Monday, June 30, 2008

Ausra's Las Vegas solar thermal plant comes online


Solar thermal company Ausra on Monday opened a Las Vegas factory meant to produce enough equipment each year to provide 700 megawatts of power.

The 130,000-square-foot facility is designed to manufacture massive mirrors and absorber tubes, employing 50 workers and leading to the creation of 1,400 construction jobs at solar sites.

Ausra makes utility-scale solar equipment that it says costs 30 percent to 40 percent less than photovoltaics. Its compact fresnel reflectors use relatively small amounts of steel and the same kind of glass used in building construction, according to Ausra.

"We're ready to respond now with a clean, reliable, and cost-competitive energy choice that will be an economic development machine for the country," Ausra CEO Robert Fishman said in a statement. Developers in southern Nevada are planning more than $50 billion worth of solar installations, he added.

Ausra's solar thermal reflectors at an Australian plant are near the bottom of this image.(Credit: Ausra)

Companies seeking to install giant solar farms (click here for photos) are targeting the sunny southwestern United States and southern California.

"This facility will help position our state as the premiere place to invest in these new technologies," Nevada Sen. Harry Reid said in a statement.

Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base features a 14-megawatt solar plant.

Ausra and Pacific Gas and Electric unveiled a power purchase agreement last fall for a 177-megawatt solar thermal power plant for California meant to provide enough power for some 120,000 homes.

Funders of Ausra include Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The company started in Australia but now has headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., and has declared the aim to go public by 2010.

Unlike photovoltaics, which convert light energy to electricity, solar thermal systems harness thermal energy. With Ausra's technology, solar heat from compact Fresnel reflectors boils water in pipes, creating steam. The steam turns a steam turbine, generating electricity that's supposed to be competitive with prices from natural gas power plants.

There's no shortage of competition among solar-thermal start-ups.

eSolar, based in Pasadena, Calif., said on June 3 it will build 245 megawatts' worth of plants for Southern California Edison.

Schott, of Germany, inaugurated a factory near Seville, Spain in May, and broke ground for a plant in New Mexico in March.

BrightSource, based in Oakland, Calif., contracted with PG&E in March to build 500 megawatts of solar thermal equipment for California.

Israel's Solel announced in May two contracts to supply solar receivers for 11 Spanish power plants set to provide a total of 500 megawatts.

In Hawaii, Sopogy is experimenting with rooftop-ready, micro-solar thermal installations.


India prime minister unveils plan to combat climate change


NEW DELHI (AP) - India's prime minister announced a plan Monday to combat global warming by focusing on renewable energy, even as he stood by a refusal to commit to greenhouse gas emission targets that could stall the country's economic growth.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laid out an eight-point plan that he said would enable India to shift away from fossil fuels and embrace solar energy and sustainable development without sacrificing the rapid economic growth of recent years.

"Our vision is to make India's economic development energy-efficient," Singh said, releasing the National Action Plan. "But I also believe that ecologically sustainable development need not be in contradiction to achieving our growth objectives."

The plan will focus on a host of issues including water conservation, protecting the Himalayan ecosystem and sustainable agriculture, he said. He gave no cost estimates, timetable or specific benchmarks for implementation.

India's has the world's fourth-largest emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for global climate change. With a soaring economy that many predict will continue to grow in coming years, the government says energy consumption could quadruple over the next generation.

With that growth in mind, Western leaders have called for India, along with China, to set strict emission caps. But India has maintained that it needs rapid development to fight poverty among its 1.1 billion people and that its per-capita emissions are far lower than those in rich nations.

India produces roughly 1.2 tons of emissions per capita annually, while the United States produces about 20 tons per capita and the world average is 4 tons. India produces about 4% of the world's greenhouse gases.

Singh said Monday that emissions standards had to "fair and equitable" — an apparent reference to what India sees as the West's unfair demands that it limit its emissions at the same rate as more developed countries which produce far more greenhouse gas.

"Our people want higher standards of living, but they also want clean water to drink, fresh air to breathe and a green earth to walk on," Singh said.

Singh repeated his government's pledge that greenhouse gas emissions at a per capita level will not exceed those of developed countries.

Emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants — mostly from burning fossil fuels for electricity and transportation — are blamed for rising global temperatures that threaten the environment.

A U.N. report has estimated that emissions cuts of between 25% to 40% by 2020 are needed to stop global temperatures from rising so high they trigger widespread environmental damage.


Alaska turns to volcanic energy as alternative energy source


Mount Spurr, shown here from a southern approach, is among the recently active volcanoes that the Alaskan government is hoping to draw power from. They will be auction land to utilities in August for geothermal development purposes. (Source: US Geological Survey)

Late last week, Alaskan officials announced that they would be funding an exploration and surveying of Alaska's largest volcanoes, which they say could provide enough energy to power thousands of households.

In an era of soaring energy costs, wind and solar are often thought of alternatives. Geothermal, especially volcanic geothermal, is a more surprising source to many. However, volcanoes and hot springs are estimated to be able to provide at least 25 percent of Alaska's energy needs, according to experts.

The government is pushing utilities to lease land on Mount Spurr. The mountain is an 11,070-foot active volcano and erupted as recently as 1992. The government says power companies can tap into the vast heat teeming beneath the volcano's surface to generate power.

A lease sale will be held in August to these ends. The government is planning many similar sales. The government is also targeting 4,134-foot Augustine Volcano, also near Anchorage, for prospecting.

Alaska is not alone, either. Dozens of states have geothermal resources. Experts estimate that if fully exploited, these resources could provide 25 percent of the entire nation's power needs. Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) states, "High prices and climate change are definitely creating a renaissance in geothermal interest, particularly on a state and local level."

Currently tax-subsidy eligible projects are underway in Texas, Florida, and most of the western states. These projects are just the "tip of the iceberg" according to Mr. Gawell. He states, "If we really want to go all out for it, we could easily achieve a substantial amount, 20, 25 per cent of US energy needs within a few decades. We're limited more by public policy than the resource - the resource is enormous."

According to the Bureau of Land Management, 12 states -- including Alaska -- have high potential geothermal lands. The most recent survey showed 200 million acres of public land with geothermal potential. However, Mr. Gawell says that these tracts, while impress are only part of the nation's hidden geothermal resources. He says many geothermal plots likely exist without outward features like hot springs. By his estimates 80 percent of the geothermal land in the U.S. remains undiscovered.

In Alaska, home to many easy to see geothermal power sources, geothermal seems like common sense. However, since the 1970s development has been put on hold thanks to Alaska's abundant oil resources. Now with oil price at record highs, Alaska is reconsidering geothermal.

The greatest challenge remains in coming up with innovative designs to tap the massive heat wells. Some are rising to the challenge; among them is a resort at Chena Hot Springs which is entirely powered by hot springs. It features hot springs driven interior heating and cooling, power, refrigeration (for its ice museum), and heating for a greenhouse. The resort near Fairbanks is gaining much attention for its innovations.

Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama mentioned the potential for geothermal power in a recent speech. However, Mr. Gawell argues the issue is still not receiving the level of attention it deserves. He says, "The problem is it's only being produced in a handful of states. It's well known in those states but it's unknown in others."

Outside the U.S., Europe is also experiencing strong interest in geothermal power. Europe is the birthplace of the power technology, with the first plant built in Larderello, Italy in 1904. The GEA is predicting that the number of countries worldwide using geothermal will more than double to 46 by 2010.

While exploiting geothermal resources at volatile sites like volcanoes sounds dangerous, there is tremendous profit to be had with the risk. With proper monitoring, these sites could be safely operated to produce immense amounts of electrical power. It appears that Alaska may be on the leading edge of a new alternative energy revolution that's right under our feet.


Bees can't find flowers, seek sweet insect treat


The disappearance of certain types of flowers in the UK may be driving bees to a less healthy diet.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust says that in recent years bees have been spotted feeding off the sugary secretions of aphids rather than the nectar of flowers. The behaviour isn't new, but researchers are seeing increased incidence of it lately and are speculating that it may be because there are fewer of the types of flowers that bees have typically used as food sources.

The change is more than just an interesting change in apian behaviour. Aphid secretions are basically fast food for bees - relatively easy to come by, but they don't have the proteins needed to keep the insects healthy.

If the trend is found to be widespread, it could be another factor in the mysterious disappearance of bee populations around the world. Bees, of course, are key to the pollination of plants including most fruits and vegetables, and without them our diet would be tedious indeed. Just another example of how the loss of biodiversity can affect us in ways we'd never imagined.


NASA animation shows climate change impact


NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the California Institute of Technology have come up with an online animation called the Climate Time Machine offering a highly effective visual demonstration of the impact of climate change.

The Climate Time Machine shows the progress in 4 aspects of global warming - Ice Melt, Sea Level, CO2 Emissions, and Average Global Temperature - over differing periods of time. The data used aren't projections or predictions, but actual recorded numbers which in some cases date back more than a century.

Particularly striking is the map which highlights global temperature since 1885. Temperatures remain relatively benign until the 1970's but the map starts changing colour dramatically in the 1990's, and by 2007 a good chunk of the planet is bathed in a flaming orange, indicating rapid and dramatic warming. Highly recommended for climate change skeptics.


Long-term solutions needed for Tra fish farming industry in Vietnam


VietNamNet Bridge - Over the past two months, the price of Tra fish – one of Vietnam’s major seafood exports – has fallen dramatically, causing a big worry for breeders in the Mekong River delta. Many fear that they will incur heavy losses during this year’s fishing season if they do not find a long-term solution.

To support breeders, the State Bank of Vietnam has recently asked commercial banks to continue providing capital for businesses to purchase the fish and extend the deadline for loan repayments.

An effective remedy

Since the start of June, commercial banks have provided capital for businesses to purchase aging Tra fish from farmers. However, Le Van Tho, director of the Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam (Agribank) branch in Can Tho City says that the bank is finding it difficult to meet the demand from businesses and breeders for capital due to capital shortages and will only provide loans to businesses that have established credit relations with the bank.

Meanwhile, the Agribank branch in An Giang province has disbursed VND200 billion to businesses to buy 20,000 tonnes of Tra fish stocks and 10,000 extra tonnes of Tra fish that weighs more than 1 kilo each. The branch has also supported Tra fish breeders in financial difficulties with VND35 billion to stabilise their businesses.

However, to buy the fish, businesses say that they need at least VND2,000 billion from banks. Due to capital shortages, businesses have only focused on purchasing large Tra fish as they are preferred by the consumer. Vo Dong Duc, general director of Can Tho Seafood Import-Export Joint Stock Company (Caseamex) says that his company is giving priority to large Tra fish for their export! contrac ts.

Currently, not only breeders but also processing factories, fish food suppliers and banks are at the risk of going bankrupt. Many suppliers are ready to provide credit to processors and breeders to maintain the industry.

Ngo Phuoc Hau, general director of the An Giang Seafood Import-Export Company (Agifish) says that a supplier even agreed to lend his company VND30 billion underwritten by the Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam (Vietcombank).

“If the State provides more financial assistance, we will buy up the older fish in July,” Mr Hau adds.

Measures to assist businesses and breeders are beginning to pay off. The Tra fish market has bounced back since June 5, with fish prices increasing slightly. Despite suffering losses, breeders are still hopeful about a profitable breeding season coming soon. In addition, affiliated companies under the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Processors (VASEP) have agreed to maintain the floor prices of Tra fish to stabilise the market.

Long-term solutions desperately needed

Vietnamese seafood products, mostly coming from the Mekong River delta, have been known worldwide for at least 13 years. However, VASEP vice president Nguyen Huu Dung says that Vietnam has yet to develop a professional marketing programme for Tra fish.

“The breeding and processing of Tra fish in Vietnam has so far developed in a haphazard fashion in the Mekong River delta,” says Mr Dung. “Farmers have dug ponds while businesses have built export processing plants themselves without any planning in advance or professional management skills. As a result, Tra fish prices have fluctuated unexpectedly, causing losses to both farmers and export businesses.

In the long-term, Nguyen Minh Toai, Vice Chairman of Thot Not district People’s Committee in Can Tho city, says that the Government needs to tighten the management of the Tra fish farming and processing industry to stabilise the market p! rice of this species of fish.

In addition, the relevant agencies need to develop a set of criteria for sustainable Tra fish farming, along with increasing the quality of Tra fish for export and promoting its products in the world market.

(Source: VOV)


Report looks at green efforts in quick service restaurants


LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- In the new report "Going Green is Red Hot," Fast Casual magazine and website backs up the assertion of the title by detailing sustainability best practices already in place in restaurants.

The 40-page report provides a look at trends and practices in equipment, construction, food, packaging and marketing. It includes results from surveys along with comments from service industry insiders.

Aimed at restaurants that fall under the fast casual and quick-service banner, the report looks at how to sustainable food choices, eco-friendly packaging, tax incentives for green businesses and environmental legislation.

One of the companies highlighted in the report is Pizza Fusion, which has more than 20 locations in the United States and has strived to integrate sustainability throughout its operations. The company uses organic food and ingredients, delivers pizza with hybrid vehicles, buys renewable energy wind credits to offset all its energy use, gives discounts to customers who bring pizza boxes to store locations to be recycled, has employee uniforms made of 100 percent organic cotton and uses biodegradable food containers and utensils.

"Surveys indicate that consumers are increasingly likely to make environmentally-friendly choices with their purchasing power, signaling a potential sea change in buying practices -- a wave restaurant operators can catch or be caught by," said Christopher Hall, author of "Going Green is Red Hot."

The report is available for purchase as a download or hard copy.


MIT startup RawSolar heading to Cali


Now that the U.S. has frozen the building of new solar projects on public land, interest in smaller solar systems that can be more easily built on private lands could see a boost. One such system comes from a young startup incubated at MIT called RawSolar. Earlier this month the company said its solar-concentrating dish prototype had passed some initial tests; this week the company said it’s moving to Berkeley, Calif., to start on its commercialization business plan.

