Ecoppia Unveils E4 Robot Cleaned Solar Park

Ecoppia has announced that the Ketura Sun solar park in Israel’s Negev desert is now the world’s first autonomously-cleaned solar energy production facility. The 8-hectare facility, producing 9 million kilowatt hours per year, is cleaned nightly by a fleet of almost 100 water-free, energy-independent Ecoppia E4 robots. The solar park is jointly owned by Siemens AG and Arava Power.

An impediment to solar energy production is soiling, or the dust and dirt that accumulates on solar panel surfaces. Soiling that reduce panel energy output by up to 35 percent. ECOPPIAKentura Sun is situated between the Gulf of Aqaba and the southern tip of the Dead Sea and suffers from sand storms and little rain. With cost and lack of water as barriers, the panels were only cleaned several times a year and could take up to five days.

“We conducted a thorough worldwide search for a cleaning solution that could deal with the challenging weather conditions in our solar parks,” said Jon Cohen, CEO at Arava Power. “Only Ecoppia’s solution showed actual significant uplift in production, while offering an extremely appealing business model. We are proud to be their partners.”

Following a successful pilot where Ecoppia’s solution effectively removed 99 percent of panel dust daily, E4 robots were deployed over the entire Ketura Sun field in less than three months. Today, nearly 100 centrally-controlled E4 robots clean the entire field every night, ensuring maximum production efficiency during sunlight hours.

Ecopiian says the E4 robots are cost effective efficient and energy-independent. They use a soft microfiber and air flow cleaning system to remove 99 percent of dust each day, applying zero load on the panel surface, keeping panels continually performing at optimal production. Utilizing a robust control unit and sensors that drive the robotic system along each solar panel row, E4 is fully remotely managed, monitored and controlled.

“We’re pleased to facilitate this important first step towards effectively growing solar park energy output,” said Eran Meller, CEO of Ecoppia. “With E4, Ketura Sun maximizes its energy generation, without the expense and negative ecological impact of water-based cleaning solutions.”

Yanir Aloush, VP operations at Arava Power, added, “Ecoppia has changed the way we run the Ketura Sun field. Less guesswork about when to clean, less downtime since there’s no need for on-site cleaning crews, less external personnel on the ground – we are very excited by the potential upgrade Ecoppia’s solution offers us.”

Lockheed Martin Advances Tidal Energy

Lockheed Martin has signed a contract with global tidal energy company Atlantis Resources Ltd to optimize the design of Atlantis’ new 1.5 megawatt tidal turbine. The AR1500 is designed to facilitate operation in highly energetic tidal locations, and will be one of the largest single rotor turbines ever developed and will have active rotor pitch and full nacelle yaw rotation.

According to Lockheed Martin, the increased capability and integrated, advanced functionality will help bring commercial tidal energy to reality, and will initially support the MeyGen project in Scotland’s Pentland Firth and deployment in Canada’s Bay of Fundy. Once completed, the MeyGen LOCKHEED MARTIN AR1000project – the world’s largest tidal stream project under development and in development to contributed to the country’s 100 renewable energy goal– is expected to deliver up to 398 megawatts of power, enough energy to power 200,000 homes.

“By 2040, world energy demand is expected to dramatically increase,” said Tim Fuhr, director of ocean energy for Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training business. “Lockheed Martin’s technology, development and expertise in ocean systems and global system integration skills will enable the AR1500 to use powerful tides to produce safe, clean renewable energy for homes and businesses around the world.”

Tidal turbines work like an underwater wind turbine. The tides’ ebb and flow force the blades to spin, which rotate the turbine and activate a generator that produces electricity. Tidal energy’s greatest advantage over other alternative energy sources, such as wind power and solar energy, is that it is almost entirely independent of the weather. The movement of the tides can be accurately forecast several years out.

“With us acquiring the MeyGen project, and receiving full consents to begin construction of the project’s first phase, it has been an amazing 12 months of growth for Atlantis,” said Tim Cornelius, chief executive officer of Atlantis Resources Ltd. “Our AR1500 development program with Lockheed Martin will ultimately deliver the rapidly growing tidal energy industry the most advanced, robust and powerful tidal turbine system available on the market.”

