Spray-On Solar Power Material Makes Windows Power Generators

New Energy Technologies, Inc. researchers have developed a first-of-its-kind, spray-on technology able to transform everyday surfaces, such as windows, into energy-generating devices using both natural and artificial light sources, outperforming today’s commercial solar and thin-film technologies by as much as 10-fold under low-intensity irradiance. The company developed a working prototype of its SolarWindow™ technology in preparation for eventual full-scale production. Low production costs, improved manufacturability, and increased power performance are objectives researchers are now targeting. Key to these advances is the development of new methods and technologies for applying New Energy’s electricity-generating coatings to glass surfaces.

Electrical power is generated on glass when New Energy’s SolarWindow™ coatings are sprayed onto surfaces using commercially available equipment. This patent-pending process enables researchers to spray SolarWindow™ coatings onto glass at room temperature, eliminating expensive and often cumbersome high-temperature or high-vacuum production methods typically used by current solar manufacturers.

Until now, most solar modules have remained opaque with the prospect of creating a see-thru glass window capable of generating electricity limited by the use of metals and various expensive processes which block visibility and prevent light from passing through glass window surfaces.

Researchers are also working to bolster the electrical power output of SolarWindow™, generated from both natural sunlight and artificial sources such as fluorescent lighting typically installed inside commercial offices and incandescent bulbs inside residential homes. Unlike conventional solar technologies, New Energy’s SolarWindow™ generates electricity from both natural and artificial light sources, outperforming today’s commercial solar and thin-film technologies by as much as 10-fold under low-intensity irradiance.

Read the rest of the story here.

CI Podcast for September 26, 2010: Fires, Oil and Railroads

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Welcome to the Construction Informer. The Podcast for September 26, 2010

Full Podcast Transcript (for those of you who still read)

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) released some interim guidance on using anti-freeze in residential fire sprinkler systems. Apparently, research has shown that glycerin and propylene glycol solutions might ignite when the sprinkler systems go off to put out a fire.

A report prepared by Code Consultants Inc., and published by The Fire Protection Research Foundation, outlined how two different test were performed and gave the results. One test type (Scope A) used six models of sprinklers at elevations of 8 feet and 20 feet “to investigate the potential for large-scale ignition of antifreeze sprays at pressures ranging from 10 psi to 150 psi. Scope B consisted of room fire tests, similar to UL 1626, that were designed to investigate the effective(ness) of sprinklers discharging antifreeze solutions, and their ability to maintain tenable conditions,” according to the report.

Scope A showed that solutions with more than 40 percent propylene glycol, and those with more than 50 percent glycerin can ignite when they are released from sprinklers. Apparently the deciding factors include the ignition source, sprinkler model, sprinkler elevation and the discharge pressure. Scope B tests showed concentrations of propylene glycol lower than 40 percent, and glycerin lower than 50 percent, performed like water. The report also suggested that solutions of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol should be “limited unless testing is conducted to establish that they are appropriate for use in home fire sprinkler systems.”

For existing systems the NFPA advised “owners and contractors to take immediate steps to review the status of their existing residential sprinkler systems and take appropriate action.” Actions include investigating alternatives to antifreeze to keep pipes from freezing, like using pipe insulation. If there is no alternative then factory-mixed propylene glycol or glycerin solutions of less than 40 and 50 percent respectively should be considered, and in all cases the lowest concentration that will protect from freezing should be used. There is much more at the links in the transcript on the blog.

When it comes to fires, sometimes you just need to light a fire under your team but you can’t seem to efficiently get them all together for a meeting. Well, right now you can try GoToMeeting for free just by visiting GoToMeeting dot com slash podcast. Sometimes the personal touch is required to really drive home the point you are trying to make. And while it is fashionable to avoid using meetings sometimes they are necessary and beneficial. With everyone logged into GoToMeeting dot com, whether they’re across the country, or across town, they can see your computer desktop on their computer screen, regardless of the operating system they use. So why not try it out and set your team on fire the easy way. (Of course I’m talking figuratively there.) Try GoToMeeting free for 45 days by simply visiting Go To Meeting dot com slash podcast.

