Renewables, fuel cells, hydrogen, and efficiency
Ken Novak's Weblog
Thursday, March 17, 2005
China's Oil Thirst Could Push It Toward Fuel Efficiency; Eye On Solar And Wind
: "Bryant Tong, managing director of privately held Nth Power, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm that invests in energy and tech firms, says China's hunger for oil and other fuels is making its officials aware they need better ways to use and monitor energy. Tong doubles as chairman and president of the nonprofit China/U.S. Energy Efficiency Alliance, a board that advises Chinese officials on how to use energy more efficiently. ..
IBD: What types of technology is China considering to make its energy consumption more efficient?
Tong: The simple answer is products such as energy-efficient commercial lighting, commercial and residential air conditioning, industrial motors and other systems.
IBD: Can China's energy problems be solved just by using such products?
Tong: No. You need to set up an infrastructure that's backed by the right policies and programs. That's where the China/U.S. Energy Efficiency Alliance comes in. We work with other groups, like the National Resources Defense Council, a U.S. think tank, to help Chinese officials pinpoint the best practices and energy-efficient products that have worked in the U.S. ..
IBD: What types of digital and online technology is China eyeing to make energy use more efficient?
Tong: A lot of (it) will be energy monitoring technology. The Internet is a huge enabler to track energy use by factories and citizens. There are new types of sensors to help the Chinese monitor and control energy use.
IBD: What about using solar and wind energy?
Tong: China is looking at different projects in solar and wind. There was a report that GE is selling wind turbines to China. Right now, China's main focus is on more efficient hydro-energy projects. It's mainly dam-type stuff. ..
IBD: What concrete steps has China already taken to curb energy use?
Tong: They've implemented fuel efficiency standards that are tougher on SUVs than in the U.S. China is also on the verge of enacting a fuel oil tax to curb consumption.
IBD: Doesn't China have access to oil reserves in Central Asia and the South China Sea region that can supply more oil and lessen its need to conserve fuel?
Tong: China is a huge net importer of oil. Regardless of what reserves they have, they are importing tremendous amounts of oil, and their projections of what they'll be needing are enormous as well. .. The Chinese people know they are at the beginning of a new era. Growth prospects are enormous, with China leapfrogging Japan last year as the second-largest oil-importing country. They know they have to be fuel efficient." 10:01:07 PM
China's Boom Brings Fear of an Electricity Breakdown
: "According to Zhang Jun, a prominent Chinese economist who has made a comparative study of China and India, China consumes 3 times the energy and 15 times the amount of steel as its neighbor, even though the Chinese economy is only roughly twice as large, and is growing only about 10 percent faster than India's. Part of this picture comes from an intensive focus on manufacturing and exports, which many economists say has led to overindustrialization and empty growth. A lot of the responsibility for wastefulness can be laid to duplication, with each province - and indeed many city governments - simultaneously pushing for the same kind of growth..
"China will definitely be facing a huge, huge challenge in a decade or so if the growth patterns don't change," said Dr. Zhang, who is the director of the China Center for Economic Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. "Ours is an extreme case of the East Asian model, and we are coming quickly toward the limitations in terms of the way we use energy, in terms of the environment, and even in terms of labor." ..
The toll on China's environment from this growth-at-any-cost strategy has been truly alarming. China's official development goal is to build what the government calls a well-off society by the year 2020, yet today the very growth that makes such dreams permissible has left China with 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities, according to the World Bank. Using standards that are relatively lax when compared with those of the United Nations, the Chinese government itself reckons that fewer than half of the country's cities have acceptably breathable air. The government also says that 90 percent of urban residents face serious water pollution problems. By another estimate, 700 million Chinese must make do with contaminated drinking water. Even the country's seas are increasingly under siege from industrial pollution and are regularly choked by red tide infestations.
If the country's galloping energy needs have caught people's attention throughout China, mobilizing resources to protect the environment has been far more difficult." 9:56:24 PM
China enacts first auto fuel-efficiency standards: Oct 2004: "China has introduced its first fuel-efficiency standards for passenger cars, moving to control soaring oil consumption and ensure foreign automakers share their latest technology, the government said Friday. .. Initially some foreign carmakers opposed the plans, fearing the added costs of compliance. Foreign manufacturers have also urged China to force suppliers to clean up the substandard diesel and gasoline fuel now sold throughout the country, complaining that bad fuel ruins high-tech engines. ..
