- Oxymoron of the Day: Nocturnal Photosynthesis
- Energy Datapalooza: Open Data from the U.S. Department of Energy
- Online Service Gives Us New Ways to Access Key U.S. Electric Power Data
- Nissan Evalia, 7-Seat Electric Van to be Released in Europe
- Next-Generation Lithium-Ion Batteries Being Developed by Kansas State University
- And Faster Yet — New UK Land Speed Record Set by Nemesis Electric Lotus
- It Gets Better — New Sport Suspension for the Tesla Model S
- SoloPower Offers Relatively Expensive Panels with a Potentially Huge Cost Benefit
- Majority of Michigan Voters Support 25% Renewable Energy Target
- Infographic on What a DOE Loan for the 110-MW Crescent Dunes SolarEnergy Project Creates
- Alabama Power Deal to Bring in Low-Cost Wind Power from Oklahoma, Kansas
- Elephant Grass Could Be Secret Weapon in Biofuel Wars
- Huge Geothermal Potential Discovered in Utah
Posted: 02 Oct 2012 12:00 AM PDT
Nocturnal Photosynthesis, Exposed!
The technical name for nocturnal photosynthesis is crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM). The phenomenon was discovered back in the 1950′s, when researchers at Newcastle University in the UK noted that prickly pear, agave, and some other desert plants open up their pores to absorb carbon dioxide at night, rather than during the day as in normal photosynthesis.
With a store of carbon dioxide at hand, these plants have a power source for photosynthesis during the day while keeping their pores shut tight against water loss.
According to researchers at the University of Nevada, CAM plants can thrive on 8 to 16 inches of precipitation annually, compared to typical non-CAM biofuel crops that requires 20 to 40 inches.
The Poplar Biofuel Connection
Why poplar? Well, as the US recovers from its corn ethanol hangover, the search is on for woody, drought-tolerant biofuel crops that don’t compete with crops for food and animal feed. That makes the ideal biofuel crop a non-food plant that can be grown on marginal land that is not suitable for cultivating food crops.
That’s where poplar comes in. Biofuel from poplars is already a hot topic in biofuel research circles because the tree grows quickly in poor soil and it tolerates dry conditions.
As a perennial biofuel crop, poplar has a potential advantage over annual crops in terms of soil conservation and energy required for cultivation.
A poplar biofuel farm could do double duty as a managed forest for wildlife habitat and recreation. Poplar is also being tested as a form of soil remediation called phytoremediation, in which plants remove contaminants from soil as they grow.
Building a Better Poplar Tree
That’s all well and good, but one thing that poplar lacks is the genetic mechanism for CAM, and that is exactly what the new DOE grant is designed to give it.
Helping to nudge things along, researchers at Oregon State University have been working on a genetic modification to create semi-dwarf trees, including dwarf poplar. The idea is to keep forest US forest industries viable in a hotter, dryer world by introducing trees that are more drought-tolerant due to a larger proportion of root mass.
The increased root mass would also enhance ability of semi-dwarf trees to perform soil conservation and phytoremediation tasks.
No surprise that the Oregon State research is partly funded by the Department of Energy as well as the Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, and forest industry partners.
The University of Nevada project, by the way, is titled “Engineering CAM Photosynthetic Machinery into Bioenergy Crops for Biofuels Production in Marginal Environments. The research team also includes the University of Liverpool, Newcastle University, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Posted: 01 Oct 2012 01:06 PM PDT
Imagine it is a scorching hot summer day, and your smart phone beeps, asking if you'd like it to raise your home thermostat a degree or two to save money. Or, envision an easy-to-use software package that lets a building owner perform virtual energy audits at a fraction of the cost of in-person audits, so real savings are calculated instantly, building upgrades launched sooner, and construction jobs created faster.
The event includes demonstrations of mobile apps and web-based services that are available to families and businesses today, as well as previews of future inventions. In addition, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu will honor the winners of the Department of Energy's inaugural "Apps for Energy" challenge, whose inventions include innovative applications such as: Leafully, which uses creative comparisons to help consumers understand how their actions impact the world and their wallet; Melon Power, which helps building owners easily calculate their Energy Star score; and VELOBill, which makes it easy to visualize energy usage data, compare it to peers, and make a plan to save energy.
The day includes several exciting announcements. The Energy Department is launching a new "Vehicles Data Challenge" aimed at spurring technologies that can increase fuel efficiency and protect against distracted driving. And utilities and software companies are announcing the launch of "Green Button Connect My Data" in California and the Mid-Atlantic. Green Button Connect My Data enables energy customers to securely and automatically transfer their own energy data to authorized third parties, if they choose to do so. It builds on previous commitments under the Green Button Initiative to help consumers download their own energy data to their desktops.