Last year, Lockheed Martin and Atlantis entered into an exclusive teaming partnership to develop technology, components and projects in the tidal power sector on a global basis.

How Thirsty is Energy Production?

Critics of renewable energy have dozens of reasons why alternative energy such as wind and solar just won’t work such as what happens when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. But according to a new report prepared by Synapse Energy Economics, “dirty” energy sources including coal-fired electric power, nuclear power and natural gas recovered by fracking, face an even bigger challenge. What are you going to do if the water runs dry?

The report, commissioned by the Civil Society Institute, finds: “Currently, 97 percent of the nation’s electricity comes from thermoelectric or hydroelectric generators, which rely on vast quantities of water to produce electricity … Water is increasingly becoming a limiting factor on U.S. energy production and a key obstacle to maintaining both electricity output and public health and safety. The constraints range from insufficient water supplies to meet power plants’ cooling and pollution control needs—a challenge likely to be exacerbated by fracking-rigclimate change, population growth, and competition from other sectors—to the high costs of energy-related water contamination and thermal pollution.”

Synapse Associate Melissa Whited noted, “Our electric system was built on traditional, water-intensive thermoelectric and hydroelectric generators. The water requirements of this energy system are enormous and leave it vulnerable to droughts and heat waves… Going forward, our water resources will be further squeezed by population growth coupled with the impacts of climate change. The massive water use of coal, nuclear, and natural gas generators will be increasingly challenged, particularly when alternatives that require little water, such as wind and solar, are readily available.”

Other key finding of the report include:

  • Thermoelectric plants withdraw 41 percent of the nation’s fresh water—more than any other sector.
  • The amount of water available to serve diverse needs is a growing concern across the country, from the arid western states to the seemingly water-rich Southeast. Thermoelectric generation compounds the stress already faced by numerous watersheds and adds additional risk for the future. If current trends continue, water supplies will simply be unable to keep up with our growing demands.
  • On an average day, water withdrawals across the nation amount to an estimated 85 billion gallons for coal plants, 45 billion gallons for nuclear plants, and 7 billion gallons for natural gas plants. Additional water is required to extract, process, transport, and store fuel, and this water is often degraded in the process.
  • Coal mining consumes between 70 million and 260 million gallons of water per day.
  • Natural gas fracking requires between two and six million gallons of water per well for injection purposes.

“Continued reliance on water-intensive electric generation technologies puts consumers and regional economies at risk of interruptions in electricity supply or on the hook for costly infrastructure investments,” said CSI Senior Energy Analyst Grant Smith. “To ensure a reliable, cost-effective supply of energy, these water-related risks must be fully accounted for in energy planning and regulation. Once the environmental costs of conventional fuels are recognized, it becomes clear that energy efficiency and renewable energy are bargains by comparison. These clean alternatives cause little if any harmful environmental impacts. On a full-cost accounting basis, clean energy would win out as the least-cost solution and solution that harbors the least risk, as our energy system would no longer threaten (or be vulnerable to) the quantity and quality of our water.”

Capturing Energy from Ocean Currents

Raul Delga Delgadillo, a soon to be senior this fall at Bourns College of Engineering at the University of California, Riverside, has learned he will receive a $15,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA. The award is a result of his entry in the national sustainable design competition for his idea to capture energy from ocean currents.

Delgadillo will now build a small-scale turbine and buoy system and test it in a flow tank to determine the best way to maximize energy extraction. He expects the system will provide as much energy as an average wind turbine. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) believes wave and tidal energy, combined with other water-powered sources, could provide up to 15 percent of the country’s electricity by 2030.

“The ocean remains an untapped frontier as a renewable energy source,” Delgadillo said. “I’m hoping to change that.”

The idea for the EPA P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition mobile-solar-003-603x400for Sustainability entry came out of project for the Sustainable Product Design course. Delgadillo’s project proposes several innovative designs: the buoy, which will allow the device to move around until an optimum location is found, and the telescoping feature on the turbine, which allows it to vary in height and remain stationary if waves are present. Current proposals to harness energy from ocean currents require the turbine be anchored to the ocean floor using cables or rigid supports. This adds a significant cost, disrupts the environment because the ocean floor needs to excavated and limits the mobility of the turbine.

