We start this month's Future
Energy review with a note about a new paper by one of my heroes,
Dr. Jim Hansen from Columbia University. On the topic of
"Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms" it may be
one of the most important climate articles of this century. Why?
Dr. Hansen explains in his very compelling 15-minute video
that accompanied the release of
the article, the earth's atmosphere is responding more quickly to
fresh water melt from Greenland and the Antarctic than any
climate computer model to date. The consequence is that he
predicts superstorms much more severe than Hurricane Sandy and a
meter level sea rise by 2050 with a doubling of that rise ten
years later because of the nonlinear effect of climate change
which also causes a continuing increase in the
rate. Hansen's paper and video cause us at IRI to be even
more committed to a carbon-free fuel source that can be mass
produced quickly and cheaply. In the meantime, Dr. Hansen
emphasizes the main problem is that fossil fuel manufacturers
continue to treat our atmosphere as a "dumping ground for
their waste" which needs to change in the short term as soon
as possible. For the main details, check out the abbreviated
On the optimistic side, our
first Story is encouraging news that the electric vehicles will
start to take over in about five years from now. MIT sees several
improvements coming together, such as falling battery costs, to
allow EVs to gain significant market share in the next two
decades and produce a paradigm shift in vehicle technology.
Our Story #2 is also upbeat
with another breakthrough in solar cell efficiency, reaching 22%
effective use of the solar energy hitting the cells.
Another accompanying breakthrough is surpassing the
one-volt barrier, which was accomplished last month by the
National Renewable Energy Lab and Washington State.
But what about that nasty carbon
dioxide that just sits in the earth's atmosphere as more and more
is generated from old fashioned oil and gas guzzlers? Well, glad
you asked. In Story #3, UCLA reports that it has created a new
building material CO2NCRETE which is fabricated by 3D printers
and captures CO2 from smokestacks to create the finished product.
It therefore uses CO2 as a resource!
Story #4 is more unusual, with
a tethered undersea kite (TUSK) that generates electricity from
ocean currents or tidal flow, using hydrokinetic energy for
maximum theoretical energy output.
Lastly, our Story #5 celebrates
the oil companies' loss of ground to wind energy in New York
State. Instead of allowing drilling off the coast for Virginia,
NC, SC, and Georgia, the Interior Department woke up to climate
change and decided to create a large offshore wind farm, covering
127 square miles, called the "New York Wind Energy
Area". Obama's Energy Department is hoping to reach 20
percent wind energy by 2030.
Lastly, don't forget to
register for our Eighth Conference on Future Energy www.futurenergy.org where
you can learn about all of the above topics dedicated to our
energy future, at COFE8. All of our speakers are listed online
and registration is now open. (IRI was the first organization to
publicize the "future energy" concept in 1999 with our
first COFE.) IRI Members get 10% off too.
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1) The 2020's Could be the
Years for the EV to Take Over
By Mike Orcutt, MIT Technology Review,
Electric vehicles will become a more economical
option than internal-combustion cars in most countries by
sometime next decade, claims a new report by
energy data analytics firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).
The reality, though, is that it's highly
uncertain if or when EVs will start gaining significant
market share. That's in part because it may not be so predictable
how the costs of energy technologies will fall, and it's hard to
forecast what will happen to oil prices either.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
(OPEC), for its part, declared in December that without
a technology breakthrough, EVs "are not expected to gain
significant market share in the foreseeable future." That
would seem to be a safe bet; EVs currently make up less than
1 percent of the world's car market.
The BNEF analysis is much more optimistic, to say
the least, projecting that 35 percent of the world's new cars
will run on electrons by 2040. The bullish outlook is based
largely on the speed at which costs for lithium-ion batteries
are falling. Costs have dropped 65 percent since 2010,
reaching $350 per kilowatt-hour last year. According to BNEF,
that puts unsubsidized EVs on pace to be cost-competitive
with comparable gas cars within six years. The group
predicts that by 2030 the cost will be down to $120 per
That's more or less in line with an
extensive analysis published last year by academic
researchers, who found that battery costs are falling even
faster than the most optimistic analysts predicted just a
few years ago. Those researchers concluded that reaching
$230 per kilowatt-hour is realistic by 2017, and that
at $150 per kilowatt-hour we might see "a potential paradigm
shift in vehicle technology."
