Not only will atomic power be released, but someday we will harness the rise and fall of the tides and imprison the rays of the sun. Thomas A. Edison

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

N.C. region meets requirements for building wind farms

By Jeff Hampton
The Virginian-Pilot
© November 7, 2010

Camden County, N.C.

Hundreds of wind turbines, each about 400 feet tall, could be coming to at least three farm tracts in northeastern North Carolina - including Hales Lake in Camden County - where the Navy proposes a jet airfield.

Three meteorological towers erected in January near Sandy Road in an area known as the Desert in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties have recorded winds strong enough to make the project viable, said Shelly Cox, director of the Pasquotank County Planning Department. Wind speeds must average 12 to 14 mph.

Depending on year long results that are to conclude in two months, 150 towers producing enough energy to power 75,000 homes could be built, said Craig Poff, senior business developer for Oregon-based Iberdrola Renewables. The company markets itself as a leader in wind power and gas storage.

Poff would not give exact wind data from the meteorological towers but said numbers are good enough that the clean energy company is "moving forward" with the project. Iberdrola Renewables has built 41 wind farms across the United States, according to a company website.

Poff confirmed the company has also set up a "met" tower in Currituck County in the Bull Yard fields in Shawboro and has interest in Hales Lake, a farming area of more than 10,000 acres with several landowners.

More than two years ago, the Navy named a tract in Hales Lake as one of five potential sites for a jet practice runway known as an outlying landing field. Citizen groups and elected officials have opposed the project, hiring attorneys, lobbyists and engineers in an effort to stop the Navy's plans. But locals fear the Navy could move ahead anyway.

Massive wind farms with 400-foot towers could make the difference, said Matt Wood, a Pasquotank County commissioner and a partner in Hales Lake farming property.

"It would not be friendly to an OLF," Wood said.

Property owners, including Wood, have talked with Iberdrola Renewables officials and have visited similar projects in other states, he said. Tall wind towers, even in the Bull Yard, could obstruct an airfield in Hales Lake. The two tracts are separated only by swampy woodlands, Wood said.

Invenergy, a Chicago-based energy company, has also expressed interest in Hales Lake, he said.

Wind-farm projects have run into opposition across the country with complaints of noise, unsightly views and harm to wildlife, such as birds flying into the turbine blades. Possible projects here would be in remote farm fields.

Construction of the Desert project would require 590 workers over 18 months, with a local economic impact of $135 million, said Wayne Harris, director of the Albemarle Economic Development Commission.

It would create about 19 permanent jobs paying more than $100,000 each, he said. Citing a state study, he estimated between 30 and 120 indirect jobs and an ongoing economic increase of $89 million to $108 million.

"This is a lot like any high-tech industry," Harris said. "It provides benefits without so much employment but employment that is high quality."

Iberdrola Renewables increased its wind energy generation in the United States between April and June by nearly 32 percent, according to the company website.

Growth came in part from $577 million in federal grants and a "favorable regulatory environment." Projects must be finished and operating before getting federal grants or tax breaks, Poff said.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The U.S. Navy and Biofuels – Part III

(CONSUMER ENERGY REPORT 30 OCT 10) ... Robert Rapier

This is the concluding installment of my recent interview with Tom Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Navy (Energy). Part I discussed the overall goals of the Navy’s biofuel efforts, and in Part II we covered why coal-to-liquids (CTL) is presently off-limits, and why GTL may be as well. Part III picks up with the human cost of moving fuel into the theater of operations.

The editor of Consumer Energy Report, Sam Avro, joined me in this interview and our questions below will be denoted as “RR” or “SA”. Mr. Hicks’ responses are “TH”.

RR: I saw a recent story that once fuel actually makes it to the theater of operations, it can cost $400 per gallon when all the costs are added up. So are you putting any emphasis on producing the fuel locally? For instance, are you funding efforts that could enable you to produce fuel onsite in Afghanistan?

TH: Yes, I can point you to several efforts. In terms of working with say the Afghan population, and looking to them to create alternative fuels; that’s something that the Department of Defense and my understanding is maybe some other federal agencies are working on to create and stimulate those opportunities. And that’s really more their role to do that. What we are looking to do is to make our expeditionary units more efficient and less reliant on fossil fuels, and we are doing that in a number of ways.

One great example of us reducing our fuel tether, if you will, is our experimental forward operating base. This is something that in March the Marine Corps created in Quantico, Virginia – at the Marine Corps Base Quantico; an experimental or mock forward operating base. And the purpose of that was to test a bunch of alternative fuel technologies, renewable energy technologies so that they could reduce the amount of fossil fuels that they use in theater.

And just to give you a sense – and this is based on Army study – but for every 24 fuel convoys that we bring into the theater, we have one casualty. So that’s one soldier, one marine, killed or wounded who is not otherwise fighting the fight or engaged with the local population to build a nation. That’s a big part of what is driving this as well, that there is a human cost to this; a big price to pay and we are very concerned about that. So with that forward operating base, they identified a number of technologies that seem to have a lot of promise, and they further tested those technologies at a war-gaming exercise to see if they could hold up to the rigors of the battlefield.

From there, they took the best ones out of that exercise and trained a Marine Corps brigade that was deployed just over six months after it was initially tested. So those technologies are in theater today, and just six months ago they were just being tested. And that’s all to the point of reducing our dependence on our generator sets which are all using petroleum products, and being able to lighten the load and be more independent; to decrease our dependency on fossil fuels.

SA: When you talk about technology, are you talking about running their energy systems off of solar or things like that? Can you expound upon that?

TH: Yes, that’s a part of it. As well as things like LED lighting in the tents; having shades that serve two purposes; not only making the tents cooler, but they also have PV embedded in them to generate power. Those are a couple of examples. There are some others where we are putting out PV-generated refrigerators; so that all of the meals-ready-to-eat are kept at the appropriate temperature so they don’t spoil so the marines have food to eat when they are in theater. And all of those things would otherwise be tied to a generator that uses petroleum. Each barrel and each gallon we can take out of theater is one more we don’t have to bring in and stretches out the number of fuel convoys we ultimately need.

SA: Are you in a dedicated department where you deal with the Navy’s energy issues? Do you have a staff working under you? Can you explain the organizational structure?

TH: So, my office works under the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for what’s now Energy, Installations, and Environment. In the past it was Assistant Secretary for Installations and the Environment, but now it’s Energy, Installations, and Environment. And that energy piece is not just related to installations, it covers the entire gamut of our energy use, from our tactical, expeditionary to our facilities and our commercial vehicle fleet; our non-tactical vehicle fleet.

In terms of staffing, I have a Director of Operational Energy, who really deals with all the tactical issues; I have a Director of Shore Energy, and I have another gentleman who is really my Chief of Staff and also deals with special projects that we have on energy issues. Below that we have some additional support; some more junior level support for each of those individuals as well. So that’s how we are currently staffed up.

SA: Is the staff comprised of civilians, or does it include naval officers and enlisted personnel too?

TH: My office is entirely civilian, but there is a Marine Corps and Navy uniformed analog to what the Secretary does. So, we have a Secretary of the Navy, but you also have a Commandant of the Marine Corps and a Chief of Naval Operations. So those two uniformed folks work for the secretary. So what we have is the Secretary, we have a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, there is the Naval Energy Coordination Office, and they head up all the Navy tactical issues. We also have the Marine Corp Expeditionary Energy Office and they head up all of their tactical issues and technical energy issues. We also have installations on both the Navy and Marine Corps, and those are headed up by uniformed side as well. So, kind of think of it as a matrix; there is shore and tactical; Marine Corps and Navy. In each one of those quadrants, there is a uniformed person in the lead, and the Secretary as my role is really to coordinate with all of them, and to work with them in developing policy, issuing policy guidance, tracking progress, establishing strategies, and establishing budgets.

RR: How proactive is your department on these initiatives? Are you out knocking on doors if you see a news story, or are you waiting for companies to come to you in general?

TH: We are doing a little bit of both. We do have a lot of companies coming to us with a whole variety of possibilities; some of which I have never heard of but that are interesting nonetheless. But we are also very active. Prior to my arrival in February, a number of folks from the Assistant Secretary’s office went out to Silicon Valley to really engage with venture capital firms to understand what they are looking at in terms of energy use; what they think are going to be the big winners and where are they putting their money; but also to communicate our goals as well, so they understood where we are going.

