Rocky Mountain Institute Report and Interactive Map Highlight Electricity Sector Inefficiencies

February 18 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 3 Hot

RMI mapEfficiency is widely considered the 'low hanging fruit' for improving the energy sector.

And while it is tempting to seek out gains via some mass market consumer push with hybrids and new lightbulbs, the greatest near term returns are to be found within the utility sector (electricity power generation) and among power hungry industrial clients.

Rocky Mountain Institute's consulting arm RMI ERT has identified US opportunities to 'close the electric productivity gap' around tremendous cost and carbon savings.   

To suport this vision of a more efficient power generation sector, RMI has released a new report: Assessing the Electric Productivity Gap and the U.S. Efficiency Opportunity [PDF] and an interactive map that ranks every state in the the US.

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BP Forms Joint Venture with Verenium to Advance Cellulosic Ethanol

February 19 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 3 Hot

Verenium

BP has announced a 50-50 joint venture with Verenium to develop and commercialize cellulosic ethanol from non-food feedstocks.

The companies have committed $45 million in funding and assets to progress the development of one of the nation's first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facilities, located in Highlands County, Florida. 

Yes, it will take years to scale up cellulosic (and algae) energy systems, but the pace of breakthroughs and production focused investments remains one of the most compelling stories emerging in the energy sector. 

The Real Transition:
Growing Energy by Closing the Carbon Loop
The law of conservation of energy states that energy may neither be created nor destroyed.  But the real question for those exploring the futures of energy is: Will our economy continue to be based on energy that is 'borrowed and wasted' or 'created and recycled'? 

We shifted from an Agricultural to Industrial society, by tapping 'stored energy' locked up in the chemical carbon-hydrogen bonds of coal, oil and natural gas.  And this system is shamefully inefficient at every level from electric power generation to the mechanical engines that power our transportation sector.

If the Industrial Age was based on a high value energy 'input', low value energy 'output' (waste), the 21st century could be shaped by our efforts to close the loop of chemical energy cycles using biology (chemistry, et al) to return to a high value energy product from that waste.

Looking at Biology is an Energy Tool

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[Video] Google Power Meter translates energy into information flows

February 18 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 9 Hot

One of the great efficiency opportunities for the next century is based on the convergence of information and energy flows. The notion of a 'smart grid' is a more reliable and efficient energy web based on the integration of software, sensors and energy storage. 

There are dozens of 'smart grid' infrastructure startups that service utility companies, as well as more commercial/industrial efforts being pushed by IBM, Johnson Controls, Honeywell, and Cisco.

And for those homes with 'Smart Meters' or Smart Devices, solutions are coming online quickly. Google has now thrown its hat into the ring around the basic idea: 'if you can measure it, you can improve it'.  The Google Power Meter is a software tool integrated into smart meters that helps consumers better understand how they use energy in order to reduce their costs and consumption.  Google is a big name, in an expanding space of 'smart energy' startups, like Sentilla and REGEN, who are trying to build demand in the residential market.

Related Smart Grid posts on The Energy Roadmap.com

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Researchers design nano-crystals for high efficiency solar cells

February 17 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 4 Hot

ccphotographie

Researchers at US Los Alamos National Laboratory (LLNL) have confirmed a unique energy phenomena known as 'carrier multiplication' via nanoscale sized semiconductor crystals that could improve the efficiency of solar cells by squeezing more energy out of inbound photons.

Traditional solar cells absorb a photon of light that releases an electron to generate an electrical current. Any excess energy from the photon reaction is wasted as heat or vibration.  The notion of 'carrier multiplciation' rests on the idea that we can get multiple electrons released from a single photon by forcing electrons into a more confined space.

Carrier multiplication was observed several years ago, but has been criticized as a phantom phenomena via a process known as 'photoionization'.  But now a research team led by Victor Klimov has confirmed that semiconductor crystals designed at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter) can channel this excess photon energy into a group of tightly packed electrons, leading to a more efficient solar cell.

The team did not release statements about commercialization or scalable efficiencies.  “Researchers still have a lot of work to do,” Klimov cautioned. “One important challenge is to figure out how to design a material in which the energetic cost to create an extra electron can approach the limit defined by a semiconductor band gap. Such a material could raise the fundamental power conversion limit of a solar cell from 31 percent to above 40 percent.”

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IEA Warns: Oil 'Supply Crunch' Will Return

February 16 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2011   Rating: 4 Hot

Burning Man

Oil Supply Crunch ahead
The world's leading authority on oil markets is warning that these days of cheap ($40 barrel) oil are just a mirage and that the world is likely to experience 'an oil supply crunch' next year (2010) as markets begin to recover.

Reuters reports on IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka describing a potential short-term reality: "Currently the demand is very low due to the very bad economic situation, but when the economy starts growing, recovery comes again in 2010 and then onward, we may have another serious supply crunch if capital investment is not coming."

