Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Chinese President Looks To Cut Energy Consumption

Posted: 12 Nov 2012 02:50 PM PST

China, already a global leader in renewable energy, is also looking to be a leader in energy efficiency.

In a keynote speech at the Chinese Communist Party Congress, outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao reccently called for dramatic changes in how natural resources are used within the country, Business Green reported on Friday.

Hu even went to on to say that China needs a "energy efficiency revolution," which would include putting a ceiling on energy use.

Besides cutting back energy consumption, China will need to drop its carbon emission in other ways, along with the release of other major pollutants, he said.

Hu also acknowledges that China will need to put taxes on resource consumption, and implement fines for companies conflicting environmental damage on the nation and the world.

“We should launch a revolution in energy production and consumption, impose a ceiling on total energy consumption, save energy and reduce its consumption,” Hu said.

As the world's largest emitter of carbon emissions, the emerging market country has already made some strides to address these concerns.

China is aiming, by 2015, to have 11% of the nation's energy supply come from renewable energy. At the start of 2013, it will have seven carbon emissions trading projects targeting 700 million tonnes of carbon emissions in various cities and provinces.

Hu also warned at the Congress that the country needs to better manage its national resources in the face of fast-paced industrialization seen within China.

“We should keep more farmland for farmers and leave to our future generations a beautiful homeland with green fields, clean water and a blue sky,” Hu said.

Who knows where these words will lead? But, if followed, this is not a bad path for the second-largest economy in the world, and such efforts are sure to benefit the red giant in more ways than one.

BP Funds A New Biofuel Process That Turns Old Swords Into Plowshares

Posted: 12 Nov 2012 02:39 PM PST

Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have discovered that an old technique for making explosives can be redeployed to produce biofuel.

The process involves an odd little bacterium called Clostridium acetobutylicum, which once upon a time was used to manufacture cordite, an explosive propellant for artillery shells and bullets. Aside from its century-old roots, the new biofuel production method is also noteworthy for the financial backing of oil company BP (yes, that BP). The company funds a major research collaborative that supported the Berkeley team, called the Energy Biosciences Institute.

cordite provides key to low cost biofuels

The Cordite Connection

Cordite was invented in the 1880′s as a smokeless improvement on gunpowder. It was used extensively in World War I and World War II, most famously in the “Little Boy” atomic bomb that destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

The solvent acetone is essential for the manufacture of cordite, and typically it was obtained from the mineral calcium acetate. When World War I was in swing, Germany held the market on calcium acetate, so for obvious reasons the British government had to look elsewhere.

It didn’t have to look far, as a British chemist (the Russian-born Chaim Weizmann) had already begun exploiting Clostridium acetobutylicum for creating synthetic rubber through fermentation.

When Weizmann turned his attention to producing acetone through fermentation, he almost immediately ran into a roadblock that will be familiar to biofuel fans today: the corn upon which he relied was unavailable due to wartime food rationing.

Of even greater interest is the fact that wartime shortages in England sparked the construction of at least two acetone fermentation facilities in the corn-rich Midwestern U.S., though apparently both were in operation only for a year or so. By the 1950′s, a low-cost petrochemical process had been discovered for acetone production, and the rest is history.

Bacteria + Chemistry = Biofuel

Fast-forward about 100 years and you find the U.S. rapidly transitioning from food-based biofuel production to the use of non-food biofuel sources, including grasses, weeds, agricultural waste, and even fast-growing trees such as poplar and willow. That’s where Clostridium acetobutylicum re-enters the stage.

The basic problem with woody biomass is lignin, the substance that toughens cell walls and creates a barrier between us and the juicy sugars within. Until recently, breaking down lignin required extra steps and extra expense, making commercial-scale production a pipe dream.

Fermentation is a natural process that provides a low-cost way to get around that obstacle. The Berkeley lab team found that Clostridium acetobutylicum fits the bill as a highly efficient way to render woody biomass sugars into acetone as well as butanol and ethanol, aka the “ABE” products.

