Credit: Paul King, NREL
Credit: Paul King, NREL
CROATIAN CENTER of RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES ( CCRES)
CROATIAN CENTER of RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES ( CCRES)
News and Events June 28, 2012
Energy efficiency and renewable energy projects from DOE national laboratories have won 12 of the 100 awards given out this year by R&D Magazine. The awards are presented annually to recognize exceptional new products, processes, materials, and software developed throughout the world and introduced into the market the previous year. Overall, DOE won 36 awards, including those funded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Scientists and engineers from DOE’s national laboratories and facilities received the honors from an independent panel of judges.
There were eight DOE winners for energy efficiency. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) was cited for four projects: NanoSHIELD, a protective coating that can extend the life of costly cutting and boring tools by more than 20%; the robotic hand, which costs approximately 10 times less than similar devices while commanding 10 times more power than other electric systems; the asymmetric rolling mill, which provides a way to efficiently process sheet and plate materials, accelerating the production and availability of low-cost magnesium; and the low-frequency RF plasma source, a low-cost plasma generator for research, development, and production of nanometer scale materials at lower temperatures, faster rates, and with enhanced properties. In addition, Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) earned honors for its ultra-fast, large-scale efficient boriding—a thermo-chemical surface hardening process in which boron atoms are diffused into a surface—that can drastically reduce costs, increase productivity, and improve the performance and reliability of machine components. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) won for its desiccant-enhanced evaporative air-conditioning (DEVAP) systems, which cool commercial buildings using a small fraction of the energy used by traditional coolers. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) won for co-developing graphene nanostructures for lithium batteries, in which small quantities of graphene can dramatically improve the performance and power of lithium-ion batteries so batteries last longer and recharge quickly. And, Sandia National Laboratories was honored for the Sandia cooler, technology that significantly reduces the energy needed to cool the processor chips in data centers and large-scale computing environments. See the press releases from ORNL, ANL, NREL, PNNL, and Sandia.
In renewable energy categories, there were four R&D 100 award picks. ANL and several partners developed a novel high-energy and high-power cathode material that is especially suited for use in lithium-ion batteries used in plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) was recognized for its platinum monolayer electrocatalysts for fuel cell cathodes, which have high activity, stability, and durability, while containing only about one-tenth the platinum of conventional catalysts used in fuel cells, significantly reducing overall costs. NREL was tapped for its SJ3 solar cell, which achieves a world-record conversion efficiency of 43.5% with the potential to reach 50% by using a three-layered SJ3 cell to capture different light frequencies, ensuring the best conversion of the energy from photons to electrons. And, Sandia’s microsystems enabled photovoltaics were recognized because the glitter-sized PV cells created using microdesign and microfabrication techniques can be released into a solution and “printed” onto a low-cost substrate. See the press releases from ANL, BNL, NREL, and Sandia.
Since 1963, when R&D Magazine’s annual competition began, DOE has received more than 800 R&D 100 awards in areas such as energy and basic scientific applications. See the DOE Progress Alert, the DOE press release and the complete list of R&D 100 winners.
The Energy Department and Environment Canada released on June 21 the U.S.-Canada Clean Energy Dialogue Action Plan II, outlining the next phase of activities the two countries will undertake to jointly advance clean energy technologies. The new action plan renews U.S. and Canadian commitment to work together to build smart electrical grids, and advance clean energy research and development. Action Plan II places a greater emphasis on energy efficiency to take advantage of the approaches and tools in each country to help facilitate the uptake of energy efficient technologies and practices.
Among the initiatives under Action Plan II will be an initiative to clarify U.S. and Canadian regulatory authorities for deployment of offshore renewable energy and technologies. The plan also calls for new investigations of the potential of power storage technologies. Also, the plan calls for discussions among key Canadian federal departments and provincial governments, the Energy Department, and U.S. national labs regarding options to harmonize data gathering related to electric vehicles and charging infrastructure for North America.
President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper established the Clean Energy Dialogue in 2009 to encourage the development of clean energy technologies to reduce greenhouse gases and combat climate change in both countries. See the DOE press release and the complete plan.
The Energy Department and the National Park Service announced on June 19 that five national parks around the country will deploy fuel efficient and alternative fuel vehicles as part of an expanded partnership, helping to protect some of the nation’s most prized natural environments. The Energy Department is providing $1.1 million for the park projects. Each of these national parks is collaborating with at least one of the Energy Department’s Clean Cities coalitions to choose the best clean energy options for its fleet. The parks include Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California; Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado; San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, Texas; and Shenandoah National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.
