A123 seeks funding for Michigan battery plant, but should the US 'leapfrog' into fuel cells & capacitors?

January 08 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2013   Rating: 2

A123The US continues to play catch up to Asia in manufacturing advanced energy storage solutions used in electric vehicles and 'smart grids'.  But a more organized US energy storage industry is starting to emerge.

Last month a group of battery makers formed a coalition to seek federal support.  A week later a group of fuel cell makers petitioned Congress for its share of cleantech funding.

Now lithium-ion battery start up A123 Systems has submitted an application to qualify for $1.84 billion in direct loans to support the construction of new world-class battery plant in Michigan.  At full operation, A123 expects the combined plants would occupy as much as 7 million square feet and create over 14,000 jobs to supply battery systems for five million hybrid vehicles or half a million plug-in electric vehicles per year by 2013.

Should the US leapfrog batteries into fuel cells and capacitors? (Continue)

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Breakthrough in high surface area MOFs that absorb hydrogen and carbon, Tell Barack Obama

January 08 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 2

MOFsOmarYaghi

What if Barack Obama said in his first State of the Union address: 'America must invest in high surface area materials...' ?

Most people would be puzzled.  Some minds would probably close down after hearing something slightly intimidating and 'scientific'. 

Why surface area?  Why not say 'invest in better batteries, cleaning up fossil fuels, solar and hydrogen'? 

Energy is about Interactions
Surface area enables better interactions between light, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, metals, and bio enzymes. (At least, that's the short answer.)

The real road to a 'New Energy Economy' is paved at the nanoscale of material science. 

What types of applications can we expect?

1) High surface area materials - Trap Molecules & Light
Imagine being able to 'trap' harmful molecules that are byproducts of coal or oil.
Or solar cells that hold photons longer to produce more energy!

2) Solid state storage of energy - High Density Packets
Imagine billions of people buying high density 'packets' of energy at retail stores. We 'refill' instead of 'plugging into' wall sockets.  Or electric vehicles that can be refilled by swapping out 'bricks' of energy in the form of solid Hydrogen.

The Evolution of MOFs
Chemical Engineering & News is reporting on progress in a very promising class of high surface area materials that can absorb hydrogen and carbon: Metal Organic Frameworks or MOFs.

MOFs are highly ordered interconnected 'lego' like structures that have open pores that can selectively absorb molecules. It is a 'sponge' with the highest surface area of all known materials- estimated at several football fields per gram.

The problem? Clogged pores.

Now, a team led by UCLA's Professor Omar M. Yaghi, who synthesized MOFs in mid 1990s at Michigan, has developed a technique using supercritical fluids that essentially clean out the material leading to a vast network of open holes.

What to do next?  Somebody tell Barack Obama to make Molecular Surface Area a National Priority

Related posts on The Energy Roadmap.com

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Wall Street Journal confirms our Case for Electric Cars: A Lower Barrier to Manufacturing

January 12 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Transportation   Year: 2010   Rating: 2

BYD

The Wall Street Journal has finally reported on the real driver of change around the electrification of the world's auto fleet: Manufacturing.

Reframing the Problem
Our insights into the crossroads of energy and the future of the auto industry have reflected a very unique tone when compared to all major media outlets and bloggers.

We have been alone in pushing a few disruptive ideas about the future of energy and the auto industry:

Kill the Combustion Engine
While others focused on the problem of oil, we said it was the manufacturing legacy of the combustion engine. We have argued that it's how you build the car, not fuel it that matters most.

Skateboard chassis is Platform of the Future

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Stanford launches $100 million global energy institute, as California expands cleantech focus

January 13 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 2

Stanford Energy PanelStanford University has raised $100 million to support the creation of the Precourt Insitute for Energy.

The Institute will focus on global energy and climate issues by expanding the number of faculty and graduate research positions across the entire spectrum of energy science and engineering from photovoltaics to carbon sequestration. 

The center is the result of a team of funders led by energy Executive Jay Precourt, who donated $50 million, and a $40 million gift from Thomas Steyer and Kat Taylor who supported the creation of the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy.

Stanford intends to expand global partnerships but it is clearly a big win for the State of California as it attempts to build a 'cleantech' hub of talent, IP, and companies involved in the 21st century energy systems.

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Does the road to Electric Vehicles pass through China? EV Startup outsources production

January 13 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Transportation   Year: 2014   Rating: 2

China

EV startup Miles Automotive has announced plans to outsource manufacturing of its California-bound electric vehicles to a China-based assembly factory.

Auto analysts continue to speculate about plans by Detroit-based companies to partner with Asian manufacturers.  And yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported on BYD's plans to produce EVs for global markets based on a lower barrier to manufacturing.

More than ever before, the road to electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors seems destined to pass through Asia.

And it is time to challenge common assumptions about EVs?

