Future energy
Renewables, fuel cells, hydrogen, and efficiency

Ken Novak's Weblog


daily link  Sunday, March 25, 2007


Bruce Sterling update:  Now calling his concept "cybergreens":  "They're all about creating irresistible consumer demand for cool objects that will yield a global atmosphere upgrade. It's the Net vs. the 20th-century fossil order in a fight that the cybergreens are winning. Why? Because they're not about spiritual potential, human decency, small is beautiful, peace, justice or anything else unattainable. The cybergreens are about stuff people want, such as health, sex, glamour, hot products, awesome bandwidth, tech innovation and tons of money.

We're gonna glam, spend and consume our way into planetary survival. My own favorite sci-fi planetary-saving scheme for naming, numbering and linking to the Internet every piece of junk we create so that it can be corralled and briskly recycled, creating a cradle-to-cradle postindustrial order and averting planetary doom, may sound pretty shocking and alien. But I wrote that book while in residency at a famous design school. I received an honorary doctorate there and the book was published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It gets great reviews, designers love it. It's not even science fiction -- it's a cybergreen manifesto.

In 1998, I had it figured that the dot-com boom would become a dot-green boom. It took a while for others to get it. Some still don't. They think I'm joking. They are still used to thinking of greenness as being "counter" and "alternative" -- they don't understand that 21st-century green is and must be about everything -- the works. Sustainability is comprehensive. That which is not sustainable doesn't go on. Glamorous green."
  11:15:08 PM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, March 21, 2007


RPS outside the US:   "- China will increase its use of renewables as part of a national plan to combat climate change, says the country’s environment minister Xie Zhenhua. .. he says the Chinese government will announce a national plan with concrete targets to improve energy efficiency by 20% by 2010 and to increase the proportion of renewables to 10%.

- Taiwan Power will spend NT$3.6 billion to install solar panels .. Taiwan imports 98% of its energy and the government wants renewables to generate 12% by 2025. .. The government owns 97% of Taipower, which generates three-quarters of the island’s electricity.

- The World Wind Energy Agency has welcomed the decision by the European Union to increase the continent’s share of renewables to 20% by 2020."
  7:58:26 AM  permalink  

Texas Bid Could be First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm:  "Jerry Patterson, Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, announced that the state has signed an agreement to allow an offshore wind-energy project in the United States to be built off Galveston Island. .. [Work begins immediately on] towers [to] gather data to determine exactly where the 150 MW wind energy development will be built on an 11,355-acre lease about seven miles off the coast of Galveston Island. ..

there is only one entity in Texas for an offshore wind developer to deal with -- the Texas General Land Office, according to the developers.  Also, development within the 10.36 miles offers proximity to the state's electrical grid to carry wind-generated power to customers.  Coastal winds also tend to rise during the day when the state's electrical generating capacity faces peak demand, therefore generating power when it's most needed. Plus, the gentle slope of the Texas Gulf Coast makes the development of an offshore wind farm easy. ..

Once the research is complete, the second phase of the lease -- the construction phase -- will begin. Construction is expected to cost as much as $300 million and could take as long as five years. W.E.S.T. plans to build a field of about 50 wind turbines to produce an expected 150 MW. The hub of each turbine will rise 260 feet above sea level. The turbine blades will be up to 55 yards long .. "  Production is expected to last 30 years.
  7:56:15 AM  permalink  

South Africa: Cape green power plans:  "Eskom, local authorities and the private sector are set to launch renewable energy projects that will add at least 350 megawatts of electricity to the national energy grid. The Western Cape uses around 4 000MW of electricity daily, while the entire country uses around 34 000MW, which can go up to 40 000MW at peak demand [somewhat less than California].  In the recent past there have been regular power outages as Eskom battles to meet the growing demand for electricity.

The planned renewable energy projects include two 100MW wind farms on the West Coast, a 100MW solar thermal plant in the Northern Cape and a 50MW solar thermal plant on the West Coast. .. The department is keen to launch projects that will ensure that 15 percent of the region's electricity needs will be met by clean and renewable sources by 2015."

Meanwhile the giant projects being coming online today are not so green; coal dwarfs them all:  "The two Western Cape liquid-fuel open-cycle gas turbine stations would collectively add another 1050 megaWatts of power to the national grid.  Ingula Power Station .. will be a pump-storage hydro-electric scheme, with a generating capacity of 1330 mW. .. The 4200 mW coal-fired power station in Lephalele would be named Medupi, meaning "the name that soaks parched land"."
  7:41:23 AM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, March 18, 2007


SolarMission Solar Tower Video:  "SolarMission Technologies and its Australian subsidiary, EnviroMission Limited produced this 5 minute video about its early pilot plant in Spain. It is an older video (2000) but gives a basic understanding of the solar tower concept."  Very effective story.
  4:57:54 PM  permalink  

About Parabolic Trough Solar:   Solid review of the field, from Sept 2005.
  4:41:18 PM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, March 16, 2007


General Motors battery development:  Details with simple slides about GM's PHEV battery efforts.
  10:25:46 PM  permalink  

