Duke scientists making algae biofuel more viable

By Teresa Meng for The Chronicle:  A Duke University professor has been awarded a $5.2 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to explore ways of making algae a cost efficient fuel source.
The Duke-led Marine Algae Industrialization Consortium, comprised of both universities and energy companies, aims to lower the cost of algae oil, which can be used in place of fossil fuels. The team is working to identify algae proteins that can be used in protein-based nutritional products in order to make the entire algae farming process more cost-efficient. Zackary Johnson, Arthur P. Kaupe assistant professor of molecular biology in marine science, is the principal investigator of MAGIC and has been researching algae biofuels for eight years.

“The goal of the research is to drive down the cost of algae biofuel by increasing the value of proteins within algae,” Johnson explained.

Johnson and his team at MAGIC are trying to use multiple ways so that algae grown for biofuel extraction can also be sold after oil is extracted from the algae. Proteins in algae could be used for nutritional products such as poultry feed, fish feed or even food for humans. Extracting and selling these proteins would lower the overall production cost of extracting oil from the algae. In the future, algae proteins as food sources might even be a sustainable approach to feed the world.

Algae biofuel has the potential to become a major source of sustainable energy because it can be produced quickly, easily and in high quality, Johnson said.  Cont'd...

Balls of DNA Could Fix Geothermal Energy's Biggest Problem

Shara Tonn for Wired.com:  Geothermal Power has the potential to be cheap, reliable, and abundant—running off the heat of the Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s especially true thanks to a new generation of home-grown geothermal plants, which don’t run off the steam of natural hot springs and geysers. No need to find those hydrothermal gems; today, geothermal engineers are making their own reservoirs by drilling down into hot rock and pumping in water.

The catch? Engineers can’t see what’s happening underground. Drilling wells in just the right spot can be like playing golf blindfolded: Even if someone faces you in the right direction, you could still hit the ball way off the green. But tiny fragments of DNA dropped into the wells could soon help engineers follow the path of water underground, helping them sink their putts every time.

In a basic geothermal plant set-up, engineers actually have to drill two types of wells. The first kind, which goes down two or three miles, carries cold water down deep, where it fractures the hot rock and creates new paths for water to move. It’s kind of like fracking, but without the chemicals.  Cont'd...

Balls of DNA Could Fix Geothermal Energy's Biggest Problem

Shara Tonn for Wired.com:  Geothermal Power has the potential to be cheap, reliable, and abundant—running off the heat of the Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s especially true thanks to a new generation of home-grown geothermal plants, which don’t run off the steam of natural hot springs and geysers. No need to find those hydrothermal gems; today, geothermal engineers are making their own reservoirs by drilling down into hot rock and pumping in water.

The catch? Engineers can’t see what’s happening underground. Drilling wells in just the right spot can be like playing golf blindfolded: Even if someone faces you in the right direction, you could still hit the ball way off the green. But tiny fragments of DNA dropped into the wells could soon help engineers follow the path of water underground, helping them sink their putts every time.

In a basic geothermal plant set-up, engineers actually have to drill two types of wells. The first kind, which goes down two or three miles, carries cold water down deep, where it fractures the hot rock and creates new paths for water to move. It’s kind of like fracking, but without the chemicals.  Cont'd...

Iran is building the Middle East's first geothermal power plant

Iran is building the Middle East’s first geothermal power plant at the foot of an inactive volcanic peak as the country is racing to meet a runaway demand for electricity by its growing population. 

The pilot station in northwestern Meshguin Shahr in the Ardabil province is projected to come on stream in the next two years, putting Iran in the club of two dozen nations with the geothermal power generation capacity.

The 50-megawatt project is in line with Iran’s bid to expand its clean energy mix which is dominated by fossil fuels. Geothermal power is cheaper and more reliable than other renewable energy sources, such as thermal or hydro power.  Cont'd...

Hillary Clinton is calling for a 700% increase in solar power. Is that realistic?

Brad Plumer for VOX:  In the coming months, Hillary Clinton's campaign is planning to release a series of proposals for dealing with global warming. Her first installment is out Sunday evening, and it calls for a large increase in renewable power.

Specifically, she's proposing to boost the amount of wind, solar, and other renewables so that they provide 33 percent of America's electricity by 2027 — enough to power every home in the country.

Part of her plan would involve accelerating the recent rapid growth of solar installations nationwide. In her proposal, Clinton calls for US solar power to grow 700 percent from current levels.

That sounds like an impossibly large number, but it's not implausible on its face. US solar capacity grew 418 percent between 2010 and 2014 (because it was starting from a small base). So 700 percent growth by 2027 is at least within the realm of possibility. But it would require additional policy changes — and clean energy prices would have to keep dropping.  Cont'd...