Delgadillo expects several challenges, including varying flow rates from ocean currents due to seasonal fluctuations; the fact that depth and contours of ocean floors can affect ocean currents; and avoiding harming marine life.

In the coming months, Delgadillo will perform experiments in a flow tank in the lab of Marco Princevac, an associate professor of mechanical engineering. He will then use the data he gathers to write a proposal for a second round of funding, for $90,000, from the EPA. He will find out in spring 2014 whether he receives that money, which would allow him to take the design to a real world application.

Climate Change Raises Stakes on US Biofuels Policy

According to a new study by Rice University and the University of California at Davis, if the climate continues to evolve as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. stands little to no chance of satisfying its current Rice Corn Ethanol and Waterbiofuels goals. The study, published in journal Environmental Science and Technology suggests that in 40 years, a hotter planet would cut the yield of corn grown for ethanol by an average of seven percent while simultaneously increasing the amount of irrigation necessary by nine percent.

Principal investigator Pedro Alvarez, the George R. Brown Professor and Chair of Rice’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, said that this could sharply hinder a mandate as being executed by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that mandates 15 billion gallons of ethanol (corn) per year by 2022. The policy, Alvarez explained, is based on the idea that blending ethanol reduces harmful tailpipe emissions, but the cost in water may outweigh these concerns.

“Whereas biofuels offer a means to use more renewable energy while decreasing reliance on imported oil, it is important to recognize the tradeoffs,” Alvarez said. “One important unintended consequence may be the aggravation of water scarcity by increased irrigation in some regions.”

The authors of the new paper have long questioned the United States’ support of biofuels as a means to cut vehicle emissions. In a 2010 white paper on U.S. biofuels, the authors found “no scientific consensus on the climate-friendly nature of U.S.-produced corn-based ethanol” and detailed what they saw as economic, environmental and logistical shortcomings in the renewable fuels policy and suggested a need for further study of water impacts.

In the most recent study, the team built computer simulations based on crop data from the nation’s top 10 corn-producing states – Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Missouri and Kansas. Continue reading

Groups Ask For Water “Road Map”

Leaders of the Committee for the American Clean Energy Agenda (ACEA) praised Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and 22 of her House colleagues for urging new U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to release the long overdue “road map” on how to manage the development of U.S. energy resources without harming the quality and supply of water supplies. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 required water-related recommendations, but as of yet, have not been submitted to Congress.

The coalition comprised of more than 120 citizen organizations and 2 million members, is concerned about the link between energy development and a clean, safe Waterwater supply. With this mission in mind, ACEA applauded the letter submitted by several U.S. House members to Energy Secretary Moniz.

“Without this information, Congress is flying blind when it comes to developing an energy policy so reliant on the availability of fresh water. As we enter the summer months when the impacts of droughts on agriculture and water shortages are felt across the country, access to these recommendations become all the more crucial,” said Pam Solo, president and founder of the Civil Society Institute.”We should have an energy policy where people mater and that includes having access to clean and safe water.”

Back in January, an ACEA survey found that 92 percent of Americans think “U.S. energy planning and decision making” should be based on a “comprehensive understanding of what our natural resources are.” In essence, this is the “road map” that Congress requested but which was never produced. According to ACEA, the national water road map attracts the support of 92 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Independents, and 94 percent of Democrats.

“This letter from lawmakers echoes the sentiment of the American people that we must better understand how our energy policy impacts this country’s precious water resources,” stressed Heather White, executive director of the Environmental Working Group. “The Department of Energy cannot afford to delay any loner the release of the ‘Water Nexus’ road map when energy production increasingly threatens water quality across the country, as well as quantity in places where water is scare.”

New Study on Water-wise Biofuel Crops

A new study has shown that putting the water-use-efficient and turbo-charged photosynthesis from plants such as agave into woody biomass plants can hedge against high temperatures and low moisture. It can also enable growers to plant dedicated energy crops on marginal land.

