Scientists harness solar power to produce hydrogen from biomass

University of Cambridge via Biomass Magazine:  Dr Moritz Kuehnel, from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, joint lead author on a new research paper published in Nature Energy, says:

"Lignocellulose is nature's equivalent to armoured concrete. It consists of strong, highly crystalline cellulose fibres, that are interwoven with lignin and hemicellulose which act as a glue. This rigid structure has evolved to give plants and trees mechanical stability and protect them from degradation, and makes chemical utilisation of lignocellulose so challenging."

The new technology relies on a simple photocatalytic conversion process. Catalytic nanoparticles are added to alkaline water in which the biomass is suspended. This is then placed in front of a light in the lab which mimics solar light. The solution is ideal for absorbing this light and converting the biomass into gaseous hydrogen which can then be collected from the headspace. The hydrogen is free of fuel-cell inhibitors, such as carbon monoxide, which allows it to be used for power.  Full Article:

Why more and more countries are taking an interest in geothermal energy

Bianca Nogrady for VOX:  At 2:46 pm local time on Friday, March 11, 2011, Japan was rocked by the largest earthquake ever to strike its shores. The 9.1-magnitude quake triggered a devastating tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people. It also took out the backup emergency generators that cooled the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant complex, causing a series of catastrophic meltdowns.

But amid the chaos, the Yanaizu-Nishiyama geothermal power plant in Fukushima prefecture didn’t miss a beat. Along with two more of the nine geothermal power plants in the region, the 65-megawatt facility continued to generate power, even as many other power plants around them failed because of damaged equipment and transmission lines.“This is big news for many geothermal people around the world,” says Kasumi Yasukawa, principal research manager at the Institute for Geo-Resources and Environment in Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.

In a country as seismically active as Japan, it was a clear signal that geothermal energy was worth investing in.  Cont'd...

How Flushing your Toilet could help create Biofuel

Laura A. Shepard for Popular Science:  Picture a giant toilet bowl looming larger than life outside the UN headquarters in New York. It sounds like an absurd scene, but the stunt from three years ago was not a childish prank. It was a serious statement to mark the first World Toilet Day and raise awareness of the fact that one third of the world’s population lacks access to toilets.
Addressing the global sanitation crisis is a top priority among the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and it now has an exciting solution.
In fact, science may soon make your toilet bowl a viable alternative energy source. Your flushes can produce two or three gallons of biofuel per year when the wastewater is treated using a process, developed scientists and engineers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, called hydro-thermal liquefaction (HTL).

HTL emulates the way crude oil forms naturally, when biomass decays under high pressure and heat for millions of years — but it only takes 45 minutes.  Cont'd...

Solar & Wind Cheaper To Replace Coal In UK Than Biomass

Joshua S Hill for CleanTechnica:  A new study has concluded that transitioning to wind and solar power would be a cheaper option for the United Kingdom to replace its coal fleet than using biomass electricity generation.

According to a new study published this week by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and conducted by London-based Vivid Economics, which examined the full system costs of renewable energy technologies like wind and solar in comparison to biomass as a replacement for the UK’s coal fleet, wind and solar came out as the cheaper option.

The UK already uses a lot of biomass for electricity generation, with the report concluding that “biomass supplies the lion’s share” of the country’s renewable electricity generation. However, as the authors of the report note:

“…recent science shows that many forms of biomass produce more carbon emissions than fossil fuels like coal and natural gas—especially biomass from forests—increasing carbon pollution precisely when the United Kingdom aims to rapidly decarbonise its electricity sector.”  Cont'd...

World's Largest Carbon-Capture Plant to Open Soon

Umair Irfan for ClimateWire:  On schedule, on budget.  It’s a tall order for any new technology, but for a commercial carbon capture and storage (CCS) system, it might be the start of a revolution.

The Petra Nova carbon capture system under construction at the W.A. Parish Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant southwest of Houston, is slated to go online before the end of the year. The billion-dollar facility will become the largest post-combustion carbon capture system installed on an existing power plant in the world.

Systems like Petra Nova that keep carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere may become a necessary means to mitigate climate change, and for some utilities, they could offer a lifeline to beleaguered fossil fuel plants.  Cont'd...

