Could China help the world move beyond the combustion engine?

October 13 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2014   Rating: 9 Hot

What if we are being too cynical about China’s eco-future in the transportation sector?

Imagine a future in which China is the secret to moving the world’s auto fleet beyond liquid fuels and the combustion engine.

If they can master electron storage systems of advanced batteries, fuel cells and capacitors- they might surprise the world!

Warren Buffet thinks so. The Oracle of Omaha recently invested $233 into Chinese battery and electric vehicle maker BYD.

Now, we are hearing a similar message from other electrical storage system giants who are needed to transform our global auto fleet. A recent Economic Times article China seen as potential electric car hub describes a vision of Johnson Controls where China changes its course to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.

Buffet and Johnson Controls see China’s natural advantages:

-Fewer ‘legacy’ issues of existing infrastructure and embedded interests

-Top down policy control to accelerate changes around infrastructure

-Chinese leaders see cleantech as a growth industry, especially around energy storage and electric motor propulsion systems

-Small cars & scooters are the most likely candidates for electric propulsion systems. China (and India) are prime candidates

- A geopolitical desire to avoid issues of oil’s biggest problem. Lack of substitutability. Oil is the perfect fuel, but you can’t put coal or solar or nuclear into a liquid gas tank*. Electricity and hydrogen can be produced by any energy resource.

Of course, electric vehicles are not entirely ‘clean’ and certainly lead to suburban expansion and loss of rural lands. But the trade offs and consequences of doing nothing are hard to challenge. China’s urban areas would benefit from the removal of millions of uncontrolled polluting vehicles.

Even if electricity production came from coal, it is easier to control carbon emissions at a single point power plant rather than individual cars. And China’s industrial strength is powerful enough to change the direction of electric storage companies as well as automakers.

Related articles:

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An Energy Strategy

October 12 2008 / by Will / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 11 Hot

Cross posted from Where There’s A William.

As long as we seem to be in the mood to spend our way out of trouble anyway, what say we try to acquire a little something in return for or effort?

I have written about the Hyperion Power Module with some degree of specificity in the past, but the present socio-political climate within the US national environment allows me to complete the strategic formulation, I believe.

Since the recent signing into law of the US$850b financial legislation, the mechanism to create a unifying force to relieve the impending energy crisis the USA presently faces is now available. Since the SecTres works for the President, a simple executive order to assign 8.5 of those $850b to a specific project would provide ample force, I submit.

Beginning now, the President should direct formation of a contract with Hyperion to purchase 500 of it’s standard power modules on a crash construction basis to enhance the US domestic electric grid.

Here’s the Strategy: The USG offers to pay a one-time fee of US$1,000,000 per unit and to supply sufficient real estate from suitable USG controlled land, limited legislative exemption from construction legal challenge, engineering and regulatory assistance for site and plant design and the sum of US$200,000,000 for each of five purpose-built construction facilities. Additionally, USG agrees to purchase at 50% of the present advertised price of US$25,000,000 apiece, 500 units over the course of 5 years plus one year for construction of the assembly plants. Finally, USG agrees to finance from this allocation the recruitment, relocation, training and housing needs of sufficient workforce to initially staff all five anticipated production facilities.

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Don't be Evil, be Green: Google's Cleantech Movement

October 10 2008 / by jvarden
Category: Environment   Year: 2008   Rating: 9 Hot

By Jenna Varden

“It’s just a math problem.” – Google CEO Eric Schmidt

Google is thinking big, again! The company that was founded to ‘organize all the world’s information’ is now focusing its attention on energy. Google’s Cleantech Movement plans to “eliminate all utility fossil fuel dependence and 50 percent of automobile fossil fuel dependence by 2030.”
So far, the company has already invested $45M in wind, solar, and geothermal energy, with tidal and wave power as next in line. This will not only save consumers and America money, one of Google’s motivations, it will also protect the Earth’s environment, reason number two, which is “all part of not being evil (Source: Stefanie Olsen/CNET). In other words, not only is funding alternative energy helpful for its monetary benefits, it helps the environment and gives Google a positive image in the public eye. It will also benefit Google’s energy guzzling servers, whose life-force is the precious commodity of electricity, thus saving the company money.

