Thursday, December 22, 2011

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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U.S. Army Goes All Jay Leno on Cyclone Biofuel Steam Engines

Posted: 22 Dec 2011 07:50 AM PST

Cyclone Power develops biofuel steam energy for US Army tanksThe U.S. Army is developing high tech steam engines that can run on biofuels, and not just for show. The steam engines, manufactured by Florida-based Cyclone Power Technologies, Inc, will be used in combat vehicles including the Arbrams M1 Main Battle Tank. That might not be quite what notorious steam engine fan Jay Leno had in mind when he started advocating for a steam power renaissance, but the Army’s interest in steam is part of a full-on push by the Department of Defense to untangle itself from its dependency on fossil fuels and reduce its contribution to global warming emissions.

Steam Power for Combat Vehicles

The new Cyclone engines are being developed under a $1.4 million contract with the Army’s Tank Automotive Command. They are too small for powering a tank’s drive train – they’re designed as compact, 10kw auxiliary units – but they will save fuel by powering the vehicle’s systems when it is stationary, rather than running the main engines on idle. In addition to cutting down on pollution, noise, and fossil fuel consumption, the Cyclone will help save a few shekels for the Department of Defense by reducing wear and tear on the main engines. Cyclone Power Technologies won the contract in August to build a prototype with its licensee Advent Power Systems, and it has just announced that it has acquired Advent to streamline its eligibility for the next phase of the project.

The Cyclone Steam Engine

Cyclone’s engine is based on Rankine cycle (aka Schoell cycle) external combustion technology. It runs by heating and cooling water in a closed system, and because the combustion chamber is on the outside, it can run on just about any kind of fuel, even solar power.  In a recently published steam engine white paper, Cyclone Board of Advisors member (and retired Lockheed engineer) James D. Crank explains:

“The Schoell cycle steam engine offers massive starting torque, eliminating the need for a transmission in most cases. The combustion system already eliminates carbon particle emissions and virtually all NOx, as well as the other usual pollutants seen with any fuel burning IC [internal combustion] engine. The engine can provide true carbon neutral exhaust when burning pure bio algae and plant fuel oils, which it can do without any modifications to the combustion system or the other components. In past tests, the Schoell cycle has burned over a dozen different fuels without any engine modifications, sometimes using a mixture of different fuels…”

The Next Step for Alternative Fuels and the Department of Defense

Crank is careful to explain that much more testing is needed to get down to the nitty-gritty of how the engine performs in real world conditions, so a steam powered tank attack is way off in the future. In the meantime, all five branches of the armed services are

pushing forward with other alternative energy projects. To name just a few, last year’s Indy 500 showcased a new Army diesel-electric vehicle, and the Army is also tricking out Abrams tanks with fuel cells to cut down on fossil fuel consumption. Not to be outdone, the Marines’ new biofuel engine is also based on external combustion technology, the Air Force’s camelina biofuel is performing brilliantly in demonstrations, the Coast Guard is getting under way with a biodiesel study, and the Navy is developing an entire Green Fleet that can run on bio-just-about-anything, including chicken fat.

Image: M1A1 Abrams tank,  some rights reserved by United States Forces – Iraq.

Follow on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.


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Wind Energy Jobs for 37,000 Middle Class Americans Threatened by Congress’ Inaction (VIDEO)

Posted: 22 Dec 2011 07:46 AM PST


This post was originally published on Climate Progress and has been reposted with permission.

Yet again, Congress has been unable to extend vital tax credits for the wind industry, causing incredible uncertainty in the fast-growing wind sector and threatening thousands of jobs across America. With the production tax credit set to expire next December, manufacturers are already seeing a cut back in orders and developers are thinning their portfolios. Wind companies need clarity on future investments, and a looming tax credit expiration hurts business.

A new study released this week by Navigant Consulting and prepared for the American Wind Energy Association finds that an expiration of the production tax credit could cause the loss of up to 37,000 jobs.

So who are the American workers with jobs in the wind industry impacted by political inaction? And what do they have to lose?

Center for American Progress video producer Andrew Satter traveled to Iowa and spoke to people working in Iowa's wind industry – a sector that enjoys strong bi-partisan support, maintains over 3,000 jobs, and generates $50 million in revenue for the state each year.