Scripps Vessel Proves Viability of Renewable Fuel on 14,400-Mile Voyage

Chris Jennewein for Times of San Diego:  A Scripps Institution of Oceanography research vessel has demonstrated the viability of renewable fuel by traveling 14,400 nautical miles over a 16-month period on renewable diesel.

The R/V Robert Gordon Sproul used a hydrogenation-derived renewable fuel called NEXBTL Renewable Diesel developed by Neste Oil in Finland. The experiment began in September 2014 and ran through December 2015, during which time the vessel used a total of 52,500 gallons.

“Part of the Scripps mission is to protect the environment, and one of the most significant changes that we could make in our ship operations involved moving toward the use of cleaner, renewable fuels,” said Scripps Associate Director Bruce Appelgate. “As scientists, we know we need to develop sustainable means of powering our ships to address pollution concerns as well as to mitigate future increases in fossil fuel costs.”

Renewable biofuel is nearly carbon-neutral and produces cleaner emissions, thus decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality relative to fuels derived from petroleum.  Cont'd...

Can we Save the Algae Biofuel Industry?

Christian Ridley for Newsweek:  Algal biofuels are in trouble. This alternative fuel source could help reduce overall carbon emissions without taking land from food production, like many crop-based biofuels do. But several major companies including Shell and ExxonMobil are seemingly abandoning their investments in this environmentally friendly fuel. So why has this promising technology failed to deliver, and what could be done to save it?
Algae are photosynthetic organisms related to plants that grow in water and produce energy fromcarbon dioxide and sunlight. Single-celled microalgae can be used to produce large amounts of fat, which can be converted into biodiesel, the most common form of biofuel. There are many possible ingredients for making biofuels, from corn to used cooking oil. But algae are particularly interesting because they can be grown rapidly and produce large amounts of fuel relative to the resources used to grow them (high productivity).  Cont'd...
 

Danish researchers may have found 'the energy source of the future'

CPH Post:  Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have discovered a natural process they are calling ‘reverse photosynthesis’. They have observed how the energy in solar rays breaks down rather than builds up plant material, as happens in photosynthesis.

Sunlight is collected by chlorophyll, and when combined with a specific enzyme the energy breaks down plant biomass. The resulting product can then be used as a biofuel.

By increasing production speed while reducing pollution, the discovery has the potential to revolutionise industrial production.

“This is a game-changer, one that could transform the industrial production of fuels and chemicals, thus serving to reduce pollution significantly,” said Claus Felby, the University of Copenhagen professor who headed up the research.

“It has always been right under our noses,” he said. “Photosynthesis by way of the sun doesn’t just allow things to grow – the same principles can be applied to break plant matter down, so that the immense energy in solar light can be used so that processes can take place without additional energy inputs.”  Cont'd...

Why Power Markets Tilt Toward Renewables Even With Cheap Oil

Anna Hirtenstein for Bloomberg Business:  If you’re a power plant developer, chances are you’ll be selling renewables in a developing nation in the decades ahead -- even with fossil fuel prices bumping along historic lows.

That’s been the conclusion for some time of the International Energy Agency and independent researchers such as Bloomberg New Energy Finance. A report out Thursday from the United Nations Environment Program using BNEF data gives more statistical backing for the trends.

For the first time in 2015, more investment went into renewables than fossil fuels, and most of the money went to emerging markets. BNEF is hosting a conference in New York starting April 4 to bring together executives and bankers attempting to generate value from the boom.

Here are six charts from the UNEP report showing why cheap oil and natural gas aren’t about to slow the rise of wind and solar.

United Airlines is flying on biofuels ... here's why that's a really big deal

Chelsea Harvey for The Washington Post:   On Friday, United Airlines will launch a new initiative that uses biofuel to help power flights running between Los Angeles and San Francisco, with eventual plans to expand to all flights operating out of LAX. It's the first time an American airline will begin using renewable fuel for regular commercial operations, and the occasion is part of a bigger movement when it comes to clean transportation in the U.S.

The renewable fuel used to power United's planes will be coming from a Los Angeles refinery operated by AltAir Fuels, which is using the facility to produce both renewable jet fuel and diesel fuel using a technology developed by Honeywell UOP, a major supplier and technology licenser in the petroleum industry. Back in 2013, AltAir and United announced their partnership, in which United will purchase up to 15 million gallons of biofuel over a three-year period.