Is India Ready to Be a Solar Power Leader?

By RUPA SUBRAMANYA for ForeignPolicy.com:  Is India ripe for a renewable energy revolution? Foreign investors certainly seem to think so, and renewables have been a signature issue for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But if revolution is indeed underway, it isn’t a spontaneous one. And taxpayer money — not just from India — is fueling the surge.

New Delhi’s renewable energy aspirations recently received a major boost when Japan’s SoftBank announced a joint venture with Indian conglomerate Bharti Enterprises and Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group to create a new, Japanese-owned company that will bid on power contracts in India’s growing solar sector. Renewable energy, including solar, is a priority for Modi and has been since before he became the country’s leader last year. “The time has arrived for a saffron revolution, and the color of energy is saffron,” he saidon the campaign trail in 2014, attempting to symbolically link the sacred color of Hindus and his Bharatiya Janata Party with his energy dream. This joint venture is the first major announcement by a foreign investor that could help make that dream a reality.  Cont'd...

Study: U.S. could run entirely on renewable energy by 2050

A new study has mapped out a potential plan for the United States to completely transition to clean, renewable energy by 2050.
According to the research study leader Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, the process would demand significant upfront costs, but over time would be roughly equal to the costs of maintaining the fossil fuel infrastructure currently in place.
“When you account for the health and climate costs – as well as the rising price of fossil fuels – wind, water and solar are half the cost of conventional systems,” Jacobson said. “A conversion of this scale would also create jobs, stabilize fuel prices, reduce pollution-related health problems and eliminate emissions from the United States. There is very little downside to a conversion, at least based on this science.”
Among the positives of switching to clean energy: reducing air pollution in the U.S. that is responsible for approximately 63,000 Americans each year, and eliminating greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuel that would cost the world approximately $3.3 trillion per year by 2050, per a phys.org report.

Hawaii Lawmakers Pass Nation's First 100% Renewable Energy Requirement

Hawaii lawmakers voted 74-2 this week to pass the nation's first 100% renewable energy requirement. The measure, House Bill 623, makes Hawaii a global leader in renewable energy policy by requiring that 100% of the islands' electricity must be generated from renewable energy resources--such as wind, solar, and geothermal-no later than 2045. 

"Hawaii lawmakers made history passing this legislation--not only for the islands, but for the planet," said Jeff Mikulina, Executive Director of the Blue Planet Foundation. 

The measure, if enacted by Governor David Ige, would make Hawaii the first state in the nation with such a 100% renewable energy standard. Blue Planet Foundation, whose mission is to clear the path for 100% renewable energy, praised the move. 

"Passage of this measure is a historic step towards a fossil fuel free Hawaii," said Mikulina. "This visionary policy is a promise to future generations that their lives will be powered not by climate-changing fossil fuel, but by clean, local, and sustainable sources of energy." 

In The Midst Of Toxic Oil Spill, Vancouver Announces It Will Go 100 Percent Renewable

There’s some mixed news coming out of Vancouver, Canada this week. On the one hand, the city announced at an international sustainability summit that it would commit to using 100 percent renewable energy to power its electricity, transportation, heating and air conditioning within 20 years. On the other hand, Vancouver is also dealing with a fuel spill in the waters of English Bay that is washing up on beaches and threatening wildlife.
On March 26, Vancouver’s city council voted unanimously to approve Mayor Gregor Robertson motion calling for a long-term commitment to deriving all of the city’s energy from renewable sources. At the ICLEI World Congress 2015 this week in Seoul, South Korea, the city went a step further, committing to reaching that goal of 100 percent renewable electricity, transportation, heating and air conditioning by 2030 or 2035.
Right now, Vancouver gets 32 percent of its energy — that includes electricity, transportation, heating, and cooling — from renewable sources, so the goal is ambitious, but not impossible. According to the Guardian, Vancouver could get all of its electricity from renewables within a few years, but transportation, heating, and cooling may prove more difficult.

As California Faces Record Drought Levels, Wind Energy Provides A Vital Service

In 2014, wind energy saved 2.5 billion gallons of water in California by displacing water consumption at the state's fossil-fired power plants, playing a valuable role in alleviating the state's record drought. Wind energy's annual water savings work out to around 65 gallons per person in the state - or the equivalent of 20 billion bottles of water, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
 
According to AWEA, one of wind energy's most overlooked benefits is that it requires virtually no water to produce electricity while almost all other electricity sources evaporate tremendous amounts of water.
 
In California - where the state is combating record drought levels - Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed an executive order to reduce household water consumption by 25%, from about 140 gallons per day per household to 105 gallons. Wind energy's water savings are, therefore, equivalent to what would be saved by nearly one week's worth of the required reductions for a typical household.
 