A team of researchers including John Cushman, a biochemistry professor at the University of Nevada, Reno; Xiaohan Yang at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL); James Hartwell at the University of Liverpool, UK; and Anne Borland at Newcastle University, UK and ORNL are exploring the genetic mechanisms of crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) and drought tolerance in desert-adapted plants as a way to improve drought resistance for biofuel crops.

The study is part of a five-year, multi-institutional $14.3 million U.D. Department of Energy (DOE) grant, “Engineering CAM Photosynthetic Machinery into Bioenergy Crops for Biofuels Production in Marginal Environments.” The funds are through the DOE’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Genomic Science: Biosystems Design to Enable Next-Generation Biofuels.

The team will develop novel technologies to redesign bioenergy crops to grow on economically marginal agricultural lands and produce yields of biomass that can readily be converted to biofuels. The development of water-use efficient, fast-growing trees such as poplar for such sites will also help reduce competition with food crops for usable farmland according to the research team.

“With climate change predictions for a 7 degree Fahrenheit (3.8 degree C) increase in temperature and a decrease in reliable precipitation patterns by 2080 for much of America’s breadbasket, and with a greater need for sources of biofuels for transportation, these biodesign approaches to enhancing biomass production become very important,” Cushman, director of the project, said.

The ultimate goal of the project is to significantly improve an energy crop’s drought resistance by enabling the crop to adapt to hotter, drier climates.  Continue reading

Survey Shows Drought Spurs Need for Alt Energy

According to a recent ORC International survey, 81 percent of Americans are concerned about “increased drought” and other extreme weather conditions. Conducted on behalf of the Civil Society Institute (CSI), the poll results showed that concerns about drought, of which the many states have been severely affected, go hand in hand with worries about water shortages.

Three out of four Americans think that, “with all the current concern about severe drought and the risk of water shortages, America needs to start focusing more on alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, that require less water.”

Other key findings include worry over shortages of safe drinking water due to drought and “the diversion of water for energy production” is the No. 1 overall concern in 10 drought-stricken states including, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri  Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Texas. Nationwide, 64 percent of respondents are “very concerned” about the prospect of  “possible shortages of safe drinking water” due to drought and diversion for energy production.

On average, 85 percent of Americans believe availability of ample clean water should be a top national priority for the country. In addition, 89 percent of respondents said that want an energy/water “road map” for the country. People believe that, “U.S. energy planning and decision making must be made with full knowledge and understanding about the availability of water regionally and locally, and the impact this water use from specific energy choices has on their economies, including agricultural production.”

“We now understand all too well the harsh realities of the current drought and its relationship to changes in the climate from global warming. America’s ‘all of the above’ non-solution for electricity generation is a dead-end path – one requiring vast amounts of water for coal-fired power plants, nuclear reactors and the fracking extraction of natural gas,” said Pam Solo, president, Civil Society Institute. Continue reading

New Tool for Energy Efficiency Education

For those looking to learn more about energy efficiency, a new educational site has launched: MyEnergyGateway.org. Hosted by the Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP) Foundation. The site was created to become a library of training programs, degrees and certifications that focus on energy efficiency, sustainability, green and alternative energy. In addition, visitors will also be able to research information about engineering, green building design and other disciplines.

While the site was created for students, returning military personnel and displaced workers, anyone interested in beginning or continuing his or her education in the space will find this site useful. Not only does it contain lists of education programs, but also compares tuition costs, room and board costs, student to faculty ratio, and scholarship and internship opportunities among other information.

Why this site?

In 2011, ASEP published a survey of its members and nearly 60 percent cited a lack of talented workers in the field and more than half were in the process of recruiting for open positions. The U.S. Department of Energy funded the costs of developing the site through a grant in an effort to promote the need and types of jobs in the energy sector.

“Companies and utilities involved in creating energy efficiency programs are facing a lack of talented and adequately traine candidates for jobs,” said Meg Matt, President & CEO of AESP. “MyEnergyGateway.org serves as an educational pathway for students, returning military and those seeking a career change to better understand the numerous opportunities that currently exist in energy. The website encourages users to enter the industry and quickly identify the best options to pursue.”

