Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Theolia Sells French Wind Power Assets To Boralex

The Wall Street Journal - PARIS (Dow Jones)--French wind energy company Theolia SA (TEO.FR) Tuesday said it has sold wind power assets in France with a capacity of 47 megawatts to Canada's Boralex Inc. (BLX.T).

Financial details of the transaction weren't disclosed. The assets include a seven-megawatt wind farm in operation since December 2006, as well as two wind projects with capacities of 30 megawatts and 10 megawatts respectively.

The commissioning of both wind projects, which will be built by Theolia, is expected by mid-2010, the company said. Theolia added that it expects to exceed its target to sell 200 megawatts of wind projects and assets in 2009 following this deal.

Earlier Tuesday, Theolia reached a debt deal with its main bondholders, including a project for a capital increase of up to EUR100 million, in a move to reduce its debt and to ensure funding for its projects. Theolia shares closed down EUR0.21, or 6.5%, at EUR3.03.

Company Web site: http://www.theolia.com/

By Elena Berton, Dow Jones Newswires; +33 1 40 17 17 65; elena.berton@dowjones.com

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Alternative Energy Conundrum

The U.S. Department of Energy is in the process of transferring $32 billion of your tax dollars to various new and promising technologies in Alternative Energy. It is estimated that 40% of the nation's energy comes from petroleum, 23% from coal, and 23% from natural gas. Nuclear power supplies roughly 8.4% and renewable energy supplies less than 7%, mostly from hydroelectric dams. This means that your tax dollars are being directed into a tiny sector of Alternative Energy research and development; predominately solar and wind power.

What are the issues in this arbitrary focus?

First and foremost this puts the federal government in the position of picking winners and losers in the research, development and commercialization of Alternative Energy; a role that it is uniquely not qualified to perform.

Secondly force-feeding this much capital into such a tiny energy sector distorts the market, which attracts fraud, abuse, political decision-making and unqualified recipients.

Finally it is an inefficient way to promote energy efficiencies, as many of the companies receiving this money will ultimately fail, leaving just a few winners. Taxpayer funds expended on the losers will not be recovered, as much of it is in the form of grants and guaranteed federal loans.

What are rational methods of encouraging the transition to Alternative Energies?

Our congress has arbitrarily raised the ethanol content requirement for gasoline. Unfortunately the ethanol industry cannot meet the arbitrary targets set. Far more efficient would be to simply tax gasoline at a higher level, sufficient to trigger the profitability hurdle rates of more developed Alternative Energy technologies, including ethanol, other biofuels, electric cars and gas-driven systems.

Our congress is vested in responding to political power centers that contribute back to them a sliver of the very funds it bestows. At the same time they seek to keep the energy transition pain away from the voters who elect them. This is the recipe that distorts our energy decisions.

Today the U.S. uses roughly 21 million barrels of oil a day, of which roughly 15 million barrels is imported. Depending upon the cost per barrel this represents over $600 billion in import expenditures each year. As an example, a simple VAT tax of $10.00 per barrel would raise over $70 billion each and every year for transition costs to Alternative Energy. Such a tax would be market neutral and could be directed to reward the winners in new technologies with legislation that eases the way to new energy distribution systems for industry and the consumer.

Richard Wottrich, Blog Editor

Friday, December 25, 2009

Magnetic North, Arctic

Santa Claus reportedly has gone “green” with sophisticated new technologies powering his sleigh last night:

The runners are made of nano silicon, which reduces friction and increases mileage.

The sideboards have a nano skin composed of hundreds of thousands of micro-fans, capable of providing all the electricity required for the onboard computer.

Flexible solar panels on the backs of the reindeer team power an electric generator that connects to the main power source – still shrouded in secrecy after hundreds of years.

And finally, Santa himself has dropped about 50 pounds after a crash micro diet in November. Less weight in the sleigh means better mileage as well.

All in all a very good night!

Richard Wottrich, Blog Editor

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

State funding fuels China's global push in wind, sun


When A-Power Energy Generation Systems secured a deal to supply turbines for a US wind farm project in October, the little-known Chinese firm had an ace up its sleeve to help it clinch the deal. A-Power was armed with USD 1.5 billion in financing from state-run Chinese banks to fund the 600 megawatt project in Texas.

While global peers have limited access to cheap state loans, Chinese renewable energy firms are getting a boost from Beijing as they win clean technology projects around the world. Much of that is via low-interest loans from big state banks for their clients to finance their purchases.

This support is giving China's renewable energy firms an edge over Asian rivals such as India's Suzlon Energy, Japan Wind Development and Australia's Infigen Energy, as well as heavyweights like German polysilicon firm Wacker Chemie and Danish wind energy firm Vestas Wind.

"I don't think A-Power could have done this deal without access to cheap financing," said Jacob Kirkregaard, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington DC, who recently published a paper on wind energy.

"China is clearly the big kid on the block, no doubt about that," he said, referring to the state support for renewable energy. "That's not something many Asian countries can emulate."

Shares of A-Power, which only entered the wind business in 2008, hit a 15-month high last Friday after it said it will supply wind turbines for the Texas project.

Such deals are unfolding as China aggressively develops its renewable energy sector and as its companies play catch-up with bigger, global peers including German solar cell producer Q-Cells AG and Spanish wind farm operator Iberdrola, which have built up solid track records, also with help from more than a decade of government subsidies.

Most of China's alternative energy makers, including solar firms Yingli Energy Holdings and Suntech Power Holdings, and wind gear maker China High Speed Transmission, already have access to low-interest financing from state-run banks to fund their growth as well as client purchases.

Interest rates on loans for wind power generator China Longyuan Power Group, for example, are 10 percent below the prevailing benchmark rate set by the Peoples' Bank of China (PBOC), said Morgan Stanley in a report.

"Chinese banks are motivated by the mandate from the government to develop renewable energy as a national priority," said Zhao Feng at Denmark-based BTM Consult ApS, a consultancy that specialises in renewable energy.

"In Europe, the banks, when they offer loans, tend to assess the project and look at it more closely from a risk perspective."

Such state-backed financing is a common policy tool for governments globally trying to support industries they want to develop. China also provides similar strong support for its energy firms for overseas acquisitions, and its telecoms equipment makers as they try to expand abroad.

Beijing's support comes as Chinese players attempt to create new markets as the cost of developing renewable energy falls and competition intensifies for projects at home.

China's USD 300 billion sovereign wealth fund, China Investment Corp (CIC) [CIC.UL], is also helping to bolster the industry.

In the last several months, the fund has pumped about USD 1.1 billion into the sector, buying stakes in solar firm GCL-Poly Energy, the world's No.3 polysilicon company by capacity, and China Longyuan, the world's fifth-largest wind power company.

But analysts say access to cheap money will only get China's alternate energy firms so far. "Essentially, you need to get the product right," said Felix Lam, analyst with CCB International. "Cheap loans can't guarantee a project's success, you've got to have the technology. "It's the technology that will give you that advantage long-term."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Danish wind of change on energy

BBC Wales' Environment Correspondent Iolo ap Dafydd looks at the contrast between who invests, owns and benefits from wind energy in Denmark, compared to Wales, and other problems which may face the wind industry.

Tall wind turbines usually provoke two types of reactions - either you don't mind them, or you loathe them.

As the UK wind industry is celebrating a never-before achieved 4 gigawatts of installed wind energy capacity, the sector now claims that wind energy powers over 2.3 million homes in the UK - and claims it saves 6 million tonnes of coal annually.

Compared to Denmark, though Wales and the UK has a way to go, despite a relatively flat few years for the Danish wind sector.

The real difference between Wales and Denmark though is not the 500 or so turbines on and offshore in Wales, or the 5,000 currently working in Denmark, but who owns them, and who pockets the profit.

