- Top 10 CleanTechnica Posts of 2011
- A Brighter, More Efficient New Year’s Eve Ball
- Switching to Renewables No More Expensive than Upgrading Fossil Power, Says UK Government’s Climate Change Scientific Adviser
- China and India Ineligible for Carbon Capture Funding?
- iPhone Maker Foxconn Getting into Solar Business — Solar Costs Set for Further Falls
- New CO2 Sequestration from Finland Yields Commercially Useful Materials
Posted: 31 Dec 2011 07:00 AM PST
I know we’ve got a lot of long-term readers here on CleanTechnica. Can any of you guess some of our top 10 most-viewed pieces of 2011? I’ll give you a few clues — 5 were in the Solar Energy category, 2 were in the Wind Energy category, 2 were in the Alternative Fuels category, and the top story was, well, a bit unique… it was filed under the Media and New Technology categories. OK, enough foreplay, here’s our Top 10 of 2011 list (based on pageviews):
If you missed any of those pieces, you might want to take a look at them — I think they’re all still worth a read.
I’m always curious if people have any favorite stories of the year. If you do, please drop us a note below!
Posted: 31 Dec 2011 06:00 AM PST
Nothing says “Happy New Year!” quite like the sight of the ball drop in Times Square. Later tonight, close to the strike of midnight, as the countdown begins to ring in the new year, millions of eyes will be on a glowing ball descending from amidst the bright lights of skyscrapers and signs above. As the glimmering ball drops, not only will it mark the beginning of 2012, but it will also make an electrifying statement with its lights decked out in energy-friendly LED fashion.
Philips Lighting has served as the official Lighting Partner to the world-famous NYE Times Square Ball for the past 12 years. This year, its light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs — 32,256 LUXEON LEDs — will illuminate the Times Square Ball, which is only fitting, as the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) will go into effect on January 1, 2012, marking the movement to replace the usage of energy-inefficient incandescent light bulbs in American homes with energy-efficient alternative sources of lighting. Under the new U.S. energy and lighting standards of the EISA, consumers may purchase a wide range of Philips LED bulbs for home use online and at thousands of retail outlets.
The same technology used in the Ball is also used in the Philips AmbientLED line of consumer light bulbs, which includes such innovations as the Philips 12.5-watt AmbientLED A19, the world’s first commercially available LED effectively able to replace the 60-watt incandescent bulb and the only to be Energy Star qualified.
Like the LEDs that light the glittering Times Square Ball, the commercially-available Philips AmbientLEDs consume up to 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. With such low energy use, that’s why the Times Square Ball will stay lit year round and why consumers can benefit significantly in electricity savings by making the switch to Philips LEDs. For example, if everyone in the U.S. transitioned to energy-efficient lighting in their homes, consumers would eliminate 87.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and generate energy savings of $15.8 billion.
Because of the popularity of LEDs and energy-efficient bulbs, the AmbientLED line is both affordable and practical for home use. With recent price reductions and the availability in many markets of instant utility company rebates, the price of Philips AmbientLEDs is lower than ever – further adding to its already significant economic impact.
So as you say goodbye to 2011 and welcome 2012, you can celebrate not only the beginning of a wonderful new year, but a greener, more energy-efficient one, too!
Posted: 31 Dec 2011 05:14 AM PST
Various arguments — some exaggerated, some plainly false — have been made over the years by those opposed to rapid expansion of renewable energy. They say solar and wind energy won’t work, or that they can’t supply consistent power, or that they can’t be expanded fast enough to meet our needs. Fortunately, one by one, improvements in technology have proven these arguments to be untrue.
Recently, though, another argument has been frequently heard: that renewable energy is too expensive. At a time of squeezed household budgets and rising fuel costs, support for renewable energy — whether through direct government subsidy or through feed-in tariffs that are effectively paid for by energy consumers — can be placed at a lower priority than keeping costs down. That’s at least part of the reason we’ve seen subsidies for renewable energy cut in Britain, the Netherlands, and elsewhere.
But according to a new study by the UK government’s chief scientific adviser on climate change, Prof David MacKay, switching wholesale to renewable energy won’t be any more expensive than replacing aging fossil fuel-driven power stations.
Prof MacKay, who’s the chief scientific adviser to the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, made the calculation using a nifty open-source analysis package he created called the 2050 Pathways Calculator. He estimates that the cost of converting the UK’s energy infrastructure to low-carbon sources by 2050 would be around £5000 per person per year. A more ‘business as usual’ approach, based on upgrading existing fossil fuel power stations and importing large amounts of gas and heating oil, would cost around £4600.