The Energy Datapalooza will demonstrate how private-sector entrepreneurs are creating jobs and helping Americans save money, using open data as their fuel. To keep the momentum going, the Energy Department is announcing the release of 20 new datasets, three new application programing interfaces to make data easily accessible by software developers, and hundreds of qualified data links in the Energy.Data.Gov community.
For a full list of announcements from the Energy Datapalooza, please see this fact sheet.
Steven Chu is U.S. Secretary of Energy, Todd Park is U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and Nancy Sutley is Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.
Posted: 01 Oct 2012 12:58 PM PDT
The free API will give developers access to data on electricity generation, retail sales, and average prices, and the types of fuel that are used to generate electricity at the state and national levels. Electricity generation and fuel consumption data for individual power plants with more than 1 megawatt of capacity also are available. These data are structured into a hierarchical set of 39,000 categories, grouping related series and assisting in the exploration of EIA’s data.
Of particular interest to developers will be the geographical metadata provided with each series (for example, the longitude and latitude information of individual electricity plants). Standards-based country and state codes are provided, where applicable. These metadata will permit advanced mapping applications.
Planned additions to EIA’s API include petroleum and natural gas data, along with state energy estimates. As these data sets are added over the coming months, the total number of data series available through EIA’s API will grow.
APIs are an important element of a government-wide Digital Strategy to make information more transparent and customer-centered.
To get your free API key and learn more, visit www.eia.gov/developer.
Posted: 01 Oct 2012 12:45 PM PDT
“Based on the e-NV200 concept, the newly-named Nissan Evalia Electric van will utilize the same drivetrain as the Nissan Leaf. While the Japanese automaker hasn't released range numbers, they did say that the fast-charging plug will allow an 80% charge in just 30 minutes. Nissan is also touting that 6 kW of onboard energy that can be tapped by business owners who need a portable source of power.”
Posted: 01 Oct 2012 12:30 PM PDT
The researchers are also working on lithium-ion batteries that can store energy and deliver power more rapidly, which they believe will be a more appropriate alternative power source for electric vehicles and machines that are powered by alternative energy. As an example, “solar- and wind-powered technologies could switch to the battery in the evening when there is a lack of wind or sunlight to produce energy,” says Steven Arnold Klankowski, a doctoral candidate in chemistry who is working under Jun Li, professor of chemistry, at Kansas State University.
“The battery market is moving very fast these days as everyone is trying to get an advantage for their electric vehicles and cellphones,” said Klankowski, who also has a background in materials engineering. “As our devices get smarter, so must our methods to supply greater amounts of portable electrical energy to power these devices.”
These new materials that are being developed and improved by the researchers allows the electrode to store “roughly 10 times the amount of energy as current electrodes — giving the batteries a 10-15 percent improvement in current battery technology.”
“We’re trying to go for higher energy capacity,” Klankowski said. “To do that we’re looking at if we can store more energy per the electrode’s size or mass, and if we can use that energy more quickly to make the battery like a capacitor. Batteries and capacitors are on opposite sides of the energy storage field. We’d like to move them both closer together.”
For the lab work, he has been looking at how the lithium-silicon-alloy material’s characteristics vary with every production cycle, and also how those varied characteristics can be modified to allow lithium-ion batteries to become closer to capacitors.
This material is also of interest for its energy storing ability. Simulated battery operation tests have shown that it can repeatedly be charged and discharged with energy.
As per the current requirements of the U.S. Department of Energy, a battery needs to maintain at least an 80 percent charge capacity after being put though ’300 charge-discharge cycles.’
“A battery today tends to die after 400-500 cycles or three years,” Klankowski said. “One of the things we’ll want to improve on is that lasting performance. It won’t be much of an advantage if your phone’s battery can last for 36 hours for the first few months but then only two hours after that. With the progress we are seeing, I hope one day to drive from Manhattan to my folks’ house in Minnesota on a single battery change.”
Posted: 01 Oct 2012 12:07 PM PDT
If you can’t go fast, why go at all? This is apparently the question asked by green energy company Ecotricity with the Nemesis Electric Lotus. Ecotricity picked up an electrified Lotus Exige, tinkered with it, and set it loose on the UK electric land speed record.
The modified Exige hasn’t matched the world land speed record for an electric car — 300+ mph — or an electric bike, but it did set a top speed of 151 mph and break the previous UK record:
Head on over to our sister site Gas2 for further details!
