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  • richardmitnick 10:51 am on May 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Clean Energy, Electricity from seawater,   

    From phys.org: “Electricity from seawater: New method efficiently produces hydrogen peroxide for fuel cells” 


    May 20, 2016
    Lisa Zyga

    Credit: Mr. William Folsom, NOAA, NMFS

    Scientists have used sunlight to turn seawater (H2O) into hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), which can then be used in fuel cells to generate electricity. It is the first photocatalytic method of H2O2 production that achieves a high enough efficiency so that the H2O2 can be used in a fuel cell.

    The researchers, led by Shunichi Fukuzumi at Osaka University, have published a paper* on the new method of the photocatalytic production of hydrogen peroxide in a recent issue of Nature Communications.

    “The most earth-abundant resource, seawater, is utilized to produce a solar fuel that is H2O2,” Fukuzumi told Phys.org.

    The biggest advantage of using liquid H2O2 instead of gaseous hydrogen (H2), as most fuel cells today use, is that the liquid form is much easier to store at high densities. Typically, H2 gas must be either highly compressed, or in certain cases, cooled to its liquid state at cryogenic temperatures. In contrast, liquid H2O2 can be stored and transported at high densities much more easily and safely.

    The problem is that that, until now, there has been no efficient photocatalytic method of producing liquid H2O2. (There are ways to produce H2O2 that don’t use sunlight, but they require so much energy that they are not practical for use in a method whose goal is to produce energy.)

    In the new study, the researchers developed a new photoelectrochemical cell, which is basically a solar cell that produces H2O2. When sunlight illuminates the photocatalyst, the photocatalyst absorbs photons and uses the energy to initiate chemical reactions (seawater oxidation and the reduction of O2) in a way that ultimately produces H2O2.

    After illuminating the cell for 24 hours, the concentration of H2O2 in the seawater reached about 48 mM, which greatly exceeds previous reported values of about 2 mM in pure water. Investigating the reason for this big difference, the researchers found that the negatively charged chlorine in seawater is mainly responsible for enhancing the photocatalytic activity and yielding the higher concentration.

    Overall, the system has a total solar-to-electricity efficiency of 0.28%. (The photocatalytic production of H2O2 from seawater has an efficiency of 0.55%, and the fuel cell has an efficiency of 50%.)

    Although the total efficiency compares favorably to that of some other solar-to-electricity sources, such as switchgrass (0.2%), it is still much lower than the efficiency of conventional solar cells. The researchers expect that the efficiency can be improved in the future by using better materials in the photoelectrochemical cell, and they also plan to find methods to reduce the cost of production.

    “In the future, we plan to work on developing a method for the low-cost, large-scale production of H2O2 from seawater,” Fukuzumi said. “This may replace the current high-cost production of H2O2 from H2 (from mainly natural gas) and O2.”

    Science paper:
    Seawater usable for production and consumption of hydrogen peroxide as a solar fuel

    See the full article here .

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    About Phys.org in 100 Words

    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

  • richardmitnick 11:31 am on April 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Clean Energy,   

    From Notre Dame: “Wind energy and plasma research” 

    Notre Dame bloc

    Notre Dame University

    April 19, 2016
    Brandi Klingerman

    As the world looks for new ways to diversify its energy supply and find renewable resources to power the earth’s growing energy consumption needs, new research from the University of Notre Dame has identified a potential way to make an existing renewable resource – wind energy – more efficient in power production.

    Notre Dame White Field

    Thomas Corke, the Clark Chair Professor in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering and founding director of the Notre Dame Institute for Flow Physics and Control (FlowPAC), along with a team of collaborative researchers, developed a new plasma actuator that can be used to make a more capable design for wind turbine airflow and control than previous systems. When applied to wind turbines, this actuator could increase the amount of energy that can be produced by up to 10 percent and significantly reduce the wind loads on the rotor blades, improving their longevity.

    The University of Notre Dame has recently licensed the plasma actuators, along with a set of improvements in flow control, as part of a patent portfolio. The portfolio includes active devices that reduce turbulent air and improve a turbine’s ability to capture energy from wind.

