Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

A Mileage-Boosting, Drop-In, Plug-In Hybrid Retrofit Kit

Posted: 25 Jul 2012 11:00 PM PDT

A revolving tag-team of student researchers at Middle Tennessee State University has developed a plug-in hybrid retrofit kit for cars that bolts inside the rear-wheel hubs without requiring any changes in the brakes, suspension, or any other mechanical systems. Kits like this might not gain much of a foothold in the individual market until gas prices spike again, but they could provide vehicle fleet managers with an economical way to increase their zero-emission, electric vehicle profile and reduce their dependency on liquid fuels.

mtsu boosts mileage with hybrid retrofit kit

Electric Vehicles vs. Liquid Fuels

The days of “easy oil” are quickly fading, and petroleum is not the only liquid vehicle fuel on shaky ground. This year’s heat wave and drought has exposed a key vulnerability of conventional biofuels, which will persist until the next generation of biofuel crops emerges into commercial scale. (That new generation includes biofuel from algae as well as biofuel from waste materials or woody, drought-tolerant plants.)

In the meantime, fleet managers will have to deal with price spikes and supply issues whether they use biofuel or petroleum fuel. That makes electric vehicle conversion more attractive, particularly for fleets that travel short distances at low speeds.

The MTSU In-Wheel Hybrid Retrofit

The student team at MTSU has been working with lead researcher Dr. Charles Perry since 2008, using a 1994 Honda station wagon as their platform.

The MTSU retrofit consists of an electric motor bolted into each rear wheel, in the space between the hub and the brake. The motors are powered with a lithium-ion battery.

The high price of li-ion batteries is one significant obstacle to a cost-effective retrofit, so the idea was to cut costs by reducing the installation time and avoiding the need to tinker with other mechanical systems in the car.

You can find examples of that kind of approach among other hybrid retrofit innovators, such as an electric motor that can be bolted onto the differential developed by the company XL Hybrids.

Hybrid Retrofits and Gas Dependency

So far, the MTSU team has demonstrated that its kit can increase the gas mileage of an 18-year-old car by an impressive 50 to 100 percent!

That would seem to indicate that the best candidates for retrofits are older fleets with lousy mileage, but with the market uncertainty of both biofuel and petroleum fuel in mind, retrofits could make sense even for newer fleets with relatively good mileage.

Image: Courtesy of MTSU

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Solar Acquisitions Doubled to $10.8 Billion in 2011

Posted: 25 Jul 2012 08:30 PM PDT

Investors purchased a record 3.9 GW of solar photovoltaic projects in 2011, worth an estimated $10.8 billion. This increased the gigawatt capacity purchased by 122 percent from 2010, according to new research published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a London-based consultancy firm.

The report examined 221 deals made from 2006 to 2011, and found that Italy was the most active market for transactions involving operating assets during 2011, totaling 540 MW purchased. 242 megawatts of this total was sold by Athens-based construction company Terna SA.

Contrasting that, however, the top five individual deals when looking only at the number of megawatts transferred took place in the US, all involving assets currently in production rather than in operation.

"The boom in solar PV in Spain and Italy, driven by unsustainable feed-in tariffs, left a pool of assets generating very attractive cash flows, and still owned by developers, manufacturers and contractors,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. ”These firms have a high cost of capital and many would prefer to recycle what funds they have into new projects.

“They are selling to longer-term investors with a lower cost of capital, who are happy with returns of between 5 percent and 15 percent, depending on the country concerned, over 20-25 years. PV projects can be a very attractive product for this type of investor, at the right price."

Worldwide, 2.8 gigawatts of the sales made during 2011 consisted of finished or partially completed installations, leaving 1.1. gigawatts in sites with permits, but yet to begin construction.

The valuations placed by purchasers on PV projects have dropped by approximately 44 percent from their peak back in 2008. The report, entitled The Solar Portfolio Hunters: Focus On The Acquisition And Valuation Of Solar Assets, showed that global average sale values declined from a peak 6.4 million Euros per MW in 2008 to 3.6 million Euro per MW in 2011.

"This reflected two influences," said Pietro Radoia, solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance and co-author of the report. "First, the subsidies for the average operating plant have become less generous, and therefore the potential revenues are reduced. Second, the financial crisis has pushed up the cost of debt and equity."

