Friday, April 20, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Smog-Eating Graffiti for One of World’s Most Polluted Cities

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 09:11 AM PDT

 
smog pollution eating paint

This story grabbed my eye like few do, so I imagine it might have for you, too. So, you’re probably asking: “What’s the deal? Is smog-eating graffiti for real?” Yes, it is.

Manila (Philippines), reportedly one of the five most polluted cities in the world, is using an air-purifying paint — a paint that filters out nitrogen oxides when it reacts with sunlight and water vapor — on walls around the city, especially next to highways, to clean the air. As the BBC video below notes, people are painting murals on the walls of some of Manila’s busiest streets and measurements so far show that it is really helping to clean the air (but that there’s still a lot more to be done).
 

 
The catalytic paint, Boysen KNOxOUT, was created by a local Manila company.

Jess Zimmerman of Grist (where I ran across this story) echoes one of the stats from the video above and adds her own little twist of enthusiasm and “let’s do it” creativity in this nice comment: “Eleven square feet of paint-covered surface can absorb as much pollution as a full-grown tree, and these murals are close to 11 THOUSAND square feet. If we could get this stuff into the hands of street artists and taggers, it would be like having an army of energetic teenagers planting trees all over the city all day, every day.” Seriously, this should be deployed in cities around the world (unless we’re missing some nasty details about the paint).

Have you heard about this paint before? Think it’s the coolest thing since sliced bread? Have something else to chime in about?

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Are Electric Cars “Green” No Matter Where You Plug-In?

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 08:27 AM PDT

 

Paul Stenquist of the New York Times attempted to educate us last Sunday by suggesting that pollution from electric cars is as clear as a sixth grade math problem. However, by 9th grade, we should begin to understand that although we can add any numbers together, it is the relationship between those numbers and something in the real world which gives us sensible results.

Programmers learn that many calculations can be made but that only when the right assumptions are used do we avoid the pitfall of: “garbage in, garbage out.” Mr. Stenquist is in pursuit of the “carbon footprint” for charging an electric vehicle. However, while the EV may have a carbon footprint that is related to its manufacture, the vehicle will never have a carbon footprint related to its operation. In part, this is because it is a zero emissions vehicle — while it is operating, there are no emissions. But will the vehicle produce emissions or, more to the point, be responsible for emissions while it is charging?

The Relationships Are Fundamental: EV / Owner / Power Plant

It is a convenient but inaccurate shorthand to say that an electric vehicle pollutes when, by definition, it is the human operator usage, not an object, that has a carbon footprint. We are used to simple answers for a petrol vehicle: Calculate the miles per gallon, add in that approximately 19 pounds of carbon dioxide are produced for every gallon burned, and you have a result. There is very little most operators can change. There is one engine and it takes one kind of fuel and the vehicle pollutes in its operation. We think of the operator as fixed, and the pollution from burning gasoline relatively fixed. Only the vehicle is a variable. So, we think of the vehicle as having a carbon footprint.

For an electric vehicle, as is pointed out in the Union of Concerned Scientists study that he relies upon and we have reported on elsewhere, the electricity that is used to charge a battery-operated vehicle can come from many sources. It may be an operator’s power choice that determines pollution levels. It may be a power plant mix that determines pollution levels. It may be the time of day for a charge that determines pollution levels. But it is not the vehicle. The vehicle does not produce emissions. In this case, it is the vehicle that is relatively fixed while the operator choices and power plant both offer elements that can change. It makes the least sense to identify the “carbon footprint” with the vehicle. The electric car is a “green vehicle.” The operator and the electrical source may not be. Yet, popular media and Paul Stenquist persists in discussing the greenhouse emissions of an electric car.

Attributing pollution from power plants to electric vehicles is also known as the “long tailpipe argument” and I have written on this previously. The argument tries to forge a relationship between polluting power plants and clean electric vehicles that will tarnish the pure emissions prospect for the EV. It is as if Mrs. EV decides to marry the only available guy in town — Mr. Polluting Power Plant. Should she be branded with a family history that she can’t change? To do so would be either an unjustified attack or ignorance.

We only have to examine the differences between gasoline and electric vehicles to see that the long tailpipe argument also stands upon two unmentioned assumptions. First, that the vehicle operator is not a variable in the equation. And second, like gasoline, for every unit of electricity being used some static unit of pollution is being produced. Even more fundamental, and unlike petrol vehicles, there is with a ZEV the possibility of comparing the clean renewable energy available to the number of vehicles in operation. With electric vehicles, it is probably a poor choice to compare the vehicle to electrical grid pollution levels at all.