In 2015 sales of EVs grew some 60 percent. If that
trend continues, and battery prices keep falling as quickly as
they are, the 2020s could bring a shock to the global oil
2) First Solar Cells Break
By Richard Martin, MIT Technology Review, March 2016
First Solar's Cells Break Efficiency Record
Lab results herald a new era for cadmium telluride
Driving forward in the race for highly efficient
solar cells, First Solar says it has converted 22.1
percent of the energy in sunlight into electricity
using experimental cells made from cadmium telluride-a technology
that today represents around 5 percent of the worldwide solar
power market. The company's commercial line of solar cells has
reached an energy conversion efficiency of 16.4 percent.
The theoretical efficiency limit for cadmium
telluride cells is above 30 percent-significantly higher than
that of conventional silicon. (Today's commodity silicon-based
solar panels have efficiencies between 16 and 18 percent; their
theoretical limit is thought to be well below 30 percent.) First
Solar, which is the only major manufacturer of cadmium telluride
solar panels left in the United States, is working to bring
commercial solar panels closer to that limit. "The gap between
what's theoretically achievable and what's out there today has
been pretty broad," says Raffi Garabedian, First Solar's
chief technology officer. "We are closing that gap at a
One obstacle to closing the gap is the maximum
voltage available from cadmium telluride cells. Maximum voltage
correlates directly with efficiency. For decades researchers have
been unable to break the one-volt barrier, but researchers from
the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Washington State
said in a paper published February 29 in Nature
Energy that they have exceeded that limit.
Conventional silicon solar cells represent more than
90 percent of the solar power market today, but they are
relatively expensive to make. Cadmium telluride, a thin-film technology,
offers improved performance in that it operates close to its
maximum efficiency, particularly in hot, humid conditions. Though
thin-film cells are ostensibly cheaper to make, their efficiency
has lagged behind that of conventional ones. Still, they have
shown more improvement. "Monocrystalline silicon is the gold
standard, in terms of efficiency, for today's solar power,"
says Garabedian, "but the record for the most efficient
commercially available product was set in 1999, at about 25
percent, and it's still there. In the same time frame, [cadmium
telluride] has improved by a huge margin."
But cadmium telluride manufacturers have struggled
in recent years. In 2013 First Solar acquired GE's technology
after GE canceled plans for a $300 million plant in
Colorado. A number of other manufacturers have been launched and
failed, including Abound Solar, a Colorado-based startup that
received a $400 million loan guarantee from the federal
government and then filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
First Solar concentrates on the utility-scale solar
market rather than rooftop solar installations, where the need
for higher-efficiency panels has, to date, dictated the need for
silicon-based cells. The company has developed some of the
largest solar farms in the world, including the Topaz and Desert
Sunlight projects, in California, each of which has a
capacity of 550 megawatts.
Because cadmium telluride is a thin-film technology,
it requires less material to produce a comparable amount of
electricity than conventional silicon technology. The
manufacturing process is also simpler. In principle, that should
lead to lower costs for the electricity produced. In practice
that's not always the case; according to GTM Research, the
cost per watt of crystalline silicon panels will drop to $0.36
per watt by next year. In 2013 (the last time the company
released production cost figures), First Solar said its cost per
watt had reached $0.57.
Cost comparisons aside, Wall Street is bullish on
the company's prospects: its share price has risen by 68 percent
in the last five months.
"The industry is in a transformative
period," says Garabedian. "We're still very concerned
about the cyclic nature of the solar industry, and about getting
caught with overcapacity. We'll keep improving this technology
and see what the future brings."
3) Researchers turn Carbon
Dioxide into Concrete
Phys.org March 15, 2016 by George
world with little or no concrete. Would that even be possible?
After all, concrete is everywhere-on our roads, our driveways, in
our homes, bridges and buildings. For the past 200 years, it's
been the very foundation of much of our planet.
But the production of cement,
which when mixed with water forms the binding agent in concrete,
is also one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas
emissions. In fact, about 5 percent of the planet's greenhouse
gas emissions comes from concrete.
An even larger source
of carbon dioxide emissions is flue
gas emitted from smokestacks at power
plants around the world. Carbon emissions from those plants
are the largest source of harmful global greenhouse gas in the
A team of interdisciplinary
researchers at UCLA has been working on a unique solution that
may help eliminate these sources of greenhouse gases. Their plan
would be to create a closed-loop process: capturing carbon from
power plant smokestacks and using it to create a
new building material-CO2NCRETE-that would be fabricated
using 3D printers. That's "upcycling."