Schmidt believes that better energy efficiency will lead to more savings. And moving from fossil fuels to renewable, alternative energies will also cost less in the long-term. As an example, while it may indeed cost a hefty amount to make the switch, once in place, the ‘U.S. would save 97% of $2.17 trillion in energy spending over the next 22 years.’ Google’s renovation of its own buildings to cut carbon emissions, installed solar and power monitoring equipment, and is already saving money each year. Restructuring the U.S. power grid, currently with a 9 percent efficiency loss, could also make the country’s energy more efficient and thus, save more money.


Are Computer Servers 21st century ‘energy guzzlers’?

While Google should be lauded for its progressive view on energy efficiency, it also has an intrinsic self-interest in cheap electricity. Google’s new server farm to be built on the banks of the Columbia River in Oregon, called The Dalles data center, will need an estimated 103 megawatts of electricity to run, ‘enough to power 82,000 homes, or a city the size of Tacoma, Washington – via Roughtype

While The Dalles center will not be up and running until 2011, Google’s multitude of other server farms also require large amounts of electricity. Cheaper electricity will allow Google to save money powering their farms, as well as allow further expansion.

What is behind Google’s real motivations? Not being Evil, or Green is Good

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Carbon based hydrogen storage might be on the horizon

October 09 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 1

Hydrogen fuel cells, which produce electricity, are an evolution to modern day batteries. If we can store hydrogen efficiently as a solid, we can expand the use of energy from intermittent solar and wind power. We can also lower the costs and improve performance of electric vehicles. Two recent research announcements hint that cost effective storage could be much closer to reality.

Nanoscale science & surface area
One of the key enablers of storing hydrogen as a solid is high surface area. How much? Can you imagine holding a gram of material with surface area equal to several football fields for storing hydrogen molecules?

Nanoscale (billionth of a meter) material design means high surface area ratio to volume. We can also tap nanotechnology to create storage materials able to bind and release hydrogen molecules at low pressure and low temperature.

Carbon scaffolding for storage
There are a number of ways to store hydrogen as a solid, and also as a liquid. Earlier we featured a look at metal-organic frameworks or MOFs as a viable long term storage material. Today we’ll look at two other carbon-based hydrogen storage systems.

Carbon is a controversial storage medium since it is ‘sticky’ and can often bind hydrogen too tightly. But mixing (or ‘doping’) carbon with other elements can leverage the benefits of carbon’s high surface area and its Lego-like structural design.

‘Doping corn cobs?’
The Department of Energy has awarded $1.9 million to researchers at the University of Missouri and Midwest Research Institute (MRI)

The Missouri team has found that carbon briquettes (derived from corn cobs) then “doped” (or mixed and layered) with boron, have a unique ability to store natural gas with high capacity at low pressure.

While corn cobs hydrogen storage sounds a bit far fetched, one gram of this carbon material has a surface area comparable to a football field. The boron additive to carbon creates binding energies with H2 molecules that might make this a viable storage medium.

Carbon Graphene Layers
Another carbon based solution was announced last week from researchers in Greece using stacked thin sheets of carbon doped with lithium.

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The world's first LEED Platinum hotel

October 09 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Environment   Year: 2008   Rating: 8 Hot

In recent years forward-looking architects and designers have been pushing out the leading edge of advanced energy systems for built environments. Along the way they have created a new marketplace for integrated energy solutions with lower costs and improved performance. Their efforts have been supported by the growing list of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings.

On Tuesday, Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, NC, became the first hotel to be awarded the LEED Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED is the USGBC’s rating system for designing and constructing the world’s greenest, most energy efficient, and high performing buildings.

Opened in late 2007, the Proximity (videos) was designed to use 40% less energy and 30% less water than comparable hotels. It along with the adjacent Print Works Bistro are the first hotel and first restaurant to obtain the USGBC’s top level certification.

