Monday, March 29, 2010

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), - Design Flaws

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva, is the world's largest collider, which measures more than 16 miles in circumference. It is expected to usher in a new era of particle physics research, enabling scientists to replicate conditions immediately after the Big Bang.

With a budget of 9 billion US dollars (approx. €6300M or £5600M as of Jan 2010), the LHC is the most expensive scientific experiment in human history.

However, it would appear that simple silver soldering design flaws have shelved the collider's full power capabilties until at least 2013. One such connection failed recently and blew a hole in the collider wall, shutting down operations. A detailed analysis last summer revealed several more bad connections, and CERN now says that it will take a year to correct the problem throughout the machine. As a result, the LHC will not run at its full collision energy of 14 tera-electronvolts (1012 eV) until around 2013.

Design flaws article:

Richard Wottrich

Thursday, March 25, 2010

China Walks the Walk, America Talks

(Wind farm off the coast of Shanghai)

It appears that the political rhetoric in the United States about Alternative Energy investment is not matched by it actions. A report from the Pew Charitable Trusts reveals that China overtook the United States in 2009 in investments in wind, solar and other sources of Alternative Energy.

U.S. clean energy investments were $18.6 billion in 2009, roughly half the Chinese total of $34.6 billion. Five years ago, China's investments in clean energy totaled $2.5 billion.

The United States was 11th in clean energy investment as a percentage of GDP, behind Canada and Mexico.

The Pew report pointed to a factor constraining U.S. competitiveness: a lack of national mandates for renewable energy production or a surcharge on greenhouse gas emissions that would make fossil fuels more expensive.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, "It's certainly the case that the countries and areas with higher investment in clean energy will be able to produce more jobs," said Chris Lafakis, an economist at Moody's, which is working with Pew in tracking the green economy and jobs. Lafakis said investment was the No. 1 factor in green job growth.

Germany in particular has done an excellent job in leveraging private clean energy investment, in part, by supporting wind and solar power with sustained financial incentives. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates, German subsidies from 2004 to 2008 amounted to about $74 billion.

However it is in China where the combination of its dominant manufacturing base and comprehensive government policies has promoted clean energy technology. This salient fact has drawn significant American corporate investment in China. (See “Follow the Money Winds", March 18, 2010)

Pew reported that the U.S. still leads the world in clean energy innovation and venture capital funding in the sector. It is important that a national energy policy is created to leverage these strengths, if the United States is to be a world leader in the quest for clean energy.

Richard Wottrich

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Your Government in Action, or the Nuclear Option

By STEVEN CHU, U.S. Secretary of Energy

America is on the cusp of reviving its nuclear power industry. Last month President Obama pledged more than $8 billion in conditional loan guarantees for what will be the first U.S. nuclear power plant to break ground in nearly three decades. And with the new authority granted by the president's 2011 budget request, the Department of Energy will be able to support between six and nine new reactors.

What does all of this mean for the country? This investment will provide enough clean energy to power more than six million American homes. It will also create tens of thousands of jobs in the years ahead.

Perhaps most importantly, investing in nuclear energy will position America to lead in a growing industry. World-wide electricity generation is projected to rise 77% by 2030. If we are serious about cutting carbon pollution then nuclear power must be part of the solution. Countries such as China, South Korea and India have recognized this and are making investments in nuclear power that are driving demand for nuclear technologies. Our choice is clear: Develop these technologies today or import them tomorrow.

That is why—even as we build a new generation of clean and safe nuclear plants—we are constantly looking ahead to the future of nuclear power. As this paper recently reported, one of the most promising areas is small modular reactors (SMRs). If we can develop this technology in the U.S. and build these reactors with American workers, we will have a key competitive edge.

Small modular reactors would be less than one-third the size of current plants. They have compact designs and could be made in factories and transported to sites by truck or rail. SMRs would be ready to "plug and play" upon arrival.

If commercially successful, SMRs would significantly expand the options for nuclear power and its applications. Their small size makes them suitable to small electric grids so they are a good option for locations that cannot accommodate large-scale plants. The modular construction process would make them more affordable by reducing capital costs and construction times.

Their size would also increase flexibility for utilities since they could add units as demand changes, or use them for on-site replacement of aging fossil fuel plants. Some of the designs for SMRs use little or no water for cooling, which would reduce their environmental impact. Finally, some advanced concepts could potentially burn used fuel or nuclear waste, eliminating the plutonium that critics say could be used for nuclear weapons.

In his 2011 budget request, President Obama requested $39 million for a new program specifically for small modular reactors. Although the Department of Energy has supported advanced reactor technologies for years, this is the first time funding has been requested to help get SMR designs licensed for widespread commercial use.

Right now we are exploring a partnership with industry to obtain design certification from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for one or two designs. These SMRs are based on proven light-water reactor technologies and could be deployed in about 10 years.

We are also accelerating our R&D efforts into other innovative reactor technologies. This includes developing high-temperature gas reactors that can provide carbon-free heat for industrial applications, as well as advanced reactor designs that will harness much more of the energy from uranium.

Just as advanced computer modeling has revolutionized aircraft design—predicting how any slight adjustment to a wing design will affect the overall performance of the airplane, for example—we are working to apply modeling and simulation technologies to accelerate nuclear R&D. Scientists and engineers will be able to stand in the center of a virtual reactor, observing coolant flow, nuclear fuel performance, and even the reactor's response to changes in operating conditions. To achieve this potential, we are bringing together some of our nation's brightest minds to work under one roof in a new research center called the Nuclear Energy Modeling and Simulation Hub.