Friday's launch will be the first application of that agreement. The flights will use a mixture of 30 percent biofuel and 70 percent traditional fuel, and United says that the biofuel will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 60 percent compared with regular fuel.  Cont'd...

These Lego-Like Batteries Plug In To Store Solar Power At Home

Adele Peters for Co-Exist:  Less than a year after Tesla unveiled its Powerwall battery for storing electricity at home, a startup has designed a much cheaper alternative that you can plug in yourself, without an electrician.

The modular batteries, called Orison, can be hung on the wall or set on the ground to double as an LED lamp. If you want more power, you just add the units together.

"Think of Orison like Legos," says co-founder and CEO Eric Clifton. "The 2.2 kilowatt-hour unit is really just one piece, so you can actually add as many as you need." The 2.2 kilowatt-hour version is as large as the company could make one unit and keep it under 40 pounds, so it could be easily shipped and moved.

With one unit, if your power went out in a storm, you could keep an energy-efficient refrigerator running for about two days. If you want to back up everything in your house, you'd connect a long series of batteries together.

For someone with solar panels on the roof, the batteries can store power to use at night. Right now, most people can sell extra solar power back to the grid when they're not using it, but many state laws are about to change so people will make less money. Batteries can help solar homeowners save money by making use of the power they've generated.  Cont'd...

Coalition of US states pledge to accelerate renewable energy efforts

Oliver Milman for The Guardian:  A bipartisan group of governors from 17 states has pledged to accelerate their efforts to create a green economy in the US by boosting renewables, building better electricity grids and cutting emissions from transport.

An accord signed by the governors states that the US must “embrace a bold vision of the nation’s energy future” by reducing emissions, transitioning to clean energy sources and ensuring that infrastructure isn’t risked by extreme weather events such as floods and wildfires.

The agreement sets out commitments to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency and integrate solar and wind generation into electricity grids. These grids will be “modernized”, the accord states, to improve energy reliability.  Cont'd...

Low Oil Prices Not Killing Algae Biofuel - Yet

Tina Casey for CleanTechnica:  The algae biofuel market is still in play even though the global petroleum market shows no real signs of lifting itself out of the doldrums, as two examples from different ends of the Earth illustrate. Over in Australia, researchers have come up with a new, low cost way to raise algae for biofuel, and here in the US the Department of Energy is moving forward with a new grant program to fund commercially viable algae production.  Cont'd...

Scientists are using satellites to find untapped sources of geothermal energy under cities

Peter Dockrill for ScienceAlert:  Urban environments are often hotter than rural areas due to the way city structures trap and generate excess heat. This phenomenon, called urban heat islands, was first observed in the 1800s, but a new way of gauging it could help us make the most of this untapped source of geothermal energy.

Scientists in Germany and Switzerland have developed a means of estimating groundwater temperature hidden under the surface of our cities, based on surface temperatures and the density of buildings as measured by satellites.

A range of factors, including population density, vegetation levels, surface sealing, industrial structures, and transport all contribute to why cities are often hotter than the country.

But while scientists have long used satellites to measure heat on the surface, the relationship between ground temperatures and underground temperatures has not been fully explored.  Cont'd...

Solar Surges Past Wind, Hydropower as State's No. 1 Renewable Energy Source

By Pete Danko for KQED News:  In just a few short years, solar power has gotten big in California, and now it’s at the top of the renewable energy heap.

Data compiled from daily reports by the state’s major grid manager indicate that in 2015, solar became the No. 1 source of renewable energy in California. Not only did solar beat wind power for the first time, but it also topped drought-depleted hydropower, the long-standing leader in California electricity generation outside fossil fuels and nuclear.

The California Independent System Operator doesn’t cover the entire state, but it does manage about 80 percent of the California grid, including those portions served by PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, the state’s three big investor-owned utilities.

Every day, CAISO reports on the hourly electrical output from a long list of sources for the electricity used by 30 million Californians, ranging from biogas at the low end of generation to thermal — natural gas, essentially — at the high end.  Cont'd...

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