Seafood harvesters pay no heed to fish populations and their massive catches cause damage to oceanic ecosystems. Inland fisheries can have a harsh environmental impact and can also impact the health of the fish that are raised. The state of the world’s fisheries is uncertain and if current practices continue, the future could be grim.
Hawaii Ocean Technology will attempt to answer these issues with its deep water, offshore Oceanasphere, where “twelve Oceanspheres in less than half of a square mile can yield as much as 24,000 tons of seafood” (Source). Floating free in the deep sea, the Oceanasphere is a sphere of aluminum and Kevlar, 162 feet in diameter. This fish farm is powered by an ocean thermal energy conversion system so it lacks the need for fossil fuel burning or any other source of energy, making it self sufficient with little negative impact on its surrounding environment. The Oceanasphere also is large enough and has a controlled food supply, which will result in healthier fish populations. This innovative design will hopefully lead to a new step in ocean fish farming technology.
A competing approach to the problems posed by inland fisheries is being developed by scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole who are testing a system that conditions particular fish to “catch themselves” by swimming into a net when they hear a tone that signals feeding time.
A research group led by Montana State University Professor Gary Strobel has found a fungus (Gliocladium roseum) inside a Patagonia rainforest that produces hydrocarbon chains similar to diesel fuel or “myco-diesel”.
Why is this important?
Our world is powered by capturing the energy released from carbon-hydrogen chains from wood, coal, oil and natural gas. This chemical energy was formed by ancient biological processes via plants, algae and bacteria. But what if fungi could do the same thing?
If we expect to move beyond an extraction economy that taps ancient bio energy via coal and petroleum, we need to find substitute sources of energy producing systems. Rather than look at energy conversion via plants (e.g. corn), researchers are looking at more ancient forms of life to find the most efficient metabolic systems involved in energy conversion.
When can I put myco-diesel in my vehicle?
There is still a very long way to go before we can develop energy roadmaps and forecasts for fungi derived fuels. For now, smart money is on cellulosic and algae derived biofuels. This is an important discovery, but we have no applied evidence that it could easily scale to produce large amounts of usable forms of liquid fuels at a low cost. But this is an important first step and a significant discovery around the fundamentals of bioenergy!
Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have discovered and demonstrated a new method for overcoming two major hurdles facing solar energy. By developing a new antireflective coating that boosts the amount of sunlight captured by solar panels and allows those panels to absorb the entire solar spectrum from nearly any angle, the research team has moved academia and industry closer to realizing high-efficiency, cost-effective solar power.
“To get maximum efficiency when converting solar power into electricity, you want a solar panel that can absorb nearly every single photon of light, regardless of the sun’s position in the sky,” said Shawn-Yu Lin, professor of physics at Rensselaer and a member of the university’s Future Chips Constellation, who led the research project. “Our new antireflective coating makes this possible.”
An untreated silicon solar cell only absorbs 67.4 percent of sunlight shone upon it — meaning that nearly one-third of that sunlight is reflected away and thus unharvestable. From an economic and efficiency perspective, this unharvested light is wasted potential and a major barrier hampering the proliferation and widespread adoption of solar power.
After a silicon surface was treated with Lin’s new nanoengineered reflective coating, however, the material absorbed 96.21 percent of sunlight shone upon it — meaning that only 3.79 percent of the sunlight was reflected and unharvested. This huge gain in absorption was consistent across the entire spectrum of sunlight, from UV to visible light and infrared, and moves solar power a significant step forward toward economic viability.
Most energy analysts see solar energy (via thermal, traditional photovoltaics and thin film) at the beginning of its commercial growth curve. Yet there is still much that we do not know about the fundamentals of solar energy conversions that can produce electricity, heat, hydrogen and synthetic fuels. Developing a 21st century roadmap for the future of solar energy requires us to first recognize the need for funding basic research in science and then explore the disruptive potential of breakthroughs in applied engineering.
Funding basic and applied research in Solar Photoconversion
The US Department of Energy’s Center for Revolutionary Solar Photoconversion is launching 12 novel solar research projects totaling more than $1.1 million in its inaugural round of research and development funding.
CRSP, the newest research center of the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, is dedicated to the basic and applied research necessary to create revolutionary new solar energy technologies as well as education and training opportunities.