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance
Image Source: Brookhaven National Laboratory

US Launches 1st Commercial Tidal Power Project

Posted: 25 Jul 2012 08:00 PM PDT

The US Department of Energy and Ocean Renewable Power Company announced the launch of the country’s first commercial, grid-tied tidal power project on Tuesday, the TidGen Cobscook Bay project, in Eastport, Maine.

Located on Cobscook Bay, an inlet of the Bay of Fundy, the project has created more than 100 local and supply-chain jobs and contributed more than $14 million to the local economy.

“The Eastport tidal energy project represents a critical investment to ensure America leads in this fast-grown global industry, helping to create new manufacturing, construction and operation jobs across the country, while diversifying our energy portfolio and reducing pollution,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said about the project.

The project received $10 million from the federal government’s Wind and Water Power Program, and will generate enough electricity for 75 to 100 homes. However, additional tidal power devices are planned to be installed, which would eventually extend the generation to levels capable of powering more than 1,000 homes.

The Bay of Fundy is known for its high tidal ranges. The Canadian Hydrographic Service determined that the Bay of Fundy had a tidal range of 17 meters (55.8 feet) at Burntcoat Head, putting it into a statistical tie with Leaf Basin in Ungava Bay for the world’s record for largest tidal range. Unsurprisingly, turning this record into a resource was only a matter of time.

Source: Ocean Renewable Power Company

Solar Bag Cleans Water While Walking

Posted: 25 Jul 2012 07:10 PM PDT


Clean water is hard to come by, but a solar-enhanced bag has combined portability and potability.

The Solar Bag, designed by Ryan Lynch and Marcus Triest, is exactly what it sounds like: an over-the-shoulder messenger style bag that can be filled with water and lugged around while the sun’s UV rays purify. The Solar Bag can decontaminate about 2.5 liters of water in as little as six hours.

Lynch said the bag was designed to be used by families in sub-saharan Africa.

Sources: TreeHugger and Ryan Lynch
Image: Courtesy of Ryan Lynch



BP Aiming for Two New Biofuels by 2014

Posted: 25 Jul 2012 07:00 PM PDT


British Petroleum, otherwise known as BP, could be helping to solve some of the sustainable energy transportation puzzle. The British oil and gas giant is trying out two new advanced biofuels in hopes that they will hit the market by 2014, according to a recent Bloomberg article.

BP has a working demonstration biobutanol plant in Hull, England.

BP is also planting grasses to support a proposed 36-million-gallon-a-year cellulosic ethanol plant in Florida, the article said.

For those who are looking for some background, Biobutanol is created by fermenting biomass. Biobutanol can mix with higher concentrated gasoline, while current bioethanol can be retrofitted to produce biobutanol, the article said.

Cellulosic ethanol, meanwhile, comes from various plants, grasses, or inedible plant parts. The article points to cellulosic ethanol being advantageous over sugarcane-based fuels because grass material needed for the fuel can be grown anywhere in the world, compared to sugarcane, which is limited to countries in the equator area.

Demand for biofuels will increase in the future. BP estimates that, by 2030, 9% of the world's transportation fuel sources will come from biofuel, up from 3% now.

The Bloomberg article cites climate change, potential for increased market revenue for depressed farming communities, and energy security concerns as the driving catalyst for biofuels’ upward future trend. Philip New, CEO of BP's biofuels unit, also states:

"If you believe that demand for transport fuels is going to grow significantly, if you believe that for the foreseeable future we're going to carry on using internal combustion engines and liquid fuels, then biofuels are going to be the only complement to crude oil that's out there.”

In the near future, BP is looking at Louisiana, Texas, and Florida, in which grass can be grown in order to support biofuel plants, New said. He also said BP, by 2024, is aiming to have barrel costs between $60 and $80, compared to today's barrel value within the $140 to $150 range.

Sources: Bloomberg/ British Petroleum
Photo Credit: British Petroleum

Solar PV Trade Disputes Escalate as German Group Files Dumping Charges against China

Posted: 25 Jul 2012 02:58 PM PDT

Trade disputes between China — whose manufacturers have come to dominate the global market for silicon solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and panels — is intensifying, and appears poised to escalate into a full-blown trade war.

