Energy Storage

Some experts say that a cleaner future will mean focusing on ever-larger lithium-ion batteries. Others argue that green hydrogen is better – as in a hydrogen refuelling station, sitting by the road in the Orkney Islands, an archipelago off the north-east coast of Scotland.  

And then there are those placing their bets not on chemistry, but the limitless force that surrounds us all: gravity.

“What goes up, must come down” – this is the immutable Newtonian logic underpinning gravity batteries. This new field of energy storage technology is remarkably simple in principle. When green energy is plentiful, use it to haul a colossal weight to a predetermined height. When renewables are limited, release the load, powering a generator with the downward gravitational pull.

Gravitricity, an Edinburgh-based green engineering start-up, successfully trialled a gravity battery prototype tower above ground, and is now looking to sink its own purpose built shafts using disused deep mine shafts.

Southern Switzerland has a gravity battery space prototype from Energy Vault.

Innovative experiments

The 130-square-foot two-story Solar Greenhouse is at Valldaura. The team of students and researchers from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalina (IAAC) designed a prototype that could be used in both rural and urban areas to generate both energy and produce food  without emitting greenhouse gases. 

What about power being generated from pond scum? Researchers from the University of Cambridge have successfully kept a computer running from blue-green algae for 6 months. Read more

The South Koreans designed a 20mile long bicycle lane, in the middle of a highway covered with a solar panel roof.  And the Dutch invented The solar bike path.  Located in one of the busy suburbs of Amsterdam, It covers a modest stretch of 70m long and 3.5m in width. The path is made of concrete slabs with a layer of crystalline silicon solar cells and covered with strong protective translucent tempered glass, which allows the light to penetrate through.

Primary energy from clean sources

In 2020 renewable energy sources included hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal, bioenergy, wave and tidal. Our World in Data website has different interactive maps showing this worldwide distribution.

Since the industrial revolution, about half of the UK’s slag – a stony by-product of making iron and steel – has been used as a construction material. But the other half is an unseen and unused potential resource, with around 180 million tonnes.

As an alkaline material, slag can react with CO2 in the air and lock it away in solid minerals, offering a long-term form of carbon storage.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) involves capturing, transporting and storing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel power stations, energy intensive industries, and gas fields by injecting the captured greenhouse gases back into the ground.

What’s under the crust?

No this isn’t about pies I read an interesting account about the earth’s deep blobs, the size of continents, that sit in the lower mantle of the earth, which is just above the earth’s core.  This mantle is a layer of abundant rocks and dry oceans.  The rocks are interspersed with a kaleidoscope of crystals, from diamonds. They survive under immense pressures that if they could be brought to the earth’s surface would break up.  In addition to the rocks is an “ocean” which doesn’t contain any liquid; the water being trapped within the mineral olivine.

The rocks are mainly bridgmanite and davemaoite.  Bridgmanite has also been found in minute quantities in meteorites and US geologists have found tiny amounts of davemaoite in a diamond from the Orapa kimberlite pipe in Botswana,

Davemaoite was the name given to honour the prominent experimental high-pressure geophysicist Ho-kwang (Dave) Mao.  Bridgmanite is named in honour of the physicist Percy Bridgman.  It is  the most abundant mineral in the lower mantle of the earth.

These elusive minerals can only be seen in their natural form when they become trapped inside diamonds brought to the surface. Even then, what these crystals would actually look like deep inside the Earth is impossible to predict, because their physical properties are so altered by the pressures they usually exist under.

Understanding the blobs could help to unravel some of geology’s most enduring mysteries, such as how the Earth formed, the ultimate fate of the “ghost” planet Theia, and the inexplicable presence of volcanoes in certain locations around the globe. They may even shed light on the ways the Earth is likely to change over the coming millennia.

The Russians embarked on an ambitious exploration into the earth and in 24 years had reached some 12,000m underground until the drill became stuck as the granite ceased to be drillable due to the intense heat of the earth’s interior.  

Even using seismic instruments and methods geologists have a lot to discover about the structure and composition of the earth’s inner mantle.

Read more  

Looking at a map of Earth today may appear differently in the future.

Geologists know that supercontinents disperse and assemble in cycles: we’re halfway through one now. So, what kind of supercontinent might lie in Earth’s future? How will the landmasses as we know them rearrange over the very long-term? It turns out that there are at least four different trajectories that could lie ahead.

Earthquakes of this scale usually happen on or near major subduction zones, where oceanic plates plunge beneath the continents and are melted and consumed in the hot mantle. They involve collision and destruction. The 1755 quake, however, happened along a “passive” boundary, where the ocean plate underlying the Atlantic transitions smoothly into the continents of Europe and Africa.

