March 2014

AS the discussion about the building of a port at Goat Islands heats up, we note that the minister with responsibility for environment and climate change, Mr Robert Pickersgill, has been silent on the subject.

Minister Pickersgill’s absence from the debate is especially glaring because it was he, while on a five-day visit to China with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and her team last August, who brought the matter into the public domain when he told representatives of China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) that the location was “now under very serious consideration”.

It’s glaring, too, given the environmental implications of building port facilities, with the accompanying infrastructure, in an area zoned for fish sanctuaries, game reserves, and housing what is perhaps the most pristine dry limestone forest in the region.

Housing, Transport and Works Minister Dr Omar Davies has been the one doing all the talking on this issue. To date, the most details the country has been fed about the much-talked-about project came in his presentation to Parliament last week Tuesday in which he outlined the basic scope of the works.

According to Dr Davies, the activities to be carried out under phase one include dredging and land reclamation, the construction of berths, warehouses, an industrial park, a container terminal, bridges, roads, pipelines, sewage lines and a sewage treatment plant.

CHEC intends, too, to build a coal-fired plant to avoid the high cost of electricity provided by the Jamaica Public Service Company.

While we maintain that environmental preservation and development do not have to be at odds with each other, we cannot overlook the effect of burning coal on air quality. In China, for instance, coal is used for about 65 per cent of its energy needs, but the Government is now seeking to cut its reliance on the fuel source by two percentage points a year.

Importantly, when coal is burned, it releases carbon dioxide, the main culprit in global warming and climate change.

On that basis, as Ms Dianna McCaulay rightly pointed out last week, the decision to allow such a plant in Jamaica is not in line with the country’s draft climate change policy. Neither does it appear to be in line with Vision 2030, which seeks to phase out fossil fuels to the point where 20 per cent of the energy mix will be supplied by renewable sources by 2030.

Surely, the apparent contradictions have not escaped Minister Pickersgill and the technocrats in his ministry. What, then, accounts for his silence?

Is the minister toeing the party line, or is he no longer committed to his oft repeated phrase “with climate change we must change”?

Jamaica Observer;

University of Cincinnati researchers are reporting early results on a way to make solar-powered panels in lights, calculators and roofs lighter, less expensive, more flexible (therefore less breakable) and more efficient.

Fei Yu, a University of Cincinnati doctoral student in materials engineering, presented new findings on boosting the power conversion efficiency of polymer solar cells on March 3, at the American Physical Society Meeting in Denver.

Yu is experimenting with adding a small fraction of graphene nanoflakes to polymer-blend bulk-heterojunction (BHJ) solar cells to improve performance and lower costs of solar energy.

“There has been a lot of study on how to make plastic solar cells more efficient, so they can take the place of silicon solar cells in the future,” says Yu. “They can be made into thinner, lighter and more flexible panels. However, they’re currently not as efficient as silicon solar cells, so we’re examining how to increase that efficiency.”

Imagine accidentally kicking over a silicon solar-powered garden light, only to see the solar-powered cell crack. Polymers are carbon-based materials that are more flexible than the traditional, fragile silicon solar cells. Charge transport, though, has been a limiting factor for polymer solar cell performance.

Graphene, a natural form of carbon, is a relatively newly discovered material that’s less than a nanometer thin. “Because graphene is pure carbon, its charge conductivity is very high,” explains Yu. “We want to maximize the energy being absorbed by the solar cell, so we are increasing the ratio of the donor to acceptor and we’re using a very low fraction of graphene to achieve that.”

Yu’s research found that efficiency increased threefold by adding graphene, because the material was helping to rapidly transport charges to achieve higher photocurrent. “The increased performance, although well below the highest efficiency achieved in organic photovoltaic (OPV) devices, is nevertheless significant in indicating that pristine graphene can be used as a charge transporter,” says Yu.

Yu’s advisor, Vikram K. Kuppa, an assistant professor in the School of Energy, Environmental, Biological and Medical Engineering (SEEBME) for the UC College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS), was a contributor to the research. Kuppa is leading the research of a variety of polymer-blend solar cells involving the use of graphene.

Future research will focus on device physics, film morphology and how to control and optimize these randomly distributed graphene nanoflakes by a variety of methods to achieve better performance.

Science Daily;