Renewables, fuel cells, hydrogen, and efficiency
Ken Novak's Weblog
Monday, September 26, 2005
A Sunshine Deal: Sep 2005: Southern California Edison (SCE), with 13 million customers, has just announced a deal with Phoenix-based Stirling Energy Systems that could result in a huge solar farm. .. SCE has agreed to purchase upwards of 500 megawatts of electricity from Stirling Energy Systems -- enough to provide all the energy needs to 278,000 homes -- or more than all other U.S. solar projects combined. While neither company has disclosed the financial details, SCE said the system will not require state subsidies.
The effort will begin with a pilot project: a proof-of-concept facility with 40 solar dishes producing one megawatt of energy. The test will take place over the next 18 months, and, if successful, Stirling Energy Systems will construct a 20,000-dish array over four years, covering 4,500 acres -- more than four times the size of the National Mall in DC -- in the desert northwest of Los Angeles. "From our perspective, Stirling has established the viability of this at a laboratory level," says SCE spokesperson Gil Alexander. "This could be a turnaround point for solar."
Stirling's dish technology, which was first developed by McDonnell-Douglas in the mid-1980s, makes use of a heat-driven engine, rather than photovoltaic panels. The company's deal with SCE marks its first utility-scaled energy application. In the Stirling solar system, each dish is a round, mirrored surface measuring 37 feet in diameter that reflects and focuses light into the receiving end of a Stirling engine. .. "Our systems have peak efficiency of 29.4 percent -- that's the record for converting solar to grid-quality energy," says Stirling CEO Bruce Osborn. " 10:44:49 AM
Extensive energy plan for California:
"The new plan is projected to save 1,500 megawatts of electricity statewide by 2008 -- the same amount that three new power plants would produce. In terms of global warming emissions, the California Public Utilities Commission estimates the reductions are equivalent to removing 650,000 cars a year from California highways.
[It will] offer significantly more rebates every year to customers who purchase energy-efficient appliances such as air conditioners, furnaces and clothes washers. It also would pay for utilities to conduct voluntary energy audits at tens of thousands of businesses, schools, hospitals, homes and other buildings. Under the plan, the PUC would require the state's major investor-owned utilities, such as Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, to spend $2 billion between 2006 and 2008 to expand their energy efficiency programs. Those investments are expected to produce $5.4 billion in energy savings for ratepayers. ..
By 2008, the state's four major utilities would spend $777 million a year on energy efficiency programs -- a 62 percent increase from the $479 million they will spend in 2005. Under rules the state adopted in 1982, PG&E and other regulated utilities do not earn more profits when customers use more energy. They are guaranteed a set profit each year, and given incentives when consumers reduce energy. As a result of that program and others like it, California's per capita energy use already is the lowest in the United States -- 40 percent less than the U.S. average. ..
The funding for the new PUC program will come from three sources. First is a 1 percent increase in electricity and natural gas bills by 2008, which amounts to an increase of $1.61 a month for the average PG&E household bill of $122.23. Second is the ``public goods charge,'' an existing fee for energy conservation programs of 1 percent that has been on California utility bills for about a decade. Finally, the bulk of the funding -- nearly two-thirds -- will come from money the utilities would have spent buying electricity and natural gas." Passage confirmed at Red Herring. 10:36:13 AM
US Battery Research: Too Little, Too Late?: "The power gap between current needs and what batteries can deliver for electronics today reflects a decision made years ago to all but abandon basic battery research in favor of more flashy fuel-cell technology, says Donald Sadoway, a battery expert and professor of materials engineering at MIT .. "Fuel cells grabbed the money," but basic battery research was ignored for years before that as well, says Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group in San Jose. As a result, today's batteries remain relatively inefficient...
Interview with Sadoway: "I think that lithium ion can be pushed a little bit harder with electrode materials -- for the cathode in particular. There may be untapped capacity in certain materials that could dramatically improve the amount of energy storage in the battery by improving the cathode. I have cells operating at about 300 watts per kilogram, which is double what lithium ion is doing today. I think there's plenty of room at the top here ..
[The next big leap?] Solid-state batteries. We think the next improvement will come from eliminating any liquid from the battery. We think that there are opportunities for looking at multilayer thin-film laminate with no liquid, a polymer as the electrolyte separator. You're looking at something that's similar to a potato chip bag, a polymer web coated with a different layer of chemistry. We can make that by the square mile -- it's not difficult to do. We're talking about a doubling or tripling of the capacity of today's batteries, as opposed to a 20% or 30% improvement. [And it's safer.] A lot of the problems in advanced lithium ion batteries derive from the fact that you have an organic liquid. Lithium ion is not water-based. It's an organic liquid like an alcohol. It's flammable. If it gets hot, the pressure increases, and you'll break the case. It could catch fire. If we go with a polymer electrolyte, you don't have any liquid; it's inert when it comes to heat, plus you can shape it." 9:47:53 AM
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Toshiba announces better battery for 2006:
March 2005: "Toshiba Corporation today announced a breakthrough in lithium-ion batteries that .. can recharge 80% of a battery's energy capacity in only one minute, approximately 60 times faster than the typical lithium-ion batteries in wide use today, and combines this fast recharge time with improvements in energy density. .. the negative electrode uses new nano-particles to prevent organic liquid electrolytes from reducing during battery recharging. The nano-particles quickly absorb and store vast amount of lithium ions, without causing any deterioration in the electrode. ..
