• Fiat-Chrysler deal confirms problem is not carbon footprint, but manufacturing footprint

    January 22 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Transportation

    Hyundai vehicle assemblyWe might be closer to reframing the public conversation about the future of the auto industry. 

    The real problem for the auto industry is its manufacturing footprint, not its carbon footprint.

    Of course we must build more efficient vehicles. 

    But the industry's problems have nothing to with small cars vs big cars, or fuel efficiency.

    The real problem is the manufacturing intensity of building mechanical engines, and their inability to produce multiple chassis on one factory floor. The other problem is that they build new cars then have them sit on dealership lots until someone buys it. 

    Yes, we must reduce the eco-impact of vehicles, but to get there we must recognize that the real revolution is changing how we build cars, not how we fuel them.  Need more evidence?

    Fiat exchanges Access for Equity
    Fiat is negotiating a 35% stake in Chrysler in exchange for access to its small vehicle manufacturing capacity and revival of its European brands in the US.

    But we should not be confused.  The future is not 'small cars', but leaner manufacturing.

    Does Chrysler need small vehicles to meet current market demand?  Probably.

    But the real takeaway is Chrysler's inabilty to build different types of vehicles (small or large) without major retooling investments.

    So the company exchanges access to manufacturing for equity.

    The future is modular manufacturing

    The future is a factory floor that can build multiple chassis using modular electric motors and energy storage devices (batteries, fuel cells and capacitors).

    What does the auto industry need to do?

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  • Supercomputer shows how enzymes might 'dance' and rip apart cellulose used for biofuels

    January 22 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy


    Corn is not the future of biofuels. It is a political distraction, and researchers are moving beyond crops for fuel.

    We are moving quickly into an era of next generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol derived from waste materials, and algae fuels derived from carbon emission feedstocks.

    Cellulosic ethanol is a particular challenge given the slow rate of speed associated with the breaking down sugar-rich materials (e.g. agricultural waste like corn cobs).  To develop faster, lower cost systems we must first understand how these proteins (enzymes called cellulases) do their magic of breaking down complex cellulose bonds into simple pieces of sugar.

    Supercomputers open up new knowledge
    Researchers at the San Diego Supercomputing Center (SDSC) are creating virtual molecules that might mimic how enyzmes 'dance' above a cellulose chain before it rips up a single sugar molecule feeding it into its 'molecular conveyor belt' to 'unzip' the bonds into basic sugars that can be fermented into a liquid fuel. 

    Why supercomputers?  Few things in the world are as complicated as understanding the shape and movement (folding) of proteins, or the breaking down of strong cellulose walls.  Supercomputer simulations help us decode the secrets of molecular movement!

    Related posts on The Energy Roadmap.com


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  • Austin based Graphene Energy raises $500K for Ultracapacitors

    January 21 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    carbon grapheneAustin, Texas based Graphene Energy has raised $500,000 to expand its vision of bringing graphene-based ultracapacitors to market.  Capacitors are a class of energy storage devices that hold physical charges of electricity.

    The company hopes that their use of nanoscale designed carbon graphene sheets will improve ultracapacitor performance to support the shift towards electrive drive vehicles powered by the integration of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.  Together these three energy storage devices provide all the demands of electric vehicles - regenerative energy capture, scaling up, and bursts.

    The Strongest Material in the Universe
    is a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice.  Graphene has unique electro-, structural and mechanical properties, and is arguably the strongest known material in the universe given the combination of all known elements.  For energy researchers, graphene is a new platorm for creating lower cost and more efficient components including: high surface area electrodes for energy storage devices, and backbone foundations for solar cells. 

    Carbon Graphene is closely related carbon nanotubes that are used to increase surface area of materials used in batteries, fuel cells, and solar cells.  But graphene sheets have their own unique performance properties and have emerged as a very 'hot' area of research across a range of disciplines including advanced electronics (transistors & memory) and biotechnology.

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  • Toyota could commercialize fuel cell electric vehicles by 2015, as automakers look beyond batteries

    January 19 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Transportation

    Toyota fuel cell

    Bloomberg is reporting that Toyota plans to sell a 'limited' line of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to consumers by 2015 or maybe sooner.

    Toyota's fuel cell integration strategy (along with Honda, Kia and GM) suggests that the auto industry is looking ahead towards next generation electric drive vehicles that go beyond battery platforms.

    Fuel cells vs Batteries?  Or both?
    A very profound transition is happening in our world. The 'electrification of the auto industry' has started, but it will take decades to complete.

    The tricky part?  'Electric' refers to the motor. 

    What delivers electrons to those electric motors is more open to debate.

    The popular assumption today is that batteries will power the future of cars.  But the reality is more sobering. Energy storage solutions that are appropriate for the auto industry are not likely to emerge from anything that exists on the commercial market today.

    Batteries are a stepping stone to a more fully integrated energy storage system that uses batteries, fuel cells and capacitors - together.

    Cars are not iPods, and the cost of building 'plug in' station infrastructure is likely to be prohibitive, if not totally inconvenient to consumers.  Fuel cells and capacitors offer superior cost / size and performance advantages.  And more convenient infrastructure options such as rapid refill or 'swap out' boxes (e.g. solid hydrogen).  

    While eco-bloggers are excited over batteries, the long view is more cloudy.  Automakers are hedging their bets on energy storage solutions, and it appears the the 'hype' phase of battery powered cars might be short lived.

    Related posts on the Auto Industry at The Energy Roadmap.com

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  • European researchers achieve record efficiency of 41% for solar cells

    January 19 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    solar cellEuropean researchers at Fraunhofer ISE have achieved another record efficiency of 41.1% in the conversion of sunlight into electricity using a ‘multi-junction’ class of solar cells.