That economic activity helps support middle-class workers like Nathan Crawford, a wind technician with Alliant Energy who tells us how much he enjoys his job.

"It's pretty cool that I get to do this every day," says Crawford. "The wind industry has been able to bring me and my wife back close to home."

But with national political leaders dragging their feet, they threaten these good-paying, middle-class jobs in America's heartland. That is the true price of inconsistency in the clean energy policy.

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Nissan’s Next EV — What Should/Will It Be?

Posted: 22 Dec 2011 07:40 AM PST

In another full repost from clean car lover Chris DeMorro over on sister site Gas2, here’s Chris on what Nissan’s next EV should and might be:

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Tesla Model S Prices Out

Posted: 22 Dec 2011 07:35 AM PST


Yes, the moment many clean car lovers have been waiting for… Tesla has released prices for its new family car. Our car-loving friend Chris DeMorro over on sister site Gas2 has more:

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Finnish University Team’s New Fuel Cell Manufacturing Method Cuts Catalyst Cost 60%

Posted: 22 Dec 2011 07:35 AM PST

Photo courtesy Aalto University

Researchers at Aalto University in Finland have developed a new way of manufacturing fuel cells much more cheaply than those currently in use, according to a university news release.

Though they’re used to produce electricity rathter than store it, fuel cells are similar to batteries in design and structure. The electrochemical reactions that take place inside fuel cells that produce electricity require coating their anodes with a catalyst. In the case of proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells used in vehicles, that’s typically been platinum in a very fine powder form, which adds significantly to their manufacturing cost.

Rather than coating the fuel cell anode with platinum, Aalto University researchers’ new approach entails using atomic layer deposition (ALD) to coat them with another corrosion-resistant noble metal – palladium. An ounce of nearly pure palladium currently sells for less than half that of platinum. Adding to potential cost savings, Aalto University’s ALD method requires 60% less catalyst than currently used methods.

“Researchers haven’t been able to achieve savings of this magnitude before with materials that are commercially available,” Aalto University Docent Tanjz Kallio said.

The PEM fuel cells in use in a growing range of vehicles today use hydrogen as a fuel. The Aalto University research team is also working on improving fuel cells that use ethanol or methanol for fuel. It’s also possible to use palladium as a catalyst in these fuel cells, according to the research team.

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20% of Germany Electricity from Renewable Energy in 2011 (& 4.8% Drop in Energy Consumption)

Posted: 22 Dec 2011 07:31 AM PST


German energy consumption (click to enlarge).

I wrote just the other day about 2 natural gas plants totaling 1 gigawatt in capacity that are likely to soon be shut down because of the tremendous amount of wind energy on the grid in northern Germany, where they’re located. More news out of renewable energy leader Germany is that the country got 20% of its electricity from renewable energy sources in 2011, and that it’s energy consumption dropped 4.8%.

“German consumption of oil fell 3%, gas by 10.2%, lignite coal by 0.7% (although hard coal rose 3.7%), and nuclear by 22.9%. At the same time, use of renewable energy climbed by 4.1% and represented about 20% of the country's electricity and 10.8% of total energy in 2011,” Stephen Lacey reports over on Climate Progress.

“An increase in residential and industrial efficiency combined with milder temperatures in 2011 provided the conditions for the decrease in consumption.”

But aside from these numbers, there’s still the big (false) threat that certain energy players and politicians try to push — the (false) idea that switching to renewable energy and increasing energy conservation will harm the economy. Here’s Stephen’s statement on that:

Analysts expect German GDP growth to be around 3% in 2011, about the same projected for the U.S.”

Poor Germany — clean air, clean water, a clean conscience, and no price to pay for it.

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UK Court Rules Cuts to Solar Subsidies “Legally Flawed”

Posted: 22 Dec 2011 12:50 AM PST

rooftop solar panels

Last week, we told you how a coalition of organisations led by the large UK NGO Friends of the Earth had gone to Britain’s high court to try to stop cuts in the UK’s subsidies for solar power. The feed-in-tariff, or minimum price for solar energy,  is set to be cut by around 50% after a government review due to conclude later this month. But the UK’s coalition government has said that any cuts that are ordered would affect all solar power equipment installed after December 12 — before the decision to reduce the tariff has officially been made.

Today, the high court has sided with Friends of the Earth and ruled that the government’s proposals are “legally flawed.” The government is “proposing to make an unlawful decision,” the judge said.