Start-Up Fervor Shifts to Energy in Silicon Valley:  Yet more coverage of the boomlet that started in 2001.  "Out of the ashes of the Internet bust, many technology veterans have regrouped and found a new mission in alternative energy: developing wind power, solar panels, ethanol plants and hydrogen-powered cars.  It is no secret that venture capitalists have begun pouring billions into energy-related start-ups with names like SunPower, Nanosolar and Lilliputian Systems.  But that interest is now spilling over to many others in Silicon Valley — lawyers, accountants, recruiters and publicists, all developing energy-oriented practices to cater to the cause. ..

the Valley has always run in cycles. It is a kind of renewable gold rush, a wealth- and technology-creating principle that is always looking for something around which to organize."
  10:16:13 PM  permalink  

Transmission Access For Renewable Energy:  Important regulatory innovations go national.  " The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) adopted a new regulation on February 15th that aims to allow greater access to transmission lines for power generators of all types, including renewable energy projects. The new rule exempts intermittent power generators, such as wind power plants, from excessive "imbalance" charges when the amount of energy they deliver is different than the amount of energy they are scheduled to deliver. To help accommodate less-predictable forms of renewable power generation, the rule creates a "conditional firm" service to deliver power from a generator to a customer, allowing the power supplier to provide firm service for most, but not all, hours in the requested time period.  A key aspect of the new rule is that it eliminates the broad discretion that transmission providers currently possess in calculating the unused, available capacity on their transmission lines. ..

The California ISO has also asked FERC to approve an innovative financing vehicle for new transmission lines, allowing utilities to invest in a transmission line and then having renewable generators pay for the line as they use it."
  3:27:12 PM  permalink  

Fats Into Jet Fuel:  "New biofuels technology developed by North Carolina State University engineers has the potential to turn virtually any fat source – vegetable oils, oils from animal fat and even oils from algae – into fuel to power jet airplanes. .. [It] can also be used to make additives for cold-weather biodiesel fuels and holds the potential to fuel automobiles that currently run on gasoline. ..

“We can take virtually any lipid-based feedstock, or raw material with a fat source – including what is perceived as low-quality feedstock like cooking grease – and turn it into virtually any fuel,” [professor] Roberts says. “Using low-quality feedstock is typically 30 percent less costly than using corn or canola oils to make fuel. And we’re not competing directly with the food supply, like ethanol-based fuels that are made from corn.”  .. Converting feedstock into fuel produces a low-value commodity – glycerol – as a by-product. Rather than discarding glycerol as waste like most biodiesel plants do, the NC State engineers’ process burns glycerol cleanly and efficiently to provide some of the process’ requisite high temperatures. ..

The physical and chemical properties of traditional biodiesel fuels – their combustion characteristics and viscosity, for example – don’t match the stringent requirements of jet fuel....

First, the engineers use high temperatures and high water pressure to strip off the so-called free fatty acids from the accumulated feedstock of oils and fats, or triglycerides. Next, the engineers place the free fatty acids in a reactor to perform the decarboxylation step; that is, carbon dioxide is taken off the free fatty acids. Depending on the feedstock used, the scientists are left with alkanes, or straight-chain hydrocarbons of either 15 or 17 carbon atoms.  “After these first two steps, which are always the same no matter which fuel you want, we can make any fuel we want to make,” Roberts says. “In the last two steps, we can change the recipe based on the fuel output desired.”

In the last two steps, the engineers break up the straight chains into molecules with branches, making them more compact and changing their chemical and physical characteristics. Jet fuel and biodiesel fuel require a mixture of molecules with between 10 and 14 carbon atoms, while gasoline requires only eight carbon atoms, so the engineers can control the process to elicit exactly the type of fuel they desire.

“We produce one-and-a-half billion gallons of animal fats annually, which is about half of the amount of vegetable oil produced yearly,” Roberts said. “Animal fats are harder to work with, but cheaper. Last year, for the first time ever, fuel costs in the aviation industry exceeded labor costs. We think the aviation industry is keen on finding alternatives to petroleum-based jet fuel.”"
  3:23:15 PM  permalink  

Self-Assembling Batteries:  "Researchers at MIT have designed a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that assembles itself out of microscopic materials. This could lead to ultrasmall power sources for sensors and micromachines the size of the head of a pin. It could also make it possible to pack battery materials in unused space inside electronic devices."  Earlier related story:  Batteries That Assemble Themselves: "Biology may be the key to producing light-weight, inexpensive, and high-performance batteries that could transform military uniforms into power sources and, eventually, improve electric and hybrid vehicles. Angela Belcher, an MIT professor of biological engineering and materials science, and two colleagues, materials science professor Yet-Ming Chiang and chemical engineering professor Paula Hammond, have engineered viruses to assemble battery components that can store three times as much energy as traditional materials by packing highly ordered materials into a very small space."  3:08:44 PM  permalink  