The battery has a long life cycle, losing only 1% of capacity after 1,000 cycles of discharging and recharging, and can operate at very low temperatures. At minus 40 degrees centigrade, the battery can discharge 80% of its capacity, against 100% in an ambient temperature of 25 degree centigrade).
Toshiba will bring the new rechargeable battery to commercial products in 2006. Initial applications will be in the automotive and industrial sectors .. tTe battery's advantages in size, weight and safety highly suit it for a role as an alternative power source for hybrid electric vehicles." This is faster than expected; nano particles to accelerate charge and discharge and improve density have been reported in universities, while this is an announced product. 11:05:26 AM
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Ford plans to boost hybrid engine production : "Gas-electric hybrid engines will be available in half the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury lineup by 2010, Ford Motor Co. Chairman and CEO Bill Ford said Wednesday. He said the automaker will be able to produce 250,000 hybrids in the next five years. It currently has two sport utility vehicles on the market. ..
the company will be releasing four vehicles that can run on fuel-efficient ethanol in 2006: the F-150 truck and Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car sedans. Ford said the automaker plans to produce 280,000 ethanol-capable vehicles in 2006."
This is a rapid rate of change for an auto company. It has become more feasible with computerized product life cycle software, which has been reported to have cut design time for new car models from 4 years to 1.5 - 2 years. This includes design of the robot-driven assembly plants and simulation of the supply chain. (Sorry, no citation here; I think I read it in a recent Economist.) 12:52:18 PM
Monday, September 19, 2005
Paper Says Edible Meat Can be Grown in a Lab on Industrial Scale:
"In a paper in the June 29  issue of Tissue Engineering
, a team of scientists, including University of Maryland doctoral student Jason Matheny, propose two new techniques of tissue engineering that may one day lead to affordable production of in vitro
- lab grown -- meat for human consumption. It is the first peer-reviewed discussion of the prospects for industrial production of cultured meat.
"There would be a lot of benefits from cultured meat," says Matheny, who studies agricultural economics and public health. "For one thing, you could control the nutrients. For example, most meats are high in the fatty acid Omega 6, which can cause high cholesterol and other health problems. With in vitro meat, you could replace that with Omega 3, which is a healthy fat. "Cultured meat could also reduce the pollution that results from raising livestock, and you wouldn't need the drugs that are used on animals raised for meat." ..
"cultured meat could appeal to people concerned about food safety, the environment, and animal welfare, and people who want to tailor food to their individual tastes," says Matheny. The paper even suggests that meat makers may one day sit next to bread makers on the kitchen counter. "The benefits could be enormous," Matheny says. "The demand for meat is increasing world wide -- China 's meat demand is doubling every ten years. Poultry consumption in India has doubled in the last five years. ..
Matheny saw so many advantages in the idea that he joined several other scientists in starting a nonprofit, New Harvest, to advance the technology. One of these scientists, Henk Haagsman, Professor of Meat Science at Utrecht University, received a grant from the Dutch government to produce cultured meat, as part of a national initiative to reduce the environmental impact of food production."