Posted: 01 Oct 2012 12:03 PM PDT
Tesla not only makes electric cars, it makes fast electric cars – the Roadster does 0-60 in 3.7s and the Model S does it in 4.4s. Most people (myself included) would look at a sedan reaching 60mph in sub-5 and call it a day. Not Elon Musk.
In development is a new performance-oriented version of the Tesla Model S, with the main difference being the suspension system:
Follow me this way for further information!
Posted: 01 Oct 2012 12:00 PM PDT
SoloPower’s flexible CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenium) solar panels have some clear installation benefits. They can be pasted onto roofs without penetrating them. Penetration requires expensive contractors, and the construction of mounting equipment for solar panels does, too.
Flexible solar panels can also be installed onto uneven surfaces much more easily than typical rigid metal panels, and they can even be installed onto surfaces that it would be impossible to mount rigid metal panels onto.
As you can see in the picture above, installation can actually be very simple, and this opens up a window of opportunity to install solar panels yourself, which is far cheaper than having a contractor install them. This is because solar panel installation is so expensive that it costs more than the panels themselves.
The easy pasting installation concept also has a catch. Pasting panels on your roof may entail replacing your roof when the panels go bad, depending on the type of roof you have.
If you have an asphalt roof, then the panels could outlast the roof, but they normally have the same lifespan as the roof (20 years). So, ideally, the panels are likely to need replacement at the same time as the roof.
There are also adhesives which can easily be peeled back off — although I can’t verify how long such adhesives could last. And there’s one major catch to this idea — ease of theft. Solar panels that are permanently glued to roofs cannot be stolen, so their theft deterrence is superior.
For smaller scale projects that are up to 500 kW, SoloPower’s panels cost $2.95 per watt.
SoloPower is headquartered in San Jose, California.
Posted: 01 Oct 2012 04:10 AM PDT
This election season, Michigan may turn out to be one of the most important states for renewable energy in the U.S.
In November, voters will have the chance to vote on a constitutional amendment that will increase Michigan's renewable electricity targets from 10 percent by 2015 to 25 percent by 2025.
Now, a new poll finds that a majority of Michiganders support increasing renewable energy in the state. According to a survey of likely voters conducted by a variety of news outlets in the state, 55 percent would vote "yes" for more clean energy.
Adam Browning, Executive Director of the Vote Solar Initiative, explains the significance of the Michigan ballot initiative:
A number of groups, including Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, have vowed to weaken or repeal state-level renewable energy targets.
In addition, 77 percent of Americans agree with this statement: "The energy industry's extensive and well-financed public relations, campaign contributions and lobbying machine is a major barrier to moving beyond business as usual when it comes to America's energy policy."
Posted: 01 Oct 2012 03:37 AM PDT
Posted: 01 Oct 2012 02:50 AM PDT
Burning coal remains the predominant means of generating electricity in the US, the Southeast, and in Alabama. 58% of the electricity Alabama Power generated in 2011 came from coal-fired power plants. The utility’s fuel mix has been changing, however, as the costs of using cleaner natural gas and even cleaner renewable wind and solar power have come down significantly.
Gradually, but Surely, Wind & Other Renewables Catching On in the Southeast
In 1999, coal-fired power supplied 77% of Alabama Power’s electricity. That’s fallen to 47% as of mid-2012, Alabama Power spokesperson Michael Sznajderman told Birmgingham News’ Thomas Spencer.
At the same time, stricter environmental regulations aimed at reducing US carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as avoiding the high, socialized health, and other environmental risks and costs associated with coal mining and generating electricity from coal mean the cost of coal-fired generation has risen. By purchasing or generating electricity from wind power, Alabama Power avoids those risks, and secures electricity at a much more stable rate over the long-term, thereby insulating itself from the rising cost and higher volatility of coal and other fossil fuel prices.
Alabama Power’s 404 MW of wind power is to come from the Chisholm View Wind Project in Oklahoma’s Garfield and Grant counties, which is expected to begin operations in December, and the Buffalo Dunes Wind Project near Garden City, Kansas, which is due to come online in 2014.
Wind Power Development: Local Green Jobs, Big Economic Boost, Cleaner Air, and a Healthier Environment
TradeWind Energy’s Chisholm View Wind Project has a rated generation capacity of 235 MW, with 140 GE 1.6-MW wind turbines spread across some 45,000 acres. More than 150 landowners are receiving royalties from the project. That’s in addition to the local green wind energy jobs, incomes, and tax revenue the wind farm produces.
A 345-kilovolt (kV) Oklahoma Gas and Electric Transmission Line runs N-S directly through the project site. The high-voltage transmission line can deliver energy to North as well as South to load centers such as Wichita, Kansas and Oklahoma City, where interconnections enable the power to be delivered farther afield.
