Sunday, February 6, 2011

Latest From : CleanTechnica

Latest From : CleanTechnica

Popeye Would Love this Sustainable Hydrogen Fuel Made from Sunlight and Spinach

Posted: 06 Feb 2011 05:00 AM PST

Oak Ridge researchers develop system for making hydrogen fuel from sunlight and spinachBreakthroughs in sustainable hydrogen fuel technology are coming fast and furious, and the latest one seems like something out of an episode of Popeye. Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have confirmed a system for converting visible light into hydrogen fuel based on an ordinary, off-the-shelf ingredient from the produce section of a local market: spinach.

Spinach and Sustainable Energy

Popeye aside, alternative energy researchers have long cast an envious eye on the ability of plants to convert sunlight into energy almost instantaneously. As reported by writer Sopan Take a few years ago, researchers at Oak Ridge have been developing ways to harness the photosynthetic capabilities of spinach for a long time. In the 1980′s, they patented a way to turn spinach membranes into miniature electrical switches. About 10 years ago, they worked with the University of Southern California on ways to use spinach proteins to treat certain forms of blindness. More recently they have been looking into ways of using a spinach protein to fabricate solar cells as a cheaper, renewable and more readily available alternative to silicon.

Spinach and Hydrogen Fuel

Oak Ridge writer Bill Cabage describes the latest breakthrough as a biohybrid photoconversion system. The researchers were able to confirm that a particular light-harvesting protein derived from plain old supermarket spinach can be induced to assemble itself into a membrane, by putting it into a liquid solution containing synthetic polymers. The protein, called LHC-II (LHC stands for Light Harvesting Complex) interacts with the polymers to form a membrane, which in turn produces hydrogen. In other words the membrane acts as a kind of photovoltaic cell, but instead of generating electricity it generates hydrogen.

Next Steps for Hydrogen Fuel from Spinach

Now that the basic process has been confirmed, the next steps will bring the researchers closer to developing a working model. Another potential hurdle to overcome is reducing the cost of the catalyst. Oak Ridge researchers have been using platinum, which is very expensive and is vulnerable to the vagaries of global markets. Conventional hydrogen fuel cell technology relies on platinum, but various less costly alternatives are on the horizon, so it is possible that the Oak Ridge research may benefit from these developments.

A Hydrogen Fuel Converter for Every Home

We’re probably years away from it, but this latest development brings us closer to the possibility of a compact, affordable hydrogen fuel generator that practically anyone could learn how to operate at home. After all, now-ubiquitous devices like the iPad aren’t too many years away from those huge rooms full of outrageously expensive equipment that used to be needed to run a simple computer operation. Saying good-bye to “yesterday’s energy” will be a long process but cleaner, healthier, alternatives are within sight, and it’s time to ask ourselves who really benefits from clinging to the past.

Image: Spinach leaf by stewart on

Cleantech Politics News of the Week

Posted: 05 Feb 2011 02:38 PM PST

Here’s a wrap-up of some of the good or big cleantech (and dirty tech) politics stories we didn’t cover from the last week or so, to complement our wrap-ups of big solar and wind energy news and other cleantech news.

Obama Says “Climate Change” Again

As I noted over on our sister site Planetsave a few days ago (and many others have noted), Obama has uttered the words “climate change” again.

After notoriously leaving "climate change" and "global weirding" and the fact that 2010 was the hottest year on record out of his 2011 State of the Union address, Obama recently made sure to mention it in a speech at Penn State University. Different crowd, I guess, one that believes in science and understands the scientific process.

Obama’s Energy and Climate Czar, Carol Browner, to Leave White House

In a shocking announcement, we found out that Carol M. Browner, President Barack Obama's energy adviser, plans to leave the White House soon. This announcement came just before Obama’s State of the Union Address. Any connection between it and Obama’s silence on climate change? We can only speculate… the official announcement said that she was happy with what would be in the speech.

"She will stay on as long as necessary to ensure an orderly transition," a White House official said. "Carol is confident that the mission of her office will remain critical to the president, and she is pleased with what will be in the [State of the Union address] and in the budget [next month] on clean energy.”

