Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Nanosolar Make First Delivery of Utility Panels(tm)

Nanosolar announces the shipping of their first solar panels. Martin Roscheisen, CEO of Nanosolar issued a press release on December 18th announcing the first shipment of the company’s innovative thin film solar panels
Five years have elapsed from the start of Nanosolar to its first shipment. The innovative printing press manufacturing style pioneered by the company promises to set the standard for affordable photovoltaic solar energy. Roscheisen estimates prices as low as $0.99 per watt for its product.
This is a big day for solar power fans. The long awaited word from Nanosolar, Inc. signals the true start of affordable solar power production. With a 25 year warrantee, the cost of the electricity produced could be on a par with current utility cost per kilowatt hour. A remarkable achievement for Nanosolar.
Mr. Roscheisen, also announced his plans for the first three commercially produced panels. The first will be displayed at the company’s California headquarters. The second is being auctioned on eBay with proceeds going to charity. The third will be donated to the Tech Museum in San Jose, California.
The first shipment of Nanosolar Utility Panels™ will be used for a one Megawatt municipal power project in Eastern Germany.
“This is the first time that a solar electricity cell and panel has been designed entirely and specifically for utility-scale power generation," said Martin Roscheisen, CEO of Nanosolar. "It will set the standard for green power generation at utility scale." See press release for full story
SolarPly™, flexible thin film panels are also now available. The light weight SolarPly™panels are stated to have solderless power connections. These panels can be trimmed to any size greatly increasing potential applications.
Nanosolar, Inc. is privately held with manufacturing facilities in San Jose, California and near Berlin, Germany. Product technical information is limited to qualified volume customers. Products currently available are the Nanosaolar Utility Panel™ and SolarPly™. Visit for more information.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

NASA Makes Error - 1934 Warmest Year

I haven't posted in a while because nothing exceptional has developed in the past couple of months. Since alternate energy is being driven in a large part by global warming, this subject is interesting.

Steve McIntyre is a GW skeptic that noted some time ago that the GISS temperature average for the United States had an odd jump in the year 2000. McIntyre and company made several attempts to obtain information on the methodology used by GISS to locate the cause of the spike. With little assistance from GISS, McIntyre reconstructed the temperature averages noting that equipment changes made in Y2K were incorrectly compensated.

The result is that there was an approximate 0.2 degree C bias for the 2000 on data. GISS recognized the error and is making corrections. While the correction will have little impact on global temperature averages, there may be a ripple effect as other measurement methods adjusted to US temperature average may require fine tuning.

While this in no way indicates that anthropogenic global warming is not significant, it may well indicate that more pragmatic implementation of alternate energy is in order. That is a good thing as cutting edge technologies are on the not too distant horizon.

Nanosolar may be one of the key cutting edge manufacturers. Unfortunately, the progress Nanosolar is making is not well publicized. This is a bit disconcerting as any good corporate news is happily released by most companies. With no news one can only guess that terminal connections to their thin film solar panels is posing a problem. Hopefully, they will resolve any difficulties and start releasing product in the next year.

Cheap renewable electricity is key to developing our hydrogen economy. Also a key component is Fuel Cell performance and cost. This area is showing much more promise. Initial production FCV's should be on the market in 2008 though 2010 is more likely for the production of reliable long range vehicles.

This is not only important for travel, but for clean hydrogen production. High efficiency, affordable fuel cells coupled with reasonably priced renewable electricity go a long way to reduce hydrogen infrastructure requirements. While not an overly efficient method of hydrogen production, solar power at a cost average of eight to ten cents per KWH can make on site hydrogen production via reversed fuel cell operation relatively economical.

Another technology update is Green Fuel. While still in the R&D phase has added a few new test plants in Louisiana, Kansas and South Africa. The Arizona test plant performance appears successful, but full scale implementation is still years in the future. In addition to producing bio-fuels and CO2 scrubbing at power plants, the algae farming can be used to clean up hydrogen production from natural gas processing.

Capt. Dallas

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Politics of Global Warming

The Vikings settled Greenland in around 1000 AD. They had a colony on Greenland until around 1500 AD. That is the basic history, so why is it so hard to determine why this period in Viking history was so prolific? Because the medieval warming period that stimulated the Viking's rise in prominence is no longer politically correct.

The medieval warming period is a time from approximately 950 AD to 1450 AD where temperatures in the northern hemisphere were notably warmer. Warmer as in the temperatures we are experiencing now. This period was followed by another period called the little ice age where temperatures fell for a few centuries, ending in the early 1800's.

Prior to 1998-ish, there was debate over the medieval warming period and the little ice age, but not out right war in the scientific community. Now there is war! Any argument that there were milder climate conditions between 950 and 1450 AD fires up a huge debate with near political mudslinging in the climatologic community. Then remember, the louder people protest, the higher the probability of a real news story.

Digging a little deeper, one may find that most scientific proxy data that supports the existence of the medieval warming period is missing from recent climatologic reports. The recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) dismissed all evidence of the medieval warming period. Research by Dr. Lloyd Keigwin with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) published in 1996, implied that the medieval warming period not only happened, but also had global impact.

Dr. Keigwin's research was published in the peer reviewed journal Oceanus, a WHOI publication and funded by the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration Climate Change Program. The research he made should have been included or at least mentioned in the IPCC report on climate change.