The calculator also lends some support to the argument that nuclear power is too expensive. A scenario based largely on expanded nuclear power costs around £5500 per person per year, making it amongst the most expensive scenarios.
Of course, none of the assessments offered by the calculator bear in mind the actual costs of climate change itself. The Guardian points out that the Stern review, the high-profile study of the economics of climate change published by the UK government in 2006, estimated that cost as equivalent to £6500 per person per year.
But, of course, the UK could take the low-carbon route and still face the additional climate change costs if other nations don’t do the same.
Then again, the calculator also doesn’t take into account other health and environmental costs that UK citizens have to pay for going to high-carbon route.
It’s ironic that David MacKay should be the brains behind this strong evidence in favour of strong support for renewables. He’s best known for a 2009 book, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, which itself argued that the UK couldn’t meet all its energy needs with renewables and needed to expand nuclear energy.
In fairness, though, it’s worth noting that other energy economists have questioned MacKay’s approach. Professor Dieter Helm, of Oxford University, told The Guardian that the similarity in costs between low- and high-carbon approaches that MacKay predicts “is indeed the result you get if you take conventional wisdom on fossil fuel prices and assume no major technical progress. But these are precisely the two assumptions which would make a difference.”
You can come up with your own carbon pathways for the UK at the Carbon Pathways Calculator website.
Posted: 30 Dec 2011 04:41 PM PST
It looks like China, India, Ghana, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and South Africa may be eliminated as eligible countries for Clean Mechanism Development (CDM) funding for Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CSS) projects, in negotiations at the Durban climate talks.
Unfortunately, these are among the very countries that need it most. These countries are now considered too developed to qualify as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and CDM funds are going to only be allowed for projects in the most undeveloped countries.
The EU, which is currently the largest funder of CDM projects that offset emissions at home, has said that beginning in 2013, they will only allow CDM-funded projects in LDCs. (Egypt and Morocco have been recipients of generous CDM funding from Europe, which has jump-started huge solar and wind projects that will ultimately make Morocco 42% solar powered, for example.)
Until the Cancun climate negotiations, only clean energy or efficiency was included in CDM projects. CCS was not even considered an eligible form of climate mitigation, and so thus was reliant on unreliable government funding that comes and goes.
But under the Kyoto Protocol, which was just extended till 2017 (or 2020) at Durban, CCS projects are included for the first time. (In 8 years, every nation will be bound in the same legal arrangement, so this rule will essentially just continue and expand after 2020, creating funding for CCS.)
The reasoning behind allowing CCS to qualify is that any new coal would then be cleaner (from a climate point of view) than what is on the grid now. Of course mining coal is still a filthy and dangerous endeavor for its many immediate health risks, but it is the combustion of coal that presents the real climate danger over the coming centuries, which is what the climate legislation deals with.
But after years of failed negotiations resulting in international inaction, the danger to the climate from a smothering blanket of CO2 has become more pressing as time goes on. Beggars can’t be choosers. Along with more sensible forms of clean energy, mitigating the climate impact of the inevitable burning of coal is now also essential.
The Saudis fought for including CCS as CDM-eligible, and finally got it at Cancun.Then this year, at Durban, the policy was refined to cover the risks associated with CCS; with an agreement to define rules on how to cover long term liability, the permanence of sequestration, and the risk of leakage.
But now, with CCS finally included, like any other CDM, it will only be allowed in true LDCs.
The irony? It has taken so long to include CCS under the Kyoto Protocol, that China and India, that would have been among the former least developed countries; now no longer qualify.
Posted: 30 Dec 2011 02:10 PM PST
In the clearest sign yet that solar energy is the ‘next big thing’ for high-tech manufacturers, Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn — which manufactures the iPhone for Apple, as well as a host of other well-known gadgets — is getting into the solar business. The company is to open a plant in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu devoted to manufacturing photovoltaic modules.
This is big news, because Foxconn is the world’s biggest electronics manufacturer. As well as the iPhone, it builds the PlayStation 3, Amazon Kindle, and Nintendo Wii. It’s the second biggest exporter in China. The entry of a company of this size into the rapidly-growing solar industry is likely to significantly increase competition and, as a result, reduce prices.
"Foxconn plans to build new factories with undreamed-of scale and lower cost," Bloomberg analyst Jenny Chase told Bloomberg Businessweek. “It will push capacity higher and prices lower."
Prices for solar cells have already been reduced more than 60% in the last year, Businessweek points out, in part because of the entry of low-cost Chinese manufacturers into the industry. And Foxconn, whose size enables it to operate on razor-thin profit margins, is likely to significantly undercut rivals such as Suntech, currently China’s largest solar exporter. Bloomberg crunched the numbers and found that Foxconn’s profit margin in the last quarter, 5.6%, was less than a third that of Suntech. That’s because Foxconn’s sheer scale means it can shave prices to barely-profitable levels but still make a boatload of money.
