Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Solar Energy News Roundup (5 Stories)

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 07:16 AM PDT

Top solar energy news from around the interwebs (other than what we’ve covered):

60.4-MWp Solar Power Plant in Bulgaria. (PRNewsFoto/SunEdison)

1. SunEdison has announced the completion of a €155-million non-recourse debt financing arrangement with IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and UniCredit Group for SunEdison’s 60.4-MWp solar power plant in Bulgaria.

“SunEdison expects to complete the sale of the equity of this power plant in 2012…. Construction of the 60.4 MWp / 50 MWac plant began in September 2011, and it was interconnected in March 2012. Located in Karadzhalovo – a village in the municipality of Parvomay, about 160 km southeast of the capital city Sofia - the project covers an area of 100 hectares (equivalent to 100 football fields) and uses more than 214,000 solar modules.  In the first full year of operation, the system is expected to generate sufficient energy to power 27,000 homes and avoid 37,400 tons of CO2 - the equivalent of removing more than 7,000 cars from the road.”

2. First Solar has announced the commissioning of a 40-megawatt (MW), ground-mounted solar photovoltaic power plant in the state of Rajasthan. The solar power project will serve clean energy to Mumbai. The project was built in just five months, includes 500,000 First Solar thin-film modules, and is one of India’s largest solar power projects to date.

“Covering 350 acres, it is 23 times the size of Calcutta’s famous Eden Gardens cricket grounds and is expected to satisfy the annual electricity needs of more than 70,000 average Indian households. It will displace more than 60,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, the equivalent of taking more than 25,000 cars off the road.”

3. China Sunergy, a specialized solar cell and module manufacturer, has started “assembling solar modules in France through OEM cooperation with KDG Energy, a French manufacturer of high quality PV modules…. In October 2011, China Sunergy initiated OEM cooperation with KDG Energy. Both parties entered into a memorandum of understanding in November 2011, under which KDG Energy will manufacture solar modules for China Sunergy in France, under CSUN’s brand name. China Sunergy will send the required components to KDG for the fabrication of such modules.”

4. Renewable Resources Group (RRG) has received final Environmental Impact Review (EIR) approval for its 650-megawatt Antelope Valley Solar (AVS) project.

“AVS will span the Antelope Valley Water Bank, an underground water storage facility built by RRG. The solar project, RRG's first renewable undertaking, will necessitate water use for panel cleaning once or twice a year and for vegetation and dust management. That will, according to RRG, be a fraction of a farm's water use…. AVS's 36-month construction is expected to provide up to 650 jobs and a windfall of local business activity and revenue. Operations and maintenance will provide 15 permanent, full-time jobs for the life of the project. RRG has repeatedly promised to retain locals as employees, sub-contractors and vendors.”

5. GreenVolts this week announced “the availability of its solar energy management software for iPad® and iPhone® mobile digital devices…. The new ISIS™ Mobile is a natural extension of the Internet-based ISIS energy management software and enables unprecedented management capabilities for utility scale solar power plants.”

GreenVolts Announces ISIS™ Mobile for Solar Energy Management

“ISIS is the first true solar information network, where every module, motor, tracker, and inverter is part of a comprehensive network architecture that includes GPS and Wi-Fi. As a secure, cloud-based application, ISIS eliminates the need for users to maintain servers, back-up, disaster recovery, or software updates. Scalability is virtually infinite, software and data maintenance reduced to zero, and access is ubiquitous for the users.”

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Wind Energy News Roundup (6 Stories)

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 06:46 AM PDT

wind turbines news

Top wind energy news (other than what we’ve covered) from the past week or so:

1. GE’s GE Energy Financial Services unit and Enel Green Power North America have teamed up to commit common equity for a 51% ownership stake in the Chisholm View wind project, one of Oklahoma's largest wind projects. “The Chisholm View wind project is now under construction near Hunter, 85 miles north of Oklahoma City in Grant and Garfield counties, and is expected to cost approximately $375 million. Enel Green Power North America owns the remaining 49 percent of the 235-megawatt wind farm and serves as project manager…. The project will be completed later this year prior to the Federal Production Tax Credit deadline. It will use 140 of GE's 1.6-megawatt wind turbines and supply power to Alabama Power Company, a Southern Company subsidiary, under a 20-year agreement. The wind farm's developer TradeWind Energy, a strategic development partner of Enel Green Power North America, estimated that the Chisholm View wind project will contribute up to $5 million annually to the local economy via property taxes and rent payments to landowners, and create 150 construction and up to 15 permanent jobs. The project is expected to generate enough power to avoid more than 565,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year – equivalent to taking approximately 110,000 cars off the road – according to US Environmental Protection Agency methodology.”