Since coming on-board in March, I have gone up to Boston to undertake a similar effort; to meet with venture capital firms out of the Boston area to go through the same process of understanding what they are working on; what technologies and then give them a sense of what our general interest was. That’s one area. We are also looking for small green tech, clean tech companies; so we have talked to a number of them and one of the things we have done recently – and the Secretary announced this last week – is we have released off of our acquisitions website a tool called Green Biz Opps and what this does is really screens through all of the innumerable acquisition opportunities that are on Fed Biz Opps and screens them down to just Navy, energy, and green; and sustainable type of acquisitions. So we list that up on our website and will be updating it on a weekly basis so that companies can come to us; small ones that might not otherwise have the resources; gives them the opportunity to see what kind of opportunities the Navy has. We are also engaged with a number of federal agencies; USDA, DOE, and most recently with the Small Business Administration where we are going to partner together to see how we can get more of these opportunities to these small, green tech, clean tech companies.

Beyond that, we have many of our traditional roads; Navy avenues, whether it is our SBIR program or our STTR program where we can go and get some small businesses that are focused on technologies that are of interest to the Navy. So those continue as well.

RR: When you are talking about opportunities and acquisitions; acquisitions by who? Let’s say you see a promising company, and it passes through your filter, you would acquire that company?

TH: No. The acquisitions are just the opportunities; or procurements; maybe that’s a better way to say it. Procurement opportunities that they have. We don’t acquire other companies.

RR: I wouldn’t have thought so.

TH: These are opportunities that they have, that the Navy is offering them a chance to respond to.

RR: I think that covers all of the questions I have. Will you be available for followups?

TH: Sure. And I would just close by saying that energy security is really critical to our mission’s success. As we look at energy efficiency, we look at that as increasing our mission effectiveness. As we have talked a lot about today, alternative fuels really give the Navy a chance to divest a bit from petroleum to provide some increased insulation from a pretty volatile petroleum market. So that’s a pretty big part of why we are going about this. I just appreciate your time.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head, NC Goes Green

The oldest fishing pier in the Outer Banks of North Carolina is Jennette’s Pier at Nags Head. The Jennette family acquired the former site of a Civil Works Commission work camp towards the end of the Great Depression (1939). When completed, the fishing pier was 754 feet long and 16 feet wide, with a 28-foot-wide “T” on the end. One of the camp cabins was relocated at the base of the pier, where it was used for “cold drinks and changing rooms.”

The pier was eventually acquired by the North Carolina Aquarium Society in 2003 with plans for development as an “educational outpost”. Hurricane Isabel interrupted these plans, destroying almost 540 feet of the historic pier when it struck the Outer Banks in September of the same year.

The extensive damage to the property allowed for a new concept in the construction of the pier… from wooden pilings and planks to a new concrete facility extending 1,000 feet into the Atlantic. Replacing the 1930’s era cabin at the head of the pier is a 16,000 square foot, LEED certified, facility. According to the North Carolina Aquarium Society’s web site, “The Aquarium-operated complex will feature educational classrooms and programs, alternative energy demonstrations, live animal exhibits, meeting facilities, a snack bar and tackle shop, and a host of other displays and features for good family fun….with great fishing too!”

The most visible feature of this complex is the group of three wind turbines, each generating 10kW of power, enough to supply half of the facilities energy requirements. The Outer Banks (also home to aviation’s most historic site of Kitty Hawk) has an abundance of wind energy. Placement of the turbines along the length of the pier will allow for maximum efficiency of this alternative energy.

Road to Recovery: What's Working - Wind Turbines

Jonesboro, AR
By Maggie Kerkman
Published October 27, 2010
A handful of high tech workers are assembling a giant jigsaw puzzle. It may not look like much now, but soon it will become the finished housing for a wind turbine engine. The group of workers assembling it was hand-picked and trained in Germany by a German company called Nordex. These workers will soon be doing some of the training as Nordex USA expands in Jonesboro where the company plans to add up to 700 jobs in the area by 2014.

Workers here couldn’t be happier. They’re getting paid an average of about $17 an hour and they’re working at a state of the art facility.

Brad Scott is one of them. Before being hired at Nordex, he was out of work for a year and a half, after a Chinese company closed its factory and moved his job overseas. “I went to unemployment, about half of what I was making a week, ” says Scott, “so it was a pretty tough struggle.” Now Scott’s back on the job, in one of the teams doing precision work on the generator housing.

The Jonesboro plant has been in the works for about two years. Nordex is one of a handful of European companies leading the charge for wind energy expansion in the U.S. One of the reasons the company picked Jonesboro was for its central location.

According to Joe Brenner, Nordex USA’s VP of Production: “We currently have projects on the east and in the north and potential projects all over the country. So we are positioned perfectly to fill the needs throughout the United States.” Brenner told Fox News that partnerships with the local university and a community college also helped assure future cooperative research and a trained workforce.

Nordex USA’s President and CEO, Ralf Sigrist, says wind energy is the future. Now he just has to convince the rest of the U.S. that what Europe has been doing for years is how America can fill part of its expanding energy needs. Wind energy, says Sigrist, has high upfront costs but low costs over time. To be profitable, wind energy companies sign long-term fixed rate deals. They may not be the cheapest energy right now, says Sigrist, but the deals could be very competitive over time given the price volatility of fossil fuels.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The U.S. Navy and Biofuels – Part II

The following is a continuation of an interview between Robert Rapier and Thomas Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Navy (Energy). The original article may be found at

In Part I of my recent interview with Tom Hicks, Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Navy (Energy), we covered the nature of what the Navy is trying to achieve (and why) with respect to incorporating renewable energy into their operations. Part II begins with a discussion of why coal-to-liquids (CTL) is presently off-limits, and why GTL may be as well. Incidentally, I mention Shell’s Bintulu GTL facility in Malaysia below. I have just spent my entire morning inside their facility, and will have a report up on that visit next week.


RR: When I look around the world at synthetic fuel facilities, the only ones that are proven to be able to run at tens of thousands of barrels per day are the coal-to-liquids (CTL) or gas-to-liquids (GTL) plants. South Africa is running CTL at that scale; Sasol’s Secunda facility produces 160,000 bbl/day. GTL may get there; I think Shell’s Bintulu facility is at 15,000 barrels per day and their Pearl GTL project in Qatar is planned for 140,000 bbl/day. So we know that those can operate a large scale, but they are obviously not ‘green.’ So what’s your view on those? Are you open to working with CTL?

TH: Without addressing that specifically, let me give you something that is a federal requirement. As we look to replace petroleum; fossil fuels, from our usage, I think it’s within EISA 2007 (Energy Independence and Security Act) is a provision called Section 526. What it says in general is that any petroleum fuel that we replace with an alternative fuel, must have equal to or lower overall greenhouse gas emissions. Generally speaking, CTL falls on the wrong side of that. There are some notions that CTL combined with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) – that may have some promise. But we haven’t built any CCS sites in this country, so at this point it is probably more theoretical until those get built. That’s a guidepost for us; we have to comply with it. We can’t arbitrarily decide what’s green and what’s not. So meeting Section 526 is on the forefront of our minds. And just to be clear, it is DLA Energy that is required to meet it; it is their burden to bear.

SA: That would seem to conflict a bit with a statement (see here) I read the other day from the Chief of Naval Operations, who said “It’s more than simply how green we can be seen; it really is an operational issue for us…. The Green Hornet and the path to a green fleet are not public relation gimmicks.” So I am just wondering, why is it the Navy’s responsibility in reducing their dependence on petroleum – which is obviously an operational issue; a strategic issue; why do they at the same time have to ensure that they are becoming green? I am all for it, but I just wonder if they have something like CTL that can reduce our dependence on foreign oil – why wouldn’t they be able to go for that?

TH: It’s not a choice. This is a federal requirement that we have that we meet Section 526. And CTL as they are currently being delivered; my understanding is that they don’t fall on the right side of the line in terms of being equal to or less in terms of their overall greenhouse gas emissions. That’s it primarily, but there are also issues of wanting to be good environmental stewards and have or created unintended consequences by solving one problem and creating another.

SA: So basically you are saying that it is an outside requirement, where the Navy’s main focus is to reduce their petroleum usage, but obviously they are bound by federal law requirements that may prohibit them from reducing it in certain cases where it won’t be seen as becoming greener, as is the case with CTL.

