Lund U Trying to Produce Solar Fuel

Several researchers have come a step closer to producing solar fuel using artificial photosynthesis. The Lund University team has successfully tracked the electrons’ rapid transit through a light-converting molecule. The goal of the study is to discover a way to make fuel from water using sunlight, similar to photosynthesis. Researchers around the world are attempting to borrow ideas from photosynthesis in order to find a way to produce solar fuel artificially.

Our study shows how it is possible to construct a molecule in which the conversion of light to chemical energy happens so fast that no energy is lost as heat. This means that all the energy in the light is stored in a molecule as chemical energy,” said Villy Sundström, professor of Chemical Physics at Lund University.

Lund University Solar Fuel researchToday solar energy is harnessed in solar cells and solar thermal collectors. Solar cells convert solar energy to electricity and solar thermal collectors convert solar energy to heat. However, producing solar fuel, for example in the form of hydrogen gas or methanol, requires entirely different technology. The idea is that solar light can be used to extract electrons from water and use them to convert light energy to energy rich molecules, which are the constituent of the solar fuel.

“A device that can do this – a solar fuel cell – is a complicated machine with light-collecting molecules and catalysts,” said Sundström. Continue reading

U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Hot off the Press

The latest U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review has been released and solar had another banner year. Newly installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity for the year reached a record 6,201 megawatts, more than 30 percent higher than in 2013. An additional 767 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) also came online during 2014. Solar accounted for 32 percent of the nation’s new generating capacity in 2014, beating out both wind energy and coal for the second year in a row. Only natural gas constituted a greater share of new generating capacity. The report was released by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

The solar industry broke the gigawatt (GW) level in 2011 and in 2014, 3.9 GW of utility-scale sized solar power projects came online with an additional 14 GW under contract. The commercial segment in the U.S. also first installed more than 1 GW 2014 PV Installations by Statein 2011 but has not shared the same success as the utility-scale segment. In 2014, the commercial segment installed just over 1 GW, down 6 percent from 2013. The report notes, “Many factors have contributed to this trend, ranging from tight economics to difficulty financing small commercial installations.” But GTM Research expects 2015 to be a bounce-back year for the commercial segment, highlighted by a resurgence in California.

The U.S. residential segment’s 1.2 GW in 2014 marks its first time surpassing 1 GW. Residential continues to be the fastest-growing market segment in the U.S., with 2014 marking three consecutive years of greater than 50 percent annual growth.

“Without question, the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has helped to fuel our industry’s remarkable growth. Today the U.S. solar industry has more employees than tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter combined,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO. “Since the ITC was passed in 2006, more than 150,000 solar jobs have been created in America, and $66 billion has been invested in solar installations nationwide. We now have 20 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity – enough to power 4 million U.S. homes – and we’re helping to reduce harmful carbon emissions by 20 million metric tons a year. By any measurement, the ITC has been a huge success for both our economy and environment.”

GTM Research forecasts the U.S. PV market to grow 31 percent in 2015. The utility segment is expected to account for 59 percent of the forecasted 8.1 GW of PV.

Researchers Combine Biomass, Solar Conversion

Photo: UW-Madison Chemistry Department

Photo: UW-Madison Chemistry Department

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have come up with a new approach to combine solar energy conversion and biomass conversion.

In a study published this week in Nature Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry Professor Kyoung-Shin Choi and postdoctoral researcher Hyun Gil Cha discussed their research to split water into hydrogen, a clean fuel, and oxygen using photoelectrochemical solar cells (PECs).

They developed a novel PEC setup with a new anode reaction. This anode reaction requires less energy and is faster than water oxidation while producing an industrially important chemical product. The anode reaction they employed in their study is the oxidation of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) to 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA). HMF is a key intermediate in biomass conversion that can be derived from cellulose — a type of cheap and abundant plant matter. FDCA is an important molecule for the production of polymers.

“When we first started this study, we were not sure whether our approach could be really feasible,” Choi says. “However, since we knew that the impact of the study could be high when successful, we decided to invest our time and effort on this new research project at the interface of biomass conversion and solar energy conversion.”

Read more from UMW.

Tennessee State Biodiesel Trailer Hits the Road

TSUmobilebiodiesel1Educating the public about biodiesel hits the road starting this week… and not just in the fuel tanks we know. The Tennessee State University Cooperative Extension program’s Mobile Biodiesel Education Demonstration (MBED) trailer is making stops across the Volunteer State this month, starting at the Fayette County Fire Training Room in Somerville tonight at 6.

