researchers Develop A More Efficient Battery

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The more widespread adoption of renewable sources of energy is at least in part hampered by our poor ability to store energy. But a team of MIT researchers has recently a made a breakthrough in developing a new battery system. This all-liquid battery system is more efficient at storing energy, and costs less to produce, than currently available solutions. The further development of this system and use could make solar and wind energy more attractive and therefore facilitate its wide scale adoption.

The batteries in this all-liquid system are composed of several layers of molten material, each of which has a different density. This enables the layers to separate naturally, similarly to the way oil and water do. Magnesium is used for one electrode, and antimony for another, while molten salt serves as the electrolyte. In order to operate, the entire system needs to be heated to 700° C (1292° F). However, the MIT researchers have discovered that substituting some of these materials, namely using one electrode made from lithium and another from a combination of lead and antimony, reduces the necessary operating temperature to 450-500° C (842-932° F).

The most surprising breakthrough was the discovery of the benefits that come from antimony and lead being mixed together to create the electrode. Contrary to their assumptions prior to conducting the experiment, the melting point of the combined materials lay in between that of the individual materials, while the hybrid metal retained the higher voltage of the antimony, meaning that there was no decline in voltage of the end product.

Due to the lower operating temperature of the battery, it will have a longer life span and it will also be easier to design and manufacture, while costing less. According to the team’s findings, this battery should maintain around 85 percent of its initial efficiency even after 10 years of daily charging and discharging.

Going forward, the research team will continue to explore the effects of other metals on their new battery system with the hope of further reducing the operating temperature and cost, while improving performance.

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Build Your Own Wind Turbine

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Daniel Connell, the creator of the SolarFlower has released another very useful DIY tutorial. This one is for building a wind turbine from scratch for only about $30 in material costs. The solution he proposes is a vertical axis wind turbine based on the Lenz2 lift+drag design.

The design Daniel came up with includes using aluminum lithographic offset printing plates to catch the wind, which can be gotten very cheaply, and perhaps even for free from offset printing companies, along with a number of other scrap materials, such as a bicycle wheel. Daniel has made plans to build either a three or a six vane version of the turbine. The three vane version can sustain winds up to 80 km/h, while the six vane one can sustain winds of up to 105 km/h.

Most of the materials for building the wind turbine can be repurposed, while the three vane version of the turbine can be easily built by one person in about 6 hours. One of the key components of an energy harvesting wind turbine is an alternator to the rotor. Daniel’s plans call for using a 50% efficient car alternator, as the most accessible and affordable option, which would be able to produce 158 watts of electricity in a 50 km/h winds, and 649 watts at 80 km/h winds.

Finding a method for storing the electricity produced is also important, though the energy harvested by the turbine could also be used solely for mechanical purposes like rotation of a water pump, or spinning a flywheel.

The construction of the wind turbine requires basic tools, such as a hand drill, a pop riveter and assorted hardware, like bolts, washers and nuts. A single DIY wind turbine like this is probably not going to be able to produce enough energy to power your house, though you might consider building a series of them and storing the energy produced in a battery bank. A solution like that would produce enough power for a small household.

Detailed written instructions can be found on the SolarFlower.org website. Below is also a video on the construction process filmed by Daniel.

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U.S. Wind Power Cut Nearly 100 Million Tons of Carbon Emissions in 2013

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Wind energy figures from 2013 keep pouring in and they continue to impress.

According to a report preview from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), wind generation reduced carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector by 4.4 percent. That’s good for 96 million metric tons, or the equivalent of taking 16.9 million cars off the road. 

Graphic credit: American Wind Energy Association

Graphic credit: American Wind Energy Association

“Wind energy is leading the U.S. to a low carbon future,” Emily Williams, a senior policy analyst for AWEA, said in a statement. “Not only is wind energy reliable and affordable, but it’s providing sustained emissions reductions in the sector that contributes the most to climate change, the power sector.”

Just one month ago, AWEA released data that detailed information about each state’s generation of wind energy in 2013. Led by Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas, wind energy provided 4.14 percent of the country’s wind energy, pushing it to become the country’s fifth-largest power source.

According to AWEA, wind also reduced sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other toxins. It also helped the nation cut down on the amount of water typically evaporated during the process used at most conventional power plants.

Water savings totaled 36.5 billion gallons of water, or 276 billion bottles of water.

Wind energy impact on avoiding water consumption from thermal power plants. Graphic credit: American Wind Energy Association

Wind energy impact on avoiding water consumption from thermal power plants. Graphic credit: American Wind Energy Association

The organization says there were about 12,000 megawatts under construction at the end of last year. On average, each megawatt hour avoids about 0.6 metric tons, or 1,300 pounds, of carbon dioxide for every megawatt hour. That would reduce the power sector’s emissions by 117 million tons annually, or by more than 5.3 percent.

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