The Real Problem with Oil - No Alternative
Oil's biggest problem is 'lack of substiitutability'.  There is no other 'reserve' of liquid fuel that can compare to the energy locked up inside the hydrogen-carbon bonds of oil.

If we talk about using oil as gasoline for the transportation sector there is no commercially viable alternative that offers the same volume and performance.  Even 'Next Generation' biofuels from algae and cellulose-eating bacteria cannot provide the scale to fill even a tiny gap in global oil production vs demand.

People who push 'solar', 'wind' or 'nuclear' (which produce electricity) as an 'alternative to oil' simply do not understand the combustion engine. You cannot put electricity inside your gas tank.  We must either produce massive amounts of liquid fuel substitutes, or take a bolder step to kill the combustion engine.

Is the world ready to confront the real problem? The Combustion Engine

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Clinton Foundation to fund LED Street Lamps for City of Los Angeles

February 17 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

ccbar street lampThe Clinton Foundation has announced a plan to help the City of Los Angeles retrofit 140,000 street lamps with more efficient white-light LEDs that offer longer lifetime, lower energy use and less 'light polllution' that restricts night sky views.

The Outdoor Lighting Program of the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) will be the largest LED street lighting retrofit project ever undertaken by a city to date. The City expects to reduce its electricity use by approximately 40,500 tons a year equal to taking '6,700 passenger vehicles off the road every year.'  The Foundation expects the city to save save a total of $48 million over a seven year period, and reduce carbon emissions by 197,000 tons.

A National Model for Saving Electricity & Night Sky Views?

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Researchers design nano-crystals for high efficiency 'multiple carrier' solar cells

February 17 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 6 Hot

ccphotographie

Researchers at US Los Alamos National Laboratory (LLNL) have confirmed a unique energy phenomena known as 'carrier multiplication' via nanoscale sized semiconductor crystals that could improve the efficiency of solar cells by squeezing more energy out of inbound photons.

Traditional solar cells absorb a photon of light that releases an electron to generate an electrical current. Any excess energy from the photon reaction is wasted as heat or vibration.  The notion of 'carrier multiplciation' rests on the idea that we can get multiple electrons released from a single photon by forcing electrons into a more confined space.

This idea was observed several years ago, but has been criticized as a phantom phenomena via a process known as 'photoionization.  Now a research team led by Victor Klimov has confirmed that semiconductor crystals designed at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter) can channel this excess photon energy into a group of tightly packed electrons, leading to a more efficient solar cell.

The team did not release statements about commercialization or scalable efficiencies.  “Researchers still have a lot of work to do,” Klimov cautioned. “One important challenge is to figure out how to design a material in which the energetic cost to create an extra electron can approach the limit defined by a semiconductor band gap. Such a material could raise the fundamental power conversion limit of a solar cell from 31 percent to above 40 percent.”

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10 Future-focused Ideas for Obama's 'Car Czar', Imagining Life After the Combustion Engine

February 13 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Transportation   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

The FuturePresident Obama is close to naming the ‘Car Czar’ who will oversee a large portion of the federal auto loans and consult on the looming transformation of the US auto industry. Let's hope this person doesn't try to build a better buggy whip.

Most ideas out on the table are incremental (e.g. ‘better mileage’), or short-sighted (e.g. plug in batteries?) and fail to inspire disruptive changes that reflect a 21st century version of the transportation sector. 

Here are Ten Ideas for the US Car Czar: 

1) Lower the US Auto Industry I.C.E. 'Manufacturing Footprint'
The problem isn't oil, it's the cost complexities of building mechanical engines. Declare the Internal Combustion Engine ‘Dead’ by 2025 (When more than 50% of new vehicles will be powered by electric motors) Have automakers share combustion engine plants and suppliers during the transition.

2) Accelerate the Electricification of the World's Auto Fleet
At the same time expand the US manufacturing base around the 'next' generation platform for mobility: Electric Drive systems based on high performance motors, drive by wire systems, software and various energy storage devices.

3) Explain ‘Electrification’ clearly to the public
‘Electric’ refers to the motor, not just the battery.  Next generation 'electric' vehicles will integrate batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.  Fuel cells produce electricity.  A hydrogen powered car is an electric car. Let’s stop the confusion and battle between technologies.  Cars are not iPods, and will need various systems to function.  This is a multi-decade long transition.  Don't pick short-term winners.

4) Go Global - Expand our ties to Asian Manufacturers & Markets
Electric cars are not designed to be built as one unit, in one country. They are assembled systems of systems that can be constantly upgraded via a global value chain.  The line of 'new' car vs 'old' car blurs when we shift to modular electric platforms.  And all the real growth will happen outside of the US!   'Detroit' must participate in this global supply chain and be in a position to sell 21st century vehicle systems to Asian markets. (Hint: The high value auto industrial base will revolve around polymers, software and sensors, not metal frames.)