RawSolar claims its dish technology could be the most cost-efficient solar system in the world because it will use simple, standard materials and components, which can be ordered from local distributors anywhere in the U.S. The company’s manufacturing processes are simple enough to be accomplished at any functional machine shop, according to RawSolar co-founder Matt Ritter (pictured in the shots below), who says he helped build the MIT prototype with a standard drill press.

Solar inventor Doug Wood created the original technology in his backyard in Washington State. Ritter says that, “Like for the Model T, this standardization of parts, and elimination of the bottlenecks that form around exotic materials or high-powered precision machining, gives the conventional-looking design truly revolutionary potential.” RawSolar is in the process of buying the patent for the technology from Wood.

Each dish itself has a 10 kW capacity, which is tiny in the solar thermal world, but the company could jack that up by stringing the dishes together. The dish design can concentrate sunlight 1,000 times to produce steam that can be used to either heat buildings or be applied in different manufacturing processes.

While many solar thermal startups use the steam that is generated by solar systems to produce electricity, RawSolar, for now, thinks there is a big enough market to focus on selling steam power. Ritter says any company that uses natural gas (and oil heat) for thermal power is a potential customer, and RawSolar plans to sell its steam power in power purchase agreements for 10 percent less than the price of natural gas, before subsidies, at today’s prices.

And now RawSolar is moving to Berkeley. Ritter says that’s because the company believes more of its customers are going to on the other coast, in the sunny Southwest. There’s also a good crop of engineers in the area (the company is hiring). Two of the four founding team members were UC Berkeley undergrads.

Relocating could also give RawSolar easier access to Sand Hill Road, as Ritter tells us the company is looking to raise its first round of funding. The startup would use it to build its first pilot installation with a customer, hopefully by the end of the year, Ritter says.

Photos courtesy of RawSolar.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Canada's got a carbon tax, eh?


North America’s first carbon tax is set to roll out this coming Tuesday in the Canadian province British Columbia. This means British Columbians can start expecting to pay even more at the pump and to their utility as the tax will apply to transportation fuels and home heating oil starting July 1.

With oil prices setting record highs the past few weeks, the timing for this tax couldn’t be worse. The tax isn’t designed to raise revenue for the government and will be accompanied by a one-time C$100 rebate as well as tax cuts elsewhere. Still, critics are not thrilled that a new gasoline tax will send prices at the pump even higher. Opposition have already organized “axe the tax” initiatives and have proposed to modify the tax to apply only to business and industrial emitters, sparing the individual consumer.

Originally announced in February, the tax will start by tacking on a C$10 per ton of CO2 charge to fossil fuels, increasing by C$5 per ton per year for four years. Although it comes at a painful time, a carbon tax is thought by many to be a more effective measure to reduce carbon emissions, compared to the more politically palatable cap-and-trade approach. Similar proposals have been made in the U.S., but so far with little traction.


Solar water heaters now mandatory in Hawaii


Solar Water Heater on Rooftop

Hawaii has become the first state to require solar water heaters in new homes. The bill was signed into law by Governor Linda Lingle, a Republican. It requires the energy-saving systems in homes starting in 2010. It prohibits issuing building permits for single-family homes that do not have solar water heaters. Hawaii relies on imported fossil fuels more than any other state, with about 90 percent of its energy sources coming from foreign countries, according to state data.

The new law prohibits issuing building permits for single-family homes that do not have solar water heaters. Some exceptions will be allowed, such as forested areas where there are low amounts of sunshine.
State Sen. Gary Hooser, vice chairman of the Energy and Environment Committee, first introduced the measure five years ago when he said a barrel of oil cost just $40. Since then, the cost of oil has more than tripled.
“It’s abundantly clear that we need to take some serious action to protect Hawaii because we’re so dependent on oil,” Hooser said. “I’m very pleased the governor is recognizing the importance of this bill and the huge public benefits that come out of it.”


Exploring southeast Asia's geothermal potential


Indonesia and the Philippines need help. And not because they lack the geothermal energy capacity: No, quite simply, it's because they're having trouble accessing it. The two Asian countries, both of which are located in the geothermally-active Pacific Ring of Fire, are increasingly turning to this vast, untapped source of power as rising oil prices and a dilapidated power infrastructure begin to exact their toll on their economies.

According to Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute (and a frequent contributor to TH), Indonesia could "run its economy entirely on geothermal energy and has not come close to tapping the full potential."

mayon volcano philippines
Image from Sir Mervs

The challenges facing a successful geothermal deployment
Inevitably, of course, a list of the usual suspects -- costs, red tape, technological requirements -- crops up in the Reuters piece. Some of the other challenges, however, are more specific to the island nations:

"Indonesia's Bedugul project, set among volcanoes on the Hindu enclave of Bali, aims to develop up to 175 MW of power, or roughly half of the resort island's needs. But the project is now on hold because local residents fear it could damage a sacred area and affect water supplies from the nearby lakes.

In the Philippines, currently the world's second-biggest geothermal producer behind the United States, one of the main obstacles to developing the reserves is the high acidity associated with active volcanoes, which can corrode the pipes."

The Philippines' acidity dilemma
The acidity problem in particular is proving to be a tough nut to crack. Many of the geothermal fields that could be tapped are still acidic, making it difficult for the Philippines to boost its existing capacity. The country's goal is to raise its capacity from 1,931 megawatts to 3,131 megawatts by 2013, which would allow it to overtake the U.S. Advocates are also pressing the government to provide more clarity and financial incentives to encourage further investment in the sector, which currently supplies 18 percent of the country's energy needs.

Tapping into Indonesia's vast potential
The need for more investment is even more acute in Indonesia, which only supplies 850 megawatts of an estimated 27,000 megawatt geothermal potential (about 3 percent of its current power capacity). Local energy firms are partnering with large corporations, like Chevron (which, perhaps surprisingly, is the world's largest private geothermal producer), to unlock their country's untapped potential.

More favorable legislation, in addition to eligibility for carbon credits, could help make such large investments more alluring. If anything, continually rising gas prices will put an onus expanding capacity.

Via ::Reuters: Geothermal-rich SE Asia struggles to tap earth's power (news website)


Federal Government Halts Solar Power Projects for Two Years [Super Green]

Federal Government Halts Solar Power Projects for Two Years [Super Green]

In order to survey the impact of massive solar power plants on the environment and wildlife, the federal government is freezing new solar projects on public land for about two years. The alternative energy industry is reacting as if the world's tofu supply has been exhausted, since this effectively nukes new solar power development for the time being (because buying private land is way more expensive for startups than leasing public land).