Will EVs be a Domestic or Global Industry?
It is commonly assumed that electric vehicles would bring non-OPEC countries more 'independence'.  Instead it seems clear that the age of EVs will pull them further into the global economy of 'interdependence'.  Electric vehicles propulsion systems and storage systems (batteries, fuel cells and capacitors) are likely to emerge from a global value chain that spans from Asia to Europe to Americas. 

Will Early Adopter Markets Emerge from within Europe/California or Asia?

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FuelCell Energy receives $30 million for a Post Combustion Era Solution for Cleaner Coal

January 13 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Environment   Year: 2018   Rating: 2

Stationary Fuel Cell

FueCellMarkets is reporting on a $30 million Phase II contract to expand testing of Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) coal syngas power generation.  This type of stationary fuel cell converts coal derived gas via electrochemical processes to produce electricity and heat.  The result of this scalable non-combustion method is higher efficiency and signficantly lower carbon emissions.

Advancing Global Carbon Solutions
Coal
is not going away anytime soon.  In fact, its global market share is growing as the primary source of energy for electricity generation.

Cheaper solar and wind does not, by default, mean less coal in a world economy expected to double energy production in the decades ahead. Coal is already embedded into global power grids, and it is not going to disappear overnight.

If we expect to address carbon emissions, we have to do more than develop alternatives.  We need scalable carbon solutions that move us beyond the age of combustion conversion and harmful release of emissions.

While coal will never be 'clean', there are cleaner ways of converting it that result in significantly less carbon emissions.  We have written extensively about algae, but fuel cells offer another path forward.

Fuel Cells, Coal Gas, & a Post Combustion Era of Energy Conversion

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Toyota could commercialize fuel cell electric vehicles by 2015, as automakers look beyond batteries

January 19 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Transportation   Year: 2015   Rating: 2

Toyota fuel cell

Bloomberg is reporting that Toyota plans to sell a 'limited' line of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to consumers by 2015 or maybe sooner.

Toyota's fuel cell integration strategy (along with Honda, Kia and GM) suggests that the auto industry is looking ahead towards next generation electric drive vehicles that go beyond battery platforms.

Fuel cells vs Batteries?  Or both?
A very profound transition is happening in our world. The 'electrification of the auto industry' has started, but it will take decades to complete.

The tricky part?  'Electric' refers to the motor. 

What delivers electrons to those electric motors is more open to debate.

The popular assumption today is that batteries will power the future of cars.  But the reality is more sobering. Energy storage solutions that are appropriate for the auto industry are not likely to emerge from anything that exists on the commercial market today.

Batteries are a stepping stone to a more fully integrated energy storage system that uses batteries, fuel cells and capacitors - together.

Cars are not iPods, and the cost of building 'plug in' station infrastructure is likely to be prohibitive, if not totally inconvenient to consumers.  Fuel cells and capacitors offer superior cost / size and performance advantages.  And more convenient infrastructure options such as rapid refill or 'swap out' boxes (e.g. solid hydrogen).  

While eco-bloggers are excited over batteries, the long view is more cloudy.  Automakers are hedging their bets on energy storage solutions, and it appears the the 'hype' phase of battery powered cars might be short lived.

Related posts on the Auto Industry at The Energy Roadmap.com

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New syngas method could lower costs to process Canadian Tar Sands

January 27 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 2

Tar Sands Suncor

Extracting energy from the tar sands is not a pretty equation.

It isn' cheap.  It isn't energy efficient.

And it is becoming increasingly politically charged given its heavy carbon footprint.

But the tar sands remain a massive reserve that has the interest of very large, innovative energy development companies.  And the dollars and desire to exploit these non-conventional hydrocarbon resources could grow exponentially in the years ahead as companies try to change the cost equation.

Can Bitumen derived syngas lower costs?
Some of the largest non-conventional energy reserves in the world are found in North America's tar sands and oil shales.

The problem is that we are a bit early. These reserves still need a few more million years of natural bio-geological processes to rearrange the chemical bonds to make extraction easier. But instead of waiting, energy companies are developing ways to lower the costs of processing  this carbon heavy resource.  One of the reasons for high cost is the demand for outside energy needed to reform the tar sands into a usable form of liquid oil.    

The Al Fin Energy blog is reporting on a new technique for substituting high priced natural gas with synthetic gas (syngas) derived from waste bitumen which is currently a byproduct.  The process, developed by Nexen Inc. and OPTI Canada at the Long Lake Project, could change the price equation of exploiting the tar sands. 

Good, bad or ugly - the tar sands cannot be ignored in a future where issues of climate change, 'energy independence', and peak oil production converge.  The conversation about the future of the tar sands is just getting started.

Related The Energy Roadmap.com

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[Video] Why Peak Oil Production might be the paramount energy issue of our time

January 28 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Environment   Year: 2020   Rating: 2

Beyond the occassional post (or two), I have avoided 'Peak Oil' production issues because of its association with those who must always (and only) describe the future in apocalyptic terms.