Some of the alternative fuel vehicles are multi-passenger rides devoted to park visitors, and that means even greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The new projects build upon the success of the program launched last year at Grand Teton, Wyoming; Mammoth Cave, Kentucky; and Yellowstone, Wyoming. The parks predict their combined projects will save more than 13,000 equivalent gallons of gasoline, avoid the emission of about 100 tons of greenhouse gases annually, and reach 6.5 million visitors each year. The Energy Department has been working with the National Park Service since 1999 to support the use of clean, renewable and alternative fuels, electric vehicles, and other energy-saving practices to help preserve air quality and promote the use of domestic energy resources in the parks. See the Energy Department press release, the Clean Cities website, and the National Park Service’s Green Parks Plan website.
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) approved on June 21 a 350-megawatt (MW) solar energy project on tribal trust lands of the Moapa Band (Tribe) of Paiute Indians in Clark County, Nevada. The project marks a milestone as the first utility-scale solar project approved for development on tribal lands. The record of decision approves the construction, operation, and maintenance of a low-impact photovoltaic (PV) facility and associated infrastructure on about 2,000 acres of the Tribe’s reservation, located 30 miles north of Las Vegas. The project is expected to generate about 400 jobs at peak construction and 15-20 permanent jobs.
Proposed by K Road Moapa Solar LLC, the project would be built in three phases of 100-150 megawatts each. In addition to PV panel arrays, major project components include a 500-kilovolt (kV) transmission line to deliver power to the grid and a 12-kV transmission line to the existing Moapa Travel Plaza after Phase 1 is complete. About 12 acres of U.S. public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management would be required for the 500-kV transmission line. The project will generate lease income for the tribe, create new jobs and employment opportunities for tribal members, and connect the existing tribally owned travel plaza to the electrical grid, decreasing its dependence on a diesel-powered generator. To minimize and mitigate potential environmental impacts, a Desert Tortoise translocation plan, a bird and bat Conservation strategy, and a weed management plan will be implemented, and biologists will conduct natural resources monitoring during all surface disturbing activities. See the Interior Department press release.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued on June 21 a final rule that requires transmission providers to offer customers the option of scheduling transmission service at 15-minute intervals instead of one-hour intervals. The rule also requires generators using variable energy resources, such as wind and solar, to provide transmission owners with certain data to support power production forecasting. According to FERC, the ruling will promote more efficient operation of the transmission system amid increasing integration of variable renewable energy resources on the grid. The ruling also benefits electric consumers by ensuring that services are provided at reasonable rates.
The final rule finds that while power production forecasts help transmission providers manage reserves more efficiently, forecasts are only as good as the data on which they rely. By requiring new interconnection customers whose variable energy resources to provide meteorological and operational data to transmission providers forecasting power production, FERC finds that transmission providers will better be able to manage resource variability. The final rule takes effect 12 months after publication in the Federal Register. See the FERC press release.
By Ramamoorthy Ramesh, Director, SunShot Initiative & Solar Energy Technologies Program
In my two years as the director of the Energy Department’s Solar Energy Technologies Program, I have often been accused of being an eternal optimist. I see our nation’s energy challenges as an incredible opportunity—one that has the potential to revolutionize our economy, environment, and national security.
That’s why, back in 2010, we established the SunShot Initiative to decrease the total installed price of solar energy by 75% by 2020. We took our inspiration from President Kennedy’s 1962 “moon shot” speech that set the country on a path to regain the lead in the space race and land a man on the moon. Many thought a manned lunar mission was beyond NASA’s capabilities, but this bold move ultimately united the country when it proved successful.
There were plenty of naysayers when we launched the SunShot Initiative—even within the industry—who said that subsidy-free, cost-competitive solar couldn’t happen in this decade. But we didn’t listen to them. And now—as the price of solar panels decreases and America’s solar energy industry explodes—many of those same naysayers are changing their tune. See the complete post on the Energy Blog.
|Algal culture ponds are used to grow and harvest micro-algae using nutrients contained in wastewater|
|Productive: instead of using traditional nitrification and dentrification processes, organic matter will instead be converted into biogas|
|An overview of aqualia’s wastewater treatment plant in Chiclana, Southern Spain|
|Biogas generated from wastewater could mean the 0.5 kWh per m3 usually spent on aeration won’t be required|
Croatian Center of Renewable Energy Sources (CCRES)
“We are interested in algae because they grow very quickly and can efficiently convert carbon dioxide into carbon-chain molecules like starch and oils,” said Brookhaven biologist Changcheng Xu, the paper’s lead author. With eight times the energy density of starch, algal oil in particular could be an ideal raw material for making biodiesel and other renewable fuels.
