A lack of progress for battery technology is (arguably) the single biggest barrier for gadgets, electric vehicles and the power grid. But there continues to be innovation, like last week researchers at Northwestern University unveiled technology that can boost gadget battery life by ten and charge a battery in minutes instead of hours. And there’s hundreds of researchers, entrepreneurs, universities and large companies working on battery breakthroughs. Here’s 25 you should know about:
Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc. a developer of lightweight, flexible, thin-film photovoltaic modules, announced today that itsflexible CIGS solar panels were named one of TIME's 50 Best Inventions of 2011. Ascent's technology was one of six ‘green' inventions to be recognized in this year's list, featured in the Nov. 28 TIME issue. For each of the past 10 years, TIME has recognized the top 50 breakthroughs in science, technology and the arts. Previous honorees have included the iPad, Nissan Leaf, 3-D cameras, and the world's first synthetic cells. "We are honored to be recognized by TIME as one of this year's top 50 inventions," said Ascent Solar President and CEO, Ron Eller. "Our flexible solar panels integrate seamlessly with countless applications across a wide variety of markets. TIME's recognition further validates the transformational aspects of Ascent's technology."
Twenty-one cleantech startups from across the U.S. competed for a grand prize of $250,000 in seed investment and services at this year’s Cleantech Open Business Competition. On Wednesday night, the not-for-profit organization awarded the national grand prize to the winner in the renewable energy category, Atmosphere Recovery, which makes laser-based gas analyzer systems for efficient manufacturing and advanced energy process control. See the full list of winners here.
A recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance demonstrated that, in spite of plunging stock prices, investment in utility scale renewable energy was higher in Q3 than in any other quarter and up by 16% compared to this time last year. The second shock of the report was that it was the US cleantech sector taking the lead in terms of investment, overtaking the usual front runners Europe and China. This seemingly positive news is however tainted with some worries from investors and the cleantech sector. Some believe Solyndra's high profile collapse will affect government support of renewable incentives, whilst others expect the expiry of the Treasury cash grant at the end of the year to dampen the development of utility scale projects. Building upon Bloomberg New Energy Finance's findings, Green Power Conferences and the Solar Power Generation USA congress invited over 35,000 professionals from the solar and finance communities to take part in a 5 minute survey to assess industry confidence for 2012. Despite expected difficulties in the market, over 60% of respondents thought that investment in the utility scale solar sector would increase in 2012, whilst 20% thought it would stay the same as 2011 levels.
The U.S. Commerce Department said it would investigate whether Chinese companies sell solar panels in the United States at unfair discounts and receive illegal government subsidies. The trade spat, one of several sensitive economic and trade issues between the United States and China, could lead to steep duties on imports of Chinese panels and help struggling domestic manufacturers. The action is opposed by companies in the U.S. solar industry that count on importing cheap panels to boost solar power generation. It comes as the administration of President Obama faces criticism from Republicans in Congress about domestic aid to solar and other renewable energy companies. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that it had accepted a petition from SolarWorld Industries Americas Inc. Last month, the company asked the U.S. government to slap duties on Chinese solar cells and modules.
According to PROINSO sources , companies or individuals can make a selection of orders that can be modified according to what the customer agrees with the PROINSO sales department, which will send the customer an offer. Each installer can sign in with a username and password, and they will have a sales representative in their country. "The selection of purchase orders made with the online tool does not mean the customer must make the purchase. Availability can be checked and delivery dates and final prices can be negotiated before an order is actually placed," they said. Read the full news release here.
Sometime shortly after 7 a.m. PST on Monday, execs at algae oil company Solazyme, members of the media and others will board a plane at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport and take off on the first commercial U.S. domestic flight to use Solazyme’s algae-based jet fuel. United Airlines will operate the flight, which will land at Chicago O’Hare International Airport a couple of hours later and is set to carry 189 passengers. The event is significant: While companies have spent years looking to scale next-generation biofuel products, few are producing fuels that can scale large enough to sell to the airline industry, let alone the auto industry. Solazyme’s jet fuel, dubbed Solajet, isn’t a widely commercialized product yet, but it has a few deals, including with the Navy and Australian carrier Quantas.
The Optical Cavity Furnace is a new piece of equipment for making solar cells that is about to rock the photovoltaic industry by slashing costs and increasing efficiency. The news should not just excite tech nerds—by reducing the cost of producing solar cells by nearly three-quarters, this new technology represents another big step on the path to making clean energy the cheap kind of energy. Here’s how it works. By using optics to more efficiently focus visible and infrared light, the Optical Cavity Furnace can heat silicon wafers used in solar cell production much more precisely and uniformly than previous forms of solar cell manufacture. The resulting solar cells are stronger, more efficient, and have fewer impurities. The National Renewable Energy Lab, or NREL, the DOE office responsible for the research, and a corporate partner AOS Inc. are now working to bring this technology to scale. The partners plan to build an industrial-scale Optical Cavity Furnace capable of producing 1,200 highly efficient solar cells per hour. NREL has cooperative research agreements with many of the country’s biggest solar cell producers.