    The active devices utilize the actuator to affect wind as it moves over a wind turbine’s blade, thus modifying airflow to obtain flow improvement. The effect is a “virtual shaping” of the rotor blade. The advancement is cost-effective, as Aquanis, LLC – the company who has acquired the patent – predicts that the technology can be easily incorporated in new blade design and potentially adapted to existing turbines and that use of the device can pay for itself in less than two years.

    University of Notre Dame faculty who contributed to the development of these licensed technologies include Eric Jumper, professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering as well as the director of the Aero-Optics group; Robert Nelson, professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering; and Flint Thomas, professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering. Other contributing researchers include Carl Enloe and Thomas McLaughlin from the United States Air Force, as well as Alan Cain and Mehul Patel with the Innovative Technologies Applications Company.

    When speaking about his team’s work, Corke said, “I, along with an impressive group of Notre Dame engineers and other researchers, conducted research analyzing wind turbines and how deficiencies – in terms of potential generated power – could be resolved,” said Corke, “The patent portfolio is a package of inventions that were developed to overcome these shortcomings in several ways and improve our ability to harness wind energy.”

    “At FlowPAC, we try to enhance and develop the performance of various technologies,” said Corke. “So whether we are working with an aircraft in relation to drag, jet engines in relation to stall, or wind turbines in relation to energy extraction, we work together to identify the limitations and how we can improve them through flow control.”

    The flow control patent portfolio that was licensed by Tech Transfer at the University of Notre Dame was ceremonially signed over to Aquanis, LLC on April 12, 2016. Neal Fine, the Chief Executive Officer of Aquanis, joined Corke at the signing. To learn more about the flow control research conducted at Notre Dame, click here.

    See the full article here .

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    Notre Dame Campus

    The University of Notre Dame du Lac (or simply Notre Dame /ˌnoʊtərˈdeɪm/ NOH-tər-DAYM) is a Catholic research university located near South Bend, Indiana, in the United States. In French, Notre Dame du Lac means “Our Lady of the Lake” and refers to the university’s patron saint, the Virgin Mary.

    The school was founded by Father Edward Sorin, CSC, who was also its first president. Today, many Holy Cross priests continue to work for the university, including as its president. It was established as an all-male institution on November 26, 1842, on land donated by the Bishop of Vincennes. The university first enrolled women undergraduates in 1972. As of 2013 about 48 percent of the student body was female.[6] Notre Dame’s Catholic character is reflected in its explicit commitment to the Catholic faith, numerous ministries funded by the school, and the architecture around campus. The university is consistently ranked one of the top universities in the United States and as a major global university.

    The university today is organized into five colleges and one professional school, and its graduate program has 15 master’s and 26 doctoral degree programs.[7][8] Over 80% of the university’s 8,000 undergraduates live on campus in one of 29 single-sex residence halls, each of which fields teams for more than a dozen intramural sports, and the university counts approximately 120,000 alumni.[9]

    The university is globally recognized for its Notre Dame School of Architecture, a faculty that teaches (pre-modernist) traditional and classical architecture and urban planning (e.g. following the principles of New Urbanism and New Classical Architecture).[10] It also awards the renowned annual Driehaus Architecture Prize.

  • richardmitnick 9:30 am on April 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Clean Energy,   

    From Science Alert: “Meet Triton: a device that could supply a third of America’s power” 


    Science Alert

    15 APR 2016

    It’s basically a wave harvester.


    Humanity is obsessed with the sea. Maybe it’s because it’s an environment that we’re simply not meant to survive in, like space. Or, maybe it’s because we feel small when we look at it from the coastline. But the one undeniable thing about the ocean is that it’s powerful – much more powerful than any one person.

    That all sounds pretty poetic, but humanity might soon benefit from the vast power of the ocean by harnessing it with a new device called the Triton, and with over 332,519,000 cubic miles (that’s 1,385,999,652.41 cubic kilometres) of ocean water, you can bet there’s a lot of energy moving around out there in the form of waves.