Led by SolarWorld AG, German solar PV companies earlier today filed a World Trade Organization (WTO) petition with the European Commission (EC) asserting that Chinese manufacturers are dumping solar PV cells and modules in the EU market, a predatory market practice proscribed by WTO rules, according to news reports. Both SolarWorld and the EC declined to comment.

The escalating trade dispute highlights the strategic importance solar energy’s come to acquire, not only in terms of economic growth and job creation, but also with regard to energy security and environmental sustainability. That’s true not only in the European Union (EU) and China, but in the US and other nations looking to shift away from polluting fossil fuels and insulate themselves from the rising cost, price volatility, resource depletion, environmental degradation, and political and military imbroglios associated with fossil fuel production and consumption.



The Rising Strategic Importance of Solar Power

SolarWorld AG is following in the tracks laid down by its US subsidiary SolarWorld Industries Americas, which has led a group of US solar PV manufacturers — the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) — in filing successful anti-dumping and illegal subsidy complaints against Chinese silicon PV imports into the US. Per World Trade Organization (WTO) due process, the Dept. of Commerce, having found in favor of CASM’s claims on both counts, has imposed and is enforcing import duties on Chinese imports of silicon PV cells and panels. Commerce’s final ruling is expected in October.

The EC-WTO trade case is likely to have a much more profound and pronounced effect on the global solar PV market than the two petitions filed in the US. The EU continues to be the world’s largest market for solar PV, accounting for 74% of global installations in 2011, according to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA).

“We have always said that we will ask the European Union to take urgent action against unfair competition from Chinese solar manufacturers,” CASM stated in a press release. “We can confirm that SolarWorld is working together with leading European manufacturers to urge the European Commission to act. We will not reveal any specific dates, however the European industry initiative will communicate its intentions in the coming days.”

Increasing Tension

The EC filing comes in the wake of record growth in solar PV installations and a precipitous 50% decline in silicon PV cell and panel prices that have been driven in the main by a massive build-up in Chinese production, some 95% of which is exported. That’s putting serious strains on competing solar PV manufacturers in other WTO member countries, including the US and EU, which are resulting in a growing string of bankruptcy and insolvency filings.

China has identified solar PV as an industry of strategic national importance and has supported Chinese silicon PV manufacturers with massive subsidies. As laid out in its latest Five-Year Plan, Chinese government subsidies for silicon PV are set to continue, and increase in more innovative solar PV market segments, including thin-film solar PV.

Filing of the EU trade complaints against Chinese PV imports is sure to heighten divisions within the solar energy industry, which in general break out along the industry’s business lines. Downstream of solar PV manufacturers, those financing and installing solar PV systems and projects have generally come out against imposing duties or tariffs on Chinese imports. Producers of polysilicon — the intermediate material from which silicon PV cells and panels are made — as well as silicon PV manufacturing equipment vendors are generally in this camp as well. Opposing criticism and the level of rhetoric is rising.

“Today Germany-based SolarWorld has once again demonstrated that it is willing to undermine the world's solar industry in a desperate effort to avoid competition in the marketplace,” the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) stated in a press release. “The entire global solar industry – manufacturers, suppliers, installers and consumers — has benefited from the sharp decline in the price of solar cells, and our industry's future success is predicated on our ability to continually improve the economics of solar electricity generation.

“SolarWorld desperately needs that trend to halt to remain competitive. Like a crazed agent provocateur, SolarWorld is fueling global solar industry infighting for its own selfish interest. On behalf of tens of thousands of US solar workers, we are very disheartened by SolarWorld's unnecessary and destructive actions and urge the EU to reject their petition.”

Chinese Retaliation

Solar energy industry participants fear reprisal from the Chinese government, which has launched retaliatory WTO trade complaints habitually in recent decades in such cases. That’s proving to be the case in this instance, as well. China recently announced it’s initiating its own WTO investigations into claims that US and South Korean polysilicon manufacturers are dumping product in the Chinese market.

Nevertheless, CASM continues to stand fast and enlarge its campaign to put an end to what it claims are business practices and government subsidies that threaten to drive competitors in other countries out of business and put essentially all the world’s solar PV manufacturing capacity in Chinese hands.