Pollution Depends upon the Operator

If we have a petrol vehicle and go to the gas pump, our choices are limited and pollution is built into the engine and the fuel. An electric vehicle owner, however, can charge their vehicle at night or during the day to make a difference. They can seek or build clean sources of electrical power. No petrol owner is going to build their own refinery and their fuel choices are limited.

Pollution Depends upon the Time of Charging

Petrol production can continue 24/7 and each unit of pollution can be attributed to each unit of gasoline produced. Coal-fired power plants are the most emission-producing forms of electrical generation. They are also baseload power plants. They must be run 24/7 or suffer boiler failures. But electricity must be used as it is produced. Production tries to match demand but fails where there are many coal-fired power plants. Especially in areas with a high coal usage, there is likely to be an excess in generation capacity over the demand present at night. The plants are running in any event. They are polluting in any event.

In this case, each unit of pollution does not match each unit of electricity used. Some electric vehicles charging at that time will not be “responsibile” for any added pollution from these coal-fired power plants. The coal plants would be running and polluting in any event. The connection is broken because the nature of electrical generation is different from petrol production, which is a form of energy storage. In this case, the electric vehicle provides the energy storage. Paradoxically, where the electrical production is most polluting, the EV is most helpful in reducing that pollution (to the extent of unused capacity).

Measuring the Electrical Energy Mix is Always a Guess

We speak with authority about the electrical energy mix of an area or our country, but, in every case, we are using historical data to extrapolate our present situation. It is what we call an educated guess. The use of coal has been on a dramatic decline for electrical generation in the US for almost 10 years. Renewable sources of energy have been on the rise. In some areas of the country, wind power has out-produced all other forms of electrical production, for a time.

AVAILABLE RENEWABLE GENERATION — A BETTER METRIC

We like to count all the power sources in an area and make a guess what the average mix will be. We do this despite operator variability. We do this despite a varying grid energy mix or time of day usage, and then we have the hubris to ascribe pollution to the one fixed and non-polluting element, the electric car. But we also discuss carbon offsets. There is a sense that if we can reduce carbon production sufficiently, our activities will have a net zero impact.

We could examine the amount of electrical generation in an area that is provided by renewable energy. By comparing this to the equivalent heat energy, we can compare electrical energy to the energy provided by gasoline. From this, we could determine the number of electric cars that could be supported by renewable sources of electrical production. On a US national level, we would find that if we replaced all of our approximately 300 million vehicles with electrical-powered ones, we would require approximately 30% of our present electrical usage. About 1/3 or 100 million electrical vehicles could be powered using the available renewable energy in the US. If we added the 20% of our energy presently produced by nuclear energy, we see that we have enough emission-free electrical energy production in the US to power our entire fleet of vehicles. Up to 84% of these vehicles could be presently powered with no extra equipment if they were charged at night.

And while we pursued this zero emission alternative, the numbers of polluting petrol vehicles on the roads would be reduced.

Our present hope is to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. This is about 1/3 of 1% of our fleet. Put in this perspective, concerns over the pollution of electric vehicle are insignificant and we already have enough renewable electrical energy production for many years and a much, much, much larger electrical vehicle fleet. But most interesting is that those areas in the center of the US with a high coal usage are also, because of the long distances between cities, most likely to adopt a limited numbers of electric vehicles. But those vehicles would be most helpful to the overall pollution picture in the areas.

The long tailpipe argument attempts to diminish an environmental rationale for buying an electric vehicle. But it is not the only rational. Cost and strategic reasons can be even more important and these are also mentioned in the UCSS executive summary:

[Electrical vehicle fueling from the electrical grid and not the gas pump will result] “…in significant reductions in the oil consumption, global warming emissions, and fueling costs of driving.”

There are many reasons to buy an electrical vehicle. In some of the most polluting areas of the country, they can be the brightest star. The connection between the EV and pollution is not a clear one and some writers can be drawn into the seductive call of misleading arguments. Precisely because EV energy supplies are so complex and likely of marginal impact to our overall pollution, it may be insignificant. At the very least, we can say that the long tailpipe argument is not a sound rationale to avoid a “green” electric vehicle choice.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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World’s Largest Solar PV Power Plant Added to India’s Grid

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 07:52 AM PDT

 
Just 14 months ago, the Indian state of Gujarat announced that it was building a $2.3-billion solar park — the largest photovoltaic power station the world has seen so far.