According to Dr. Jason de Koff, assistant professor of Agronomy and Soil Sciences, the production of biodiesel fuel from vegetable oil is a viable process that can replace traditional fuel used in existing diesel engines.

“The process can go a long way toward helping ease the financial burden of fuel costs,” said de Koff, who is leading the tour. “It is possible [farmers] could become totally self-sufficient in diesel fuel use.”

Accompanying Dr. de Koff to provide specific expertise will be Mobile Biodiesel team members Chris Robbins, Extension associate for farm operations; Dr. Prabodh Illukpitiya, assistant professor of Natural Resource and Energy Economics; and Alvin Wade, associate Extension specialist for Community Resources and Economic Development.

The workshops will include discussions on the following topics:

Introduction to Biodiesel Production
Feedstocks for Biodiesel Production
Biodiesel Production Demonstration
Economics of Small-Scale Biodiesel Production
Federal Assistance Programs for Biodiesel Production

­More dates and locations are available here.

How to Deflate Range Anxiety

Millions of people could be suffering from “range anxiety” a condition that keeps consumers from purchasing electric vehicles for fear of becoming stranded with an empty battery. A new study published in Human Factors addresses range anxiety and aims to explain what it is, and determine whether putting a consumer in a battery electric vehicle (BEV) to drive would reduce or eliminate the fear.

In “Understanding the Impact of Electric Vehicle Driving Experience on Range Anxiety,” Rauh and fellow researchers Thomas Franke and Josef Krems asked 24 experienced and inexperienced BEV users to drive a test route through country roads, in villages, and on the German Autobahn. To increase range stress, participants were told that because of an unexpected technical problem, the BEV was not fully charged.

Chevy Volt Photo Joanna Schroeder“Range anxiety is a popular topic in the field of electric vehicles, and is frequently named as a key barrier for widespread adoption of BEVs,” said coauthor Nadine Rauh, a research assistant in the Department of Cognitive and Engineering Psychology at Germany’s Technische Universität Chemnitz. “We strongly believe that a better understanding of the phenomenon of range anxiety can help us to find ways of enhancing user experience in BEV driving, thereby increasing acceptance of this type of alternative vehicle.”

The authors found when the vehicle’s display showed that the remaining range was less than the anticipated trip length, experienced BEV drivers exhibited significantly less anxiety than did those who were unfamiliar with electric cars. The researchers caution that further study is needed to determine what other variables play a role in decreasing range anxiety.

“Drivers who are new to BEVs can experience a lot of stress, but as time goes by they will become more confident in both the BEV’s range and in their own abilities to manage any situations that may arise,” added Franke, a postdoctoral researcher at Technische Universität Chemnitz. “Despite advances in technology that will allow for a longer range, human factors research will remain an important tool for helping to design sustainable and user-friendly electric mobility systems.”

Researchers Get Grant to Purify Biodiesel By-Product

saskatchewanulogoCanadian biodiesel producers might soon have a purer by-product from their refining operations. The University of Saskatchewan announced it has received a $500,000+ government grant to purify and convert raw glycerol more cost-effectively.

With this funding, researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), led by Canada Research Chair in Bioenergy and Environmentally Friendly Chemical Processing and Professor of Chemical Engineering, Ajay Dalai, will be able to purchase highly-specialized equipment for the development and commercialization of new, more efficient and affordable glycerol purification and conversion technologies.

While raw glycerol has limited commercial value, the U of S’ purification technology could double the price that companies can charge for the substance, in turn adding more value to biodiesel production.

“Our Government is pleased to support this collaborative project between industry and University of Saskatchewan,” said The Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification. “Providing innovative technologies that will help increase the productivity and competitiveness of the biofuel and biochemical sectors in Western Canada.”

University officials say they plan to develop and file three patents: one for the purification technology, and two for the conversion technologies. A Saskatchewan start-up company is expected to manufacture all three technologies for commercial use, and subsequently market them.

Cross-Country Chicken Fat Biodiesel Trip Back On

Ricketts shows problemA cross-country trip to prove that chicken fat-based biodiesel is a viable fuel is back on after being derailed in November due to a busted drivetrain… but no issue with the fuel. According to this article from The Tennessean, Middle Tennessee State University agribusiness and agriscience professor Cliff Ricketts is heading back on the road on March 8, nearly four months after his 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit diesel pickup’s drive-train transmission broke 25 miles outside Kansas City, Missouri as he was trying to drive 3,550 miles from Key West, Florida, to Seattle on pure biodiesel from chicken fat, an adventure he has taken every year since 2012.