Confusingly, that doesn’t mean the cuts will necessarily be prevented or postponed — but it does mean they’ll be subjected to a full judicial review, and some sort of postponement looks likely.

Friends of the Earth director Andy Atkins said: “These botched and illegal plans have cast a huge shadow over the solar industry, jeopardising thousands of jobs. We hope this ruling will prevent ministers rushing through damaging changes to clean energy subsidies – giving solar firms a much-needed confidence boost.”

Feed-in tariffs are one of the world’s most effective methods for supporting renewable energy, guaranteeing producers a minimum price for their energy without direct subsidies from taxpayers. (The extra cost is passed on by utilities to customers, which encourages energy efficiency as well.)

But the significant decline in the cost of solar power installations in recent years has meant that the cost of producing solar power is less. If the feed-in tariff price remains the same, that effectively means the subsidy has increased. So it’s not surprising the UK’s government is planning to cut the tariff.

But the ham-fisted way they’ve gone about it has not only been criticised by the court, but even by the government’s own MPs. “There is no question that solar subsidies needed to be urgently reduced, but the government has handled this clumsily,” said Tim Yeo, chair of the UK’s energy and climate change parliamentary committee and a member of the Conservative party that leads the coalition.

If the effective date of the cut is postponed, it’s likely to lead to a last-minute rush in solar installations. Earlier this month in the lead-up to December 12, the government website where people register their installations crashed from the weight of user visits.

Original report: The Guardian | Solar Panels on Home via shutterstock

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All Airlines Flying In & Out of EU Will Be Charged for Carbon Emissions, Court Decides

Posted: 21 Dec 2011 04:14 PM PST


Whether or not all international airlines can legally be charged for its carbon emissions when flying in and out of the EU has been a hot topic for awhile. The US (in particular, the Air Transport Association of America, American Airlines, and United Continental) contested this EU legislation and brought it to court, but the news today is that the EU’s highest court has given unreserved backing to the law.

I think I first wrote about this law in August, 2009, when the EU released a 94-list of the airlines that would have to comply with it, but the law was announced in 2008. In June of this year, Susan wrote on the US and China’s last-ditch effort to contest the law. And another CleanTechnica author discussed the topic in depth in October. But, back to the news today.

What Does the Airlines Law Mean? Is It Legal?

According to the law and the court’s backing, all airlines flying into our out of EU airports will have to carbon emissions permits under the EU’s emissions trading scheme… starting in less than 10 days now here in Europe — on January 1, 2012.

“The directive including aviation activities in the EU’s emissions trading scheme is valid,” the European court of justice announced in a statement.

“Application of the emissions trading scheme to aviation infringes neither the principles of customary international law at issue nor the open-skies agreement.”

As noted in the October piece above, the law was deemed legal by experts back then and this decision was expected. And The Guardian notes:

“Wednesday’s ruling was in line with expectations after a senior adviser to the court issued a preliminary opinion in October finding the EU legislation did not infringe the sovereignty of other states and was compatible with international agreements.”

There is some flexibility in the law, and some decisions not finalized.

At the start, airlines only have to cover 15% of the carbon they emit (they get “free allowances” for the other 85%). Additionally, if incoming flights are coming from a country that has policies in place to cover the carbon emissions of the airlines internationally, they will be exempted.

The EU projects that if airlines pass these costs on to passengers, costs could go up €2 ($2.60) to €12 ($15.65) per passenger.

Rising Carbon Emissions and EU’s Leadership

The Guardian also notes that while emissions from all other many sectors have been falling for years in the EU due to its cap and trade system, they have doubled since 1990 in the airlines sector and could triple by 2020.

While, under the Kyoto protocol of 1997, aviation emissions were supposed to be cut through the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation, nothing has been achieved in nearly 15 years and the EU decided it was time to act unilaterally.

US Still Pushing for the EU to Change Course

The US, full of Congressional leaders who don’t understand (or don’t care) that lack of action on global warming and climate change will create (and already is creating) a much less human-friendly world, has some members of Congress proposing to make abiding by the airlines law illegal. Wouldn’t that make for some fun? (Not!)

But that pressure isn’t only coming from the Republican party. “In a letter sent to EU officials last week, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the US secretary of transportation, Raymond LaHood, urged the EU to reconsider and re-engage with the rest of the world.”