After that it was a matter of finding an efficient catalyst that could stretch the short ABE carbon chains into longer ones. The team settled on palladium, a silvery-white metal in the platinum group. They found that depending on the amount of time exposed to palladium, ABE products could be transformed into precursors for producing drop-in substitutes for gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel.

Hopefully, No Slip Between Biofuel Cup and Lip

The sticky wicket, of course, is scaling up the process to a commercially viable level, and to that end the team has already begun identifying even more efficient catalysts than palladium. History also appears to be on the Berkeley team’s side. According to corresponding research author F. Dean Toste:

"The ABE fermentation process was established and scaled nearly a century ago… and while the chemistry portion is less proven on scale, it relies on heterogeneous catalysis, a mainstay of industrial chemistry today."

Image: Courtesy of Berkeley National Laboratory

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

Stephen Colbert Weighs In On Wind Turbine Syndrome

Posted: 12 Nov 2012 02:38 PM PST


Kingpin of TV comedy Stephen Colbert did an excellent job razzing the NIMBY crowd in his show the day after President Obama’s reelection. Colbert painted a picture of hypochondria and downright silliness when reviewing cases of “Wind Turbine Syndrome.”

The bottom line is that Wind Turbine Syndrome is a farce, but at least we get a good laugh from Colbert’s unique way of poking fun at the issue.

Source: TreeHugger

Effective Solar Energy Storage System Developed

Posted: 12 Nov 2012 02:26 PM PST

Researchers at the University of Arkansas have developed a solar energy storage system that stores the thermal energy (heat) absorbed by solar panels at a lower cost than conventional energy storage methods.

The most common conventional methods for such a system involves storing the heat absorbed by solar thermal power plants in tanks of molten salt or in beds of packed rock or oils. This is, in general, thermal energy storage.

Panneer Selvam, center, Micah Hale, left, and Matt Strasser display the thermocline energy storage test system outside the Engineering Research Center in south Fayetteville.

Beds of packed rock are currently the cheapest and most efficient type of thermal energy storage, and they do work, but, as is the case with everything, there is room for improvement.

Beds of packed rock expand and contract as their temperature rises and falls, respectively. This was called “thermal ratcheting,” which stresses the walls of storage tanks because the rocks expand beyond their normal size (the size they were when they were fitted into the tank) — similar to how ice expands and can break glass in your freezer or pipes in winter.

“The most efficient, conventional method of storing energy from solar collectors satisfies the U.S. Department of Energy’s goal for system efficiency,” said Panneer Selvam, professor of civil engineering. “But there are problems associated with this method. Filler material used in the conventional method stresses and degrades the walls of storage tanks. This creates inefficiencies that aren’t calculated and, more importantly, could lead to catastrophic rupture of a tank.”


The New Method

The new method from the University of Arkansas researchers is a structured thermocline system in which there are parallel plates of concrete with steel pipes running through them. The steel pipes transfer heat absorbed by solar panels into the concrete, which stores it until it is needed to boil water and produce steam (which is usually the case), or supply heat to other heat-powered generators such as Stirling engines or thermoelectric modules.

This thermocline concept survived temperatures up to 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 degrees Fahrenheit) and absorbed heat at an efficiency of 93.9%.

It has an impressively low cost of $0.78 per kWh, far less than the U.S Department of Energy’s goal of $15 per kWh.

To give you a better idea of how this compares to batteries: Lead-acid batteries cost upwards of $25 per kWh, lithium-ion batteries cost $50 to $100 per kWh. Lithium-ion batteries can last 4 times longer than lead-acid batteries depending on the type and usage.

So, this should lead to further growth of the solar industry, which thoroughly benefits from reduced energy storage costs. Solar market penetration can be very high when using energy storage.

