Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Biofuel Production Could Get Huge Boost Thanks To Galactan Breakthrough

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 07:30 AM PST

 
Researchers from the Department of Energy (DOE) have for the first time identified an enzyme that is capable of significantly raising the amount of the sugar galactan that is present in the cell walls of plants. Galactan is a type of galactose, which is a 6-carbon sugar that is easily fermentable into ethanol by utilizing yeast. It has long been a substance of great interest to researchers trying to create advanced biofuels from “cellulosic biomass.”

cellulosic biofuel image

In contrast to ethanol, new and “advanced” biofuels created from the sugars found in the cell walls of plants could be directly substituted in place of currently used fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels. They can take the place of these fuels “on a gallon-for-gallon basis,” and wouldn’t require any modifications to be made to the engines and infrastructures that are currently in use.

The quality that makes them truly promising as a supplement to renewable energies, though, is their potential to be carbon neutral, potentially being burned without contributing any new carbon to the atmosphere.


 
The primary challenge to the creation of these fuels has been finding a way “to maximize the amount of plant cell wall sugars that can be fermented into fuels,” Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers note. The new research does a lot to address this.

“We have confirmed the identity of the GT92 enzyme as the first enzyme shown to increase the biosynthesis of galactan,” says Henrik Scheller, vice president for JBEI’s Feedstocks Division and director of its Cell Wall Biosynthesis group. “This identification of the first β-1,4-galactan synthase provides an important new tool for the engineering of advanced bioenergy fuel crops.”

20121223-201853.jpg

While I’m not a proponent of biofuel use on a large-scale, carbon-neutral forms could very useful as a small-scale supplement to renewable energy such as solar and wind power.

The new research was just described in a paper published in the journal Plant Cell.

Source: DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Biofuel Production Could Get Huge Boost Thanks To Galactan Breakthrough was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Monitoring Air Quality From Your Smart Phone

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 07:00 AM PST

 
Those suffering from respiratory problems derived from pollution in the air may soon have the chance to view real-time data regarding the conditions in their own neighborhood, thanks to computer scientists from the University of California San Diego.

The researchers have built a small fleet of portable pollution sensors that they sent out into the area during a field test — the sensors allow users to monitor air quality in real-time and view the results on their smart phone.

Monitoring Air Pollution Levels As You Go

"We want to get more data and better data, which we can provide to the public," said William Griswold, a computer science professor at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego and the lead investigator on the project. "We are making the invisible visible."

The information is linked to a users’ smartphones, as well as those without sensors, by way of the application.

Furthermore, deploying 100 sensors into a region could generate a really useful dataset beyond that which is currently provided by EPA-mandated air-quality monitoring stations. For example, San Diego County has a population of 3.1 residents over approximately 4,000 square miles and only 10 air-monitoring stations.

The CitiSense sensors detect levels of ozone, nitrogen, and carbon monoxide, the three most common pollutants expelled by cars and trucks that are damaging to the human respiratory system. The smartphone application subsequently reveals the data by way of a colour-coded scale for air quality based on the EPA’s air quality ratings ranging from green for good through to purple for hazardous.

Source: University of California San Diego

Monitoring Air Quality From Your Smart Phone was originally published on: CleanTechnica

California Sets New Record For Winter Solar Power Generation

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 05:02 AM PST

 
California just recently passed the milestone of 1 GW of solar power production (in August). And now it has just surpassed another milestone — it nearly reached that peak August generation level during the week of the Winter Solstice, which is the least-sunny time of the year, setting a new winter solar power generation record.

California solar power generation

“On Wednesday, December 19, the CaISO’s preliminary figures for renewable energy output, which are displayed in the chart at the top of this post, indicated that for Wednesday’s solar output reached a peak somewhere between 950 and 1,000 megawatts at around 10:30 a.m., and held there until just after 1:00 p.m.”