But there have been some problems turning microscopic algae into oil producing factories.
For one thing, when the tiny microbes take in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, they preferentially convert the carbon into starch rather than oils. “Normally, algae produce very little oil,” Xu said.
Before the current research, the only way scientists knew to tip the balance in favor of oil production was to starve the algae of certain key nutrients, like nitrogen. Oil output would increase, but the algae would stop growing — not ideal conditions for continuous production.
Another issue was that scientists didn’t know much about the details of oil biochemistry in algae. “Much of what we thought we knew was inferred from studies performed on higher plants,” said Brookhaven biochemist John Shanklin, a co-author who’s conducted extensive research on plant oil production. Recent studies have hinted at big differences between the microbial algae and their more complex photosynthetic relatives.
“Our goal was to learn all we could about the factors that contribute to oil production in algae, including those that control metabolic switching between starch and oil, to see if we could shift the balance to oil production without stopping algae growth,” Xu said.
The scientists grew cultures of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii — the “fruit fly” of algae — under a variety of nutrient conditions, with and without inhibitors that would limit specific biochemical pathways. They also studied a mutant Chlamydomonas that lacks the capacity to make starch. By comparing how much oil accumulated over time in the two strains across the various conditions, they were able to learn why carbon preferentially partitions into starch rather than oil, and how to affect the process.
The main finding was that feeding the algae more carbon (in the form of acetate) quickly maxed out the production of starch to the point that any additional carbon was channeled into high-gear oil production. And, most significantly, under the excess carbon condition and without nutrient deprivation, the microbes kept growing while producing oil.
“This overturns the previously held dogma that algae growth and increased oil production are mutually exclusive,” Xu said.
The detailed studies, conducted mainly by Brookhaven research associates Jilian Fan and Chengshi Yan, showed that the amount of carbon was the key factor determining how much oil was produced: more carbon resulted in more oil; less carbon limited production. This was another surprise because a lot of approaches for increasing oil production have focused on the role of enzymes involved in producing fatty acids and oils. In this study, inhibiting enzyme production had little effect on oil output.
“This is an example of a substantial difference between algae and higher plants,” said Shanklin.
In plants, the enzymes directly involved in the oil biosynthetic pathway are the limiting factors in oil production. In algae, the limiting step is not in the oil biosynthesis itself, but further back in central metabolism.
This is not all that different from what we see in human metabolism, Xu points out: Eating more carbon-rich carbohydrates pushes our metabolism to increase oil (fat) production and storage.
“It’s kind of surprising that, in some ways, we’re more like algae than higher plants are,” Xu said, noting that scientists in other fields may be interested in the details of metabolic switching uncovered by this research.
But the next step for the Brookhaven team will be to look more closely at the differences in carbon partitioning in algae and plants. This part of the work will be led by co-author Jorg Schwender, an expert in metabolic flux studies. The team will also work to translate what they’ve learned in a model algal species into information that can help increase the yield of commercial algal strains for the production of raw materials for biofuels.
This research was funded by the DOE Office of Science and the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.
DOE’s SunShot Initiative has a new competition and investments making it easier and less expensive to deploy solar energy technologies.
Credit: Craig Miller Productions
The scientists are working with a bacterium called Ralstonia eutropha. It naturally uses hydrogen as an energy source to convert CO2 into various organic compounds.
The group hopes to capitalize on the bacteria’s capabilities and tweak it to produce advanced biofuels that are drop-in replacements for diesel and jet fuel. The process would be powered only by hydrogen and electricity from renewable sources such as solar or wind.
The goal is a biofuel—or electrofuel, as this new approach is called—that doesn’t require photosynthesis.
Why is this important? Most methods used to produce advanced biofuels, such as from biomass and algae, rely on photosynthesis. But it turns out that photosynthesis isn’t very efficient when it comes to making biofuel. Energy is lost as photons from the sun are converted to stored chemical energy in a plant, which is then converted to a fuel.
“We’re after a more direct way,” says Singer, who holds appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division and with the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a multi-institutional partnership led by Berkeley Lab.