Other allegations by climate scientists are being made. One that I find particularly interesting is that heat island effect and other influences, are not considered on the individual weather stations used in determining average temperatures. The heat island effect is where local temperatures are higher due to reduced solar reflectivity. Walk barefoot on a black tar road and you will experience part of the heat island effect. This effect can cause temperatures in municipalities to be ten degrees above the ambient temperature.

While very few scientists dispute that some manmade climate change is occurring, the rate and impact are hot topics. So hot that some standard peer reviewers are not included. This is not a good thing, picking and chosing peer reviewers is too political to be good science practise.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Is Global Warming Good or Bad?

Forums dealing with global warming and alternate energy issues are filled with wildly differing points of view. One forum thread asked if global warming is a good or bad. That is an interesting question.

With sea level rise predicted at 0.5 cm per year in the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) fourth report, mitigation is recommended to reduce sea level rise. Mitigation of sea level rise includes, storm water runoff retention, wet lands restoration, forestry water shed expansion and water conservation.

Storm water runoff is being addressed due to pollution of estuaries in many parts of the world. Real estate developers are required to build retention ponds/lakes in many areas as a part of their projects. These ponds are often an aesthetic highlight of the developments. Some developers are including artificial wetland areas in the storm water retention plans that provide wildlife habitat and reforestation.

Wetlands restoration and protection has been embraced not only by the US government but groups like the Audubon Society and Ducks Unlimited for many years. These wetlands reduce pollution runoff, provide animal habitat and restrict construction. In addition, wetlands reduce saltwater intrusion in coastal aquifers.

Forestry watersheds are important not only for prevention of erosion, but enhance aquifer recharge and reduce flooding potential. Improved forestry methods maintain these watersheds while producing valuable natural resources. Working with the forestry industry to expand watershed acreage will reduce real estate development in privately owned timberland areas, preserving more valuable woodlands without government intervention.

Water conservation is an issue that needs to be addressed more urgently in many areas of the world. Water conservation requires improved irrigation methods and more water treatment and reuse. Water conservation also includes the first three elements; storm water runoff, wetland restoration and water shed expansion.

Carbon dioxide reduction for the purposes global warming mitigation is stimulating inspiring advances in various energy fields. Improving energy efficiency and developing alternate energy sources will reduce dependence on foreign oil and eventually reduce energy costs to consumers. If wisely selected, these technologies will stimulate economic and technology growth similar to the space program’s stimulus in the 1960‘s and 1970‘s.

Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV) whether they use hydrogen, ethanol or synthetic fuels will greatly reduce both atmospheric and noise pollution. The efficiency of the FCV is much greater than internal combustion engines with equal performance.

Aviation grade bio and/or synthetic fuels are being developed that are much less polluting than petroleum based aviation fuels. Biomass production for aviation and road bio-diesel can be expanded to impoverished areas of the world improving local quality of life. Algae for example can be grown in saltwater or polluted water. Lack of adequate clean water is often a contributing factor to the condition of poorer nations. Algae farms produce a valuable cash crop and can provide clean water through desalination plants powered by algae bio-fuels or through algae treatment of polluted water. Since animal and human waste can provide nutrients for algae farms, sanitation in many areas can be improved for economic reasons.

Assuming that socially responsible efforts are made to combat climate change, yes global warming is a good thing.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Challenge of Climate Change

Addressing green house gases in the atmosphere, which is the critical manmade components that contribute to climate change, is possible. Making that reduction in green house gasses in a socially and economically sound manner is the challenge. Projects that have produced alternate fuels, with the goal of energy independence, may have contributed to overall greenhouse emissions.

For example Brazil’s ethanol program: This program is a model for many nations’ seeking solutions to global warming and foreign oil dependence. How effective is Brazil’s ethanol program in reducing that nation’s carbon footprint?

Much of Brazil’s farmland was once rainforest. Deforestation is a major contributor to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Ethanol as a fuel, produces less atmospheric carbon dioxide than gasoline, but is not carbon neutral. Considering the production energy requirements from seedling to ethanol, there is less carbon dioxide released, but still considerable amounts are released. The net result of Brazil’s ethanol program may well be highly carbon positive.

I addition to carbon dioxide, decaying plant vegetation used as green manure (a fertilizer) releases methane which is also a greenhouse gas.

So Brazil’s ethanol program at best may have reduced the rate of carbon dioxide addition to the atmosphere. Most probably, Brazil’s program increases atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at a greater rate due to deforestation.

While bio-fuels appear to have a strong role in the transition for fossil fuels to renewable fuels, the choice of biomass is critical if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are to be maintained or reduced.

Algae show much greater potential as a biomass that standard field crops. The advantages of algae are much higher energy production per pound of biomass, much less acreage required per pound of biomass and continuous harvesting of biomass. An additional advantage is that non-forested acreage unsuited to traditional farming can be used for algae production.

Common products from algae are bio-diesel, ethanol and high protein feed animal feeds. Using all of the algae for these purposes results in carbon neutrality of the crop. Other products can be made from algae that can make the crop carbon negative or sequester the carbon. Plastics, construction materials and soil enhancers (charcoals for nutrient retention) can be made from algae.

