Artificial Leaf

Artificial Leaf

During the 1970’s energy crisis, Daniel Nocera became interested in the chemistry of plant photosynthesis as the best source of energy.  Most of society’s energy derives from photosysnthesis, stored chemically in plant cells.  Eating plants or animals that ate plants provides personal energy, and up to this point, industrial energy has come from the stored sunlight of fossil fuels.  Nocera decided that the best long-term energy solutions would be plant based.  By 2011, he felt his understanding of plant chemistry sufficiently enabled him to replicate solar energy conversion as performed by vegetation.  Nocera unveiled his artificial leaf, “a cheap, playing-card-size coated-silicon sheet that, when placed in a glass of tap water and exposed to sunlight, split the water into hydrogen and oxygen”.  This process released the hydrogen (H2) for use as a fuel.

The implications of the artificial leaf are that water could be a ready source of fuel.  Methods to electrochemically split water into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis have been around for a long time, but mostly rely on fossil generated electricity to do it.  Renewable energy electrolysis is also being done, but requires sophisticated and expensive solar panels or wind generators.  The artificial leaf is simpler than these technologies.  Rather than electrodes in water connected to an external source of electricity, the artificial leaf makes its own electricity while submerged, directly generating hydrogen (H2).

Another big hurdle for electrolysis is that water’s chemical bond resists molecular rearrangement.  To overcome this, expensive methods are tpically needed such as increased voltage, adding chemicals, or using catalysts.  After several experiments, Nocera and his colleagues used plentiful and cheap cobalt, suplemented with a phosphate buffer.  Unanticipated, the cobalt and phosphate had combined on their own into a highly effective, low-cost catalyst, which coated the electrode.  Nocera’s catalyst was self-generating, and re-formed after decomposing during the processThey had discovered a regenerative electrolysis – the artificial leaf.  Beyond being a one-stage hydrogen generator made from cheap materials, the other huge attribute is that swarms of tech support aren’t needed around the world to maintain the technology.

All this means that the artificial leaf can provide energy independence to everyone everywhere.  Nocera’s goal from the beginning has been to provide inexpensive low-tech energy for the billions of impoverished people of the world.  Cheap materials and extremely low maintenance does just that.  What might be considered the down-side is that it operates at minimal power level, but enough for sufficiency lifestyles.  “Nocera’s vision for the world’s poorest people is of a gridless, decentralized energy system, in which every dwelling has an artificial leaf on its roof.  When the sun shines, the leaf splits water, about a litre and a half per day, and after dark the residents burn the hydrogen in an inexpensive micro-turbine, which generates electricity till dawn at an average rate of about a hundred watts”.  This quantity of hydrogen doesn’t need expensive high-pressure tanks, but can be stored in ordinary metal tanks, at modest pressure.

The artificial leaf doesn’t pack a punch.  It doesn’t lend itself to making H2 in quantities for high pressure storage that can power a Tesla Roadster from zero to 140mph in 9 seconds.  It’s not for what Nocera calls the “legacy world”, the fortunate minority of the earth’s population who live consumptive lifestyles exploiting fossil fuels and other inhabitants.  The artificial leaf is a technology that operates at a solar pace for people living on a solar budget.  “The poor are helping you”, Nocera told an audience in Aspen, “because they’re going to teach you how to live for the future”.  Read more at – Daniel Nocera’s Artificial Leaf.

Sustainable Wonders of the World

Sustainable Wonders of the World

What’s the cleanest most efficient form of transport?  What is the most cost effective solar technology?  When considering, don’t mistake sophistication for elegance.  If humans want to fix our society before it all implodes, we need to chose solutions that actually reduce our carbon and energy footprint, and not give us false positives.  The original list of seven sustainable wonders of the world was started in 1997 By Alan Durning of the Sightline Institute (highly recommended group, BTW).  The amazingly brilliant system analyst, Donella Meadows (now deceased), heard of the list in 1999 and expanded upon it.  What these whole systems thinkers considered truly sustainable technologies are any basic yet revolutionary technologies that allow humans to live gently on the Earth.  What qualifies for the list, to paraphrase Donella Meadows, is “kindness to the earth and to human health, accessible to anyone, locally made, inexpensive to obtain and maintain, mostly old in concept with versions that have evolved in many cultures, runs on solar energy with no pollution, reusable, and biodegradable” – Seven-Plus Wonders of Sustainability.  Here’s the list:

The bicycle — the most energy-efficient form of transport ever devised.  It doesn’t emit pollution, it runs on renewable energy, it makes its user healthier, it’s easy to repair, it requires little in the way of pavement or parking lot, and 80 percent of the world’s people can afford one.  (Only 10 percent of the world’s people can afford a car.)
The clothesline — even more affordable than the bicycle, just a length of rope, runs on solar energy, no electricity, no pollution, and your clothes come out smelling sweet.
The ceiling fan — a fan makes a space feel 9 degrees F. cooler than it really is.  A typical ceiling fan draws no more than 75 watts, only one-tenth as much as an air conditioner.
The condom — protects against some of the world’s worst diseases, gives parents control over the size and timing of their families, helps control population growth.  Those are big jobs for a flimsy tube of rubber.
The public library — the written wisdom of the world at the fingertips of anyone with a library card!  The average American pays $20 a year in taxes to support public libraries.  A book that is loaned ten times cuts not only cost but paper use per read by a factor of ten.
The root cellar — temperature controlled by the earth, a way of storing many vegetables and fruits without moving parts, canning jars, boiling or freezing.
The basket — baskets, made all over the world by skillful hands out of renewable, biodegradable material, are lightweight, strong, beautiful, and reusable over and over.
Meadows goes on and on, and so can you: the olive tree, the sari, the compost pile, the knitting needle, the canoe. . .