Cheaper solar modules are an undoubted good thing, environment-wise. They mean cheaper solar energy installations, which means more solar installations. But this announcement could be bad news for the US solar industry, which has already been reeling from rapid reductions in solar prices — a trend encapsulated by the bankruptcy of California-based Solyndra in September.
Plus, there’s the issue of working conditions. Foxconn has been plagued by worker suicides in recent years, leading to widespread concern about its low pay and barracks-like worker accommodation.
The precise details of Foxconn’s plans are as yet unclear. The company didn’t even announce its solar project itself, preferring to leave it to the government of Funting county where the plant will be based. But it’s known that Foxconn plans to invest $30 million in the project to get started. Given that its business model revolves around scale, it’s likely that we’ll see that figure rapidly increase once production begins in May.
For more on the growth of China’s renewable energy industry, read US Wind Tower Group Files Dumping Complaint Against Chinese, Vietnamese Manufacturers.
Posted: 30 Dec 2011 12:16 PM PST
The Finnish physicist Matti Nurmia has patented a different type of CO2 sequestration with real commercial potential, using very little energy in the conversion process and creating byproducts with high commercial value. His firm, Cuyha Innovation Oy (Oy means company) converts acidic CO2 into harmless bicarbonates.
Nurmia’s process differs from carbonization, where CO2 is neutralized with carbonate minerals such as limestone, the way that companies like California’s Calera are making cement with sequestered CO2. But Cuyha is sequestering CO2 in Feldspars, a group of rock-forming minerals, by washing the flue emissions with water at a very high pressure.
The process creates salable byproducts (depending on which feldspar is employed) of lithium carbonate ($10 a kg) or alumina (worth about $300 a ton) or quartz sand.
Neutralizing 1 ton of carbon dioxide with anorthite produces about 1 ton of alumina plus 1.3 tons of quartz which sells at about $70,000 a ton. (But of course, it costs money to mine and move the feldspar too, so it’s not pure profit.)
One ton of coal produces 2.9 tons of CO2 (this sounds nonsensical, but in combining with oxygen, carbon adds weight to become CO2; see how at Coal Combustion and Carbon Emissions at EIA), which will require 9 tons of anorthite to catalyze it and should yield about 3 tons of alumina. If albite feldspar is used, it takes more: 17.3 tons of feldspar to get the same 3 tons of alumina from 1 ton of coal.
Cuyha’s patented process captures CO2 from flue gas by cooling the flue gas and pressurizing it in a turbo compressor with water injection, essentially washing it with water.
“If the flue gas contains 16% CO2 , the CO2 partial pressure at a total pressure of 5 bar is 0,8 bar. A ton of water at +50 will dissolve 2.4 kg of CO2 from the gas. The dissolution takes place in column 23 into which cold water is sprayed from connection 12. The flue gas exiting from column 23 is warmed in heat exchanger 21 and expanded in turbine 26 to recover part of the compression energy.
The CO2 solution exiting from column 23 is passed into neutralization tank 24 filled with crushed feldspar. From there the neutralized solution passes into settling tank 25, where the insoluble aluminum compounds settle. The solution can then exit the process or it can be recycled into the CO2 dissolution process.
In order to keep the amount of water needed for the dissolution within reasonable limits, the partial pressure of CO2 should be sufficiently high, in practice at or above 0.4 bar”.
To reduce the water used, the bicarbonate solution can be recycled, and the two processes can be combined to take place simultaneously in a container filled with crushed rock.
The amount of water required in the process can be reduced by recycling a part of the bicarbonate solution formed back to the neutralization process. The dissolution and neutralization processes can also be combined to take place in one container filled with crushed rock.
The feldspar itself would have to be mined and shipped, so it would preferable to site new coal power plants or cement factories (that produce the most CO2) near feldspar formations, or to use pipelines to ship the CO2 to the feldspar mine for neutralization after the high pressure washing process that separates out the CO2 at the source. (Even though coal is about $100 a ton, it is frequently shipped hundreds of miles by rail to where it is burned, and about 15,000 tons is burned every day in an average sized coal plant.)
With Durban’s new (and first ever) international agreement on carbon reduction that is set to take effect within 8 years internationally, carbon capture will be key for those nations, China, South Africa and the US, that are big coal burners and had formerly resisted emissions reduction agreements for this reason. Carbon capture has for the first time been included as a permissible offset under the Clean Development Mechanism, under which polluters in Kyoto Protocol nations can invest in emissions reductions in developing nations to meet targets.
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