Fossil Fuel Industry Keeping Its Massive Energy Subsidies (So Far)

While Obama clearly stated in his 2011 State of the Union address that the extremely wealthy fossil fuel industry doesn’t need anymore tax breaks (“We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's.”),  the Senate has shot down the first attempt to cut these massive energy subsidies. As Bruce Alpert sadly starts a post on this matter, “The oil and gas industry, which beat back new regulatory bills even during the worst days of last year’s massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, scored another victory this week.”

And while oil prices continue to rise at a rapid rate, Americans struggle, Big Oil attacks clean energy programs in Congress that would significantly help to address those issues (and successfully kills many of them), the leading five oil companies in the U.S. actually raked in $1 trillion in profits i the last decade. Give those multi-millionaire and billionaire execs their tax loopholes and bonuses!…

EPA Strikes Back Regarding Attacks on Its Jurisdiction

While Republicans in Congress throw multiple attacks at the EPA’s legal authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson is striking back. Ben Geman of The Hill reports:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson on Wednesday attacked bills piling up in Congress that would block the agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and reiterated the White House veto threat.

Jackson, speaking to reporters, initially declined to address whether President Obama would veto bills that stop climate rules, but later said that past threats still stand.

As it clearly should.

How Would Cutting Rail Funding Hurt America’s Transportation Future?

Eric Jaffe of the INFRASTRUCTURIST delves into that and why the Republican Study Committee’s proposals to cut federal rail spending goes beyond ignorant.

China’s Starting to Kick Our Cleantech A**.. How We Can Get Back On Top

Kate Gordon, the Center for American Progrss’ Vice President for Energy Policy, touches on how China is leading the world in cleantech, how the U.S. can be more of a global innovation leader, and why the Republican Study Committee’s proposals totally undermine U.S. chances of doing so.

Low-Carbon Industries to Dominate China’s 5-Year, $1.5-Trillion(?) Investment Plan

Low-carbon investment is the name of the game these days if you want to dominate the global economy. China knows it, and is looking to put most of its chips on this. Conerning China’s new 5-year investment plan that may total $1.5 trillion, Reuters recently reported:

China envisages high-end equipment manufacturing, including high-speed rail and aviation equipment, becoming a pillar of economic growth alongside energy-saving and environmentally friendly technologies, biotechnology and new generation information technology such as telecoms and the Internet.

The other strategic sectors are alternative energy, advanced materials and alternative-fuel cars.

China is looking to go from the number two economy in the world to number one with this shift away from production of cheap goods to innovation, development, and production of cleantech.

Why the EPA Needs to Be Able to Regulate Carbon Pollution

To close out, the Center for American Progress had a great in-depth piece the other day on why the EPA needs to be allowed to regulate carbon pollution: EPA and Greenhouse Gases 101. Check it out.

Photo Credit: nasa hq photo

Other Cleantech News of the Last Week (or So)

Posted: 05 Feb 2011 02:28 PM PST

Along with earlier wrap-ups of cleantech politics news and solar and wind energy news, here’s a wrap-up of some other cleantech news of the past week or so.

Cleantech a Major Reason Why Siemens is Making So Much Money

Siemens has beating analysts’ projections of how much money they are going to make and is rolling in the dough. A big reason for that is its focus on cleantech such as clean energy and high-speed rail. Siemens is also reportedly planning to raise R&D research to record levels in 2011 to “harness clean-energy demand.”

World’s First Biodegradable Mouse

Fujitsu recently released what it termed the world’s first biodegradable and even the world’s first “green” computer mouse. Need a new mouse? Skip the plastic — go biodegradable.

Electric Vehicles to Get Louder?

A plus and a minus of electric vehicles is that they are extremely quiet. Why is this a minus? Because it can be dangerous for pedestrians, especially the visually impaired. There’s a push now to find ways of protecting pedestrians from these silent, green vehicles. Timothy Hurst of ecopolitology has more:

The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act directs the Secretary of Transportation to study and establish a motor vehicle safety standard that provides for a means of alerting blind and other pedestrians of motor vehicle operation.

What’s the Next Big CleanTech Thing in Europe?

This is the question. And there are a number in Europe invested in finding the answer:

Some of Europe’s leading venture capitalists have this week called on clean tech start ups from across the continent to submit applications for the chance to pitch to leading green investors.

The European Tech Tour Association, a not-for-profit organisation designed to promote emerging technologies, will this summer host its annual Clean Tech Summit in Geneva and is looking to name Europe’s top 25 clean tech firms.