Although Ricketts cut the trip short, he was happy to report one fact.

“The biodiesel did great,” said Ricketts, who added that data showed miles per gallon ranges were from 36 to 45-plus. “Equal speed, power, torque.”

Another factor that stopped the trip in November was a pending winter storm making its way across the Great Plains. Let’s hope spring comes a little early for that region this time.

New Treatment to Cut Biofuel Costs by 30% or More

wyman1A new pretreatment could cut the costs of biofuels by 30 percent or more. This news release from the University of California, Riverside says researchers at the school have invented a novel pretreatment technology that could cut those production costs by dramatically reducing the amount of enzymes needed to breakdown the raw materials that form biofuels.

As partners in the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), the team from the Bourns College of Engineering Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering and Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) have shown that this new operation called Co-solvent Enhanced Lignocellulosic Fractionation (CELF) could eliminate about 90 percent of the enzymes needed for biological conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to fuels compared to prior practice. This development could mean reducing enzyme costs from about $1 per gallon of ethanol to about 10 cents or less.

The BioEnergy Science Center is a U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Center focused on enhancing science and technology to reduce the cost of biomass conversion through support by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the Department of Energy Office of Science..

“As recent months have shown, petroleum prices are inherently unstable and will likely return to high prices soon as expensive sources are taken off line,” said Professor Charles Wyman, the Ford Motor Company Chair in Environmental Engineering at UC Riverside. “We have created a transformative technology that has the potential to make biofuels an economic sustainable alternative to petroleum-based fuels.”

Wyman’s findings were outlined in a just published paper, “Co-solvent Pretreatment Reduces Costly Enzyme Requirements for High Sugar and Ethanol Yields from Lignocellulosic Biomass,” in the journal ChemSusChem.

Report: Offshore Wind Policy Not Working

According to a new report fueled by concerns that the Cape Wind project may never see fruition, U.S. offshore wind policy is not working. “In Up in the Air: What the Northeast States Should Do Together on Offshore Wind, Before It’s Too Late,” published by Clean Energy Group (CEG) and Navigant Consulting, tells the story of how the Cape Wind project is struggling against a decade of opposition. The report concludes the project’s difficulties highlight a larger policy problem—it is almost impossible for a single state to jump start the entire U.S. offshore wind industry.

Up in the AirThe report recommends a multi-state collaboration among states to create stronger and consistent regional policies, financing actions and permitting across the Northeast states.

“Cape Wind was a battle of the wallets, and the fossil fuel wallet evidently won,” said Lewis Milford, president of Clean Energy Group and the lead author of the report. “But there is a larger and more important story behind this controversy. If Northeast states want to reduce the costs of these projects and create offshore wind jobs, they must develop clear and consistent policies across the region, to give developers good reason to build projects here. If they don’t act together soon, they will lose this clean energy resource for decades to come, which will be bad for the economy and the environment.”

The paper recommends the states consider seven multi-state policy areas for regional action.

  1. Regional Offshore Wind Target. The establishment of a practical regional target (or target range) for offshore wind capacity would produce meaningful economic development and environmental benefits by creating a clear demand signal to developers.
  2. Coordinated Policy Incentives. Individual state policy drivers, including any incentives for developers, should be consistent across the region to drive demand and produce cost reductions over time through scale up of the offshore wind resource.
  3. Financing. States should develop new, regional financing mechanisms for regional and single projects, including use of bonds and green bank financing.
  4. Procurement. States should jointly procure power from one or more large offshore wind projects to reduce costs and create a reliable pipeline of demand for project developers.
  5. Economic Development. Coordinated, multi-state, economic development strategies rather than purely competitive action would spur economic development activity in the region through the creation of clean energy jobs and potentially new manufacturing facilities.
  6. Transmission. States should develop joint public funding of regional transmission and interconnection facilities associated with regional projects.
  7. Permitting. It is essential to the success of the multi-state projects that the policies ultimately adopted for permitting these facilities be standardized.

Continue reading

Wind Power Will Help Meet Clean Power Plan

According to a new report released today by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), adding more wind power to the U.S. electric grid can help the country meet the goals set out in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. Carbon emissions will be reduced and the lights will stay on, said AWEA, as wind power is already providing clean and reliable power for millions of Americans.