While that isn’t really a ton of energy, it’s an important milestone because of the time of year. The sun is lower in the sky than at any other time of year, which means that there is much less solar energy available for solar panels to utilize.

Of course, the underlying point is that California’s solar energy generating capacity has grown significantly since the August record was set. And compared to last year, the growth is very impressive — in December 2011, there was a maximum output of just 200 MW of solar power production.


 
“That record winter output is pretty much all photovoltaic power, by the way,” KCET writes. “CaISO has recently started listing PV and solar thermal’s contributions to the grid separately, and solar thermal’s contribution is about a hundredth that of PV at the moment.”

That growth is expected to continue or even increase in 2013, which is good because a rapid phaseout of fossil fuels is neccissary to avoid the worst effects of future climate change according to the vast majority of climate scientists.

Source: KCET
Image Credits: CalSO

California Sets New Record For Winter Solar Power Generation was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Concentrating Solar Power With Thermal Energy Storage Is Economically Useful For Utility Company Profits, Study Finds

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 04:50 AM PST

 
Utility companies can benefit considerably from the utilization of concentrating solar power (CSP) and available energy storage methods, a new study from the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has found.

A CSP that possesses a 6-hour storage capacity works well to lower peak net loads for the part of the day when the sun isn't shining. That’s “enough to add $35.80 per megawatt hour to the capacity and operational value of the utility, compared to photovoltaic (PV) solar power alone, and even higher extra value when compared to CSP without storage. The net load is the normal load minus variable renewables such as photovoltaic and wind.”

The thermal storage creates additional value because it allows CSP to replace the gas-fired generation that is used during peak loads and is more expensive, and also because it works to even out the solar power generation throughout the day, rather than a big bump during the day and big drop-off at night.

How The Value Was Determined

This study is one of the first where “the operational and capacity value of CSP with thermal storage has been evaluated using a production cost model, a traditional utility planning tool,” NREL writes.

The researchers used Energy Exemplar's PLEXOS simulation model to specifically isolate the value of thermal energy storage (TES) with and without storage relative to other generation methods.

"We've known for a long time that CSP with storage adds significant value, however, we are now able to quantify this value in the language utilities understand," said Mark Mehos, manager of NREL's Concentrating Solar Power program.

“With CSP with thermal storage, you aren't diving as deep into the generation stack, displacing cheaper and cheaper fuel," Denholm said. "You're always displacing the highest-cost fuel."

Source: NREL
Image Credits: PS10 via Wikimedia Commons

Concentrating Solar Power With Thermal Energy Storage Is Economically Useful For Utility Company Profits, Study Finds was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Biking Benefits Body & Brain

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 04:29 AM PST

 
Biking is virtually all good news: Saves money, saves the planet, keeps people healthier, is fashionable among the rich and famous, can reduce prison sentences. And now, studies are pointing to brain benefits from biking.

Danish researchers were looking at the benefits of breakfast and lunch on school children and found that how the children got to school was actually of great importance. They found that the kids who walked or rode their bikes did better on tests than those who got to school by car or public transport.

John Ratey, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told The Independent that he’s seen patients with severe depression greatly improve after cycling. Ratey says that a current study his department is working on includes 20 children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who are all expected to show improved symptoms after cycling. He says cycling, like Ritalin, increases levels of neurotransmitters.

It’s not just kids who see benefits in concentration and coordination from cycling. Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute neuroscientist Dr. Jay Alberts conducted a cycling-based experiment with 26 Parkinson’s disease patients. Alberts scanned the patients’ brains during and then a month after the eight-week stationary bike experiment. All the patients showed improvement, but the experiment showed that the 13 participants who were pushed to cycle harder had significantly more areas of grey matter connectivity.

