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, 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.