“When we started the design process four years ago, I would have never believed that we could use 41% less energy and 33% less water without one iota of compromise in comfort or luxury and with minimal additional construction costs,” says Dennis Quaintance, the CEO and CDO (Chief Design Officer) of builder Quaintance-Weaver “It just goes to show what a determined team can accomplish if they use common sense and get a little bit of help from the sun.”

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US releases National Biofuels Plan to accelerate next generation bioenergy solutions

October 08 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2012   Rating: 5 Hot

The US Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA) have released its National Biofuels Action Plan [4.9MB] detailing Federal agency and private partnership efforts to accelerate the development of ‘a sustainable biofuels industry’. While first generation biofuels such as corn ethanol have been under tremendous scrutiny in recent months, the US agencies appear to be positioning themselves to offer measurably sustainable biofuel resources that will rely heavily on next generation resources (e.g. non-food, waste biomass) and biologically driven conversion processes. [Principles outlined in Biofuel Plan Factsheet]

The official word – We have Plan
“Federal leadership can provide the vision for research, industry and citizens to understand how the nation will become less dependent on foreign oil and create strong rural economies,” USDA Secretary Schafer said. “This National Biofuels Action Plan supports the drive for biofuels growth to supply energy that is clean and affordable, and always renewable.”

Translation: We are hedging our bets on the future of bioenergy!
Looking beyond the rhetoric of energy security, and clear tip of the hat to rural agricultural politics and the influence of mainstream agricultural players, target-based plans do secure federal funding streams for next generation bioenergy solutions. And there are significant funds headed towards innovative start up companies that could develop game-changing bio industrial applications. These start ups could ease our reliance on traditional petrochemicals for making fuels, fertilizers and raw materials processing.

But the key takeaway might be that the DOE is hedging R&D investments on traditional chemical biofuel refining processes (traditional catalysts) by also advancing potentially lower cost biological conversion processes (enzymes/algae).

To develop low cost cellulosic biofuels from non-food biomass feedstock, the agency announced $12.3 million contract with bioenergy startup Novoyzme. The company will be contracted to develop enzymes capable of breaking down strong cellular plant walls under its named project DECREASE (Development of a Commercial-Ready Enzyme Application System for Ethanol).

According to Novoyzme, the company has confirmed plans to launch the enzymes required for commercially viable production of ethanol from cellulose by 2010, midway through this contract, with plans to reach an enzyme cost target that is even further reduced by 2012. But there is still rural politics infused as the primary feedstock is expected to be leftover corn biomass waste.

Additional funding announcements include

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Energy implications of 'nano-confined' water

October 07 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Science   Year: Beyond   Rating: 5 Hot

Water molecules are central to most energy systems on this planet. Yet when we direct them through tiny nanotubes (a billionth of a meter in diameter) strange things happen to their behavior that might someday have implications for designing new energy systems.

One area deals with the energy intensity of water purification and desalination. Forward looking scientists are turning towards nanoscale engineering to change the cost and energy equation of future water systems.

Last month Indian researchers developed models that applied carbon nanotubes in filtering ‘viruses, bacteria, toxic metal ions, and large noxious organic molecules’. While there is some healthy skepticism over the real world application of nanotubes in water filtration, there is still much that we still do not know about the wide ranging implications of water molecules passing through nanotubes.

Now researchers at the University of North Carolina believe they have found new behavior of water molecules confined to passing through hallow carbon nanotubes made from rolled up graphene or single layer sheets of carbon molecules. One of the key factors of behavior is temperature.

“Normally, graphene is hydrophobic, or ‘water hating’ – it repels water in the same way that drops of dew will roll off a lotus leaf,” said Yue Wu, Ph.D. “But we found that in the extremely limited space inside these tubes, the structure of water changes, and that it’s possible to change the relationship between the graphene and the liquid to hydrophilic or ‘water-liking’.”

This new research area of nano-confined water science could have implications for lower cost water purification and desalination techniques using carbon nanotubes. It might also lead to a better understanding of water molecule behavior inside naturally occurring biological building blocks like proteins which perform key energy conversions.