600 MW solar farm in Gujarat, India

Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, revealed this Thursday via Twitter that the solar park had been switched on:

“Gujarat dedicates 600 MW of solar power to the nation today. We are celebrating the launch of Agni V & dedication of 600 MW solar power park in Gujarat.”

“This achievement is not merely a step in the direction of power conservation, but it provides the world with a vision of how the power needs of future generations can be solved in an environment-friendly manner.”

The new addition to India's electrical grid triples its current solar power capacity. The solar park is three times larger than the Chinese Golmud Solar Park, which held the record since it was finished in October 2011 with a total capacity of 200 MW.

This is one of many projects to come if India is to reach its green goals within 2020: 15% of India's total energy consumption should come from renewable sources of energy. The country is currently at 6%.

The project has been a collaboration between 21 different companies, including several from the U.S. Another $400 million is reserved for renewable energy in the very same region where the new solar park operates. Modi says they are planning to encourage the development residential solar panels with a lot of this money.

The project is certainly a great addition to India and the rest of the world's renewable energy capacity. However, the Gujarat solar park is very small compared to the planned TuNur project, part of the DESERTEC project. That will be a 2,000-MW concentrated solar power plant and is supposed to be operating in Tunisia by 2016.

Photo courtesy of the state of Gujarat

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Good “Green” Job Opportunities in Fast-Growing “Green” Energy Industry

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 01:42 AM PDT

Graphic courtesy: Association of Energy Engineers

Job creation– good quality job creation more specifically– has been a bugaboo for a US economy still struggling to turn the corner on one of the deepest, financially-driven recessions in US history.

While many business leaders, economists and US government representatives, including President Obama, view the fast-growing US renewable energy and clean technology sectors as economic engines that can go a long way toward assuring healthy job creation for decades to come, others have staunchly opposed public sector support for their development. The stalemate has resulted in a stop-and-go federal clean energy policy that in turn has produced recurring cycles of boom-and-bust.

Surveying a professional membership of more than 14,000, the non-profit Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) found that there’s growing demand for energy efficiency, green collar and renewable energy professionals. Driving hiring in the diverse green energy sector is a dwindling supply of US energy professionals, according to the AEE’s “Green Jobs: Survey of the Energy Industry“:

  • Thirty-two percent of the 1,934 energy professionals who responded to the AEE’s survey plan to retire in the next ten years.
  • Sixty-seven percent (67%) of energy professionals indicate a heightened shortage of qualified professionals in the energy efficiency and renewable energy fields in the next five years.
  • Seventy-two percent (72%) of energy professionals indicate a need for national and state training for “Green Jobs” to address job shortages that are impairing growth in green industries, such as energy efficient buildings and construction, renewables, electric power, smart grid, energy efficient vehicles and bio fuels development.

A Green Energy Economy US Jobs Engine?

“By 2020, clean energy will be one of the world’s biggest industries, totaling as much as $2.3 trillion,” the AEE cites a March, 2010 Center for American Progress (CAP) report.

“Results from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 are bearing out this hypothesis, proving that clean energy carries substantial job creation potential,” state Richard Caperton and Adam Hersh in a March, 2011 CAP article.

“Three specific clean energy programs—the Treasury cash grant in lieu of a tax credit (known as the 1603 program), the advanced energy manufacturing tax credit (known as the 48C program), and the Department of Energy loan guarantee program—have cost the government about $7 billion—only 1 percent of Recovery Act funding—but have leveraged more than $12 billion in private capital and account for more than 13 percent of the jobs created directly by Recovery Act funding.”

Pres. Obama was the driving force behind the introduction of a federal government program requiring government buildings to be retrofitted to enhance energy efficiency, as well as make use of cleaner, renewable energy sources. The benefits are manifold as the initiative gradually ripples across private sector commercial and residential property markets.

Energy-efficiency building retrofits is one of “several, substantial, durable drivers” that in addition to cost savings and job creation “are attractive for purposes of greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, energy independence, green branding, property valuation and productivity,” according to a March, 2011 Pike Research report.