“Americans want energy security, clean air, and a more reliable energy system,” said AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan. “Diversifying our energy mix with wind helps us achieve all of these goals at once.”

During a press webinar this morning, AWEA Senior Director of Research Michael Goggin walked through the several of the most common questions about wind power and readability that are answered in the report. The report focuses on the 15 most common questions and provides answers drawing on the expertise of grid operators along with other research.

AWEA Wind Energy Reliability Report CoverGoggin explained that as wind energy has grown to provide a larger share of our electricity mix, wind turbine technology has matured so that modern wind plants are able to provide the same grid reliability services as conventional generators. Changes in wind output are not a major issue for grid operators because all power plants are already backed up by all other power plants, and grid operators already deal with large fluctuations in electricity supply and demand. In fact, the gradual and predictable changes in wind power are also much easier for grid operators to address than the large-scale outages that can occur at conventional power plants.

“Based on grid operators’ experience with reliably and cost-effectively integrating very large amounts of wind energy, wind can play can play a key role in meeting EPA’s Clean Power Plan,” said AWEA Senior Director of Research Michael Goggin.

Real-world examples presented in the report help illustrate the significant role wind energy is already playing including in Texas when fossil-fired power plants failed in the cold in February 2011, and more recently did so again across much of the U.S. during the “Polar Vortex” in early 2014.

According to Wind Vision, a new Department of Energy report due for release in early 2015, will show that wind could double from today’s amount to reliably supply 10 percent of the nation’s electricity demand by 2020, 20 percent by 2030 and 35 percent by 2050. However, as stressed by Kiernan during the presser, a long-term commitment to support wind energy by the federal government through programs such as Production Tax Credit will be critical to meeting the goals set forth in the Clean Power Plan as well as the President Obama’s climate change objectives.

Click here to read the full report.

Biomass Could Make Western US Carbon Neutral

berkleybiomasscarbon1A new study says that using biomass to make electricity could make the Western United States carbon-neutral. This article from the University of California-Berkley says researchers there have shown that if biomass electricity production is combined with carbon capture and sequestration, power generators could actually store more carbon than they emit.

By capturing carbon from burning biomass – termed bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) – power generators could become carbon-negative even while retaining gas- or coal-burning plants with carbon capture technology. The carbon reduction might even offset the emissions from fossil fuel used in transportation, said study leader Daniel Sanchez, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group.

“There are a lot of commercial uncertainties about carbon capture and sequestration technologies,” Sanchez admitted. “Nevertheless, we’re taking this technology and showing that in the Western United States 35 years from now, BECCS doesn’t merely let you reduce emissions by 80 percent – the current 2050 goal in California – but gets the power system to negative carbon emissions: you store more carbon than you create.”

BECCS may be one of the few cost-effective carbon-negative opportunities available to mitigate the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change, said energy expert Daniel Kammen, who directed the research. This strategy will be particularly important should climate change be worse than anticipated, or emissions reductions in other portions of the economy prove particularly difficult to achieve.

“Biomass, if managed sustainably can provide the ‘sink’ for carbon that, if utilized in concert with low-carbon generation technologies, can enable us to reduce carbon in the atmosphere,” said Kammen, a Professor of Energy in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) in which the work was conducted.

The findings are published in the online journal Nature Climate Change.

American Wind Rebounds

According to a new report from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the American wind industry is rebounding. During 2014, there was four times more new wind energy installed or coming online than in 2013. There was 4,850 MW in generating capacity installed with total installed capacity increasing by eight percent to 65,875.

However, AWEA notes that this amount still falls short of the record 13,000 MW installed in 2012 and blames failing to reach the record due to federal policy uncertainty. The renewable energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) was only extended for two weeks at the end of last year, and has now expired again. Tom Kiernan, AWEA CEO notes that every other energy source receives some type of tax relief and wind should not be, well, left in the wind.

Wind is gaining strength, but as recent history shows, we can do a whole lot more,” said AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan. “We’re looking forward to working with Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle so that a reasonable, responsible tax policy is in place that allows the wind industry to continue lowering costs and investing billions of dollars in U.S. communities.”

Jonathan Weisgall, Vice President for Legislative and Regulatory Affairs of the Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co., told reporters that the $1.9 billion wind farm his company is building in Iowa is the largest economic development project in 2Q2014 State Blue Mapthe state’s history. When finished, it will pay farmers $3 million a year for land leases, and supply customers such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft that have committed to buying clean energy.