Well, T. Boone Pickens has jumped back into the oil debates by issuing a call for the U.S. to switch large portions of its transportation sector to natural gas to help get the country off the foreign oil spigot. Keep in mind that Pickens was bullish on alternative energy until last winter when the wind went out of the wind power sails, (that’s sails as in sails on boats), at least that’s according to Jeff Carter, a market commenter for several media outlets. And, Pickens admittedly has a large investment in natural gas through a company called Clean Energy Fuels, claimed to be the largest provider of vehicular natural gas in North America, according to text on a BP Capital Inc. Website. Pickens is CEO of BP Capital. So his rhetoric may well be slanted just a bit, and some have called him on that. But it’s most interesting what appears on the Website, because it evokes the fear of the looming oil crunch that many have been predicting, in order to advance a concept that is near and dear to the oilman’s heart. Here’s an excerpt:

“I’ve been an oilman my whole life, but this is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of.” His scribbling white board presentations, in which he outlined the impact of Peak Oil and the U.S. dependence on imports, became water cooler talk throughout the nation.

And so, only talk continues in the face of this looming reality, making it even more clear it is very hard to get people to accept change that requires them putting their own self interest a few steps behind that of the self-interest of the whole. Pickens’ outcry mirrors 48 percent of the American mindset that is so enamored with money that it has never found a way to view the world within a context that doesn’t include profits. Perhaps it’s time for some inspiration that doesn’t depend on money?

So the global economy continues to beat and we are seeing places where construction melds with agriculture. They are very dissimilar activities but if you follow the money you can see how they easily become bedfellows. Ethiopia has vast amounts of fertile land for growing crops, and agriculture accounts for about 84 percent of its GDP and 80 percent of its total employment, according to a reasonably well-sourced article at Wikipedia. The European Union and major food retailers are very interested in sourcing food from the area. China and India have been on a land-acquisition-spree across the globe because they realize their own land will not support their growing populations. Ethiopia needs cheap transportation for all the agricultural products. So, it is building a 3,100 mile railroad that will go from the capital of Addis Ababa to the outlying regions. At its peak 305,000 people will be laboring to build it but it will only cost $336 million per year. This gets into calculations with more than six zeros which my readily-accessible calculator doesn’t handle well, but it looks like each worker might make about $1800. That doesn’t take any other project expenses into account, so I think we must be looking at really cheap pick and shovel labor here. In May the project got a loan of more than $100 million from China. From my reading there are no U.S. companies involved. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Ethiopia is also on track to boost its power output by 10,000 MW. That’s more than a few billion dollars worth of construction. I can see the estimating pencils getting sharpened already.

And, that’s it for this edition of the Construction Informer podcast. Until the next time…build it well.

Hard Hat Colors Defy Logic And Standardization

I did a post a few years ago about hard hats and I wanted to focus it more about hard hat colors, but it got a little murky so I decided to just do a post on the colors. It is the companies that decide what colors of hard hats to use for their workforces and what meaning to assign to the colors. Government entities such as transportation departments do the same thing.

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New Rugged Laptop: Don’t You Just Want to Throw It?

Ultra Rugged Laptop

The ultra-rugged Algiz XRW notebook is a full featured performer that weighs only 1.5 kg (3.3 lb). (PRNewsFoto/Handheld Group)

Just when we thought laptops couldn’t get any tougher along comes The Handheld Group to demonstrate it just might be possible. The Algiz XRW is a rugged laptop sporting a 10.1-inch widescreen with sunlight-readable screen technology, and a 2 GHz Intel Atom processor. It has a 64 GB solid state disk and 2 GB of DDR2 RAM. The Algiz XRW runs the Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate operating system.

Here are the other specs the company provides:

The Algiz XRW comes standard with Bluetooth, WLAN and GPS as well as a built-in 2-megapixel autofocus camera that allows video conferencing in the field.

An optional 3G modem can provide high-speed GSM/UMTS/EVDO data transmission. The Algiz XRW is ready for Gobi(TM) 2000 technology – which means you’ll be able to work on your choice of wireless frequency anywhere in the world. And you can put in a full day’s work, with a 57.6 Wh battery that works for 8 hours on a single charge.