Nonetheless, the EU doesn’t look like it’s likely to change course.

“I cannot imagine a situation where the European parliament amends legislation just because of pressure from China or the United States,” Peter Liese, a German Christian democrat who led discussions in the European parliament, said. “We (in Europe) represent 500 million people and the biggest market in the world.”

Airplane via shutterstock

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White House Finalizes Crucial Mercury/Air Pollution Standards

Posted: 21 Dec 2011 03:34 PM PST

Yes, finally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized important air pollution standards that will protect the health of countless Americans. The standards will help to reduce mercury, arsenic, acid gas, and cyanide, among other things, from power plants.

“By substantially reducing emissions of toxic pollutants that lead to neurological damage, cancer, respiratory illnesses, and other serious health issues, these standards will benefit millions of people across the country, but especially children, older Americans, and other vulnerable populations,” the White House notes.

“Cumulatively, the total health and economic benefits to society could reach $90 billion each year.”

Of course, organizations and citizens around the country are thrilled with this announcement.

“Since toxic air pollution from power plants can make people sick and cut lives short, the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are a huge victory for public health,” said Albert A. Rizzo, M.D., National Volunteer Chair of the American Lung Association, and pulmonary and critical care physician in Newark, Delaware. “The Lung Association expects all oil and coal-fired power plants to act now to protect all Americans, especially our children, from the health risks imposed by these dangerous air pollutants.”

21 Years of Delay..

The sad news is that it has taken over two decades to put these rules in place!

“The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments required the tighter standards on power plants in an effort to reduce toxic emissions in communities across the country. However, big polluters have fought for and won delays for more than 21 years,” the American Lung Association notes.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has more on this:

I commend the Environmental Protection Agency for doing the right thing, under tremendous special interest pressure, in standing up for the public’s interest…..  Finally, after 20 years of dodging regulation, coal- and oil-fired electric power plants, the largest contributors of these toxics, will be held accountable for the pollution they emit, just as many other industries are….

Pollution control technology is already widely available, affordable, and in use at many plants nationwide.  We cannot allow outdated technology to endanger lives and stifle the innovation, investment and productivity that new technologies offer.  It is time for those older power plants that have failed to install this life-saving technology to catch up with the 33 percent that already comply with all of EPA’s emission limits, and with the 60 percent that already comply with EPA’s mercury limit.

coal power plant toxic emissions standards rule

The Facts, Please

How much will these new standards help U.S. citizens? Here are some stats from the White House on what the rule will prevent:

  • Up to 11,000 premature deaths;
  • 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis;
  • 4,700 heart attacks;
  • 130,000 asthma attacks;
  • 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits; and
  • 540,000 days when people miss work or school.

Another important one: “for every one dollar we spend to reduce pollution under these standards, American families will see up to $9 dollars in health benefits.

Ironically, amidst all the wonderful praise I ran across for the new standards today, I also ran across a statement bashing them from the CEO of the “American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.” Clean, indeed. Only 21 years of lobbying kept us from cleaning up the mercury, arsenic, cyanide, and acid gas from our coal and power plants and a “clean coal” coalition still thinks we shouldn’t do it. How that guy sleeps at night is a true wonder to me. Luckily, thousands or even millions more will sleep better due to these new rules and their effect on our air, water, and health!

Coal Power Plant via shutterstock

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US Foods Lighting Retrofit Cuts Energy by 8%

Posted: 21 Dec 2011 02:25 PM PST

US Foods recently announced it will save an additional 2 million kilowatt hours (kWh) by retrofitting lighting throughout the organization. Since 2007, the company has decreased overall energy use by approximately 8% (34 million kWh) through lighting retrofits alone.

Lighting Retrofit

"We're exploring many more opportunities for energy savings throughout the company," Jepsen said. "Projects already slated for 2012 are expected to reduce our energy use by another 3 million kilowatt hours and further reduce our environmental footprint."

This past November, US Foods activated a 905-kilowatt, 3,934-photovoltaic-solar-panel system in its food distribution center in Phoenix, a Certified Green Business facility. The panel is expected to provide 15% of the division's annual power needs, generating, at peak, more than 1.5 million kilowatt hours annually. The new solar array marks the company’s third solar installation.

Source: US Foods
Picture: Precision Paragon

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