“Our customers want wind,” Weisgall said. “We like wind because it’s a hedge against fossil prices…and wind, with no fuel costs associated, can keep those rates stable.”

The PTC provides a tax credit of 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour generated for the first 10 years of a project’s life. It has encouraged $125 billion dollars of investment across America, creating 500 U.S. manufacturing facilities and technological innovations that lowered the wind power’s costs by more than half in the last five years. Continue reading

Wind Investments to Top $101B by 2020

Global wind power investments are predicted to rise from $70 billion in 2013 to $101 billion by the end of 2020. The new report, “Global Wind Turbine Value Chain – Production, Market Share, Competitive Landscape and Market Size to 2020,” also finds that installed capacity should rise from around 364.9 GW in 2014 to 650.8 GW by 2020. © Ximinez | Dreamstime.com - Wind Turbine PhotoAlthough demand is on the rise, says Global Data who authored the report,” there may be a low growth rate for wind turbine components over the forecast period.

Wind turbine manufacturers produced approximately 11 percent of wind turbine gearboxes, 48 percent of rotor blades and 43 percent of generators in-house in 2013. Meanwhile, 10 percent, 62 percent and 37 percent of gearboxes, rotor blades and generators, respectively, were manufactured in-house in 2006.

Prasad Tanikella, GlobalData’s Senior Analyst covering Power, said, “Depending on wind power component supplies, turbine manufacturers make strategic decisions over whether or not to produce the equipment in-house. Some of the major manufacturers, such as Enercon and Vestas, prefer to develop components within their business structure, to avoid issues with quality control and design confidentiality.”

Tanikella cautions that constant growth in the global wind power market is forcing turbine manufacturers to seek multiple component suppliers to ensure smooth production. Indeed, several long-term agreements are currently being drawn up between turbine manufacturers and their suppliers. As such, component prices are decreasing thus the predicted low growth rate for component manufacturers.

Geothermal Data System Steams Into New Entity

The National Geothermal Data System (NDGS) has been spun off into a new non-profit company: USGIN Foundation, Inc. The company will commercialize the technology and infrastructure at the national and international level. The project was launched through funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) with the grant period ending December 31, 2014. The project was developed by Arizona State Geologist (AZGS) on behalf of the Association of American State Geologists.

NGDSLogoBigAccording to AZGS, the NDGS system is intended to increase geothermal exploration and development across the country by providing free, open source access to any digital data that can help, not just limited to traditional geothermal data.

The project was officially launched by DOE Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz at the White House Datapalooza earlier this year. To date the database has more than 65 sources located in the 50 US states serving more than 10 million data records including information on 3 million oil and gas wells, over 700,000 well logs, up to a million water wells, and tens of thousands of maps, documents, and reports. In Arizona specifically, every oil, gas, geothermal, and CO2 well is online in the NGDS, along with numerous other datasets.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) will be streaming NGDS data into their online Global Renewable Energy Atlas with contributions from AZDS’ content models and interchange formats to the National Data Repositories coalition that has created a new online Business Rules Library for data management in the global upstream petroleum industry. Anyone can set up their own node in the network using free, open source software at the NGDS website as well as stream data to their own portal.

Wave Energy Costs Favorable

According to a new analysis published in the journal Renewable Energy, large-scale wave energy systems developed in the Pacific Northwest should be comparatively steady, dependable and able to be integrated into the overall energy grid at competitive costs to other forms of renewable energy including wind power. The study finds that wave energy has less variability than some other energy sources and that by balancing wave energy production over a large geographic area variability can be further reduced.

Variability of renewable energy production from sources such as solar or wind have been a concern and often require back-up energy sources leading to extra costs. Wave energy may be a more reliable and ultimately less expense option when the technology is future developed.

Ocean Sentinel“Whenever any new form of energy is added, a challenge is to integrate it into the system along with the other sources,” said Ted Brekken, an associate professor and renewable energy expert in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University.

“By producing wave energy from a range of different sites, possibly with different types of technology, and taking advantage of the comparative consistency of the wave resource itself, it appears that wave energy integration should be easier than that of wind energy,” he continued. “The reserve, or backup generation, necessary for wave energy integration should be minimal.”

Today, wave energy is not being commercially produced in the Pacific Northwest, but the researchers expert its future potential is significant, and costs should come down as technologies improve and more systems are developed.  In addition, the study suggested, that its short-term generation capacity can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy over a time scale ranging from minutes to hours, and with some accuracy even seasonally or annually.