According to Hans Christian Soerensen, a member of the Danish Wind Owners Association, 20% of the Danes' electricity comes from the wind and by 2020 the target is to have 50% of its electricity from wind.

The owners association is independent of the turbine manufacturers and their businesses in the UK. Mr Soerensen is involved with two co-operative wind farm businesses in Copenhagen. The 12-turbine Lynetten field - where I met him - and where four of whose turbines are owned by some 900 people, and the offshore Middlegrunden, literally the "middle ground". The 20 turbines on this bank out to sea between Denmark and Sweden are also part-owned by some 1,500 people.

In Denmark, people who live within five kilometres of wind farms are offered a chance to invest in them and in time benefit financially from the revenue of their shares.

He said: "If there's not enough to finance [the wind farm], it will be taken over by the remaining part of the local county. The local counties will be part owner."

New wind farms in Wales this year are the Norwegian-owned Alltwalis in Carmarthenshire, and the offshore Rhyl Flats, currently Wales' largest wind farm, off the north Wales coast. Owner RWE npower, also plans the much bigger 750 MW Gwynt y Mor site further out to sea.

But not all of Wales' wind farms are privately owned by multinational companies. Geraint Davies is the enterprising farmer, who with a few neighbours, built Moelogan wind farm. He said it was not for specifically for environmental or energy reasons but as a business venture for his farm.

Mr Davies said: "It's got to make a difference to the local economy, there's no two ways about it. If we turn things round then all the better for Wales and for the local economy.

"It also helps, in the planning system, if people see that maybe there's a greater advantage to the area where people have to live with the turbines."

A further nine turbines have been erected and are on line this year, overlooking the Conwy Valley. Despite the lengthy and slow planning process in Wales, Geraint Davies is planning a new 67 MW site in mid Wales.

But the biggest wind farms in Wales, all those over 50MW, are approved by the UK government, not the assembly in Cardiff. Most wind energy here is financed by large energy companies, which also bank the profits.

Just like in Denmark, not everyone is enthusiastic about wind farms, whether local or company-owned. Some think the turbines are a scam, and that there are "reasons for rejecting wind power as a large scale source of electricity," writes John Etherington who has published a book on wind technology.

The Wind Farm Scam is already being reprinted, and the former reader of ecology at University of Wales in Cardiff argues the biggest folly about wind farms is people believing them to be efficient, and capable of supplying enough energy in future.

He said: "It doesn't work like that. The electricity is not there continuously."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Consumers Shifting Gaze to Electric Scooters

An international field of electric bike manufacturers is becoming crowded as sales rise.

By Richard Wottrich, Blog Editor

The world of scooters already is competitive. It includes well-known manufacturers such as Honda Motor Co. and Piaggio Group that have established dealer networks as well as many smaller, niche manufacturers that import scooters from countries like China and India where two-wheeled transportation is the accepted norm.

Vespa, an Italian line of scooters manufactured by Piaggio, offers eight models from $3,200 to $6,900. Honda sells five scooters from $2,000 to $8,500. Plus, Vespa's and Honda's gasoline engine-powered scooters already make economical sense because they get 70 to 90 m.p.g.

Relatively speaking many of these scooters pollute proportionally more per gallon than environmentally friendly automobiles like the Prius. However changes are coming.

Even Peugeot plans a return to the electric scooter market by 2011 with its E-Vivacity scooter. While green rides are all the rage the past few years, the latest planned foray into electric scooter production is actually the second for the French manufacturer, as it made the first mass-produced electric scoot with its very own Scoot’elec that launched way back in 1996.

Smaller players like Current Motor Co. in Michigan USA aim to capitalize on the surging interest in more efficient electric vehicles with an electric scooter that can go more than 50 miles on a charge. Current Motor has developed two scooters -- the C124 and the C130 -- and plans to sell them for $5,499 to $6,799. The scooters have a range of 50 to 80 miles per charge and a top speed of 60 m.p.h.

Hero Electric (Hero Group) plans to launch new efficient scooter models in India soon, as reported by The Hindu. Perth, Australia, scooter manufacturer Vmoto has aso announced plans to manufacture an electric scooter. Vmoto will link with one of the world's leading electric scooter companies, Germany-based E-Max, to make the scooters at Vmoto's factory in China.

Taizhou Wangpai Automobile Industry Co., Ltd. and  Beiyi Electric Bicycle Co., Ltd. are among dozens of Chinese manufacturers supplying the huge Chinese demand for scooters.

Worldwide production of motorcycles and scooters will top 225 million units in 2010, just 3.4% of our global population. There is plenty of room for growth.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Summit Ends In Confusion

By Richard Wottrich, Blog Editor

The Copenhagen Climate Summit (COP-15) dissolved yesterday into a food fight between the haves and the have-nots.

The chairman of the plenary session of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) declared on Saturday morning, "The conference decides to take note of the Copenhagen Accord of December 18, 2009," swiftly banging down his gavel. Everyone else exited stage right.

This was precipitated by a US-led group of five nations - including China, India, Brazil and South Africa - that tabled a last-minute proposal that President Barack Obama called a "meaningful agreement".

The language in this agreement purportedly does not even set 2C as a formal target; just that the group "recognizes the scientific view that" the temperature increase should be held below this figure.

The five-nation proposal had "promised" to deliver $30bn (£18.5bn) of aid for developing nations over the next three years, and outlined a goal of providing $100bn a year by 2020 to help poor countries cope with the impacts of climate change.

The agreement also included a method for verifying industrialized nations' reduction of emissions, but this method is entirely voluntary. The agreement is not legally binding.

The main opposition to the five-nation accord came from the ALBA bloc of Latin American countries to which Nicaragua and Venezuela belong, along with Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia.

To be accepted as an official UN agreement, any agreement requires the endorsement of all 193 nations at the talks.

Friday, December 18, 2009

China, U.S. Firms Enter Car-Battery Deal

BEIJING—Two leading Chinese car makers have enlisted U.S. automotive-battery suppliers to help develop clean-energy vehicles as competition to bring an affordable electric car to the world's largest auto market heats up.

A123 Systems Inc., of Waterrown, Mass., on Thursday said it is setting up a joint venture with SAIC Motor Corp. to develop battery systems for hybrid-electric and pure-electric passenger and commercial vehicles. SAIC, China's largest auto maker by sales volume, will hold 51% of the venture, A123 said in a statement.

Shanghai Advanced Traction Battery Systems Co., as the joint venture is called, will be the preferential supplier of battery systems for hybrid-electric and electric vehicles made by SAIC, A123 said. SAIC is planning to develop a hybrid Roewe 750 sedan and a plug-in hybrid version of the Roewe 550. It also plans to launch electric vehicles in 2012.

Also Thursday, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. said it signed a wide-ranging global cooperation agreement with Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls Inc., an indication the Chinese auto maker is getting more serious about developing its own clean-energy vehicles.

The partnership will cover auto parts, including vehicle seats, and new energy, Geely said. It didn't give financial details of the deal. A person familiar with the matter said the cooperation will definitely involve batteries but details are still being discussed. JCI has a partnership with France's Saft Groupe SA to make lithium-ion batteries for hybrid, plug-in and electric vehicles.

Last month, Zhejiang Geely's listed unit, Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd., signed a deal to buy electric vehicles from Taiwan's Yulon Motor Co. The electric cars will be based on Geely's small Panda gasoline-powered car. Yulon Motor will be responsible for research and development and converting the Panda into an electric car powered by lithium-ion batteries. The car will be sold in both Taiwan and China, with shipments to China starting in 2011.