    To harness all that potential energy, researchers from Oscilla Power – a US-based renewable energy company – came up with a device that contains a series of generators and floats on top of the ocean’s surface. The whole thing is kept in place by underwater cables.

    “As waves interact with the device, there is an alternating magnetic polarity created in the metal that is used to generate electricity,” reports Meagan Parrish for ChemInfo.

    The team explains that the Triton will not use any moving parts to collect energy, which makes it perfect for ocean use where waves will undoubtedly knock it all over the place.

    In fact, the researchers are counting on it moving, because that’s basically how it generates power. As they put it, energy is captured “by the use of flexible tethers, themselves enabled by an asymmetric heave plate, Triton uniquely captures energy from heave, pitch, sway and roll motions”.

    Right now, the Triton is undergoing small-scale trials to ensure that it can handle the large jostling it’s going to receive in the real ocean. Though it’s still very early, reports indicate that if the team is successful in their design, Triton could provide up to a third of America’s power and about 15 percent of global demand.

    Exactly how much power is that, though? The team says each one of their Tritons could produce 600kW of power, while the average household in the US consumes roughly 911kWh (1.26kW) each month. That’s about 500 houses with a single unit, which is way better than an entire wind turbine.

    Now that’s a significant amount of power. The only question is whether or not the device will really pan out the way researchers are envisioning it. Fingers crossed.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 5:48 pm on February 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Clean Energy, , U Texas at Arlington   

    From UTA: “one-step process to convert carbon dioxide and water directly into renewable liquid hydrocarbon fuels” 

    U Texas Arlington

    University of Texas at Arlington

    February 22, 2016
    Louisa Kellie,
    Office 817‑272‑0864
    cell 817-524-8926

    A team of University of Texas at Arlington chemists and engineers have proven that concentrated light, heat and high pressures can drive the one-step conversion of carbon dioxide and water directly into useable liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

    This simple and inexpensive new sustainable fuels technology could potentially help limit global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make fuel. The process also reverts oxygen back into the system as a byproduct of the reaction, with a clear positive environmental impact, researchers said.

    “Our process also has an important advantage over battery or gaseous-hydrogen powered vehicle technologies as many of the hydrocarbon products from our reaction are exactly what we use in cars, trucks and planes, so there would be no need to change the current fuel distribution system,“ said Frederick MacDonnell, UTA interim chair of chemistry and biochemistry and co-principal investigator of the project.

    In an article published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled Solar photothermochemical alkane reverse combustion, the researchers demonstrate that the one-step conversion of carbon dioxide and water into liquid hydrocarbons and oxygen can be achieved in a photothermochemical flow reactor operating at 180 to 200 C and pressures up to 6 atmospheres.

    “We are the first to use both light and heat to synthesize liquid hydrocarbons in a single stage reactor from carbon dioxide and water,” said Brian Dennis, UTA professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and co-principal investigator of the project. “Concentrated light drives the photochemical reaction, which generates high-energy intermediates and heat to drive thermochemical carbon-chain-forming reactions, thus producing hydrocarbons in a single-step process.”

    Duane Dimos, UTA vice president for research commended the researchers on their success.

    “Discovering a one-step process to generate renewable hydrocarbon fuels from carbon dioxide and water is a huge achievement,“ Dimos said. “This work strengthens UTA’s reputation as a leading research institution in the area of Global Environmental Impact, as laid out in our Strategic Plan 2020.”

    The hybrid photochemical and thermochemical catalyst used for the experiment was based on titanium dioxide, a white powder that cannot absorb the entire visible light spectrum.

    “Our next step is to develop a photo-catalyst better matched to the solar spectrum,” MacDonnell said. “Then we could more effectively use the entire spectrum of incident light to work towards the overall goal of a sustainable solar liquid fuel.“

    The authors envision using parabolic mirrors to concentrate sunlight on the catalyst bed, providing both heat and photo-excitation for the reaction. Excess heat could even be used to drive related operations for a solar fuels facility, including product separations and water purification.

    The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Robert A. Welch Foundation. Wilaiwan Chanmanee, postdoctoral research associate in mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Mohammad Fakrul Islam, graduate research assistant and Ph.D. candidate in the department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UTA, also participated in the project.