With a projected rated capacity between 200-405 MW, Lenexa, Kansas–based TradeWind Energy also owns the Buffalo Dunes Wind Project outside Garden City, Kansas. Due to be completed in 2014, GE 1.6-MW and Siemens 2.3-MW wind turbines or similar are being installed over more than 75,000 acres of tilled farmland, taking just 1%-2% out of agricultural service.
A state environmental group praised Alabama Power’s decision, and also that of Georgia Power, which this past week announced it would purchase 200 MW of solar power. “We were pleased to hear about the recent wind purchase by Alabama Power and applaud the Alabama Public Service Commission for researching the project and ultimately approving it," Alabama Environmental Council executive director Michael Churchman was quoted as saying.
"We also applaud Georgia Power for announcing this week a 200MW purchase of solar power,” he said. “Together, these kinds of projects will help offset negative impacts from fossil fuel electric generation and bring us closer to a clean energy future.”
Posted: 01 Oct 2012 02:44 AM PDT
Elephant Grass Biofuel and Drought
Drought tolerance is a big sustainability issue for biofuel crops, and that has put the spotlight on switchgrass, camelina and other grasses and weedy plants that would do well in the West and Midwest without requiring too much in the way of irrigation.
That still leaves a huge chunk of the U.S. available for biofuel crop production where water supply is generally plentiful, and one of those areas is the southern tier of the Southeast.
Napiergrass has already had ample time to prove it can thrive in the Southeast, though it has made itself a little too comfortable in Florida, where it has gained a sketchy reputation as an invasive species partly due to its proclivity for growing along the sides of canals and clogging waterways.
Napiergrass as a Sustainability Twofer
If napiergrass can be managed properly, it would provide a couple of other benefits aside from producing feedstock for renewable biofuel. Its root system acts as a high-efficiency filtration mechanism that traps excess nutrients, so it could be cultivated on marginal lands as a form of runoff control or stormwater management.
USDA research has also revealed that napiergrass can grow just as well on used poultry litter as on commercial fertilizer, so acres of cultivated napiergrass could also serve as a way to manage the waste disposal chain from poultry farms.
A Race Against Time for Biofuel
The potential for a symbiotic relationship between napiergrass and the poultry industry is somewhat ironic, given the hot fued between the poultry industry and the biofuel industry. Our friends over at Biofuels Digest have the latest on the battle, which is coming to a head as legislators from eight poultry and livestock states have been lobbying heavily for the EPA to ease the pressure on feed prices that they claim is the result of too much corn going for biofuel production.
The legislators propose tweaking the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is administered by the EPA, to divert less corn for biofuel production. However, without making allowances for non-food biofuel crops, relaxing the Renewable Fuel Standard would deal a big blow to the biofuel industry just as new biofuel technologies for converting grasses and woody, non-food crops are breaking through to commercial success.
The massive new POET Project Liberty cellulosic biofuel plant in Iowa provides one well-known example of this transition, so it’s no surprise that POET has joined with a coalition of biofuel trade associations to launch a campaign to keep the Renewable Fuel Standard as-is.
The campaign, called FuelsAmerica, points out that the Renewable Fuel Standard already provides for contingencies such as a harvest-wrecking drought, enabling refiners to lower their production of corn ethanol in the short term while keeping the standard intact for the long run.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Posted: 01 Oct 2012 02:14 AM PDT
Utah's Black Rock Desert basin was the site of nine drilling experiments by US geologists to determine if it is a suitable site for geothermal energy development. They found sufficient differences in temperatures in the rock at various depths to rate it a potential geothermal energy discovery. Temperatures could be 500 degrees Fahrenheit at 13,000 feet.
With the type of geothermal plant that could be used there, all water would be sent back into the reservoir once it cooled down, so there would be no water consumption. It has been described as a favorable site for geothermal because it is near an electricity transmission line to California, where power costs twice as much as in Utah. A large wind farm and a coal power plant are also nearby, so infrastructure that could accommodate a new geothermal plant already exists to an encouraging extent. The flat, very open land there is filled with cheatgrass and sagebrush.
“There are other potentially hot basins across the Basin and Range province that need to be investigated using this exploration model. We have identified the Steptoe Valley and Mary's River–Toano basins in northeast Nevada as obvious geothermal targets,” said Dr. Rick Allis, UGS Director.
There are two geothermal facilities in Utah currently – Fort Cove and Roosevelt Hot Springs.
Image Credit: Ikluft, Wiki Commons
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