From a socially responsible position, algae farms are well suited for locations in the world where economic conditions cause great hardship. Algae farms can be located in areas of the world that experience frequent drought conditions. Saltwater which is plentiful in many of these areas can be used to grow algae and the bio-fuels from the algae can be used to power desalination plants. In politically stable, economically challenged nations, the value of the algae crop is sufficient to warrant outside investment.

The considerations that need to be made in finding real solutions to climate change and energy independence are enormous. The correct source of biomass is only one of those considerations.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Global Warming debate is getting heated.

Al Gore has been criticized for using too much electricity and destroying the local environment with zinc mining. Gore predicts 20 foot rises in sea levels that appear to be contradicted by 20 inch estimates in the International Panel of Climate Change’s (IPCC) Forth report. Liberals are accusing Big Oil of conspiracies to falsify data on CO2 emissions impact on climate change. NASA is planning to launch mini mirrors into orbit to block some of the sunlight to balance the effect of green house gases. So what’s the deal?

The deal is that there are logical paths to follow. There is no way the billions of humans can occupy a planet without having some negative impact. So yes, all the little human polluters need to tighten up! There are things you can do to save money on energy. These things that Al Gore mention: Florescent light bulbs, programmable thermostats, hot water heater blankets, solar outdoor lighting, and changing your air conditioner filters regularly are all great suggestions. If you add hot water heater timers, weather stripping, lighter colored roofing material, high-efficiency or water source heat pump air conditioning (where the water can be properly utilized), attic ventilation, ceiling fans, window tinting, insulated glass windows, proper attic insulation and passive solar applications (deciduous trees on the south side of your home for one); you are beginning to get the point I was paid to make for years.

The regular Earthling can do plenty to help save themselves energy, that just happens to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money. Irregardless of your stance on global warming, these are simple economically sound things you can do. A friend of mine told me that if I replace one incandescent light bulb, I could help stop global warming. I only have two incandescent bulbs and they are both 12 volt. Every light I use is florescent.

What can municipalities do to help? Check out the urban heat island effect. For some odd reason, the IPCC does not include the urban heat island effect in their mankind’s contributions to global warming. It is considered insignificant in their report. Yet, Al Gore lists things like florescent light bulbs, etc. as helpful parts of the solution. Urban heat island effect is this; dark pavement, dark home roofs, densely packed buildings and fewer trees create much warmer urban areas. The ten plus degree warmer air temperatures in the heat islands reduce the efficiency of air conditioning units, reduce the efficiency of motor vehicles and increase air conditioning demand. Reducing heat island effect is like installing a heck of a lot of florescent bulbs!

Local governments can help reduce the heat island effect with reduced heat absorption pavements, encouraged tree planting, construction code changes to address reflective/less heat absorbing roofing, green roof initiatives and encouraging green development. The green development not only reduces the heat island effect, it has created some beautiful areas in revitalization projects.

The federal government has been doing more than they have been given credit for. Dozens of relatively small government grants have help develop a large number of new technologies and products in alternate energy production and storage. Many types of alternate energy generation are just becoming economically feasible. Wind power generation is now viable. Five mega watt wind mills are online instead of the 50 kilowatt toys available ten to twenty years ago. Solar cells are becoming more efficient and less expensive. Fuel cells are lighter, cost much less and are more efficient. Hydrogen fuel storage technology has improved incredibly in the last four years. Farmers risked their own money years ago to start alcohol distilleries for alternate energy. All of these were aided by federal programs, grants and tax incentives.

If you are new to the global warming band wagon, just how much have you done over the past thirty years to help. Yep! For thirty years scientists and entrepreneurs have been working to develop more energy efficient devices and alternate energy applications related to reducing global warming. A great deal of these scientists and entrepreneurs gained inspiration from NASA. Some gained inspiration from military contracts. Some worked for years on their own until finally tax incentives and rising gas costs drove investors to their door.

If you really want to do something that might help global warming, start thinking higher efficiency, alternate energy, alternate fuels and new technology. If you don’t buy the alternatives, change will never happen. In the next two years, real alternatives that offer real performance will be available from the auto industry. The “not in my backyard mentality” related to wind farms and other green energy options needs to be reconsidered. New and some older green energy options are in the works for your community. Cleaner, transitional, uses of fossil fuels need to be used on the road to fossil fuel independence, accept that fact. That ten year old coal fired power plant has not paid for itself yet. Don’t shut it down. Upgrade the scrubbers if need be and increase the carbon retention, and call it transitional. Because that is what it is.

The ball will soon be in your court consumer. This is a capitalistic society. Products that help solve some of the problem are available. New automotive products that are the real deal, are coming soon to a show room near you. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, ask not what your country can do for global warming, ask instead, what you can do for your world to stop global warming.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

What Everyone Should Know About Associated Content

Charlotte tells about what it means to have the opportunity to enjoy your passion and be paid for the effort. It is a great example of why people join and stay at Associated Content.

read more | digg story

Saturday, February 17, 2007

How to Build a Better Battery

Battery power cars have been built for the general public but failed to make a big hit. Limited range and long recharge times seem to be reason for the poor sales. Battery powered forklifts were fairly well received in the warehousing industry where the need for pollution free power is much more critical. Still the limited run time and long charging times limited the electric equipment lift equipment growth. Propane powered equipment took over a larger share of the market.

What was needed for the electric powered equipment was a better battery system. Batteries that would extend the operating time, decrease charge time and increase the life span of the batteries. Many different materials and chemical combinations have been tried with limited success. Until a year or so ago.