"What this technology does
is take something that we have viewed as a nuisance-carbon
dioxide that's emitted from smokestacks-and turn it into
something valuable," said J.R. DeShazo, professor of public
policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and director
of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
"I decided to get involved
in this project because it could be a game-changer for climate
policy," DeShazo said. "This technology tackles global
climate change, which is one of the biggest challenges that
society faces now and will face over the next century."
DeShazo has provided the public
policy and economic guidance for this research. The scientific
contributions have been led by Gaurav Sant, associate professor
and Henry Samueli Fellow in Civil and Environmental Engineering;
Richard Kaner, distinguished professor in chemistry and
biochemistry, and materials science and engineering; Laurent
Pilon, professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering and
bioengineering; and Matthieu Bauchy, assistant professor in civil
and environmental engineering.
This isn't the first attempt to
capture carbon emissions from power plants. It's been
done before, but the challenge has been what to do with the
carbon dioxide once it's captured.
"We hope to not only
capture more gas," DeShazo said, "but we're going to
take that gas and, instead of storing it, which is the current
approach, we're going to try to use it to create a new kind of
building material that will replace cement."
"The approach we are
trying to propose is you look at carbon dioxide as a resource-a
resource you can reutilize," Sant said. "While cement
production results in carbon dioxide, just as the production of
coal or the production of natural gas does, if we can reutilize
CO2 to make a building material which would be a new kind of
cement, that's an opportunity."
The researchers are excited
about the possibility of reducing greenhouse gas in the U.S.,
especially in regions where coal-fired power plants are abundant.
"But even more so is the promise to reduce the emissions in
China and India," DeShazo said. "China is currently the
largest greenhouse gas producer in the world, and India
will soon be number two, surpassing us."
Thus far, the new construction
material has been produced only at a lab scale, using 3-D
printers to shape it into tiny cones. "We have proof of
concept that we can do this," DeShazo said. "But we
need to begin the process of increasing the volume of material
and then think about how to pilot it commercially. It's one thing
to prove these technologies in the laboratory.
It's another to take them
out into the field and see how they work under real-world
"We can demonstrate a
process where we take lime and combine it with carbon
dioxide to produce a cement-like material," Sant said.
"The big challenge we foresee with this is we're not just
trying to develop a building material. We're trying to develop a
process solution, an integrated technology which goes right from
CO2 to a finished product.
"3-D printing has been
done for some time in the biomedical world," Sant said,
"but when you do it in a biomedical setting, you're
interested in resolution. You're interested in precision. In
construction, all of these things are important but not at the
same scale. There is a scale challenge, because rather than print
something that's 5 centimeters long, we want to be able to print
a beam that's 5 meters long. The size scalability is a really
Another challenge is convincing
stakeholders that a cosmic shift like the researchers are
proposing is beneficial-not just for the planet, but for them,
"This technology could
change the economic incentives associated with these power plants
in their operations and turn the smokestack flue gas into a
resource countries can use, to build up their cities, extend
their road systems," DeShazo said. "It takes what was a
problem and turns it into a benefit in products and services that
are going to be very much needed and valued in places like India
DeShazo cited the
interdisciplinary team of researchers as a reason for the success
of the project. "What UCLA offers is a brilliant set of
engineers, material scientists and economists who have been
working on pieces of this problem for 10, 20, 30 years," he
said. "And we're able to bring that team together to focus
on each stage."
According to Sant, UCLA is the
perfect place to tackle sustainability challenges.
4) Hydrokinetic Energy
Harvesting with Undersea Tethered Kites
By David J. Olinger1 and Yao Wang1
Journal of AIP
In this work an emerging hydrokinetic energy technology,
Tethered UnderSea Kites (TUSK), is studied. One TUSK concept uses
an axial-flow turbine mounted on a rigid underwater kite to
extract power from an ocean current or tidal flow. A
second concept removes the turbine from the kite, and instead
generates power by transmitting hydrodynamic forces on the kite
through the flexible underwater tether to a generator on a
TUSK systems have potential advantages,
mainly the TUSK systems should be able to extract more
power from an ocean current or tidal flow than a
same-sized fixed marine turbine. This is possible because TUSK
kites can move in cross-current motions at velocities
significantly higher than the current velocity to
increase power output compared to same sized marine turbines.