In addition to the deal with Yulon, Zhejiang Geely will continue to develop its own electric cars, the company has said. Geely, the preferred bidder for Ford Motor Co.'s Volvo unit, and SAIC join global car makers in ratcheting up their electric-car efforts.

Nissan Motor Co. plans to test-market its Leaf electric vehicle in China in 2011 by making it available to government agencies and other fleet customers in the city of Wuhan. General Motors Co. intends to mass-market the plug-in hybrid-electric Chevrolet Volt in China starting in 2011. The Volt is powered by lithium-ion batteries and is supplemented by a gasoline engine.

Toyota Motor Corp. has also said it will likely test-market a plug-in hybrid in China, and Daimler AG will introduce its electric Smart minicar in selected Chinese cities next year.

Chinese auto manufacturers such as BYD Co., which is partly owned by Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., have also developed their own battery technology.

The Wall Street Journal

Thursday, December 17, 2009

So you think you're retaining water...

Astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) say they've spotted a super-Earth waterworld orbiting a red type M star some 40 light-years from Earth

The new planet GJ1214b is circling a dim host star GJ1214 every 38 hours at a distance of 1.3 million miles. The star's surface temperature of 2,700°C, though, means that GJ1214b itself is a 200°C.

The planet has a mass and radius of 6.5 and 2.7 times that of Earth, respectively. The density obtained from these figures "suggests that GJ1214b is composed of about three-fourths water and other ices, and one-fourth rock".

According to the CfA the discovery was made as part of the ground-based MEarth Project, which uses "an array of eight identical 16-inch-diameter RC Optical Systems telescopes that monitor a pre-selected list of 2,000 red dwarf stars. Each telescope perches on a highly accurate Software Bisque Paramount and funnels light to an Apogee Alta U42 camera containing a charge-coupled device (CCD) chip, which many amateurs also use."

The 'scopes keep an eye out for dips in brightness where an exoplanet transits its host star. Whereas super-Earths (between five 5 and 10 Earth masses) transiting bright stars such as our Sun are impossible to spot from Earth, those like GJ1214b which transit a dim host are within the capability of ground-based technology. In this case, GJ1214 is around one-fifth the size of the Sun with a luminosity "only three-thousandths as bright".

Having made their discovery, the CfA team then used the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) spectrograph at the European Southern Observatory "to measure the companion's mass and confirm it is a planet".

The exact nature of GJ1214b is unknown, but CfA has suggested "some of the planet's water should be in the form of exotic materials like Ice VII", described as "a crystalline form of water that exists at pressures greater than 20,000 times Earth's sea-level atmosphere".

The CfA also has tantalising evidence of an atmosphere surrounding the planet, since when the team "compared the measured radius of GJ1214b to theoretical models, they found that the observed radius exceeds the model's prediction, even assuming a pure water planet".

This anomaly could be explained by an inhospitable atmosphere which is "gradually boiling off", although it will fall to space-based instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope to determine the facts.

MEarth project head David Charbonneau concluded: "Since this planet is so close to Earth, Hubble should be able to detect the atmosphere and determine what it's made of. That will make it the first super-Earth with a confirmed atmosphere - even though that atmosphere probably won't be hospitable to life as we know it."

The CfA's findings are published in the 17 December issue of Nature

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Germany’s Huge Green Tech Advantage

By Richard Wottrich, Blog Editor

The implications of the Copenhagen global summit on climate change (COP-15) are significant. Despite the intrigue, wrangling and external protestations, it is clear that no country will leave Copenhagen without being sensitized to the goal of slowing global warming. The targeted goal of a 2 degrees Celsius reduction is generally accepted and almost all attending countries have announced plans to reduce emissions in some manner.

The notable exceptions to this are of course the major oil producing nations. They would be the main beneficiaries if Copenhagen’s initiatives were to fail.

This is not to say that there is not a great deal of trickery and sleight-of-hand going on in Copenhagen. The US is pledging a 17 percent cut in emissions using 2005 as a baseline; a target that turns into a 2 percent decline if the 1990 European base line were used.

China’s figures are seemingly impressive: a 40 percent reduction, but they are based on a fictional gross national product assumption in 2020. The Chinese are really masking a massive increase in emissions that is inevitable given its 10 percent annual growth rates.

Russia’s impressive promised reductions of 30 percent are misleading as well, because they have saved that much and more during the course of economic restructuring following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The overriding significance here is that states feel the pressure to establish minimum reduction targets. Germany is a leader in this with announced reductions in CO2 emissions of 40 percent by 2020 relative to 1990. Germany is also one of the few countries that have adhered to the Kyoto climate agreement, albeit it did so by dismantling heavy industries in the former communist east.

Germany leads by example, as it makes no difference whether or not Germany produces 100 million tons less of CO2 in 2020, because China alone will be producing four BILLION tons by then. China will overtake Germany in per capita CO2 emissions by 2020, which is amazing given China’s 1.1 billion population versus Germany's 82 million.

Rather Germany’s huge green tech asset is in its ability to innovate and design technologies, systems and machinery that lead the way in consuming less energy – including carbon capture systems, efficient wind turbines and in energy storage techniques. Other than Denmark for example, Germany is the only country capable of building systems for large offshore wind farms.

Competitive pricing for alternative energies is of course crucial. Some claim that this competitive threshold is still far off, however historically it takes about 30 years for a new power system changeover. In the last 15 years solar and wind power have progressed to the point where it will soon compete without subsidies with coal, gas and nuclear power. When new energy storage techniques are added into the mix this threshold will be crossed.

Biomass is also closing in on this competitive threshold, with the decisive trip point being a relative cost of oil at $150 per barrel. In Germany fuel, electricity and biogas from its fields will account for 15 to 10 percent of its energy output in the coming decade.

This technology advantage for Germany will mean little until a global emissions trading system is in place. There must be a market for reducing CO2 emissions, or the major economies of the world will continue to expand with minimal lip service to emission restrictions.

Government subsidies alone will not accomplish targeted reductions, as politics always plays a role as shown at COP-15. Rather in this bloggers view, products could be assessed a value added emissions tax (VAET) based upon the emissions footprint of the country they originate in.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Machinery from China Coal Overseas Development Co., Ltd. (CODCO), a state-owned coal enterprise, is a subsidiary of both China National Coal Group Corp. (ChinaCoal) and China National Coal Mining Equipment Co., Ltd. (CME).

This blogger has been arguing for months that the manufacturing might of China would significantly impact Alternative Energy and Clean Energy technologies. The Wall Street Journal article below updates us on its progress:

World's Top Polluter Emerges as Green-Technology Leader

BEIJING -- Xu Shisen put down the phone and smiled. That was Canada calling, explained the chief engineer at a coal-fired power plant set among knockoff antique and art shops in a Beijing suburb. A Canadian company is interested in Mr. Xu's advances in bringing down the cost of stripping out greenhouse-gas emissions from burning coal.

Engineers led by Mr. Xu are working to unlock one of climate change's thorniest problems: how to burn coal without releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

Mr. Xu is part of a broader effort by China to introduce green technology to the world's fastest-growing industrial economy -- a mission so ambitious it could eventually reshape the business, just as China has done for everything from construction cranes to computers.

China looms large over the global climate summit in Copenhagen, where Chinese officials are pressing the U.S. and other rich nations to accept new curbs on their emissions and to continue to subsidize poor nations' efforts to adopt clean-energy technology. China is the world's biggest source of carbon emissions. Less understood is the way China is now becoming a source of some of the solutions.

China's vast market and economies of scale are bringing down the cost of solar and wind energy, as well as other environmentally friendly technologies such as electric car batteries. That could help address a major impediment to wide adoption of such technologies: They need heavy subsidies to be economical.