Joao Duarte, a geologist at the University of Lisbon, realised that, if this happens, it could lead to the Atlantic eventually closing. And if the Pacific continued to close too – which is already occurring along the sub-ducting “Ring of Fire” circling it ­– a new supercontinent would eventually form. He named it Aurica, named because the former landmasses of Australia and the Americas would sit at its centre.

The four scenarios

He combined with another geologist Hannah Davies, and oceanographer Matthias Green at Bangor University. Their work led to four scenarios. They then collaborated with Michael Way, a physicist at the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Way’s modelling of the supercontinent climates – which took months using a supercomputer – revealed some striking variations between  the four scenarios.

This modelling is speculative, and there may be unanticipated geological surprises that change the outcome. However, what can be said for certain is that the landmasses we take for granted will one day rearrange into an entirely new configuration. Countries once isolated from one another will be close neighbours.

Read more

Which Strategies Does Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia Have? — Damon Ashworth Psychology

Chronic sleep problems such as insomnia do not go away without appropriate treatment1. Once people start to sleep poorly, they tend to develop ways of thinking and behaviours around sleep that worsen their problems over the long run2. Fortunately, cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) can improve your sleep, as it directly targets these unhelpful thoughts […]

Which Strategies Does Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia Have? — Damon Ashworth Psychology

Sleep

No not the quote from Hamlet “To sleep, perchance to dream” but how lack of sleep can impact on your health; sleep cycle explained and how sleep patterns have changed.

The Mayo clinic linked a lack of sleep to an increase in abdominal fat. An unhealthy find. During this study participants had free access to food, which coupled with the lack of sleep contributed to their increase in abdominal fat.

Findings from a randomized controlled crossover study led by Naima Covassin, Ph.D., a cardiovascular medicine researcher at Mayo Clinic, show that lack of sufficient sleep led to a 9% increase in total abdominal fat area and an 11% increase in abdominal visceral fat, compared to control sleep. Visceral fat is deposited deep inside the abdomen around internal organs and is strongly linked to cardiac and metabolic diseases.

Journal of the American College of Cardiology,

We all know how tired and grumpy we can become after a night or several nights poor sleep. Science has shown how poor sleep can effect your health from weight gain to a weakened immune system or with chronic deprivation it can cause high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke, obesity, depression, reduced immune system function and lower sex drive.

Your body needs sleep, just as it needs air and food to function at its best. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new thought connections and helps memory retention. Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, so it can’t perform its duties as well. During sleep your immune system produces infection fighting substances like antibodies and cytokines that combat bacteria and viruses.

When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. In excess amounts, cortisol can break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic. Hence the aged appearance from lack of sleep.

The types of sleep

In addition to the number of hours slept it is important to get the right kind of sleep. During the night the total sleep is made up of several rounds of the sleep cycle. Not all sleep cycles are the same length, but on average they last about 90 minutes each and vary from person to person.

There are four sleep stages, one for rapid eye movement (REM) and the others for non-REM sleep. Stage 1 is essentially a “dozing off” stage. The body hasn’t fully relaxed, and there are light changes in brain activities. It is easy to awake during this stage.

In Stage 2, the body temperature drops, the muscles relax and there is a slowed breathing and heart rate. Eye movement stops and the brain activity slows but shows short bursts of activity. This sleep can last for 10-25 minutes at first and increase during the night. Collectively this makes up more than half the sleep time.

Stage 3 is known as deep sleep. It is harder to wake a person. The muscle tone, pulse and breathing rate decrease as the body relaxes. However the brain activity shows an identifiable pattern known as delta waves, which helps the brain create and store new memories and improves its ability to collect and recall information. Deep sleep usually occurs during the first half of the night, initially lasting for 20-40 minutes. These stages become shorter the longer you sleep and more time is spent in REM sleep.

Sleep Trackers

Wearable devices or under the pillow devices rely on sensors to detect physical signs like heart rate and body movement as opposed to lab based sleep tests that use sensors to measure brain activity. The sleep trackers upload the data to a device that analyse and display the results. Although not as accurate as a lab based sleep test, these devices and apps can help to raise awareness of your sleep patterns.

How many hours sleep?

It is generally thought that an adult body needs 7-8 hours sleep a night but there is a lot of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks. Historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a book “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past” found more than 500 references to segmented sleeping patterns in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.

He describes that a first sleep began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep. During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps. And these hours weren’t entirely solitary – people often chatted to bed-fellows or had sex.

A doctor’s manual from 16th Century France even advised couples that the best time to conceive was not at the end of a long day’s labour but “after the first sleep”, when “they have more enjoyment” and “do it better”. Anyone care to confirm this?