The Yue Wu Team’s findings were published in the Oct. 3, 2008, issue of the journal Science

Image credit: Ghutchis Flickr CC License

Reliable Fuel Cells Powering Remote Traffic Systems

October 06 2008 / by jvarden
Category: Energy   Year: 2008   Rating: 6 Hot

By jvarden

Although fuel cell electric vehicles are still transitioning towards commercialization, the off-grid performance benefits of these electrochemical devices might soon reinforce critical pieces of our transportation infrastructure.

Smart Fuel Cell, a German-based company, has shipped thousands of their commercial fuel cell products and also totes multiple awards for its innovative methods. While most associate fuel cells with automobiles, SFC will also reliably power remote traffic systems with their EFOY Pro Series of fuel cells. Since normal batteries can only power warning blinkers for two days and solar cells/generators are too unreliable, EFOY Pro series fuel cells need no maintenance and are an off-grid power that will run, hypothetically, forever, as long as it has a fuel source. The cell’s tough case can handle rough weather, even temperatures between -4° F and +113 ° F. One 28-litre M28 fuel cell could operate the blinker for 50 days and they have a guaranteed lifetime of 5,000 operating hours or 30 months.

The Munich North Autobahn Authorities are already using the EFOY Pro Series fuel cells. If these cells become commonplace, then remote, off-the-grid traffic systems will not only be more reliable, they will cost less to maintain and will be available for usage even in disaster-struck areas whose power-lines are down.

Image: Sarah Ivancic Flicker CC

5 Videos on the Future of Thin film Solar

October 06 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Environment   Year: 2014   Rating: 8 Hot

What if we could print low cost solar panels on pieces of plastic and integrate this energy collecting material into buildings, infrastructure and product casings?

This is the future of thin film solar.

While traditional (rigid silicon substrate) solar panels are a relatively mature platform, we have not yet hit our stride in advancing the efficiencies of thin film solar.

Thin-film, or organic solar is attractive because it is low cost, flexible and can be integrated into existing materials and products. These systems can also be designed to tap broader sections of the light spectrum. Relatively low efficiencies mean that thin film solar will never be capable of providing a majority of our energy needs, but it is certainly part of a broader strategy of new distributed power generation.

Before we start asking when we might see thin film on the shelves at Home Depot or integrated into familiar product designs, the first step is to understand why thin film is different from traditional solar.

The following five video clips help to describe the future potential of thin film solar.

Nanosolar (Palo Alto-San Jose, CA) has long been considered a leading innovator in the field of organic photovoltaics or thin film solar.

Continue with next four videos…

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Might solid hydrogen power our future? New advances pave the way.

October 02 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2013   Rating: 4

How might storing electricity in the form of solid hydrogen change the future landscape of energy? We believe it could change the performance of mobile power, lower the cost of renewable energy production, and change the nature of refueling your car by ‘swapping out’ boxes of fuel.

Hydrogen & Electricity = ‘Hydricity’
Electricity powers the future. Look beyond the transportation sector of liquid fuels, and most devices and machines run on electrons. Today, we understand the important role of electricity in our world, and tomorrow we might understand its sister companion – hydrogen.

Hydrogen might be the most misunderstood and misrepresented piece of the future energy landscape. Devotees often overstate it as the savior of Planet Earth, and staunch critics underestimate its short term challenges for longer term potential in energy systems and materials science.

A ‘Hydrogen economy’ is an economy driven by electricity. The hydrogen is merely a way of storing electron power via chemical bonds of hydrogen. So hydrogen and electricity are one in the same thing. Ballard Power Founder Geoffrey Ballad has coined the phrase ‘hydricity’ to help people understand the balance of these electrons carriers.

Fuel cells capture energy released when coated membranes strip apart those hydrogen-hydrogen bonds and merge it with oxygen to get water. This is a much more efficient (and cleaner) process when compared to blowing up carbon-hydrogen bonds via combustion. But it is also harder and more expensive (at least today!).