2. Northwestern University researcher Harold H. Kung has found that the an Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is a more effective way for the government to increase the installation of wind power in Illinois than a Production Tax Credit (PTC). His findings and analysis have been published the journal Energy Policy. (Of course, a combination of the ITC and the PTC would be more effective at stimulating wind energy deployment than one alone.)

3. MidAmerican Renewables, a subsidiary of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, has completed acquisition of the 81-megawatt Bishop Hill II wind project from Invenergy Wind LLC . “This project, which currently is in construction in Henry County, Ill., will feature 50 General Electric 1.62-megawatt wind turbines…. Construction began in fourth quarter 2011, and Bishop Hill II is expected to be in commercial operation in fourth quarter 2012. Ameren Illinois will purchase the electricity from the project pursuant to the terms of a 20-year power purchase agreement.”

4. Finavera Wind Energy Inc. has announced environmental approval of its 49.6-megawatt Tumbler Ridge Wind Energy Project in British Columbia. “The $125-million project will be located 8 kilometres west of Tumbler Ridge. Once completed, the project will generate enough power to provide electricity for up to 18,000 homes. The 12 month project construction period is expected to generate 560 person years of direct employment, and the operational phase of the project is expected to create 188 person years of full-time direct employment.”

5. Boralex Inc. has announced the acquisition of an electricity supply agreement for a 50-megawatt wind power project in the Témiscouata Regional County Municipality (RCM) in Québec. “The 20-year contract was awarded in response to the Hydro-Québec Distribution 2008 call for proposals for 2,000 MW of wind power, and start up is slated for late 2015. Boralex plans to build the wind farm on land that is publicly owned by Saint-Elzéar-de-Témiscouata and Saint-Honoré-de-Témiscouata, and is adjacent to the community wind power project currently being developed by Boralex in partnership with the Témiscouata RCM. The RCM and the towns of Saint-Elzéar-de-Témiscouata and Saint-Honoré-de-Témiscouata have shown their support for the project by passing a resolution agreeing to construction of the wind farm on their territory.”

6. A Virginia offshore wind turbine may be first in US. Installation of the 5-megawatt (MW) prototype recently received state approval. “If it clears federal approval, the 479-foot tall Gamesa turbine will sit in 53 feet of water about three miles off Cape Charles in the lower Chesapeake Bay. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2013, meaning it could be in the water well ahead of Deepwater Wind's project off the coast of Rhode Island or Cape Wind's giant installation off Massachusetts in Nantucket Sound. First, the project will need approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and review by the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Image: wind turbines courtesy shutterstock


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370-MW Scottish Viking Wind Farm Gets Go-Ahead

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 06:25 AM PDT

scottish flag wind

Scotland finalized consent for a 370-MW(!) wind farm on Shetland, the government announced today. The wind farm is projected to power up to 175,000 homes and generate £30 million a year for the island community, and will be Scotland’s third-largest wind farm.

“The wind farm will allow the construction of an interconnector allowing Shetland to export electricity to the mainland, opening up further opportunities for the Islands to benefit from renewables, including community schemes and marine renewables,” the Scottish Government also noted.

“Viking wind farm is expected to bring an estimated £566 million of capital expenditure, and an annual income of £30 million per year to the Islands including £20 million to the Shetland Charitable Trust which will support projects such as community enterprises, community energy, skills and training, as well as around 140 jobs during the five years of construction and around 34 operational jobs.”

This project also marks the 50th renewable energy project that Scottish ministers have consented to since May 2007.

You might recall that Scotland aims to have 100% of its electricity coming from renewable energy by 2020, an outstanding target. I have seen no signs that it would miss that target, and many that it easily hit it.

Source: The Scottish Government
Image: Scottish flag blowing in wind illustration courtesy shutterstock

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Wind Turbine Prices Hit New Low

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 06:09 AM PDT

wind turbine prices low

As the prices of fossil fuel energy sources continue to rise, wind energy prices continue to fall. Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s latest Wind Turbine Price Index (WTPI) reports that utility-scale wind power equipment prices hit a new low in the second half of 2011. Prices dropped about 4%. BNEF writes: “contracts signed in the second half of 2011 for 2013 delivery fell to EUR 0.91m/MW ($1.21/MW), down 4% from six months earlier and well off their five-year high of EUR 1.21m/MW in 2009.”

Price drops were largest for older wind turbines, dropping to ”EUR 0.85m ($1.13m) per megawatt on average, down 10% from six months earlier.”

Chinese manufacturers led the competition, even in developing wind power markets across the world, such as Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Australia.

“The survey revealed procurement officers and turbine manufactures sharing a generally negative outlook on prices; most anticipate further moderate declines in turbine prices in 2012 and 2013. They don't expect prices to recover until at least 2014.”

Leading causes of the price drops are excess wind power equipment capacity and new low-cost competitors, such as new Chinese manufacturers.

