Barack Obama Announces Another $1.2 billion for Energy R&D

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Monday, President Obama announced that money would be provided for research at the national laboratories for the Department of . Additionally, grants will be available for those wishing to do research in renewable energy. Areas such as wind, solar, biofuels and hydrogen will be encouraged. Even nuclear energy and questions about storing carbon dioxide underground will be eligible for grant under the new rules. The funding is in addition to tax credits and spending approved in the recently passed .

Some of the technologies and companies that are like to benefit from energy R&D funding include:

* Serious Materials, which uses energy efficient materials to make drywall.an energy-draining process of mixing raw materials in a wet slurry and then using outside energy to dry it, the company has a recipe that makes use of chemicals — and their reactions — for the drying heat necessary.

* Solyndra, a solar power start-up. This company is receiving the first Department of Energy loan given out in years. Instead of using silicon, Solyndra manufactures soalr cells out of copper, indium, gallium and selenide (CIGS) and shapes them into cylinders that are placed on panels. The efficiency of Solyndra’s solar panels is between 12 an 14 percent — a number boosted by a special reflective coating on the roof below the panel.

* 1366 Technologies is on a quest to make solar energy cheaper than coal. The company is associated with Emanuel Sachs, who is on leave from MIT right now. The company claims it cracked the $1 barrier using cadmium telluride for its thin-film cells. But further advances in chemistry and physics are needed to reach that sort of cost-efficiency using silicon.

* Winsupply, a company that offers geothermal, wind and solar equipment, could use tax credits and other funding to make its products more widely available.

* Universities might also receive some funding. MIT is one of the hottest places right now for developing technology that can boost energy efficiency. Additionally, projects like those at different universities to use LED lights as wi-fi access points could also bring energy use dollars to higher education institutions languishing due to the economic crisis.

The biggest needs in green technology R&D involve using scientific breakthroughs to make renewable energy cost-efficient. Until science and technology can give us energy that costs less than fossil fuels, renewable/ will be limited. But this funding may put energy R&D on that track.

© 2009 PhysOrg.com

Kamal Meattle: How to grow your own fresh air

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Researcher Kamal Meattle shows how an arrangement of three common houseplants, used in specific spots in a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air.

A Better Biofuel Bug

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A tiny microbe found in the Chesapeake Bay is the focus of intense study for a biotech startup in College Park, MD. Zymetis has genetically modified a rare, cellulose-eating bacterium to break down and convert cellulose into sugars necessary to make ethanol, and it recently completed its first commercial-scale trial. Earlier this year, the company ran the modified microbe through a series of tests in large fermenters and found that it was able to convert one ton of cellulosic plant fiber into sugar in 72 hours. The trial, researchers say, illustrates the organism’s potential in helping to produce ethanol cheaply and efficiently at industrial scales. Zymetis is now raising the first round of venture capital to bring the technology to commercial applications.

Scott Laughlin, CEO of Zymetis, says that for the past two years the company’s scientists have worked to retool and pump up the tiny organism. The microbe’s main advantage is its ability to naturally combine two major steps in the ethanol process, which the company says could considerably slash the high costs of producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass like switchgrass, wood chips, and paper pulp. The company is running the organism through a series of trials to study how the system could be applied at an industrial scale.

Ethanol production from cellulosic sources is an expensive multistage process. The cellulosic feedstock is first pretreated with heat and chemicals to break down the material’s tough cell walls. Expensive manufactured enzymes are then added to the mix to convert purified cellulose into glucose, which is then treated with yeast that turns the sugars into ethanol. As a result, scientists and several startup companies are developing improved microbes that could accomplish several of these steps, thus making the resulting biofuels more competitive with fossil fuels.

Toward that goal, Laughlin says that the company has developed an ethanol-producing system that revolves around a microbe that quickly and efficiently combines the first two steps of the conventional ethanol process. “It has the ability to break down whole plant material, and it excretes enzymes that break down cellulose, [which works] very well in solution,” says Laughlin.

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Saul Griffith: Inventing a super-kite to tap the energy of high-altitude wind

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Carbon Trading to Raise Consumer Energy Prices

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original article WSJ

The cost of energy for consumers would be driven higher in President Barack Obama’s proposed budget by a carbon cap-and-trade system that is projected to raise about $80 billion a year starting in 2012.

The budget assumes the U.S. adopts the cap-and-trade system that would set limits on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that industries can emit, and allow companies to buy and sell rights to emit those gases. The budget assumes a starting price of $20 per ton for carbon emissions, an amount that Mr. Obama’s aides says is conservative and would likely rise.