“We want to bypass photosynthesis by using a microbe that uses hydrogen and electricity to convert CO2 into a fuel,” he adds.
Widespread use of electrofuels would also reduce demands for land, water, and fertilizer that are traditionally required to produce biofuels.
Berkeley Lab’s $3.4 million electrofuel project was funded in 2010 by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program, which focuses on “high risk, high payoff concepts—technologies promising genuine transformation in the ways we generate, store and utilize energy.”
That pretty much describes electrofuels. ARPA-E estimates the technology has the potential to be ten times more efficient than current biofuel production methods. But electrofuels are currently confined to lab-scale tests. A lot of obstacles must be overcome before you’ll see it at the pump.
Fortunately, research is underway. The Berkeley Lab project is one of thirteen electrofuel projects sponsored by ARPA-E. And earlier this year, ARPA-E issued a request for information focused on the commercialization of the technology.
Singer’s group includes scientists from Virginia-based Logos Technologies and the University of California at Berkeley. The project’s co-principal investigators are Harry Beller, Swapnil Chhabra, and Nathan Hillson, who are also with Berkeley Lab and JBEI; Chris Chang, a UC Berkeley chemist and a faculty scientist with Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division; and Dan MacEachran of Logos Technologies.
The scientists chose to work with R. eutropha because the bacterium is well understood and it’s already used industrially to make bioplastics.
They’re creating engineered strains of the bacterium at JBEI, all aimed at improving its ability to produce hydrocarbons. This work involves re-routing metabolic pathways in the bacteria. It also involves adding pathways from other microorganisms, such as a pathway engineered in Escherichia coli to produce medium-chain methyl ketones, which are naturally occurring compounds that have cetane numbers similar to those of typical diesel fuel.
The group is also pursuing two parallel paths to further boost production.
In the first approach, Logos Technologies is developing a two-liter bioelectrochemical reactor, which is a conventional fermentation vessel fitted with electrodes. The vessel starts with a mixture of bacteria, CO2, and water. Electricity splits the water into oxygen and hydrogen. The bacteria then use energy from the hydrogen to wrest carbon from CO2 and convert it to hydrocarbons, which migrate to the water’s surface. The scientists hope to skim the first batch of biofuel from the bioreactor in about one year.
In the second approach, the scientists want to transform the bacteria into self-reliant, biofuel-making machines. With help from Chris Chang, they’re developing ways to tether electrocatalysts to the bacteria’s surface. These catalysts use electricity to generate hydrogen in the presence of water.
The idea is to give the bacteria the ability to produce much of their own energy source. If the approach works, the only ingredients the bacteria will need to produce biofuel would be CO2, electricity, and water.
The scientists are now developing ways to attach these catalysts to electrodes and to the surface of the bacteria.
“We’re at the proof-of-principle stage in many ways with this research, but the concept has a lot of potential, so we’re eager to see where we can take this,” says Singer.
Croatian Center of Renewable Energy Sources (CCRES)
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Croatian Center of Renewable Energy Sources
The Energy Department announced on May 31 its plans to invest up to $120 million over five years in a new Energy Innovation Hub that will identify problems and develop solutions across the lifecycle of critical materials. Rare earth elements and other critical materials have unique chemical and physical characteristics—including magnetic, catalytic, and luminescent properties—that are important for a growing number of energy technologies. These critical materials are also at risk for supply disruptions. The new hub, funded by up to $20 million in Fiscal Year 2012, will carry out research aimed both at having a reliable U.S. supply of rare earths and other critical materials, as well as finding efficiencies and alternatives that reduce the amount of critical materials that are needed. The work will aim to advance U.S. leadership in energy-related manufacturing, including the production of electric vehicles, wind turbines, efficient lights, and other products.
Universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms are eligible to compete and are encouraged to form partnerships when submitting their proposals. The award selection is expected this fall. This will be the fifth Energy Innovation Hub established by the Energy Department since 2010. See the Energy Department press release, the Energy Innovation Hubs website, and the funding opportunity announcement.
The Obama Administration announced on May 29 a $26 million multi-agency Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge to foster innovation-fueled job creation through public-private partnerships. The challenge will support projects that aim to help grow a region’s industry clusters by strengthening connections to regional economic development opportunities and advanced manufacturing assets; enhance a region’s capacity to create high-quality sustainable jobs; develop a skilled and diverse advanced manufacturing workforce; increase exports; encourage the development of small businesses; and accelerate technological innovation.