This new battery system occupies the same foot print as the large lead acid batteries originally design for the forklifts. It triples the runtime over lead acid, reduces recharge time to under four minutes, virtually eliminates hazardous waste storage of lead acid batteries and maintains a constant output voltage over the entire discharge cycle.

Now that the battery manufacturer has proven its performance in warehouse applications, original equipment manufacturers (OEM) are ordering the new batteries. This may signal not only the growth of electric warehouse equipment but rebirth of the electric car.

The Hydricity ® power cells use space age technology redesigned to reduce cost and weight. The NASA proven technology is the hydrogen fuel cell. Energy stored for the fuel cell is in the form of hydrogen not electrons. The hydrogen is converted to electricity through the fuel cell providing the equipment with constant power while the cell is fueled. Waste products of the conversion process is water vapor and heat.

The Manufacturer, General Hydrogen announced its first OEM order in May of 2006 from Cat ® Lift Trucks of Houston, Texas. Sales figures for hydrogen fuel cell model lifts were not available at the time of this article.

The Ballard Mark 9 fuel cell, the heart of the new battery replacement system, has yet to meet its goal of 2300 hours of reliable operation. The Mark 9 SSL ™ ratings range from 4.4 KW to 19.3 KW with weights under 35 pounds. The total Hydricity 2 unit weights just over 2000 pounds including capacitors, fuel storage, cooling system, controls and cabinet.

The fuel cell manufacturer predicts that by the second quarter of 2007 they will meet that goal. The company has meet cost goals of less than $65 per KW, 1500W per liter size and cold start performance for its automotive application model 902. After meeting the 2300 hour minimum life the Ballard 902 models will be available for automotive use. The 902 model can be configured for 85KW for light autos to 300KW for heavy vehicles.

Both the Mark 9 and the model 902 are based on the light weight PEM (Polymer Electrolytic Membrane or Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell technology. Using this design, the model 902 weighs in at 212 pounds. The Mark 9 19.3 KW weighs under 35 pounds.

At 65$ per KW the typical compact car power plant would be $5525.00 which is considered competitive for automotive power plants. Note this price is for the fuel cell only and does not included electric drives, fuel storage and other required components. The 2300 hours life translates roughly to 70,000 miles of reliable service before overhaul (mileage estimates vary greatly with use).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

2008 Presidential Candidates: Energy Issues

Ideas come from both sides of the aisle, some good and some bad. In this day of sound bites, the real impact of a politician’s idea requires a little research or assumptions. I don’t like to assume. It is early in the race, very early, so this is at best a preliminary review of what some of the candidates or potential candidates are saying about alternate energy policies.

Senator John Kerry made this remark following the 2007 State of the Union address:

“Once again the President only paid lip service to a meaningful energy agenda that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil. His record speaks for itself – we’re more dependent on foreign oil than ever before. Tonight the President failed to embrace bold policies to break our oil dependence. The President says the nation should reduce U.S. gas usage by 20 percent over the next 10 years, but a goal without a roadmap for getting there is useless. The President should have included more funding for hybrids and battery technology.”

This was taken from Senator Barack Obama’s campaign website:

Senator Obama introduced legislation with Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) to require 2 billion gallons of alternative diesels, such as bio-diesel, to be produced domestically by 2015. Obama also sponsored legislation requiring oil companies, that made at least $1 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2006 to invest at least 1 percent of the their total reported first quarter 2006 profits into installing E85 pumps.

Senator Obama worked with Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) to introduce the American Fuels Act that would increase the domestic production, distribution, and use of biofuels, including expanded manufacture of flexible fuel vehicles, tax credits for biofuels, and a nationwide distribution infrastructure.

This was taken from Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign website:

Ending our country's dependence on foreign oil will take real leadership. Hillary proposed a simple idea to help end the cycle of dependence: put some of the oil industry's windfall profits into a fund that would help develop practical new sources of renewable energy.

Senator Kerry mentions that without a roadmap the 20 in 10 is useless. Well it seems with a roadmap the “Energy Act of 1992” was useless. That act called for gasoline use in the US to be reduced by 10 percent by year 2000 and 30 percent by 2010. So what happened? The American consumer must have had the map upside down.

The FreedomCar initiative set less stringent goals. It basically provided federal funds to develop hydrogen power vehicle technologies. One of the problems with hydrogen is that it is hard to store enough hydrogen to get a comparable vehicle range. A company called Quantum Industries took a matching funds grant from the US and developed a composite material hydrogen fuel tank that significantly increases the range of hydrogen powered vehicles. Ford Motor Company built a prototype hydrogen fuel cell Explorer that uses a 700 bar hydrogen tank storing 10 kilograms of hydrogen and has a range of 350 miles. That would be a SUV getting the equivalent of 35 MPG burning a green alternate fuel. That fuel tank pressure by the way was the target pressure of the Quantum Industries research.

Senator Obama’s thoughts summarized are; tax the oil companies 1 percent to build a e85 infrastructure and use more clean coal.

As E85 availability and E85 rated vehicles on the road increases, the oil companies are going to put in E85 pumps. This is one of those basic supply and demand things. There are also alternate energy tax incentives in place that the big oil companies are already using. One flaw in the recommended bio-diesel mandate would be agricultural commodities costs. Enabling the already growing grass roots bio-fuel movement instead of mandating progress is normally much more effective. Alternate energy tax incentives are an example of enabling.

