Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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The Power of.. Solar Power (Infographic)

Posted: 26 Oct 2011 11:49 AM PDT

A small solar installer in Maryland, solargaines, provided me with this interesting solar power infographic yesterday. Definitely thought is was worth sharing. Of course, this is all about solar power, in general. If you’re actually interested in the cost of solar panels in Maryland, you can check out their site. [No, I'm not getting anything for this,... in case you were wondering.]

Maryland Solar Panels

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Nissan Leading Charge Toward Zero Emissions

Posted: 26 Oct 2011 08:00 AM PDT

Nissan Aims for Lower EmissionsAlready having made waves with the popular Leaf, automaker Nissan Motor Co announced plans to launch a hybrid vehicle in 2015 as part of a new 5=year environmental plan. All research and development will be conducted in-house, according to Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn.

Nissan's investment in environmental technologies is supposed to be 70% of its investments – about 300 billion yen (around $3.9 billion USD) – as regulations for emissions and fuel consumption grow stricter worldwide. Its aim is to achieve 35% improvement in fuel economy (on average, for all of its vehicles in Japan, China, Europe, and the United States) when compared with 2005 with the new technologies they're planning to develop.

Hybrids, EVs, and Fuel Cells, Oh My!

Fuel economy isn't Nissan's only goal, though. Nissan and its alliance partner Renault SA are aiming to lead the zero-emissions charge with the sale of 1.5 million battery electric vehicles by March 2017, but research and development don't come cheaply. Those costs will be shared by equity partner Daimler AG, with plans for not only battery electric vehicles and the aforementioned hybrid, but also fuel cell vehicles.

In a news conference, Ghosn said:

“When you combine the research and development budgets and the investments of these three companies you have the largest one in the industry. Nobody matches us.”

With such spectacular resources at hand, if Nissan doesn't come up with an equally spectacular product, I for one will be massively disappointed. (And probably buy a SmartCar instead.)  What would you like to see from Nissan, Renault, or Daimler AG? Let us know in the comments, below.

Source: Reuters | Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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Pilot Program for EV Charging in Virginia

Posted: 26 Oct 2011 07:00 AM PDT

A new pilot program encouraging electric vehicles was recently unveiled in Virginia, as one of the state's largest electricity suppliers — Dominion Virginia Power (DVP) — is now offering special rates to EV owners charging their vehicles overnight.

Given its relatively high number of first-gen HVs, Virginia could also adopt EVs just as enthusiastically. Dominion is betting on it – in fact, it’s said that by 2020 there could be as many as 86,000 EVs in Virginia. If those vehicles are charged during the day, the increase in amount of electricity demand wouldn't be insignificant.

Late Night, Cheap Electricity

The pilot program is in part meant to test whether customers could be persuaded to charge during off-peak hours in exchange for cheaper power. Since late at night and super early in the morning are usually the off-peak hours for electricity consumption, rates are often lower during such times. It's been said that running your major appliances during off-peak hours is an easy way to lower your electric bill, and a battery electric car certainly counts as a major appliance.

Kenneth D. Barker, vice president for Customer Solutions and Energy Conservation said:

“This pilot program provides electric-vehicle users an option to help them manage their vehicle charging costs. Knowing that customers will charge their vehicles at night when power demand is at its lowest will enable us to plan accordingly.”

DVP’s Two Options

  • Electric Vehicle Only
    The EV only option includes a second meter installed in the customer's home, hooked up to the circuit where the EV is charged.
    Cost:

    • $0.54 overnight charging (approximate) per night
    • $2.90 service charge (for second meter) per month
  • Whole House
    The Whole House option claims lower electricity prices overall, with reduced rates overnight. The standard meter is replaced with one that records energy use in 30-minute intervals.
    Cost:

    • $0.56 overnight charging (approximate – varies by season)
    • $?? Rates for other appliances also adjusted based on season and peak/off-peak hours.

If the customer doesn't adopt the new plan, DVP estimates about $1.10/night to charge the EV at the standard rate of $0.11/kWh – but only 750 participants will be selected for each option.

Are you in Virginia? Considering enrolling? Would you move to Virginia for cheaper electricity? (I probably would not.) Let us know in the comments, below.