Sony and WWF Announce Final Open Planet Ideas Winner

Here’s the news on this interesting project from WWF:

After three months of conceptualization, collaboration and evaluation, Sony and WWF have today announced that the GreenBook concept by Paul Frigout has been selected as the final concept to be taken through to realisation from the innovative community platform, Open Planet Ideas.

Reinventing community activism to attract the Facebook generation, 'GreenBook' is a cross platform software application. Geo-location and social gaming techniques are used to create a new method of informal, ‘flash mob’ volunteering, where friends locate each other and congregate to work together on short tasks. Individuals can post their needs and offer their services, as well as make donations, sign e-petitions, get information, win rewards for participation and share their stories.

New Computer Technology to “Revolutionize” Computer Memory and Green Data Centers?

Sounds good, yeah? Here’s some detail from BusinessGreen:

Scientists in the US have hailed a new “unified” computer memory as a “revolutionary” device to boost the energy efficiency of large-scale server farms and personal computers.

Researchers from North Carolina State University revealed a new memory device that merges slow and fast memory systems in February’s edition of Computer magazine.

Photo Credit: mattbuck4950

Solar & Wind Energy News of the Last Week (or So)

Posted: 05 Feb 2011 02:17 PM PST

Along with cleantech politics news and other cleantech news from the past week or so, here’s some news on wind and solar energy that we haven’t covered.

Ted Turner’s Solar Plant Begins Commercial Operation

Founder of CNN Ted Turner has announced that the 30-MW solar power plant developed and built by First Solar that he jointly owns has now started commercial operation. Here’s a little more from CalFinder Solar:

Built on more than 364 acres next to Turner's Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico, presumably on private land since the project faced no environmental-review hurdles, the Cimarron Solar Project will feed power to Denver-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a non-profit wholesale power dealer, and its 44 member electric cooperatives.

The project was first announced at the recent climate conference in Cancun and the electricity produced by it is expected to be enough to power 9,000 homes.

Go, Ted!

Department of Energy (DOE) to Cut Solar Costs by 75%?

That’s the news. DOE Secretary Steven Chu has announced a program to cut solar costs 75%. ”The U.S. Department of Energy said on Friday it will spend $27 million on a new effort to reduce the costs of solar power by 75 percent by the end of the decade in a bid to make the renewable power source as cheap as fossil fuels,” Reuters reports.

Chu is calling the program a “sun shot,” taking from President JFK’s “moon shot” of the 1960s, a plan to land a man on the moon.

World Completely Powered by Clean Energy Possible by 2050?

A new report just out by the WWF announces that “All of the world's energy needs could be provided cleanly, renewably and economically by 2050.”

The energy report took two years to prepare and goes into all energy needs, including transport.

"The report is more than a scenario – it's a call for action. We can achieve a cleaner, renewable future, but we must start now," said WWF Director General Jim Leape.

Global Solar PV to Double by 2015?

Global solar photovoltaic investment could hit $48-55 billion by 2015, potentially doubling current amounts, a report released by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association and Greenpeace announced last week.

"Solar photovoltaic technology has, for many years now, shown increased power efficiencies and cost reductions," said Ingmar Wilhelm, President of EPIA. "Today's cost predictions, driven also by economies of scale in light of global photovoltaic capacity, totalling 40,000 MW in 2010, show that the technology is on the brink of an economic breakthrough."

PV prices have dropped 40% since 2005 and are expected to drop another 40% by 2015.

Wind Energy (and Marine Energy) Jobs Nearly Doubled in UK, Despite Horrible Economy

While the overall economy was in the dumps, with UK employment dropping 3% in the last couple years, the UK’s wind and marine energy sectors went the opposite route during the same time. The UK wind energy sector grew 91% in this time. The sector saw an increase of over 4000 wind energy jobs last year. The wave and tidal energy sector also improved significantly.

Massachusetts Launching $1000 Solar Thermal Rebates

If you live in the sunny state of Massachusetts, now is the time to invest in solar thermal hot water panels. A pilot rebate program there will soon award an average of $1000 for two-panel systems there. With other big federal and state rebates available, now is a great time to jump on the solar thermal bandwagon in Massachusetts.

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