The use of clean coal also sounds great. A federally funded pilot project called “FutureGen” is developing clean coal use, increasing the efficiency of the coal fired powered plant by producing hydrogen as a by-product and working on methods of carbon sequestering. Coal is still a fossil fuel. Using coal as a step to energy independence is fine, but other methods not using fossil fuel would be better.

Senator Clinton’s statement was the vaguest of the three, but potentially the most profound. She chose a poor wording using the word “take” in the real world (not used on her website) referring to the windfall profits of the oil companies. If she had used a phrase like, “Not taxing up to 15% of windfall profits, provided those profits are directed towards alternate fuel research and infrastructure development” She would have had a major win on her hands.

Her not specifically directing the oil company monies toward any one alternate energy technology was a stroke of brilliance. Alternate energy technologies are emerging and allowing flexibility in investments increases the probability of success.

Many feel that little progress towards energy independence is being made. Slow and steady progress is being made. Slow and steady wins the race some times.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Alternate Energy: Food for Thought

As of 2005, 71 percent of US electrical power generation used fossil fuel sources (per Energy Information Administration). Coal by far lead fossil fuel sources producing 50% of the total 4.05 Gigawatt hours (GW) produced. Relating back to the New Agriculture: Energy Farming article, the 60,000 5 Megawatt hours (MW) wind turbines operating at 25 percent of capacity (wind doesn’t blow all the time) would produce 75,000 MW. Representing much less than one percent of the total US electrical power output.

Clean energy resources, nuclear, hydroelectric and other renewable sources combined to produce 28 percent of the 2005 totals. Wind power was the fastest growing sector of power generation.

2005 motor gasoline usage was approximately 100,000 barrels per day or 31,500,000 gallons per day. To try to keep everything in common units, hourly gasoline use in the United States is approximately 48,000 MW. The percentage of this energy used in automobiles varies between sources as airplanes and boats use a percentage that is difficult to accurately determine. For the purpose of this article I will assume 90% usage by road vehicles. So with that assumption US road vehicles consume 43,200 MW per hour or just over one percent of our nation’s electrical power generation.

By now you are wondering, “Where the hell is he going with this”! To set priorities is my goal. Automotive internal combustion engines are inefficient and despite the huge numbers represent a small but very expensive percentage of our energy budget. Fuel cell vehicles are twice as efficient as internal combustion engines. Making fuel cell vehicles a logical initial goal in our quest for energy independence.

While agriculturally produced bio-fuels are a wonderful start for a green energy economy, the inherent inefficiency of the internal combustion engine is not addressed. With alcohol as fuel the efficiency of the auto engine is even worse. This is not to de-rate the importance of bio-fuels, just to emphasize that some 100 plus year old technologies may not be a part of our future.

Another goal of this article is to illustrate the challenges we face in reducing overall fossil fuel use in the United States. Wind power is the fastest growing alternate energy sector. While there will surely be advances in wind power technology, the current cost per KW is attractive making wind power generation a profitable enterprise.

Solar is increasing as an energy sector, but the potential of new more efficient solar panels will cause relatively slow growth. It is hard to justify spending big money on equipment in a technology sector that may cost 75% less in just a few years. An investor would be leery of placing billions into large-scale solar power plants. Again, this is not meant to devalue solar energy’s significance. There are applications were solar is cost effective.

Tidal and wave energy sources have yet to make a significant energy impact. Technological advances are making this a much more attractive sector. The potential of tidal/wave energy is greater than that of wind power.

Last but not least, nuclear energy, which provides less than twenty percent of our total electrical energy, is a proven technology. Replacing aging fossil fuel fired power plants with nuclear power is a logical decision. Increased nuclear power plant construction based on proven designs is also logical.

Stimulating interest and discussion on our rapidly changing energy future is important. All our options need to be considered and hopefully most of the readers are realizing that most alternate energy technologies will play a role. Focusing on your one favorite alternate energy is fine, but don’t sight of the goal. Moving to a fossil free future in a logical, orderly manner.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The President's 20 in 10 Inititiative

In his 2007 State of the Union address president Bush announced his 20 in 10 initiative. Meaning that the US will reduce gasoline use by 20% in ten years. The media is underplaying this initiative. An Oxford Analytical article on used such glowing adjectives as mild, modest and slightly. The article also mentioned safety valves in mandated vehicle fuel efficiencies legislation that congress may use if required.

Many in the media seem to forget that a president can only rally the entrepreneurial troops so to speak. Governmental mandates that are not obtainable should have safety valve to be used, but only if required to prevent economic chaos. It is doubtful that any of these safety valves will have to be used.

Economic conditions are near perfect for implementation of the 20 in 10 initiative. Oil price and availability concerns are driving alternate energy technologies and alternate energy vehicle design. Both are poised to fill the energy gaps. Because of the much greater fuel efficiency of the hydrogen fuel cell Detroit should have no problem meeting the average vehicle fuel efficiency standards mandated by the 20 in 10 initiative.

The ball though is in the American people’s court. Will those with adequate financial resources by these vehicles? What is wrong with a huge SUV that gets 35 miles per gallon using clean hydrogen fuel? The American people have to embrace the potential of the initiative rather than question the source. If political gamesmanship attempts to underplay the potential, the game players may suffer.

