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 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

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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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.

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.


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 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

Google to Invest in Geothermal

Renewable Energy Comments Off on Google to Invest in Geothermal 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.

Read full article

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.”

read full article at Technology Review

Wave Power Boat to sail from Hawaii to Japan

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From Pop Sci:

This month, 69-year-old Japanese sailor Ken-ichi Horie will attempt to captain the world’s most advanced wave-powered boat 4,350 miles from Hawaii to Japan. If all goes as planned, he’ll set the first Guinness world record for the longest distance traveled by a wave-powered boat and, along the way, show off the greenest nautical propulsion system since the sail.

At the heart of the record-setting bid is the Suntory Mermaid II, a three-ton catamaran made of recycled aluminum alloy that turns wave energy into thrust. Two fins mounted side by side beneath the bow move up and down with the incoming waves and generate dolphin-like kicks that propel the boat forward. “Waves are a negative factor for a ship—they slow it down,” says Yutaka Terao, an engineering professor at Tokai University in Japan who designed the boat’s propulsion system. “But the Suntory can transform wave energy into propulsive power regardless of where the wave comes from.”

Fuel from Algae

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In Sundance one movie I really want to watch but don’t got a chance to see is Josh Tickell’s film “Fields of Fuel,” a documentary about renewable fuel. I do a research and find out this company is one of the sponsors:

From Technology Review:

Solazyme, a startup based in South San Francisco, CA, has developed a new way to convert biomass into fuel using algae, and the method could lead to less expensive biofuels.

The new process combines genetically modified strains of algae with an uncommon approach to growing algae to reduce the cost of making fuel. Rather than growing algae in ponds or enclosed in plastic tubes that are exposed to the sun, as other companies are trying to do, Solazyme grows the organisms in the dark, inside huge stainless-steel containers. The company’s researchers feed algae sugar, which the organisms then convert into various types of oil. The oil can be extracted and further processed to make a range of fuels, including diesel and jet fuel, as well as other products.

The company uses different strains of algae to produce different types of oil. Some algae produce triglycerides such as those produced by soybeans and other oil-rich crops. Others produce a mix of hydrocarbons similar to light crude petroleum.

Solazyme’s method has advantages over other approaches that use microorganisms to convert sugars into fuel. The most common approaches use microorganisms such as yeast to ferment sugars, forming ethanol.

Save energy by using asphalt road

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This awesome Dutch company plants this energy efficient water pipes system under the asphalt concrete:

Developed by Ooms Nederland Holding in collaboration with WTH and TipSpit, Road Energy Systems® extracts energy from asphalt concrete. The system exploits the heat-absorbing capacity of asphalt concrete, which is enhanced by its black color. The thermal energy produced is used to cool buildings, houses and roads in summer and heat them in winter.

Road Energy Systems® consists of a layer of asphalt concrete that has a closed system of pipes running through it. The pipes are connected to underground aquifers (water-bearing sand). In summer the sun heats the asphalt concrete pavement, which in turn raises the temperature of the water in the pipes. The water is then transported to the heat source area, where it is stored for several months. As soon as autumn arrives, the system brings the warm water to the surface, where a heat pump raises its temperature to a level suitable for low temperature heating systems. The surplus thermal energy is used to keep the temperature of the asphalt concrete above freezing point. The asphalt concrete cools the water to the point where it can eventually flow to the cold source. In summer the process is reversed. Water is pumped up from the cold source and used to cool buildings. This warms the water, which then moves through the asphalt collector again, is heated further by the sun and then injected into the heat source in the ground

You can download their English brochure here.

60% Solar Heat to Electricity conversion efficiency- by Super Soaker inventor

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image courtesy of

Lonnie Johnson has been inventing thermodynamics systems for NASA and other organizations. But one day while he was working on a environmental heat pump he got the idea of a powerful water squirt gun- the Super Soaker, which the product alone makes him hundreds of millions of dollars.

Now he is back, with a new solar technology called Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Conversion System, or JTEC. The company claims that this new method can convert up to 60 percent of received solar energy into electricity without using any photovoltaic (PV) materials.

Here’s some info from Popular Mechanics:

This is not PV technology, in which semiconducting silicon converts light into electricity. And unlike a Stirling engine, in which pistons are powered by the expansion and compression of a contained gas, there are no moving parts in the JTEC. It’s sort of like a fuel cell: JTEC circulates hydrogen between two membrane-electrode assemblies (MEA). Unlike a fuel cell, however, JTEC is a closed system. No external hydrogen source. No oxygen input. No wastewater output. Other than a jolt of electricity that acts like the ignition spark in an internal-combustion engine, the only input is heat.

Here’s how it works: One MEA stack is coupled to a high- temperature heat source (such as solar heat concentrated by mirrors), and the other to a low-temperature heat sink (ambient air). The low-temperature stack acts as the compressor stage while the high-temperature stack functions as the power stage. Once the cycle is started by the electrical jolt, the resulting pressure differential produces voltage across each of the MEA stacks. The higher voltage at the high-temperature stack forces the low-temperature stack to pump hydrogen from low pressure to high pressure, maintaining the pressure differential. Meanwhile hydrogen passing through the high-temperature stack generates power.

Original article via Popular Mechanics

the world’s lowest-cost solar panel $.99/Watt

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 photo source:

Nanosolar is a startup based in Silicon that got heavy financed and already won contracts from Department of energy and DARPA. They has developed a proprietary NanoParticle ink that makes it possible to simply print CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenium) onto a thin polymer that does not involve the expensive silicon. Here’s some key point from their site:

– the world’s first printed thin-film solar cell in a commercial panel product;

– the world’s first thin-film solar cell with a low-cost back-contact capability;

– the world’s lowest-cost solar panel – which we believe will make us the first solar manufacturer capable of profitably selling solar panels at as little as $.99/Watt;

– the world’s highest-current thin-film solar panel – delivering five times the current of any other thin-film panel on the market today and thus simplifying system deployment;

– an intensely systems-optimized product with the lowest balance-of-system cost of any thin-film panel – due to innovations in design we have included.

photo source:

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