The so-called China price -- the combination of cheap labor and capital that rewrote the rulebook on manufacturing -- is spreading to green technology. "The China price will move into the renewable-energy space, specifically for energy that relies on capital-intensive projects," says Jonathan Woetzel, a director in McKinsey & Co.'s China office.

China's government is backing the trend. It wants to replicate the success of the special economic zones that transformed cities such as Shenzhen from a fishing village near Hong Kong into one of the biggest manufacturing export centers in the world. Set up when China began its economic reforms in the 1980s, the zones were designed to attract foreign investment into light manufacturing to kick-start exports. They became engines of China's economic boom.

Regulators will announce several low carbon centers next year that will have preferential policies to promote low carbon manufacturing and exports.

China's goals face big challenges. China could end up becoming simply a low-cost manufacturing base, not a source of innovation. Worse, its drive to cut costs could stifle innovation overseas.

And Beijing has a long way to go to reducing China's carbon footprint. For each out-of-date power plant it shut down in a two-year cleanup campaign, it added the capacity of roughly two more. Even some of the better power plants are run poorly because company bosses don't want to pay to clean up their emissions.

In the fight against global warming, some of the biggest gains are to be made in scrubbing carbon from coal-burning power plants. China and the U.S. together have 44% of the world's coal reserves, and aren't about to give up on the cheap and reliable source of power. According to U.S. government projections, world coal use could increase nearly 50% by 2030.

"If emissions aren't reduced from power plants, global warming cannot be avoided," says Jonathan Lewis, a climate specialist at the U.S.-based Clean Air Task Force, which has sought to pair U.S. utilities with Chinese companies. "The solution can be led by the U.S. and China."

Capture technology traps carbon dioxide gasses released by coal plants. The gas can be pumped deep underground, typically into salt caverns or aging oil fields. The carbon can be stripped either before or after the coal is burned. Post-combustion capture is simpler and can be retrofitted on existing power plants. Current versions cut energy output by a fifth or more.

Far more complicated is precombustion carbon capture, which involves completely redesigning plants. Coal is turned into a gas, the carbon is stripped out and the rest is burned. Called "integrated gasification combined cycle" plants, these cost billions of dollars and haven't been developed on a commercial scale yet.

China has a technological lead in turning coal into gas. It has been using the technology widely to make petrochemicals and fertilizers as a substitute for pricier natural gas. Houston-based Future Fuels LLC has licensed gasification technology from China to use in a plant in Pennsylvania.

Chinese factories, such as the Suntech Power Holdings plant in Wuxi, have pushed down prices of solar panels. China hopes it can reshape green technology as it has businesses such as cranes and computers.

Critics say current carbon capture technologies are merely a Band-Aid for global warming. That's because they're so inefficient that even more coal has to be burned to produce the same amount of electricity. Also, the technology uses a lot of water and sequestering carbon underground isn't proven.

Still, some analysts estimate carbon capture could account for between 15% to 55% of the world's cumulative carbon emissions reduction by 2100.

Among those leading the ramp-up is Mr. Xu. These days, he is busy with three clean coal projects. One is on the outskirts of Beijing, underneath looming cooling towers of the Gaobeidian Huaneng power plant.

Mr. Xu and colleagues work at a state-run research institute partly owned by China Huaneng Group, China's biggest utility. The state-owned giant produces about 10% of China's electricity, nearly all from coal.

The Beijing project, started before the 2008 Summer Olympics, traps a fraction of the carbon dioxide emitted by the plant, purifying and selling it for use in food packaging and for the fizz in sodas. Using what he's learned in Beijing, Mr. Xu is building another capture facility in Shanghai that will be 30 times bigger.

If Mr. Xu's team can figure out how to bring the costs down -- mostly by recycling energy lost in the process of scrubbing out the carbon -- these units could be retrofitted to coal-fired power plants around the world.

China has become the world's biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases thought to contribute to global warming. But it is also turning into a dominant player in technologies such as carbon capture and solar panels that can cut emissions.

Mr. Xu is also involved in the GreenGen project, a $1 billion power plant led by Huaneng that will turn coal into a gas before burning it. The project is scheduled to go online by 2011. Burning gas is more efficient than burning coal -- meaning less coal is required to make the same amount of electricity. The less coal burned, the less carbon released.

Though carbon capture has moved into the mainstream, it is still at least five to 10 years away from becoming a widespread technology, analysts say.

In the meantime, China is reshaping two of the biggest green technologies in use already -- wind and solar power.

In 2004, foreign firms owned 80% of China's wind-turbine market, according to energy consulting firm IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Now, Chinese companies own three-quarters of the country's market, thanks to companies which make turbines a third cheaper than European competitors.

Chinese wind-turbine makers are starting to export. In October, Shenyang Power Group struck a deal to supply 240 turbines to one of the largest wind-farm projects in the U.S., a 36,000-acre development in Texas.

China already has a 30% share of the global market for photovoltaic solar panels used to generate electricity. Solar-power panel makers, including Suntech Power Holdings Co., Yingli Green Energy and Trina Solar Ltd., export most of their product to Europe and the U.S., contributing to a 30% drop in world solar-power prices.

Chinese competition is forcing rivals to shift production. U.S. Evergreen Solar Inc. said it will move its assembly line from Massachusetts to China. General Electric Co. said it will shut a facility in Delaware. BP PLC's solar unit said this spring it would stop output in Maryland and rely on Chinese suppliers instead.

Yet, despite China's armies of fresh engineering graduates, foreign companies still create and own most of the key technologies. "China lags about 10 years behind in technology," says Bernice Lee, a research director at Chatham House, a London-based think tank that analyzed patent holders on renewable and low-carbon technology.

As in other industries, China's cheap manufacturing may spark protectionism. In one hint of battles to come, Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) wrote a letter to the U.S. energy secretary protesting the use of federal stimulus money to support the $1.5 billion wind project in Texas unless it relies on U.S.-built turbines.

Critics in rich countries accuse China of unfairly subsidizing companies via cheap loans from state-controlled banks and dumping excess supply overseas.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Grab a Spot in the Sun

By Richard Wottrich, Blog Editor

Who says you can't grab your own spot in the sun. The Associated Press is reporting that Lowe's, the giant home improvement retail chain, is stocking do-it-yourself solar panels for homeowners. This is the first time that a customer can directly access solar power without going to a wholesale distributor.

To be sure this is not like buying a flat screen TV in time for the Super Bowl. Local utilities and building permits must be obtained; usually handled by a contractor. But it is no more difficult than adding an extra room to your home when you act as your own general contractor.

You need a separate electrical line and circuit breaker, just as you do with an electric washer and dryer. The rectangular 40-pound panels retail at $893 each; producing compatible AC power that runs in homes and plugs directly into a circuit breaker.

The panels are manufactured by Akeena Solar, based in Los Gatos, CA. A typical solar system installed by a professional usually has 20 panels. Each Akeena panel will generate about 175 watts of electricity, about enough to power a flat screen television. You can plug the panels into one another just like pop beads. Each Akeena panel is backed by a 25-year warranty

Lowe's is also selling computer software that allows the homeowner to monitor the performance of each panel through the Internet. Conceptually this means that an iPhone app probably will follow, meaning you can check on your system on the beach while on vacation.

Somewhere out there in innovative America there is a brilliant young teenager thinking about this. Who knows what solutions will arise when the people have access to technology. Just don’t buy a solar panel for your wife on your 20th anniversary. That’s a non-starter.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Geothermal Project in California Is Shut Down

By JAMES GLANZ, The New York Times

The company in charge of a California project to extract vast amounts of renewable energy from deep, hot bedrock has removed its drill rig and informed federal officials that the government project will be abandoned.