The company says the unit weighs three-and-a-third pounds (1.5 kilos), has keyboard and mouse-touchpad that are illuminated by two led lights and are fully sealed, and it carries an IP65 rating against sand, dust and water. It passes MIL-STD-810F ruggedness testing, including drop tests from almost 4 feet (1.2 meters), and it is comfortable in temperatures between -5.5 degrees F and 158 degrees F (-21 degreesC to 70 degreesC).

I’m not convinced the company has actually “redefined the world of rugged computing,” and there’s not much in the press release that explains just how it has done that. But with that observation aside, it does for me what all the other rugged laptops I’ve written about here and here do, and that’s create an insane desire to throw them against a brick wall and see what happens.

CI Construction Podcast for September 21, 2010

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Welcome to the Construction Informer the podcast for September 21st, 2010.

Full Transcript

It’s always cool to discover a way to make a building component do double duty. One example of this comes from recent research done by previous students of Daniel Stancil, a former Carnegie-Mellon professor who is now heading up the electrical and computer engineering department at North Carolina State University.

In the not-to-distant future HVAC techs might be installing radio equipment inside the ductwork, turning it into conduits for ultra-high frequencies (UHF) used by radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. You often hear about these tags being used to track inventory and to travel with shipments of goods, but they can also be fitted with sensors that will monitor environmental conditions like temperature and humidity and send that information to a control device that might then turn on an air conditioning unit.

RFID tags that operate on UHF are hamstrung somewhat because they have to be placed within 33 feet of the device that will receive their signal. The researchers discovered that they can extend that distance to more than 98 feet if the signals are transmitted through HVAC ducts. This could be great for health and safety monitoring systems since it will eliminate all the wiring that is currently needed. Now, RFID tags could be smoke detectors, carbon monoxide monitors, and could also detect chemical, biological and radiological agents.

The ducts work well for these kinds of radio frequencies since it corrals the waves, keeping them from dispersing so the signal stays strong over a longer distance. There could be some potential limitations though. Storefront Backtalk published an article based on the press release from North Carolina State and one commenter suggested there could be limitations due to fire code technicalities for items installed inside plenums that would eliminate any plastic or fiberglass components. The commenter also noted the UHF system would have to be shut down for any HVAC maintenance to protect people from concentrated radio frequencies.

Well, just like those UHF radio waves that tend to disperse over large areas, construction workforces do the same thing, so it’s very difficult to get everybody together in one place for meetings. By its nature construction sends us all to the four winds. But there is a solution and it’s called Go-To-Meeting. Right now, listeners of this show can try GoToMeeting free for 45 days. Just visit GoToMeeting dot com slash podcast. I tried it for the first time a couple of years ago and found it to be straight forward, easy to use and very effective. For the AEC industries it’s especially powerful because of this document intensive world we operate in. You can share documents and plans, and you can even mark things up and give everyone updated copies, all right there online. So why not try it out and corral your team the easy way. Try GoToMeeting free for 45 days by simply visiting GoToMeeting dot com slash podcast.

Mikron, maker of extruded products, has just come out with MikronWood. They call it a “new hybrid composite window frame material, performs like no other material on the market.” Indeed the company says it has significantly better thermal performance than wood, fiberglass or hollow PVC. Unlike other materials like fiberglass, MikronWood does not require pre-drilling or mechanical joinery. It offers the ability to be milled and fabricates just like wood but is also bendable and weldable for watertight corner joinery. Because the frame is more energy efficient the company says it has gone through certified lab testing by the National Fenestration Rating Council and Mikron claims the results show the material as having better thermal performance than wood, fiberglass or hollow PVC. The frame is for a double slider, replacement window and by using this frame you don’t have to remove exterior stops when replacing old wood windows.

The company provides a 20-year warranty for dimensional performance. Well, I’m wondering two things. What happens when it burns, if it does, and what in the heck is dimensional performance? After an exhaustive search using a bunch of negative operators all I’ve found is a reference to it in relation to plastic injection molding. It would be better if companies would think very hard about what it is they are saying and then try to do it as precisely as possible.

