Environment Forum

U.S. Energy Department offers $65 million for fuel cell technology research

IMG_0398Got a great idea for fuel cell technology? The United States Department of Energy has $65 million to spend.

The funding will go toward research and development on fuel cell components with the goal of reducing costs and increasing reliability of the solid-state devices that convert hydrogen, natural gas or another fuel into electricity through an electrochemical process.

“The department will be funding research and development initiatives related to fuel cell system balance-of-plant components, fuel processors, and fuel cell stack components such as catalysts and membranes, as well as innovative concepts for both low and high temperature systems to help meet commercial viability targets in terms of cost and performance,” the Energy Department said Wednesday. “Applicants will likely include teams of university, industry and national laboratory participants.”

An additional $9 million will be available for an independent analysis of the cost effectiveness of fuel cell technology research efforts.

Fuel cells have been something of a stepchild of the green energy boom of recent years. The technology can generate electricity 24 hours a day – unlike solar and wind energy – emit fewer greenhouse gases than conventional power plants and can be plugged directly into the power grid. But high costs and thorny technology hurdles have limited fuel cells’ use.

Abu Dhabi names four U.S. finalists for $2.2 million green energy prize

ENERGY-CITIESFor those fretting that the United States is losing its green tech edge to countries such as China, take heart: Abu Dhabi thinks America remains an innovative powerhouse.

Four of the six finalists for the $2.2 million Zayed Future Energy Prize are from the U.S. The prize, named for the founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, grants a seven-figure award for “outstanding work in renewable energy and sustainability.”

In recent years, Abu Dhabi has emerged as the alternative energy center of the Middle East. It is the site of Masdar City, the master-planned sustainable community under construction.

A green light for Silicon Valley’s green building regulations

adobewindspipres4Silicon Valley is an epicenter of green innovation, home to a host of entrepreneurs developing energy efficiency technologies. And now if those startup executives want to build a house or office building they’ll have to practice what they pitch to venture capitalists.

The California Energy Commission last week approved a request by Santa Clara County – the geographic center of Silicon Valley – to impose green building standards stricter than those required by the state.

That means homes greater than 1,200 square feet and commercial buildings will have to meet various criteria for energy efficiency, water use, recycling and waste reduction specified by LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – a program run by the United States Green Building Council.

Abengoa closes $1.45 billion federal loan guarantee for Arizona solar farm

solanaCalifornia isn’t the only solar power in the West.

Abengoa, the Spanish renewable energy giant, said Tuesday that it had closed a $1.45 billion federal loan guarantee to build Arizona’s first large-scale solar thermal project, a $2 billion, 250-megawatt power plant called Solana.

Like two solar thermal plants approved in the past week by California and federal regulators that will be built by SolarReserve, the Solana project will store the sun’s energy in molten salt. The heat can be released at night to create steam to drive an electricity-generating industrial turbine.

But the two companies are making bets on two different solar thermal technologies. Abengoa is relying on time-tested solar troughs in which long arrays of parabolic mirrors focus the sun on tubes of synthetic oil. The resulting heat is used to create steam that runs a turbine. Some of that heat will be transferred to salt-filled storage tanks that will allow Solana to operate up to six hours after sunset.

Silicon Valley’s Innovalight inks another deal with China solar manufacturer

CHINA-MIGRANTWORKERS/In another sign of the shifting economics of the solar industry, consider a deal a Silicon Valley startup called Innovalight has made with JinkoSolar Holdings, a Chinese photovoltaic module maker.

JinkoSolar, headquartered in Shanghai, makes silicon ingots and slices them into wafers for photovoltaic cells. The cells are built into photovoltaic modules and packaged into solar panels. The company, which was the listed on the New York Stock Exchange in May, employs 5,600 workers. And with a production capacity of 600 megawatts, JinkoSolar is one of China’s largest, if little known in the United States, photovoltaic manufacturers.