"Short-term pain among wind manufacturers is now undeniable and unavoidable. But the current price slump is good news on the demand side as wind is more competitive with coal and gas on a dollar-per-megawatt hour basis, which is vital given ever-lower levels of subsidy and support,” Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, says. ”Those manufacturers which can achieve leading cost positions are going to be in a good strategic position when the market enters its next expansionary phase in a few years."

Here are some more details on what went into the analysis:

“The WTPI represents aggregated data collected on a confidential basis from 38 of the world's largest buyers of wind turbines. The sample includes information on more than 230 turbine contracts totaling nearly 10.6GW of contracted capacity – with a main focus on Europe and the Americas.”

Source: BNEF
Image: Wind turbine in process of installation courtesy of shutterstock

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Waste Haulers, Power Companies See “Green” in a Fast-Growing Waste-to-Energy Market

Posted: 04 Apr 2012 05:52 AM PDT


Graphic courtesy Hitachi Zosen Inova AG

Waste Management management’s says the estimated $12.3 billion in revenue it collects from hauling some 112 million tons of trash to landfills could be worth more than $40 billion a year…if it were to be used as a source of electrical power, transportation fuel and source of specialty chemicals. The potential to more than triple total revenue has lead management to aggressively pursue opportunities in the waste-to-energy space, an effort that’s being lead by Organic Growth unit senior vice president Carl Rush, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

Waste Management’s competitive advantage is that it effectively controls the US waste stream, which, given its size, already is a very sizable and lucrative asset. A host of present, interrelated trends is converging to drive the valuation of that asset much higher, however. Drives to increase global energy and resource efficiency, including cradle-to-grave product development, recycling and waste reduction, as well as transition from fossil fuels to clean energy resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions are under way. Their convergence in the present time spells opportunity for established and aspiring waste industry participants across the value chain, a development Waste Management executives clearly recognize.

Waste Management’s Waste-to-Energy Drive

Waste Management since 2009 has invested in eight waste-2-energy-and-specialty chemicals companies that are employing a range of methods and technology to turn waste into energy, including ones that use gasification, fermentation and bio-digestion.

"We don't think the future, long term, is going to be continuing to put everything in the landfill," Rush told Bloomberg Businessweek. "It's going to be recovering more value from this material. The customers will demand it, the struggle for resources will demand it, and quite honestly, economically, it's the thing we should be doing."

Waste Management doesn’t have any particular expertise in developing in new waste-to-energy technology, or investing in companies that do, for that matter. To date, it has acted primarily as a silent investor in companies that are developing waste-2-energy technology, Credit Suisse Group analyst Hamzah Mazari told BloombergBusinessweek. That opens up potentially lucrative opportunities for those that are doing so, if they can develop and prove the type of waste-to-energy systems Waste Management is looking for.

Waste haulers aren’t the only types of businesses that see “green” in the waste industry. Willingly or unwillingly, power companies and utilities are also active in the waste-to-energy market space.

SSE Capitalizing on Waste-to-Energy Opportunities

UK utility SSE this week entered into a 50:50 joint venture with Wheelabrator Technologies to develop a 300-million-pound (~$480 million), 68-MW multi-fuel waste-to-energy-and-heat facility at SSE’s Ferrybridge power plant in West Yorkshire. With construction slated to begin late this year and end in early 2015, the realizing the project will create hundreds of jobs during construction and more than 50 new full-time jobs when operational.

'Multifuel technology is a tried and tested way of generating clean, base-load power. This new multifuel plant will provide additional diversity to SSE's generation portfolio and make a useful contribution to ensuring we have reliable energy supplies for the future,” commented Paul Smith, SSE managing director of generation.

The SSE-Wheelabrator joint venture, Multifuel Energy Ltd (MFE), will own and operate the multi-fuel waste-to-energy facility, selling the electricity generated on to SSE. Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI), which has successfully built other multi-fuel power plants, is carrying out the construction.

For the plant’s feedstock waste, MFE is turning to 3SE, another SSE joint venture, this one with Shanks Plc. SSE and 3SE have entered into a long-term fuel procurement contract that will provide processed waste-derived fuels for the Ferrybridge multi-fuel waste-to-energy plant using waste taken from nearby communities. To convert the waste collected into fuels “3SE intends to develop a new Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) and Anaerobic Digestion (AD) facility,” which is expected to be operational come 2015, according to SSE.

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Facebook, NRDC, Opower, & 16 Utilities Team Up to Create Social Gaming App

Posted: 03 Apr 2012 04:57 PM PDT

opower facebook energy efficiency app

Facebook, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Opower, and 16 US utility companies joined forces recently to create a social energy app launched today.

“With an initial reach of 20 million households, the effort is one of the most significant to date, enabling people to take action and become more energy efficient,” NRDC said in a statement today. “Leveraging the Facebook platform, the app allows people to quickly and easily start benchmarking their home's energy usage against similar homes, compare energy use with friends, enter energy-saving competitions, and share tips on how to become more energy efficient.”