Caught in the crossroads are environmentalists who both love the desert tortoise and solar power. The industry says that the government could do impact studies without halting new proposals for solar projects—we think they're telling the truth, since they're probably less evil than oil companies and actually do want the Mojave ground squirrel to thrive and live happy furry lives. And I mean, two years, really? [NYT via Fark]


Topia shows off 330-pound HUVO electric car

Topia shows off 330-pound HUVO electric car

Filed under:

Compared to the other single-seat electric vehicle that we had the misfortune of laying eyes on recently, Topia's HUVO looks just magnificent. This clearly minuscule road warrior, which officially tips the scales at 150-kilograms (or just over 330-pounds), holds one lucky motorist and a small briefcase (if you're lucky). Reportedly, the frame is constructed from high-tensile steel plate, the doors and the back panel from aluminum alloy, the roof from carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), the windshield from polycarbonate and the interior / wheels covers from ABS resin. Your guess is as good as ours when it comes to crash test ratings, but we suppose we should wait and see if this thing even sniffs the commercial market before worrying over that.
Read | Permalink | Email this | Comments


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Scientists work on short-term climate predictions


ASPEN - Strange as it might seem, it is easier to predict changes in the climate 100 years from now than one decade from now, say scientists gathering this week in Aspen.

Over the long term, worldwide climate change will matter more to the human experience than year-to-year oscillations. But over the short term, drought conditions will have a greater impact than global warming.

Most humans - whether they work in agriculture, biology or the skiing industry, for that matter - have more riding on what their local climate will look like next year than in the distant future. A winter that is 100 years away, however different it might look from this year's winter, doesn't matter much to a ski company executive trying to decide whether to buy more snow-making machines.

This week, approximately 29 climate scientists from major climate computing centers in the United States, England, Germany, Japan, Australia and Canada are gathering at the Aspen Global Change Institute to determine if and how scientists can create models to make short-term climate predictions.

At Wednesday's public lecture, Dr. Lisa Goddard, a research scientist at Columbia University's Earth Institute, explained that scientists are making progress in their understanding of how oceans affect short-term climate change.

Due to a large network of automated buoys, called Argos, which measure the temperature and salinity of the oceans, scientists have grown in their understanding of ocean patterns in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. By combining this oceanic data with other climate data and modeling, they've gained insight into the telekinections between land and oceans - and how they may relate to short-term climate change.

If the audience's reaction to her lecture was any indication, Goddard and the other scientists at the Global Change Institute are correct in their belief that citizens really want to know what the climate will be like in the immediate future.

"What does all this mean for ski! ing in t he next 30 years?" asked one attendee.
Goddard's answer: "Not too good."

Another listener - who said he lived in Florida, 7 feet above mean high tide - wanted to know how much the ocean was rising each year.

Goddard passed the question off to a colleague, who said the ocean is rising 3 millimeters per year.

But the visiting scientists warn not to expect a working model by the end of the week.

"Right now, they're just trying to sort out 'how do you know what you know?" explained institute director John Katzenberg. The attendees are exploring how to approach short-term climate prediction.

Founded in 1989, the Aspen Global Change Institute convenes in-depth interdisciplinary seminars to further the scientific understanding of global change.
The sessions attempt to further collaboration between those involved in studying
climate change, particularly between social scientists and natural scientists. More than 800 scientists from 35 countries, including three Nobel Laureates, have participated in the Institute's science sessions. Each session has one public lecture.


What's the real obstacle in our fight against global warming?


In 1988, renowned NASA climate scientist James Hansen first approached Congress on the dangers of climate change and global warming. Here we are 20 years later and Hansen is repeating his warnings, but with added urgency and news of the damage that has occurred since his initial warnings went relatively unheeded.

The danger zone when it comes to carbon dioxide content in our atmosphere is no more than 350 ppm (parts per million), reports Hansen. Our current level is already at 385 ppm. "My cynical scenario is that there will be more Katrinas, massive fires, melting of the Arctic, and people will say, 'Oh my God, what have we done. We'd better undo this,'" adds climatologist Stephen Schneider of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

One thing all of these scientific researchers can agree on is that it's not a matter of solving the problems through the means we have available to us now; it's a matter of getting the world governments on board. "Solving this problem is technologically and economically not that difficult," said John Harte of the University of California, Berkeley. "It's proving to be politically difficult."


Arctic ice may be liquid by September 2008 at North Pole


According to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A., the Earth’s Arctic seawater around the North Pole may be ice-free by the end of summer.

[Addition by author] Is this a claim to global warming? Or not? Maybe a bit of both? Some media reports are even claiming that Mark Serreze was misquoted. Please read on.

Mark Serreze, a senior scientist at NSIDC, says, �We kind of have an informal betting pool going around in our center and that betting pool is 'does the North Pole melt out this summer?' and it may well.� [CNN: "North Pole could be ice-free this summer, scientists say"]

Serreze remarks there is an even chance�50-50 chance�that the thin ice on the Arctic Sea will be completely melted away at the geographic North Pole (90 degrees north latitude) by September 2008.

The trend over the past several decades, about thirty years, has seen less and less ice in the summers and, thus, less and less ice reforming in the winters.

Serreze states, �What we've seen through the past few decades is the Arctic sea ice cover is becoming thinner and thinner as the system warms up.� [CNN]

The summer of 2007 saw sea ice still at the North Pole but the boundary between solid ice-water and liquid-water in the Arctic Ocean extended as far as 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) from the geographic North Pole.

Now, with less ice forming during the past winter, the summer of 2008 may see all liquid water at the North Pole if the right amount of winds and temperatures occur to melt the remaining ice at a rapid rate.

Serreze also states, �From the viewpoint of science, the North Pole is just another point on the globe, but symbolically it is hugely important. There is supposed to be ice at the North Pole, not open water.� [The Independent: �Exclusive: No ice at the North Pole�]

Serreze says that some scientists suggest that the Arctic melting is just a cycle of nature.

However, Serreze states, "It's not cyclical at this point. I think we understand the physics behind this pretty well. We've known for at least 30 years, from our earliest climate models, that it's the Arctic where we'd see the first signs of global warming.” [CNN]

Serreze and other scientists point to global warming as the cause of the ice break up at the North Pole. If the Arctic Ocean is completely ice free in September 2008, it will be the first time in recorded history that such an event has occurred.

The opening of the Arctic Ocean at the North Pole is not without its advantages. Ships will be able to sail over the top of the Earth, a route that is normally forbidden due to the ice. And, with liquid water in the Arctic Ocean, oil exploration will be easier to conduct.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is an organization within the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The NSIDC supports research into the frozen parts of Earth: the ice, glaciers, snow, frozen ground, and climate interactions that make up its cryosphere (frozen parts of Earth).

Please note....

Another contributing factor to the break up of ice in the Arctic Ocean could be active undersea volcanoes. Please read about the story at the website “Study finds Arctic seabed afire with lava-spewing volcanoes.”


A New York Times article, "What’s Really Up With North Pole Sea Ice?", states, "... the “shock claim” in the (UK) Independent that the sea ice that normally persists year-round at the North Pole ... will be replaced by open water later this summer."

And, "Given the unpredictable short-term dynamics up there, which make the ice subject to vagaries of Siberian winds and a mix of currents, a lot of polar ice experts tell me it’s pretty much impossible to make such a prediction with high confidence. In fact, the Independent’s story — the opening sentences and headline at least — go way beyond what Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center tells the reporter."