According to the most recent issue of the "Monthly Energy Review" by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), with data through June 30, 2011, renewable energy has passed another milestone as domestic production is now significantly greater than that of nuclear power and continues to close in on oil. During the first half of 2011, renewable energy sources (biomass & biofuels, geothermal, solar, water, wind) provided 4.687 quadrillion Btus of energy or 12.25% of U.S. energy production. By comparison, renewables accounted for 11.05% of domestic production during the first half of 2010 and 10.50% during the first half of 2009. (On the consumption side, which includes oil and other energy imports, renewable sources accounted for 9.45% of total U.S. energy use.) More significantly, energy production from renewable energy sources in 2011 was 17.91% more than that from nuclear power, which provided 3.975 quadrillion Btus and has been declining in recent years. Energy from renewable sources is now equal to 79.83% of that from domestic crude oil production, with the gap closing rapidly.
Another alternative energy company that received a loan guarantee from the U.S. government has filed for bankruptcy. Beacon Power, which makes energy storage devices used to help the power grid become more efficient, filed for bankruptcy protection Sunday, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company received a $43 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy last August. "This latest failure is a sharp reminder that DOE has fallen well short of delivering the stimulus jobs that were promised," Florida Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns said in a statement Sunday night. "Now taxpayers find themselves millions of more dollars in the hole." Stearns is leading an investigation into the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar panel maker that received a $535 million government loan guarantee last year. The Beacon bankruptcy will likely only make that investigation more urgent.
Wind energy is more affordable than ever, and new installations across the country are saving consumers money on their electric bills, as utilities rush to lock in long-term favorable rates. "This is what a successful business looks like with stable tax policy. Utilities are locking in a great deal for their electric customers while it's available. We're keeping rates down all across the U.S., even in the heart of the South," said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), pointing to recent wind power purchases by the Southern Company in Alabama, Austin Energy in Texas, and Xcel in Colorado as examples. The U.S. wind industry installed just over 1,200 megawatts (MW) in the third quarter, and about 3,360 MW on the year so far – but has more than 8,400 MW under construction. That is more than in any quarter since 2008, as the federal Production Tax Credit has driven as much as $20 billion a year in private investment. "This shows what we're capable of: adding new, affordable electric generation," said Bode. "Traditional tax incentives are working. There's a lot of business right now, people are employed, and manufacturers are looking to expand here in the U.S."
Developing biofuels continues to be a bright spot in the cleantech world. Two startups, plant genetic engineering company Chromatin and biofuel producer ZeaChem, announced separately on Tuesday that they have raised new rounds of funding. Chicago-based Chromatin said it has lined up $10 million – the first close of the D round – from investors including the venture arm of oil giant BP and the investing arm of product firm Unilever. Chromatin has developed a technology to genetically modify energy crops so that they grow fast and abundant, and its plant of choice if sorghum, a grass with some desirable, natural characteristics as a bioenergy feedstock, such as a high tolerance for drought and heat.
Like Detroit automakers taking on the Japanese a generation ago, the seven American solar panel makers that filed a trade case on Wednesday against China might find that a legal victory, if it comes, may not translate into business success.In the 1970s and ‘80s, American car companies won a long series of trade cases to limit Japanese car imports. Japan’s automakers responded by moving assembly lines to the United States, creating many new blue-collar jobs. But they kept most of the high-paying design and engineering positions back in Japan. The new factories in the United States not only shielded Japanese auto companies against most further trade protectionism but helped them stay competitive when the yen soared against the dollar. Meanwhile, American consumers had many new, affordable choices in cars — while Detroit continued to have trouble competing with its Japanese rivals. Don’t be surprised if Chinese solar companies try to pursue a similar path, which could benefit American consumers of solar power if it helps propel the technology beyond its current niche status.
The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit solar education and research organization, today released its second annual review of the solar workforce in the United States. The report, titled, "National Solar Jobs Census 2011: A Review of the U.S. Solar Workforce" found that hiring in the solar workforce is on the rise. More than 100,000 Americans are now employed in the solar industry. "The solar industry has grown into a major economic force with more than 100,000 employees in the United States," said Andrea Luecke, executive director of The Solar Foundation. "We expect even greater growth in the foreseeable future. But policymakers, workforce training providers, and the industry must work together to continue creating good jobs for skilled workers." As of August 2011, the National Solar Jobs Census 2011 identified more than 17,198 solar employment sites and 100,237 solar jobs in all 50 states. The solar industry's job growth rate of 6.8 percent is significantly higher than the 2 percent net job loss in fossil fuel power generation and the economy-wide expectation of 0.7 percent growth over the same period.
Solar Power International 2011, October 17-20, is in Dallas, Texas to generate powerful new ideas, connections and business for the solar industry—and your enterprise. 24,000 professionals from businesses spanning the entire spectrum of the industry for four days of product exploration, discussion, professional enrichment and networking. As ususal AltEnergyMag.com will bring all the news coming from this years show via our SPI Newspage . Make sure to post your company news and check back regularly. Follow us on Twitter @AltEnergyMag
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