As the Oxford Analytical article mentioned, bio-fuels are only a part of the energy puzzle. Other options are required and will always be required. The President’s energy policies have generated interest in alternate fuel implementation and will generate more. Before the State of the Union speech Wal-Mart submitted a request for proposals for 100MW solar power systems to be designed for their stores. Perhaps a little more positive reporting could serve to stimulate more interest in our nation becoming energy independent in a much shorter time frame.

There is common ground in the goal to obtain energy independence. While many on the green side may belittle 20 in 10 is too little too late, that is not necessarily the case. Do you want to risk the energy future of this nation by perverting the message to kill the messenger?

The 20 in 10 initiative is intended to inspire entrepreneurs and investors. Focusing on the common goal and working as a determined nation to achieve that goal is the task at hand. Many in the national community need to remove their blinders and look at all the available options. They are there, they are real and with a unified effort they are obtainable. Talk to American farmers that are already branching out to wind power farms.

"Today I am pleased to announce that the United States will sponsor a $1 billion, 10-year demonstration project to create the world's first coal-based, zero-emissions electricity and hydrogen power plant..." President George W. Bush
February 27, 2003

The FutureGen initiative is to build hydrogen production using coal as the hydrogen production energy source. The process being considered in FutureGen includes carbon sequestering using various geological storage sites. Still this process does not free us from fossil fuels. Is this process needed?

The honest answer is yes. Building a hydrogen economy will take time and there is a logical progression required. Building infrastructure is a major consideration. The first true production hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCV) will be hitting the market in the next few years. Fueling stations for hydrogen are extremely limited. More sources of inexpensive hydrogen are required to build the hydrogen infrastructure.

Coal and other fossil fuels including natural gas are abundant and easily converted to hydrogen using existing technology. Cleaner, less fossil fuel dependent methods like electrolysis and waste heat driven thermolysis are advancing. Still, the efficiencies of these cleaner hydrogen production technologies require inexpensive energy for cost effective production.

The inexpensive energies for hydrogen production in the high quantities needed are on the way, but not quickly enough. Interim steps like coal source hydrogen and liquid natural gas fuel cells will help to build the hydrogen infrastructure. The key to converting to a hydrogen-based economy is economics. We can’t break the bank. Gasoline prices will still set the standard for growth in alternate fuels. So the transition has to be fiscally responsible.

Coal power plants like FutureGen serve to demonstrate and refine technologies that will be used building and supplying our hydrogen energy future. While you may not agree with FutureGen, it is a valuable step on the road to our energy future.

Our Energy Future: Hydrogen Fishing Boats

As a charter captain and avid fisherman alternate fuels and power plants for the boating industry is a major consideration. Since Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV) will probably rule the roads, what about the waterways?

Boats have different power needs that cars. A boat runs at or near maximum horsepower anytime they are running, cars can coast a bit using gearing. Also boats live and work in a far more inhospitable environment than cars. Electricity and salty, high humidity environments don’t play well together.

This makes using electric power propulsion systems in boat a little more complicated but not impractical. So to continue my optimistic green power theme I would like to present my concept boat of the future.

The boat is based on a 26 foot Panga style hull design, as this style hull is very energy efficient. Pangas can be inboard or outboard powered. To simplify design let’s use an outboard configuration.

The power plant for the concept boat is in two parts, the fuel cell and the electric power motor. To equalize weight load distribution, the fuel cell will be mounted forward to offset the aft engine weight.

For the outboard motor a 90-horsepower Mercury midsection and lower unit is used (Mercury just to keep it made in America as much as possible). The internal combustion engine is replaced with a 125KW electric motor weighing just over 100-pounds. So the net weight of the aft portion of the power plant is roughly the same as normal outboard motor. To have the roughly the same performance as a typical gasoline powered Panga twin engines will be installed.

This electric motor was selected for its lightweight, compact size and high efficiency. The motor is water-cooled allowing for complete sealing of the motor for protection against the marine environment. Adaptation to the outboard midsection should be simple and the power head portion would have a much lower profile. (See

The fuel cell adds about 460 pounds to the concept boat. A considerable amount of added weight, but much less than you were probably expecting. The fuel cell selected has maximum continuous output of 210KW (based on estimates using modified stacked Honda V flow fuel cells, weight estimates may be a little low see

Fuel storage will have to be liquid hydrogen to provide acceptable range in a reasonable space. With the increase efficiency of the fuel cell/electric power plant and the higher energy content of hydrogen, the fuel storage space requirement is rough the same as for gasoline.

Allowing for fuel tank insulation and the added weight of the fuel cell, the boat deck height should be raised approximately 2 inches. If not the boat would tend to be wet footed. If you are designing a concept boat may as well make it comfortable.

Now for the good part, performance! With a continuous 210KW output equal to approximately 160 horsepower at the prop, the FCV Panga should cruise at a respectable 24 knots. Fuel efficiency would be on the order of 6 miles per gallon in gasoline equivalent terms. Not bad at all!

With newer fuel cell designs that are increasing efficiency and reducing weight, even better performance can be expected in the not so distant future. Safety considerations using hydrogen are of course a major concern. So I won’t be building this concept boat this weekend. Still the fuel cell powered small fishing boat doesn’t seem as for off in the future as it did just a few years ago.