Sure, based on my life experience and electro-mechanical ability I can assume it means something about how well the item maintains its shape. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of next questions. So does it just refer to the frame deforming? If that’s the case it’s not much of a guarantee since it is fastened in place to framing. Anything similarly rigid, mounted similarly to windows mounted in a wooden frame would require some extraordinary stress to deform it…like a tornado, hurricane or earthquake. I know there’s probably some industry standards that tell all about just what dimensional performance means, but most people don’t have access to that information and most people really don’t want to spend their time finding out what it means so they can assess the value of a product. I’m not picking on Mikron here because really, this is done all the time by countless manufacturers. A claim is made that has absolutely no meaning to most anybody, and is used, in a way that implies it’s some kind of a benefit.

The finish on these window frames is also supposed to be tough since it is molecularly fused.

I got an email from Chase Gugenheim telling me about a Website called Construction Management Degree.com. This is a comprehensive list of construction management educational programs that is really comprehensive. Of course Chase acknowledges there may be omissions and at the bottom of the page you can make suggestions. It’s kind of an interesting story how this page came to be, and it IS just a one page site – a very long page at that. Chase was trying to find the right fit with a school to get a construction management degree, did loads of research and then put it all on the Website, on one page, right down to schools by state. Check it out sometime.

Finally, the depth of the greatest depression, this one we’re currently in, was made even more painfully clear in a survey done by CBIZ Tofias, an accounting and tax provider, ( well maybe they mean something other than that, they probably don’t provide taxes they’re probably tax accountants), anyway it seems they surveyed the architects in Boston and found this year’s profits are the lowest in 25 years. The company says the drop in profits started in late 2008. Some firms made things into an advantage by getting more efficient and improving their project management processes so they actually ended up with higher profits. It just goes to show there’s nothing like a great depression to increase productivity. Kind of makes you wonder what our economic system has in store for us next.

And, that’s it for this edition of the Construction Informer. Thanks for tuning in and until next time…build it well.

Oil Replacements Appear In Unanticipated Quarters

The move to economies not dependent on oil has begun, and some are making headway in finding alternatives. I have been ranting about our dependence on oil and the simple fact that it is going to run out. But before that happens, it will decrease in quantity until those who can pay the price will be the only ones who have it. More importantly though, businesses that need oil to make other products like plastics will find shortages in oil, leading to shortages in those materials.

You can read my tirade here, here, here and here to get the background on this really important topic that is regularly marginalized not only by those invested so heavily in oil that a world without an abundance of it is unthinkable, but also by mainstream media.

So, here’s a company that’s figured out how to make polymers, plastics and hydrocarbon fuels using waste gas resources. According to Dr Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech, the New Zealand clean tech company:

is the first to demonstrate that this platform chemical can be produced via fermentation from gases. LanzaTech has shown 2,3-BD production from waste gas resources in an industrial setting.

LanzaTech’s microbial gas fermentation process potentially enables chemicals production to be decoupled from petroleum and valuable food resources. Conventional approaches for the production of polymers and plastics require chemical building blocks normally prepared from the cracking of petroleum or through fermentation of sugars. However, LanzaTech’s process uses nonfood, low value gas feed stocks, including industrial waste gases such as those produced by steel mills, oil refineries, coal manufacturing, syngas from landfill-waste and reformed natural gas.

Notice how the technology is developing outside the U.S.? It will be interesting to see if this process is robust enough to replace current refinery processes, and if it is more sustainable from an energy perspective, than current processes.

Access Management Policies Hold Keys to Minimizing Administrator Risks

In its December 2009 cloud computing security guidance paper, the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) focused on adding clarity to what it described as a “complicated landscape, which is often filled with incomplete and oversimplified information.” Indeed, in talking to providers of cloud security services and products it would seem there is an unimaginable range of security concerns, each requiring its own unique solution from yet another solution provider.

But beyond the concerns there appears to be the opportunity to minimize risks in some areas while simplifying security at the user level. In other cases, existing security concerns that are magnified by cloud computing can bring new attention to them and foster new approaches to solving them. One such security risk that has been around since computing began is the one of administrator rights.