Advances in Hydrogen Storage
The two challenges for hydrogen are production and storage. For now we’ll focus on an emerging platform for high density, low cost and safe storage systems based on ‘solid’ hydrogen.

News from Argonne National Laboratory on ‘crystal sponges’

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Is Brazil an emerging energy giant?

October 03 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 9 Hot

Few people think of Brazil as an emerging global energy player. Even the most widely cited future of energy scenarios do not put Brazil into the elite group of energy resource-rich nations.

While it is best known for its domestically produced sugarcane ethanol, Brazil’s real source of energy wealth and future geopolitical power is likely to come from exports of oil and natural gas extracted from its deepwater reserves.

Energy pundits are now tracking early indicators hinting that Brazil is awakening to its full potential as a uniquely diversified energy economy growing around traditional hydrocarbon resources while simultaneously expanding its own renewables and bio energy solutions. Brazil’s rise as a global energy powerhouse will take decades to unfold, but it might turn out to be one of the more interesting geopolitical energy stories of the next century.

Who might follow in Anadarko’s footsteps
On Thursday, Houston, Texas-based Andarko announced a successful deepwater field discovery offshore of Brazil in its Campos Basin region. This could be the beginning of a string of announcements to come from energy majors tapping the deepwater oil fields of Brazil.

Announcements are likely to come from companies based around the world. Everyone is looking to partner with Brazil in advancing deepwater drilling and securing access to their growing reserves. While the general public might see the oil industry organized neatly into brand names like BP, Shell, Exxon and Chevron, the reality is that these companies are all betting on each other. Most projects have a lead company, but the financial risk is spread with smaller stakes held by competitors and specialized development firms.

Brazil’s emergence as an energy giant might be quiet, but they are not going to do it alone. Now that it has overcome the technical challenges of deepwater drilling, it must navigate the complex geopolitical landscape of energy politics.

Brazil: Deepwater brings new opportunities & challenges

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Book Review. Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars that Will Recharge America

October 01 2008 / by joelg
Category: Energy   Year: 2010   Rating: 3

By Joel Greenberg

It’s tough as an everyday consumer to participate in changing how we generate and use power. If you don’ t work for an automobile manufacturer, an energy company, a utility, or the government, it seems you’re pretty much out of luck in affecting real change. For transportation, you can either ditch your car and use public transportation, ride your bike, or buy a Toyota Prius or other hybrid vehicle.

But soon, there will be another choice, which takes a Prius from 40-50 mpg to 100+ mpg. By adding more batteries to a hybrid and giving it a plug, you now have what’s known as a “Plug-in Hybrid Electric”, or PHEV. But you can’t buy one…yet. You could build your own from plans on the Internet today from the PriusPlus Project, but not every Prius owner is into DIY car hacking, or violating their warranty. You can hire an after market company to convert your Prius for $8,000 to $24,000. Or, you can wait 18-24 months before the first vehicles arrive from Toyota, etc.

The basic idea is this: for the average driver, most trips during the day are surprisingly short. Let’s say less than 10 miles. Errands, grocery shopping, chauffeuring kids, etc, all generally happen within 10 miles for the average driver. A PHEV has at least a 10 mile capacity with its additional battery packs, so effectively, for 80% of typical driving, a PHEV is an electric car because it will will not need to to turn on its gas engine. The benefits: no fossil fuel combustion to foul up our air, or burn up our dollars…at a cheaper price per mile. It’s the best of both worlds: an electric vehicle for most of your day to day driving, plus a gas engine as back up when you need it.

But today, about the only thing you can do is follow the news, read bloggers, or read, Plug-in Hybrids: Cars That Will Recharge the America by Sherry Boschert (2006, New Society Publishes). In it, Boschert weaves the story of the GM EV1 electric car and it’s demise with a number of related stories including one about how a group of enthusiastic hackers, makers, and activists converted a Prius into a PriusPlus PHEV, with another story of how activists and a former CIA Director are stumping for PHEV’s as the best way to help us out of the energy crunch. Along the way she brings to light how the automobile companies change (or not), how a small group of people can help affect change, and how the PHEV activists trash hydrogen.

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