This is the third round of the Jobs Accelerator competition, which is being funded by the Energy Department; the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and National Institute of Standards and Technology; the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration; the Small Business Administration; and the National Science Foundation. In this round, approximately 12 projects are expected to be chosen through a competitive inter-agency grant process. These coordinated investments will help catalyze and leverage private capital, build an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and promote cluster-based development in regions across the United States. The deadline for applications is July 9, 2012. See the interagency press release, the Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge webpage on Manufacturing.gov, and the grant opportunity on Grants.gov.
The Energy Department announced on May 24 that Daikin McQuay’s Rebel rooftop unit system is the first to meet DOE’s Rooftop Unit (RTU) Challenge. Five manufacturers—Daikin McQuay, Carrier, Lennox, 7AC Technologies, and Rheem—are participating in this challenge to commercialize highly efficient commercial air conditioners that satisfy a DOE-issued specification for energy savings and performance. When built to meet the specification, these units are expected to reduce energy use by as much as 50%, relative to units built to current standards. Nationwide, if all 10- to 20-ton RTUs met the specification, businesses would save more than $1 billion each year in energy costs. The five companies have until April 1, 2013, to submit a product for independent evaluation according to the specification.
Manufacturers nationwide have a strong motivation to produce highly energy-efficient air conditioning units for commercial buildings. Members in DOE’s Commercial Buildings Energy Alliances (CBEA), such as Target, Walmart, and other participating commercial building owners have expressed an interest in equipment that meets the new energy efficiency specification at an affordable price. The Energy Department is evaluating potential demonstration sites for high-performing products that meet the RTU Challenge and is also developing analytical tools that enable businesses to more accurately estimate the energy and cost savings of using high-performance RTUs in their facilities. The specification for the RTU Challenge, aimed at spurring the market introduction of cost-effective, high-performance commercial RTU air conditioners, was developed by DOE technical experts and informed by industry partners. See the Energy Department’s Progress Alert and the CBEA webpage.
The Energy Department announced on May 30 eight finalists for the first-annual Better Buildings Federal Award. This competition recognizes the federal government’s highest-performing buildings and challenges agencies to achieve the greatest reduction in annual energy intensity, the amount of energy consumed per square foot. The federal building that achieves the greatest energy savings over a one-year competition period wins.
The finalists, which represent a range of building types, sizes, and agency functions, were selected based upon past and current sustainability efforts that demonstrate leadership and promote ongoing energy savings. They include buildings in Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Texas, and West Virginia. When selecting finalists, the Department’s Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) considered energy efficiency measures deployed in the facility, best practices in energy management and building operations undertaken by facility personnel, and institutional change programs and other tools that were used to encourage broad sustainability efforts within the facility. From now until September 30, 2012, the selected finalists will compete in a head-to-head competition to achieve the greatest reduction in Fiscal Year 2012 energy intensity. See the Energy Department Progress Alert and the Better Buildings Federal Award webpage.
The clean energy economy is here, and creating jobs all across the country. In fact, some may even be in your neighborhood.
Recently, Environmental Entrepreneurs reported 137 clean energy job announcements that could create 46,000 jobs in 42 states. From manufacturing plants, to power generation projects, to energy efficient retrofits, more than 126 companies, cities, and organizations are creating jobs across this great land. From Atlanta to Michigan to Arizona, workers are finding jobs in the clean energy field.
In Atlanta a new streetcar will increase mobility for citizens traveling between downtown and the greater Atlanta region. This project will create almost 1,000 construction jobs alone. In Madison County, Indiana, just outside Indianapolis, a 200-megawatt wind farm is being built. Besides generating electricity for up to 60,000 homes, more than 300 workers have been hired to help build the farm. Read the complete story on the Energy Blog.
What do you want to know about solar energy? Now is your opportunity to ask.
This Friday, June 8, at 2 p.m. EDT we are hosting a live Solar Twitter Chat. The discussion will be lead by R. Ramesh—our resident solar expert and director of the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative. To participate, send your questions and comments using #askEnergy.
Whether you want to know the pros and cons of cadmium telluride or how solar panels work—no question is too basic or complex. And, if you have an idea for, let’s say, making solar energy more accessible to American families and businesses—share it with us during the discussion. To learn more, including ways to participate using email or Facebook, see the Energy Blog.
Croatian Center of Renewable Energy Sources (CCRES)