Want to give it a spin? Head on over to Opower, log in with your Facebook account (you can also connect without using Facebook), and explore. If you’re one of the 20 million customers serviced by the initial 16 utilities, you can also connect with your utility, track your energy conservation progress, and share your progress with friends and your Facebook acquaintances.

Not living in the US, I can’t explore much, but here are some more screenshots provided by NRDC and the crew to give you a feel for the inside, if you aren’t ready to go exploring yet:

Energy efficiency has huge potential in the US — it can help people save a ton of money and cut emissions considerably.

NRDC has found that “improvements in energy efficiency have the potential to deliver more than $700 billion in cost savings in the U.S. alone.”

Getting People Excited about Saving Energy, the Environment, and Money!

The challenge is how to create those savings, how to motivate people and stimulate those improvements. Social gaming, as I just wrote, and social apps like this are key to that.

"The level of enthusiasm we're seeing from people who are excited about getting better context about their energy use, and share—even brag—about their energy efficiency within their social networks is inspiring," said Dan Yates, CEO and co-founder of Opower. "It demonstrates a shift within the industry for how people expect to interact with their utility. Having meaningful conversations with customers using social channels will soon become common in the utility industry."

"Facebook was designed to enable people to connect, share and multiply their impact,” said Marcy Scott Lynn, Facebook Sustainability. ”This app is a powerful, easily accessible way for people on Facebook to do just that, inspiring conversations about really important topics – energy and the environment – that might not otherwise have taken place.”

"If every household in the U.S. cut back on electricity use by a mere 1%, that alone would cut more than $1.6 billion off of Americans' annual energy bills.  That's the same as taking more than 1.2 million homes off-the-grid all together," said Brandi Colander, NRDC Attorney, Energy and Transportation Group. NRDC's partnership support includes subject matter expertise, partnership development and promotion. "This important tool will enhance energy literacy, making our daily energy choices more transparent and empowering people to make smarter, more economical decisions."

App Based on Behavioral Science

The new app is based on behavioral science dating back to the 1980s, at least, which has found that word-of-mouth is a good way to get people to save energy. Simple, but effective.

“The application's concept derives from extensive social science research on human behavior change and energy use. Dating back to NRDC's Hood River Conservation Project in the 1980s—word-of-mouth proved to be an effective tool in encouraging people to use energy more efficiently. The application's use of this kind of behavioral science combined with energy information, and Facebook's global platform for connecting and sharing has the potential to create a dialogue and action about energy efficiency among hundreds of millions of people”

Participating Utilities

The utilities currently involved are:

  • Austin Utilities (Minnesota)
  • Burbank Water & Power
  • ComEd
  • Connexus Energy
  • Consumers Energy
  • Direct Energy (coming soon in 2012)
  • Glendale Water & Power
  • Loveland Water and Power
  • National Grid (New York and Massachusetts)
  • New Jersey Natural Gas (coming in 2012)
  • Owatonna Public Utilities
  • Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  • City of Palo Alto Utilities
  • PPL Electric Utilities Corp.
  • Rochester Public Utilities
  • Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC


What do you think? Will this blow up and make a big difference? Or will it make an important incremental difference at least?


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“Energy Battle” Cuts Energy Use 45%

Posted: 03 Apr 2012 04:13 PM PDT

medieval warrior armor

Gaming for good, and especially social gaming for good, is all the rage. And I think there’s a lot of good reason for that. People love to play games, but why not create games that help solve real-world problems at the same time?

It’s great to see more and more cleantech and energy conservation games popping onto the scene these days. One new one, Energy Battle, reportedly “can lead to household savings of up to 45% on electricity consumption and lead to better energy-saving habits.” That’s what a study published in the Journal of Design Research has found.

Here’s more from a news release on the study:

Daphne Geelen, David Keyson, Stella Boess and Han Brezet of Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands evaluated an energy-saving game in twenty student households that gives the occupants direct feedback on energy usage, ranking of the competing teams, tips and access to the Energy Battle game. The obvious aim is to find ways to reduce energy consumption such as switching off unnecessary lights, using energy-saving bulbs and unplugging electrical equipment rather than leaving it in standby.

During the Energy Battle, the student households were able to cut their energy consumption on average by a quarter through the gamification of efficiency. However, the most efficient household was able to cut their energy use almost in half (45%). Once the game was over, energy use in most of the households increased but remained below the baseline recorded prior to starting the game.

This looks promising. The researchers next want to find ways to extend this to the target population of households with children. My guess is that children would be even better at internalizing the energy saving habits and ethos and that this could have an even greater effect if developed well for that setting. I hope to hear more about “Energy Battle” soon.