TH: The objective in this, we don’t want to replace a fossil fuel with another fuel that has worse environmental attributes. Okay? Period. Fortunately, that’s what Section 526 tells us, but it’s what we believe as well; it’s the right thing to do. That’s not a direct comment on CTL, we are hearing of applications where CTL with other technologies can get across that threshold, and thus they would be viable considerations for DLA to purchase.

RR: In my position as CTO, I hear pitches from people every week. Some are credible, some are half-baked, and some violate the laws of physics. So I spend a lot of time on due diligence. I would imagine that you get many more; people must be knocking on your door all the time. How do you filter out the credible from the non-credible? I think Solazyme had an interesting story; they said they were able to deliver a barrel of fuel for you to test. Is that the metric; tell people to go produce some fuel and then you will talk to them?

TH: Well, I think that one worked in that case. For me, there is a range of things. We do get a fair amount. Fortunately, we have the federal procurement process that talks about how we go about doing these types of engagements. So we can’t get too far along. But in terms of just evaluating them, if it’s an area I am not quite sure of, I will send it over to our Office of Naval Research (ONR) and have them take a look at it. They may have already looked at it in the past, they may be working on it with another company, or it may be something they have looked at and said “it’s just not going to work for the Navy.” I usually rely on the ONR quite a bit, especially on some of the newer technologies that aren’t common in the public domain.

RR: Is your budget that is devoted to biofuel development public information? Is that something you can share?

TH: It is, it is in the president’s budget, PB11, but honestly I couldn’t tell you what that number is off the top of my head. We have some people who could. Obviously the FY12 budget is before Congress and is pre-decisional at this point, so there is no point in commenting on that. I can say this; what’s in FY11 budget, and what’s proposed for FY12 and beyond supports the testing and certification program and will support the sailing of the Great Green Fleet and local ops in 2012 and the deployment in 2016. So that’s all programmed in. Again, that’s all pre-decisional and hasn’t been approved, but as planned those things are covered.

RR: If you look at the prices that have been paid, clearly much higher than fossil prices. Solazyme’s CEO clarified that some of that was for R&D. I don’t know about the camelina deal; it looked to be $67.50 a gallon there. Maybe that’s because nobody is really producing camelina; I don’t know. But what is your long-term view on biofuel prices? Do you expect them to become competitive with current oil prices (presently $80/bbl)?

TH: Well, I think they have to get competitive with oil prices. I would choose not to use the word current, because today we are looking at $2.85 a gallon, and what did we pay three years ago? It’s very cyclical; it changes frequently, but I think long-term it has to be competitive with fuel prices. The quantities we are buying today, there’s R&D that goes into that, there’s a lot of testing and certification that we are buying, and these are very small batches. We purchase as the Navy roughly 32 million barrels of fuel per year, so that’s 1.2 or 1.3 billion gallons of fuel, and the quantities you are talking about here are pretty small; 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 gallons, which is pretty small relative to that. And to an extent, you pay for that lack of economy of scale at this point. But again, it’s working toward a testing and certification program, we’re not purchasing those fuels for operational use. I think that’s a really important thing to consider.

RR: So those products they are delivering, those are finished products? For instance, they are doing the hydrocracking and refining to turn them into JP-5, for instance?

TH: I believe that what we get is the mix; the 50:50 blend; 50% algae-based or camelina-based plus JP-5 or F-76 as the case may be.

RR: Besides algae and camelina, which have been pretty public, are there other oil-based crops that you are looking at that people have been able to supply for testing?

TH: I will probably have to defer to someone down at our testing facility to tell you which ones they are looking at. But I know from a feedstock point of view – and I don’t know if these discussions have resulted in us testing the fuel – but there are discussions around jatropha, around bagasse, maybe some sugarcane and some others that seem to have the right environmental attributes. And again, going to the Section 526 compliance piece would be a big part of that.

RR: When you mention bagasse, I presume you are talking about producing ethanol? I guess you could go gasification and produce Fischer-Tropsch liquids. But are you also looking at gasoline replacements, or are you strictly looking for diesel and jet replacements?

TH: Are you talking specifically for our commercial vehicle fleet?

RR: Yes.

TH: So there we have about 50,000 vehicles in our fleet and we have a churn rate of about 10,000 vehicles per year; we buy and lease all of our vehicles through GSA (General Services Administration) and we return about 10,000 per year back to them. As of today, 35% of the fleet is alternative fuel-capable; so they can take B20, E85; it varies obviously by vehicle type. We have CNG, we have a number of all-electric vehicles that we are pilot-testing; even some hydrogen ones as well. And certainly we have flex-fuel and hybrid electrics, and so we have a wide range of different ones. Our goals there are to reduce our petroleum usage by 50% by 2015. From 2003 to 2009 we reduced it by over 30%, and so we are going to go another 50% beyond that. And we are going to do it by purchasing and leasing alternative fuel vehicles through GSA.

RR: So those vehicles you mentioned, do CNG and hydrogen meet Section 526? I think CNG would have a lower greenhouse gas footprint, but I am not sure hydrogen would in its current configuration where it is produced mostly from natural gas.

TH: In a pilot effort, it is more about testing the capabilities of it. Longer term, we still have to go through the compliance path to make sure the overall environmental attributes of that fuel is better tha the fuel it is replacing. With hydrogen, it depends on how you make it. That can obviously play into that.


Part III, the concluding installment, will pick up by discussing the advantages of using fuel produced near the point of use. One statistic that was provided was that for every 24 fuel convoys that we bring into the theater, there is one casualty.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The U.S. Navy and Biofuels – Part I

Sailors assigned to Riverine Group 1 conduct maneuvers aboard Riverine Command Boat (Experimental) (RCB-X) at Naval Station Norfolk. The RCB-X is powered by an alternative fuel blend of 50 percent algae-based and 50 percent NATO F-76 fuels to support the secretary of the Navy's efforts to reduce total energy consumption on naval ships. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gregory N. Juday)

The following is an interview with Assistant Secretary of the Navy for for Energy, Thomas W. Hicks and Robert Rapier as posted today on Consumer Energy Report:

The U.S. Navy and Biofuels – Part I
Posted by Robert Rapier on Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Tuesday, October 19, 2010 I conducted an interview with Tom Hicks, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Navy (Energy). The idea for the interview originated from my recent essays on Solazyme (here and here) in which the Navy’s investments in biofuels were discussed. After the Solazyme essays were published, Consumer Energy Report editor Sam Avro contacted the Navy for comment, and they offered to set up an interview with Mr. Hicks.

I was joined by Sam, and our questions below will be denoted as “RR” or “SA”. Mr. Hick’s responses are “TH”. The goal of the interview was simply to distill down for a general audience what the Navy is trying to accomplish. The interview went on for over 40 minutes, so it will be broken down into multiple parts.

RR: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? What brought you to this job?

TH: Shortly after college I began working for the Navy as a civilian. I started the energy program for what was then Navy Public Works Center – Washington. That was really doing energy efficiency efforts in the tens of millions of dollars throughout the region. That was kind of early 90’s. From there I went to the EPA, where I created Energy Star for Buildings. Instead of Energy Star for Computers and many other things that you are probably familiar with – I created the application for buildings while there. I implemented that and ran it for a number of years and then went on to the U.S. Green Building Council, where among other things I headed up the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for a couple of years, and I also started and ran the international program there as well. From there, this opportunity came back, and it was a way for me to in many ways come home, back to Navy, and kind of apply both my energy and green building roots to what the Navy’s aspirations were.

RR: In talking to people, I think a lot of people don’t really understand the relationship between the Navy and the companies you work with. For example, are you doing your own research, or only funding outside research? So what exactly is your scope, particularly as it relates to biofuels?

TH: As you probably know, the Navy, as with the Army and Air Force – we purchase our fuel through what used to be called DESC (Defense Energy Support Center) and is now DLA – Energy (Defense Logistics Agency). So we all purchase our fuel from them to power the fleet. For us it’s mostly JP-5 and F-76 and a little bit of JP-8 through DLA Energy. In terms of research, what we are doing – and this stems from the Secretary’s vision and goals that he laid out in October 2009. What he laid out was what the Navy is going to do going forward in the future. There are goals about energy efficient acquisitions, but the two that are the most relevant here are sailing the “Great Green Fleet” which is an idea that hearkens back to the “Great White Fleet” around the turn of the last century that Teddy Roosevelt sailed; this idea that in 2012 we will put a carrier strike group in local operations entirely on alternative fuels and then in 2016 we are going to deploy that strike group on all alternative fuels. So that’s one marker. The other is that by 2020, 50% of all of the Navy’s energy consumption will come from alternative sources. Those are the kinds of guideposts, the vision that we are working toward. In terms of the research, what we are doing today is doing the research, testing, and certification on all the engines in our inventory. That includes all of our surface vessels, as well as all of our aircraft, and testing them to use a 50:50 blend of biofuels, and whatever the case may be; JP-5, JP-8, or F-76.