“Historically, if you are in an administrative role you’ve got root access, and root access is the equivalent of being omnipotent on that machine,” says Brian Anderson, chief marketing officer for BeyondTrust, a solutions provider for privilege authorization management, access control and security solutions for virtualization and cloud computing environments. “You can literally do anything, under any circumstances, to any amount of data, no matter how sensitive it is, and no matter how much encryption.”

Of course the level of data security policy should be matched to the sensitivity of the data and the vulnerabilities of the network where it resides. If you are running an estimating program in the cloud as strictly a number cruncher, with no associated customer information, then your risks are lower than if running it with customer information.

Access Management Policies

The CSA cites nine aspects, (page 66 of the guidance paper noted above), related to access control that you should review when you are selecting a cloud service or product. At the same time the organization admits the immature state of the cloud ecosystem and recommends an honest assessment of your own company’s ability to manage an access system. It also highlights the importance of knowing your cloud computing provider’s abilities related to access management. One important consideration involves the cloud provider’s access system used for its own administrators.

Anderson points to the risk associated with cloning a virtual instance of your virtual server. He describes it as virtual sabotage and outlines the process. An administrator who has access to the hyper visor, (the traffic cop for all the virtual servers), clones the server where your data lies and then deletes it. The deletion however does not remove the server’s image. Then the administrator remounts the server outside of its original environment and has access to all the data with no one ever knowing it was stolen. With ample time the administrator could then crack the encryption scheme if one was present. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a cloud provider’s administrator – it could be one of your own – and that’s a risk Anderson says is often taken too lightly.

“Even my most trusted admin potentially could go psycho one day,” he says. “We talk a lot about intentional, indirect and accidental misuse of privilege. Intentional misuse of privilege is when the cloud administrator wasn’t happy with the raise he got, or decided he could make more money by selling your assets to a competitors, so he used his authority to create harm. If they have full authority at the root level through their cloud servers, (typically Linux or Unix), then they can plant logic bombs, they can copy data, and they can bring the system to its knees if they want to be intentionally harmful.”

He says though, it’s more likely they’re going to do accidental things like issue the wrong command in the wrong directory and delete all the users. That’s why he says his company focuses on setting up an environment where administrative permissions are parceled out privilege by privilege.

“So now, instead of giving root access to your cloud administrator, he comes in as a standard user, but when he wants to do a function it goes through the policy management function and inquires if the user has the authority to do that function,” Anderson explains. “If so, the operating system grants the authority for that administrator to do just that function.” He adds that there is also no more logging out and back in, or re-authentication needed.

Those in construction and architecture and engineering often have a good understanding of the access and the authentication processes, but may not be as knowledgeable on authorization. Whether moving to the cloud or not, that third piece of access control adds an important security element.

The Lowly Bike Rack Rises in Style and Functionality

Duo-Gard Bike Shelter

New bike shelters support some LEED credits. (Duo-Gard & Reuter Associates 2009)

It’s time we re-thought the basic old bike rack and started to consider  they ought to be more than just some metal bolted to the sidewalk. Duo-Gard is building some, like the one shown here, that have some flair, both aesthetically and practically.

Made with polycarbonate panels to provide UV protection, the bike shelters protect the bikes from UV degradation and rain or snow. The bike shelters are helping buildings achieve LEED certification by supporting alternative commuting transportation methods in reducing carbon emissions.

Ideally suited for corporate campuses, government organizations and educational institutions, Duo-Gard would like its bike shelters to be on the minds of city planners, and landscape architects and specifiers wanting to enhance building sustainability and design. Duo-Gard designs, manufactures and installs its bike shelters, which can be comprised of 20 percent recycled material and are 100 percent recyclable. The bike shelters feature either standard lighting or solar LEDs/PVs.

The units can be designed as open, attached or fully-enclosed structures and feature custom glazing as well as multiple color framing selections. Additional options include bike racks, lean rails, seating and the incorporation of Duo-Gard’s 3S Solar Block coating, which reduces heat loads.

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