Video of Sicily’s Mount Etna erupting with lava flows and steam sprays

April 13, 2012 – Europe’s highest active volcano, Italy’s Mount Etna, erupted again this week. The eruption, which spewed blood-red molten lava and grey and white ash into the air, is the 24th in a series that started in January 2011.


A decade ago the volcano was at it again, this time more serious. Several thousands residents were forced to evacuate. Tom Pfeiffer was there, 800 meters away in February 2000, during one of the eruptions and described it for us.

From Scientific American:

After a few minutes, the first red spots began dancing above the crater, rising and falling back into it. The explosions grew stronger, first slowly, then with breathtaking speed, throwing bombs more than 1,000 meters above the rim. Soon the volcanic cone surrounding the crater was covered with glowing rocks. At the same time, a fountain of lava started to rise from a fracture on the flank of the cone. Several other fountains rose from the crater and formed a roaring, golden curtain that illuminated the scene like daylight. Some larger lava bombs crashed into the snow not far from us, but we felt secure in our viewing position. The fountain was nearly vertical, and a strong wind carried the mass of glowing lapilli and ash gently away from us.


// Thx to Seth Goldstein

Molten salt and the Power Tower, the new solar power

I like to think of thermal solar power as the rock star of clean energy. The technology starts off with the coolest name, the Power Tower.

The Tower is surrounded by thousands of adoring mirrors all focusing their attention on it in the center. As the mirrors build up the heat in comes the molten salt gathering in all the energy (heating up to 1,000 °F).

Then the salt exits stage-left to the green room (thermal storage stank). In these tanks none of the glory and fame is dissipated since they barely lose any heat (98% efficiency rate).

At any moment the rock stars can be called out to overwhelm their fans by turning water into steam and creating energy (via steam turbines). This means that energy can be created at night and without wind, and without requiring the use of the toxic chemicals that solar cells require.

Yeah, it’s a pretty cool technology.

Credit: Torresol

The picture above is from Seville, Spain, the site of the first thermal solar installation. It will generate 20 MegaWatts and power 25,000 homes.

The technology offers an interesting twist on clean energy, using a blend of the old and new. It’s steam turbine is the same technology used in coal and nuclear power plants. Steam power is hundreds of years old going all the way back to the 18th century steamboats and railroads. The twist here is using solar energy as a heat source, i.e. solar powered.

In comparison to other clean energy technologies it definitely has a few advantages. As mentioned above it can run at nearly any time (close to 24 hours), but more importantly it doesn’t require the rare materials that solar cells need.

This is becoming more of problem than you would think.  As China dominates the market, owning nearly 85% of all the world’s supplies. Putting the rest of us in the awkward territory of tariffs and reliance on the Chinese solar industry.

Further, the creation of solar cells is a notoriously dirty process. Many are even comparing the pollution between coal burning and the creation and disposal of solar cells.

With all that in mind, salt and mirrors could be our savior. We will just have to wait and see if our rock stars are one hit wonders…