Moreover, contrary to popular belief, the introduction of stronger industry environmental and energy conservation standards resulted in job creation, the AEE notes. A January 2011 report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that “national appliance energy efficiency standards for common household products generated about 340,000 jobs in 2010,” some 0.2% of all jobs created nationwide.

Job Creation: Quality Matters

Second in importance to quantity is the quality of job creation. And that’s an area where green energy job creation rates highly overall. Green energy jobs are relatively high-paying. It’s a diverse sector of the energy market with a long-term hiring outlook that’s above average. Base salaries averaged $96,683 p.a. with annual bonuses averaging $7,356 as of January 1, 2010, AEE found.

Furthermore, the green energy sector offers a long-term career path where ongoing education and training opens up growth opportunities for employees and produces measurable rewards for employers. Professional certification in the green energy sector results in enhanced career success, according to AEE’s report:

  • Seventy-four percent (74%) of energy professionals surveyed responded that their company had benefited since they had received their certification
  • Eighty-six percent (86%) of energy professionals surveyed indicated that, since receiving their certification, their company has been able to respond to more requests for proposals
  • Fifty-two (52%) of energy professionals survey indicate that they are receiving higherprofessional visibility since receiving their certification

The AEE puts out and administers a range of green energy job and career resources, including a career website with current job openings and a resume databank. Free educational resources include an energy industry dictionary of terms, free access to green energy white papers, an industry news portal and professional reference books.

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DOE Finds 12 GW of Untapped Hydro Potential on Ol’ Man River

Posted: 20 Apr 2012 12:52 AM PDT

Mississippi-hydroelectric-potential

Mississippi lock via Scott Milless/Shutterstock

The U.S. has 78 GW of hydropower – that supplied about 63 percent of all the power from renewable sources last year. But there are also 80,000 navigation locks, dams and high river flows that could be utilized to generate electricity.

The Ohio River and the Mississippi River are especially rich in this untapped renewable resource.

In a new report, An Assessment of Energy Potential at Non-Powered Dams in the United States, the Department of Energy estimates that if some of these were to be equipped now with hydroelectric power generation, they could generate an estimated 12 GW, increasing hydropower capacity by roughly 15 percent.

They looked at the most promising 54,391 of the 80,000 NPDs (Non-Powered Dams), and found that nearly all of the untapped hydroelectric potential is concentrated in just 100 sites.

According to the report, "Eighty-one of the 100 top NPDs are U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) facilities, many of which, including all of the top 10, are navigation locks on the Ohio River, Mississippi River, Alabama River, and Arkansas River, as well as their major tributaries."

These ones alone could contribute approximately 8 GW of the 12 GW potential.

"Importantly, many of the monetary costs and environmental impacts of dam construction have already been incurred at NPDs, so adding power to the existing dam structure can often be achieved at lower cost, with less risk, and in a shorter timeframe than development requiring new dam construction,"

The greatest amount of hydropower potential is found in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Louisiana, mainly due to a series of locks and high river flows on the Ohio River.

The study was funded by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and produced by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in partnership with Idaho National Laboratory.

The study is one of a number of nationwide resource assessments being conducted by the Energy Department to assess how U.S. hydropower capacity can be expanded.

An exhaustive three year investigation by the Bureau of Reclamation of the potential in municipal waterways and canals has uncovered much less encouraging untapped potential of just 260 MW nationwide, or only the size of one power plant.

But, with the 12 GW (12,000 MW) of NPD potential capacity, together with the untapped potential of wave, tidal and river energy just emerging, the DOE estimates that all forms of hydropower could generate 15 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030.

"The abundance, cost, and environmental favorability of NPDs, combined with the reliability and predictability of hydropower, make these dams a highly attractive source for expanding the nation's renewable energy supply."

Hydropower is one of the oldest renewable energy technologies, with the first hydroelectric project built at Niagara Falls in 1879, well before we understood environmental protection. That has given hydropower a bad name. We could do it right this time, with what we know now, as part of developing our marine energy potential.

 

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Economic Multiplier at Work: US Solar PV Manufacturers Boost Local Economies, Spur Innovation

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 10:46 PM PDT

Photo credit: Rick Stasel/New York Architecture

Four founding members of the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) purchased more than $400 million in goods and services from other manufacturers and employers in 46 states in 2011, according to a CASM survey. The survey results highlight the ripple effects and positive impact a healthy US solar PV manufacturing sector can have on job creation, income growth and economic development, particularly in areas hard-hit by the exodus of manufacturers from US shores.