Even more astonishing is the New England Journal of Medicine Youtube video of a 58-year-old patient with a 10-year history of Parkinson’s barely able to shuffle down a hospital corridor who then gets on a bike and pedals through the parking lot with incredible balance and ease. Check it out:

Source: Planetizen
Image:  Woman’s silhouette with bicycle mechanism in her brain via Shutterstock

Biking Benefits Body & Brain was originally published on: CleanTechnica

2nd Largest US Bike Sharing Program To Launch In LA In April

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 04:21 AM PST

 
Is Los Angeles looking to shirk its reputation as a surfer haven and emerge as a cyclists’ sanctuary? Maybe.

According to a recent LA Times article, Bike Nation is pledging $16 million to LA’s first (and the country’s second largest, behind NYC’s system) bike sharing program, which will launch in April 2013.

Miami Heat stars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Mario Chalmers don’t have the market cornered on NBA endorsements of cycling initiatives. Los Angeles Clippers small forward Caron Butler was at last Thursday’s press conference announcing LA’s bike sharing launch.

The plan is to have 4,000 rental bikes stationed around downtown LA at rates of $1.50 an hour, $4.50 per 90 minutes, $6 a day, or $75 for a one-year pass. Rides under 30 minutes will be free.

Bike Nation has already partnered with Long Beach and Anaheim for other cycle-share programs.

Looks like in LA it’s goodbye board shorts, hello spandex.

Image: Row of bicycles via Shutterstock

2nd Largest US Bike Sharing Program To Launch In LA In April was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Wind Generation Outpacing Natural Gas In US In 2012

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 04:01 AM PST

 
Energy generation from wind is on target to beat natural gas in 2012, thanks to a mad dash by wind producers to finish projects, as the wind tax credit is set to expire on January 1st.

As of November 30th,  preliminary numbers have 6,579 megawatts (MW) of new wind capacity created in the US, just nudging ahead of natural gas, which is at 6,335. It’s also about twice the amount of new coal power being produced, according to a recent Bloomberg article.

"Wind will very likely beat gas, but it may be close," said Amy Grace, who heads wind energy analysis for New York–based Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

"It's very likely that we get over 8 gigawatts for 2012," she said. Finalized data will come from Ventyx Inc. in January, 2013.

But with the end-of-year surge, it’s quite possible that we will get a lot more wind power by the end of the year.

New wind energy capacity could possibly reach as high as 12 gigawatts (GW), beating new gas turbines and possibly adding more new wind capacity in November and December as in all the rest of the year.

The impact of wind energy in the energy mix is starting to make a real impact, a big difference from just a few years ago, as noted by an industry expert:

"It shows that wind has firmly planted its foothold as a valuable energy source," Jacob Susman, chief executive officer of New York wind developer OwnEnergy Inc., said in an interview. "Five years ago we had to drag utilities in kicking and screaming. Now they've got teams of experts who understand its value."

However, the ongoing threat of the wind power production tax credit expiring looms large. If the credit were to expire, data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance points to US wind energy installations plummeting as much as 88% next year (to about 1.5 GW).

Recently, to address these concerns, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has put forward a plan to phase the credit by 2019, to prevent the potential loss of 37,000 wind energy jobs.

Critics, including senior vice president of Exelon Corp. Joseph Dominguez, who heads one of the largest US nuclear power plants, suggests the wind industry is strong enough to live without the tax credit, because of the strong installations recently:

"The wind energy industry has matured and is thriving today; the PTC is no longer needed," Dominguez said in a Dec. 13 statement, opposing the AWEA plan.

The increase in wind installations, with the pending end of the tax credit, has benefited General  Electric (GE), said Jeffrey Immelt, GE’s CEO, in a recent teleconference call on December 17th.

"We'll probably make more money this year than the rest of the industry combined in renewables," Immelt said.

"We can't control how the PTC works or doesn't work, but we have a very strong competitive wind business that basically has done the job," he said.

Can wind energy installations keep up this frantic pace? The next few months will be very interesting. We’ll see where the road takes the wind industry.

