Sunday, December 7, 2008

Algae, Solar Power and the Electric Car

The lobbyist for the algae to fuel industry will be on Capital Hill this week, trying to convince lawmakers that their industry should be included in any comprehensive, long term energy strategy. They've got the support of the airline industry behind them and at least one company, Sapphire Energy, has actually produced a viable fuel.

Ascent Solar passed a major milestone recently when the Department of Energy officially certified that their thin film photovoltaic cells achieved nearly 10% efficiency at converting sunlight to usable power. Ascent hopes to have commercially available building products, incorporating their cells, on the market in 2010.

The electric car has gotten a lot of hype recently, but there is one major problem I haven't heard anyone address yet. No matter how much range they get and at what efficiency, people are inevitably going to overdrive their charge. What do you do when you're stuck on the side of the highway and out of juice? With gas powered vehicles you can at least grab a gas can and hitch a ride. I've heard of no counterpart to the gas-can for the electric car. Before they can go mass-market, they need to come up with a portable device one can carry to a charging station or outlet. You would charge the device with enough juice to get you at least 20 miles or so and return to your car with it. I suppose an alternative would be the emergence of an industry based on cars or trucks driving the highways and byways with enough power to sell stranded motorists a quick charge. But what if one doesn't happen to be patrolling your area? It's not an insurmountable problem. In fact, it's probably a simple fix. I'm just surprised none of the egg heads at the automobile companies have though about it yet.

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