Maximum theoretical power output is estimated for
TUSK systems, and detailed comparisons of key
performance parameters between TUSK and conventional marine
turbines are made. Initial design considerations for
TUSK system components are discussed including the underwater
kite, buoyancy systems, the floating buoy and
mooring system, underwater kite tether, the mounted
turbine, and required control
systems.Governing equations of motion to study the
dynamics of the kite and tether in a TUSK system are
developed, and a baseline simulation is studied to estimate kite
trajectories, kite pitch, roll and yaw dynamics, power output,
kite aerodynamic forces, and tether tensions. The issue
of cavitation in TUSK systems at turbine
blade tips and on the kite airfoil is studied.
Standard cavitation theory is applied to
TUSK systems to identify
critical cavitation curves as a function of kite
operation depth, kite lift-to-drag ratio, and turbine airfoil
minimum pressure coefficient.
5) Obama takes big step Towards
Powering New York with Offshore Wind
By Chris Money, Washington Post. March
of fighting the expansion of drilling off the Atlantic coast,
environmentalists scored a rare double victory this week in which
oil lost ground to wind energy.
In a surprising about-face, the Interior Department pulled back
its controversial plans to allow oil drilling off the coasts of
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Citing
concerns from the Pentagon and also from coastal communities in
these states, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said, "It
simply doesn't make sense to move forward with any lease sales in
the coming five years."
Climate activists and environmentalists were ecstatic - and that
was just the beginning. The next day, the department announced a
move to create a large offshore wind area 11 miles south of Long
Island and extending to the Southeast in the shape of a thin
triangle, over some 127 square miles. It will be called the
"New York Wind Energy Area."
The new wind energy area off the New York coast
emerges in response to an initiative by the New York Power
Authority, the Long Island Power Authority and Con Edison - which
have formed a group called the Long Island-New York City Offshore
Wind Collaborative. In 2011, the group filed an application with
the federal government for a 350 to 700 megawatt wind farm
in this area, in waters 60 to 120 feet deep, to directly power
New York City and Long Island. It would have "the potential
to be the largest offshore wind project in the
country," the collaborative said.
Now, the federal government is moving ahead on the
matter, although there will be a "competitive leasing
process," meaning there are other potentially interested
parties in wind in the area, beyond this group.
"This is a great day for New York, and our
country as we continue to diversify our nation's energy
portfolio," Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Interior
Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said in a
statement. "The area is large enough for a large-scale
commercial wind project, which could make substantial
contributions to the region's energy supply and assist local and
state governments - including New York City - in
achieving their renewable energy goals."
The move comes as New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo
(D) recently laid out a plan to get 50 percent of the
state's total electricity from renewables by 2030. Offshore wind
will be a key piece of hitting that target, said Anne Reynolds,
executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York.
The site is rather ideal for sending power to the
huge population just a few ocean miles away, Reynolds
noted. "Part of the attraction for offshore wind
development in New York is that you'd have the electricity demand
very nearby, and you'd have the wind peaking in the late
afternoon, when you have demand peaking as well," she said.
The Interior Department has, so far, approved 11
Atlantic offshore wind energy leases, off Rhode Island,
Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. The
new "wind energy area" designation does not mean that
an immediate lease sale will be held for the siting of wind
energy off New York - rather, the next step of the process
involves an environmental impact assessment. After that, there
would be the potential for lease sales.
The United States remains far behind some other
countries - such as Britain and China - in overall offshore wind
development. So far, among other potential
projects, construction has begun for Deepwater Wind's
projected 30 megawatt installation off the coast of Rhode Island.
It's expected to start operating this year.
In general, offshore wind is seen as a critical new
development in the wind energy area because offshore turbines can
tap into stronger winds to generate larger volumes of
electricity. But development has been dramatically faster on
land. Wind energy provided 4.7 percent of U.S.
electricity last year, according to the American Wind Energy
Association, a number that has been steadily growing in recent
The Energy Department's "wind vision"
for 2030 imagines getting 20 percent of U.S. electricity
from this source. To do that, the nation will need far
taller wind turbines on land - which can capture energy from
more powerful winds and open up new areas to viable wind farms -
and also major offshore developments.
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