RR: So you are testing fuels, but not actually trying to produce any yourselves?

TH: No, that’s really not our role to play in this market. There are many other entities that are in that space, and we are looking to utilize those fuels in the blends I mentioned before.

RR: Thanks, that helps clarify one point. So, what are the primary drivers for this, and what is driving the timelines? Is this coming from policy, where they are saying “We really need this”, or from scientists saying “We can do this?”

TH: I think what’s driving it for us is that we see it as enhancing our war-fighting capabilities. It is about becoming more energy independent, more energy secure, and playing what we consider a leading role, not only in the Department of Defense, but in the Federal Government in seeing the realization of an energy efficient economy. That’s what’s really driving us, and that’s consistent with the President’s objectives for the Federal Government, and we see ourselves playing a leading role in that. Having more homegrown, secure, independent sources of fuel is going to be critical to us to be able to complete our mission going forward.

RR: The U.S. Joint Forces released a report earlier in the year (see this story) that warned of the potential for a 10 million barrel a day shortfall by 2015. I am wondering about your opinion on that. Oil supplies, short and long-term; do you think that’s going to be an issue?

TH: I am not an expert in those areas. I can probably point you to some people who are. I was at a conference yesterday, and I understand we currently have about a 500,000 barrel per day surplus, which is pretty tight, but I can’t really comment on that. But of course as we pursue this effort, what we are looking to do is to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. By going for these alternative fuels and biofuels, we can find more independent, secure sources.

SA: Sam here. If I could go back to the original question posed by Robert, where he asked what is driving the changeover towards alternative fuels and greener energy; is it more of a policy thing, which you explained to us and obviously we understand the importance from a security aspect, and about that no one is going to argue about, but I think Robert’s question was more about whether it was wishful thinking. More like “We would love to be in a position to be less reliant on crude oil and the sources we are getting the crude oil from” – or is it the scientists telling you “This is something we can do?” So the question is really, “Is this something we can do, or something we hope we can do?”

TH: Certainly from a technical perspective, as we are proving out through our testing and certification program, the fuel works just as well as other fuels. The blend, the fuel; is transparent to the operator. These are drop-in, so from that perspective it works. So I am not sure if that answers your question from a scientific perspective.

RR: I think the question is, “Can they deliver?” I agree with you that these are drop-in fuels (we are specifically talking about synthetic fuel replacements, not biodiesel or ethanol), as I have seen lots of testing on them. But are the companies realistic about the timelines in which they can deliver?

TH: Well, I think that’s one of the key things we are sending out is a demand signal to the market. So what we are saying is that by 2012, to test the fleet and do the local ops that I mentioned with the Great Green Fleet, we need 8,000 barrels of biofuel. To deploy that in 2016, we need 80,000 barrels. Those are certainly quantities that – we have talked to industry – and they will have no problem with delivering. By 2020, we go from 8,000 to 80,000 to 8 million barrels, is what our need is to meet that goal of 50% alternative fuel. So if we were to sit passively back and not send out the demand signal, perhaps we would have a different outcome. We choose a leadership position, and part of that position is sending out a strong demand signal to the market, that if you can deliver this; if you establish this; if you can meet it at a competitive cost long-term, then this is something we are going to commit to. So again, we are going through the entire certification and testing of every engine in our fleet, including the diesel back-up generators on our carriers.

SA: I just want to clarify one point. So you are telling me, obviously I understand your strategy for getting there, but you are confident that this strategy will take you to a point, where I have seen the Secretary of the Navy say that they want to be sure that 50% of total energy consumption will come from alternative energy sources by 2020, and reducing the use of petroleum by 50% in the commercial fleet by 2015; so you think those are viable goals?

TH: Those are viable goals, and those are goals that are driving our strategies, and driving our budget to make those goals a reality. And again, it’s not just the Navy; we send I think an important demand signal, but if you look at us relative to commercial aviation we are very small, but at the same time I think we represent a very powerful part; and we are also doing this through partnerships with others; whether it’s USDA in trying to create a vibrant biofuel market in Hawaii, or it’s working with DLA Energy to make sure they understand what our needs are, and when we will have those; it’s also working with DOE, through their loan guarantee program and other investment programs into biofuels; we are working all those groups to really make sure that a market takes off on biofuels. We are doing everything within our control to do that.


The next installment will begin by discussing the reasons that the Navy can’t use fuel produced from coal.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

TCC Renewable Energy In The News

My course (ENE 100) is but a part of a larger Renewable Energy program at Tidewater Community College. Professor Thomas Stout, head of TCC's Electromechanical Control Technology Program, has taken the lead in providing a pathway to certification in various forms of energy installation and repair. As this part of TCC grows, so does the availability of skilled workers for emerging markets such as wind, solar, and geo-thermal technology.

WVEC (TV Ch. 13 in Hampton Roads, VA) reported on TCC's variety of courses in this emerging field. Click on the link above to be taken directly to WVEC's article and video report.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Waves Power US Grid for the First Time

Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) claims the US's first-ever grid connection for a wave energy device.

Published: September 28, 2010

OPT's PB40 PowerBuoy was hooked up to the grid at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii as part of the firm's programme with the US Navy to test wave energy technology. The connection demonstrates the device's ability to produce utility-grade renewable energy that can be transmitted to the grid according to international and national standards, says the firm.

“Grid connection is another significant milestone in demonstrating the potential for commercial status of our PowerBuoy technology,” said OPT’s CEO Charles F. Dunleavy.

The PowerBuoy was deployed three-quarters of a mile off the coast of Oahu in December 2009 at a depth of 100 feet. Since then the device has produced power from more than 3 million power take-off cycles and 4,400 hours of operation.

The project has also undergone extensive environmental assessment by an independent environmental firm in accordance the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) that resulted in a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), says OPT.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Offshore winds generate power and jobs, study says

The Associated Press
© September 28, 2010
By Steve Szkotak


Offshore wind power in Atlantic waters could supply nearly half the current electricity generation of the East Coast and create up to 200,000 jobs or more, an environmental group concludes in a study released to day.

The study by Oceana, an environmental group focused on oceanic issues, predicts winds along the East Coast have the potential to deliver 30 percent more electricity than "economically recoverable" offshore oil and gas in the same region.

The study also estimates that the emerging offshore wind industry would create between 133,000 and 212,000 jobs annually in the United States - more than three times the estimated future job creation through expanded offshore oil and gas drilling.

The authors of "Untapped Wealth: The Potential of Offshore Energy to Deliver Clean, Affordable Energy and Jobs" said they studied potential offshore wind tracts three to 24 miles off the East Coast in depths of up to 98 feet and used conservative estimates to arrive at their conclusions.

Many of the assumptions, such as job generation, are based on experience in Europe, which has a far-advanced offshore wind industry.

Great Britain opened the world's largest offshore wind farm last week. The huge site in the North Sea has 100 turbines, which, including previous capacity, gives Britain the ability to power all the homes in Scotland.

The United States has approved one offshore wind farm, off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

"The technology exists. We just need to have the will to do it," said Simon Mahan, one of the Oceana study authors and now with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Among the study's other findings:

- Delaware, Massachusetts and North Carolina could exceed all their current energy needs through offshore winds, while New Jersey, Virginia and South Carolina could achieve 64 percent or more of their energy needs.

- Much of a state's ability to generate offshore winds hinges on its location and the length of its coastline. Georgia, for instance, is located farther south, which has lighter winds, and has a smaller coastline. Its potential for offshore energy is in the single digits.

- U.S. offshore wind-generation capacity on the Atlantic Coast is at least 127 gigawatts. That is approximately equal to European projections for offshore wind energy on that continent in less than 20 years.

More than 24,000 wind turbines would have to be scattered in East Coast waters to achieve that level of generation.