Image: Lady in Medieval warrior armor courtesy shutterstock

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Clean Energy Policy News (5 Stories)

Posted: 03 Apr 2012 03:33 PM PDT

Some recent climate and clean energy policy news from the corners of the interwebs:

1. The “Hubei Province has started preliminary work with current investment of 8.5 million Yuan ($1.34 million) to set up 13 research groups on the carbon emissions trading study.”

2. Beijing’s electronic exchange for its pilot carbon trading scheme has officially been launched. “The carbon emission trading will officially start in 2013.”

3. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson met with “environmental leaders from more than 40 nations to discuss the Agency's international efforts on urban sustainability” in Paris last week.

4. South Korea is planning to invest $1 billion in its energy sector in 2012, largely in clean energy.

“South Korea will invest 1.08 trillion won (around 1 billion U.S. dollars) into research and development (R&D) for energy industry this year in a bid to secure fresh energy resources and brace for the possible accidents involving nuclear power plants, the economy ministry said…

“The funds will be spent for 19 energy projects divided into four divisions, including the development of energy resources, renewable energy development, nuclear power generation and radioactive waste treatment, according to the Ministry of Knowledge Economy.”

5. US airlines have dropped a lawsuit against the EU's new law which charges airlines for their carbon emissions, but that's not because the battle is over. The airlines are apparently hopeful that the US government will take up the matter for them.

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Transportation News Roundup (8 Top Stories)

Posted: 03 Apr 2012 03:20 PM PDT

So many stories have piled up in the past few days or so that I think it’s time for a few roundup posts. Here’s one on clean transportation:

1. Toyota reported today that its Prius model hit an all-time US sales record in March in the midst of high gas prices. “Camry and Camry Hybrid increased 30.5 percent year-over-year with its best-ever March, leading monthly passenger car sales with 42,567 units. The Prius family outsold every previous record posting March sales of 28,711 units, up 48.8 percent over the year-ago month…. TMS posted March sales of 38,215 hybrid vehicles, an increase of 49.0 percent compared to the same period last year. Toyota Division posted sales of 34,722 hybrids for the month, up 60.7 percent over the year-ago month. Lexus Division reported monthly sales 3,493 hybrids.”

2. BMW and Toyota are teaming up to work on next-generation lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, as I reported in December. Now, they’ve just finalized an agreement confirming the memorandum of understanding (MoU). “The research project being undertaken under the agreement is focusing on increasing the performance and capacity of lithium-ion battery cells through the use of new combinations of materials for cathodes, anodes and electrolytes.”

3. UPS is looking to deliver goods in a more eco-friendly way for the London Olympics with 10 new biomethane trucks (trucks that run off of biofuel from waste).

4. Electric Vehicles International (EVI) has launched a 500 zero emission medium duty truck deployment initiative in California to “help implement Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.'s recently issued Executive Order to achieve widespread deployment of zero-emission vehicles throughout California,” the company announced. The initiative will replace diesel trucks with California-made, state-of-the-art, zero-emission vehicles. “Over the next two years, this initiative will eliminate up to 12 million miles of toxic diesel emissions per year throughout California and will support the creation of many jobs in the state's Central Valley.”

5. Lithium-ion battery costs are projected to fall to $397/kWh in 2020 according to a recent Lux Research report. However, the market research company notes that is “far short of the $150/kWh target from the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) and not enough to reach the mass market.”

6. Northumbria University researchers in the UK are working on a resource to help estimate the impact of electric vehicles on the grid.

“The resource will help policy-makers, developers and network operators to analyse the impact of electric vehicles in the presence of micro generators and low carbon technologies. It will help to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. This tool will help to build the infrastructure around electric cars and can be used inside and outside the region, as well as in international contexts.

“Any electricity usage scenario can be tested using this tool, giving a picture of what can happen to existing grid infrastructure and helping to plan future power networks or smart grids.”

7. UCLA engineering researchers have been working on “a method for converting carbon dioxide into liquid fuel isobutanol using electricity.”

Producing fuel from CO2 and sunlight.

“In a study published March 30 in the journal Science, James Liao, UCLA’s Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Chair in Chemical Engineering, and his team report a method for storing electrical energy as chemical energy in higher alcohols, which can be used as liquid transportation fuels,” the UCLA news release stated.

“The current way to store electricity is with lithium ion batteries, in which the density is low, but when you store it in liquid fuel, the density could actually be very high,” Liao said. “In addition, we have the potential to use electricity as transportation fuel without needing to change current infrastructure.”

8. US airlines have dropped a lawsuit against the EU’s new law which charges airlines for their carbon emissions, but that’s not because the battle is over. The airlines are apparently hopeful that the US government will take up the matter for them.

