Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
As has been discussed before on this website, batteries and energy storage technology are key to increasing renewables in our energy grids. Particularly wind and solar energy have too much variability to work efficiently with the diurnal consistency of current energy usage. Efficient storage of the energy generated during wind gusts or bright sun would allow it to be used when it’s needed. Ideally this would come from private firms rather than taxpayer dollars, but either way it’s good to see progress being made towards these objectives.
New Battery Design Could Help Solar and Wind Power the Grid
WASHINGTON – Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have designed a low-cost, long-life “flow” battery that could enable solar and wind energy to become major suppliers to the electrical grid.
Distributed energy is the future of our electricity supply. Rather than our electricity coming from centralized providers straight to homes, offices, etc., electricity will be generated and/or stored at various locations closer to the end users. Determining the safest and most energy-efficient and cost-effective ways to do this is an enormous, on-going task. Navigant Consulting is one of many firms working with municipalities to continue development and innovation.
Read more in these two articles:
Smart Grid Today
Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and Navigant will have a healthy list of the pros and cons of community energy storage (CES) versus residential energy storage (RES) by the time their battery-testing project is finished in September, Jay Paidipati, associate director in Navigant Consulting’s energy practice, told people attending a long-duration, distributed energy-storage project workshop at Storage Week in Austin, Texas, yesterday…
Distributed Energy Storage Systems for Voltage Support, Frequency Regulation,
Islanding, and Peak Shaving: Market Analysis and Forecasts
Community and residential energy storage systems are sited at the “end of the line” on the grid. These systems are typically much smaller than utility-scale or bulk energy storage and are either situated at the distribution transformer or at the customer premise. Of the varied application areas for energy storage systems, community and residential storage is one of the newest and least understood applications. Currently, utilities, vendors, and even governments are demonstrating community and residential energy storage systems with a goal of understanding the value of these small, distributed systems sited at the edge of the electrical grid. These groups are testing CRES for the purposes of smoothing peaks in electricity demand, enabling voltage support and frequency regulation, and providing islanding capabilities.
This has been a long time in coming, and is still a ways off, but is an important step towards renewable fuels from non-food feedstocks. Rather than use the sugar that has to date been the feedstock for ethanol production in Brazil, and is otherwise use as food, this process would separate the sugars in the bagasse, or the green leaves of the cane stalks, and ferment those for ethanol. Previously this bagasse was either burned in the field before manual harvest, or more recently harvested mechanically either to be left in the field to maintain soil structure or burned in the refinery to provide electricity.
The ethanol produced from cellulose in processes like this would be a tremendous leap forward in the production of renewable fuels.
Published 18 October 2012
Raízen Group, Iogen Energy to develop cellulosic ethanol facility in Brazil
Brazilian sugarcane ethanol producer Raízen and Canada-based cellulosic ethanol fuel manufacturer Iogen Energy will collaborate together to develop a commercial cellulosic ethanol project in Brazil.
The collaboration will be the first step towards commercialization of cellulosic ethanol biofuels in the country.
By Susanne Retka Schill | October 17, 2012
Engineering begins on Iogen-based cellulosic plant in Brazil
Ottawa-based Iogen Energy Corp. announced an initial investment by Raízen Group to develop a commercial cellulosic ethanol project in Brazil. Raízen, a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and Cosan SA is the world’s largest producer of sugarcane ethanol. Iogen Energy, a joint venture with Shell and Iogen Corp., operates a demonstration facility in Ottawa where it has produced over 2 million liters (560,000 gallons) of cellulosic ethanol as it refined its process since 2004.
With the US ending both the tariff on imported ethanol and the tax credit for domestic blenders, cooperation between the US and Brazil on biofuel technology is increasing, as well as efforts to trade renewable fuels on global markets. (See my post at the end of last year)
Yes, we need to be ever vigilant on the possible effects of increased biofuel production on food availability and prices as well as on land use, soil and water quality, and related issues. In my doctoral dissertation, however, I examined these issues in depth and contend that increased production can occur along with protection of ecological health.