Though not particularly stringent, the new requirements are stricter than U.S. standards, which haven't been updated for more than 20 years, [Energy Foundation official] Yang noted. American fuel efficiency standards are calculated using the average fuel use of the entire fleet sold by an automaker. In China, similar to Japan, the standards require that each model sold meet the criteria, Yang said. The first phase of the standards will be implemented from July 2005, with a stricter second phase from 2008 for new models introduced to China, the research center said. " 9:52:32 PM
China - US Energy Efficiency Alliance: "As a coalition between governments, businesses and NGOs, the China-U.S. Energy Efficiency Alliance will be helping China to fuel its economic growth by tapping the highly cost-effective option of energy efficiency. In partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Alliance has been invited by governments in China, such as Shanghai and Jiangsu, to provide regulatory consultation and training assistance. The assistance will help these governments transfer and adopt effective programs to quickly realize the benefits of energy efficiency. " Interesting public-private effort. Supported by Environmental Entrepreneurs (e2.org) and NRDC.
A related effort, also based in San Francisco: EF China: "In March 1999, after a series of meetings and consultations with scientists, policy-makers, business leaders, and analysts in China and the United States, the staff and boards of The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and The Energy Foundation launched the China Sustainable Energy Program. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation joined as a funding partner in 2002. The program's mission is: To assist in China's transition to a sustainable energy future by promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy. " 9:47:04 PM
Monday, March 14, 2005
New CalCEF $30 Million Fund for California's Clean Energy Industry
: "CalCEF's investment strategy will focus exclusively on clean energy, including renewables, energy efficiency, energy storage, and enabling technologies and services. Under the terms of the agreements, the venture capital firms will make equity investments in clean energy companies on behalf of CalCEF. .. CalCEF has allocated $8.5 million to each of the three funds for a total of $25.5 million. Nth Power and Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) will each directly manage an investment portfolio totaling $8.5 million, with Draper Fisher Jurvetson's allocation to be managed through DFJ AltaTerra, a DFJ affiliate fund launched to make investments in the clean technology sector. These managers will also match each dollar invested on behalf of CalCEF with its own investments in order to maximize market impact. CalCEF will also participate as a limited partner in VantagePoint Venture Partners. The remaining $4.5 million has been reserved by the CalCEF Board for future program development.
Nth Power estimates that venture capitalists invested approximately $500 million in US-based energy-tech companies in 2004, representing well over 2% of all VC investing. "
More from SF Chronicle: "Although PG&E provided the clean energy fund's seed money, it no longer has any control over the fund, Bicker said. The $30 million, which will be distributed over five years, is drawn from the utility's shareholder money and not from utility bills, she said. PG&E did, however, pick three of the fund's board members, while the California Public Utilities Commission picked another three. That initial group of six then chose the board's last three members. The resulting board mixes financiers with academics and government regulators. Michael Peevey, the PUC president, serves as the board chairman." 10:38:42 AM
Monday, March 07, 2005
frontline: high stakes in cyberspace: Paul Saffo in 1995 on PBS: Fun to read the old stuff. Paul Saffo is remarkably on-target, 10 years later. This article mentions "macro-myopia: A pattern where our hopes and our expectations or our fears about the threatened impact of some new technology causes us to overestimate its short term impacts and reality always fails to meet those inflated expectations. And as a result our disappointment then leads us to turn around and underestimate the long term implications and I can guarantee you this time will be no different. The short term impact of this stuff will be less than the hype would suggest but the long term implications will be vastly larger than we can possibly imagine today." I've since encoutered Gartner's Hype Cycle, which they say they started to use also in 1995, with a graphic version of this insight.
I found this when looking for a reference to an aphorism that I think comes from Saffo. The aphorism: Over two years, things change much less than we think they will; but over ten years, they change more than we imagine.
