• The Disruptive Side of Auto Electrification - Software, Storage, Sidewalks & Parking Lots

    January 29 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Transportation

    electric carThe future you hear about on the news is not what it appears.

    Yes, the 'electric car' is coming, but do not be fooled by first generation ideas being fed into the mainstream media.

    The short term challenges are probably being understated as the transition will take many years to unfold.  But the long term disruptive changes are more profound than anything you might see on a 60 Minutes special featuring battery car owners in California.

    Electric vehicles are likely to change our energy grid, roads, cities and suburbs in ways that are hard to imagine today.  

    Software - Drive by Wire & The Digital Driving Experience
    While stodgy Wall Street Journal Op-Ed pieces continue to characterize electric cars as expensive, wimpy cars-  there truth is that electric drive systems offer a lower cost manufacturing platform and a flexible software based driving experience.

    Establish software and location based services to vehicles, and you create a foundation for revenue streams based on mobility services in a 'wired and connected vehicle'. (Not to mention 'pay per mile' funding streams for transportation infrastructure instead of paying per gallon taxes.)

    Companies like Johnson Controls, Microsoft, Intel, Bosch (et al) are developing 'drive-by-wire' software and microcontroller solutions that can make a car sound and feel like a Ferrari, a Mini-van, or Sedan with the push of a button.  There is a huge upside in software-service sales that the digitize the driving experience.

    Storage: Vehicle to Grid (V2G)  &  'Skateboard' Vehicles on Sidewalks


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  • New Membrane for Ethanol Fuel Cells that Breaks Carbon Bonds at Room Temperature

    January 28 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    Brookhaven ethanol fuel cell

    Once again, we are reminded that the future of energy will be shaped by materials scientists, and that nanoscale engineering gives us plenty of room to innovate around disruptive ideas.

    Research teams from the U.S. Brookhaven National Laboratory, University of Delaware and Yeshiva University have announced the development of a new catalyst that could make ethanol-powered fuel cells feasible. 

    Rather than use next generation ethanol in a combustion engine, we can imagine a more efficient conversion into electricity via a fuel cell.

    Fuel cells create electricity by breaking chemical bonds into hydrogen ions and electrons then completing the reaction with oxygen binding to hydrogen to create water.

    Nano-catalysts break carbon bonds
    One of the challenges of (hydrogen rich) ethanol as a feedstock for fuel cells is the presence of carbon molecules.

    “The ability to split the carbon-carbon bond and generate CO2 at room temperature is a completely new feature of catalysis,” says Brookhaven chemist Radoslav Adzic “There are no other catalysts that can achieve this at practical potentials.”

    The 'nanostructured' catalyst achieves faster oxidation using the combination of platinum and rhodium atoms on carbon-supported tin dioxide nanoparticles.  Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the reaction but it is signficantly less than traditional combustion based conversion (and assuming more non-food crop biomass is planted it is 'carbon neutral'.)  

    “Ethanol is one of the most ideal reactants for fuel cells,” said Brookhaven chemist Radoslav Adzic. “It’s easy to produce, renewable, nontoxic, relatively easy to transport, and it has a high energy density. In addition, with some alterations, we could reuse the infrastructure that’s currently in place to store and distribute gasoline.”

    Why catalysis is so important
    & Related Posts on The Energy Roadmap.com

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  • Cisco Offers Smart Energy Solutions: "Everything Connected to the Network Can Be Greener"

    January 28 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    Cisco Energy Network

    One of the biggest business opportunities of the next few decades will be enabling the convergence of Energy and Information systems to lower costs and improve efficiencies.

    Companies such as Johnson Controls and IBM have been very vocal about their vision of a 'smart infrastructure' future.  And there are a number of 'Smart Grid' startups offering utility-scale and building/home energy management solutions.

    Cisco: 'Smarter' Energy Networks
    Cisco Systems is widely associated with the hardware 'backbone' (e.g. routers) of the Internet, but the company is expanding into new web-based services like video collaboration and energy management.

    Cisco has a very simple vision of the future of energy efficiency: If it is on the 'network', then we can make it more efficient.  Why is this important?  Because within a decade or two most everything that produces and consumes power will be integrated into an information (web) network.

    The company has announced its new Cisco EnergyWise [PDF] technology platform that will help its customers reduce energy consumption of Internet Protocol (IP) devices such as phones, computers,  and digital access points. The next step for Cisco will be offering software solutions to help manage building systems (lighting, air conditioning and heating).

    The offering puts Cisco in a strong position to compete in a fully 'embedded' world where all objects and devices are on the web and energy is never wasted.

