27 February 2012

pursuing energy alternatives

Two links I've come across recently offer interesting options for production of energy from sources other than coal, oil or nuclear. The first one, solar shingles and more affordable storage batteries, I find appealing because they have the potential for direct home applications; rather than being something some huge power company has to use, then inefficiently distribute through power grid lines. [more about them some other time perhaps]

One exciting breakthrough are socal shingles that are cheaper and easier to install. Dow Chemical Company's Powerhouse Solar Shingles™ nail in like conventional shingles and interconnect electrically through rigid plugs at the end of each shingle.
      In addition to less costly shingles there has been recent progress in developing storage batteries, including one that will cost less to manufacture than lithium ion batteries.
Author Kevin Bullis, at MIT's Technology Review notes that:
"A startup called Primus Power has received venture capital funds to build the first full-scale version of a new, low-cost flow battery. The company's battery is designed to help stabilize the power grid, making electricity cheaper, and making it easier for utilities to integrate intermittent renewable power sources like wind and solar.
     Primus Power is working to overcome one of the basic problems that have plagued flow batteries. The technology, in theory, at least, could be one of the cheapest forms of grid storage, since it requires inexpensive and abundant materials. But in practice, flow batteries are very expensive, because they're very large. Primus is working on a new design that can be mass-produced in factories
     And a new battery developed by Aquion Energy in Pittsburgh uses simple chemistry—a water-based electrolyte and abundant materials such as sodium and manganese—and is expected to cost $300 for a kilowatt-hour of storage capacity, less than a third of what it would cost to use lithium-ion batteries. Third-party tests have shown that Aquion's battery can last for over 5,000 charge-discharge cycles and has an efficiency of over 85 percent.
     Promising starts; can't wait to see how they materialize on the market.
Gasoline from algae grown at sewer treatment plants. The first step is harvesting wild algae from municipal waste water ponds, then producing biofuels from the harvested algae.
     Aquaflow Bionomics, a firm who has been developing this process calls the resulting mixture Green Crude™ as it has many similarities to crude oil recovered from traditional geological oil deposits in the earth’s crust. While black crude is the result of applying heat and pressure to biomass on a geological time frame (millions of years). Green Crude™ is the result of applying heat and pressure to algal biomass over the space of a few hours.
Aquaflow is not the only company engaged in this effort. Discover's Treehugges / Renewable Energy website reports that at least two other outfits, Sapphire Energy [with operations based in San Diego, CA and New Mexico] and Byogy Renewables, Inc.,, based in San Jose, CA, are working at converting bio-waste as well as feedstock refuse, into fuels such as gasoline.
     The main advantage of making a plant-based synthetic gasoline, rather than other biofuels such as ethanol or biodiesel, is that it can be used in the existing fuel distribution stream and it current vehicles without modification.
     Science writer Matt McDermott, who is also editor of Treehugger's Business and Technology sections, notes that Green Crude is a start, but not a whole solution. There are other factors to take into account
"1- Switching to cleaner energy does nothing directly to address over consumption of natural resources, biodiversity loss & habitat destruction, the gross land-use disaster that is suburban sprawl, and soil degradation resulting from destructive agricultural practices... ~ ...nor will it address the 10,000 pound elephant in the environmental room: Unchecked population growth; and
2- let's not lose sight of the bigger environmental picture. It's a step in the right direction, but alone 'green crude' is not enough. Greater changes are required to make a post-carbon future a reality
     Incidentally, the articles these materials are sourced from go back as far as 2008; so while these changes still may not seem evident; change is on the way. I also checked out each of the firms cited as developing these technologies (especially the batteries and the algal biofuel conversion efforts) and am heartened to find they are still in operations.
     Gives me some cautious hope that Winston Churchill may have been correct when he pegged people as getting things right eventually, even if they have to try out all the wrong ways first.
IMAGE CREDITS: 1- Solar Shingles: Dow Chemical photo, reprinted at MIT's Technology Review; 2- Sewage treatment plant in New Zealand operated by Aquaflow Bionomics: Aquaflow Bionomics Corp. photo, reprinted at Discovery's Treehugger / Renewable Energy website.

No comments:

Post a Comment