"Many foes of greenhouse-gas restrictions and skeptics on the strength of climate science have pointed out that the world’s total sea-ice area hasn’t changed appreciably when you add up the ice in the Arctic and the sheath of sea ice that annually forms in winter around Antarctica (but disappears in austral summers). The Antarctic sea ice (distinct from the massive ice shelves fringing the continent and ice sheets inland) has, in fact, been expanding in recent years. You can compare the differences by clicking here for Arctic and Antarctic trends."

Please read The New York Times story. As always, there is always more sides to a story than one....


Study predicts amount of CO2 emissions that could lead to Greenland melting


melting water greenland
Image from Bart de Haan

The chorus of bad news for Greenland's fate has been growing louder in recent months. I've written at length about numerous studies suggesting that Greenland may not last much longer in light of rapidly increasing carbon emissions. A new study published in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters (sub. required) predicts under which CO2 emissions scenarios Greenland will "irreversibly" undergo total melting.

In short, the team of researchers from France's Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, estimates that if the level of atmospheric CO2 emissions surpasses 3,000 GtC (GtC = gigaton of carbon), total melting will be inevitable. If, however, it remains below 2,500 GtC, Greenland will experience a partial melting followed by a re-growth phase. For some context, the current level of CO2 emissions lies slightly above 350 GtC.

melting scenarios

To reach their findings, the scientists combined realistic long-term CO2 emission scenarios with a model capable of capturing future climate-ice sheet interactions. They used two series of experiments -- one (EXP1) in which CO2 is released to the atmosphere over a longer period than the other (EXP2) though total levels remain constant -- to perform their simulations. Therefore, while the maximum content of CO2 in the atmosphere is lower for EXP2 than that obtained in EXP1 -- and only reached several centuries later -- there is a longer period of high level atmospheric CO2.

The researchers found that the primary factor responsible for the complete melting Greenland's ice sheet was the cumulative amount of CO2 released -- and not the maximum atmospheric CO2 content. This would therefore suggest that an EXP1 scenario, under which CO2 is released to the atmosphere more quickly (causing temperatures to rise faster as well), would be more detrimental to Greenland's fate.

Even if carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) schemes like ocean storage or geological storage prove effective, they would only help delay emission increases for a few centuries or millenia, they explain. The rate of emissions growth over the next century, they conclude, will likely determine Greenland's eventual fate and that of future sea-level rises.

They acknowledge that their models may underplay the impact of the ice sheet's dynamics, which could accelerate melting, but stress that, over the long term, their predictions will probably ring true. They recommend focusing climate policy around the goal of limiting emissions over the next centuries to below 2,150 GtC to avoid the worst possible outcomes.

For a less number-heavy take on Greenland's melting, check out the following posts from Real Climate and Nature's Alexandra Witze. This is only one study, of course, so we'll have to wait and see how CO2 emission scenarios and models change (and improve) over the coming years. Either way, Greenland's future looks pretty dire at the moment.

Via ::Geophysical Research Letters: Amount of CO2 emissions irreversibly leading to the total melting of Greenland (journal)


Friday, June 27, 2008

Mercedes says sexy(er) EVs are headed our way


Hybrids are popular, but they still consume fossil fuels to recharge their batteries. Electric cars are either underwhelming from a design point of view, think of the IT or high-end and esoteric pieces of sculpture available only to the super-rich, the Tesla comes to mind. But now that redoubtable Teutonic marquee Daimler Benz has plans to make electric cars both alluring and practical.

By 2010, Mercedes promises to have on the market an all-electric version of its popular sub-compact, the Smart Fortwo, as well as a similarly-powered version of one of its higher-end offerings. Whether it will be based on Benz�s entry-level B-class hatchback, or some higher-end model has not yet been revealed. �We plan an electric Smart for 2010 and for the same year a Mercedes (electric) model as well,� said Dieter Zetsche, aka Dr. Z, to a German paper.

It�s no mere figment. The company already has a fleet of 10 of these futuristic electro-SMARTIES tooling about the streets of smog-choked London along side their eco-cabs, a city where a few years ago Swedish manufacturer Saab boasted the air coming out of the tail pipes of its cars was cleaner than the surrounding air. No word yet on the price, which is expected to be dependent on whether customers buy or lease the batteries, which are the chief consumable � and expensive � element in all electric designs.

Via BenzInsider, Reuters; Photo by Thomas Becker


Vertical farming - the future of agriculture?


vertical-farm-01.jpgThe Internet never sleeps. You blink and everybody beats you to the punch; WorldChanging, the Gristmill blog and BoingBoing already have posts about the interesting concept of vertical farming. Why is it interesting? Because, according to projections, in about 50 years 80% of the Earth's population will live in cities and 3 billion more people will crowd our planet. Problem is, 80% of the land that can be used to grow crops is already in use, and 15% of that land has been damaged by poor agricultural practices. They say that vertical farming will help us feed these additional 3 billion people.

An entirely new approach to indoor farming must be invented, employing cutting edge technologies. The Vertical Farm must be efficient (cheap to construct and safe to operate). Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world's urban centers. If successfully implemented, they offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), [...] a long-term benefit would be the gradual repair of many of the world’s damaged ecosystems through the systematic abandonment of farmland. In temperate and tropical zones, the re-growth of hardwood forests could play a significant role in carbon sequestration and may help reverse current trends in global climate change.

To learn more about vertical farming, you can read this essay on the subject and look at some of the potential designs.

Personally, I'm more excited about this concept as a way to help us stop the use of pesticides, herbicides, oil-based fertilizers, and to give a break to a lot of land that we have been stressing for decades than as an extra food source. Another advantage: the food would grow quite a bit closer to the consumers, something that will become more important as oil prices keep rising and transportation on long distances becomes a luxury (no more kiwis from New-Zealand in Canada during the winter).

I don't want to start a big debate on vegetarianism vs. meat-eating, but right now there is way more than enough food being produced in the world; it's just that we grow crops that we feed to animals, and then we eat the animals (in many cases it's a way to make money – sell meat for a premium to the rich instead of selling tons of grain for a fraction of that price to starving people). That's not very efficient, and if it came to having massive food shortages in the future, I think that phasing in a more vegetarian diet could help solve that problem - along with many other problems related to the consumption of meat - with more ease than trying to build enough of these vertical farms to feed all these billions of people and the dozens of billions of animals they would eat. You can read more about some of the environmental impacts of eating meat here (you might find different numbers elsewhere, but the general idea that it's inefficient is pretty hard to argue against).

Vertical farms are an exciting possibility, I'm just not excited for quite the same reasons as others who see them as an additional food source – I think we already produce enough food, it's just that we do it in a way that destroys nature and we don't distribute that food properly. These farm can be one of many technical solutions to the first of these problems, but the solution to the second one will need to come from a societal choice.