Added implication: "Writing in this month’s Physics World, British physicist Alan Calvert calculated that the animals eaten by people produce 21 percent of the carbon dioxide that can be attributed to human activity." 10:32:02 PM
Thursday, September 08, 2005
PHEVs cut greenhouse gases more: PHEVs substitute grid electric power for gasoline. Most grid power comes from burning fossil fuels. Still, it's more efficient to make the power and deliver it via battery than to burn it in the car, resulting in fewer CO2 emissions. Joe Romm, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the US DoE under Clinton does the numbers. His calculations start with 12,000 miles per year, resulting in 11,000 pounds CO2 from an average new car, 6,000 pounds from a Prius, and 3,900 pounds from a Prius running on grid power alone. "So running your E-hybrid on the U.S. grid is 35% better than running a Prius on gasoline and 65% better than an average car. .. In California, with its cleaner grid, you'd have under 2,000 pounds emissions from a plug-in Prius. And, of course, people can choose to purchase 100% renewable power. The nice thing about plug ins is that it gives people a fuel choice, and everyone will choose electricity since even in California, the per-mile cost of electricity is under one half that of gasoline." More references are on the Calcars FAQ #3, including a presentation from EPRI. (The suggestion is made that off-hours electric use is even better: "An Argonne researcher reached consensus with [others in] July 2002 that plug-in HEVs using nighttime power reduce greenhouse gases by 46% to 61%." 4:30:16 PM
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Calcars inspires EDrive for PHEVs: In May 2005, EnergyCS and Clean-Tech unveiled EDrive, LLC, their new company for Prius retrofits. They aim for sales of aftermarket conversion kits for Prius with higher capacity lithium batteries with up to 35 miles of drive time, for early 2006. This article gives the history of how Calcars helped inspire their formation, and what may happen next. Useful articles:
More attention to flexible-fuel PHEV:
Even George P. Shultz and R. James Woolsey are on the bandwagon. (June 2005): "We propose in this paper that the government vigorously encourage and support at least six technologies: two types of alternative fuels that are beginning to come into the market (cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel derived from a wide range of waste streams), two types of fuel efficient vehicles that are now being sold to the public in some volume (hybrid gasoline-electric and modern clean diesels), and one vehicle construction technique, the use of manufactured carbon-carbon composites, that is now being used for aircraft and racing cars and is quite promising as a way of reducing vehicle weight and fuel requirements while improving safety.
The sixth technology, battery improvement to permit "plug-in" hybrid vehicles, will require some development — although nothing like the years that will be required for hydrogen fuel cells. It holds, however, remarkable promise. Improving batteries to permit them to be given an added charge when a hybrid is garaged, ordinarily at night, can substantially improve mileage, because it can permit hybrids to use battery power alone for the first 10-30 miles. Since a great many trips fall within this range this can improve the mileage of a hybrid vehicle from, say, 50 mpg to over 100 mpg (of oil products). Also, since the average residential electricity cost is 8.5 cents/kwh (and in many areas, off-peak nighttime cost is 2-4 cents/kwh) this means that much of a plug-in hybrid's travel would be on the equivalent of 50 cent/gallon gasoline (or, off-peak, on the equivalent of 12-25 cent/gallon gasoline).
A plug-in hybrid averaging 125 mpg, if its fuel tank contains 85 per cent cellulosic ethanol, would be obtaining about 500 mpg. If it were constructed from carbon composites the mileage could double, and, if it were a diesel and powered by biodiesel derived from waste, it would be using no oil products at all. .. What are we waiting for?" 10:24:22 PM
Friday, September 02, 2005
In the search for new energy, China rides the wind: "China has made big investments in petroleum production in countries as far-flung as Sudan and Venezuela. But at home, where petroleum is growing scarce and overdependence on coal chokes the air of major cities - and killed 6,009 miners last year - the Chinese government is moving just as aggressively to develop alternative energy supplies..
By 2020, starting from a minuscule base that it has established only recently, China expects to supply 10 percent of its needs from so-called renewable energy sources, including wind, solar energy and small hydroelectric dams. .. So far, wind power is making the most impressive strides ..
"We have huge goals for wind power development," said Wang Zhongying, director of China's Center for Renewable Energy Development. "By 2010, we plan to reach 4,000 megawatts, and by 2020 we expect to reach 20,000 megawatts, or 20 gigawatts." If anything, Wang said, these targets are too conservative, and may be easily surpassed. The biggest limitations, he said, were not in China's wind-power potential, or in its generating technology, but rather in the country's antiquated power grid ..
The outcome has been a real boom among suppliers of wind power equipment. "We're expecting the sector to grow 50 to 75 percent a year between now and 2020," said Jens Olsen, the chief representative of Vestas, a Danish turbine manufacturer that is the leading equipment supplier in China." 8:14:41 PM
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Current Alternative Fuel Vehicle Models
: DoE guide to hybrid, CNG, and ethanol vehicles, including information on prior year models and links to used car sales. Many flexible fuel vehicles taking any mix of gas an ethanol up to 85% ("FFV E85"), at no extra cost: 22 sedans, wagons, coupes, and and light trucks from Ford, GM, Chrysler, Mercedes and Nissan. Industrial vehicles, including buses, garbage trucks, and construction vehicles also listed. Biodiesel
covered separately: "Fleets looking to comply with the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct) must use fuel blends that contain at least 20% biodiesel. .. Using biodiesel blends requires little or no engine modification .. In older vehicles, high-percentage blends of biodiesel (greater than 20%) can affect fuel hoses and pump seals made from certain elastomers. The effect is lessened with lower percentage blends. Elastomers (found in hoses and gaskets) that are biodiesel-compatible are required for use with B100 and high-percentage biodiesel blends. " 8:45:30 AM