Source: Science Daily
Photo Credit: University of Arkansas

Drought + Superstorm Sandy + Looming Fiscal Cliff —> Revived Talk Of A Carbon Tax

Posted: 12 Nov 2012 01:56 PM PST

Notable in their absence during the recently concluded presidential election, Superstorm Sandy and historic drought are among a string of extreme weather events that are nonetheless driving climate change and human greenhouse gas emissions back toward the forefront of politics and government. This, coupled with the looming so-called "fiscal cliff," is also seems to be waking up Congress and the Obama administration, and getting them to reconsider instituting a carbon tax on the US’ largest carbon and greenhouse gas emitters, such as power producers and oil refiners.

With the US economy burdened by a massive run-up in public Treasury debt accumulated as a result of the economic emergency rescue and bank bailout packages, as well as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, could be cut in half by a $20 per ton tax on carbon emissions, a recent report by the Congressional Research Service determined.

In addition, the US Treasury has commissioned the National Academies of Science (NAS) to carry out an analysis of the effects of a carbon tax, along with other means the government could use to change the nature of its revenue-raising activities so as to encourage reductions in fossil fuel use, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Due to be completed in Spring 2013, funding for the NAS study, which is to be undertaken by a panel of economic specialists, is the latest initiative funded as a result of legislation enacted during the George W. Bush administration in 2008 but not funded until 2009, Reuters noted in a report on this matter.


A US Carbon Tax: Pro, Con and Bipartisan Support

Emphasizing the positive and beneficial economic (as opposed to environmental and social) effects, enacting a carbon tax would generate greater bipartisan political support, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Paul Bledsoe, who from 1998 to 2000 served as communications director of the White House Climate Change Task Force under President Clinton, told Reuters. Instituting a carbon tax on polluters would be “better for the economy than our current taxes on work,” he was quoted as saying.

Opinions as to the likelihood of a carbon tax being instituted vary widely, though the majority view seems to consider it unlikely. Opposition from the Republican Party has been strident and staunch, and Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives.

That said, "a number of moderate Republicans, including a few economists that advised Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have declared their support for a carbon tax, leading some to believe there is a chance for bipartisan support in Congress," according to Reuters, which noted that "Harvard professor Gregory Mankiw, economic adviser to Romney, wrote in a 2007 column that ‘if we want to reduce global emissions of carbon, we need a global carbon tax.’"

Former Republican Congressman Sherwood Boehlert and Wayne Gilchrest in February joined House Democrats Henry Waxman and Ed Markey in support of a carbon tax.

One variation on the carbon tax theme calls for a portion of the revenue collected to be redistributed by passing it on to taxpayers. Longstanding Republican luminary and former Secretary of State in the Reagan administration George Shultz has been one of the few party thought leaders that for years has been advocating for a redistributive carbon tax.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Australia managed to institute a carbon tax on its 500 largest emitters late last year following years of fierce opposition that hasn’t slackened much since being enacted. The bill also aims to cut taxes and increase government pension payments, as well as spur clean and renewable energy investment and provide relief to some affected industries, including steel.

As for a carbon tax’s prospects here in the US, “I’m quite a skeptic regarding carbon taxes, and I doubt that President Obama could gain enough support in the House to enact one even as part of a broader tax-reform package,” Reuters quoted American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Kenneth Green. “But I could be wrong.”

Nonetheless, AEI has been criticized by the Republican Party for holding closed-door discussions about enactment of a carbon tax. Along with the Brookings Institution, Resources for the Future and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), AEI is going to come out in the open on the topic next month, hosting a carbon tax forum at its Washington, D.C. headquarters next month.

Photo Credit: Martin Johnson

Ford Triples Dealers Certified To Sell C-MAX Energi, Outsells Prius V

Posted: 12 Nov 2012 11:05 AM PST

Ford seems to be doing rather well at the whole greener cars game — the number of dealers certified to sell plug-in electrified vehicles (hybrids, really, including the C-MAX Energi) has tripled to over 200 nationwide.