::Vertical Farm, via ::BoingBoing, ::WorldChanging & ::Gristmill


Ottawa student could make water desalination 600-700% more efficient


Mann Qtaishat photo

Water For All
The Economist recently published a very good primer on water desalination. It contains some cautious prediction about future growth of thermal and membrane desalination plants, but all of that could change if Mohammed Rasool Qtaisha, a chemical engineering PhD student at the University Ottawa, has his way. He founded Water for All with the goal of turning seawater into drinking water on a large scale, and it seems like he has a breakthrough.

We can't be 100% sure yet because his technology is secret and patent-pending, but he claims that his new membrane technology is 600 to 700% more efficient than what is currently on the market. "His prototype is able to run on solar panels and produce 50 kilograms of water per metre square of the membrane per hour [...] current technology would produce about seven to eight kilograms per metre per hour."

One reason why he doesn't reveal too much about his invention yet:

But Mr. Qtaishat is up against stiff competition. General Electric has a large water purification division looking into similar technology and the U.S.-based National Science Foundation recently announced a $2.5-million grant to the University of Michigan to assemble a crack team of experts to study the same thing.

Water Desalination membrane image

Desalination Just One of Many Solutions
Of course, we must use our current water resources much better, especially in parts of the world where it is abundant (that's where there's the most waste). But in other parts of the world, even with extreme conservation and efficiency measures, drinking water is still scarce and an extended drought could turn a difficult situation into a humanitarian crisis, especially now with global warming.

Large-scale water desalination, especially if powered by clean energy, could make life much better for millions of people. Best of luck to Mohammed Rasool Qtaisha and all the others working on this hard problem.

Water Desalination
How to Green Your Water
Australia to Build Huge Desalination Plant
Low Temp Desalination Technology From New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute
Desalination: Now with Half the Energy

More on Water for All Desalination Technology
Ottawa student may hold secret to Water For All


Industrial-scale waste-to-ethanol facility planned to Edmenton


Edmonton Skyline
photo by Wade Kelly

Recently it feels like I’ve been writing “world’s first” quite frequently, though “world’s largest” might come in a close second. Greenfield Ethanol's plan for Edmonton, Canada is the latest project to warrant a “first”.

The first in question is the world’s first industrial scale facility to produce biofuels from municipal solid waste. Under a 25-year agreement with the city, the $70 million facility will initially produce 36 million liters of biofuel per year. Greenfield claims that this will reduce Alberta’s carbon footprint by more than 6 million tonnes over the next 25 years, an amount it says is equal to removing 12,000 cars off the road every year. The project will be jointly developed by Greenfield Ethanol and Enerkem.

Touting the project, Enerkem CEO Vincent Chornet said, “This new facility will be a first for both the biofuels and waste management industries. This is the world’s first agreement signed between a large urban center and a biofuel producer to turn municipal waste into ethanol.”

:: Greenfield Ethanol

Waste to Energy
Beer Waste to Energy: Anheuser-Busch’s BERS System
Waste to Electricity for the Army, Navy Goes Solar
Earthtalk :: Waste to Energy


Sweden boosting alternative energy intake


A couple eco news blips show that Sweden is boosting its wind and ethanol intake. First up, Sweden's Sekab just signed a deal with Brazilian ethanol exporters Cosan, Guarani, NovAmerica and Alcoeste to ship 115 million liters of anhydrous ethanol. Keeping up with the forward thinking Sweden tends to exemplify, the ethanol is manufactured according to strict sustainable social and environmental standards, including rights and safety measures for all employees in accordance with UN Guidelines, ecological considerations in accordance with UNICAs environmental initiative, and zero tolerance for felling of rainforest or slave labor.

Purchasing ethanol from so far away may seem a little counter-intuitive, but Anders Fredikson, VP of Sekab, says that this sustainable ethanol will reduce CO2 emissions from farming, production and transportation to Sweden by 85% compared with petrol. Plus, mills will receive 5-10% more for their traceable product than mills that do not adhere to the sustainability guidelines. Half of the 800 million liters of ethanol consumed by Sweden per year is supplied by Brazil, so going with sustainable ethanol will make a significant impact.

And so will wind farms. They're currently working on putting up a massive land-based wind farm with a capacity of between 3 and 3.5 GW, with the 2 MW turbines to come from Enercon and Markbygden Vind AB. The project starts this fall and is to be in place by 2020. The farm will really be more of a collective. Covering about 173 square miles, a series of interconnected farms will house the turbines.

Sweden is pretty good at monitoring their impact and putting reigns on things that leave big footprints. So I'm glad to see them taking a few more steps towards sustainability both in what they bring in to the country and in what they create themselves.

Via Treehugger, Reuters, RenewableEnergyWorld


Market alone can't take us to a more sustainable economy


By Kenneth D. Lewis

The private sector can produce a lot of change in a short period of time. But when it comes to climate change, there simply isn't time to depend solely on the market to drive needed change toward an environmentally sustainable economy. Our desire to balance economic growth with climate protection and to reduce our dependence on carbon-based fuels requires further action not only from the private sector but from policy-makers as well.

This transition to a more sustainable economy has begun. But more can be done to help move us toward the right solutions for the future.

Already, the green economy is booming. Despite slow growth overall, 2007 was a banner year for clean technology, with revenues up 40 percent and global investments in new energy up 60 percent. California represents almost half of all green-tech investment in the United States. Venture capitalists last year invested $1.78 billion in California green technology companies - double the prior year.

In my industry, banks are also embracing environmental business opportunities, ranging from reducing carbon emissions in their operations to creating "green" credit cards and mortgages to help customers reduce their carbon footprints. We're helping municipalities, like the San Jose and Milpitas school districts, switch to renewable energy sources. And, banks are financing everything from solar, wind and hydro power, to giant buoys that capture energy generated by ocean waves.

Some banks are even looking to invest in clean tech companies, not just lend to them. In the same way banks helped finance California's early agriculture and film industries a century ago, we're taking a fresh look at these opportunities to determine how we can play a productive - and profitable - role.

Public policy leaders are also showing the power of effective government action to stimulate the green economy. But our policy partners can do more to help create a market environment in which sustainable energy alternatives are economically competitive.

First, we need a stable regulatory environment with a bias toward clean energy. When innovators and financial backers are confident of government support, risk calculations change and good things happen. Congress should move to renew the alternative energy and efficiency tax credits that expire at the end of this year. Renewable energy industries need help to build enough market scale to compete with hydrocarbons.

Incentives matter. Some banks, for example, have been looking for financially viable ways to help solar companies create a large-scale market for residential solar leasing. The mayor of San Jose and local solar companies have been working on this challenge, and I applaud them for it.

Second, policy leaders need to work across jurisdictions to determine which incentives or regulations are appropriate at the state level and federal levels. We need to strike a balance between the benefits of states acting as laboratories of innovation and the inefficiency that results from a patchwork of regulation across geographies.

Third, Congress must pass cap-and-trade legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A system that gives companies "emissions credits" they can trade on an open market will create financial incentives to reduce emissions.