But based on the IEA World Energy Outlook 2008 report, it has become clear that energy leaders have been using poor data of oil field decline rates (based on a lack of transparency) to support inaccurate forecasts. 

Whether peak production has already happened, or will happen in 15 years is irrelevant since we are not prepared for either transition. So it is time to explore implications regarding the world's use of coal, nuclear energy, tar sands, and oil shale.  (For those focused on Climate Change, the replacements for oil are not good news for carbon emissions.)

I do not believe that Peak Oil will destroy our civilization, but it certainly has the potential to make us humble, and to serve as 'the' catalyst for evolving our policies from a resource extraction to resource creation paradigm.

The following 40 minute interview is dated (January 2008) but gives a solid overview of peak oil's core issues: field decline rates, discovery rates, production time and costs and lack of real liquid fuel alternatives. [A more current hard edged interview by George Monbiot w/ Dr Fatih Birol: Link to video]

Continue with remaining four (10 minute) videos

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Cisco Offers Smart Energy Solutions: "Everything Connected to the Network Can Be Greener"

January 28 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2012   Rating: 2

Cisco Energy Network

One of the biggest business opportunities of the next few decades will be enabling the convergence of Energy and Information systems to lower costs and improve efficiencies.

Companies such as Johnson Controls and IBM have been very vocal about their vision of a 'smart infrastructure' future.  And there are a number of 'Smart Grid' startups offering utility-scale and building/home energy management solutions.

Cisco: 'Smarter' Energy Networks
Cisco Systems is widely associated with the hardware 'backbone' (e.g. routers) of the Internet, but the company is expanding into new web-based services like video collaboration and energy management.

Cisco has a very simple vision of the future of energy efficiency: If it is on the 'network', then we can make it more efficient.  Why is this important?  Because within a decade or two most everything that produces and consumes power will be integrated into an information (web) network.

The company has announced its new Cisco EnergyWise [PDF] technology platform that will help its customers reduce energy consumption of Internet Protocol (IP) devices such as phones, computers,  and digital access points. The next step for Cisco will be offering software solutions to help manage building systems (lighting, air conditioning and heating).

The offering puts Cisco in a strong position to compete in a fully 'embedded' world where all objects and devices are on the web and energy is never wasted.

Related posts on The Energy Roadmap.com

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New Membrane for Ethanol Fuel Cells that Breaks Carbon Bonds at Room Temperature

January 28 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2018   Rating: 2

Brookhaven ethanol fuel cell

Once again, we are reminded that the future of energy will be shaped by materials scientists, and that nanoscale engineering gives us plenty of room to innovate around disruptive ideas.

Research teams from the U.S. Brookhaven National Laboratory, University of Delaware and Yeshiva University have announced the development of a new catalyst that could make ethanol-powered fuel cells feasible. 

Rather than use next generation ethanol in a combustion engine, we can imagine a more efficient conversion into electricity via a fuel cell.

Fuel cells create electricity by breaking chemical bonds into hydrogen ions and electrons then completing the reaction with oxygen binding to hydrogen to create water.

Nano-catalysts break carbon bonds
One of the challenges of (hydrogen rich) ethanol as a feedstock for fuel cells is the presence of carbon molecules.

“The ability to split the carbon-carbon bond and generate CO2 at room temperature is a completely new feature of catalysis,” says Brookhaven chemist Radoslav Adzic “There are no other catalysts that can achieve this at practical potentials.”

The 'nanostructured' catalyst achieves faster oxidation using the combination of platinum and rhodium atoms on carbon-supported tin dioxide nanoparticles.  Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the reaction but it is signficantly less than traditional combustion based conversion (and assuming more non-food crop biomass is planted it is 'carbon neutral'.)  

“Ethanol is one of the most ideal reactants for fuel cells,” said Brookhaven chemist Radoslav Adzic. “It’s easy to produce, renewable, nontoxic, relatively easy to transport, and it has a high energy density. In addition, with some alterations, we could reuse the infrastructure that’s currently in place to store and distribute gasoline.”

Why catalysis is so important
& Related Posts on The Energy Roadmap.com

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University of Nevada completes algae biofuels project using cold weather, salt tolerant species

January 29 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Environment   Year: 2018   Rating: 2

algae pond flickrResearchers at the University of Nevada, Reno have completed their first demonstration-scale project using an open pound algae to biofuel system.

Unlike most algae biofuels startups which use closed 'bioreactors', the Nevada-Enegis LLC project (not shown) is designed for open ponds that use a species of algae tolerant to cold-weather and salt basin environments.

The team announced the successful harvest of two 5,000-gallon ponds, and will continue to expand their test selection of algae species and engineering to improve performance.

Open pond systems are generally seen as a lower cost, low maintenance production platform, but have their own set of problems related to optimizing growing conditions.

Related posts on the future of bioenergy on The Energy Roadmap.com

 

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