Source: PR Newswire | Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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Fuel Cell-Coal Plant CO2 Capture: Clean Tech Breakthrough or Ill-Conceived Diversion?

Posted: 26 Oct 2011 06:31 AM PDT

Graphic courtesy of FuelCell Energy

Connecticut’s FuelCell Energy recently received an award from the Dept. of Energy (DOE) to employ its patented Direct FuelCell (DFC) technology in building a pilot demonstration CO2 capture system attached to a coal-fired power plant. This third post on the project – see Parts 1 & 2- explains the way the system is designed to work and what the project aims to achieve.

Back in August, the DOE announced $41 million of funding to help further develop and test 16 advanced post-combustion coal plant CO2 capture technologies. FuelCell Energy’s DFC-coal plant CO2 capture system was one of the 16 projects to win an award.

The DOE’s primary target objectives are straightforward and the same for all the projects receiving funding: capture at least 90% of the plant’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions with no more than a 35% increase in the plant’s cost of electricity (COE).

If successful, the technology will not only turn out to be more efficient in terms of capturing CO2 from coal-fired power plants, it would do so as significantly lower cost than is otherwise possible at present. Additionally, it would add ‘clean’ electricity to the plant’s output, while also eliminating the plant’s N2O emissions, a greenhouse gas 300-times more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

How It Works

Here’s the basics regarding how FuelCell Energy’s technology is designed to work.

Graphic courtesy of FuelCell Energy

Post-combustion of processed coal to produce steam and electricity, the coal plant’s emissions – its flue gas – will be channeled and concentrated as it makes its way to the membrane-based carbonate DFC fuel cell system’s cathode intake.

The flue gas – typically anywhere between 5%-15% CO2, with the rest a mix of N20 and air – will be concentrated to the point that makes it much easier to siphon it off from the bulk of the air and nitrogen oxide (NOX) that makes up the plant’s flue gas emissions.

The air will continue to the DFC system’s cathode intake, where a catalyzed chemical reaction will take place that results in the production of oxygen that will be used in the fuel cell’s electricity production process. The nitrogen, along with excess, free oxygen, will be vented out of the system’s exhaust.

Ninety-percent (90%) or more of the now separated flow of CO2 gas will then either be captured as a gas or condensed into liquid form depending on whether it would be stored or sold on for industrial or commercial use.

At the other end of the fuel cell system, a stream of natural gas – methane (CH4) – will be channeled to the anode intake of the DFC system’s fuel cell stacks. On its way there, it will be mixed with water, in vapor form, and reformed, a process in which the methane will react with oxygen in the water vapor to transform the methane into CO2 and the virtually pure hydrogen (H) gas the DFC stacks needs to produce electricity.

Like the CO2 captured from the flue gas, 90% or more of the CO2 produced from methane reformation will be condensed and captured in gas or liquid form depending on whether it is to be stored or sold on for industrial or commercial purposes.

FuelCell Energy’s Value Proposition

FuelCell Energy director of investor relations Kurt Goddard supplied the equation for the chemical reaction that takes place at the DFC’s anode, which is also shown in the diagram preceding the previous section:

CH4 + 2H2O –> 4H2 + CO2

Goddard explained that at the 2.8 megawatt (MW) scale envisioned for the DOE project, the DFC process is about twice as efficient in terms of CO2 emissions per unit of electricity produced than a coal-fired power plant.

“For a 2.8MW fuel cell, the methane input is about 1000 pounds per hour, and the CO2 produced is about 2500 pounds per hour. A 2.8 MW coal plant would produce about twice as much CO2, because it is much less efficient and needs more carbon based fuel.

“In the carbon capture system, the coal plant's CO2 is mixed with the DFC plant CO2 and about 90% of the mix is separated out from the fuel cell waste stream as gas or liquid depending on how the CO2 is going to be used or disposed of.”

FuelCell Energy views the resulting gains in the efficiency of both capturing and avoiding direct CO2 emissions into the atmosphere and producing “ultra-clean” electricity as making the DFC system a potentially breakthrough technology.