The project by the company, AltaRock Energy, was the Obama administration’s first major test of geothermal energy as a significant alternative to fossil fuels and the project was being financed with federal Department of Energy money at a site about 100 miles north of San Francisco called the Geysers.

But on Friday, the Energy Department said that AltaRock had given notice this week that “it will not be continuing work at the Geysers” as part of the agency’s geothermal development program.

The project’s apparent collapse comes a day after Swiss government officials permanently shut down a similar project in Basel, because of the damaging earthquakes it produced in 2006 and 2007. Taken together, the two setbacks could change the direction of the Obama administration’s geothermal program, which had raised hopes that the earth’s bedrock could be quickly tapped as a clean and almost limitless energy source.

The Energy Department referred other questions about the project’s shutdown to AltaRock, a startup company based in Seattle. Reached by telephone, the company’s chief operations officer, James T. Turner, confirmed that the rig had been removed but said he had not been informed of the notice that the company had given the government. Two other senior company officials did not respond to requests for comment, and it was unclear whether AltaRock might try to restart the project with private money.

In addition to a $6 million grant from the Energy Department, AltaRock had attracted some $30 million in venture capital from high-profile investors like Google, Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

“Some of these startup companies got out in front and convinced some venture capitalists that they were very close to commercial deployment,” said Daniel P. Schrag, a professor of geology and director of the Center for the Environment at Harvard University.

Geothermal enthusiasts asserted that drilling miles into hard rock, as required by the technique, could be done quickly and economically with small improvements in existing methods, Professor Schrag said. “What we’ve discovered is that it’s harder to make those improvements than some people believed,” he added.

In fact, AltaRock immediately ran into snags with its drilling, repeatedly snapping off bits in shallow formations called caprock. The project’s safety was also under review at the Energy Department after federal officials said the company had not been entirely forthcoming about the earthquakes produced in Basel in making the case for the Geysers project.

The results of that review have not yet been announced, but the type of geothermal energy explored in Basel and at the Geysers requires fracturing the bedrock then circulating water through the cracks to produce steam. By its nature, fracturing creates earthquakes, though most of them are small.

On Friday, the Energy Department, which has put some $440 million into its geothermal program this year alone, said that despite the latest developments, it remained confident of the technology’s long-term prospects. Many geothermal methods do not require drilling so deep or fracturing bedrock.

“The Department of Energy believes that geothermal energy holds enormous potential to heat our homes and power our economy while decreasing our carbon pollution,” said Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman.

AltaRock has also received some $25 million in federal money for a project in Oregon, and some scientists speculated on Friday that after the spate of problems at the Geysers, the company wanted to focus on a new site.

But the company, whose project at the Geysers was located on land leased from the federal government by the Northern California Power Agency, has held information about its project tightly. Not even the power agency has been informed of AltaRock’s ultimate intentions at the site, said Murray Grande, who is in charge of geothermal facilities for the agency.

“They just probably gave up, but we don’t know,” Mr. Grande said. “We have nothing official from them at all.”

But a resident of the nearby town of Anderson Springs, which is already shaken by quakes generated by less ambitious geothermal projects, reacted with jubilation when told it appeared the new project was ending.

“How I feel is beyond anything that words can express,” said the resident, Jacque Felber, who added that an unnerving quake had rattled her property the night before. “I’m just so relieved, because with this going on, I’m afraid one of these days it’s going to knock my house off the hill.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

United Technologies Takes a Stake in Wind Turbines

United Technologies said it had agreed to acquire a 49.5 percent stake in Clipper Windpower, a struggling California-based turbine maker, for $270 million to expand in alternative energy sources. Clipper began to look for investors earlier this year as customers delayed turbine orders while defects in some older turbines needed repairs. United Technologies said the deal, which was announced Wednesday, “allows U.T.C. to expand its power generation portfolio and enter the high-growth wind power segment.” Stock in United Technologies, which is based in Hartford, Conn., rose $1.47, or 2 percent, to $69.40 a share.

By TODD WOODY, The New York Times

Friday, December 11, 2009

Nanotech used to build batteries out of paper

Computerworld - Researchers at Stanford University have used nanotechnology to create lightweight and even bendable batteries out of paper.

The paper batteries are designed to be folded, crumpled or even soaked in an acidic solution and still work, according to Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, at Stanford. The team created the batteries by coating a sheet of paper with ink made of carbon nanotubes and silver nanowires.

Stanford offered no indication of when the batteries would be ready for commercial use.

"The most important part of this ... is how a simple thing in daily life -- paper -- can be used as a substrate to make functional conductive electrodes by a simple process," said Peidong Yang, professor of chemistry at the University of California-Berkeley, in a statement. "It's nanotechnology related to daily life, essentially."

The nanotubes used in the paper batteries and supercapacitors are one-dimensional structures with a small diameter, which enables the ink made from them to stick tightly to the paper. The university noted that the paper supercapacitors may be able to handle 40,000 charge-discharge cycles, which is an order of magnitude more than lithium batteries can take.

Cui pointed out that the nanomaterials make better conductors than traditional materials because they can move electricity more efficiently.

This is just the latest incidence of scientists using nanotechnology to further battery research. Last summer, IBM launched a multi-year battery research project using nanotechnology, materials science and supercomputing.

In April, researchers at MIT reported that they are combining nanotechnology with genetically engineered viruses to build batteries that could power hybrid cars and cell phones.

And before that, another team of researchers at Stanford used silicon nanowires to enable lithium-ion batteries to hold 10 times the charge they could before. That means a laptop could last for some 40 hours using the new battery, according to Cui.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Politics of Global Warming - The EPA's New Clothes - Declares CO2 a Pollutant

EDITORIAL: In the air - reviewjournal.com

The EPA will now regulate everything

The Environmental Protection Agency took a major step Monday toward regulating carbon dioxide, officially concluding that CO2 "pollution," by contributing to "climate change," threatens the human environment and thus the public health.

The announcement came as the Obama administration struggles to arm-twist (or bribe) other nations at an international climate conference in Copenhagen to join it in what those officials are claiming to be America's "aggressive actions to combat global warming," even though Congress has yet to act on climate legislation.

Back in the United States, the EPA said Monday that scientific evidence clearly shows greenhouse gases "threaten the public health and welfare of the American people" and that the pollutants -- the EPA mainly singled out carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, though the oceans are a larger source of the gas, and by far the most prevalent and effective "greenhouse gas" is water vapor -- must be regulated under terms of the Clean Air Act.

Under a Supreme Court ruling, the so-called endangerment finding was needed before the EPA could regulate carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases released from automobiles, power plants and factories.

The EPA has begun the early stages of developing permit requirements on carbon dioxide "pollution" from large emitters such as power plants. The administration also has said it will set the first-ever greenhouse gas emissions standards for automobiles and raise fuel economy to 35 mpg by 2016.

"Let's discuss something else that endangers human health," responded U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, "the inability to find a job. The EPA has achieved by fiat what leading Democrats in Congress haven't been able to accomplish via legislation -- establish a National Energy Tax. ...

"By seeking to sharply curtail carbon dioxide (and thus energy usage), the EPA is in effect working to decrease economic activity. Less economic activity equals higher unemployment equals more Americans choosing between paying rent and paying for food or medicine. That's not an equation that leads to better human health."

Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, noted that an "endangerment finding from the EPA could result in a top-down, command-and-control regime that will choke off growth by adding new mandates to virtually every major construction and renovation project."

The "science" that predicts disastrous consequences based on today's temperature trends is highly speculative. If EPA officials truly find that "science" convincing (though they are political appointees, let's recall), it's true that the high court's interpretation of the Clean Air Act leaves the EPA with little choice but to proceed with this economically crippling agenda.