In 2008, U.S. thermal power plants withdrew 22 trillion to 62 trillion gallons of freshwater from rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers and consumed 1 trillion to 2 trillion gallons. By displacing generation from these conventional power plants, U.S. wind energy currently saves around 35 billion gallons of water per year - the equivalent of 120 gallons per person or 285 billion bottles of water.

RESEARCHERS DEVELOP NEW APPROACH THAT COMBINES BIOMASS CONVERSION, SOLAR ENERGY CONVERSION

In a study published March 9 in Nature Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry Professor Kyoung-Shin Choi presents a new approach to combine solar energy conversion and biomass conversion, two important research areas for renewable energy.
 
For decades, scientists have been working to harness the energy from sunlight to drive chemical reactions to form fuels such as hydrogen, which provide a way to store solar energy for future use. Toward this end, many researchers have been working to develop functional, efficient and economical methods to split water into hydrogen, a clean fuel, and oxygen using photoelectrochemical solar cells (PECs). Although splitting water using an electrochemical cell requires an electrical energy input, a PEC can harness solar energy to drive the water-splitting reaction. A PEC requires a significantly reduced electrical energy input or no electrical energy at all.
 
In a typical hydrogen-producing PEC, water reduction at the cathode (producing hydrogen) is accompanied by water oxidation at the anode (producing oxygen). Although the purpose of the cell is not the production of oxygen, the anode reaction is necessary to complete the circuit.
 
Unfortunately, the rate of the water oxidation reaction is very slow, which limits the rate of the overall reaction and the efficiency of the solar-to-hydrogen conversion. Therefore, researchers are currently working to develop more efficient catalysts to facilitate the anode reaction.
 
Choi, along with postdoctoral researcher Hyun Gil Cha, chose to take a completely new approach to solve this problem. They developed a novel PEC setup with a new anode reaction. This anode reaction requires less energy and is faster than water oxidation while producing an industrially important chemical product. The anode reaction they employed in their study is the oxidation of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) to 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA). HMF is a key intermediate in biomass conversion that can be derived from cellulose - a type of cheap and abundant plant matter. FDCA is an important molecule for the production of polymers.
 

Bionic Leaf Uses Bacteria To Convert Solar Energy Into Liquid Fuel

From Science 2.0:  Harvesting sunlight is old technology for plants but it's a level of efficiency in solar energy we would love to be within a billion years of - artificial photosynthesis is needed if we want to go beyond the energy density of things like combustion engines. 
 
Solar energy, using electricity from photovoltaic cells to yield hydrogen that can be later used in fuel cells, would be terrific but has technological obstacles.  Now scientists have created a system that uses bacteria to convert solar energy into a liquid fuel. Their work integrates an "artificial leaf," which uses a catalyst to make sunlight split water into hydrogen and oxygen, with a bacterium engineered to convert carbon dioxide plus hydrogen into the liquid fuel isopropanol. 
 
Pamela Silver, the Elliott T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at HMS and an author of the paper, calls the system a bionic leaf, a nod to the artificial leaf invented by the paper's senior author, Daniel Nocera, the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University.

Lockheed announces major breakthrough in nuclear fusion

The largest military contractor in the United States is developing a nuclear fusion reactor that is small enough to fit on the back of a truck but has the ability to produce the energy required to power a warship.

Lockheed Martin said in a statement released on Wednesday this week that its secretive Skunk Works division — the unit responsible for the U-2 spy plane and F-117 stealth jet — has already applied for several patents related to the high-tech reactor it has in the works, and expects it to be deployed during the next decade if interested industry and government partners sign on to help starting soon.

“Our compact fusion concept combines several alternative magnetic confinement approaches, taking the best parts of each, and offers a 90 percent size reduction over previous concepts,” Tom McGuire, the compact fusion lead for the Skunk Works’ Revolutionary Technology Programs, said in a statement.“The smaller size will allow us to design, build and test the CFR in less than a year.”

A blow to corn-based biofuels

Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration's conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.

A $500,000 study paid for by the federal government and published Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change concludes that biofuels made with corn residue release 7% more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline.

Biofuels are better in the long run, but the study says they won't meet a standard set in a 2007 energy law to qualify as renewable fuel.

The conclusions deal a blow to what are known as cellulosic biofuels, which have received more than a billion dollars in federal support but have struggled to meet volume targets mandated by law. About half of the initial market in cellulosics is expected to be derived from corn residue.

The biofuel industry and administration officials called the research flawed. They said that it was too simplistic in its analysis of carbon loss from soil, which can vary over a single field, and that it vastly overestimated how much residue farmers would remove once the market gets underway.

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