“Here is the value proposition that we are trying to prove with the award,” Goddard continued. “We can capture 90% of the CO2 emitted by a coal fired power plant within the cost parameters specified by the DOE and we do this while also generating ultra-clean power rather than using power, which current CO2 capture technologies do.”

Net CO2 Emissions

Readers of past posts in this series questioned the benefits that would be gained by employing this technology on an industry-wide basis, as well as the conception of the DOE’s coal plant-CO2 capture program in the first place.

Notably, one of their main points was that they would not result in a net reduction of CO2 emissions. Put to Goddard, he responded, “A net reduction' isn't what the DOE is trying to accomplish nor are we. The goal is to efficiently and cost effectively capturing CO2 to prevent the release into the atmosphere.

“Fuel cells generate power very efficiently with substantially less CO2 output than a coal-fired power plant if the fuel cell is fueled with clean natural gas, and is typically classified as carbon-neutral if fueled by renewable biogas. We have a number of installations fueled by renewable biogas, including municipal water treatment facilities and a food processor, for example.”

With the assistance of comments from readers, as well as industry participants, I hope to continue exploring the merits and demerits of developing of an efficient, cost-effective method of capturing CO2 from coal-fired power plants’ emissions.

To be included is delving into the impact fuel cell-CO2 capture technology not only from coal plants but from other hydrocarbon sources might have in terms of energy economics, as well as on our evolving energy resource mix and on renewable energy development and growth.

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Clean Energy, Green Jobs and National Security are Next on the Chopping Block

Posted: 26 Oct 2011 05:04 AM PDT

republicans cut funding for renewable energy technology that could be used for national defenseFederal funding for advanced clean energy technology is due for a severe cut, as the House Majority has proposed axing the entire project funding budget for ARPA-E, the federal agency tasked with promoting next-generation renewable energy. The fallout from such a move, though, undermines the Majority’s interest in stimulating job creation and supporting national defense strategies; many of ARPA-E’s programs are geared toward creating new green jobs and supporting the U.S. military’s stated policy of transitioning out of fossil fuels.

House Majority Proposes Cuts to Clean Energy

The Majority (okay, so Republican) proposals are contained in an October 14 letter detailing recommended cuts to the Department of Energy and other science-related agencies. There is much to dispute, but for now let’s focus on ARPA-E, an agency within the Department of Energy (thanks to writer Susan Morrissey of Chemical & Engineering News for flagging this, by the way). Without providing examples, the Majority essentially shuts the agency down until “programmatic improvements are made to ensure that all awards fund truly high-risk research that industry is not likely to undertake.”

ARPA-E and Green Jobs

The ARPA-E recommendation puts the Majority squarely at odds with its stated interest in creating jobs. To cite just one example, last year ARPA-E targeted $100 million in funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency innovations, specifically focused on job creation. In particular, one area of focus for that funding round is the development of low cost, high efficiency heating and cooling systems designed with U.S. exports to developing countries in mind. That market is certainly one example in which private industry in the U.S. has already proved itself unable to compete over the long term, and the Majority recommendation simply pounds another nail in the coffin. How much more proof of industry fail do they need?

ARPA-E and the U.S. Military

The Majority recommendation also puts the Republican party squarely at odds with its longstanding tradition of straight-up support for the U.S. military. ARPA-E is modeled directly on a Department of Defense agency, DARPA, which has the same basic mission: to provide support for projects that advance technology into the next generation. The two agencies are closely intertwined; to cite just one example, this year ARPA-E showcased a landfill gas-to-energy technology called Powerstation, which could be used to provide hyper-local renewable energy for military facilities.

An Energy Policy that Undercuts National Defense

Getting U.S. military facilities off-grid is a national defense priority, underscored by the recent formation of the Army’s new Energy Initiatives Task Force, which is designed to get more utility-scale renewable energy projects in the pipeline. The goal is to get a safer, more secure, more reliable, and more affordable energy supply to U.S. military facilities and their host communities. Cutting funding for programs that move this goal forward doesn’t seem like the most obvious way to support our troops, but hey, maybe the Majority knows something we don’t.

Photo credit: Portable solar power for U.S. military, courtesy U.S. Army Africa on flickr.com.

Twitter: @TinaMCasey

 

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