The budget projects raising $645 billion from the auction of emissions credits between 2012, when the system kicks in, and 2019. Mr. Obama would use some of that money to pay for about $120 billion of spending on various low-carbon technologies over that time. The rest of the money — about $525 billion — would be retuned “to the people, especially vulnerable families, communities and businesses to help the transition to a clean energy economy,” according to Mr. Obama’s proposal.

The cap-and-trade system is a key part of Mr. Obama’s broader strategy to reduce U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide by roughly 80% from 2005 levels by 2050. To help achieve that goal, Mr. Obama wants to spend some of the money raised through the auction of emissions permits for research and development of low-carbon energy technologies, such as windmills, electric cars or more efficient power grids and buildings.

But some question the government’s ability to spend all that money wisely. It is also unclear whether lawmakers will be able to resist diverting money to causes that have little to do with fighting climate change, such as deficit reduction.

“Let’s just be honest and call it a carbon tax that will increase taxes on all Americans who drive a car, who have a job, who turn on a light switch, pure and simple,” said the Republican leader in the House, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio.

A fundamental question is how the government will distribute the billions of dollars in revenue generated through a emissions trading system. Lawmakers from states dependent on coal and heavy manufacturing are expected to demand that more money go toward their constituents, since they will experience higher costs associated with the transition to low-carbon energy sources.

Mr. Obama’s aides say his plan would provide a refundable tax credit of up to $400 for working individuals and $800 for working families. The credits would phase out between $150,000 and $200,000 for a married couple, and between $75,000 and $100,000 for an individual.

“This is going to change the distribution of wealth potentially for a century,” said Dallas Burtraw, an economist at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.

Mr. Obama’s budget also calls for new fees and taxes on oil companies that drill on federal lands, and for closing various tax credits that the industry currently qualifies for — a step the administration says would raise about $30 billion over a decade. Beginning in 2011, Mr. Obama would assess a new excise tax on oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico to close what Mr. Obama’s aides say are loopholes that have give companies “excessive royalty relief.”

Oil-industry officials said Mr. Obama’s proposals would encourage the industry to shift production — and jobs — abroad. “With America in the midst of an economic recession, now is not the time to impose new taxes on the nation’s oil and natural gas industry,” Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a written statement.

Bacteria Make Better Alcohol Fuels

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Modified E. coli produce long-chain alcohol fuels that have advantages over ethanol and butanol.
By Prachi Patel-Predd

By engineering the metabolic process of the common E. coli bacteria, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), have coaxed the microorganism into churning out useful long-chain alcohols that have potential as new biofuels. The bacteria-produced biofuels have between five and eight carbon atoms, compared with ethanol, which has two carbons.

The higher number of carbon atoms gives the biofuels as much energy per gallon as gasoline; by comparison, ethanol has 30 percent less energy than gasoline. And unlike ethanol, the new biofuels are compatible with today’s gasoline infrastructure, says James Liao, a UCLA chemical- and biomolecular-engineering professor, who headed the research. Since the long-chain alcohols do not absorb water as easily as ethanol, they could be transported around the country in existing petroleum pipelines.

The longer-chain alcohols also have an advantage over butanol, another alcohol-based biofuel, Liao says. The long-chain alcohols separate from water much more readily than butanol does, so they would not need energy-intensive distillation. Many companies, including DuPont and BP, are trying to commercialize a process to make the four-carbon alcohol butanol using microbes. Liao’s group has also engineered bugs that make butanol, and its technology has been licensed by Pasadena, CA, startup Gevo.

Liao and his colleagues use synthetic-biology tools to tinker with the amino acid metabolism of E. coli. All organisms produce a large number of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. The researchers reengineer this metabolic pathway so that toward the end, the precursor compounds that would normally get converted into amino acids instead turn into long-chain alcohols.

To do this, the researchers insert genes into the bacteria that make them produce unnaturally long amino acid precursor molecules that have more than six carbon atoms. They also engineer two genes–one from a type of yeast, one from a cheese-making bacterium–into the microbe. These modified genes produce two new proteins that can convert the precursors into five-to-eight-carbon alcohols.

Startups LS9 and Amyris Biotechnologies are already reengineering microbes to produce hydrocarbon fuels. Both plan to begin commercial production of their fuels by 2010.