It may sound strange to hear a banker calling for government intervention. It's not a position I take lightly. But, landmark laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts have been environmental and economic successes. And it's estimated that California's climate change legislation will create nearly 90,000 new jobs statewide by 2020.

There is a strong connection between our willingness to diversify our energy sources and our ability to grow the global economy sustainably. The good news is that we have access to the financial markets, scientific knowledge, technology and human ingenuity needed to succeed. Just as important, all of us - entrepreneurs, bankers and policy leaders - are working together to preserve our planet for future generations.

KENNETH D. LEWIS is chairman and chief executive officer of Bank of America. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.


UK launches £100B green revolution


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown did not shy away from transformative language when he said yesterday that “business as usual” would not achieve the “green revolution” the UK must undertake. The EU has set a target for 15 percent of the country’s energy to be generated from renewable sources by 2020. Brown said the endeavor will require £100 billion ($199 billion) in private investment, which would be facilitated by new government incentives.

“This is a green revolution in the making,” Brown said, as the Guardian reports. “It will be a tenfold increase on our current deployment of renewables, and a 300 percent increase on our existing plans: the most dramatic change in our energy policy since the advent of nuclear power.”

The plan would include thousands of wind turbines, a sweeping set of efficiency standards and lifestyle changes for the average British citizen. Brown estimates the revolution would create some 160,000 green jobs and much of the cost would be put right back into the domestic economy, spurring cleantech growth all over the British Isles.

But the longer we wait, the more expensive it will get. Lord Stern of Brentford, who issued a report in 2006 saying it would take 1 percent of the global GDP to take on global warming, doubled his estimate to 2 percent. Speaking yesterday at the launch of the Carbon Rating Agency, Stern said: “All this depends on good policy and well functioning [carbon] markets.”

Critics say Brown’s words are just that - words. He’ll need to move quickly to shift the nation’s approach to renewable energy to catch up with the rest of Western Europe. Details of how the government would support the nine-digit private investment will come from the British business secretary, John Hutton. And a more robust carbon market, which Stern calls essential, was not mentioned.

We’ve heard strong language from world leaders before. President Bush, who said in his 2006 State of the Union Address that the United States is “addicted to oil,” has come under heavy attack recently in light of his call to lift the ban on offshore drilling, a “solution” critics are calling “get more addicted to oil.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

EIA projects 50% growth in world energy use by 2030


eiabig.jpgIf current laws and policies remain the same, world energy consumption is projected to grow by 50 percent by 2030, according to U.S. government energy statistics released in “International Energy Outlook 2008” by the Energy Information Administration.

Global energy demand will grow despite the projections of long-term sustained high world oil prices, the report says.

Total world energy use will rise from 462 quadrillion BTUs in 2005 to 563 quadrillion BTUs in 2015 and to 695 quadrillion BTUs in 2030, according to the report.

Average world oil prices have been higher than the previous year’s average every year since 2003 and prices in 2007 were nearly double the 2003 prices in real terms.

Other report highlights include:

Coal’s share of world energy use has increased sharply over the past few years, and without significant changes in existing laws and policies robust growth is likely to continue.

World nuclear capacity is projected to rise from 374 gigawatts in 2005 to 498 gigawatts in 2030. Nuclear capacity is expected to decline only in the EU, where several countries plan to phase out nuclear power. The report projects China to add 45 GW of net nuclear capacity over the projection period, India 17 GW, Russia 18 GW, and the United States 15 GW.

The report, which does not include specific policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions, projects energy-related CO2 emissions to increase 51 percent from 28.1 billion metric tons in 2005 to 42.3 billion metric tons in 2030.

Much of the increase in GHG emissions is projected to occur among the developing nations of the world, especially in Asia.


FPL Bringing Big Solar to Sunshine State


The Sunshine State could soon capitalize on its namesake and become one of the largest producers of solar energy in the country, if Florida utility FPL follows through on its plan to build three new solar power plants. FPL announced yesterday that it plans to generate 110 megawatts of solar capacity from three separate solar power plants - a 75 megawatt solar thermal plant at FPL’s existing Martin combined-cycle power plant, a 25 megawatt photovoltaic plant in DeSoto County, Fla. and a 10 megawatt photovoltaic plant at the Kennedy Space Center. FPL will build the plants and estimates the three projects will cost a total of $688 million.

FPL says that the 25 megawatt plant will be the largest photovoltaic plant in the world, just eking out the 21.5 megawatt plant SunEdison and Duke Energy claimed would be the largest last month. But neither are nearly as large as OptiSolar’s planned 550 megawatt photovoltaic plant. FPL says that these 110 megwatts, in addition to its subsidiary Beacon Solar’s plans for 250 megawatts of solar thermal power in California, make it the world’s largest producer of solar power.

FPL also claims to be the largest operator of wind energy in the country, a title it is battling with Spanish utility Iberdrola to keep. With so many gigantic wind and solar power projects in the pipeline we expect these superlatives to keep moving around.

While Florida does not have an official renewable portfolio standard the state’s Governor Charlie Crist has called on utilities to generate 20 percent of their power from renewable sources and FPL says that these new solar projects will help meet that goal. The projects still need regulatory approval but FPL says they expect to being construction on the 25 megawatt PV farm by the end of the year and start work on the other two plants next year.


California Maps Emission Cuts


California introduced an ambitious energy road map today to achieve the state’s goal of cutting emissions by 28 percent. The policy mandates that a third of the state’s energy should come from renewable sources, and also boosts the efficiency of appliances, buildings and automobiles. Facilitating this entire process, the California Air Resource Board has proposed a cap-and-trade system on carbon emissions from utilities, the power industry and businesses. The plan represents one of the most aggressive economy-wide cap-and-trade systems in the U.S.

This plan provides the details for the state’s 2006 decision to cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, which Schwarzenegger signed into law but left to regulators to figure out. The plan does not estimate the burden of the cost on the effected industries, though Mary D. Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, tells the New York Times their “macroeconomic analysis” shows the plan will actually boost California’s gross domestic product by one percent.

While the plan might hit traditional fossil fuel industries hard, it will be a boon for cleantech companies across the board. An aggressive renewable portfolio standard in California has already driven a lot of clean power innovation in the state. And companies selling energy efficient products and services could potentially generate revenue for businesses through carbon credits salable on the newly minted carbon market.

California, one of the largest economies in the world, will serve as a large-scale experiment for a carbon cap-and-trade system. Congress recently blocked an attempt to institute a federal cap-and-trade system. Should California’s cap-and-trade system fail to work as planned, Nichols says the board could look to a carbon tax the San Jose Mercury New reports.

With fossil fuel prices already hitting record highs, especially in California, consumers can expect to see energy prices continue to climb under this proposal. But it will force the power industry to account for the cost of their carbon emissions and continue to spur development in the cleantech sector.

Up next? This is just the first draft of the details to meet the emissions goals — the final plan is due in November.


Mercedies to cut petroleum out of lineup by 2015


In less than 7 years, Mercedes-Benz plans to ditch petroleum-powered vehicles from its lineup. Focusing on electric, fuel cell, and biofuels, the company is revving up research in alternative fuel sources and efficiency.