Ford Triples Hybrid Certified Dealerships, Outsells Prius

The first group of certified dealers numbered just 67 (in California, New York, and New Jersey); the initial plan was to get around 350 certified by early next year. Ford currently has another 700-odd dealerships enrolled for certification, showing off the enthusiasm Ford has applied to its decision to smash the Prius market into itty bitty pieces.

In the words of C. J. O’Donnell, Ford Electrified Vehicle Marketing Manager, as reported by PR Newswire:

“Ford’s strategy to deliver the power of choice for leading fuel economy across our lineup seems very well timed as our customers and dealers are showing significant interest in vehicles such as the C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid. C-MAX Energi joins C-MAX Hybrid to help Ford take on Prius for the first time, with great early signs as the hybrid outsold Prius v in its first full month of sales in October.”

Ford C-MAX Hybrid vs. Prius — Ford is Winning

The C-MAX Hybrid sales beat out Toyota’s Prius V sales during its first full month of sales by a slim margin — 3182 to 2769 — which is surely in part due to better fuel efficiency; the C-MAX does 47/47/47, whereas the Prius V gets 44/40 for a combined 42.

Ford hasn’t stopped there, though — it’s doing better on the mpg front in ICE cars, hybrids, crossovers, trucks, and SUVs. As reliable and all-around great as the Prius is, Toyota’s apparent coasting will do the company no favors in the long run. Then again, the Prius redesign may be a counterstrike — what do you think? Weigh in via the comments below!

Sources: PR Newswire & Gas2
Image Source: Ford

Ford EV+ Feature Learns Where You Live And Adjusts To Deliver More Electric-Only Driving (VIDEO)

Posted: 12 Nov 2012 11:00 AM PST

Ford’s EV+ system is either super awesome or super creepy — it consists of proprietary predictive software that watches where you go, and when in a familiar area and traveling a familiar route, it switches to battery-only power to save gas.

Ford EV+ Adjusts Powertrain to Deliver More Electric-Only Driving

Where the Ford EV+ system fits on the sliding scale of awesome to creepy depends on how you look at the idea; either more battery-powered driving is clearly an awesome, awesome thing… or Ford is on the way to making sentient cars that will eventually try to exterminate the human race.

GPS + New Software = Ford EV+

The Ford EV+ feature is actually pretty clever; it combines Ford’s already-standard GPS with the newly developed proprietary software algorithms to figure out where you go on a regular basis. When it calculates that you have enough battery power and are near a common destination, the engine turns off and the car glides silently along in electric-only mode.

Kevin Layden, Ford director of Electrification Programs and Engineering, feels that most drivers will embrace the concept:

"We know from our research that hybrid drivers want to drive as often as they can in electric-only mode, especially near their home or frequently visited locations. EV+ not only delivers that capability, but also demonstrates how Ford puts customer needs and wants above everything else."

Drivers can delete destinations or even turn the system off altogether, if they’re not happy with the idea. Those of you excited about it will he happy to know that the feature is standard on all of Ford’s plug-in hybrids, the C-MAX Energi, the Fusion Energi, and the Fusion and C-MAX hybrids. Check out Ford’s video explaining how to take advantage of the already pretty decent EV-mode range below.

Source: Ford

Barcelona Planning To Deemphasize Bike Sharing Program In Response To Financial Crisis, Protest Campaign Started

Posted: 12 Nov 2012 10:54 AM PST

Barcelona's very popular public bike sharing program, Bicing, is set to increase its user fees drastically in the coming years, as part of the current government’s changing policies. The current government of Catalonia has responded to criticism of the policy change by saying that if people didn’t like it that they should buy their own bike.

bicing price rise

The stated reason for the fee raises is the current economic crisis that tha area is experiencing. Services are being cut everywhere and fees are being raised.

Bike sharing programs provide many benefits to cities, though, some of which (like traffic relief and reduced automobile accidents) may be getting overlooked by the current government.