    MacDonnell and Dennis have received more than $2.6 million in grants and corporate funding for sustainable energy projects over the last four years.

    MacDonnell and Dennis’ investigations also are focused on converting natural gas for use as high-grade diesel and jet fuel. The researchers developed the gas-to-liquid technology in collaboration with an industrial partner in UTA’s Center for Renewable Energy and Science Technology, or CREST, lab, and are now working to commercialize the process.

    MacDonnell also has worked on developing new photocatalysts for hydrogen generation, with the goal of creating an artificial photosynthetic system which uses solar energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen could then be used as a clean fuel.

    MacDonnell joined the College of Science in 1995, following his postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard. He earned his Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from Northwestern University.

    Dennis joined the College of Engineering in 2004 as an assistant professor. He earned his Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering at Pennsylvania State University and completed his postdoctoral work in Environmental Engineering at the University of Tokyo.

    See the full article here .

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    U Texas Arlington Campus

    The University of Texas at Arlington is a growing research powerhouse committed to life-enhancing discovery, innovative instruction, and caring community engagement. An educational leader in the heart of the thriving North Texas region, UT Arlington nurtures minds within an environment that values excellence, ingenuity, and diversity.

    Guided by world-class faculty members, the University’s more than 48,000 students in Texas and around the world represent 120 countries and pursue more than 180 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in a broad range of disciplines. UT Arlington is dedicated to producing the lifelong learners and critical thinkers our region and nation demand. More than 60 percent of the University’s 190,000 alumni live in North Texas and contribute to our annual economic impact of $12.8 billion in the region.

    With a growing number of campus residents, UT Arlington has become a first-choice university for students seeking a vibrant college experience. In addition to receiving a first-rate education, our students participate in a robust slate of co-curricular activities that prepare them to become the next generation of leaders.

  • richardmitnick 8:41 am on February 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Clean Energy, ,   

    From GIZMODO: “Morocco Switches on First Phase of the World’s Largest Solar Plant” 

    GIZMODO bloc


    Jamie Condliffe

    Solar Panels in Morocco
    Image by AP

    Yesterday, Morocco switched on the first section of its new Ouarzazate solar power plant. The new installation already creates 160 megawatts of power and is expected to grow to cover 6,000 acres by 2018—making it the largest in the world.

    The first wave of power production is known as Noor 1. Situated in the Sahara Desert, its crescent-shaped solar mirrors follow the sun to soak up sunlight all day long. The mirrors, each of which is 40 feet tall, focus light onto a steel pipeline that carries a synthetic thermal oil solution. The oil in those pipes can reach 740℉, and that’s what’s used to create electricity: The heat is used to create steam which drives turbines. The hot oil can be stored to create energy overnight, too.

    Noor 1 will be joined over time by Noor 2 and 3 which are expected to be finished by 2018. When those sections come online, the whole plant will cover an areas of over 6,000 acres, which is larger than the country’s capital city of Rabat. With the extra mirrors in place, the plant will generate 580 megawatts of electricity—enough to provide energy for 1.1 million people.

    But, as our own George Dvorsky has pointed out, that wasn’t always to be the case. The initial plan was to deliver the generated electricity to Europe but several partners pulled out. Interventions by the African Development Bank and the Moroccan government saved the project, though, and are now using it to meet Morocco’s own power demands. As of today, it will do just that.

    See the full article here .

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    “We come from the future.”

    GIZMOGO pictorial

  • richardmitnick 10:53 am on February 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Clean Energy,   

    From Sandia: “Algae raceway paves path from lab to real-world applications” 

    Sandia Lab

    February 2, 2016
    Patti Koning
    (925) 294-4911

    Sandia algae raceway testing facility

    In a twist of geometry, an oval can make a line. The new algae raceway testing facility at Sandia National Laboratories may be oval in shape, but it paves a direct path between laboratory research and solving the demand for clean energy.