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Lightweight Trains & Lighter Cars (New Material is 35% Lighter than Aluminum or Steel)

Posted: 03 Apr 2012 02:56 PM PDT

This diesel engine housing for trains is made of a light polyurethane-based material that is 35% lighter than current alternatives, and yet it is nonetheless capable of withstanding extreme stresses. © Fraunhofer ICT

Trains are already super green and energy efficient. However, building them with much lighter materials could make them much more so. The good news is that some German researchers from a number of corporations and institutes have developed a replacement for aluminum or steel that is super strong yet 35% lighter. Of course, this material could also be used in other vehicles to improve their efficiency. Here’s more from the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology (ICT):

The less trains weigh, the more economical they are to run. A new material capable of withstanding even extreme stresses has now been developed. It is suitable for a variety of applications, not least diesel engine housings on trains – and it makes these components over 35 percent lighter than their steel and aluminum counterparts.

In their efforts to render cars and trains more economical, manufacturers are trying to find lighter materials to replace those currently used. But there is a problem: Lighter materials tend not to be as tough as steel or aluminum, so they cannot simply be used in place of these metals. Rather, it is a question of manufacturers deciding which components can really afford to have weight shaved off and how to integrate them into the overall systems.

Working together with Bombardier GmbH, KraussMaffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH, Bayer MaterialScience AG, DECS GmbH, the DLR's Institute for Vehicle Concepts, the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT in Pfinztal have now developed a polyurethane-based sandwich material that is extremely resilient. "To demonstrate the material, we manufactured a component that is subject to significant stresses and which has to fulfill a number of requirements – the diesel engine housing for a train," says Jan Kuppinger, a scientist at the ICT. This housing is located beneath the passenger compartment, i.e. between the car and the tracks. Not only does it shield the engine against flying stones and protect the environment from any oil that might escape, but in the event of a fire, it also stops the flames from spreading, thus meeting the flame retardant and fire safety standards for railway vehicles. Kuppinger adds: "By using this new material, we can reduce the component's weight by over 35 percent – and cut costs by 30 percent."

The researchers opted for a sandwich construction to ensure component stability: Glass fiber reinforced polyurethane layers form the outer facings, while the core is made of paper honeycomb. Polyurethane is a bulk plastic combining two substances. Since it can be adapted to fulfill various requirements, it is referred to as a 'customizable material'. In foamed form it is soft, and can be used for example as a material for mattresses; in compact form it is strong and hard. The researchers began by incorporating various additives into their polyurethane, altering it in such a way as to ensure it would meet fire safety standards. Then, the partners optimized the standard manufacturing process, fiber spraying, by developing a mixing chamber which allows even more complex structures to be produced in any required size. The diesel engine housing they made is approximately 4.5 meters long and more than 2 meters wide. "This is the first time it has proved possible to use this process to manufacture such a large and complex component that also satisfies the structural requirements," states Kuppinger. Previously, one problem encountered with fiber spraying was that it was impossible to determine the precise thickness of the polyurethane top layers. But now the researchers have found a way to do this, using computer tomography to inspect the manufactured layers and then applying a specially-adapted evaluation routine to establish their exact thickness. This information helps to simulate the strength of the component, as well as its ability to withstand stresses.

The scientists produced their diesel engine housing demonstrator as part of the PURtrain project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The demonstrator passed its first strength test – in which the scientists placed it in a test rig and then applied forces to it at various locations, measuring the extent to which it deformed – with flying colors. In the next stage, the researchers want to trial the component in a proper field test. If that, too, proves successful, it will then be possible to use the material to make roof segments, side flaps and wind deflectors for the automobile and commercial vehicle industry, and to ramp up the manufacturing process to produce medium volumes of between 250 and 30,000 units.

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£300-Million Waste-to-Energy Power Plant

Posted: 03 Apr 2012 02:08 PM PDT

SSE and Wheelabrator Technologies have teamed up to create Multifuel Energy Ltd (MFE), a £300-million waste-to-energy power plant located at SSE’s Ferrybridge power station in West Yorkshire.

The 50:50 joint venture “expects to begin full construction of a 68MW multifuel facility in late 2012 and complete the project by early 2015,” Wheelabrator Technologies wrote in a news release yesterday.

“Hundreds of jobs will be created during the three year construction period and over 50 new full time jobs will be required once the plant is fully operational. Construction will be undertaken by Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI), which has extensive experience on similar multifuel projects.”

In the end, the electricity from the plant will be sold to SSE.

“MFE has entered into a long-term fuel procurement contract with 3SE (SSE's joint venture with Shanks Plc), which will provide processed waste-derived fuels using waste taken from nearby Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster councils. To support this contract 3SE intends to develop a new Mechanical Biological Treatment ('MBT') and Anaerobic Digestion ('AD') facility at Bolton Road, Manvers. Subject to planning permission, this is expected to be operational by 2015.”

As I wrote earlier today, I think waste-to-energy has a promising future — it may not grow to the size of wind or solar, but it should be tapped to a much greater degree, and innovative companies are helping us to do that.