Bicing’s yearly fee for unlimited service will be raised by 116% in 2013, quite a large increase, and one that could potentially cripple the program. Since early March 2007, the success of Bicing has led to many Barcelonians becoming everyday cyclists and changing the city for the better. The increased fees will make Bicing the most expensive public bike sharing program in Europe.

bicing cool biker

“Never before (since the arrival of the car) have there been so many cyclists in Barcelona. However, raising its annual fee from 45€ to 97,5€ might put many of the current 150.000 Bicing members off and destroy a system which ‘serves some 60.000 daily uses’, according to La Vanguardia.” (Note for Americans: 150.000 = 150,000)

As critics of the change have stated, there are likely much better ways to decrease the administration's cost for public transport than damaging a very effective bike sharing program and the benefits that it provides.

“Investments into the Barcelona transport budget are being cut by 45% until 2020. The yearly 18 million euros of maintenance necessary for maintaining Bicing are too much, even if the city's metro swallows over a billion euros each year.”

But as critics have pointed out, "public bicycles make an average of 40.000 daily trips and the cost of 1 kilometer is 0,33 cents, slightly less than that of the bus.”

One of the main issues brought up by the policy change is that the theft of personal bikes is very common in Barcelona, making renting a bike only for one trip more appealing. One of the primary benefits of the Bicing program is that the Bicing bikes are harder to steal and then sell than private bikes are. Critics have said that, if the city worked harder to eliminate bike thefts, then more people would likely be willing to buy their own bikes, but as it stands, customers that leave Bicing will likely simply drive more not buy their own bike.

In an effort to save Bicing, The Catalan Bicycle Club has launched the #SalvemElBicing (let’s save Bicing) campaign.

Source: TreeHugger
Image Credits: bicing bikes via Albert 78000 & cool bicing biker via Mikael Colville-Andersen

New Solar Power Kit Created To Power Homes During Grid Failures, Like Sandy-Caused Blackouts

Posted: 12 Nov 2012 10:37 AM PST

A new 3-kW solar power emergency kit has been created by Mage Solar. It’s designed to function as an entirely standalone solution to the power outages experienced during disasters.


It is aimed primarily at the residential and small business market, and should work quite well for those purposes. It features an emergency kit that contains the Mage Powertec Plus solar modules, a pitched roof mounting solution, and a solar inverter with a charge controller unit that can charge separate battery systems or function as an electricity source for appliances or communication equipment.

“Other components are included as well, as is the charge controller inverter. This UL-listed device is especially designed to quickly respond to any power requirement and continue to provide electricity from the PV-array to the home even when the grid is unavailable,” Kathleen Zipp of Solar Power World writes. “Traditional grid-tied PV systems usually lack this feature, which has oftentimes been a drawback during prolonged power outages. Besides being both grid-interactive and stand-alone capable, the unit also regulates the charging of back-up batteries. The unit will connect to already existing 48 V battery set-ups or can be integrated with new batteries.”

The mounting solution for the modules is a ‘racking system’ that requires only a bare minimum of tools to set up. Being primarily connected with quick snap-on clamps.

"In light of the recent storms and natural disasters we feel that a combined grid-tied and stand-alone PV-system like the Mage Solar PV-Kit gives end-users the greatest flexibility and independence during power outages," says Joe Thomas, President and CEO of Mage Solar USA. "We are proud to be able to offer a safe and top-grade system solution to customers who want to be sure the end-user has dependable power no matter what."

Image Credit: Mage Solar

China’s ReneSola To Sell Locally Manufactured Solar PV Modules In India, Aims To Dodge Possible Anti-Dumping Duties

Posted: 12 Nov 2012 10:33 AM PST

A leading global manufacturer of photovoltaic modules and wafers from China – RenaSola – has decided to provide 250 MW of locally produced PV modules first time to the Indian market over a period of two years. The company will collaborate with the local strategic partners to cope with the demand and meet this target of 250 MW.