According to NREL Senior Research Fellow and CRSP Scientific Director Arthur Nozik, the 12 CRSP projects “represent the leading edge of research into both new ways to generate electricity and liquid and gaseous fuels directly from the sun and improving our approaches toward these goals.”
The 12 selected solar projects are:
- Integrated Electrical and Optical Characterization of Silicon Thin Films – NREL and CSM, $99,818
- Redox-Tunable Polymers for OPV active layers – NREL and CSU, $100,000
- Group IV Nanowire Photovoltaics – Colorado School of Mines, $100,000
- InVitro Evolution of RNA-Inorganic Catalysts for the Conversion of CO2 to Alcohols – CU, $100,000
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow interviews Barack Obama (on 10/31/08) who highlights near term demands (and opportunities) for ‘Smart Grid’ investments needed to bring the US infrastructure into 21st Century.
‘Big Grid’ could replace ‘Big Oil’ as a major story for 2009, as it becomes clear that the regulatory frameworks of our electricity utilities are not designed to support growth of utility scale wind and solar, micro-distributed power generation, and energy storage. All these things are disruptive!
Could carbon-eating algae change how we produce liquid fuels by 2020? Can we ‘grow’ energy rather than pull it out of the ground? A British energy R&D firm believes the answer is yes.
UK-based Carbon Trust, which works to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy, has launched the Algae Biofuels Challenge with an ambitious mission: to commercialize the use of algae biofuel as an alternative to fossil based oil by 2020.
Carbon Trust’s multi-million pound investment will be led through its Advanced Bioenergy Accelerator and focused on microalgae that can be cultivated and manipulated to produce high yields of oil using carbon-rich feedstocks.
This effort is another signal that the long-term future of bioenergy is more likely to tap the power of microbes (algae/bacteria) rather than plant based resources like corn, soy and palm oil.
Carbon Trust’s initial forecasts suggest that algae-based biofuels could replace over 70 billion litres of fossil derived fuels used worldwide annually in road transport and aviation by 2030 (equivalent to 12% of annual global jet fuel consumption or 6% of road transport diesel). This would equate to an annual carbon saving of over 160 million tonnes of CO2 globally and a market value of over £15 billion.
Algae fuels? A Future inspired by the Past
The Industrial Revolution has been based on capturing energy released from breaking chemical bonds of carbon and hydrogen. We blew up coal’s chemical bonds to for steam engines, then gasoline inside internal combustion engines and repurposed coal for large centralized electric power plants. Now the 21st century could be partly shaped by closing that carbon-hydrogen loop using molecular systems within biology?
Ironically this future vision of energy is inspired by the past! Coal is ancient biomass- likely ferns. And oil is likely ancient microbes that lived in shallow oceans. Both are made of complex chains of hydrogen and carbon assembled by Mother Nature’s molecular machines of algae and bacteria. As long as chemical bonds drive the economy, we need to figure out a way to keep carbon in the energy loop by binding it with hydrogen, not oxygen. This UK algae challenge is an important step in closing that cycle in the 21st Century.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded its $1 million top prize for the Wearable Power Prize competition to the team of DuPont/Smart Fuel Cell (SFC) based on a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC)system.
Announced in July 2007, the US Department of Defense Research & Engineering 2008 Prize challenged energy companies to develop a lightweight, wearable power systems capable of producing 20 watts average power for 96 hours and weighed less than 4 kilograms. The prize conclude in October 2008 with the following awards:
$1 million First Place DuPont / SFC Smart Fuel Cell – the prize confirms DuPont’s ability to help transform energy systems through basic science and applied materials. DuPont is already a major contributor to next generation energy materials used in solar cells, fuel cells, and biomaterials. Smart Fuel Cell is also a leading company in fuel cell power systems.
$500,000 Second Place Adaptive Materials based on its propane-powered solid oxide fuel cells. According to the team’s press release they lost by weight of 28 grams!
$250,000 Third Place
Little is known or published about third place winner Jenny 600S system of Middleburg, Virginia. [We are investigating!!]
Why portable power?
The US military’s efforts are clear – reduce the weight of energy systems for soldiers carrying an increasingly diverse array of electronic equipment from GPS devices, communication devices to vision glasses. The military is also looking for high density systems to power tiny field sensors, urban surveillance robots and unmanned aerial and mobile vehicles (UAVs).