5) Software Side of Car Experience
The single greatest opportunity for the next century might be the ‘software’ side of the automobile experience.   Smarter vehicles embedded with sensors and ‘situation awareness’ systems, customized driving experiences based on ‘drive by wire’, and mobility services (e.g. OnStar).   The US can compete in this new growth market and benefit by getting 'more flow' out of our current roadway system as we make drivers and cars smarter.  (PS - Mass Transit could use some software to create service transparency)

Read on:
6) Build next generation energy systems; 7) Reinvent the Wheel; 8) Fleet only for Plug-ins; 9) Shift Revenue streams to After Market 10) New 'types' of vehicle & service

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Forget about algae? Wisconsin researchers turn raw biomass into biofuels via two step chemistry

February 11 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2013   Rating: 4 Hot

ChemistFlickrBioenergy visionaries with algae and bacteria aren't the only players in town trying to corner the market on the 'future of biofuels'.  We cannot forget the Chemists.

Biofuels are expanding along two paths- one is based on chemical engineering, the other on biological processes.

Chemistry vs Biology
We can create biofuels by applying chemical engineering processes (e.g. ethanol via fermentation, or biodiesel via transesterfication) with high reliability and scale, but usually at a high cost.  

Or we can let Mother Nature do the work. Biology taps the power of algae and bacteria that contain special enzymes that reorganize molecules into a format that can be used to make biofuels, or converted into electricity via a fuel cell.

Biology could offer lower cost and turn carbon emissions into a feedstock, but first we must overcome challenges of scaling up volume production, and the unpredictable nature of biomolecular systems.

Wisconsin Focuses on Path of Chemistry
For now, chemical conversion is the more immediate opportunity and fits within the current paradigm of processing energy and materials feedstocks.  And engineers are working to overcome the challenges to reduce the number of steps, and facilitate reactions at a lower temperature with non-toxic, abundant resources.

Now scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a two-step method to convert cellulose into a biofuel called DMF.  Professor Ronald Raines and graduate student Joseph Binder highlight the two step process:  First, they convert the cellulose of untreated biomass into the "platform" chemical 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) which is used in 'a variety of valuable commodity chemicals'. Generally HMF is made using processed glucose or fructose rather than raw biomass.

Step Two: Creating a New Biofuel with Gasoline Qualities

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[Video] An Inside Look at Sentilla's Vision of a Smarter Energy Future

February 05 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

The Takeaway's Host John Hockenberry interviews the CEO of Sentilla and explores the huge opportunity around the convergence of energy and information.  The era of 'smarter energy' systems is likely to be more efficient and profitable because it taps the integration of software, sensors and energy storage. 

We have written about Sentilla in the past, along with other smart energy startups including yesterday's post on a 'swarm' organization model developed by REGEN Energy. We have also posted on a number of 'smart grid' infrastructure efforts being pushed by IBM, Johnson Controls and Cisco

Related posts on The Smart Grid on The Energy Roadmap.com

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[Video] MIT Professor reminds us of how much there is yet to discover around energy science

February 09 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

What we don't know about the fundamental science of energy systems might actually help us!  The problem is that most people assume we already know everything, and that we are running out of solution sets.  In fact, we are only at the beginning of a new era of understanding nanoscale (molecular) energy systems engineering.

MIT Chemistry Professor Dan Nocera's lecture Whales to Wood, Wood to Coal/Oil to What's Next? describes what we do not understand about solar energy conversion (photosynthesis) and effective energy storage in nature's form of chemical bonds.  His focus is to uncover the science of nature's recipe for storing energy: Light + Water = Fuel. 

The Real Transition: Era of Extraction

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Low temperature combustion could double diesel efficiencies, but manufacturing problems remain

February 09 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Transportation   Year: Beyond   Rating: 7 Hot

ORNLCombustionI see efforts to improve combustion engines as trying to 'build a better buggy whip' in an era of 'diminishing returns' on mechanical heat engine innovations.

The problem is not their efficiencies, rather it is the manufacturing costs and complexities of building mechanical engine vehicles.

The world economy would be better off to move beyond combustion conversion towards more efficient, non-mechanical, and modular electrochemical conversion devices like fuel cells. (This doesn't require pure hydrogen, since you can still use hydrocarbon fuels.)

But I admit that diesel engines are not going away anytime soon, so efforts to improve efficiency for industrial applications could move us further down the road.  

Now scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have created the first three-dimensional simulation that fully resolves flame features, such as chemical composition, temperature profile and flow characteristics in diesel engines.  Their efforts could lead to new lower temperature engine designs that are more efficent.

3D Models / 120 Terabytes of Data Reveals Combustion Process Unfolding

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