The survey results arrive as CASM and solar energy industry participants across the US, China and worldwide await a Commerce Dept. ruling on the imposition of countervailing duties on Chinese manufacturers’ illegal dumping of silicon solar PV cells and panels that’s expected in May.

“This flow of business highlights just one dimension of solar manufacturing’s multiplier effect in supporting jobs and spurring activity across the U.S. economy, according to CASM.

“The coalition of about 190 U.S. employers of more than 16,000 American workers contends the nation cannot afford to lose its own industry, particularly in light of advanced manufacturing’s power to generate high-paying and stable jobs and beneficial ripple effects, including research and innovation. Instead, CASM seeks trade-law enforcement to restore legal international competition and domestic manufacturing growth.”

Manufacturing’s Economic Multiplier at Work

Applied Materials’ Cathy Boone noted in a March, 2011 blog post, “Solar energy generation produces more jobs than any other form of energy generation, and each dollar of public money invested generates an additional $4-$6 in private investment.”

CASM’s purchasing survey provides detailed insight into these economic ripple effects. Four of CASM’s seven founding US solar PV manufacturers purchased more than $1 million in goods and services in 21 states and at least $50 million in four states, according to the survey results.

Their purchases in Oregon totaled $86 million, in Pennsylvania $74 million, in Michigan $80.6 million and in California $50 million. This includes purchasing products, hence supporting businesses, in upstream glass fabrication, polysilicon production and aluminum extrusion, along with downstream businesses, including auditing, lab analysis and transportation.

CASM founding members Helios Solar Works of Milwaukee, Wis. and MX Solar USA of Somerset, N.J. each have production capacity equal to or greater than the only Chinese-owned solar factory in the Western Hemisphere, a final assembly production line in Arizona, according to CASM.

The survey didn’t account for downstream spending to other businesses on the part of the four solar PV manufacturers’ employees or their vendors, which includes spending on day-care firms, supermarkets, and car and TV dealers, nor does it include the personal income taxes they pay or the properties they purchase.

A more detailed look at the survey results are available on CASM’s website.

The Ripple Effects of a Strong Manufacturing Base

“I would say that our economy needs machines and new factories and new buildings and so forth in order for us to have a strong and growing economy." — US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke

CASM’s leader, the US subsidiary of Germany’s SolarWorld AG, has ranked as the largest U.S. solar manufacturer for more than 35 years. SolarWorld USA employs more than 1,100 workers in Oregon and California whose average annual compensation for permanent, full-time employees exceeds the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ national average of $45,230, CASM points out.

The arguments supporting strong support for and defense of US manufacturing is compelling. “While PV creates significant job creation in the installation of solar modules (over 50% of total solar jobs are in installation and sales), long-term job creation in manufacturing will create greater economic stability through a greater multiplier effect that will generate significant additional employment in adjacent industries,” according to a March SEMI PV Group white paper.

Cited in SEMI PV’s white paper are studies from the National Association of Manufacturing (NAM) and the Commerce Dept., both of which found that “each dollar’s worth of manufactured goods creates another $1.43 of activity in other sectors, twice the $.71 multiplier for services.”

Also significant is the mutually supportive and reinforcing linkage between manufacturing and innovation, an interrelationship that former Intel chairman and CEO Andy Grove, along with other US business pioneers and leading thinkers, has emphasized in his public writings and statements.

“Manufacturing companies in the United States are responsible for over two‐thirds of the industrial R&D and employ the majority of domestic scientists and engineers,” according to a January report on US competitiveness produced by the Commerce Dept. in consultation with the National Economic Council, CASM notes. “Furthermore, manufacturing R&D is the dominant source of innovative new service‐sector technologies; hence, its benefits reach beyond the manufacturing arena.”

Upcoming Ruling on Chinese Dumping

The Commerce Dept. on March 20 announced it had concluded that the Chinese government provided illegal export subsidies to Chinese silicon solar PV cell and panel manufacturers. Commerce imposed import tariffs of 2.9%-4.73% on Chinese imports, smaller than what had been anticipated. Commerce found that “at least 10 categories of Chinese government programs illegally subsidize Chinese producers of solar cells and panels,” CASM notes in a press release.