Portable power is equally disruptive for non-military applications. Effective electron storage systems could lower the costs of electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors; reinforce national electricity grids; and improve performance and reliability of distributed power systems in urban and rural settings. The science and technologies behind this prize are certain to go well beyond military applications.
The US military has a number of contests that push innovation. The most disruptive is its Grand Challenge for fully autonomous vehicles. But in the world of energy, the next logical step beyond portable power storage will be on site power generation! So we’re imagining small appliances that can take any material and convert raw inputs into usable forms of electricity, hydrogen or liquid fuels.
Imagine standing in front of global auto executives in 1999 and presenting a forecast that within ten years an Indian Automaker would be planning to build and sell electric vehicles in Europe. You might have walked away with that negative ‘futurist’ stereotype of a fringe corporate strategic thinker thinking way too far ahead!
Now India’s Tata Motors has announced plans to build an electric vehicle for European markets in 2009.
The company’s UK subsidiary has acquired a 50.3% holding in Miljø Grenland/Innovasjon of Norway to advance solutions for electric vehicles. The move brings Tata closer to realizing its vision of building affordable, clean electric motor vehicles powered by a combination of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
The first generation of Miljø produced electric vehicles will use Electrovaya Lithium Ion SuperPolymer® batteries. Tata plans to launch Indica EV in Europe during 2009 as a 4 person vehicle with a predicted battery charge range of up to 200 km (125 miles) with an acceleration of 0-60 kmph (40 mph) in under 10 seconds.
Can we grow our own energy resources by feeding power plant carbon emissions to algae and bacteria? We have featured videos by Juan Enriquez and Steve Jurvetson- on the feasibility of growing energy using the power of biology. Now mainstream investors are starting to bet that this future might be closer than we imagine.
Investments are now flowing into next generation biofuels that should surpass corn ethanol. But if we expect to ‘grow’ energy then we need to make choices. When do we tap the power of plants versus algae and bacteria? Will we train our students to become chemical engineers or biologists and synthetic bio-engineers?
Our world is built upon ancient bioenergy
Most of our energy resources come via biology. Coal is ancient biomass- likely decomposed ferns. And oil is likely ancient microbes that lived in shallow oceans. We power our world by blowing up these hydrogen-carbon chemical bonds in our power plants and combustion engines. It is cheap but also inefficient and dirty because we release ancient carbon.
Two paths forward – chemistry and biology
Biofuels are expanding along two paths. One future is based on creating fuels using chemical engineering processes. Biodiesel uses a process known as transesterification which exchanges molecules from fatty acids (like vegetable and oil oil) to create usuable fuels. Corn ethanol uses a process known as fermentation. Chemical conversion processes usually tap oil (fatty acids) from plants, fruit seeds or industrial waste streams.
The other future uses the power of biological energy conversion. This is the world of carbon-eating algae that create biodiesel and hydrogen producing bacteria. Biological energy production usually taps carbon emissions or waste streams (e.g. carbohydrates and sewage) as its feedstock.
Advocates of chemically driven biofuels say they offer scalability and reliability. Biology advocates want to transform carbon emissions into a resource for algae and bacteria and think their solution has a lower cost advantage, safety and fewer waste byproducts.
While there are many reasons to imagine profitable biologically driven bioenergy solutions within five years, we have yet to see a company overcome the challenges of scaling up production. So the mood among investors and analysts is ‘cautiously optimistic..!
Latest announcements contributing the bioenergy hype
“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
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.”
I wrote about the unveiling of White Knight Two back in July, and no, it is not yet ferrying billionaires to sub-orbital six minute vacations. But it has just become useful (rather than enviable) to the rest of us.
On September 30th, The International Astronautical Congress announcedthat Virgin Galactic was partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to measure greenhouse gasses in the upper atmosphere using White Night Two and Space Ship Two. Both crafts will be fitted with atmospheric sensors and will begin gathering data in test flights.
The planes are uniquely suited to help the NOAA for two reasons. The most obvious is that they will go much higher than conventional aircraft. Thus, they can monitor the hard to reach mesosphere and thermosphere. Information about these layers of the atmosphere is vital for scientist to create accurate climate change models. Also, the planes were designed with tubes that channel outside air to internal speed sensors. This feature was added in the design phase in anticipation of scientific work.