East Coast states have been giving offshore winds a closer look following the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

President Barack Obama suspended planned exploratory gas and oil drilling off Virginia's coast shortly after the April spill. The state was first in line to begin drilling.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has reached agreement with 10 East Coast governors to work together to develop windmills in the Atlantic.

"Our research revealed that harnessing offshore wind power in Atlantic waters is a much more cost-effective way to generate energy than oil and gas drilling," said one of the study's co-authors, Jacqueline Savitz of Oceana, which opposes offshore drilling.

Savitz said the study intended to counter oil industry warnings that a reduction in drilling will cost jobs.

"The clean industry can also generate jobs," she said. "That's one of the things we're trying to bring out in this."

The jobs would be created for a nearly nonexistent U.S. industry to fabricate giant turbines, as well as ships needed to build and service them and related industries.

Oceana also recommended the elimination of federal subsidies for fossil fuels; a permanent ban on new oil and gas development in the Atlantic; and other measures to encourage offshore wind development.

Monday, September 27, 2010

US Navy sails into solar future

Navy installs third solar project at pioneering Seal Beach base
Danny Bradbury for BusinessGreen, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Friday 24 September 2010 10.46 BST

The US Navy's high profile efforts to cut its carbon footprint have secured another victory with the installation of a solar parking lot at its Seal Beach facility in California.

The $1.9m project, paid for by US stimulus funding, consists of a car park with a photovoltaic carport system. Built in a year by contractor Stronghold Engineering, the system will provide 190Kw of power.

The project saw 812 individual 235 watt modules installed on top of a steel building that serves as a canopy for station cranes. Between them, they will produce approximately 265,310 kw/hours of energy per year, which the Navy says is enough energy for 15 houses.

It added that the scheme will save carbon dioxide equivalent to to taking 33 cars off the road for a year.

This is Stronghold's third solar installation at Seal Beach. Between them, the three systems boast over 2,000 panels, generating roughly 6.5 per cent of the Naval facility's total power needs. It brings the Navy close to meeting a goal set out by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which mandated that it increase its use of renewable energy to 7.5 per cent of overall energy use.

Stronghold also hopes that the project will serve as an inspiration to the owners and managers of other parking lots in the US, which offer vast expanses of flat, sun-soaked roof perfect for solar installations. In 2006, Google equipped a parking lot at its Mountain View headquarters with 1.6mw of power and it is hoped that other corporate campuses could similarly use parking space to generate energy.

The project is the latest in a series of high profile moves from the US Navy, which has seen the force emerge as one of the leading pioneers of renewable energy in the country.

In April, the Navy declared it aims to use renewables for half its power needs at sea and shore-side by 2020, and alongside solar power it is working on a number of marine energy and biofuel projects.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Oil isn't the only energy vulnerability...

Alternative energy requires raw materials. Some of them are quite exotic. Wind turbines and solar cells both use material made from rare-earth oxides. As the name implies, these materials are quite rare. The following article explores the West's vulnerabilities as it turns to technology to solve future energy needs...

A Speculative Rare Earth Power Play
9/24/2010 5:23 AM ET
Copyright © 2010, Inc.

Rare earth elements, also known as green elements, are a group of seventeen metals, whose unique properties have made them indispensable for clean energy technologies, advanced water filtration systems and national defense.

The emerging green energy technologies like hybrid and electric vehicles and wind power turbines; high-tech applications like fiber optics, lasers and hard disk drives and numerous defense systems are dependent on rare earth materials for functionality.

China, which has vast reserves of rare earth metals and controls over 97% of the world's current rare earth supply, has a virtual global monopoly of the metals. As global requirements for rare earth metals continue to spike, China's own domestic use of rare earth elements is also soaring, with internal consumption estimated to be about 60% of production.

With news about China considering banning of exports of rare earth metals making headlines on and off, efforts are being taken up to revive the industry outside China.

The largest non-China rare earth resource in the world is located at Mountain Pass in California, owned by Molycorp Inc. (MCP).

Molycorp is a rare earth producer and technology company. Barely two months of going public, this company's stock has nearly doubled in value, and on Thursday it touched a new intraday high, stoked by reports about China's ban on rare earth exports to Japan.

The Mountain Pass mine owned by Molycorp can produce high quality rare earth oxides, including cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, praseodymium and europium. Operations at the Mountain Pass facility began in 1952 and were suspended in 2002 due to softening prices for rare earth elements and environmental concerns. Though the mine has been inactive, the company is currently producing finished rare earth products from feedstocks that were stockpiled at the site from previous mining campaigns.

In order to raise money to revitalize its mine, the company went public as recently as July 29, pricing its shares at $14 each and raised $379.2 million in the IPO proceeds.

Molycorp is in the process of modernizing its processing facilities and restarting active mining of fresh ore. The company expects mining operations to recommence in 2011 and be in full production in the second half of 2012, when it will begin producing at the rate of forty million pounds of finished Rare Earth products per year.

Under its current business plan, the company intends to spend about $511 million through 2012 to restart mining operations, construct and refurbish processing facilities and other infrastructure at the Mountain Pass facility and expand into metals and alloys production. According to Molycorp, total capital spending is expected to be approximately $53 million this year.

Since its inception, Molycorp has incurred significant operating losses and has yet to make a cent. As of June 30, 2010, the company had an accumulated deficit of $73.7 million. Net sales for the first-half of 2010 were $4.8 million, up from $2.9 million in the comparable year-ago period.

As mentioned, the company's current operations are limited to the production and sale of rare earth oxides from stockpiled concentrates. Lanthanum accounted for 72% and lanthanum oxide accounted for 24% the company's net sales for the six months ended June 30, 2010. Molycorp currently sells 100% of its lanthanum to customers in the United States.

Now, things are looking up as company is optimistic of further expanding its products and markets in the coming months. Molycorp expects increased revenues in the second half of 2010, to be helped by higher rare earth elements prices and sales of additional products to be produced during its second pilot processing campaign.

As China-based producers and suppliers continue to limit the quantity of rare earth oxides available outside of China, its price can be expected to increase. No wonder, the news about China's ban on rare earths exports to Japan, alleged by industry insiders, has brought renewed attention on Molycorp Minerals.

MCP rose nearly 11% to touch a new intraday high of $26.13 on Thursday and closed the day's trading off its highs at $25.73 on an above-average volume of 2.66 million shares.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dog Poop Lights Up City Park

Biomass digesters have been around for a very long time. I guess this is a case of what is old is new again. While this article from AOL news takes a whimsical view of using pet excrement as a source of renewable energy, we continue to use landfills to store bio-waste in plastic bags. Comparatively, this is a small problem.

A much larger problem is the amount of animal waste that finds its way into the Chesapeake Bay and polluting a major source of sea food for the U.S. Finding a valuable use for waste can be a great thing. How much energy could we create with what has been dumped into our rivers and streams?

-- Environmentalists are going gaga for a street lamp in Cambridge, Mass., that is powered by dog poop.The lamp, a shining example of how humans can make use of an underutilized and perpetually renewable energy source -- feces -- is the brainchild of Matthew Mazzotta, a conceptual artist who studied at the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who wanted to give back to the community.

The lamp is located at a dog park and uses a device known as a methane digester. Folks whose dogs do their business there simply collect the poop in a plastic bag and put it in the device and turn a crank to help the methane in the tank rise up to the top so it can be piped to the gas-burning lamppost that is attached.

Mazzotta says the Fido-powered flames are "eternal" and will "burn until someone or a group of people propose an idea to use the heat and light of the constantly burning flame and make a public project."Methane digesters are nothing new. Mazzotta says they are common in China, India and South America where they are used mostly with cow manure, not dog poop."No one is taking account of all the methane produced by animals that live in cities," Mazzotta told AOL News. "Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases -- even more than carbon dioxide -- but when it burns [it] separates into water and carbon dioxide."

Mazzotta was inspired to create what is now called the "Park Spark Project" after a trip to India, where he first saw the devices. "When I came back, I saw whole bags of dog poop collected in bags and dumped in landfills," he said. "I thought we should burn it, reduce it and make free energy."So he proposed the idea to Cambridge officials and after six months of discussion, got the OK. After that, he got a $4,000 grant from his alma mater.Since it seems to take a village to clean up all the dog poop, part of Mazzotta's project is to have the community decide how to use the excrement energy.For instance, in the next few weeks, Mazzotta will be gathering ideas on how to best use the flame. According to, some of the suggestion already include a shadow-projection box, a popcorn stand and a tea house.