Source: Bloomberg 

Wind Generation Outpacing Natural Gas In US In 2012 was originally published on: CleanTechnica

How A Vibrating Membrane Could Lead To A More Sustainable Cocktail

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 03:44 AM PST

 
Just in time for the holiday drinking season, here comes news of a more sustainable cocktail of the future, and it’s all thanks to a vibrating membrane. Hey, it’s not what you think (just guessing here). The vibrating membrane refers to a proprietary wastewater treatment system developed by the company New Logic Research, specifically to deal with waste from olive processing. If you didn’t know that the olive industry has a wastewater problem, join the club, but apparently it’s a big one to the tune of 600 million gallons per year in California alone.

new vibrating membrane leads to sustainable olive farming

Olive Wastewater, What a Headache

According to a quite informative article at oliveoilsource.com, one key issue with olive wastewater is that it is loaded with polyphenols, a class of antioxidants.

When we eat foods containing antioxidants, that’s a good thing, but what makes antioxidants good for humans is their anti-bacterial nature. When released into the environment, the polyphenol-saturated wastewater from olive mills can wreak havoc with the existing balance and contaminate wetlands and other waterways, including groundwater.

The conventional “safe” disposal method, according to New Logic, is to let the excess liquid in the wastewater evaporate in open ponds. Centrifuges are another means of removing most of the liquid. The remaining sludge can then be sent to a landfill or, in some cases, used as a soil enhancer.

There are a couple of big problems with this. The open-pond method takes up a large amount of space that could be put to more productive use. Leakage is a risk, and odors create problems with neighbors, especially as population grows in previously rural areas.

Centrifuges can save space, but combined with dryers and trucks for sludge transportation, both the expense and the greenhouse gas emissions start to pile up.

A Vibrating Membrane that Harvests Value from Wastewater

If you’re a regular reader of CleanTechnica, you can see where this is going. Over the years, we’ve spent a lot of virtual ink enthusing over the valuable goodies that can be harvested from the waste of people (you can even run a car on it), livestock, and cheese making, among other food and beverage operations, and now we can add olive wastewater to the list.

The challenge is to come up with a cost-effective means of separating out valuable products from wastewater. In olive processing, the problem with conventional filters is membrane fouling due to a high concentration of colloids (gooey gelatinous stuff).

Under those circumstances, pretreatment and other means of keeping the filtration membrane clean enough to operate efficiently can be more trouble than it’s worth, especially for small olive processing facilities.

New Logic’s Solution is called the Vibratory Shear Enhanced Process (VSEP). It’s a little more complex than the name implies, but basically it involves using torsional vibration to keep up a crossflow of liquid across the membrane, in order to keep colloids from accumulating on the surface.

With saving space in mind, the system actually consists of hundreds of stacked membranes. That enables it to pack about 1,400 square feet of membrane space into one module with a footprint of only four square feet.

According to New Logic, in addition to collecting dissolved and suspended solids the system yields “drinkable water” without the need for pretreatment, and it also recovers usable oils.

A More Sustainable Olive Industry

The University of California–Davis Olive Center has just received a Department of Agriculture grant that puts New Logic’s olive wastewater treatment technology in a framework of overall improvement for the California olive industry, in terms of both economic and environmental sustainability.

The UC Davis Olive Center is a public-private partnership that “seeks to do for olives what UC Davis did for wine.”

It launched in 2008 and has already established an impressive track record in all facets of the industry, from analyzing consumer tastes to coordinating with federal regulators and developing high-efficiency harvesting machines.

The Olive Center’s interest in New Logic is just one part of the overall goal of the new Department of Agriculture grant. The central goal of the project is to help the olive industry improve its bottom line by cutting wastewater volume by about 90 percent, while reaping more additional value from the crop especially in the form of nutritional supplements and pharmaceuticals.

For its part in the project, New Logic is donating a VSEP system along with technical support and training.