    As the nation and California adopt policies to promote clean transportation fuels, that path could help bring the promise of algal biofuels closer to reality. As one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet, algae are an ideal source of biomass, but researchers have not yet found a cost-competitive way to use algae for fuels.

    “This facility helps bridge the gap from the lab to the real world by giving us an environmentally controlled raceway that we can monitor to test and fine tune discoveries,” said Ben Wu, Sandia’s Biomass Science and Conversion Technology manager.

    “The success of moving technologies from a research lab to large outdoor facilities is tenuous. The scale-up from flask to a 150,000-liter outdoor raceway pond is just too big.”

    The new Sandia algae testing facility consists of three 1,000-liter raceway ponds with advanced monitoring provides new advantages to researchers:

    Easy scale-up to larger, outdoor raceways
    Customizable lighting and temperature controls, operational by year end, to simulate the conditions of locations across the country
    Fully contained for testing genetic strains and crop protection strategies
    Advanced hyperspectral monitoring 24 hours a day

    Several ongoing projects will use the algae raceway right away. Researchers Todd Lane and Anne Ruffing will test genetically modified algae strains as part of a project funded by Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program. The algae raceway will allow the researchers to more quickly identify strains that promise improved performance.

    Lane is also part of a project partnership with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory funded by the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) that is investigating a probiotic approach to algae crop protection.

    Another BETO project seeks to convert algae proteins into useful chemical compounds such as butanol. Wu expects the facility will expand opportunities for Sandia researchers to develop algae as a robust source of biofuels and increase collaborations and partnerships with the private sector, particularly in California where efforts to transform transportation energy are prevalent.

    “The bioeconomy is gaining momentum,” he said. “Biofuels from algae may be further off, but algae has sugar and proteins that can make fuel or higher valued products, such as butanol or nylon — products that currently come from fossil fuels.”

    See the full article here .

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    Sandia Campus
    Sandia National Laboratory

    Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

  • richardmitnick 3:29 pm on February 2, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Clean Energy, , , Wind power in China   

    From SA: “China Blows Past the U.S. in Wind Power” 

    Scientific American

    Scientific American

    February 2, 2016
    Daniel Cusick

    Wind farm in Xinjiang, China
    Wind farm in Xinjiang, China

    China solidified its standing as the world’s wind energy behemoth in 2015, adding almost as much wind power capacity in one year as the total installed capacity of the three largest U.S. wind-producing states: Texas, Iowa and California.

    New data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance show China installed just under 29 gigawatts of new wind energy capacity in 2015, surpassing its previous record of roughly 21 GW set in 2014. The country also accounted for more than 46 percent of all wind power installed globally for the year, eclipsing the next largest market, the United States, which added 8.6 GW (ClimateWire, Jan. 28).

    Amy Grace, head of wind insight at BNEF, said the Chinese growth figure was the biggest surprise of 2015 and roughly 4 GW higher than analysts predicted. After China and the United States, the world’s largest markets for new wind power in 2015 were Germany, India and Brazil, with gross installs of 3.7, 2.6 and 2.6 GW, respectively.

    Grace noted in an email that Chinese developers “got very excited about qualifying projects” before the government implemented a second round of reductions to its feed-in tariff program for onshore wind farms. The reforms, initiated in early 2015, reduced payments to turbine owners by roughly 3 cents per kilowatt-hour across the country’s primary wind-energy-producing regions in the north and west of the country.

    But a rush to collect cash wasn’t the only driving factor behind China’s wind energy boom, according to other experts who track the country’s energy indicators. Nor does a boom in Chinese turbine installations necessarily translate into a proportionate gain in electricity flowing to China’s grid.

    Joanna Lewis, an associate professor of science, technology and international affairs at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, said China’s wind power sector has also been aided by a steep decline in manufacturing and installation costs, as well as the establishment of a robust domestic supply chain, led by the nation’s industry leader, Goldwind.

    “The feed-in tariff is still important as a driver,” Lewis said, “but there are other government policies and incentives that are continuing to drive the rapid pace” of wind power development in China. They include the central government’s commitment to replace heavily polluting coal-fired power plants, which are blamed for wrenching air conditions in China’s cities, with non-emitting resources such as wind, solar and hydropower.