But what is happening in a dog park in Cambridge could become known as the "sh-t heard around the world."

"Every dog park around the world should take their poop and do something with it."

It looks like that may happen. Ever since word got out about the poop-powered lamp, Mazzotta has been talking with people from all over the world who want the straight poop about his concept, including an official from a town near Paris, France.

Even better, he says, is how the lamp is affecting the locals in the dog park.

"When people throw their poop in the digester, they now know their actions have implications," Mazzotta said.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Self-Healing Solar Cells Could Have Indefinite Lifespan

From, Wired Science

A new technique may one day lead to solar cells that bring themselves together like a molecular flash mob and repair damage they sustain during the rough business of turning light into electricity.

The research lays the groundwork for cheap, self-repairing solar cells with an indefinite lifetime, a team reports September 5 in Nature Chemistry.

“It’s a manmade version of what nature does,” says nanocomposite expert Jaime Grunlan of Texas A&M University in College Station. “This really looks like ground-breaking seminal work; I’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”

The sun’s rays can be brutal, even for a leaf that’s harvesting them. When photosynthesis is going full blast, a leaf is constantly building new photosynthetic reaction centers to replace those damaged by harsh oxygen species and other destructive molecules generated by intense ultraviolet light.

So rather than trying to make solar cells that are extremely durable, the team decided to take a literal leaf from nature’s book and go the route of self-repair, says chemical engineer Michael Strano of MIT, who led the project. He and Stephen Sligar and Colin Wraight of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, along with other colleagues, designed a system where damaged parts could be easily replaced.

The researchers began with light-harvesting reaction centers from a purple bacterium. Then they added some proteins and lipids for structure, and carbon nanotubes to conduct the resulting electricity.

These ingredients were added to a water-filled dialysis bag — the kind used to filter the blood of someone whose kidneys don’t work — which has a membrane that only small molecules can pass through. The soupy solution also contained sodium cholate, a surfactant to keep all the ingredients from sticking together.

When the team filtered the surfactant out of the mix, the ingredients self-assembled into a unit, capturing light and generating an electric current.

The spontaneous assembly occurs thanks to the chemical properties of the ingredients and their tendency to combine in the most energetically comfortable positions. The scaffolding protein wraps around the lipid, forming a little disc with the photosynthetic reaction center perched on top. These discs line up along the carbon nanotube, which has pores that electrons from the reaction center can pass through.

Adding the sodium cholate back into the mix disassembles the complexes. But filtering it out again brings them right back together.

“The idea that it happens reversibly and at will is quite amazing,” says Strano. “It approaches what happens in biology — forming a huge amount of order with the flip of a switch. It’s kind of like taking puzzle pieces and throwing them up in the air and them coming down assembled.”
The complexes eventually lose power, but they are easily revived, says Strano. The research team disassembled the units and replenished the photosynthetic reaction centers. Four such replacements over the course of a week kept keeping the complexes humming along.

“This is very nice work — the procedure they’ve got, the control they have over the system,” says biochemist Mike Jones of the University of Bristol in England. “It’s simple, it’s very nice.”

The units can’t compete with silicon-based solar cells in use today. But silicon-based solar cells reached their current level of efficiency only after decades of research and development, says Jones. Similar investment in this new technology could yield a system that’s highly efficient, can self-repair and works well under low light conditions, he says.

What’s more, the main ingredients for these solar cells might one day be easily extracted from plant material, says Strano, perhaps even from garbage biomass. “We could turn waste into an organized product,” he says.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Chinese Demonstrate Methanol Reformer/Fuel Cell Integration

Green Car Congress, 19 June 2006,

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP) have successfully integrated a CO-resistant proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell system with a methanol reformer as the hydrogen source to produce steady power generation for 3 hours.

The fuel cell generated maximum power output of 75.5kW, with the methanol reformer providing a stable hydrogen supply of 70.5 Nm3/hr. The reformed gas contained 53 vol% hydrogen, and CO content was around 20 ppm.

This showed that the fuel cell system could adapt to hydrogen generated by methanol reformers and contained trace amount of CO, according to the researchers.

The purpose of the project was to determine the feasibility of using in-situ hydrogen generation with a PEM fuel cell; the combination of a fuel cell with an on-board reformer can be used in a vehicle.

Several automakers have experimented with on-board methanol reforming to provide hydrogen for a fuel cell.

DaimlerChrysler most recently coupled an on-board methanol reformer with a fuel cell in its NECAR 5 prototype, introduced in 2000. The entire drive system, including the methanol reformer, was compact enough to fit into the underfloor of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

In 2002, NECAR 5 clocked up a long-distance record for a fuel-cell-powered vehicle of 5,250 kilometers (3,263 miles) when it completed a transAmerican journey from San Francisco to Washington.

The NECAR 5 fuel-cell stack delivered 75 kW of power. The car had a top speed of more than 145 kmh (90 mph), and a range of more than 400 milometers (250 miles).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cars to Run on Scotch

By David Sims
TMCnet Contributing Editor

Leave it to Scots to come up with a way to actually improve upon one of the best inventions in the history of mankind.

Scotland produces approximately 150 million liters (about 50 million gallons, give or take) of their wonderful whiskey every year, raking in about $6.24 billion.

According to DailyTech, “that production leads to a lot of byproducts -- which largely are discarded.” Until now, that is: “Researchers at the Edinburgh Napier University have cooked up a method to end that waste, instead turning two of the main byproducts -- ‘pot ale,’ the liquid from the copper stills, and ‘daff,’ the spent grains – into biofuels.” reports that “The team believes that their new whiskey-fuel will not only be able to power cars in the near future, but aircrafts as well, and act as the base for solvents such as acetone.”

And no, this isn’t an ethanol redux. Death to ethanol, one of the worst-conceived products of your lifetime, which continues to exist only -- only -- because corn-drenched Iowa holds the first presidential primary. Butanol is generally considered a more useful biofuel in no small part because it can be blended into gasoline “at any ratio without special engine considerations,” and “delivers 30 percent more power by volume than ethanol,” according to DailyTech.

Professor Martin Tangney, who led the project, says "What people need to do is stop thinking 'either or'; people need to stop thinking like for like substitution for oil. That's not going to happen. Different things will be needed in different countries."

Sure -- German cars will run on beer, Italian cars on grappa, French cars on wine, Greek cars on ouzo...

Researchers think they can get a liter of biofuel per liter of whisky -- “production waste far outweighs the current product,” DailyTech says -- so the industry “could eventually produce almost 1 million barrels of butanol per year,” with 158 liters in a standard barrel of oil.

David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wind turbines in Israel

More Wind Turbines to Hit Golan
Elul 1, 5770, 11 August 10 05:05
by Elad Benari

Israel is continuing to invest in wind energy. Green Wind Energy Ltd., which has operated wind turbines on the Golan Heights for 18 years, announced on Sunday that it has obtained a permit from the Ministry of Interior, the Public Utilities Authority, and Israel Electric Corporation for its plans to build a 14-megawatt wind farm in the Golan Heights, this according to a report in Globes.

The groundwork for the wind farm, currently being prepared, will be based on seven 80-meter turbines, each with a propeller diameter of 95 meters. Each turbine will generate two megawatts of electricity. The current turbines on the site produce 4.8 megawatts of electricity and will be replaced by the new ones.

The new wind farm is expected to take two months to build once the infrastructure is laid down. Construction is currently scheduled to take place during the second quarter of 2011.

A Reuters report in April said that after the construction of the first seven wind turbines, additional turbines are planned as well, up to a total of 160. They will be erected over a period of two years and in total will generate about 450 megawatts of electricity. The expected cost for the additional turbines is about $800 million, with the eventual expected revenue from the farm being $150 million per year.

While Israel has traditionally focused on solar power, recently it has begun to put more resources into developing its wind energy industry. The Golan Heights is a good site to invest in this field since it is a windswept plateau.

In fact, said the Reuters report, Israel plans to more than triple its use of wind energy over the next decade, while increasing solar energy production by only 40 percent.

Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau explained at the time that this was a cost saving decision, since wind farms need minimal government subsidies and take up less land.

