• Top Research Breakthroughs in 2008 for Bio energy

    December 22 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

     

    Ecoli

    2008 was a big year for science breakthroughs on next generation bioenergy solutions.  And that is a good thing for the future of energy. 

    The modern economy runs on ancient bioenergy. Coal is ancient biomass, oil is likely ancient microbes. 

    So why not tap the power of biology to ‘grow energy’ resources.

    Forget about corn ethanol, the future taps the power of microorganisms not plants.

    Next generation solutions such as algae and bacteria ‘eat’ carbon to produce biofuels, or use sunlight to produce hydrogen.  Looking beyond 2015, we can imagine real breakthroughs in the field of Synthetic Biology that could change how we look at energy and carbon solutions. 

    List of Bioenergy Science Breakthroughs in 2008

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  • Top Energy Stories of 2008: #3 The Obama Election

    December 16 2008 / by joelg
    Category: Technology

    By Joel Greenberg

    Barack Obama's energy platform included goals for renewable energy, higher automoative gas mileage standards, support for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and targets for energy efficiency of homes...and that's just to start.  With the recent announcement of Nobel laureate and now former head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Steven Chu as Energy Secretary, Obama's administration can be the catalyst that makes alternative energy markets viable.

    Will the Obama administration be successful in making the energy changes he promised in the election?

    Obama's Energy Plan

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  • MIT develops innovative pilot wave power plant in Portugal

    December 19 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Environment

    MIT Wave Power

    MIT researchers are working with a Portuguese group to design a pilot-scale device that will capture significantly more of the energy in ocean waves than existing systems.  The pilot plant will generate 750 kilowatts, roughly enough to power 750 homes.

    Professor Chiang Mei and his colleagues have developed model simulations that can predict wave forces and guide design decisions to convert the captured mechanical energy to electrical energy.

    "Given the future of conventional energy sources, we need lots of research on all kinds of alternative energy," Mei says. "Right now, wind energy and solar energy are in the spotlight because they've been developed for a longer time. With wave energy, the potential is large, but the engineering science is relatively young. We need to do more research."

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  • Rice University licenses bioengineered E Coli that produces key ingredient for biomaterials

    December 19 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Biotechnology

    Ecoli

    The vision of 'Green Chemisty' is to create the basic components used in making materials, energy, food and pharmaceuticals using sustainable practices, often without the use of petroleum based feedstocks. 

    Rice University researchers have bio-engineered Ecoli to produce large amounts of a key component used in the development of bio-based and biodegradable polymers.

    What happened?
    Raw (starch) materials provider Roquette Frères has licensed a bio-process from Rice University to use genetically engineered Ecoli that produce large quantities of succinic acid used in plastics, textiles, drugs and solvents and as a food additive.

    The high volume process is competitive with petroleum based processes, and actually 'carbon negative' as it consumes carbon during the fermenation process.

    Roquette Frères is not a household brand, but could go a long way in realizing a scalable way to produce bio-based succinic acid from renewable resources via “green” chemistry.

    Roquette will develop a demonstration plant in France by the end of 2009 with the capacity to produce several hundred metric tons of succinic acid per year.   After successful demonstration of the technology, the company expects to begin large-scale production by 2011.

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  • US battery companies form coalition for electric vehicles, playing catch up to Asia

    December 19 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Transportation

    electric car plug in stupid

    American Industrial leaders might be ready to reinvest in the country's industrial capacity to innovate and manufacture components needed to reinvent the energy and auto industries.

    The keys to electric vehicles are electric motors, energy storage systems (batteries, fuel cells and capacitors) and drive by wire systems. 

    The US has now formed a new coalition to pursue the biggest prize: Energy Storage!

    Pride or Profits?
    US playing catch up with Asian
    What if electric cars didn't bring America and Europe 'energy independence'?  The public relations failure of trading 'foreign oil for foreign batteries', has motivated US business leaders to form a coalition to seek federal funding for securing a domestic battery industry.  

    The Chicago-baesd National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture will include 14 companies and the US DOE's Argonne National Laboratory. 'The Alliance' will be modeled around Sematech which helped the U.S. semiconductor indutsry play catch up to Asian manufacturers in the late 1980s

    The founding members of the Alliance include 3M, Johnson Controls, ActaCell, All Cell Technologies, Altair Nanotechnologies, Dontech Global, EaglePicher Corporation, EnerSys, Envia Systems, FMC, MicroSun Technologies, Mobius Power, SiLyte, Superior Graphite, and Townsend Advanced Energy.

    Short term vs Long view of 'Electric'
    We have been writing for several months about the globalization of electric vehicle industry, and Asia's early lead in the first energy storage device lithium ion batteries. 

    We have also suggest that the 'car is not an iPod', and that 'pluggin in' battery systems are not the default future of electric vehicles.  It is not certain that batteries can solve the energy storage problem.

    Ask a lawyer or engineer if there is something wrong with this plug in picture!

    Instead, next generation vehicles will integrate batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, and capacitors.   But industry leaders, politicians and the public seem only ready to take one step at a time, and for now talk is focused on first generation storage of batteries. So we will crawl instead of leap into the future.

    Related posts on the future of electric vehicles

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  • France's EDF outbids Buffet for nuclear power utility Constellation Energy

    December 19 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    Nuclear Power Plant Byron Station

    Nuclear power has not stopped being controversial in the US, but global industry leaders still see America as a market for growth in electricity generation.  

    There are enormous challenges ahead for revitalizing support for nuclear power, but if the US does restart its nuclear power program, it will not do it alone.  And it's possible that pressure could be strongest from companies based outside the US.  Aside from flat public support, there is a notable lack of human engineering talent in the US.   