The solution lies with the elected Congress. Reform the Clean Air Act -- now. For if this is what the law says, then the law is a ass.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Alternative Energy & Vertical Integration

Swiss solar power firm Meyer Burger to buy 3S
By Emma Thomasson - Reuters

ZURICH, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Swiss solar industry supplier Meyer Burger is buying 3S Industries in an all-share deal worth about 300 million Swiss francs ($294 million) that should help cut the cost of solar power.

Shares in both companies rallied on Wednesday after the announcement of the friendly deal, which analysts expect to boost Meyer Burger's profit and increase 3S's reach into Asia.

Meyer Burger said the deal would create the first firm in the solar industry to cover the whole production process for making solar cells, thus helping it to slash solar power costs.

Meyer Burger, which makes precision saws for slicing silicon wafers, is offering one of its own shares for every 11.2 3S shares, valuing 3S at about 300 million francs based on Meyer Burger's Tuesday closing price.

The proposal would be presented to shareholders of both companies for approval at extraordinary general meetings set for Jan. 14. The deal is due to be completed around Jan. 21.

Meyer Burger shareholders would also be asked to approve a 10-way share split and a share capital hike of between 653,138 and 2.25 million francs, with the newly issued shares due to start trading on Jan. 18.

Vontobel analyst Michael Foeth said the Meyer Burger share dilution was about 35-45 percent, while the deal should boost earnings by 30-35 percent. "As such, the exchange ratios look fair and the deal makes sense," he wrote in a client note.

Meyer Burger shares, which had already doubled in value this year after slumping in 2008, were up 7.8 percent at 266.25 Swiss francs by 1044 GMT, while Berne-listed 3S shares jumped 20 percent to 23.10 francs.

The FTSE clean tech index was flat after solar stocks like Germany's Q-Cells, SolarWorld and Norway's Renewable Energy Corp rose on Tuesday on positive sentiment from the Copenhagen climate summit.

"From a strategic point of view, this transaction makes a lot of sense," said Helvea analyst Stefan Gaechter, adding that the deal will help 3S increase its exposure in Asia.

"Not only are the portfolios complementary but the cross-selling potential and the bundling of purchasing volumes with regards to material costs are also value-adding."

3S's chief executive, Patrick Hofer-Noser, said the merger should "generate excellent opportunities to take advantage of the promising and expected further growth of the solar market."

Meyer Burger's chief executive, Peter Pauli, added: "We will play a crucial role in further reducing the costs of solar power and thus help achieving the industry goal of grid parity faster."

The solar sector leans on government incentives to compete with traditional power sources, but industry experts believe it will be economically viable in the near future.

Meyer Burger had 2008 sales of 455 million francs, while 3S had sales of 102 million francs. The combined firm is expected to employ more than 900 staff.

Chinese and European solar power companies have been upbeat about next year, saying recently that demand for clean energy systems was rebounding after a dismal 2009.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

'Nano materials are not a new invention'

IIT Kharagpur - Nano materials - The Times of India

NAGPUR: Nano materials are not very new, scientists all over the world, especially chemists, have been creating them in medicines for over half a century, said Padmashree Kasturi Lal Chopra, honorary professor, IIT Delhi, and former director, IIT Kharagpur, on Monday. He was speaking at the inaugural session of the two-day international conference on 'nano-biomaterials for environmental applications' organised by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (Neeri).

Chopra said, it is only recently that the 'nano' has been hyped worldwide. "What has changed the scenario and made nano materials more useful today is the coming together of pharmaceutical industry, the biotechnologists, the physicists and the life sciences scientists. Nano biotechnology and nano agriculture have a promising future," he said.

Prof Chopra also cleared a lot of myths about nano materials, like the one about these materials being new inventions. The second myth he busted was the one being projected by agencies like the UN task force on nano materials, that these technologies will save humanity. "These materials cannot solve problems of big countries like India, where they are being projected as technologies that can be used to purify drinking water. This is something totally non-viable, economically and socially," Chopra said.

Elaborating on the history of nano materials, Chopra said that these technologies have been around since 1950-60s, the beginning of the microelectronics era, though scientists didn't actually calling them by this name. He said that it is only now that the scientists can produce even metallurgical materials putting aside all theories of thermodynamics. However, large-scale application of these materials for production of mass scale products is just impossible, he said. "They are too expensive materials to be used on a mass scale, at least in developing countries," he said.

Prof GM Chow, professor and chair, department of material sciences and engineering, National University of Singapore, gave the key note address. Tapan Chakrabarti, acting director, Neeri, said that nano materials definitely have an important role in environmental applications while SR Wate, head, Environmental Impact Risk Assessment division, explained the role of newer nano materials in changing the water and environmental technologies.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Chinese wind power companies target foreign markets to profit from climate efforts

This Blog Editor has poiinted out several times that countries that think green jobs will "appear" simply because they pay for them with taxpayer funding should consider that the same advantages that created Chinese manufacturing in the first place will favor the Chinese in wind and solar manufacturing as well.  Richard Wottrich, Blog Editor

By Joe Mcdonald (CP) – The Canadian Press

BEIJING — China's Goldwind Science & Technology Ltd. is one of the world's biggest makers of wind turbines - a cornerstone of the booming clean power business - but is unknown outside its home country.

Goldwind aims to change that. In a Minnesota farmer's cornfield, the company is erecting three 20-story windmills in its first American project and hopes it will help to woo other buyers.

"There are a lot of leads and we are following them up," said Kerry Zhou, Goldwind's director of development. "We certainly expect that by 2011 we can get good results."

China's market for wind equipment is on track to overtake the U.S. this year as the world's largest, spurred by a government campaign to promote renewable energy to clean up its battered environment and curb surging demand for foreign oil and gas.

Now the biggest Chinese manufacturers want to expand to the United States, Europe and other markets. Western suppliers could face new competition as low-priced Chinese rivals seek to profit from global efforts to limit climate change.

Chinese manufacturers could get a boost if officials at this week's UN climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, agree on new measures to spread use of clean energy.

Beijing is promoting the industry as part of sweeping efforts to transform China into a creator of profitable technologies. Utilities have been told to step up clean energy spending even as the global crisis cuts into investment elsewhere.

"China is a major player and will dominate the future development of wind," said Lars Andersen, president for China of Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems A/S, the world's biggest maker of wind turbines.

Chinese wind companies' technology lags behind global leaders such as Vestas and General Electric Co. But their prices are up to 50 per cent lower, which industry analysts say should make them competitive abroad.

"The performance-to-price ratio is quite attractive," said Victoria Li, who follows the industry for Credit Suisse in Shanghai. "I think they could see strong growth from export revenue within two years."

Last year, China accounted for 22 per cent of new global wind capacity, while the United States was 29.6 per cent, according to BTM Consult, a Danish research firm. This year, Credit Suisse says China will install up to one-third of new capacity.

The industry has gotten a boost from a flow of money through the Clean Development Mechanism. The UN program allows industrialized economies to meet commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by paying developing countries to cut their own instead. China is the biggest recipient of CDM money.

Chinese demand is so huge that with almost no foreign sales, Goldwind and rivals Sinovel Wind Co. and Dongfang Electric Co. already rank among top global manufacturers.

Sinovel, Goldwind and Dongfang together made one of every eight wind turbines sold worldwide in 2008, according to BTM. Vestas led global sales with 19.8 per cent and GE was second with 18.6 per cent.

Beijing-based Sinovel made its first foreign sale last year, shipping 10 1.5-megawatt turbines to India, said a company spokeswoman, Liu Chang. Also in 2008, Goldwind sold six of its smaller 750-kilowatt units to Cuba.

In Minnesota, Goldwind is installing three 1.5-megawatt turbines on a farm in the town of Pipestone. Zhou said the company hopes the site will prove its turbines operate reliably under U.S. weather conditions.