In addition to the Golan Heights, Israel is exploring options for additional wind farms across the country, including in the Negev desert and along the border in cooperation with Jordan.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Nanotech coatings produce 20 times more electricity from sewage

Press release from Oregon State University:

7-21-10Media Release

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Engineers at Oregon State University have made a significant advance toward producing electricity from sewage, by the use of new coatings on the anodes of microbial electrochemical cells that increased the electricity production about 20 times.

The findings, just published online in Biosensors and Bioelectronics, a professional journal, bring the researchers one step closer to technology that could clean biowaste at the same time it produces useful levels of electricity – a promising new innovation in wastewater treatment and renewable energy.

Engineers found that by coating graphite anodes with a nanoparticle layer of gold, the production of electricity increased 20 times. Coatings with palladium produced an increase, but not nearly as much. And the researchers believe nanoparticle coatings of iron – which would be a lot cheaper than gold – could produce electricity increases similar to that of gold, for at least some types of bacteria.

“This is an important step toward our goal,” said Frank Chaplen, an associate professor of biological and ecological engineering. “We still need some improvements in design of the cathode chamber, and a better understanding of the interaction between different microbial species. But the new approach is clearly producing more electricity.”

In this technology, bacteria from biowaste such as sewage are placed in an anode chamber, where they form a biofilm, consume nutrients and grow, in the process releasing electrons. In this context, the sewage is literally the fuel for electricity production.

In related technology, a similar approach may be able to produce hydrogen gas instead of electricity, with the potential to be used in hydrogen fuel cells that may power the automobiles of the future. In either case, the treatment of wastewater could be changed from an energy-consuming technology into one that produces usable energy.

Researchers in the OSU College of Engineering and College of Agricultural Sciences, including Hong Liu, an assistant professor of biological and ecological engineering, are national leaders in development of this technology, which could significantly reduce the cost of wastewater treatment in the United States. It might also find applications in rural areas or developing nations, where the lack of an adequate power supply makes wastewater treatment impractical. It may be possible to create sewage treatment plants that are completely self-sufficient in terms of energy usage.

The technology already works on a laboratory basis, researchers say, but advances are necessary to lower its cost, improve efficiency and electrical output, and identify the lowest cost materials that can be used.

This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.

“Recent advances in nanofabrication provide a unique opportunity to develop efficient electrode materials due to the remarkable structural, electrical and chemical properties of nanomaterials,” the researchers wrote in their report. “This study demonstrated that nano-decoration can greatly enhance the performance of microbial anodes.”

About Oregon State University: OSU is one of only two U.S. universities designated a land-, sea-, space- and sun-grant institution. OSU is also Oregon’s only university designated in the Carnegie Foundation’s top tier for research institutions, garnering more than 60 percent of the total federal and private research funding in the Oregon University System. Its enrollment of nearly 22,000 students come from all 50 states and more than 90 nations. OSU programs touch every county within Oregon, and its faculty teach and conduct research on issues of national and global importance.

Food or Fuel... How About Both?

A great source of contention in the alternative energy field is the argument of "food or fuel". The argument goes something like this... There are finite resources available for the production of biomass and biofuel. Utilizing these resources removes arable land from food production, increasing the strain on the world food supply and increasing hunger. But, what if you can do both as the same time?

PetroAlgae is "a Florida-based leading renewable energy company, licenses a commercial micro-crop technology system that enables the production of green diesel and a high-value protein food source in an environmentally beneficial manner." The co-product of this process is a highly adaptable protein powder that can supplement and fortify animal feeds and human food processing. Therefore, this company can reduce our reliance on foreign oil without negatively impacting our food supply.

Foster-Wheeler has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with PetroAlgae for engineering services that will allow for an unprecedented level of biofuel production. Additionally, the algae-derived oil will be refined into traditional petroleum products (e.g. kerosene, gasoline, and jet fuel) in addition to biodiesel.

Check out their videos at:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Geothermal Technology Could Tap 120,000MW of Energy

New to me... this article first ran in 2008:

On August 22nd, Raser Technologies and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson broke ground on New Mexico’s first geothermal power plant. Situated at Lightning Dock near Animas, the new plant will incorporate an innovative binary liquid technology that allows it to make use of the site’s low levels of geothermal energy. If more of these modular plants are built then they could be mobilized to take advantage of over 120,000 MW of untapped low-temp geothermal energy across the US.
The project will be one of the first geothermal plants in the nation to incorporate the new breed of low-temperature technology featured in Raser’s proprietary modular power plants. Each individual generation unit is manufactured off-site, delivered to the location, and rapidly installed to create, in essence, a geothermal farm with multiple 450 kW units. Raser Technologies anticipates the first 10 MW of power generation will be online by early next year (2009). Phase II of the project will add another 15 MW of power, for a total of 25 MW, which is enough to power nearly fifteen thousand homes.

Thank you to and Bridgette Steffen who wrote the piece. The original posting may be found at

Monday, July 19, 2010

During peak demand, Navy bases generate own power

Published on (


Eight local Navy installations produced 35 megawatts of their own electricity Wednesday - less than half of what they typically pull from the power grid - as part of a new program to reduce power consumption during times of peak usage.

Bases, including Norfolk Naval Station, Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, Oceana Naval Air Station, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek and Norfolk Naval Shipyard, typically draw power from an electrical grid that serves several states on the East Coast.

Last year, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic signed a contract with PJM Interconnection to reduce the amount of power those bases take from the grid at times of peak demand. Wednesday, with a heat wave causing triple- digit temperatures in the Northeast, the bases executed the contract for the first time, according to Navy spokesman Tom Kreidel.

The 35 megawatts the bases produced is enough to power 35,000 homes, Kreidel said.
The Navy's contract with PJM could require 10 such curtailments per year. In return for reducing its impact, the Navy could receive up to $2 million a year in credits.

Kate Wiltrout, (757) 446-2629,

Sunday, July 18, 2010

From earth2tech: TerraPower: How The Traveling Wave Nuclear Reactor Works

The following is a February 15th article from Katie Fehrenbacher reports on TerraPower and Bill Gate's project on micronuclear power:

When Microsoft Chairman and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates mentioned TerraPower in his speech at the exclusive tech conference TED last week, it was the first time that many had heard of the nuclear project. I was monitoring Twitter during Gates' talk and ma ny audience members at TED tweeted wondering why "TerraPower" was getting special attention in a speech from one of the most famous computer technologists of all time.

Well, first off TerraPower is a nuclear spinoff project from incubator Intellectual Ventures. Former Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold founded Intellectual Ventures, and Bill Gates is a principal owner of TerraPower. TerraPower uses a "traveling wave reactor design," which is technology that has been researched since the 1990's, but according to MIT Tech Review TerraPower is the first company to "develop a practical design," for traveling wave nuclear reactors.

There's been a lot written about TerraPower over the past few years, and the company has done a good job of explaining how traveling wave reactors work in these videos on its incubator webiste ( TerraPower's President John Gilleland explains the process in one video as a new type of nuclear reactor that can provide an infinite amount of power, and unlike the current reactor design that uses only enriched uranium for fuel, TerraPower's reactor largely uses waste byproduct of that enrichment process, or waste uranium.

TerraPower uses a small amount of enriched uranium at the beginning of the process (see slides at the bottom of the post), but then the nuclear reactor runs on the waste product and can make and consume its own fuel. The benefits are that the reactor doesn't have to be refueled or have its waste removed until the end of life of the reactor (theoretically a couple hundred years). Using waste uranium reduces the amount of waste in the overall nuclear life cycle, and extends the available supply of the world's uranium for nuclear by many times.

Not surprisingly, with its Microsoft connection, TerraPower has leaned heavily on supercomputing to design and model the reactor and the lifecycle of the fuel. the TerraPower team is using "1,024 Xeon core processors assembled on 128 blade servers," which is a cluster of that is "0ver 1000 times the computational ability as a desktop computer." On Intellectual Venture's site, the explain the importance of computer modelling as:

"Extensive computer simulations and engineering studies produced new evidence that a wave of fission moving slowly through a fuel core could generate a billion watts of electricity continuously for well over 50 to 100 years, without enrichment or reprocessing. The hi-fidelity results made possible by advanced computational abilities of modern supercomputer clusters are the driving force behind one of the most active nuclear reactor design teams in the country."

How close to reality is this technology? According to this presentation by Gilleland (, "operation of a traveling wave reactor can be demonstrated in less than ten years, and commercial deployment can begin in less than fifteen years."