Ekirch found that references to the first and second sleep started to disappear during the late 17th Century. This started among the urban upper classes in northern Europe and over the course of the next 200 years filtered down to the rest of Western society. By the 1920s the idea of a first and second sleep had receded entirely from our social consciousness. He attributes the initial shift to improvements in street lighting, domestic lighting and a surge in coffee houses. 

 So if you lie awake in the middle of the night, read on to discover the forgotten medieval habit of ‘two sleeps’.

The medieval habit of two sleeps

The ice breaking find in 2022

Wow, the remains of Shackleton’s ship “Endurance” located in the Weddell Sea in March 2022, was a fantastic find after being ‘lost’ for more than a century.

This successful attempt in 2022 found the wreck, located 6km from the position recorded by Worsley, and at a depth of 3,008 metres. The three-masted sailing ship was lost in November 1915 when it was crushed by Antarctic ice and sank to the ocean floor during Shackleton’s failed attempt to make the first land crossing of Antarctica. Submersible video, shot by Endurance22 using advanced underwater vehicles called Sabertooths showed the ship to be in remarkably good condition, with timbers very well preserved, due to the lack of wood consuming microbes. Even more remarkable is that the expedition was a few days away from having to be abandoned, as the ice was closing in and the blizzards and storms had started.

The video of this remarkable discovery can be viewed on Youtube, courtesy and copyright of the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust .

Shackleton and his crew remained with the ship for ten months until it was eventually crushed by the ice.  Shackleton and his 27 men undertook a perilous lifeboat journey to the uninhabited Elephant Island, with Shackleton and a smaller crew then making an open-boat journey of 800 miles to reach a whaling station in South Georgia, mounting a rescue mission back to Elephant Island from there. This harrowing account of the British explorer can be read in this book “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing. It is a remarkable story.

In 2019 Maritime archaeologist and shipwreck expert Mensun Bound,  after 2 years of planning and with a budget of $250m sailed south, onboard the Aqulhas II equipped with high tech exploration tools – Autonomous Underwater Vehicles. He was determined to find the ship’s resting place, but was defeated by the icy conditions. Just like Endurance before, Agulhas II became trapped in sea ice. Whereas Shackleton had his men race from one gunwale to the other to try and shake the ship loose, the captain of the Agulhas II achieved the same effect by swinging a 40-ton fuel pod on a crane from one side to the other, gradually shifting the ship out of the ice’s grasp. Technology!

The Hunt for Shackleton’s ice ship in 2019 is available on Youtube from Cambridge University and also describes why this search is important. The website Endurance22.org contains several articles of interest in this discovery.

The Weddell sea named after James Weddell, a Scottish explorer and seal hunter, was once difficult to access because of its abundant pack ice and harsh weather conditions. However modern icebreaker ships have begun to explore this area. The Weddell Sea is a site of special importance to the global climate and the circulation of the ocean waters. It is in the densest waters in the Atlantic. The Weddell Gyre, delimited by a clockwise-rotating ocean flow in the Southern Ocean, covers an area more than half the size of the USA. Its characteristics control the physical and chemical properties of large parts of the global deep ocean, and it has the capability of influencing global climate on multiple timescales. Studying this Gyre is challenging, as sea ice covers the ocean surface year around, restricting access by research ships and sensing of ocean surface from satellites. New technology is now available to avoid past limitations, autonomous underwater vehicles, instruments flown by planes, and floats instrumented with sea-ice detection. More information on its importance can be read in this article.

Interested in finding out more about the Arctic and Antartica? The ABC Australia have a television program on the two poles and can be seen on Iview.

Fancy visiting the Wendell sea? One cruise states “with 5 full days in Antarctica, experience the towering tabular icebergs and Adelie penguin rookeries of the remote Weddell Sea, alongside some of the Peninsula’s most popular landing sites further south. Departs once a year, at the height of the summer, aboard a 90-passenger expedition ship”. Another emphasises the Emperor penguins. Just do a search for ‘ cruise Antartica Wendell”

Adventure awaits

From intrepid explorers like Ernest Shackleton, to a somewhat crazy Australian, Sandy Mackinnon, rowing and sailing a mirror dinghy from England to the Black Sea, or an American putting himself into orbit for a year. These books take you into another world, where you ‘feel the ice cold’ or experience the impending disaster.

Silk Road by Colin Falconer entwines facts with fiction. The story describes the landscape, lifestyles and peoples of the epic 9 month journey across the deserts of Persia and along the Silk road to Xanadu. A similar journey Crusader: By Horse to Jerusalem by Tim Severin recounts his horseback journey retracing the 2.500 mile trek the Crusaders made from France to Jerusalem. A film of this journey can be viewed here.

The search for Shackleton’s ship “Endurance” provides an interesting battle between nature and man’s technology. Read more.