The cooperation discussed in the article below can lead to greater efficiency of renewable fuel production, using less land and less water to produce more fuel.
Energy is fundamental to economic growth, and as countries in Latin America and Africa increase their ability to produce renewable energy domestically, they create more jobs and better the lives of their people in ways that will improve economic as well as environmental conditions for generations. These are undoubtedly positive.
It is a fascinating time to be alive.
Insight: U.S. and Brazil – At last, friends on ethanol
By Brian Winter
BRASILIA | Fri Sep 14, 2012 11:21pm IST
(Reuters) – After years at each other’s throats, Brazil and the United States are working together to promote the use of ethanol in a collaboration that could revolutionize global markets and the makeup of the biofuel itself.
The breakthrough came in January when Washington allowed a three-decade-old subsidy for U.S. ethanol producers to expire and ended a steep tariff on foreign biofuels. The tariff, in particular, had poisoned diplomatic relations between the world’s top two ethanol-producing countries for years.
With surprisingly little fanfare, the US has ended the $0.54 per gallon tariff on imported ethanol. This comes at the same time that Congress also allowed the $0.45 per gallon of ethanol tax credit for blenders to expire, potentially opening the door to much more US importation of Brazilian ethanol, as well as cooperation between the two countries on more advanced biofuels. Brazil was the leading producer of renewable fuel until 2005 when US production of ethanol from corn surpassed production of Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol.
The article below is clearly biased, quoting two top officials from UNICA, Brazil’s powerful sugarcane industry association, without presenting views from American officials who have been opposing these measures as they work to protect domestic energy production and agricultural markets.
That said, decreasing government intervention has always been favored by this humble author, and the elimination of these barriers to trade should make for the more efficient functioning of energy and agricultural markets.
Cooperation between the two largest producers of renewable fuels could also lead to faster development of fuels from non-food crop residues such as corn stover, sugarcane bagasse, and other cellulosic feedstocks.
Congressional Recess Means the End of Three Decades of US Tariffs on Imported Ethanol
Time for the world’s top two ethanol producers, the United States and Brazil, to lead a global effort for increased production and free, unobstructed trade for biofuels, says Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association.
SAO PAULO, Dec. 23, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — For the first time in more than three decades of generous US government subsidies for the domestic ethanol industry, coupled with a steep tariff on imports, the United States market will be open to imported ethanol as of January 1st, 2012, without protectionist measures. The adjournment of the 112th Congress means both the US$0,54 per gallon tax on imported ethanol and a corresponding tax credit of US$0,45 per gallon for blenders, the VEETC (Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit), will expire as expected on December 31st.
This is promising. Whatever we may say about Monsanto (read more here), there are some smart people working there, and their investment in technology to use algae for biofuels shows there is some real promise in those efforts. The innovation needed to make this technology energy efficient and cost effective, however, is a long way off.
Cellulosic biofuels from crops with which we have great experience, such as corn and grasses, continues to face considerable barriers. First, while we have known for millennia how to ferment 6 carbon sugars such as glucose,we lack the experience and an efficient method to ferment the diverse, 5 and 6 carbon sugars in cellulose. To complicate matters further, unlike the sugars in cane or in the carbohydrates in corn, the sugars in cellulose are mixed in with lignin, the stiff, woody parts of plants that give them their structure.
Sapphire energy, the company discussed in the article below, will not likely ferment the sugars for fuels like ethanol, but will extract the oil to make diesel fuel. This process still faces barriers as formidable as those I discuss above, plus the added disadvantage that we don’t have proven methods to grow, harvest, and process algae efficiently.
You might be thinking, ‘the pond near our backyard grows tons of algae and we don’t even want it, how hard can it be?’ When we’re trying to grow enough to be used to power cars and planes, and in a small space with limited inputs of water and other form energy, it gets trickier.
It will take time to develop the methods to do all of this. It can be done, but let’s not figure that developments such as this give us license to continue using fossil fuels with our present, reckless abandon.