Beijing's tactics in promoting its suppliers have caused strains in trade ties at a time when other governments are scrambling to preserve jobs.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China complains that foreign producers have been shut out of bidding for major wind projects. Beijing also required that 70 per cent of parts in turbines used in China be domestically made - a rule that was dropped in September only after major foreign producers had set up Chinese factories.

November's announcement that a Chinese manufacturer, A-Power Energy Generation Systems, would build a Texas wind farm prompted an outcry from American critics that stimulus money the project might receive should not go to China. A-Power and its American partners said they would open a U.S. factory.

"We definitely are closely watching the controversy and obstacles for this current project to see what will happen," said Goldwind's Zhou.

Aggressive government goals issued in 2005 call for at least 15 per cent of China's power to come from wind, solar and hydropower by 2020. Officials say that target might be boosted to 20 per cent.

In July, Beijing raised its wind power goal to 150 gigawatts of generating capacity by 2020 - the equivalent of 300 standard coal-fired power plants - up from the 2005 plan's target of 30 gigawatts.

But the industry faces technical hurdles to its growth. Wind farm construction has raced ahead so fast that 25 per cent have yet to be connected to the national power grid. Like the United States, China faces the problem that its windiest areas in the desert northwest and northern grasslands are far from populous cities, requiring expensive transmission lines.

Other companies are developing technology ranging from solar panels and fuel cells to more far-out systems that make power from garbage and used cooking oil.

China's solar cell producers have competed abroad in Spain, Germany and California since they got into the business early this decade because the technology was too expensive for Chinese buyers. The biggest, Suntech Power Holdings Ltd., is on track to pass Germany's Q-Cells SE as the world's top supplier as early as this year.

"In an incredibly short space of time China has taken the lead in the race to develop and commercialize a range of low-carbon technologies," said The Climate Group, a London-based environmental organization, in a report in August.

Many manufacturers still rely on technology licensed from General Electric Co. and other foreign producers but Goldwind, Sinovel and others are developing their own. Zhou said Goldwind has spent 500 million yuan ($75 million) since 2007 on research and owns the technology used in its turbines in Minnesosta.

Goldwind, founded in 2001, says more than 1,200 of its 1.5-megawatt units have been installed at 40 wind farms across China. Last year, it bought a German company, Vensys, with a factory that can produce 100 turbines a year.

Zhou stressed that Goldwind plans to make or buy most components wherever its turbines are installed, rather than shipping bulky towers and blades up to 90 metres (300 feet) long from China. That could help to avert political strains by creating local jobs.

"We don't want to aggressively enter a market with simple thinking that we can just export our equipment there," Zhou said.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

♪♪ ...Oh the weather outside is frightful... ♪♪

World record: 0.01mm nano-snowman

Relative to nothing... Richard Wottrich, Blog Editor

You're looking at the tiniest snowman ever built. Well, it looks like a snowman, but this minuscule model — about a fifth the width of a human hair — is not made out of snow. It's constructed of two tiny tin beads that are usually used to calibrate an electron microscope, and welded together with platinum.

It's built by David Cox, a nanotech expert at the Quantum Detection Group of Britain's National Physical Laboratory. He's accustomed to working with such astonishingly small objects, and used his nano-particle manipulation tools to demonstrate the astonishing accuracy of his work.

He bathed the snowman in blue light to give us this entertaining, snow-blown image. The remarkable flourish of his smiling snowman is its little happy face, carved into the top orb using a focused ion beam. That's no small feat.

Daily Mail, via Gizmo Watch

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Sustainability - Stop Carp"ing"

States Cast for Way to Stop Carp
Officials Poison Canal Near Key Barrier to Keep Giant Leaping Fish Out of Great Lakes

By DOUGLAS BELKIN, The Wall Street Journal

ROMEOVILLE, Ill. -- A decades-long battle to stop the northern migration of a voracious, invasive fish that can leap eight feet out of the water and batter boaters with enough force to break bones has come down to a six-mile stretch of muddy brown water here.

WSJ's Joe Barrett explains why Illinois officials have launched a big campaign to kill carp in the Great Lakes region.

On Wednesday night, officials pumped 2,200 gallons of fish poison into the narrow channel of the Chicago Shipping and Sanitary Canal to stop the spread of the Asian carp. By Thursday morning, scores of workers in 20-foot boats had scooped tens of thousands of pounds of dead and dying fish from the gritty canal, which is lined with weeds and hulking grain elevators.

The effort was launched to allow the routine maintenance of an electric barrier a few miles upstream that was put in place in 2002 to stop the carp from entering Lake Michigan. The torpedo-shaped fish can grow up to 100 pounds, and its tendency to leap out of the water at the sound of approaching watercraft has made some sections of the Mississippi treacherous for boaters.

Voracious eaters that reproduce rapidly, the Asian carp can quickly displace native species. In some stretches of the Illinois River, the carp account for as much as 90% of the fish population by weight, and scientists fear they could do the same in the Great Lakes, potentially destroying the lakes' $7 billion recreational fishing industry. What's more, the fish tend to be bony and have an unpleasant taste to the American palate.

Associated Press Crews dump poison into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal Thursday as part of an effort to keep the invasive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes. The fish can grow up to 100 pounds and tend to leap out of the water at the sound of approaching craft, threatening boaters.

"The barrier is the best weapon we have to keep the Asian carp from the Great Lakes," said Chris McCloud, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which was overseeing an effort that drew about 300 workers from a half-dozen Great Lakes states as well as Canada. "We need to push them back right here."

The Asian carp were imported to fish farms in the Mississippi Delta in the 1970s to clean holding pens. They escaped during floods in the 1990s and have been heading north ever since. The electrical fence here was supposed to be the last backstop between the fish and Lake Michigan, but this fall genetic material from the Asian carp was detected on the other side of the barrier.

That discovery sent shock waves across Great Lakes states. On Wednesday, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, supported by five environmental groups, asked the state attorney general to pursue "every legal means" to force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to temporarily shut three frequently opened shipping locks near Chicago as a last-gasp measure to stop the fish.

On Thursday night officials found one 22-inch Asian carp in the stretch of the canal that had been poisoned. The poison was pumped into the canal as a precaution to make sure none of the fish breached the barrier while it was shut down. The operation is expected to continue through Sunday.

Several environmental groups and Ms. Granholm have said it is only a matter of time before the barrier is breached. They have called for the drastic and massively expensive action of separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi water basin. The two systems were connected in an epic feat of engineering a century ago when the Chicago River was reversed so that the city's waste would flow away from Lake Michigan -- which provides the city's drinking water -- rather than into it.

Army Corps of Engineers Brig. Gen. John Peabody, who oversees the Great Lakes and the waterways around Chicago, said the possibility of a complete separation is being studied but warned that such a project would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and be complicated by the urban environment.

In 2007, barges moved 16.9 million tons of goods through the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal. Permantly shutting down the canal to separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi basin would have a tremendous impact on the local economy, said Del Wilkins, vice president of business development for the Canal Barge Co. near Joliet, Ill.

"There would be a massive impact on jobs and the costs of moving goods," said Mr. Wilkins.

Most of the goods shipped through the inland waterways are commodities like salt, gravel and petroleum products. Mr. Wilkins said it would take 20 rail cars or 75 trucks to move the freight carried on a single barge.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Pentagon's 25M Acres Could Ease Renewables Siting Debate

Photovoltaic solar array at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the largest solar array in the US. It occupies 140 acres and has 70,000 panels. It was constructed by the SunPower Corporation, and produces a maximum rated 14 MW which is approximately 25 % of the power requirements for Nellis AFB.