Though its petitions to the Dept. of Commerce and US International Trade Commission regarding Chinese silicon solar PV dumping and illegal trade subsidies are one in a long line of such filings against China on the part of US businesses and industry, calls for stronger and stricter enforcement of international trade rules have been intensifying since CASM’s filings.

The Commerce Dept. on May 17 is expected to announce its preliminary determination on whether Chinese manufacturers have illegally dumped products in the U.S. market. If Commerce has found that this is indeed the case, then it will also announce percentage margins. Importers of Chinese silicon solar PV products would then be required to post bonds or cash deposits in the amounts of those margins as duties on further imports.

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Pennycress? Yep, It’s the Next Big Biofuel

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 06:41 PM PDT

pennycress could be next big biofuel cropGet ready to hear a lot about pennycress biofuel this year. Pennycress sounds like a name that belongs to an unassuming little weed commonly found along roadsides – and it does – but a while back the U.S. Department of Agriculture started to investigate the use of pennycress seeds in biofuel production and this year promises to be a breakout one, with farmers in the Midwest getting to rake in a bumper crop.

Biofuel from pennycress seeds

At first glance, pennycress seeds don’t seem to have enough oomph for biofuel. For one thing, they are tiny – they can be measured in less than a couple of millimeters. However, field pennycress is part of the same oilseed family that includes camelina, another weedy plant that has been proving itself to be a big time biofuel player.

A blend of camelina fuel is already in use among commercial and military aircraft, including the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds high precision jet fighter demonstration teams.

The long history of pennycress oil

Pennycress is also another good example of biofuel research programs that predate the Obama administration. Researchers have been poking around pennycress for industrial oil-based products since the 1940's, and things really took off in 2007, when the USDA's Agricultural Research Service got interested in pennycress as a biofuel source.

By 2010, USDA researchers were reporting that pennycress had the "right stuff" for biofuel production using conventional growing, harvesting and processing methods. Its oil content is about double that of soybeans, and it far outperforms corn in terms of its net energy output.

Pennycress and the biofuel economy

The rise of pennycress also teases out the fact that cost-competitive biofuel production relies partly on identifying crops that provide the farm economy with added value.

Pennycress as a biofuel crop is especially attractive because it is a non-food crop that can be grown in the winter as a ground cover, and harvested in time to prep the soil for growing another crop over the summer. That provides farmers with an additional cash crop over and above what they would normally produce during the year, with the added bonus of providing a winter ground cover to prevent soil erosion while fixing nutrients in the soil.

Steve Tartar of the Journal Star reports that Illinois farmers planted only 1400 acres of pennycress last year and are already planning 10,000 for next winter, having discovered some of the advantages of cultivating a weed: namely, it is easy to sow and it chokes out other weeds as it grows.

Research funded by the USDA has shown that pennycress seeds will take hold when simply sprayed over a field, in contrast to more expensive seeding operations that involve drilling holes or furrows in the ground.

At the Register-Mail, reporter John Pulliam notes that the USDA has partnered with Western Illinois University, the Pennycress Energy Company and a new federally funded regional economic development group called EBI Network in an effort that could make Galesburg, Illinois the go-to place for pennycress production. The goal is to recruit farmers to put about 200,000 acres under cultivation within a 50-mile radius of the city, providing enough feedstock to make a commercial scale seed oil pressing operation viable.

That seems like a rather modest goal considering the potential for doubling up land that is currently under production for soybeans. Tartar cites Peter Johnsen of Biofuels Manufacturers of Illinois, who foresees a "pennycress belt" of 40 million acres stretching from Ohio to Nebraska

Image: Steve Hurst @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

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Support the Solar Industry, Boost the Economy

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 04:52 PM PDT

 
Coalition for American Solar Manufacturers

The Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) published a survey of itself this week, stating that four of its founding manufacturers purchased upwards of $400 million in goods and services last year in an effort to keep the American solar industry right where it is — in America.

The China Question All Over Again

CASM consists of some 190 US employers (16,000 workers total are employed by CASM members), and is pushing pretty hard to make sure the United States keeps its solar industry; specifically, CASM is campaigning against China. The reasoning goes that advanced manufacturing generates high-paying and stable jobs (and what American can argue that Americans having jobs is a bad thing?) as well as "beneficial ripple effects" (research, innovation, people actually spending the money they make).