In other olive industry cleantech news, last year the California company Musco Family Olive Co. installed a carbon-neutral system using olive pits as renewable energy for wastewater treatment; and a solar powered, algae-based system for reclaiming olive washing water is under development in Europe,

Image: Cocktail with olive by dcop.org

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

How A Vibrating Membrane Could Lead To A More Sustainable Cocktail was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Living Concrete Created That Improves Buildings’ Thermal Comfort & Absorbs Atmospheric CO2

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 03:33 AM PST

 
A new type of biological concrete has been created that encourages the natural and rapid growth of pigmented organisms in the concrete. The material was designed with the idea of being used as a façade for buildings located in Mediterranean-like climates, offering great advantages in thermal comfort and helping to reduce atmospheric CO2. The material could, of course, be very useful for a wide range of other purposes also.

living concrete absorbs CO2

The prime innovation of this new concrete is that it works very well as a support for the naturally occurring “growth and development of certain biological organisms, to be specific, certain families of microalgae, fungi, lichens and mosses,” the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya notes in a press release about the concrete.

Currently the researchers are working to accelerate the natural colonization that occurs on the concrete by these organisms. Their goal is to have it set up so that the surface is very well covered in less than a year.


 
“A further aim is that the appearance of the façades constructed with the new material should evolve over time, showing changes of colour according to the time of year and the predominant families of organisms. On these kinds of buildings, other types of vegetation are prevented from appearing, lest their roots damage construction elements.”

The key qualities of the material are its specific pH, porosity, surface roughness, and it’s sandwich-like structure. The structure is composed of three layers: the first is a waterproofing layer, the second is the biological layer that allows water to accumulate in it, and the third is a ‘discontinuous coating layer’ with a reverse waterproofing function.

The new concrete material works well as an absorber of atmospheric CO2, and also at capturing solar heat and providing insulation.

The researchers think that the material could function very well fulfilling some of the same functions that vertical gardens and turf walls do.

Source: Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC)
Image Credit: UPC

Living Concrete Created That Improves Buildings’ Thermal Comfort & Absorbs Atmospheric CO2 was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Gas & Petroleum Development Banned In Sacred Waters Of British Columbia

Posted: 24 Dec 2012 03:26 AM PST

 
The British Columbia government has stopped natural gas and petroleum development in the Klappan region of northwest British Columbia. Shell Oil was the chief corporation interested in exploring natural resources there for fossil-fuel development.

tahltan.jpgThe region is wild land containing the Stikine, Nass, and Skeena rivers, which are used by salmon for their spawning and migrations. Because of its beauty and the presence of indigenous people, the Klappan is also called the Sacred Waters. It is also the area where the rivers listed above join.

The Tahltan Nation website published remarks about the historical decision. “The  Klappan  is  one  of  the  most  sacred  and  important  areas for our people. It is a place of tremendous cultural, spiritual, historic and social importance – our people do not want to see it developed, and we look forward to working with British Columbia on  achieving  that  goal,” said Annita McPhee, President of the Tahltan Central Council. (Tahltan Nation)

The Tahltan culture says the Sacred Waters are where their community began thousands of years ago. For the last seven years, some of their elders have been observing the activities of Shell Canada as their workers tried to implement a coalbed methane mining project. Nonviolent blockades and protests slowed the Shell initiative, but for some period it continued — until a final resolution by the BC government to ban such projects permanently.

The main Tahltan village is at Telegraph Creek and this center is also considered their tribal headquarters. In previous decades, when trading was an important part of their economy, most Tahltans visted Telegraph Creek at least once a year.

Prior to the arrival of fur traders, the Tahltan had lived in the area unimpeded for millennia. Over seventy percent of the original population was wiped out by an epidemic of smallpox introduced by Europeans and the ensuing starvation.

Image Credit: Stikine.net

Gas & Petroleum Development Banned In Sacred Waters Of British Columbia was originally published on: CleanTechnica

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