By SCOTT STREATER, The New York Times

While not central to its war-fighting mission abroad, the U.S. military is quietly becoming one of the nation's most aggressive energy innovators, retrofitting thousands of acres of military installations with renewables technologies that will help meet the bases' future power demand while also aiding host states in achieving renewable energy targets.

From commercial-scale solar installations at the Army's Fort Irwin, in the heart of California's Mojave Desert, to smaller projects such as a 30-megawatt geothermal plant at Fallon Naval Air Station in Nevada, the Pentagon perhaps more than any other federal agency has adopted the Obama administration's call for a rapid deployment of renewable energy resources as part of a broader strategy to reduce greenhouse gases.

"The military's mission is not to battle global warming," noted Matthew Kahn, an environmental economist at the University of California, Los Angeles' Institute of the Environment. "But if the military demands renewables, that sends a clear signal to green businesses that there will be a market for their products.

"In this way, the military could unintentionally help to green our economy," Kahn added.

Experts say the Pentagon's renewables push is motivated by two factors -- reducing the cost of operating large, energy-consumptive bases, but also advancing national security by making its facilities less vulnerable to energy shortages.

With those goals in mind, the Pentagon has embarked on several recent major renewables projects, including this year's announced 500-megawatt concentrated solar plant at Fort Irwin, near Barstow, Calif., in the high Mojave Desert. The $1.5 billion project is a joint venture with Clark Energy Group and Acciona Solar Power, and could be producing at full capacity by 2022, according to the Army (ClimateWire, Aug. 7).

More recently, the Air Force announced it would install as many as 80,000 solar panels, both on the ground and atop buildings, at southern Arizona's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The 6-megawatt project, while tiny compared to the Army's proposal at Fort Irwin, is nonetheless a significant step for the Air Force, which will use the electricity to power about 900 houses on the base.

Joe Salkowski, a spokesman for Tucson Electric Power, which will help finance the project, said the Davis-Monthan solar panels "will represent the largest distributed solar-power system in our portfolio by far," and will help Tucson Electric and other Arizona utilities meet a 15 percent statewide renewable portfolio standard by 2025.

Meanwhile, the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory is working with the Army to develop another large-scale solar array at Fort Bliss in southwest Texas, just north of El Paso, said John Barnett, supervisor of NREL's project development and finance section in Golden, Colo.

Solving the siting problem

The recent proliferation of renewable energy proposals on military installations, while promising energy and environmental benefits to the bases themselves, also offers a broader benefit to the Obama administration as officials try to identify hundreds of public land sites that could support alternative energy projects.

The Defense Department owns about 25 million acres, much of which is already disturbed by troop training and other activities. As a result, the Pentagon could help resolve what has become the leading obstacle to expanding renewable energy -- opposition to the siting of power plants in sensitive or pristine landscapes.

Federal efforts to authorize construction of commercial-scale solar and wind-power projects, particularly in California's Mojave Desert region, have met stiff resistance because of the projects' expected impacts to wildlife habitat and water resources.

In many cases, environmental groups say they welcome the expansion of renewable energy as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but they want such projects sited in areas with little or no ecological value.

Military bases in many instances offer an ideal solution.

"It's not the whole answer, but it's part of the answer," said Carl Zichella, director of Western renewable programs for the Sierra Club in Sacramento.

Jerry Hansen, the Army's senior energy executive, said such views are not lost on the Army, which has more than 12 million acres in its lands portfolio.
"It's been interesting to hear from proponents of renewable energy who have asked the DOD to step up and help in that area," Hansen said. "We recognize and accept that responsibility."

Included in the Army's efforts is a directive that each base perform surveys to identify areas that are suitable to support renewable energy projects.

But Hansen and other Pentagon officials remain wary about renewable energy development becoming a revenue engine, as is expected with Fort Irwin's 500-megawatt solar project. According to base officials, Fort Irwin's peak demand for electricity is 35 megawatts, meaning the Army's partner companies will be able to sell the remaining 465 megawatts to other utilities.

"Renewable energy is a key area for DOD to invest, but renewable energy is very expensive and the business cases may not return on investment," said Brian Lally, facility energy director for acquisition, technology and logistics with the Office of Secretary of Defense. "In a future 'low-carbon' economy, the business case may change."

Success stories

But if existing projects are any indication, the Pentagon has already proved itself to be a renewable energy leader.

Consider that the largest operating solar power plant in North America sits on a 140-acre patch of scrubby desert land in the Yucca Flats at Nellis Air Force Base, just northeast of Las Vegas.

The $100 million photovoltaic solar-power system, which began operating in 2007, consists of 72,416 ground-fixed solar panels that generate 14 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power about 2,350 homes on the base.

The Air Force estimates that the solar array saves the base about $1 million a year in electricity costs and reduces emissions of carbon dioxide by 24,000 tons a year, the equivalent of removing roughly 4,000 cars from the road, according to the military. It also occupies a site otherwise unusable for military training, a long-abandoned landfill.

Brigid Lowery, director of the center for program analysis in U.S. EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, said the Nellis project is "a good example" of the size and scope of renewable energy projects that can be done on military bases.

And when President Obama visited Nellis last May, he remarked that "this base serves as a shining example of what's possible when we harness the power of clean, renewable energy to build a new, firmer foundation for economic growth," according to a White House transcript.

Two other Air Force facilities -- Dyess Air Force Base in Texas and Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington -- are meeting 100 percent of power demand by consuming renewable energy, further burnishing the Pentagon's reputation as an energy innovator.

And at the Army's Fort Carson in southeast Colorado, the Army in 2008 installed a 2-megawatt solar power facility, also atop a closed landfill, that provides enough electricity to power 540 homes, or roughly 2.3 percent of the fort's energy needs. The Army has since set a goal of powering the entire training facility with renewable energy sources by 2027.

Sites like these offer "great hope" for renewable energy development, because there are huge swaths of already disturbed military land that could be utilized for renewables, said Barnett, the NREL official.

"The military can make a great partner, and that's what we've seen with projects like at the Nellis Air Force Base," said Jessica Goad, an energy and climate change policy fellow at the Wilderness Society.

Meanwhile, federal regulators continue search for other reuse sites that could house new energy projects, including Superfund hazardous waste sites, landfills, abandoned mines and shuttered portions of military bases. Among 12 contaminated sites announced by EPA last month as having potential for renewable energy development was Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island.

"We need to look at those sites first before we look at greenfields," said EPA's Lowery.

Ongoing challenges

Optimism notwithstanding, not all military bases are suitable for renewable energy projects. In fact, wind turbine technologies could interfere with military equipment such as radar, said Laurie Jodziewicz, manager of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association.

As a result, wind power development on bases tends to be of a smaller scale. To date, the only sizable wind projects involving military lands are a 2.4-megawatt wind farm that the Air Force operates on Ascension Island, and a 1.3-megawatt wind farm at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming.

"We know this issue is not a showstopper for the wind industry, but it is something that needs to be researched more," Jodziewicz said.

Military bases are also not exempt from concerns about impacts to sensitive landscapes and wildlife. In fact, many bases provide vital habitat for threatened and endangered species.

Zichella, the Sierra Club official in Sacramento, points to the recent transfer of 600 federally threatened desert tortoises from Fort Irwin to accommodate additional training exercises. More than 90 of the tortoises died, prompting the Army and Bureau of Land Management to temporarily halt the $8.7 million translocation program.

"That's a potential problem, and we need to be concerned," he said. "The general rule that should be applied ... is to choose the best sites possible with the fewest environmental impacts, whether on military bases or not."

Streater writes from Colorado Springs, Colo.; Copyright 2009 E&E Publishing. All Rights Reserved.; For more news on energy and the environment, visit http://www.greenwire.com/.