Innovation, yes, efficiency always.
Monsanto Backs Algae Startup Sapphire Energy
By Katie Fehrenbacher at Earth2Tech
Tue Mar 8, 2011 11:07am EST
Agriculture and genetics giant Monsanto has made its bet on algae. On Tuesday Monsanto announced that it has made an equity investment in, and developed a partnership with, algae startup Sapphire Energy.
Founded in 2007, Sapphire Energy uses synthetic biology to make a green crude out of algae that can be turned into gas, diesel or jet fuel. Monsanto wants access to Sapphire’s genetic research technology to use it for its own agricultural development. Using Sapphire’s genetic technology, Monsanto can isolate traits in algae (like high yields and stress traits) that could be used to tweak other crops. Monsanto’s CTO Robb Fraley said in a release that algae is an “excellent discovery tool,” for agricultural genetic research.
Read the entire article here.
Former Presidents Bush and Clinton are walking a fine line, balancing between taking advantage of the cost effective resources we have now, such as oil and gas, and the need to protect our energy security and natural environment for generations to come.
Two former presidents share many energy views
By JENNIFER A. DLOUHY and TOM FOWLER
March 12, 2011, 2:28AM
Oil will be essential for fueling the U.S. for decades to come, but low-emission natural gas and improved efficiency will bridge the transition to cleaner alternative fuels, business leaders, two former presidents and energy analysts said Friday.
Former President George W. Bush told a packed ballroom of energy executives at the CERAWeek conference that while the U.S. has a vision of new technologies to power our homes and propel our cars, the nation needs to be prosperous to afford them. And that prosperity, Bush said, is tied to oil and natural gas.
Although they have been political adversaries, Bush and former President Bill Clinton agreed that the U.S. should do more to harness the promise of natural gas, which produces fewer emissions than coal and oil.
But he cautioned that the nation needs to make sure that the hydraulic fracturing process, used to unlock vast stores of gas in shale formations, doesn’t contaminate drinking water supplies or create an accident that shuts down the industry the way last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill stopped most offshore drilling.
‘We’ve got to take action’
Big energy consumers said they are scrambling to offset spikes in crude prices and eke out more per barrel by boosting efficiency.
Read the entire article here.
Government investments in cellulosic biofuels may be paying off.
Not only do these advances move us closer to using grasses and other crops that require less water and fertilizer and compete less with food, it also moves us closer to the advanced biofuels that, unlike ethanol, can be used as drop in replacements for gasoline (read more here).
We need to combine these advancements with further efforts in conservation and efficiency, or we risk converting so much of the Earth’s biomass to serving human uses that we will decrease biodiversity to the extent that we risk further ecological collapse.
This doesn’t just diminish our ability to go camping in pretty places, it also threatens our supply of essential resources such as clean, healthy water and soil. I like to go camping, but I like eating and drinking healthy food and water even more. They’re really important, and clearing diverse forests and prairies so we can plant crops such as grasses, whether for fuel, food, fiber, or feed, poses risks to water and soil.
Energy Department Announces New Advance in Biofuel Technology
Highlights Opportunity to Reduce America’s Oil Dependence and Create Jobs in Rural America
March 07, 2011
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today congratulated a team of researchers at the Department’s BioEnergy Science Center who have achieved yet another advance in the drive toward next generation biofuels: using bacteria to convert plant matter directly into isobutanol, which can be burned in regular car engines with a heat value higher than ethanol and similar to gasoline. This research is part of a broad portfolio of work the Department is doing to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil and create new economic opportunities for rural America.
Secretary Chu added that: “America’s oil dependence—which leaves hardworking families at the mercy of global oil markets—won’t be solved overnight. But the remarkable advance of science and biotechnology in the past decade puts us on the precipice of a revolution in biofuels. In fact, biotechnologies, and the biological sciences that provide the underlying foundation, are some of the most rapidly developing areas in science and technology today – and the United States is leading the way. In the coming years, we can expect dramatic breakthroughs that will allow us to produce the clean energy we need right here at home. We need to act aggressively to seize this opportunity and win the future.”