It makes me wonder about the timeframe in between, say 5 to 7 years in the future, when major impacts will be felt from things we know are changing now, despite hype (digital sensors and surveillance) and disillusion (wind and solar power). 12:45:30 PM
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Hundreds of Miles Per Gallon
: Fareed Zacharia joins in and gets the vision: "the car of the future, a plug-in hybrid with a flexible-fuel tank". The engine has to be flexible with fuel, accepting ethanol, methanol, and gasoline, and the hybrid has to be "pluggable" so that it can use low-cost nighttime electricity. With much less fuel required, a high proportion can be non-petroleum derived (ie, ethanol, biodiesel, methanol, etc) so that hundreds of miles per gallon of petroleum products becomes possible -- all with today's technology. Naturally, FZ wants this mostly for national security reasons, but greenhouse gases would be reduced as well. 10:13:18 PM
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Nano for better batteries, fuel cells: SRI scientist "Narang and other researchers have found ways to combine high energy density with high power using nanotechnology. In SRI’s case, the approach involves using high aspect ratio nanomaterials, or nanofibers. The nanofibers are minutely small in one dimension (about 20 nanometers) so energy flows rapidly across them. But because they are, relatively speaking, long in the other dimension (50 to 200 nanometers) they can store much more energy than nanoparticles with small dimensions all around. The result, Narang maintains, is a battery that can deliver about eight times the power of a traditional battery while providing comparable energy. Plus, there’s a bonus: The nanoscale dimensions that let energy move rapidly also allow the battery to recharge faster when the energy flow is reversed, a feature that’s important for hybrid cars designed to harvest energy from braking and use it to recharge the batteries.
Other organizations are working on the same problem. Ener1, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is researching enhancements for electrolytes and cathodes, using nano-structured powders for electrolytes and nano-structured, iron-disulfide for cathodes. The company says that by combining its nano-structured, iron-disulfide cathode with its polymer electrolyte it can provide high energy and a long cycle life. ..
Batteries, however, are not the only nano-enhanced technology poised to augment alternative energy efforts. .. California-based Proton Power proposes using solid acid fuel cells to supplement diesel engines inside long-haul trucks. Currently, truckers idle their engines when resting to power heating, air conditioning and other amenities. Proton Power would provide a supplemental fuel cell that truckers could use when not driving. .. “The thinner the electrolyte layer,” [Proton's founder Calum] Chisolm said, “the more power.” Currently funded by friends and family, the California Institute of Technology spinout is looking at longer-term financing opportunities and broad markets. ..
SRI is working on a form of solid oxide fuel cell that would use military-grade diesel fuel. The design takes advantage of nanostructures for catalysts and uses 200-nanometer powders for a thin electrolyte, upping the power in the same manner as Chisolm’s solid acid cell." 9:43:34 AM
Nanotech Startups Eye Solar Energy Spotlight: A short article from Investor's Business Daily in November 2004 spotlighted a few companies with comments from analysts: "At least three startups -- Nanosolar, Nanosys and Konarka Technologies -- are using nanotech to try to make solar energy more viable. In time, such work could become "world changing," said Josh Wolfe, a managing partner of nanotech-focused investment firm Lux Capital in New York. Lux has invested in Nanosys. "All three of these firms have a different approach, but all of them are trying to create solar energy anywhere, any time," Wolfe said.
Nanotech solar cells could come down to fossil-fuel prices within a few years, says Steven Milunovich, an analyst with Merrill Lynch. Electricity now costs 7 cents per kilowatt-hour in the U.S. and 19 cents in Japan. Solar cells run about 43 cents. "There could be significant adoption" if nanotech solar drops below 7 cents, said Milunovich in a recent research note. Nanotech could have "a significant impact" on the $3 billion-plus solar power market. "Cheaper manufacturing plants and processes could make solar competitive with fossil fuels," he wrote.
Nanosolar, based in Palo Alto, Calif., is building nanotech panels that are 100 times thinner than current solar panels. This approach could let the firm mass-produce cheaper solar cells by printing them out like rolls of newspaper. .. Nanosolar plans to make test products next year and go to full production the following year. ..
Nanosys, also based in Palo Alto, has partnered with Japanese corporate giant Matsushita (NYSE:MC - News) to make nano materials into special shapes known as tetrapods. This material is laid onto plastic substrates that are produced like photo film to make nanopanels that are more flexible and smaller than current rooftop solar panels. By encasing such solar panels between windowpanes, skyscrapers might someday double as self-contained power plants..
Konarka of Lowell, Mass., is developing plastic sheets that are embedded with titanium oxide nanocrystals. The crystals are coated with light-absorbing dyes." 9:24:35 AM
Nanosponge for hydrogen:
"The materials made by Xuebo Zhao and colleagues are composed of long carbon chains linked by metal atoms. When they are crystallized, these molecules frame cavities less than a nanometer across, connected by windows that are even smaller than a hydrogen molecule. While the cavities are being filled, hydrogen can wriggle through these windows because the carbon chains are flexible.
But once the cavities fill, the chains lose their room to flex, forcing the windows closed. As a result, the material can be loaded with hydrogen gas at high pressure, but does not release the gas when pressures drop to normal, essentially forming a molecule-sized pressure seal. " 8:24:01 AM