    France invests in US power generation market
    Now we have a new player in the nuclear industry.  France's utility giant EdF has outbid Warren Buffet's MidAmerican Energy to buy Baltimore-based Constellation Energy which has a nuclear power generation heavy portfolio.  EDF will invest $1 billion in Constellation, and up to $2 billion for non-nuclaer power plant investments.

    Buffet did not walk away empty handed from his earlier effort to buy Constellation, and has doubled his money in less than a year as he retains a 9% stake and $593 million in cash. 

    This is a significant investment by France's EDF in the US power generation market, and could be a milestone in the new battle for public support for nuclear power.

    [It should be noted that, aside from all the legacy controversy issues, nuclear energy is NOT a substitute for oil or liquid fuels.  Nuclear plants produce electricity and we cannot fill combustion engines with electrons.  So the argument that nuclear energy provides for 'energy independence' falls flat.]

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  • Accelerating the Auto Industry's Convergence with Energy & Software

    December 18 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Transportation

    Combustion Engine Cars

    The auto industry is going through a long painful transition that will take decades to unfold.  

    Why be optimistic about the future?

    Because the two most profound industry shifts are wonderful platforms for growth and changing the world.

    The Auto Industry is converging with the world of energy storage and software.

    While we cannot ignore the short term pains, we should not lose sight of the opportunities ahead.

    First, the pain.  In the past three days: Toyota has delayed plans to build a Prius factory in Missiissipi, GM said that the Volt will not have its own factory as it taps existing plants, and Norway's darling electric car maker struggling to stay alive.  Meanwhile suppliers and car dealerships are close to failing all over world.

    What went wrong?
    Everyone has their own reasons for why automakers are failing: Labor costs, oil, management, credit markets, et al. All have valid points. And, obviously there are multiple problems, not one issue.

    But I have a very different theory and set of presriptions.

    The problem isn't oil, it's the combustion engine and its legacy liabilties of intensive manufacturing, limited design and obsession with 'new car' sales paradigm.

    Our great opportunity?
    The problem is based on how we build and sell cars, not how we fuel them.  So let's focus on the platform of a post-combustion engine era of mobility.

    How do we get there? You cannot summon the future on demand with band-aid solutions, you must enable it and wait for it to change.

    Our priority should be to enable a multi-decade long transition that changes how cars are bought, sold, driven and upgraded.

    21st Century Vehicles: Focus on Wheel-based Electric Motors, Energy Storage and Software...

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  • Chinese researchers develop platinum-free fuel cell

    December 18 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    alkaline fuel cellMIT Technology Review has featured a research breakthrough in platinum free fuel cells that could significantly reduce costs for a unique type of fuel cell energy conversion devices.

    A Wuhan University team led by Professor Lin Zhuang has developed an Alkaline Fuel Cell (AFC) using a new hydroxyl ion electrolyte that uses low cost nickel catalyst materials to react hydrogen and oxygen to create electrical current, heat and water.

    NASA has used alkaline fuel cells (AFC) in space missions since the 1960s, but these types of fuel cells are not likely to be used in automobile or portable devices.  They might best be suited for onsite power generation, which is still an enormous market. AFCs use a water-based electrolye that lets postive charged molecules pass, diverting negative charges into the current.  They are very efficient (up to 70%) but do have their downsides.  If the team of researchers can increase the protoype's 'modest' electricity output (50 milliwatts/sq centimeter at 60 ºC) it could help bring low cost alkaline fuel cells to market.

    Why is this important to the future of energy?
    Understanding Fuel Cells & The Hype Cycle

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  • Top Energy Stories of 2008: #2 The Year of Scientific Breakthroughs

    December 16 2008 / by joelg
    Category: Environment

    By Joel Greenberg

    In the blur of announcements from solar companies, oil company TV commercials, and news pundits, science sometimes get lost in the conversation.  But it's science that will bring us to a workable energy future and this year has seen some significant breakthroughs.  MIT's Daniel Nocera announced the development of a low cost catalyst that helps in the electrolysis of water into oxygen & hydrogen.  The development of Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs) for solid hydrogen storage continued to evolve; Nanotechnology continues to bring promising experimental results across many energy related fields including, catalysts for fuel cells; conversion of waste heat into electricity; a new theory explaining molecular movement in polymers; and more.

    Which of these scientific breakthroughs might change the commercial viability of cleaner hydrocarbons, bioenergy, renewables and advanced energy storage systems?

    Scientific breakthroughs

     

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  • Piezeoelectric Power: Innowattech dreams of energy harvesting roads, railways and runways

    December 17 2008 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    InnowattechPiezeoelectric materials convert mechanical changes into electrical current.  As with everything else in the new energy sector, its future is being driven forward by materials scientists.

    Earlier we featured breakthroughs at Texas A&M and also at Georgia Tech University on materials that generate small-scale electric currents when stretched or pressed.

    There is talk of piezeoelectric iPods, but it is hard to imagine systems replacing batteries given the growth in electricity demand of portable gadgets.  The best applications will likely be for sensors, microcontrollers, smart tags, and digital textiles that do not use high end processors.

    Energy harvesting infrastructure?

    Stories of energy harvesting dance floors have been circulating on energy and environmental blogs for months, but what about roads and railways that have more steady traffic?

    Israel-based Innowattech claims to be the the first company to demonstrate industrial scale piezeoelectric solutions that 'harvest' energy from traffic moving over roads, railroads and airport runways.  Their vision is to capture all the motion above ground into electricity for the local grid.

    The obstacles to market are probably high given the demands of infrastructure and (very) conservative nature of structural engineers and regulators who build infrastructure for performance (not energy capture).  Not to mention cost challenges in a down economy.   But 'harvesting energy solutions' is a great meme and certaily has its role for future micro energy solutions.  And who can argue the appeal of energy producing infrastructure and built environments?!  

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