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Germany’s First Electric Taxi (Interview)

Posted: 03 Apr 2012 01:56 PM PDT

Germany's First Electric Taxi

Germany's first EV taxi has been rolling around Munich for the last year — a Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Leased and operated by taxi company Isar-Funk, the little EV has been an experiment in balancing practicality with efficiency, and testing what it's really like to spend the day in an electric car.

Isar-Funk's CEO Christian Hess (51) spoke with Auto Bild about the experience of having the i-MiEV in the fleet and the stories Hess tells about having an electric car are in some ways surprising and in others exactly what one might expect:

Auto Bild: Tell the truth – how often did you end up with a customer in the car and zero battery power left?

Christian Hess: Well, once we had a customer who wanted to go to the airport from the inner city, which is about 36km (22 miles). The driver had to let them out halfway there at a taxi stand, because the batteries wouldn't have made it.

AB: How did the passengers react [to the car]?

Hess: We saw a lot of acceptance over the year. Mostly the passengers were really excited to be in an electric taxi. But we did have to convince the drivers to actually drive it.

AB: Why were the drivers reluctant?

Hess: Well, the Mitsubishi is tiny, and not as comfortable. The range was between 100 and 120 kilometers (62-74 miles) usually, but in the bitter cold winter that went down to about 50km (30 miles). It was difficult to properly heat the interior of the car. That was fine for the passengers, who were only in it for a few minutes, but when the driver has to be in the car for half a shift –

AB: Half a shift?

Hess: Yes, between six and eight fares. One driver also pulled full shifts in the i-MiEV.

AB: It doesn't sound as though you could make much money with an electric taxi.

Hess: When it's 1,000 Euros ($1300 USD) a month to lease, not so much. That's why we weren't trying to do that from the start; it was more of an experiment. And I'm really satisfied with the test, even if there isn't a single rapid charging station in Munich. We had absolutely no technical problems with the car all year, and we charged it overnight every night. With renewable power. I wanted to animate the taxi industry to be more sustainable.

AB: So now what?

Hess: We wanted to have 100 eco taxis by 2018, and we've got about 90 now. Mostly we have the Toyota Prius and some CNG cars. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is being returned now. Maybe we'll start a new eco project.

Given a proper charging infrastructure within Munich — or any other city — the idea of an electric taxi does seem feasible and even rather fun; Isar-Funk managed to run its i-MiEV all year even without rapid charging stations.

What do you think — would you be excited to ride in an electric taxi? I know I would, but let us know what you think below.

Source: Auto Bild
Image: Isar-Funk

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Nissan’s Big Turn On — One Million EV Advocates in 100 Days

Posted: 03 Apr 2012 01:40 PM PDT

Nissan's Big Turn OnNissan is convinced that electric cars are the way of the future, and it's doing quite a bit to get the rest of the world to agree. The latest efforts are in the form of "The Big Turn On" campaign, in which Nissan offers a prize of 30 quick chargers to the city with the most participating drivers.

Step 1: Make Electric Car

The contest is just part of Nissan's push to get its stated goal of one million drivers converted to electric cars; the goal — and the publicity stunt — is to get those consumers to switch within 100 days. The city with the most drivers switching to electric wins the thirty quick chargers (CHAdeMO compliant and capable of recharging an empty battery to 80% in 30 minutes) — a whole new infrastructure.

The 30 quick chargers for the contest aren't the only ones Nissan has given away, and they're not the last, either. By the end of this year, Nissan will have given away over 400 quick chargers to various parties. Their ultimate goal is, of course, to sell electric cars; however, where others might look at the short-term and point out the lack of infrastructure making it difficult to practically drive an electric car, Nissan is taking the long view and making that infrastructure happen.

Step 2: ??? Build Infrastructure

Nissan's quick chargers and wireless chargers both make it quicker and easier to charge an electric car, removing one of the perceived drawbacks of having an electric vehicle. More EVs also helps improve the inner-city air quality. And the more cars sitting quietly and not using battery power in bumper to bumper traffic, the better the air around them smells.

The senior vice president for sales and marketing, Nissan Europe, Paul Willcox said:

“Nissan was the first manufacturer to mass produce an all-electric car – the Nissan LEAF. We recognize the importance of a zero-emissions future and to date, along with our Alliance partner, Renault, have invested over €4 billion into electric mobility. Now it’s time to tell Europe about the benefits and demonstrate the Nissan LEAF is a real alternative today, and ‘The Big Turn On’ is designed to do just that.”

Step 3: Profit!

Nissan also hopes to dispel many of the myths surrounding electric cars. The Leaf already has a 95% customer satisfaction rating (leading the country), and was awarded European and World Car of the Year 2011. Nissan now wants to show that the Leaf is safe and economical. Most daily trips — and when I say most, I'm talking the vast vast vast majority — are perfectly within the capabilities of an electric car. The Leaf's homologated range of 108 miles is way in excess of what most motorists drive on a weekday.