These efforts are restarting the nuclear power industry in the U.S. But to truly promote nuclear power and other forms of carbon-free electricity, we need long-term incentives. The single most effective step we could take is to put a price on carbon by passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation. Requiring a gradual reduction in carbon emissions will make clean energy profitable—and will fuel investment in nuclear power.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Follow the Money Winds

An old mentor of mine, long since passed away, used to instruct me to "follow the money winds." Indeed so, especially if we pay attention to China.

Research and Development spending (R&D) has been moving to China from all points worldwide in an accelerating trend.

General Motors has a huge and growing auto research campus in Shanghai.

Applied Materials has just completed one of its largest research labs near Beijing and has another in Xian.

Xian, a city 600 miles southwest of Beijing, has 47 universities and other learning institutions, graduating thousands of engineers whose starting pay is as little as $730 per month.

Thermal Power Research Institute is based in Xian; the world leading laboratory on perfecting cleaner coal.

Future Fuels is buying $100 million in licensing equipment systems from the institute.

NatCore Technology just reached an agreement with a Chinese consortium of Chinese companies to begin mass-production of its solar panels in Changsha.

The GE China Technology Center (CTC) based in Shanghai is home to more than 20 research labs, working on technology for a number of GE businesses both in China and around the world.

DuPont China Research and Development Center (Shanghai) and Microsoft Research Asia (Beijing) are examples of other substantial R&D operations in China.

Additionally Motorola Chinese Research Institute (capital investment of US$155 million), Lucent Chinese Research Institute (capital investment of US$200 million), Microsoft Chinese Research Institute (capital investment of US$80 million) and IBM Chinese Research Institute are all 100% self-owned capital R&D centers.

The list continues, including 3G-related mobile communications companies like Nokia, Ericson, Alcatel, Lucent and Siemens, automotive-related R&D centers for Nissan, and R&D activities by pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Roche as well as by chemical companies like Dan Chemical, DuPont and others.

Young people often ask me for career advice. My answer is simple. Follow the money winds.

Richard Wottrich

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Strong Results For Renewable Energy in 2009

The annual Clean Energy Trends 2010 report from the Clean Edge Inc. research firm shows strong growth for Renewable and Alternative Energy in 2009, despite the raging recession worldwide.

Driven by government stimulus funding, globally business and governments spent $63.5 billion on wind farms and turbines last year, up 23.5 percent from 2008. The global biofuel market rose 29 percent, hitting $44.9 billion

However solar revenues declined in 2009, as surging manufacturing capacity (especially in China) dropped the price of solar panels. Combined global revenues for photovoltaic companies fell 20.3 percent to $30.7 billion, the first drop since Clean Edge began tracking solar sales in 2000.

According to the report, about $100 billion of the $787 billion US stimulus package is being devoted to clean energy. The stimulus program has helped get large US renewable power projects launched, as it offers companies grants worth up to 30 percent of each project's total cost.

China is spending $440 billion to $660 billion on the industry in the next 10 years, in a state-sanctioned bid to be the dominant player in green technology.
The report estimates that by 2019, the global biofuel market will top $112.5 billion. Wind power revenue could reach $114.5 billion, while solar hits $98.9 billion.

Richard Wottrich

Thursday, March 11, 2010

World's First Commercial Wireless Electric Vehicle

SEOUL, South Korea, March 11 UPI reported today that South Korea has unveiled what is considered the world's first commercial wireless electric vehicle.

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has introduced an online electric vehicle, which can run up to 24.8 miles per hour. Power strips are buried one foot under the surface and connected to the national grid provide electromagnetic power to the OLEV wirelessly, charging an on-board battery and powering the bus's electric motor. The vehicle was introduced Tuesday at the Seoul Grand Park as one of the theme park's seven shuttles operating on a 1.37-mile beltway.

The Seoul government said it hopes to apply the technology to city buses as early as next year after trial operations. Buses account for about 30 percent of Seoul's traffic, with some 56 miles of bus lanes operating throughout the city.

The institute says the technology, in addition to reducing pollution, reduces problems often associated with hybrid vehicles such as weighty batteries, lengthy charging times and limited range of power. Whether running or stopped, the OLEV constantly receives electric power through the underground cables.

There is no similar project under way in the US at this time.

Richard Wottrich

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Senate Discovers That It's a Global World After All...

Chinese New Year

(Chicago, IL USA) Senators are balking at stimulus spending on several wind power projects that seem to be subsidizing jobs overseas in China and elsewhere. They apparently are surprised to find that major manufacturing companies worldwide are already building world class components for Alternative Energy.

This startling discovery by our worldly senators began after a planned Texas wind farm with substantial Chinese investment announced it would seek a $450 million stimulus tax credit. The developers initially said the project would support 3,000 jobs in China and about 300 in Texas (a Red state). Several Democratic senators, led by Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, are pushing legislation to make such projects ineligible for stimulus funds if they don't have a "substantial" impact on U.S. employment.

Under the terms of the $787 billion stimulus bill (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), the Texas project would qualify for a portion of its $32 billion in Alternative Energy grants and guaranteed loans, however the turbines would be produced by a Chinese company, A-Power Energy Generation Systems Ltd.

The project's developer, the U.S. Renewable Energy Group, is doing a quick two-step dance to avoid the deadly scrutiny of savvy senators. They now say that 70 percent of the turbine components would come from the U.S.

This blogger has warned repeatedly that gains in Alternative Energy in countries such as China will give them a head start on such projects. It is nice to see that the senate is finally getting ahead of the power curve - killing projects to spite the noses on their collective faces.

Richard Wottrich