Algae Technology May Clean Up Dirty Water

OriginOil has announced that a breakthrough chemical-free process developed for algae harvesting may also aid in the clean up of dirty water that is a byproduct of oil well water flooding and hydraulic fracturing. According to the company, using a lab prototype of the technology, its researchers have successfully clarified samples of flowback water from a Texas oil well carrying frac flowback. In essence, the technology separates the organics from the water, which then float to the surface and from there can be easily removed.

Hydro fracturing is becoming more popular with petroleum companies and in states like North Dakota operations using this technology are gearing up. Large amounts of water are used to release the oil and gas, lodged deep in rock formations, oil that until this technology was developed, couldn’t be harvested. The market grew 63 percent, from $19 billion in 2010 to $31 billion in 2011 and is expected to rise another 19 percent in 2012 according to Platts.

“Our research team has learned that extracting petroleum and contaminants from water is very much like extracting algae,” said Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil CEO. “They are both very hard to remove without using chemicals and heavy machinery. Our innovative chemical-free, high flow and low-energy process holds promise for the billions of gallons of water used daily in the oil and gas industry worldwide.”

Oil production uses a lot of water and the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that for every barrel of oil produced globally, an average of three barrels of contaminated water is produced. In worse case scenarios, the water to oil ration can be as alarming as 50 to 1. As a result, the market for cleaning the water is growing, and Greentech Media reports it costs between $3 to $12 to dispose of each barrel of water. Therefore, the market for water cleaning technologies could be between $300 billion to $1 trillion per year.

Eckelberry added, “It seems that in addition to helping create the renewable energy market of the future, we may add value to a massive existing energy market. We will continue to investigate and report on this promising new application of our technology.”

Solar Use “Heats Up” in Colder Climates

Solar energy, specifically solar thermal water heating (SWH), is catching on in colder states like Wisconsin, Colorado and Oregon as well as countries like Canada and Germany.

“Many people assume that SWH is not an option for them because they do not live near a scorching desert or by a sun-drenched beach,” said Nigel Cotton, OEM Team Leader of the International Copper Association (ICA) and founder of Solarthermalworld.org, a web community for solar thermal professionals. “However, in a solar thermal system, the energy of the sun is used to heat water in a ‘holding tank.’ This warmed water is circulated to provide hot water throughout the system.While SWH may not be able to provide for all hot water needs in colder climates, it can provide significant savings.”

Colorado home owners are finding cost savings with SWH. According to the Colorado based Center for Resource Conservation, a solar thermal heating system for domestic hot water use can be a long-term cost saving addition for a home. They estimate that when replacing an electric system, SWH can save a household $625 annually. This kind of long-term investment in solar thermal also can pay off for business operations.

A laundromat in Toronto, Canada installed a SWH system that is saving money on energy costs. According to the Canadian Solar Industries Association, the solar thermal system is expected to pay back its investment in less than ten years if energy prices remain stable, but will achieve faster payback as energy prices rise.

“Solar thermal technology is able to capture the energy of the sun and transfer it into heat in many regions around the globe,” says Baerbel Epp, editor of the Solarthermalworld.org newsletter. “It is helpful for families and businesses to explore the different ways of using the free-of-charge energy from the sun no matter where they live.”

H2O Innovation at Process Optimization Seminar

phibroThere are many aspects to optimizing ethanol plant processes, including water treatment, and that is why Quebec-based H2O Innovation has chosen to be part of the latest in the Process Optimization Seminar management series, coming up February 8-10 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Greg Madden says they call themselves a membrane systems integrator. “We engineer and build equipment for water treatment around membrane technology,” said Madden, which includes anything pre-treatment and post-treatment. Typical systems for ethanol plants include RO pretreatment equipment, followed by single-pass RO for boiler and cooling tower feed.

phibroH2O Innovations presented at the Houston Process Optimization Seminar last year and will be sponsoring the cocktail reception at the upcoming event in Minnesota. “There’s definitely good networking opportunities (at the event),” he said, noting that in addition to the educational aspect of the seminar “they do a pretty good job of making it fun.”