The goal of reaching one million potential EV advocates in France, the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands is of course to boost electric car sales, because Nissan firmly believes that future transportation will be electrically driven. If you're in Europe, you can participate at The Big Turn On Website, at Nissan's social media channels, or by signing up for a Leaf test drive. Participants outside Europe… well, give it a shot and let us know how it goes.

Source: Nissan
Image: Nissan

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Trash to Treasure — Waste-to-Energy a Growing Industry

Posted: 03 Apr 2012 07:00 AM PDT

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right? While that phrase has been around for ages, it has taken society a while to make it more applicable to industry. Industrial waste has long ended up… just waste (nothing like treasure at all). It has polluted our environments, damaged our health, killed countless people, and caused harm to other species, as well. We have known this for quite some time, but inventors, innovators, engineers, and other energy pioneers have finally started finding ways to turn that waste into treasure in recent years.

I think one last thing that really stood out to me when searching through GE’s annual reports data visualization was this emerging waste-to-energy sector. It’s not nearly as mature as the wind energy sector, or even the solar energy sector, but I think many of us in this field are watching it closely and expecting it to become more than a nominal player in the world of energy. (Heck, the Denver Zoo is even starting to power tuk-tuks with animal waste.)

GE & Waste to Energy

So, I noticed mention of waste to energy technologies and projects creeping into GE’s annual reports in the last few years or so when scrolling through the “Energy” and “Electricity” tags.

For example, in 2007, GE mentioned new ”waste-conversion technologies that produce electricity or synthetic fuels.” A few years later, in 2010, GE wrote: “Whether generating electricity from landfill gases or methane produced from manure, GE’s Jenbacher engine can provide an efficient and cost-effective way from waste.” I hadn’t heard about this Jenbacher engine before, but it sounds like a sweet little “trash to treasure” technology.

ge Jenbacher engine

GE Jenbacher engine.

In GE’s last report, in 2011, aside from touting its wind, solar, natural gas, EV, and smart grid technologies, it again mentioned its organic-waste-loving engines: ”We deliver innovation that the world needs: from an integrated wind, solar, and natural gas project, to smart grids that help utilities manage electricity demand, to gas engines that run on organic waste, to more accessible charging stations for electric vehicles.”

With billions of people on this planet, and who knows how many more popping onto it every day, we need to deal with our waste better than we have. I hope to hear much more about these waste-to-energy technologies in the coming years, and hope they become a bigger part of GE’s energy technology offerings. And I’m expecting this will all come about — as a recent Pike Research report noted, and I reported last week in a news roundup, the waste-to-energy market is growing fast and is expected to grow to $29.2 billion by 2022.

Image: Jenbacher engine courtesy GE

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Largest EV Fast-Charging Network in US Rolls Out

Posted: 03 Apr 2012 05:44 AM PDT

The largest EV fast-charging network in the US rolled out in Illinois at the end of last week. Governor Pat Quinn and representatives from the Illinois Tollway, 350Green LLC and 7-Eleven, Inc. made the announcement last Friday, noting in a news release that drivers can now “charge an electric vehicle in under 30 minutes using the current fast-chargers at 7-Eleven sites at four Tollway Oasis locations, and will soon be able to charge vehicles at all seven Tollway Oases.”

"We want Illinois to be the greenest state in America," Governor Quinn said. "By installing the largest network of cutting edge fast-chargers, Illinois will continue to support green jobs and provide people with environmentally-friendly and affordable travel options."

Illinois has a ways to go to catch up to green leaders like California, Oregon, and Washington, but it’s nice to see that it has such enthusiasm for this topic and is aiming so high, and the roll out of this EV fast-charging network certainly doesn’t hurt!

Here are some more details on the network:

Through the Chicago-Area EV Infrastructure Project, 26 fast-chargers have been installed, with 73 total fast-chargers planned. Eight of these are currently in place at Tollway Oases along the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) at the Des Plaines Oasis and on the Tri-State Tollway (I-94/I-294/I-80) at the Lake Forest Oasis, O'Hare Oasis and Chicago Southland Lincoln Oasis. The installations, managed by 350Green, were performed by Chicago-based JNS Power & Control Systems.

EV infrastructure is rolling out across the nation quite fast these days — the West Coast Electric Highway is well under way, Europe’s largest EV fast-charging network got the green light in January, Spain just got 100 EV charging stations in March, and I see news about new EV charging stations* going up across the US nearly every day. It might take stepping back a bit, but if you pay attention, you can see that we are in the midst of a transportation technology revolution.

*Search for alternative fueling stations (EV or otherwise) in your area via our page for that purpose.

Source: Business Wire
Image: Illinois flag courtesy shutterstock 

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