As is the case with the new work, both LS9 and Amyris use synthetic biology, rewiring the metabolic systems of microbes by inserting genes from other organisms, redesigning known genes, and altering the expressions of proteins. But the approaches of Liao, LS9, and Amyris all target a different type of metabolic pathway. LS9 researchers have reengineered the fatty acid metabolism of E. coli, while Amyris is tinkering with the pathways that produce natural compounds known as isoprenoids.

Liao says that the amino acid pathway could have a slight advantage. It is naturally more active in bacteria, so toying with it could be more productive. “We think this is intrinsically a more efficient way to make these compounds,” he says. “So potentially, we’ll have a higher yield.”

The new long-chain alcohol fuel has grabbed the interest of companies, according to Liao. But there is still a long road ahead. One big challenge to overcome might be the long-chain alcohols’ toxicity to the bacteria, says Chris Somerville, director of the Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. Ethanol is deadly to microbes at a concentration of around 14 percent. Butanol is even more toxic, killing microbes at about 2 percent concentration. This toxicity is one of the major problems facing butanol processes. Making a product that is relatively nontoxic to the culture, says Somerville, “is really important in getting the yield up.”

Liao does not think that toxicity will be a show stopper. He says that the bacteria could be engineered to make them more alcohol tolerant. But, he says, increasing the yield will be in the hands of the company that licenses the new technology.

Copyright Technology Review 2008.

Nobel Physicist Chosen To Be Energy Secretary

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By Steven Mufson and Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 11, 2008; A01

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who heads the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to be the next energy secretary, and he has picked veteran regulators from diverse backgrounds to fill three other key jobs on his environmental and climate-change team, Democratic sources said yesterday.

Obama plans to name Carol M. Browner, Environmental Protection Agency administrator for eight years under President Bill Clinton, to fill a new White House post overseeing energy, environmental and climate policies, the sources said. Browner, a member of Obama’s transition team, is a principal at the Albright Group.

Obama has also settled on Lisa P. Jackson, recently appointed chief of staff to New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine (D) and former head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to head the EPA. Nancy Sutley, a deputy mayor of Los Angeles for energy and environment, will chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The appointments suggest that Obama plans to make a strong push for measures to combat global warming and programs to support energy innovation. “I think it’s a great team,” said Daniel A. Lashof, director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “On policy, it’s a dramatic contrast based on what I know about the policy direction that all these folks will be bringing to these positions.”

Obama has not yet settled on his choice to head the Interior Department, another key environmental post, and sources close to the transition indicated that several candidates remain under consideration. Barring any last-minute glitches, Obama plans to announce the appointments next week.

Chu, the son of Chinese immigrants, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997 for his work in the “development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.” But, in an interview last year with The Washington Post, Chu said he began to turn his attention to energy and climate change several years ago. “I was following it just as a citizen and getting increasingly alarmed,” he said. “Many of our best basic scientists [now] realize that this is getting down to a crisis situation.”

He sought and won the top job at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2004, leaving the Stanford University faculty to focus on energy issues. Chu was in London last night and unavailable for comment, but the physicist has been, in the words of his Web site, on a “mission” to make the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory “the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy.”

The national laboratories fall under the Energy Department, whose budget is devoted largely to dealing with nuclear waste and materials from deactivated nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines and other reactors. But the department is also the conduit for funds that go to innovative energy technologies, including those designed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas.

Browner, a lawyer and native of Florida, was legislative director for then-Sen. Al Gore (D-Tenn.) and later head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection under then-Gov. Lawton Chiles (D). As the top administrator at the EPA under Clinton, she pushed for tough air-pollution standards that the agency defended against industry lawsuits all the way to the Supreme Court, where the EPA prevailed. In her new role, Browner will need her legislative and administrative experience in a job that will cover everything from climate change to energy policy.

The Obama administration faces an unusually big agenda in this area. The president-elect is expected to tackle cap-and-trade legislation that would put a lid on and then lower greenhouse gas emissions. European governments are expecting him to do that before a crucial climate-change summit a year from now. Meanwhile, energy industries and environmental groups are lobbying on issues such as offshore drilling restrictions, permits for coal plant construction and expansion, nuclear reactor permits and loan guarantees, and tax breaks for renewable energy.

In addition, the new administration has to figure out how to wield the power given to the EPA last year by a Supreme Court ruling that said carbon dioxide emissions should be considered a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. How the EPA uses that power could determine the fate of all sorts of energy-intensive projects. Yesterday, the EPA said it would not finalize rules on new electricity-generating units, disappointing industry lobbyists and punting the issue to the Obama administration.