    Related posts on The Energy Roadmap.com

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  • [Video] Why Peak Oil Production might be the paramount energy issue of our time

    January 28 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Environment

    Beyond the occassional post (or two), I have avoided 'Peak Oil' production issues because of its association with those who must always (and only) describe the future in apocalyptic terms.

    But based on the IEA World Energy Outlook 2008 report, it has become clear that energy leaders have been using poor data of oil field decline rates (based on a lack of transparency) to support inaccurate forecasts. 

    Whether peak production has already happened, or will happen in 15 years is irrelevant since we are not prepared for either transition. So it is time to explore implications regarding the world's use of coal, nuclear energy, tar sands, and oil shale.  (For those focused on Climate Change, the replacements for oil are not good news for carbon emissions.)

    I do not believe that Peak Oil will destroy our civilization, but it certainly has the potential to make us humble, and to serve as 'the' catalyst for evolving our policies from a resource extraction to resource creation paradigm.

    The following 40 minute interview is dated (January 2008) but gives a solid overview of peak oil's core issues: field decline rates, discovery rates, production time and costs and lack of real liquid fuel alternatives. [A more current hard edged interview by George Monbiot w/ Dr Fatih Birol: Link to video]

    Continue with remaining four (10 minute) videos

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  • New syngas method could lower costs to process Canadian Tar Sands

    January 27 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    Tar Sands Suncor

    Extracting energy from the tar sands is not a pretty equation.

    It isn' cheap.  It isn't energy efficient.

    And it is becoming increasingly politically charged given its heavy carbon footprint.

    But the tar sands remain a massive reserve that has the interest of very large, innovative energy development companies.  And the dollars and desire to exploit these non-conventional hydrocarbon resources could grow exponentially in the years ahead as companies try to change the cost equation.

    Can Bitumen derived syngas lower costs?
    Some of the largest non-conventional energy reserves in the world are found in North America's tar sands and oil shales.

    The problem is that we are a bit early. These reserves still need a few more million years of natural bio-geological processes to rearrange the chemical bonds to make extraction easier. But instead of waiting, energy companies are developing ways to lower the costs of processing  this carbon heavy resource.  One of the reasons for high cost is the demand for outside energy needed to reform the tar sands into a usable form of liquid oil.    

    The Al Fin Energy blog is reporting on a new technique for substituting high priced natural gas with synthetic gas (syngas) derived from waste bitumen which is currently a byproduct.  The process, developed by Nexen Inc. and OPTI Canada at the Long Lake Project, could change the price equation of exploiting the tar sands. 

    Good, bad or ugly - the tar sands cannot be ignored in a future where issues of climate change, 'energy independence', and peak oil production converge.  The conversation about the future of the tar sands is just getting started.

    Related The Energy Roadmap.com

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  • Researchers change shape of aluminum nanoparticles to produce hydrogen at room temperature

    January 26 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    hydrogen production

    Scientists at Penn State University and Virginia Commonwealth University have discovered a way to produce hydrogen using aluminum nanoparticles (billionth of a meter) that react with water molecules to split oygen and hydrogen bonds.

    What does that mean?

    The physical arrangment and exposure of the alumninum atoms determines its ability to split certain chemical bonds by binding oxygen and releasing hydrogen.

    Three of the tested aluminum clusters produced hydrogen from water at room temperature.

    This ground-breaking work is important because it confirms the belief held by catalysis researchers that nanoparticle 'geometries, not just electronic properties', effect the reaction performance of catalytic materials.

    Hydrogen Production at Room Temperature (& Confusion of Hype vs Hope)

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  • Newark, Delaware exploring 'Vehicle to Grid' (V2G) Infrastructure (Why I Am Skeptical of Plug Ins!)

    January 25 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Transportation

    V2G Delware

    Political and Industry leaders agree that it is time to re-imagine the Electrical 'Grid' as something 'smarter', more resilient, and open to new forms of energy storage and onsite production.

    Utilities are now exploring the idea that electric vehicles (powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors) will someday become the new backbone of the world's electricity grids.

    The questions are: 'How' and 'What does the 'Energy Web' of Tomorrow look like?'

    Do we 'recharge' objects via cords  and wall sockets, or do objects have their own internal power generators that are 'refueled' with high density energy 'packets'?

    We are only at the beginning of exploring the future schematics of an 'energy web' infrastructure that  integrates electric vehicles.  But the test programs are starting to scale up!

    The City of Newark has approved a small test project led by the University of Delaware's Center for Carbon-free Power Integration (CCPI) to test 'vehicle to grid' systems using plug-in hybirds integrated into the local utility grid. 