Listen to an interview with Greg Madden about the upcoming seminar: Greg Madden of H2O Innovation

The Process Optimization Seminar management series is organized by Fermentis, Fremont Industries, Novozymes and Phibro Ethanol Performance Group.

Registration is limited to 50 participants and the event is now close to sold out, as all previous seminars have been, so anyone interested in attending is encouraged to register as soon as possible at www.processoptimizationseminar.com.

POET Continues to Cut Water Use at Ethanol Plants

POET is now more than 75 percent of the way to achieving its water reduction goal of one billion gallons annually by 2015 at the company’s ethanol plants.

This year POET reduced water use by more than 770 million gallons compared to 2009 by using the company’s Total Water Recovery System at their 18th ethanol production facility, POET Biorefining in Chancellor, South Dakota.

“We’ve made reducing water use a priority at our plants, and it shows,” POET CEO Jeff Broin said. “I’m confident that we can reach our overall water use goal.”

Eighteen of POET’s 26 ethanol plants now have Total Water Recovery Systems under the company’s “Ingreenuity” initiative that was instituted in March 2010.

From Farm to Biorefinery

Today American farmers are producing twice as much corn on virtually the same amount of acres as a generation ago. This makes them the most productive and efficient of any farmers around the world. Similarly, productivity and efficiencies are being mirrored across domestic ethanol production.

The Renewable Fuels Association has begun a series on efficiency and as part of the dialogue, RFA Vice President Geoff Cooper takes on the critics who claim that both farming and ethanol production is simply too energy-intensive. Cooper says those critical of farmers and by extension ethanol producers, will tell you that the tremendous growth in corn production is due to increased fertilizer use.

Yet Cooper says these are not the facts. USDA data shows that 2010 application rates of three common macronutrient fertilizers (nitrogen, potassium and phosphate) were the same or below the application rates seen in the early 1980s. As such, nitrogen application per bushel of corn has decreased more than 30 percent since this time while potassium and phosphate usage per bushel is down nearly 40 percent.

Also reduced between 1987 – 2007 is water, energy and land usage required to produce a bushel of corn according to Keystone Alliance. For example, the energy requirement (as measured in British Thermal Units or BTUs) to produce one gallon of ethanol has dropped by 28 percent since 2001, to just shy of 26,000 BTUs. Cooper says that compares to 77,000 BTUs found in one gallon of ethanol. Electricity demand has fallen by 32 percent and water use has decreased by 47 percent.

“As the data clearly demonstrate, America’s ethanol producers are mirroring the efficiency gains of the American farmers upon whom they rely for feedstock,” said Cooper. “As existing processes evolve and new production technologies emerge, ethanol production in the U.S. will not only increase in volume, but also in efficiency. Without a doubt, today’s ethanol industry is high-tech and increasingly energy efficient.”

POET Biorefining – Caro Receives Green Honor

POET Biorefining – Caro has received the 2011 Green Agri-Business Designation from the Michigan Agri-Business Association. The ethanol plant received the award for its efforts to integrate environmental practices into its operations. The award focuses on efforts by companies to protect Michigan’s natural resources, conserve energy and reduce impact on water land and air.

“The Michigan Agri-Business Association wants to shine a light on the many agricultural businesses that are doing the right thing, and keeping Michigan’s natural resources strong and healthy,” MABA President Jim Byrum said. “Conservation, sustainability and energy efficiency are a way of life for these Michigan businesses, saving both money and resources. These businesses are good for both our industry and Michigan’s future, and we want to highlight their efforts.”

To reduce water use while improving water quality, POET Biorefining – Caro uses a total water recovery system to eliminate wastewater discharge and a waste heat recovery system that recycles both heat and water. It uses the Load Toad DDGS loader to get more product onto each rail car and conducts a recycling program.

David Gloer, GM of POET Biorefining – Caro added, “We produce renewable fuel, so reducing waste and energy use is a natural focus for POET Biorefining – Caro,” General Manager David Gloer said. “It’s a great honor to be recognized by the MABA for those efforts.”