An African American native of New Orleans, Jackson grew up in the Ninth Ward, the poor and largely black neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Jackson’s mother, stepfather and godmother fled the city as the 2005 storm approached. A few months later, in her swearing-in speech as New Jersey’s environmental chief, Jackson said the devastation wrought by Katrina put her environmental work in a new perspective.

“My family escaped with their lives, but everything else — their homes and possessions, even the family Bible — was lost,” Jackson said. “We were among the lucky ones.”

“The shameful failures of government that the world witnessed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have given me a special appreciation for the importance of public service,” Jackson added. “Those failures have galvanized my commitment to working tirelessly to protect the health and safety of the people of New Jersey and to enhancing our quality of life.”

Environmentalists in New Jersey describe Jackson as a pragmatic but consistent ally who has pushed Corzine to adopt a greener stance during his time in office. In the summer of 2007, Corzine signed the Global Warming Response Act, an ambitious climate measure that pledges to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

“Lisa Jackson played a very large role ensuring passage of that legislation, and helping ensure it was a priority of Governor Corzine,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director of Environment New Jersey. “She’s capable of making the case . . . that deep reductions are possible.”

Democrats familiar with the incoming administration’s thinking say Jackson’s administrative skills were considered important for an agency they see as in “disarray” because of the Bush administration’s record on environmental issues. Before moving to New Jersey, Jackson worked for the EPA in Washington.

Sutley, who has a long record on environmental and natural resources policy, will head a group that has a very limited regulatory role and a small staff. But from its offices on Lafayette Square near the White House, Sutley could be a player in shaping the new administration’s policies on climate change and the environment.

Sutley, a top aide to Browner at the EPA dealing with air-pollution issues, supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries. She previously served in California as an energy adviser to then-Gov. Gray Davis (D) and as a member of the State Water Resources Control Board, where she was responsible for protecting water quality and resources throughout the nation’s most populous state.

Sutley, whose mother is from Argentina, identifies herself as a Latina. She was a member of the California Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender steering committee of Clinton’s campaign and is the first openly gay nominee for a top job in the Obama administration.

Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

David Keith: A surprising idea for “solving” climate change

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Environmental scientist David Keith proposes a cheap, effective, shocking means to address climate change: What if we injected a huge cloud of ash into the atmosphere to deflect sunlight and heat?

Huge Offshore Wind Farm Wins Approval

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Regulators in New Jersey on Friday awarded rights to build a huge offshore wind farm in the southern part of the state to Garden State Offshore Energy, a joint venture that includes P.S.E.G. Renewable Generation, a subsidiary of P.S.E.G. Global, a sister company of the state’s largest utility.

The selection, which includes access of up to $19 million in state grants, is part of New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan, which calls for 20 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. It also comes on the heels of decisions by Delaware and Rhode Island to let energy companies install offshore wind farms.

Energy experts say that these approvals could prompt regulators in New York to support projects off the south shore of Long Island and New York City.

The proposal by Garden State Offshore Energy includes installing 96 turbines to produce as much as 346 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about tens of thousands of houses. The turbines would be arranged in a rectangle about a half-mile long by one-third of a mile wide. The project, which would cost more than $1 billion, would not start producing electricity until 2013.

The turbines, though, would be between 16 and 20 miles off the coast of New Jersey’s Atlantic and Ocean counties, and thus in much deeper water than other proposed projects. Deepwater Wind, which will work with P.S.E.G to build the wind farm, said it can affordably build turbines in 100 feet of water with the same technology used to build oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and other locations.

Because the wind blows more reliably during the day farther off shore, the company hopes to get better prices for the power it produces. And by putting the turbines that far offshore, the company hopes to blunt opposition from environmentalists and residents who say that turbines diminish ocean views and damage wildlife.

CONTINUE REDAING THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE FROM NY TIMES

Superstruct, the world’s first massively multiplayer forecasting game

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YouTube Preview Image

Developed by the Institute for the Future, Superstruct, the world’s first massively multiplayer forecasting game, goes live today and will last for six weeks, played on forums, blogs, videos, wikis, and other online spaces.

“By playing the game, you’ll help us chronicle the world of 2019–and imagine how we might solve the problems we’ll face,” the Web site says. “Because this is about more than just envisioning the future. It’s about making the future, inventing new ways to organize the human race and augment our collective human potential.”

The Ten Year Forecast team at the Institute for the Future will analyze the player-created game content and prepare an official Superstruct Report featuring the top collective insights about the year 2019, and the best tactics for “superstructing” society.