Our Energy Future: Exciting Options

The dawn of a new age.

Green energy.

These are exciting times. Political, economic and technological conditions have combined to create a true opportunity for advancing our energy choices. Fossil fuels price will fall back some but our vulnerability as a nation to “black” mail will drive continued alternate energy development. The “black” being black gold controlled increasingly undesirable nations.

Everyone has his or her own opinion of the right way to approach changing our energy economy. Being pragmatic, I try to look at all the options. Of all the options we have, each has benefits and each has disadvantages.

Bio-fuels are the greatest example of the conundrum we face. Alcohol fuel is made from renewable resources. It is clean burning and works with our internal combustion engines. Big benefits! Alcohol has only 75% of the energy of gasoline, it takes energy to produce, it is a solvent that reduces engine life and food/feed crops have to be diverted for it to provide a significant portion of our energy needs. Pretty big disadvantages!

The biggest disadvantage of bio-fuels is the last, competition with our food sources. Biomass is non-competitive to a point, but eventually energy producing acreage will compete with food production acreage.

Solar energy has the advantages of being clean and renewable. The disadvantages are less obvious but are there. Solar energy using photovoltaic panels has over thirty-five years of history and is only now reaching 20% efficiency in conversion. Like other electronic technologies, solar cell efficiency and prices will change dramatically. Investing billions into huge solar energy plants will be a hard sell. With a recent record of a PV cell reaching 40.3 percent efficiency, more than twice the efficiency of available mass produced cell it is a harder sell at this time.

One good thing about the new high efficiency PV cell is that solar technology is close. Since 40% is approaching maximum efficiency reducing chances that radically higher efficiencies will be available any time soon. Price reduction of the higher efficiency cells should still be a concern of energy investors.

Wind power has made great leaps in efficiency in the past twenty years. Windmills rated for five Mega Watts (MW) each are in production. These new windmills or wind-turbines if you prefer can produce energy at lower wind speeds extending their useful range. With current power outputs and useful life spans of twenty-five to thirty years they are a good investment. While wind power technology is sure to improve the cost per MW is low enough with current technology to pay for the investment. All great advantages for wind power. The disadvantages are really only two. The not in my back yard (NIMBY) mentality, that limits areas where it can be used and wind power needs wind to work. In conjunction with other power plants wind can provide a large portion of our power needs but not own its own.

Tidal and wave power, the most over looked of the alternate power sources have quietly proven themselves and are poised to be energy players. Tidal has forty years of proven reliable service at the La Rance power station in France. Wave power has less of a track record but has proven reliable in initial smaller scale tests. The advantages of tidal and wave energies is that they are very cost effective. The disadvantages are they can effect the environment and hinder shipping in some applications. Further disadvantages are that acquiring ideal lease for areas are difficult and there is only a limited selection of ideal area to be considered.

Nuclear power technology has improved over the years as well. Nuclear power’s advantages are clean, reliable, stable and cost effective power. The disadvantages are catastrophic disaster (low probability but a big concern), security and waste disposal. Due the first list disadvantage the NIMBY crowd are highly vocal.

Hydrogen, which is not really a source of energy just a medium of storing energy, has the advantages of being clean and versatile. Hydrogen can fuel a large variety of existing engines and heat sources. It is perfectly suited for fuel cells which is a much more efficient method for using this fuel. Disadvantages are it takes energy to produce, is more difficult to store and it is explosive as all hell.

Now is the fun part of this article for me! Expressing my option. Despite its disadvantages hydrogen will be the portable fuel of our future. Hydrogen is a far to efficient and clean a fuel to be ignored. Safe, reliable storage systems for hydrogen are developing rapid because of its potential. Hydrogen also will extend the useful areas for wind and tidal/wave power generation. Areas remote from civilization and electrical grids can be used to produce hydrogen. Hydrogen will also increase the overall efficiency of nuclear power plants and other manufacturing processes with waste heat. Thermolysis, a heat and chemical hydrogen manufacturing process is perfectly suited for using the waste heat of various processes.

Hydrogen stored in plentiful energy times can be used to make energy produced by wind, solar and tidal/wave stand-alone power sources. For example: in a solar home, hydrogen produced in the day will produce electricity at night through fuel cell conversion. Think of hydrogen as the near ultimate battery. While a solid-state battery would be a huge boon to mankind a gaseous/liquid state battery ain’t all that bad!

Our energy future will require various sources and responsible application to maintain a healthy economy and meet our goal of energy independence. These are the most exciting times of our energy lives.


Nuclear Power and Our Energy Future

After Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, nuclear power in the United States was nearly taboo. The not in my backyard mentality kicked into high gear with fears of accidental nuclear meltdowns. Having the most robust economy at the time (okay Japan was close), America refocused its attention on cleaner coal fired power plants.

The times are again changing. High oil prices, Global Warming fears and the threat of the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) manipulating the oil market have refueled the drive for alternate fuel sources. Nuclear electrical generation plants are starting to slowly find their way back into the green energy community.

Predicting our nuclear power future is a bit difficult. The main difficultly is how much urgency is placed on developing energy independence. If the American people want to free themselves from OPEC quickly, nuclear power has a much larger role.