    As part of that commitment, the government has pledged to produce 15 percent of all electricity by 2020 using renewable resources, including 250 GW of wind power expected to come online by the end of the decade.

    “This is partly about reducing carbon emissions, but it’s also an air quality issue that has become very, very urgent,” said Kate Gordon, vice chairwoman for climate and sustainable urbanization at the Paulson Institute, the China-focused environmental policy think tank led by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

    Gordon and Lewis also stressed that China’s clean energy story is only partly about capacity additions. The country still has considerable work ahead to effectively integrate renewable energy resources into the national grid. Among the hurdles are basic grid connectivity, but also the need for more effective management of the country’s power supply so that renewable energy resources are optimized.

    While investment in China’s power grid has risen substantially, the country still has some of the world’s highest curtailment rates for renewable energy, meaning thousands of turbines are taken offline, even under optimum wind conditions, because grid operators lack the knowledge and skills to integrate the clean energy with other sources, including baseload power from coal plants.

    Because of those limitations, Lewis said the United States remains a world leader in wind energy because capacity factors and utilization rates are much higher on average for U.S. wind turbines than for Chinese turbines.

    But China’s turbine technology is improving quickly, and it is closing the gap in the wind industry supply chain against other global brands.

    According to BNEF, Beijing-based Goldwind dominated the Chinese domestic market in 2015, accounting for 7.7 GW of China’s new capacity, followed by rival Guodian United Power Technology Co. Ltd. with 2.9 GW, and Envision Energy and Ming Yang Wind Power Group Ltd., each with 2.7 GW of new capacity.

    See the full article here .

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    Scientific American, the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S., has been bringing its readers unique insights about developments in science and technology for more than 160 years.

  • richardmitnick 8:38 am on January 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Clean Energy,   

    From Huff Post: “We’re Pouring A Record Amount Of Money Into Clean Energy, But There’s A Long Way To Go” 

    Huffington Post
    The Huffington Post

    Ben Walsh

    The largest solar thermal installation in the world, in California’s Mojave Desert. Even with falling oil prices, the world invested a record amount in clean energy last year. Ethan Miller via Getty Images

    The world invested $329 billion in renewable energy in 2015, an increase of 4 percent compared to 2014 and surpassing the $318 billion spent in 2011 to set a new record, according to a new report by Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance.

    The durability of spending on renewable energy is made more significant, the authors of the report note, by the fact that oil, coal and natural gas prices continued to decrease, after declining in 2014 and continuing to fall throughout last year.


    “These figures are a stunning riposte to all those who expected clean energy investment to stall on falling oil and gas prices. They highlight the improving cost-competitiveness of solar and wind power,” the chair of Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance’s advisory board, Michael Liebreich, said in a release.

    The 2015 number also does not capture spending that may be driven by the Paris climate agreement, which was reached at the end of the year. In connection with the Paris talks, a group of governments led by the U.S. and France, and private investors led by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and George Soros, promised to invest in new energy technologies.

    But despite the good news, clean energy spending still needs to increase dramatically if the world is going to meet the goal of limiting climate change to 2 degrees celsius, a cornerstone of the Paris agreement. That would require an annual investment of $7 trillion, according to data from the International Energy Agency.

    In that context, the 2015 investment record, while laudable, still leaves a gaping clean energy investment gap.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:43 pm on December 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Clean Energy,   

    From SA: “The Power of the Nudge to Change Our Energy Future” 

    Scientific American

    Scientific American

    December 29, 2015
    Sebastian Berger

    Temp 1
    Credit: Elenathewise via ©iStock

    More than ever, psychology has become influential not only in explaining human behavior, but also as a resource for policy makers to achieve goals related to health, well-being, or sustainability. For example, President Obama signed an executive order directing the government to systematically use behavioral science insights to “better serve the American people.” Not alone in this endeavor, many governments – including the UK, Germany, Denmark, or Australia – are turning to the insights that most frequently stem from psychological researchers, but also include insights from behavioral economics, sociology, or anthropology.