Gas Zappers- solo show at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

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Please come to Gas Zappers solo show at BAM/PFA! We are gonna debut the long anticipating Gas Zappers’s online game. I will be there on Oct 30 giving talk to Prof. Richard Rinehart‘s class.

October 22, 2008 – February 8, 2009

Gas Zappers, by artist Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, is an interactive online art game that tackles global warming. Hung is among the contemporary artists and educators who have adopted video games as a new platform for social debate and aesthetic experience by developing “serious games.” In Gas Zappers, the idiom of the video game is exploited to challenge and illuminate the simplistic notion of quick fixes to environmental issues.

Berkeley and the Bay Area have been at the center of the cultural debate around alternative energy sources and global warming, due in no small part to developments like the $500 million joint project between UC Berkeley and British Petroleum to develop alternative biofuels. Gas Zappers furthers this discourse in a serious game that is also at times fantastical and wry.

Like much of the artist’s work, Gas Zappers is visually frenetic and colorful, referencing numerous popular and political sources. The animation style of Gas Zappers reinforces and goes beyond the game’s subject of global warming, caricaturing the exasperating and vulgar noise of the political media engine itself. In adopting the artistic strategies of photomontage, political satire, humor, and surrealism, Hung is an artistic descendent of Dadaist John Heartfield, whose photomontages lampooned Hitler and Mussolini. Ken Johnson wrote for the New York Times, “Looking at Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung’s art is like peeking into the fever dream of an overworked political blogger. Mr. Hung, 31, is a fierce, funny and inventive political satirist.”

Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung received a New Media Fellowship, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, to develop Gas Zappers. A video version of the work was shown in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. BAM/PFA’s exhibition, on view starting October 22 at bampfa.berkeley.edu/exhibition/gaszappers and in the museum’s Bancroft Lobby, is the world premiere of the fully realized work, including the interactive game.

Richard Rinehart
Digital Media Director and Adjunct Curator

Chair of the IPCC urges pople to eat less meat

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Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, challenged our reliance on high meat consumption, showing how livestock production releases 18% of our global greenhouse gas emissions, can pollute water and soils, damages our health and often causes suffering to animals kept in factory farms.

He said, “One kilo of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount of CO2 emitted by the average European car for every 250 kms”

Referring to the inefficiency of livestock production, he pointed out that: “A farmer can feed up to 30 persons throughout the year on one hectare with vegetables, fruits, cereals and vegetable fats. If the same area is used for the production of eggs, milk or meat the number of persons fed varies from five to ten.”

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Google to Invest in Geothermal

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Google.org is investing a little over $10 million in the development of Enhanced Geothermal Systems, or EGS.

EGS drills deep — miles down — to access layers of heated granite that exist underfoot everywhere on the planet. Water can be circulated downward for heating, and then upward to drive turbines and generate electricity.

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Make solar cells in pizza oven

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Nicole Kuepper, a PhD student and lecturer in the school of photovoltaic and renewable energy engineering at the University of NSW Australia has developed a simple, cheap way of producing solar cells in a pizza oven.

From Sydney Morning Herald:

Today’s photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight to electricity are expensive and need sophisticated, “clean” manufacturing plants.

Ms Kuepper realised a new approach would be needed if affordable cells were to be made on site in poorer countries: “What started off as a brainstorming session has resulted in the iJET cell concept that uses low-cost and low-temperature processes, such as ink-jet printing and pizza ovens, to manufacture solar cells.”

While it could take five years to commercialise the patented technology, providing renewable energy to homes in some of the least developed countries would enable people to “read at night, keep informed about the world through radio and television and refrigerate life-saving vaccines”. And it would also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ms Kuepper said that the solar cells should be of high enough quality to be used anywhere in the world, including Australia.

More-Efficient Solar Cells

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“By changing the way that conventional silicon solar panels are made, Day4 Energy, a startup based in Burnaby, British Columbia, has found a way to cut the cost of solar power by 25 percent, says George Rubin, the company’s president.

The company has developed a new electrode that, together with a redesigned solar-cell structure, allows solar panels to absorb more light and operate at a higher voltage. This increases the efficiency of multicrystalline silicon solar panels from an industry standard of about 14 percent to nearly 17 percent. Because of this higher efficiency, Day4’s solar panels generate more power than conventional panels do, yet they will cost the same, Rubin says. He estimates the cost per watt of solar power would be about $3, compared with $4 for conventional solar cells. That will translate into electricity prices of about 20 cents per kilowatt-hour in sunny areas, down from about 25 cents per kilowatt-hour, he says.”

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