The German car company has a few new powertrains in the line-up that European journalists have had the opportunity to test out in their facility in Spain. One vehicle includes the F700, powered by a DiesOtto engine that combines HCCI and spark ignition to get nearly the same efficiency as diesel, but minus the expensive after-treatment systems. The engine can run on biofuels, and we may have a purchasable vehicle by 2010 � a year that seems to be popular for the debut of a lot of new alternative fuel car models, making �08 and �09 simply thumb-twiddling years for consumers. I don�t know, maybe car makers just like the roundness of �2010.� The company�s next big step will be to launch a Smart electric car which is fuel and emission-free.

Anyway, Mercedes is looking into electric vehicles, both battery powered and fuel cell powered. Not only are models in development, but we�ve also seen the company making steps towards their zero petroleum goal right now, from better cabs in London to Li-Ion battery improvements. The company also has about 100 Smart electric cars undergoing testing in London, with that favorite 2010 year as the projected market release date. Mercedes is making serious investments, already putting nearly $4 million into the pot of their long-term Sustainable Mobility plan, with another nearly $1.4 billion going in before 2014.

While car models may be able to run on fuels other than gasoline or diesel, we have yet to find a method of both running and producing vehicles entirely free of fossil fuels. I�m waiting for a mainstream car line that creates renewable fuel, clean running vehicles out of 100% recycled materials in plants run on 100% renewable, clean power�Will I even be alive when that finally happens? I have hope.

Via AutoblogGreen, The Sun; Photo Leonid Mamchenkov


CO2 making things cooler...inside refrigerators


We're used to thinking of CO2 as the problem. And that, largely is absolutely true. But the good news behind the truth of CO2's overabundance in our atmosphere, is that any industrial use for the gas is carbon-neutral, since it's being pulled out CO2 positive industries, like oil refineries and power plants.

So the CO2 in your soda is, in fact, stored industrial carbon. So when we hear about refrigerators and air conditioners becoming far more efficient by using CO2 as a coolant, we don't have to worry about the CO2. All we have to worry about is how to get this new refrigerant adopted as quickly as possible.

CO2 is, first, a better refrigerant. It cools more efficiently, and thus saves huge amounts of money. Which is why Coca Cola, which owns more refrigerators than any other company (usually called vending machines,) has recently stopped creating vending machines that use any other refrigerant.

Other good news has followed. Coca Cola's CEO put forth a call to switch globally from dangerous, polluting HFCs. CO2 is already taking over in the developing world, where efficiency is extremely important, and it;s easier to come by than HFCs. And Greenpeace has recently asked the EPA and the automotive industry to take notice of the high global warming potential and low efficiency of current refrigerants and make the switch.

It's nice to see this much-derided little molecule finally getting some good press. And it's even nicer to see this new technology, using a common, relatively benign refrigerant to make cooling more efficient and safer for the world.


US Department of Energy to invest $90 million in advanced geothermal research


Geothermal Power Plant photo

Geothermal Energy Deserves More Attention
Like wave-power, geothermal energy lives in the shadow of its two more popular brothers, solar power and wind power. The US Department of Energy (DOE) is trying to do something about that with a $90 million "Funding Opportunity Announcement"; it plans to award 26 grants to both industry and academia. "A minimum of 20% private sector cost share is required for R&D projects and funding for the awards is subject to Congressional appropriations."

Hopefully, this new investment by the DOE, along with private sector funds, will help geothermal (not to be confused with residential ground source heat pumps) move forward into the spotlight. As we said before, geothermal energy has a huge potential and could be used alongside intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar.

Geothermal Energy image

Geothermal Funding Details
"Funding is available at US $10.5 million for fiscal year (FY) 2008. Subject to annual Congressional appropriations, up to an additional US $30 million is expected to be available for awards in FY 2009 and US $49.5 million in FY 2010."

Applications for this funding opportunity are due on or before August 12, 2008.

Does Geothermal Research Benefit from the Oil Industry?
On top of investments into geothermal, we have to note that - ironically - a lot of techniques from the oil industry (drilling, geological surveys) can be useful in that field. The problem is a shortage of competent geologists and engineers, as well as specialized equipment.

Geothermal Energy
Finding Geothermal Energy Just Got Easy
Geothermal Energy: Renewables' Poor Cousin
Is Geothermal Energy the Way of the Future?
Jargon Watch: Geothermal vs Ground Source Heat Pump

More on DOE $90 Million Geothermal Investment
DOE To Invest US $90 Million in Advanced Geothermal Energy


Sweden to launch wave energy site to power 20 homes


Wave Energy Buoys image

On an island right off the coast of Western Sweden near the quaint coastal town of Lysekil, researchers from Uppsala University are putting the final touches on two generators and a small underwater turbine anchored 25 meters down on the sea floor that will turn wave action into energy for 20 homes on the island.

The researchers have formed their own company called Seabased to manufacture and install the wave turbine systems, which they say have a simple robust design, adapted to the slow vertical movement of the waves better than systems currently on the market designed for more intense surface wave action. In Seabased's design a buoy on the surface is connected to the generators - the up and down action of the waves activates pistons and strong magnets inside these, which creates the electricity. A first prototype is scheduled to be installed in early July and within two years the site should have ten generators and 40 buoys. Seabased is hoping the buoys create safe havens for local marine life...instead of the opposite. Via ::Seabased

Wave Power
The Suntory Mermaid II: A Wave-Powered Boat (!!!)
Wave Hub Off Cornwall Receives Funding


Sanyo's solar ark


Sanyo Logo

"The Solar Ark, a unique, ark-shaped, solar photovoltaic power generation facility, offers activities to cultivate a better appreciation of solar power generation, and thereby of both ecology and science. ... is located in Gifu Prefecture, ... of Japan ..." Sanyo Solar Ark

" ... at the center of the Solar Ark is the Solar Lab, a museum of solar energy and one of the more unusual museums in the world. ..."

"Since the Solar Ark was created, we have accumulated data on the power-generating performance of the photovoltaic system. At the photovoltaic conference in Europe, the thesis we delivered analyzing that data received an excellent response ..."

solar ark logo


VW unveils new Twin Drive diesel-electric plug-in hybirds


It won't be long before college kids and other "indie" types will have a new VW to covet -- only now they'll be lusting after a significantly more eco-friendly ride. The new Golf Twin Drive, a plug-in diesel electric hybrid, aims to be on the streets by 2010 -- and with a little help (read: $23.5 million), it just might happen.
Granted there will only be 20 of these bad boys in circulation by the target release date, but it won't be long before the adorable new autos are in full production. Here's some specs:
  • 122-horsepower diesel engine
  • 82-horsepower electric motor
  • all-electric range of 31 miles
This is part of a larger initiative by the German government to dramatically increase the number of hybrids on the roads. It's shooting for 1 million hybrids by 2010, and 10 million by 2020. When you consider the country's entire population is just over 82 million, those numbers start to look very impressive.