Renewables, fuel cells, hydrogen, and efficiency
Friday, March 16, 2007
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
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
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
"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
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