In order to keep Americans working in the solar industry, CASM is backing an anti-subsidy and anti-dumping trade case against the Chinese industry. Basically, the U.S. government thinks a number of Chinese government programs are illegally subsidizing Chinese producers of solar cells and panels (this seems to be legit), and CASM has taken that to mean that the Chinese products are responsible for several American manufacturers shutting down over the past two years (more debatable, but commonly conjectured and believed to be true).

CASM Has Produced Its Own Numbers

CASM's survey (conducted on itself, which does make its numbers ever so slightly suspect) claims that four of its manufacturers bought $1 million or more of goods and services in 21 states and $50 million or more in another four ($86 mil in Oregon, $74 mil in Pennsylvania, $61 mil in Michigan, and $50 mil in California) — more details of which can be seen on the CASM website.

The survey does not include interest and tax payments, employee payroll, downstream support employees paid (daycare, supermarkets, other things that people buy every day). It does point out, however, that CASM leader SolarWorld (for example) employs 1100 workers in Oregon and California and that these employees make more than the national average.

There Are Other Numbers, Too

To be fair, there are other reports detailing the positive effects manufacturing companies have on the U.S. economy. The U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis pointed out in March that manufactured goods create twice the activity in other sectors than services, while in January it was noted that manufacturing is awesome for science and innovation. Directly from the January report:

"Manufacturing companies in the United States are responsible for over two-thirds of the industrial R&D and employ the majority of domestic scientists and engineer. Furthermore, manufacturing R&D is the dominant source of innovative new service-sector technologies; hence, its benefits reach beyond the manufacturing arena."

The Department of Commerce is currently deliberating on whether or not Chinese manufacturers have in fact illegally dumped product into the U.S. market and what (if anything) is to be done about it. CASM is pushing pretty hard for a "yes, they have" answer — but what do you think?

Source: CASM
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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New Organic Solar Cells Should Make Great Tinted Windows

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 02:31 PM PDT

 
Solar Panel Windows

Electricity-producing windows may be the next fabulous innovation in solar technology — we’ve already written several stories about a US company working on solar windows and one about a UK company working on his tech. Apparently, a small German startup company based in Dresden is working on such tech as well. Heliatek, funded by Bosch, BASF, and others, has figured out how to make a semi-translucent, flexible, and lightweight solar panel of small organic molecules that could, in theory, be used to make windows.

Just Starting Out

The panels developed by Heliatek involve small organic molecules on a polyester film — sort of like OLED displays on a phone. They're super light and also fairly bendy. The downside (from the end user point of view) is that they don't generate quite as much power as a standard solar panel under normal conditions, although they do quite well in both excessive heat and indirect light.

The other issue Heliatek will have to overcome is the cost — since it’s currently operating on a tiny proof-of-concept production line, any available panels are super expensive. If they can raise enough money to build a factory, they're still looking at something fairly small (74 megawatts, if they can get another 60 million euros) — that doesn't leave much room for low prices.

Flexible Form and Function

If Heliatek can survive long enough to reach large-scale production, its unconventional organic solar cells should drop far enough in price to be competitive with standard solar panels. Until then, they're trying to be creative.

One way the lightweight panels come in handy is integration into concrete facades — the panel gets integrated right into the wall. Another method is the super-cool window option mentioned above — the semi-transparency means that the tinted windows (which are pretty cool anyway) would also generate electricity. Even if neither option is used, it's cheaper to plunk Heliatek's panels right into a building than normal solar panels since no heavy hardware is needed to anchor panels to a roof, and installation costs are a considerable part of the cost of solar.

Longer Lasting, More Efficient

Heliatek's other advantage is in its innovative solutions to the organic solar cell problem. OPVs have been around for decades (millennia if you count plants, I suppose), and they're cheap to make. They do not, however, last particularly long, and they've got fairly low conversion efficiencies. Since Heliatek uses oligomers (inherently more stable than conventional polymers), which can be very precisely deposited, that precision then allows for control over film thickness and uniformity, which leads to a more efficient solar cell over all. We're still talking 8% conversion efficiency (the highest-rated standard mass-production solar cell is somewhere around 20%), but that's an improvement over polymers.

Making Heliatek's cells is also a bit more expensive than standard OPV printing, but that process means they can make a tandem solar cell — two layers instead of one. If they can figure out how to tune each layer to convert a different wavelength, they might be able to raise conversion efficiency to competitive levels (12%, perhaps).