    Particularly relevant are the analysis and the setting of “default-options.” A default is the option that a decision maker receives if he or she does not specifically state otherwise. Are we automatically enrolled in a 401(k), are we organ donors by default, or is the flu-shot a standard that is routinely given to all citizens? Research has given us many examples of how and when defaults can promote public safety or wealth.

    One of the most important questions facing the planet, however, is how to manage the transition into a carbon-free economy. In a recent paper, Felix Ebeling of the University of Cologne and I tested whether defaults could nudge consumers into choosing a green energy contract over one that relies on conventional energy. The results were striking: setting the default to green energy increased participation nearly tenfold. This is an important result because it tells us that subtle, non-coercive changes in the decision making environment are enough to show substantial differences in consumers’ preferences in the domain of clean energy. It changes green energy participation from “hardly anyone” to “almost everyone”. Merely within the domain of energy behavior, one can think of many applications where this finding can be applied: For instance, default engines of new cars could be set to hybrid and customers would need to actively switch to standard options. Standard temperatures of washing machines could be low, etc.

    In our main study, we conducted a randomized-controlled trial involving about 40,000 households in Germany. In collaboration with an energy supplier, we observed these households as they went through the decision screens when purchasing an energy contract online (e.g., because they had moved or they simply changed from one supplier to the next). Households made two decisions: First, they could choose to purchase a more expensive high-service contract (i.e., including phone assistance, regular billing, etc.) versus a less expensive low-service contract (i.e., only web-based assistance, e-billing, etc.). Second, households could choose whether their energy is sourced from 100% renewables or not.

    Due to the energy pricing specifics in Germany, the supplier sold renewable energy at a slightly higher price (0.3 cents per kilowatt hour, about €10 (around $15 at the time) annually based on an average household) making it only minimally more expensive. Purchasing green, however, assures that the supplier changes its energy mix to reflect the consumer’s preference for sustainable energy. For instance, if a consumer uses 5,000 kilowatt hours per year, the supplier will purchase this exact amount of green energy and add it to the overall energy mix.

    This is where our experiment kicked in: Half of our households were guided through decision screens in which they actively had to opt into green energy. Besides their choice about the service intensity, household decision makers could click a button that said: “I would like that 100% of my energy is sustainable”. Clicking and unclicking that button dynamically updated the prices. The other half of our households was guided through identical decision screens, but we had pre-selected the same button as above. The difference between the experimental conditions is minimal. Households had to actively “opt-in” in half of the cases or actively “opt-out” in the other half, simply by (un-)clicking the button.

    The results were striking. Using the opt-in rule, merely 7% of households purchased a green energy contract. Using the “opt-out” rule, however, increased participation tenfold to roughly 70%. Choices were largely anonymous and cost of switching to a conventional vs. green contract is negligible. Yet, we observe drastic changes in preference suggesting that a simple change in the decision architecture is enough to boost demand of green energy.

    But anyone who has ever unwillingly installed a “browser tool bar” when downloading free software from the internet must wonder now: Well, probably the majority of “green” consumers must have failed to notice that an option to “opt-out” existed. It is a reasonable objection. Therefore, in another study we tested whether participants were aware of their choice.

    To do this experiment, we relied on American participants recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk. Amazon’s platform is frequently used for social science research and generally regarded as a valuable and efficient way to recruit study participants. But it is sometimes criticized as a platform with inattentive or even unmotivated study participants. In other words: Exactly what we needed. If relatively inattentive and unmotivated people can recall their decision in a fictive scenario study, then, we argued, people who are actually purchasing green energy contracts are likely to do so as well.

    So, we ran another study involving 290 participants and guided them through the same decision screens as in the randomized-controlled trial. Our main result replicated well. But additionally, we asked a share of them to recall their behavior in the end. In this trial, 84 percent of the people who were nudged into green energy by the default change were able to recall their choice. (When people had to “opt-in” to the green choice, all of them recalled their choice.)