"Today's announcement by the Chinese government proves once and for all that the it is intent on unfairly and illegally allowing its manufacturers to dominate the global solar industry,” SolarWorld Industries America. “While it was not unexpected, the announcement of retaliatory investigations into U.S. polysilicon production is harmful to the international trade system.

“The Chinese government has been telegraphing this move since last October. It is a common Chinese tactic and an abuse of international trade rules. It represents yet another cynical attempt by the Chinese government to bully the U.S. government by injecting politics into a judicial investigation that is sanctioned under international trade rules, as today's announcement tacitly confirms. Fortunately, when the Chinese government has attempted such blatant retaliatory actions, its actions have been declared illegal by the World Trade Organization.

"The American people understand the Chinese do not play by the rules and are demanding action. In one recent poll, more than two-thirds of voters think China's violations of international trade rules are costing the U.S. jobs. As a result, 62 percent of voters favor getting tough on China's illegal trade practices,” Brinser concluded.

C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrid from Ford — $29,995

Posted: 25 Jul 2012 04:10 AM PDT

There’s another plug-in hybrid in town. This one, the C-Max Energy from Ford, is just $29,995 after the $3,750 federal tax credit. That makes it the most affordable plug-in hybrid on the US market. Here are some more details from the good boys over at Gas2:

Ford C-Max Energi Priced At $29,995 After Tax Credit (via Gas 2.0)

I've read a lot of press releases about Ford's upcoming Prius fighter, the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid. But nobody has actually gotten a chance to drive this plug-in, nor has Ford been forthcoming about some of the most important figures, specifically an expected EPA MPG rating. Ford has however…

Plants Can Reduce Air Pollution in Cities 60%, According to Study

Posted: 25 Jul 2012 03:48 AM PDT


Sprucing up cities with greenery goes well beyond aesthetics: a study in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology reports that plants in urban centers reduce concentrations of pollution at far greater rates than previously thought.

The study reports that levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, both hazardous to humans, were lowered by 40 and 60 percent, respectively. Previously, plants were thought to reduce pollutants in city streets by less than five percent!

Grasses, bushes, and climbing ivy are all deemed effective at removing pollutants. Trees can also be effective if special attention is paid to avoiding pollution getting trapped below their crowns.

Source: TreeHugger
Image: private garden via Shutterstock



Study Finds Green Homes Sell $34,800 Higher in California

Posted: 25 Jul 2012 03:43 AM PDT

If sustainability and environmental responsibility weren’t enough persuasion, then cold hard cash in the form of home resale value may get homeowners to invest in green improvements. A new study finds California homes with green labels sell for $34,800, or nine percent, more than comparable homes without green certifications.

Researchers from UC-Berkley and UCLA examined the data on 1.6 million single family homes sold over the last five years in California.

Interesting points to the study include that residents with green label homes in hotter climates sell at higher prices, which may be indicative of the value of cheaper home cooling systems.

Source: Business Wire



Solar on Verge of Overtaking Wind in Germany

Posted: 24 Jul 2012 09:04 PM PDT

The amount of solar energy capacity on the German electricity grid will soon overtake that of wind, making it the first major developed country in the world to boast more solar energy than wind on its national grid.

According to the Federal Net Agency, the country's solar PV capacity will have risen by 7,100 megawatts (MW) so far this year (to the end of July) to 32,000MW  - overtaking wind which is currently around 31,000MW.

The irony is that Germany is blessed neither with strong wind nor good solar resources. Its average wind speeds are around half that of Australia and its solar resources are less than half. But it is determined to source 35 per cent of its energy production from renewables by 2020, as it winds down its nuclear capacity.

Solar is taking an increasingly prominent role in the German electricity grid, accounting for more than 40 per cent of energy produced on some sunny days, and matching well with wind, as these graphs from Bruno Burger of the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany below show.

The first graph shows how Germany sources more wind and less solar in the winter months, before the tables are turned in summer. The second graphic shows the production of wind and solar compared to the production of conventional energy over the first six months of the year.

But here's another graph that breaks down the contributions from renewables and conventionals even further. It is for the month of June, and shows that wind and solar combined produced as much energy in the month as Germany's remaining nuclear reactors. At times during the month, solar provided twice as much energy as nuclear, and more than any other energy source.

This article was originally published on REnew Economy. It has been reposted with full permission.

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