So, that's what Gates was talking about.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Alternative Energy in Transportation

Propane School Bus Fleet Launched in Gloucester County, Virginia
Some lucky students in Virginia are now enjoying a cleaner ride to school. Gloucester County Public Schools re­cently launched the state’s first propane school bus fleet.

“Using propane-powered school buses is a step in the right direction to significantly decrease vehicle emis­sions and improve the air quality for our students,” says Roger Kelly, director of transportation for Glouces­ter County Public Schools. “We are excited to be involved in this clean school bus initiative.”

And cleaner air isn’t the only benefit the five propane buses offer. Gloucester County Public Schools estimates they will save about $1.50 per gallon in fuel costs and more in maintenance costs due to the cleaner engine and pro­longed oil change intervals.

“We are pleased and impressed with the forward thinking and actions of the Gloucester County School Board and administration,” says Chelsea Jenkins, director of Virginia Clean Cities. “The propane school buses are providing opportunities for students and the community to observe and learn first-hand about alternative transpor-tation technologies.”

Virginia Clean Cities worked with Gloucester County Public Schools to develop the project, and was contract­ed by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Air Management Association to assist with project management.

A $221,355 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant from the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Clean Diesel Program funded half of the project and Gloucester County Public Schools funded the remaining amount.

From U.S. Dept. of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy magazine "Clean Cities Now", Vol. 14, No. 1, March 2010, pg. 10.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A new slant on harnessing the wind

The really wonderful thing about the field of alternative energy is that it taps the creative juices of so many people. As a result, things that are old become new again. Case in point is the windmill. Windmills have been around for hundreds of years. We can all remember pictures of the windmills of Holland in the background with a little Dutch girl in wooden shoes walking among a field of tulips. Very bucolic in a Euro-centric sort of way.

However, this age-old method of harnessing the wind is only a shadow what what has come since. The western windmill that dotted the plains and prairies in the latter half of the 19th century was widely used to pump water for settlers, ranchers, and cattle. Early in the 20th century, "wind-jammers" brought electric light to those farmers who could afford this luxury before rural electrification.
The late 20th century saw the emergence of the now familiar three-bladed air foil wind turbine. This very effective design has been the defacto standard for the majority of wind-powered electrical generation. The practical limitation has been just how tall can you make the supporting tower.
One of my students recently sent me a link to a radical departure from the familiar bladed turbine. Instead of a supporting tower to gain the required altitude required for catching the best wind, this Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine (HAWT) uses impellers integrated into a lighter-than-air bag filled with helium. The advantage of this design is the ability to soar hundreds of feet higher than the towers it replaces without the engineering requirements to erect a tall structure. You can view this design at
Not satisfied with one design, our intrepid student submitted two more. The second design incorporates whatever roof peak line that might exist facing the prevailing winds. Inside a cowling is a horizontally oriented turbine whose blades are roughly the same length as the roofline. You can view this concept at

The last design is for a sea-going configuration of multiple turbines. The purpose of these turbines is not for delivering electricity to businesses and residences. These turbines are in place to produce hydrogen gas at a large scale for transport and delivery to those subscribers who need this clean-burning fuel to operate fuel cells, thus providing residential and business electricity. This concept can be viewed at

Sunday, June 27, 2010

When hydro-power needs a boost

I've been inviting my students to submit links and articles for this blog. Last Thursday, one of them submitted not just one, but two links on the same subject... pumped hydro-storage.

To tell the truth, I've never considered a resevoir to be a storage battery, but that's exactly what my student discovered. It makes lots of sense. Take excess power available during periods of low demand to pump water up-hill for storage. When customer demand is high, this energy is available for use.

The first article is from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Here is the text of the article found at

Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant is located in southeast Tennessee on a site that overlooks the Tennessee River near Chattanooga.
The plant works like a large storage battery. During periods of low demand, water is pumped from Nickajack Reservoir at the base of the mountain to the reservoir built at the top. It takes 28 hours to fill the upper reservoir. When demand is high, water is released via a tunnel drilled through the center of the mountain to drive generators in the mountain’s underground power plant.

The area around Raccoon Mountain is a state-designated Wildlife Observation Area. The mountaintop is home to whitetail deer, woodchucks, gray foxes, and, of course, raccoons. The most compelling wildlife attraction of the area is a large wintering population of bald eagles, which can be sighted from the overlook as they hunt in the woods and waters.

The Raccoon Mountain Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except major holidays and during the winter months, when it closes at 4 p.m. Tours of the power plant itself are no longer available, but the center has photographs, models, and knowledgeable staff to discuss plant operations and TVA. TVA closes all visitor centers when the homeland security alert level is orange (high) or red (severe).

Racoom Mountain may be the largest pumped storage station that TVA has, but Bath County has the most powerful one in the world. Here's what Dominion Virginia Power has to say about it at

Cradled in Virginia's rugged Allegheny Mountains, the world's most powerful pumped storage generating station quietly balances the electricity needs of millions of homes and businesses across six states.

The Bath County Pumped Storage Station, which went into operation in 1985, is jointly owned by Dominion and the operating companies of the Allegheny Power System, and managed by Dominion Generation. This mammoth station was cited as one of the nation's most outstanding 1985 engineering achievements. The earth and rock fill moved to construct the dams and other project facilities, if piled up, would create a mountain 1,000 feet (305 meters) high. Enough concrete was poured to build 200 miles (322 kilometers) of interstate highway.

The station consists of two large reservoirs — one 1,262 feet (385 meters) higher than the other, a massive power house and the huge tunnels that connect them. When demand is low, water is pumped from the lower reservoir to the upper one.

When demand is high, valves permit water to run through the tunnels to the lower reservoir at a rate as high as 13.5 million gallons (852 cubic meters/second) per minute, turning six 462-megawatt turbine generators. The water level in the 265-acre upper reservoir can fluctuate as much as 106 feet when the unit is operated.

About the Environment

The Bath County Pumped Storage Station is nearly surrounded by the George Washington National Forest and was built in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service. Occupying a relatively small amount of land, it has had minimal adverse effect on the environment. Flows to both streams, Back Creek and Little Back Creek, are supplemented by storage from the station reservoirs. This significantly improves stream flow during periods of drought and enhances the environment for fish and other aquatic life.

The extreme fluctuations in water levels in the two reservoirs make them unsuitable for recreation. However, a separate 325-acre (1.32 sq. kilometers) public recreation area containing two lakes is located just downstream from the lower dam. The area has facilities for fishing, non-power boating, picnicking, swimming, hiking and camping. The recreation area is open on a seasonal basis only.

All that power, and fishing too!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is the fuel cell finally coming of age?

As I pointed out to my class last night, little has changed with the viability of a hydrogen powered fuel cell since its inception in 1839 by Welsh lawyer Sir William Grove. Yes, fuel cells themselves have changed quite a bit. Different materials, different dielectrics, different operating temperatures... However, the fundamental issues of producing hydrogen quickly, efficiently, and affordably have long eluded the most ardent supporters of the long-awaited “hydrogen economy.”

There have been some strides in the area of hydrogen storage. Most take up too much space, are too heavy, or depend upon exotic cryogenic processes that make the cost of hydrogen skyrocket. Additionally, the true sources of power that are used to produce our hydrogen generate at least as much pollution as the systems that hydrogen would attempt to replace.

However, where there is a will there is a way. I began my course with a video demonstration of a process discovered in 1967 by Professor Jerry Woodall of Purdue University. Prof. Woodall was a researcher for IBM at the time. The Woodall process involved melting gallium (it melts at 87 degrees F.) and dissolving aluminum pellets to form a liquid alloy. When water is introduced to this mixture, oxygen quickly bonds with the aluminum, freeing hydrogen gas and forming aluminum oxide (alumina). The gallium is reusable, requiring the replenishment of aluminum and water to resume the process. Science Daily reported this development on August 29, 2007. (

Now, a new company, AlumiFuel Power, Inc. of Philadelphia has developed a commercially viable hydrogen generator using a mixture of powdered aluminum and proprietary catalysts to perform the same basic function. Applications have been developed for stationary fuel cell systems, unmanned underwater vehicles, and military applications.

Key to the system is the ability to contain the reactants in an easily removed canister about the size of a can of Arizona Iced Tea. Should such a generator be integrated into a fuel cell vehicle, one could “gas-up” the family car by pulling up next to a vending machine!

You can check out this up and coming development at