    Interestingly, by matching regional election results to behavior of our 40,000 trial-participants, we could also investigate the effect of partisanship. Not surprisingly, approval of the German green party correlates with green energy choices, but only in absence of the default nudge. When consumers need to opt in, support for the greens predicted sustainable behavior. When the nudge was in place, though, there was no correlation: Almost everybody acted green and even partisanship no longer mattered.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:18 pm on December 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Clean Energy   

    From Caltech: “Toward Liquid Fuels from Carbon Dioxide” 

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    Ker Than

    C1 to C2: Connecting carbons by reductive deoxygenation and coupling of CO Credit: Kyle Horak and Joshua Buss/Caltech

    In the quest for sustainable alternative energy and fuel sources, one viable solution may be the conversion of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into liquid fuels.

    Through photosynthesis, plants convert sunlight, water, and CO2 into sugars, multicarbon molecules that fuel cellular processes. CO2 is thus both the precursor to the fossil fuels that are central to modern life as well as the by-product of burning those fuels. The ability to generate synthetic liquid fuels from stable, oxygenated carbon precursors such as CO2 and carbon monoxide (CO) is reminiscent of photosynthesis in nature and is a transformation that is desirable in artificial systems. For about a century, a chemical method known as the Fischer-Tropsch process has been utilized to convert hydrogen gas (H2) and CO to liquid fuels. However, its mechanism is not well understood and, in contrast to photosynthesis, the process requires high pressures (from 1 to 100 times atmospheric pressure) and temperatures (100–300 degrees Celsius).

    More recently, alternative conversion chemistries for the generation of liquid fuels from oxygenated carbon precursors have been reported. Using copper electrocatalysts, CO and CO2 can be converted to multicarbon products. The process proceeds under mild conditions, but how it takes place remains a mystery.

    Now, Caltech chemistry professor Theo Agapie and his graduate student Joshua Buss have developed a model system to demonstrate what the initial steps of a process for the conversion of CO to hydrocarbons might look like.

    The findings, published as an advanced online publication for the journal Nature on December 21, 2015 (and appearing in print on January 7, 2016), provide a foundation for the development of technologies that may one day help neutralize the negative effects of atmospheric accumulation of the greenhouse gas CO2 by converting it back into fuel. Although methods exist to transform CO2 into CO, a crucial next step, the deoxygenation of CO molecules and their coupling to form C–C bonds, is more difficult.

    In their study, Agapie and Buss synthesized a new transition metal complex—a metal atom, in this case molybdenum, bound by one or more supporting molecules known as ligands—that can facilitate the activation and cleavage of a CO molecule. Incremental reduction of the molecule leads to substantial weakening of the C–O bonds of CO. Once weakened, the bond is broken entirely by introducing silyl electrophiles, a class of silicon-containing reagents that can be used as surrogates for protons.

    This cleavage results in the formation of a terminal carbide—a single carbon atom bound to a metal center—that subsequently makes a bond with the second CO molecule coordinated to the metal. Although a carbide is commonly proposed as an intermediate in CO reductive coupling, this is the first direct demonstration of its role in this type of chemistry, the researchers say. Upon C–C bond formation, the metal center releases the C2 product. Overall, this process converts the two CO units to an ethynol derivative and proceeds easily even at temperatures lower than room temperature.

    “To our knowledge, this is the first example of a well-defined reaction that can take two carbon monoxide molecules and convert them into a metal-free ethynol derivative, a molecule related to ethanol; the fact that we can release the C2 product from the metal is important,” Agapie says.

    While the generated ethynol derivative is not useful as a fuel, it represents a step toward being able to generate synthetic multicarbon fuels from carbon dioxide. The researchers are now applying the knowledge gained in this initial study to improve the process. “Ideally, our insight will facilitate the development of practical catalytic systems,” Buss says.

    The scientists are also working on a way to cleave the C–O bond using protons instead of silyl electrophiles. “Ultimately, we’d like to use protons from water and electron equivalents derived from sunlight,” Agapie says. “But protons are very reactive, and right now we can’t control that chemistry.”

    The research in the paper, “Four-electron deoxygenative reductive coupling of carbon monoxide at a single metal site,” was funded by Caltech and the National Science Foundation.

    See the full article here .

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    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”
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