The typical civilian nuclear power plant is a custom build monstrosity requiring decades from the start of design to the first watt of production. Hiding behind the guise of the open bid process. These designs are often overly expensive.

The United States Navy’s nuclear program is a much more efficient approach. Proven designs are replicated and placed into use. The US Navy’s nuclear safety record is truly admirable and worthy of emulation.

Offshore Power Systems (OPS), a now dead and buried business entity, had the right idea at the wrong time and the wrong location. The not in my backyard mentality gave OPS the idea of using smaller scale proven nuclear technology located offshore in a marine environment to provide electrical power.

OPS had the go ahead from the Nuclear Regulator Commission and all was right with the world until environmental concerns came to bear. Now, with global warming concerns paramount, nuclear is being reconsidered. The OPS idea may need to be reconsidered as well.

This is not to say that nuclear power plants be located all over the ocean. It is to say that replicating proven technology to decrease construction time should be revisited. Smaller Nuclear plants on the order of 500 Mega Watts (MW) can serve a dual role in our future.

Smaller nuclear plants can be located in areas were they will have the greatest impact on optimizing the nation’s electrical grid. They would then not only provide needed power, but extend the useful life of the power grid.

The proven technology in a small footprint can enhance safety and security. Safety is enhanced due to the secure construction sites where the reactors are built. The entire reactor is built in a secure location in a factory setting where high levels of security and quality control can be maintained more efficiently.

Security of the deployed plant can be improved by constructing the reactor in a manner to make it extremely difficult to access the radioactive fuel. And redundant mechanical fail-safes to prevent meltdown of course have to be included.

One extremely valuable aspect of nuclear power is waste heat and electrical energy produced during periods of low demand can be used to produce hydrogen fuel. Maximizing the efficiency of our energy production potential.

Nuclear power is a very frightening technology for many Americans. It is not a technology to be taken lightly by anyone. It is a proven technology that can and should be utilized in a responsible manner. Smaller proven reactor designs have a prominent place in our energy future.

The New Agriculture: Energy Farming

Farmers are producing more that just crops. They are producing energy. Not only bio-fuels but energy in other forms.

Diverting food and feed crops to produce bio-fuels will have a dramatic effect on our economy. Corn prices have soared over the last year with only a fraction of the crops diverted for energy production. Realizing that bio-fuels can easily price themselves out of the energy market, farmers are looking into other energy options.

More farmers are installing wind turbines to produce electricity on their acreage. The wind turbines occupy a small percentage of the productive acreage allowing agriculture to continue while power, the second crop is generated.

The not in my backyard mentality is appropriate for wind energy farms. The huge wind turbines can become an eyesore. Remote farm and ranch lands are much more appropriate for wind energy farm sites.

Where the farms are located close to a major electrical grid, the costs of installation is much less expensive. Many farms are so remote that wind farms are unsuitable for electrical grid connection. These areas have other recourses to pursue in the energy farming industry. One being considered is wind powered hydrogen farms.

Wind power electricity is a clean, low cost energy source for generating hydrogen fuel. Remote farmlands can easily produce a large percentage of our fuel needs. With the improved the efficiency of producing hydrogen via electrolysis, this use of wind power grows in importance every day.

The efficiency of the windmills has grown by huge leaps in the past thirty years. With turbines capable of producing 5 mega watts (MW) each, wind power technology is much more viable. With this improved efficiency in wind turbines and hydrogen electrolysis, hydrogen farming is rapidly becoming a reality.

A single wind turbine producing 2 MW hours of electricity can produce a roughly equivalent 1 MW of hydrogen energy in an hour. The equivalent energy of one gallon of gasoline is roughly 2 kilowatts. So each hour at the 2 MW output, roughly the equivalent of 500 gallons of gasoline can be replaced by hydrogen. This assumes approximately 45 to 50 percent efficiency in the electrolysis process (high temp electrolysis).

Assuming that the wind turbine is operating at this power level only 25 percent of the time, each windmill would produce over 1,000,000 gasoline gallon equivalents in hydrogen in a year. With the US consuming roughly 150 billion of gallons of gasoline per year, it would take150, 000 windmills at 2 MW each to produce the equivalent in hydrogen. With new wind turbines producing 5 MW it would take 6000 wind farms with 10 5MW turbines each to produce our annual gasoline needs.

This is not likely to happen, as much of the output of wind farms will be needed for electrical demands. I feel this does illustrate that a sizable percentage of our energy needs can be produced with hydrogen wind farms.

Scientists and engineers will notice that there is a missing conversion factor in computing the equivalent energy of a gallon of gasoline to hydrogen. If the hydrogen were to be used to power internal combustion engines this would be a large error. If the hydrogen were used to power fuel cell vehicles the error is less significant. I am of the opinion that fuel cell technology will prevail in a hydrogen economy. The inefficient internal combustion engine will fade from the scene.

Wind power, which is not constantly available, is well suited for hydrogen production. When sufficient wind is available the huge windmills produce megawatts of electricity for the conversion of water to hydrogen and oxygen. During calm conditions the hydrogen farm waits patiently for the next weather front.

The purpose of this series of articles is to stimulate conversation and create awareness of our energy options. If you feel there is a glaring error(s) exercise your right to free speech and leave a comment. This is one statement you should find it hard to argue with though. The American farmer is taking the lead in reducing our dependence on imported oil. The nation and the world should take more notice of their efforts.