Read the entire article here.
Of course times are tough. I tend to drive my car until the gas light comes on so I have to fill up less often, but then kick myself for driving so much as I watch the cost climb past $40 a tank. These are minor pains compared to the ones some folks are feeling, but even this light irritation is enough to make me want a fast change to whatever it is we’re doing, or not doing, in terms of making energy more affordable.
Patience is key. Jumping in to more drilling without taking the time to make sure it’s safe and efficient could cause as many problems, and increase total costs, as much as launching scads of new and often inefficient wind or solar projects.
Energy is expensive. Our government has helped it to be artificially cheap since early in the last century. This has lead to great advantages in our country, such as the great access most people in the U.S. have to everyday conveniences such as lights, heat, cars, buses, and airplanes. In most countries these aren’t nearly as accessible to people on, say, the bottom half of the socio-economic strata.
As Obama weathers the criticism from the right that we need to expand our use of fossil fuels, and from the left that more needs to be done to move us to alternative forms of energy, I hope that he and Secretary Chu continue their pragmatic approach, leaving the door open to more fossil fuels so long as they are safe, while also encouraging innovation and investment in alternatives.
More fence sitting, I know, but I believe this middle path is the best one.*
Obama Faces Bipartisan Criticism on Energy Policies
By Jim Angle
Published March 05, 2011
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell are questioning the Obama administration’s energy policies and arguing more should be done to develop domestic sources of energy. (AP)
With energy prices rising in part because of turmoil in the Middle East, lawmakers from both parties are questioning the Obama administration’s energy policies and arguing more should be done to develop domestic sources of energy.
“I don’t think the president’s position on oil and gas is as strong as it should be,” said Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, where the oil industry plays a large role in the local economy. “Oil and gas is an important industry in the United States today and it will be in the next decades.”
Many in the administration emphasize alternative forms of energy and some, including the president, have openly talked of the need for higher prices on oil and coal to make alternatives such as wind and solar more price-competitive.
Read the entire article here.
* I hope my post is fair and balanced. Not like the Fox version, but truly fair and truly balanced.
Processes such as innovation and competition are vital to enhancing world economies, but both of these are stifled in the world of petroleum. Either a place has oil, or it doesn’t, so there’s little place for either one.
True, there can be innovation in terms of the technology used to extract oil from hard to reach places such as the tar sands of Alberta or the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. But this is nothing like the innovation that is taking place in the competition to produce technologies that provide domestic, renewable, cost effective energy.
The article below highlights the pitfalls of our economies’ current dependence on an energy resource that is so subject to the swings we saw in 2008, when oil went from over $140 per barrel in August to only $40 in December. Petroleum’s centrality, its concentration in few places, such as North Africa and the Middle East, are further problems that should continue motivating us to find ways to reduce this reliance on a non-renewable resource.
Oil and the economy
The 2011 oil shock
More of a threat to the world economy than investors seem to think
Mar 3rd 2011 | From The Economist print edition
THE price of oil has had an unnerving ability to blow up the world economy, and the Middle East has often provided the spark. The Arab oil embargo of 1973, the Iranian revolution in 1978-79 and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 are all painful reminders of how the region’s combustible mix of geopolitics and geology can wreak havoc. With protests cascading across Arabia, is the world in for another oil shock?
Even without a disruption to supply, prices are under pressure from a second source: the gradual dwindling of spare capacity. With the world economy growing strongly, oil demand is far outpacing increases in readily available supply. So any jitters from the Middle East will accelerate and exaggerate a price rise that was already on the way.
By contrast, the biggest risk in the emerging world is inaction. Dearer oil will stoke inflation, especially through higher food prices—and food still accounts for a large part of people’s spending in countries like China, Brazil and India. True, central banks have been raising interest rates, but they have tended to be tardy. Monetary conditions are still too loose, and inflation expectations have risen.
Read the entire article here.