They've got quite a bit of work ahead of them before they have a commercially viable product. Still — tinted windows that produce electricity, that's just all kinds of awesome! What do you think? Let us know in the comments, below.

Source & Image: Technology Review via Yale Environment 360

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Electric Vehicle Insurance Discounts Now Available!

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 02:27 PM PDT

 
Insuring Electric Cars

Electric cars are kind of awesome — they're clean, quiet, and just really neat all around. A lot of them are even super cute and tiny and adorable. They are, however, not cheap (up front), despite subsidies available from governments around the world. Then there's the question of insurance….

Fortunately (perhaps) for Americans, investment and insurance giant The Hartford is showing its support for electric (and hybrid) vehicle owners. Residents of Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Texas can now get a 5% insurance discount with a new EV, with the discount available to customers everywhere by the end of the year.

Green, Green, Green (or At Least Low Emission)

The Hartford has been offering discounts for hybrids for three years, and has been insuring renewable energy risks for the past twenty (although it will not insure Tesla's $40,000 battery packs against owner-caused bricking). It started offering coverage for home-based EV charging stations around the same time it installed its own EV charging stations at its Hartford and Windsor locations.

The company met its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 15% in 2010 (commendable), and promptly proceeded to issue a new target reduction (20%) for 2017. Newsweek has labeled it the 12th greenest company in the United States.

And The Electric Motor Goes “…”

The point here is that insurance certainly isn’t a reason not to get an EV — in fact, cheaper insurance is another reason to get one.

The Clean Fleet Report estimates 100,000 electric vehicles will be sold in 2012. The Hartford is trying to corner the corresponding electric vehicle insurance market. Andi Napoli, the company's president of Consumer Markets, is pretty optimistic about its chances and is happy to be doing it’s part to encourage greener driving:

"The Hartford is committed to environmental protection and we are delighted to encourage others to engage in the effort. This financial incentive is a small way we can thank our customers for helping to foster a greener environment. Together, our efforts will contribute to a more sustainable future.”

What do you think? Let us know in the comments, below.

Source: Business Wire
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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This Month’s Tip on How to Greenify Your Home — Solar Water Heaters

Posted: 19 Apr 2012 01:14 PM PDT

 
California Solar Initiative Thermal Project

If you live in California, this is going to be easy. Californians already have a reputation for working to help out the environment (emissions laws are notorious, for example), and this next step seems like it fits in perfectly well: solar water heaters.

It's Already Hot, Just Direct the Heat

The CSI (that's California Solar Initiative, not the gory police procedural) has launched its Thermal Program, encouraging all Californians to use the sun to heat their water. The program has 4 administrators — California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE), Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison Company (SCE), and Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) — all of whom are cooperating in the state-wide outreach campaign.

Gwen Marelli, Director of Commercial and Industrial Services (SoCalGas), points out the timing of the program is deliberate:

"Earth Month is the perfect time of year for people to think about what more they can do to use energy more efficiently and reduce emissions. Solar water heating is a great way to do both. The rebates available from the CSI-Thermal Program help make the purchase and installation of qualifying systems more affordable."

Details, Details, Details

While solar water heating is already widely available, the CSI Thermal Project means that customers of the four utilities listed above get rebates (up to $1875, not bad) for a solar heating unit on a single-family home. Owners of commercial and multi-family buildings get up to $500K.

Of course, requirements have to be met in order to actually get the rebate — how much energy the system will displace is a factor, as well as how quickly the system is paid for. Andrew McAllister, Managing Director for CCSE, believes that the rebate will drive business:

"This rebate encourages home and business owners to take the next step in energy conservation and efficiency, and helps build a sustainable future for California. The time is now to learn more about solar water heating and the CSI-Thermal Program."

Why Solar Water Heating?

Solar water heating doesn't replace a standard water heater — instead, it incorporates it into the new system. The sun's energy is used to heat the water, which is then stored. As hot water is pulled from the conventional water heater, the solar-heated water replaces it.

Gary Barsley, manager for SCE's solar and self-generation programs, says this about solar heating:

"The sun's heat energy is clean and abundant, and the solar water heating technology is efficient. That makes solar water heating systems a smart way to generate hot water for your home or business."

Yet one more step along the way to a really energy-efficient home or business.

Questions or comments? Let us know below!

Source: Business Wire
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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