Innovalight makes a silicon ink that when applied to a conventional solar cell increases its efficiency. In the agreement with JinkoSolar, Innovalight will supply silicon ink to the company as well as license its processing technology.

Federal government approves second SolarReserve solar power plant

solarreserveThe federal government has signed off on another big solar power plant, approving a land lease Monday for SolarReserve’s 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project in Nevada that will store energy for up to eight hours after the sun sets.

The Department of Interior action is the second approval of a solar thermal power station to be built by SolarReserve, a Santa Monica, Calif., startup that licenses its technology from United Technologies Corp. Last week, the California Energy Commission green lighted SolarReserve’s 150-megawatt Rice Solar Energy Project to be built in Southern California.

At both projects, thousands of large mirrors — each one 24 feet by 28 feet — will be attached to 12-foot pedestals. The mirrors, called heliostats, will be arrayed in a circle around a 538-foot concrete tower.

GM to recycle Gulf oil booms into parts for the Chevrolet Volt

RTXVU3O.jpgGeneral Motors is upping the ante in the green car sweepstakes by recycling oil-soaked plastic booms deployed in the Gulf of Mexico into parts for the Chevrolet Volt.

About 100,000 pounds of boom material that had been placed along 100 miles of the Alabama and Louisiana coasts in the wake of the BP oil spill are being repurposed as radiator air deflectors for the Volt, an electric hybrid car.

GM hired a flotilla of companies to convert the hazardous waste into parts that deflect air around the Volt’s radiator. Heritage Environmental collected the booms while Mobile Fluid Recovery separated the oil and water from the boom by spinning them at high speeds in a drum.  A company called Lucent Polymers prepared the plastic to be injected into die molds and GDC blended the material with other plastic compounds to produce a resin for use in the Volt.

The U.S. solar trade surplus

RTXRLN1.jpgWith China’s subsidy of its renewable energy industry likely to be a continued topic of debate in 2011, a new report on the United States’ solar exports offers some insights into the domestic industry.

The data is a bit dated – the report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research looks at 2009 imports and exports – but interesting nonetheless.

The number that grabs attention is the U.S.’ solar trade surplus — $723 million in net exports in 2009. For instance, the nation exported $1.1 billion in polysilicon that year. Polysilicon is the material from which wafers are made for conventional crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules. The U.S. controls 40 percent of the global polysilicon market while German has a 19 percent share and China a nine percent share.

Why the solar industry is booming while the wind business faces tough year

RTR2GMCH.jpgThese days there’s not a lot of industries that can report booming growth year after year (the one-company juggernaut that is Apple excepted). But it’s blue skies for the photovoltaic industry, according to a new report showing that solar installations in the United States are expected to have grown 62 percent in 2010 from the previous year.

The survey released by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research found that as of the close of the third quarter, 530 megawatts of photovoltaic modules had been installed so far this year, 22 percent more than the total for 2009.

“Early fourth-quarter data suggests that there will be a late-year surge in installations, resulting in total 2010 demand of 855 MW, well above the current pace,” the report’s authors wrote.

Polar bears, sure. But grolar bears?

RUSSIA/Most people have seen a polar bear, usually at the local zoo. And most zoo-goers know that wildlife advocates worry about the big white bears’ future as their icy Arctic habitat literally melts away as a result of global climate change. But apparently more than the climate is changing above the Arctic Circle.

The new mammal around the North Pole is the grolar bear, a hybrid created when a polar bear and a grizzly bear mate. Then there’s the narluga, a hybrid of the narwhal and beluga whale. The presence of these two new creatures and others produced by cross-breeding may be caused when melting sea ice allows them to mingle in ways they couldn’t before, according to a comment in the journal Nature.

These hybrids could push some Arctic species to extinction, the three American authors said in their Nature piece. They identified 22 marine mammals at risk of hybridization, including 14 listed or candidates for listing as endangered, threatened or of special concern by one or more nations.