Researchers convert heat to electricity using organic molecules:  "Arun Majumdar, UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering was principal investigator of the study..  [His team] successfully generated electricity from heat by trapping organic molecules between metal nanoparticles, an achievement that could pave the way toward the development of a new source for energy."  While it's a long way from marketable form, it would have implications for energy, nanomaterials, and sensors (which need small amounts of energy to function).
  3:03:52 PM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Global Clean Energy Market Report:  From Clean Edge and Nth Power.  "Global clean-energy markets are poised to quadruple in the next decade, growing from $55.4 billion in revenues in 2006 to more than $226.5 billion by 2016."  Charts and summary report online, with numerous references.  Highlights:
  • "the global biofuels market was slightly larger than both solar and wind, reaching $20.5 billion in 2006 and projected to grow to more than $80 billion by 2016. Clean Edge projects solar photovoltaics (modules, system components, and installations) will grow from a $15.6 billion market in 2006 to $69.3 billion by 2016; wind power installations will expand from $17.9 billion in 2006 to $60.8 billion in 2016; and the markets for fuel cells and distributed hydrogen will grow from $1.4 billion in 2006 to $15.6 billion over the next decade."
  • "VC investments in energy-tech start- ups rose 262 percent to $2.4 billion in 2006. These investments, primarily in transportation and fuels, distributed energy, energy intelligence, and power reliability, eclipsed the previous high- water mark set in 2000 for energy-tech investing by more than $1 billion. The figures represent 9.4 percent of total US venture capital investments in 2006. "
  • 5 trends are highlighted:
    • Carbon Finally Has a Price…and a Market
    • Biorefineries Begin to Close the Loop
    • Advanced Battery Makers Take Charge
    • Wal-Mart Becomes a Clean-Energy Market Maker
    • Utilities Get Enlightened
  • Energy intelligence -- using IT for efficiency -- is a category that Nth Power has targeted for some time.  They report increases in investments from $192m in 2004 to $272m in 2005 to $476 in 2006 (of which $178m was for broadband over power investments).

  2:52:46 PM  permalink  


daily link  Saturday, March 10, 2007


Altairnano power play:  I wonder if this battery is for real.  "Altairnano - a relatively small public company [claims to produce] a battery that could power an electric vehicle hundreds of miles, charge in 10 minutes, and have a service life of 20 years or more.. The secret, according to Gotcher, is nanotechnology, and Altairnano's selection of nano-structured lithium titanate as a framework for its battery, branded NanoSafe™. Because the storage compartments are so small, the battery can store a lot of lithium ions. And the titanate material used in the nanostructures enhances battery cycle life, and gives it an extraordinary service life, he said., [claiming] more than 20,000 cycles with little performance degradation, .. Altairnano says its batteries have been tested under extreme conditions, including an operating temperature range of -50 to plus 71 degrees Celsius.  ..

The battery pack can be charged at low voltage over long times, or charged at higher voltages quicker, Gotcher said. In a 10 minute or less charge, at least 480 volts at several hundred amps will be required, transferring 210 kW/h of energy to the battery pack. .. How would service stations of the future store the mammoth amounts of electricity required by electric vehicles? Altairnano's Gotcher says the company "hasn't really said a lot about that yet, but you'll see us come forward with information in the second quarter."

Related news:  Power company AES made a $3 million "strategic investment" buying 1.5% of Altairnano's stock.  ZAP is building a Tesla-like roadster with its batteries.  So is Phoenix Motorcars, which has contracted to deliver 200 utility trucks with these batteries to PG&E in June 2007:  "Phoenix’s SUT can travel at freeway-speeds while carrying five passengers and a full payload, the company claimed. The SUT has a driving range of over 100 miles, can be recharged in less than 10 minutes and has a battery pack with a lifespan of more than 12 years."

  12:03:14 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Adam Smith turns green:  Nice short statement that many friends of mine could make.  "We investors and entrepreneurs in the cleantech world have a guilty conscience. People often ask us, “Are you motivated by the money or by the mission?” It’s become unfashionable and a little shameful to say you’re driven by anything but profit, but I’m not afraid to say I’m a clean energy investor because of my values. ..

I looked at the energy marketplace and what was happening with new technologies .. It felt like the revolutionary zeal that I and other entrepreneurs had for the internet in the early days. And when we were asked, “are you in this to make money or change the world?” Of course we wanted to change the world! Making money was just validation that it worked. Virtually every early internet entrepreneur I knew recognized the opportunity to change the world for the better by growing the Net. It wasn’t until many years later that the hordes of profit-only entrepreneurs came to the scene. Indeed, if you want a sign of over-investment in cleantech, look for an invasion of founders and CEOs who are in it only for the money."
  12:29:32 PM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, March 05, 2007


Oil Innovations Pump New Life Into Old Wells:  Update on technologies for recovering the 2/3 of oil that conventional drilling leaves in the ground.  A theme covered in depth in the January 2001 Atlantic.   Bottom lines for me is that I don't believe we're close to peak oil as long as oil prices rise to pay for technology; and that $50 per barrel can fund a lot of secondary recovery technology to keep oil flowing.  Oil use should be cut for environmental and security reasons; economics and resource availability reasons will not help.

  11:30:26 AM  permalink  

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Last update: 3/25/2007; 11:20:24 PM.
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