    Vehicle to Grid (V2G) Energy Storage & Production
    (& My Skepticism of Wall Socket Infrastructure)


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  • Saudi Arabia funding Cornell research to advance nanomaterials for energy and carbon

    January 24 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy


    The most successful players in the 'New Energy Economy' will be those who advance and profit from materials that enable cleaner interactions between molecules.

    Even the 'greenest' consumers and markets will be stuck in a lower part of the value chain to countries and companies who dominate the Nanoscale Era of Science and Engineering.  The future will shaped by those who become Masters of Molecules.  So we pay close attention to investments by energy incumbents who are pushing forward around science.

    Science Parternships with Petro Kingdoms
    Saudia Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is funding advanced research at Cornell University to develop nanomaterial applications for water desalination, carbon capture and sequestration, solar energy and the 'greening' of oil and gas production.

    'Pom Poms' to the Rescue?  Nanoparticle Ionic Materials (NIMS)
    The performance qualities of elements such as carbon, iron, platinum (et al) change dramatically at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter). The KAUST-Cornell research will focus on a new material discovered at Cornell called Nanoparticle Ionic Materials (NIMS).

    Researchers describe NIMS as:  "pom-poms; that is, a squishy core made out of inorganic nanoparticles, and a hairy exterior called a corona that is made out of an organic polymer. This exterior can capture things such as carbon dioxide in a coal power plant, and the core can then be the catalyst to fix the carbon dioxide and convert it into something else, thereby preventing the building of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."

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  • EPRI Study: Efficiency efforts could reduce electricity growth rate by 22% by 2030

    January 22 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Energy

    EPRI StudyThere is a saying in the energy industry that 'the cheapest power plant is the one you don't have to build'.

    The alternative to focusing on the 'supply' side of finding new sources of clean electricity, is to reduce the demand side of energy use.

    There are many ways to be more efficient through better products (e.g. light bulbs, refrigeration), services (e.g. Smart Grid managment) and integration of new energy systems (e.g. energy storage,  onsite power generation).  And there are hundreds of companies that provide energy management solutions to homes and commercial businesses.  But until recently we have not had an updated industry level forecast of how much energy could be saved given the right leadership and regulatory framework for utilities.

    Looking ahead to 2030
    A new study from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) suggests that efficiency gains could reduce the rate of growth for US electricity consumption by 22% between 2008 and 2030.  'The potential energy savings in 2030 would be 236 billion kilowatt hours, equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 14 New York Cities.'

    The EPRI study uses a growth rate baseline of 1.07% based on projections set by the U.S. Energy Information Administration's 2008 Annual Energy Outlook (AEO 2008). 

    EPRI believes that with strong political leadership and regulatory changes electricity consumption in the U.S. residential, commercial, and industrial sectors could be reduced to an annual rate of 0.83% between 2008 through 2030.  Under the most 'ideal' conditions that rate could be lowered to 0.68% per year.

    Read more: Assessment of Achievable Savings Potential From Energy Efficiency and Demand Response in the U.S (Executive Summary)

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  • European research agency hopeful for breakthrough in novel water desalination method

    January 23 2009 / by Garry Golden
    Category: Environment

    DeslinationLLNLWhen imagining how much energy we'll need in the future we usually calculate the demand for homes, offices, and factories. But most forecasts ignore a highly probable, energy intensive process that will be in high demand during the 21st century - Desalination.

    In the next century we will likely desalinate and transport massive amounts of water away from oceans to reach megacities and irrigate farms that will have to support 3 billion more people added to our planet in the next 40 years.

    The Nanoscale Side of H20  
    How do we do this?  Develop 'nanostructured' materials that lower the cost of desalination by facilitating reactions that use less energy to separate molecules leaving clean H20.

    Earlier we covered a 'forward osmosis' patent claim by QuantumSphere that reportedly drops the cost of desalination by 70%.  But other companies such as CDT and Proingesa are involved in advancing materials used in equally disruptive novel methods for desalination.

    Now, Europe's research reporting service AlphaGalileo believes that advances in electrochemical capacitors could enable a new way of cleaning water. Capacitive deionization applies an electrical charge to water that makes 'the ions dissolved in the water migrate towards the electrode of an opposite charge, where they are adsorbed. In the regeneration cycle, the electrical load of the electrodes is switched off, therefore adsorbed ions are released.'    The electrode materials used in this process are advancing around nanoscale designs that increase the reactive surface area. The result is less energy need to force the reaction.

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