    The cells are made out of gallium-based materials suited for the solar spectrum that reaches the surface of the Earth.  The team managed to increase the regions of the material that are electrically active to attain the high efficiencies.

    Prof. Eicke R. Weber, Director of Fraunhofer ISE emphasizes, “This is an especially good example of how the control of crystal defects in semiconductors can lead to a breakthrough in technology.”

    Fraunhofer ISE is working with Azur Space and Concentrix Solar GmbH to commercialize their technology.  “The high efficiencies of our solar cells are the most effective way to reduce the electricity generation costs for concentrating PV systems,” says Dr. Andreas Bett, Department Head at Fraunhofer ISE. “We want that photovoltaics becomes competitive with conventional methods of electricity production as soon as possible. With our new efficiency results, we have moved a big step further towards achieving this goal!”

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  • Quantum mechanism breakthrough for thin film solar and OLED lighting displays

    January 18 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    MoleculesEnergy is driven by interactions of light, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and metals

    At least, that's the simple explanation.

    The closer the human mind gets to understanding and controlling quantum behavior of light and molecules, the more likely we are to enable an era of cheap abundant energy.

    Now, thanks to work by a research team led by University of Toronto's Greg Scholes  and Elisabetta Collini, we are a step closer to understanding (and controlling) how light moves along long carbon-based molecular chains to create an electrical charge.

    Organic Electronics - Thin Film solar & OLEDs
    Their research could lead to advances in the emerging field of 'organic' electronics (carbon based electronics) that support thin film solar cells and batteries, and flexible transparent OLED display screens.

    The group has focused on 'conjugated polymers' as a promising candidate for building efficient organic solar cells.  These long chains repeat the same molecule patterns and can be maniuplated to mimic the properties of traditional silicon based semiconductors.

    When these materials absorb light, the energy moves along the molecular chain ('polymer') ending in an electrical charge.

    "One of the biggest obstacles to organic solar cells is that it is difficult to control what happens after light is absorbed: whether the desired property is transmitting energy, storing information or emitting light," Collini explained. "Our experiment suggests it is possible to achieve control using quantum effects, even under relatively normal conditions."

    Humans being creating Quantum-mechanical mechanisms

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  • Surge of Hybrid and Electric Cars in India, China

    January 13 2009 / by amisampat
    Category: Environment

    By Ami Sampat240_tatanano.jpg

    The Nano car, created by Tata Motors, has not yet gone on sale but an affordable micro-hybrid version is already gearing up to hit the market. In this micro-hybrid, the engine would automatically stop running once it has gone idle. This feature would cut fuel and gas emissions by 10 to 15 percent.

    The Nano which was first introduced in January 2008, was said to be on the market by late 2008, but is now expected to roll into the market early this year. The Nano will cost an affordable $2,500, which may increase due to the added micro hybrid-system.

    The introduction of Tata's Nano was meant to create the first reasonably priced, environmentally friendly car, in order to help the densely populated and polluted urban areas India. Having the hybrid being affordable will also make it more accesible to not just the rich class, but the middle class as well.

    Meanwhile, China is producing hybrid cars of its own. Chinese automakers, BYD, will display their hybrid car at the Detroit auto show this month. At the auto show, BYD will be given a main floor, rather than a hallway which it had last year. BYD will displaying its plug-in hybrid.

    Brilliance China Automotive Holdings Ltd is also making its first appearance at the show.

    China is certainly making waves to make its car companies known. However it will be five years before Chinese automakers are able to compete in the U.S. markets.

    India and China's venture into hybrid cars is a preemptive step of the automakers to reduce pollution and make a name for itself in the North American auto industry. As these country's launch their respective cars in their homeland and the U.S, it will certainly cause a sensation for the rest of the world.

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  • [Video] Introduction to Future of Enhanced Geothermal Energy by MIT Professor

    January 15 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    We have heard from a number of readers asking about the future of geothermal energy. So here  is a solid '101' primer video lecture (short lecture, extended Q&A) by MIT Professor James Tester.  Tester was Chair of a panel study report on the Future of Enhanced Geothermal Energy [PDF] released in 2007.  

    Related Geothermal posts on The Energy Roadmap.com

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  • Boston Power raises $55 million to expand production of Li-ion batteries

    January 15 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    Boston Power logo

    Advanced energy storage and portable power solutions continue to grab attention from energy investors.

    Massachusetts-based startup up Boston Power has announced a $55 milllion Series D funding round to scale manufacturing, sales, marketing for its Sonata Lithium-ion batteries.  This infusion of cash follows an announcement in December that Boston Power would supply HP with batteries for a coming line of laptops.

    Boston Power's solutions are most relevant to supporting the continued growth of high performance portable electronics.  But the company expects to be involved in first generation electric vehicles powered by batteries. Its branding effort has been to promote itself as a 'cleantech' company with high standards for its sustainability practices and partnerships with Asian manufacturers.

    The Evolution of Energy Storage - Batteries, Fuel cells & Capacitors

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  • Quantum Sphere files patent for cheaper 'forward osmosis' water desalination method

    January 14 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    Quantum Sphere

    We should be paying closer attention to California-based QuantumSphere and its approach to the future of energy. 

    QuantumSphere understands the disruptive potential in performance of materials when you design catalysts at the nanoscale.

    The company is designing systems that change how we look at energy storage (e.g. batteries/fuel cells) and energy intensive processes like desalination.

    Next Step - Water Desalination
    QuantumSphere has made headlines for its nano-structured catalysts used in lithium ion batteries, and also for its low cost hydrogen electrolysis process.

    Now QuantumSphere has announced a filed patent for a more energy efficient method of desalination that uses organic solutions to separate water from salt water or polluted water.  The 'forward osmosis' process is less energy intensive than current commercial methods.

    A Method that is 70% cheaper ?

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