ReneSola Monocrystalline Solar PV Module

ReneSola Monocrystalline Solar PV Module – 200 W

The company has also announced the launch of its new Virtus II multicrystalline modules into the Indian market during the 6th Renewable Energy 2012 Expo, a three-day event held recently. The introduction of this new module followed its successful launch in United States and Australian markets.

By providing the locally produced modules to the Indian market, it seems ReneSola continues to implement its sales and marketing strategy of “professionalization, internationalization and localization” in India. The Indian PV market has seen considerable growth since the launch of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission in 2010. ReneSola is dedicated to provide localized products and services to the Indian market to take advantage of the growing solar PV sector.

“Considering the strong and growing demand the India PV market presents for electricity, coupled with the government’s strong support and generous subsidies for solar energy, ReneSola considers India to be a key market within Asia,” said Stephen Huang, APMEA President at ReneSola.

“We believe traditional PV sales and trading platforms cannot satisfy local demand, so we intend to invest more in India and are determined to establish roots there, ideally joining forces with the India PV industry to provide customized energy solutions.”

Renesola has achieved rapid development in the last seven years with PV business covering the whole industry chain. The company now operates through 17 subsidiaries, with sales branches all over the world.

The strategy by ReneSola could help it escape possible anti-dumping duties from the Indian government. With high import duties levied on Chinese solar modules by the US and EU investigating anti-dumping measures, India is one market the Chinese solar companies would do anything to hold on to. The Indian government plans to add 22,000 MW capacity by 2020 and several Indian states have also announced their own ambitious plans to increase solar power generation capacity.

Image Credit: ReneSola

The views presented in the above article are the author's personal views only.

Marks & Spencer to Source 19,000 MW from Shanks’ Waste-to-Energy Project

Posted: 12 Nov 2012 01:12 AM PST

A leading international waste and recycling company, Shanks Group, has signed a Power Purchase Agreement with UK-based retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) to supply it with the renewable electricity generated from its anaerobic digester (AD) plant located in Cumbernauld, Glasgow. The plant is a joint venture with Energen Biogas.

Marks & Spencer (M&S) sends its food waste to an anaerobic digester plant having a capacity of 60,000 tonnes, where food waste gets converted to biogas, which is used to produce clean electricity, and the digestate that is produced is used as a nutrient-rich soil conditioner.

Cumbernauld Anaerobic Digestion Facility

According to the new agreement, M&S will directly purchase electricity equivalent to 19,000 MW produced from the AD plant every year. The generated electricity is enough to power about 33 M&S stores.

"Having advocated the use of AD technology since the launch of our sustainability programme, Plan A, back in 2007, we're now seeing in practice how the plant at Cumbernauld is helping M&S to maintain two of our targets: to procure 100% renewable electricity and send zero waste to landfill," said Giacinto Patellaro, head of energy supply & risk at M&S, in a statement to media.

Shanks Group has about one million tonnes of treatment capacity all over Europe and is strengthening its presence in organics. Apart from the Cumbernauld AD plant, which was commissioned in August last year, the company is also building a 48,000 tonne per year AD plant in Bicester and 90,000 tonne per year AD plant at its South Wales site in Pontypool, for which a planning application has already been submitted to Torfaen County Borough Council.

Earlier this year, M&S became UK’s first major retailer to go carbon neutral. The company said that it realised benefits of about £105 million in 2012 as a result of the sustainability measures. It recycles 100% of its waste and has managed to reduce its energy consumption by 28% while increasing the procurement of energy from renewable energy sources.

In 2010, the company announced a plan to invest £1.25 million over five years in a deal with Somerset County Council to fund a waste recycling initiative. This waste is recycled while the excess is sent to other packaging producers.

Image Credit: Shanks Group

The views presented in the above article are the author's personal views only.

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