An Urgent Call for a Safe Naismith Drive Bikeway

An Urgent Call for a Safe Naismith Drive Bikeway

Are you one of the 59% of Lawrencians who would bicycle more if it were safe?  Is a bike lane six-inch paint line no margin for safety?  Do you not let your children bicycle to school?  We’ve waited 41 years since the Pedalplan was adopted but not enacted, and it’s time to build at least one, major, safe bikeway each year.

A Naismith Drive bicycle track is a priority.  From 19th to 23rd St., Naismith Dr. forces cyclists to share narrow street lanes with trucks, buses, and autos.  In fact, no sane cyclist does that, but instead rides on the narrow sidewalk which endangers pedestrians – a lose/lose situation.  Disgruntled pedestrians are forced to walk on a muddy goat path on the east side of the street.

Bicycles have a zero carbon footprint, powered by carbohydrates, not hydrocarbons.  Autos use 34% of U.S. transportation petroleum.  Everyday cycling to work and school and for errands is one of the easiest ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  But bikeways must be safe!

Despite proposing millions in motor vehicle projects, city staff have recommended NO bikeway projects in the budget they sent to City Commissioners.  The Commission needs to hear that residents want safe bikeways in Lawrence!

Please take one minute now to call or email Lawrence City Commissioners, and tell them:
“I want the city to fund at least one major bikeway project every year.  Please fund the Naismith shared use path this year, budget line item #CI 1810”

Lawrence City Commissioners:
Mayor Leslie Soden – <> (913)890-3647
Vice Mayor Stuart Boley – <> 979-6699
Lisa Larsen – <> 331-9162
Mike Amyx – <> 843-3089
Matt Herbert – <> 550-2085

For more information, see the city budget submission at – Naismth bicycle track_2018 budget.pdf.

Westar Tax on Solar and Wind – Rate Case Commenting

Westar Tax on Solar and Wind – Rate Case Commenting

  1. Use the KCC comment form at – Send Public Comments on Solar Rate Docket 16-GIME-403-GIE.
  2. Send a written letter to the Kansas Corporation Commission, Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Protection, 1500 SW Arrowhead Road, Topeka, KS 66604-4027.  Be sure to reference Docket #16-GIME-403-GIE.
  3. Send comments through – CREDO mobilize: Protect Solar Choice in Kansas.
Fracking the Flint Hills of Kansas

Fracking the Flint Hills of Kansas

In August of 2016, we reported that an earthquake of 5.6 magnitude with an epicenter near Pawnee OK was felt on 27 August across the Midwest, including in Lawrence KS.  The Oklahoma Geological Survey said that it considers the cause very likely to be wastewater wells from oil and gas fracking operations.  With virtually no significant tectonic activity since the Pennsylvanian and Permian periods, Oklahoma has seen an unnatural jump in earthquakes in direct parallel with fracking operations.  In 2009 there were only 3 quakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater, yet in 2013 there were 109, in 2014 there were 585, and in 2015 there were 907.  Oklahoma has thousands of fracking wells, far more than does Kansas, in part because the geological formations are more favorable, but also because their former Attorney General worked hand in glove with the oil industry – Scott Pruitt.

Fracking was invented at the University of Kansas in the late 1940’s, and the first vertical fracking well was drilled in 1947.  Since 2009, the industry has turned to horizontal fracking, extending sideways for thousands of feet from the bore hole.  In 2012 over 140 horizontal wells were drilled in the state, up from 50 in 2011 and 10 in 2010.  The Kansas Geological Survey links earthquakes to fracking waste disposal, and has increased restrictions as a result of the 2016 frackquakes – Kansas tightens fracking restrictions.

Until now, Kansas fracking has clustered near the Oklahoma border, but in January of 2017, the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) received a fracking application for near Burdick KS.  This is in the heart of the Flint Hills, about 100 miles north of Wichita, and 30 miles south of Junction City.  The application has been wending its way through the KCC hearing process, and receiving lots of opposition from farmers and ranchers, as well as city dwellers – Fracking the Flint Hills?.  In addition to being only 14 miles from the National Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, the site is in the Humboldt Fault Zone near the Nemaha Uplift.  This geological fault zone has been of serious concern for the Wolf Creek Nuclear Plant, though the operators say it is designed to withstand a 7.0 Richter scale earthquake.  If you are concerned about pressurized fracking waste water being injected into the rock under the Flint Hills, you might want to send you comments to the KCC atStop fracking operations in the Flint Hills of Kansas near the National Tall Grass Preserve.