UIC Researchers Convert Waste Carbon to Fuel

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) scientists, under the lead of Amin Salehi-Khojin, UIC professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, have synthesized a catalyst that improves their system for converting waste carbon dioxide into syngas. The syngas is a percursor of gasoline and other energy-rich products and this recent achievement in the the research team’s process has brought the production of CO2 to energy closer to commercial viability. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications on July 30, 2014.

The research team developed a unique two-step catalytic process that uses molybdenum disulfide and an ionic liquid to “reduce,” or transfer electrons, to carbon dioxide in a chemical reaction. The new catalyst improves efficiency and lowers cost by replacing expensive metals like gold or silver in the reduction reaction.

UIC researcher Amin Salehi-KhojinMohammad Asadi, UIC graduate student and co-first author on the paper said the discovery is a big step toward industrialization. “With this catalyst, we can directly reduce carbon dioxide to syngas without the need for a secondary, expensive gasification process,” explained Asadi. In other chemical-reduction systems, he noted, the only reaction product is carbon monoxide. The new catalyst produces syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide plus hydrogen.

Salehi-Khojin, principal investigator on the study continued the explanation by noting the high density of loosely bound, energetic d-electrons in molybdenum disulfide facilitates charge transfer, driving the reduction of the carbon dioxide. “This is a very generous material,” said Salehi-Khojin. “We are able to produce a very stable reaction that can go on for hours.”

The proportion of carbon monoxide to hydrogen in the syngas produced in the reaction can also be easily manipulated using the new catalyst, said Salehi-Khojin.

“Our whole purpose is to move from laboratory experiments to real-world applications,” he said. “This is a real breakthrough that can take a waste gas — carbon dioxide — and use inexpensive catalysts to produce another source of energy at large-scale, while making a healthier environment.”

New Jersey Home to First Energy Resilience Bank

New Jersey has created what they term the first of its kind in the U.S. “Energy Resilience Bank” (ERB) to focus on energy resilience. The bank was created in response to the impacts of SuperStorm Sandy where over 8 million people lost electric power in the region – many for several days. The ERB will provide $200 million for municipalities to finance clean resilient power solutions. Projects could include those that “would ensure a highly reliable power supply to critical public facilities such as water and wastewater treatment plants, hospitals, shelters, emergency response centers and transit networks in the event the larger electrical grid fails.”

New Jersey Disaster Recovery Action PlanOn July 23, 2014, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities approved a sub-recipient agreement with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to work jointly in the establishment and operation of the ERB. The ERB would be financed through use of $200 million of New Jersey’s second Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) allocation. According to the Governor Christie’s announcement, “the ERB will support the development of distributed energy resources at critical facilities throughout the state …to minimize the potential for future major power outages and increase energy resiliency.”

Clean Energy Group’s President, Lewis Milford, applauded the creation of the ERB. “New Jersey has created a model for all states to finance resilient power projects, to protect against power outages during severe weather events. The ERB is an important way for states to finance projects like solar with energy storage in food banks, fire stations, wastewater treatment plants, and schools. It deserves to be a national infrastructure finance model for states around the country.”

The Clean Energy Group is working with states and communities to help deploy more resilient power projects, and the organization cites financing as a remaining a key stumbling block. The New Jersey approach through the new ERB is a model that all states should consider as they deal with increasing problems of severe weather and the power system, problems that are only growing worse, according to Clean Energy Group.

Panasonic Corp Installs Power Supply Container

powercontainer_Karimun0012Panasonic Corporation has developed an interesting offshoot of solar energy: Power Supply Container. The stand-alone photovoltaic power package was installed for the National Elementary School Karimunjawa 01 in Karimunjawa Island, Jepara District, Central Jawa Province, Indonesia. The Power Supply Container is equipped with 12 Panasonic “HIT(R)240” solar modules that the company said has high conversion efficiency and can generate approximately 3 kW of electricity. It can also provide stored power from 24 built-in lead-acid storage batteries (17.2 kWh as total).

Karimunjawa is an area where electricity is available at night using diesel generators. However, in the daytime these generators are stopped and no electricity can be used by the residents of the village. As no power for the village during the daytime interferes with administrative and commercial activities, improvement of the educational environment had been the top priority for the island. To solve this social issue, Koperasi Pundih Artah, which received Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security, Institute of Business and Economic Democracy Foundation (IBEKA) and Panasonic launched a project for improving the educational environment, by supplying and installing the Power Supply Container, under the cooperation of Jepara District and the Embassy of Japan in Indonesia.

To celebrate the introduction of “daytime electricity” a handover ceremony was held with Koperasi Pundih Artah and IBEKA. Now, during school hours, children can use LED lighting fixtures, ceiling fans and audiovisual educational materials using PCs and TVs. When there are no classes, the electricity is sold to nearby areas through a management association of the Power Supply Container topowercontainer_Karimun0017 contribute to activation of the regional community and improve the regional electricity infrastructure.

IBEKA is giving support for establishing management associations in Karimunjawa for independent operation of power supplies as well as provides training and supports for their operation, management and maintenance to achieve a sustainable power supply in Karimunjawa. Panasonic will continue to work with groups in Indonesia to bring more Power Supply Containers to areas without reliable electricity.

Himark BioGas to Build 3 Anaerobic Digestion Plants

Himark BioGas International is building three integrated anaerobic digestion (AD) and fertilizer plants for NEO Energy in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The AD plants will be designed and constructed by Himark and will recycle food waste to produce renewable electricity and organic-based fertilizer. As part of the agreement, Himark BioGas will act as a technology licensor and owner’s representative on behalf of NEO Energy LLC during the design, construction and operation stages of the plants.

GPHH_webreadyShane Chrapko, CEO of Himark BioGas, said, “The development of the anaerobic digestion plants will positively contribute to effective food waste recycling, profitable pathogen-free fertilizer production, energy self-sufficiency and a reduction in carbon emissions for the local communities. Each ton of food waste diverted from the landfill will reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by just over one ton of CO2 (Equivalent).”

The AD plants will be designed based on Himark BioGas’ patented “IMUS” technology that can produce renewable energy and pathogen-free fertilizer from food waste, source separated organic materials, cow manure, ethanol plant waste/thin stillage, slaughter house waste, food processing waste and agricultural waste (open pen feedlot, sand-laden dairies, etc.). The IMUS technology also can handle feedstock containing large amounts of sand, dirt, rocks, plastic and cellulose. Furthermore, Himark said with its turnkey, guaranteed-maximum capital cost designs, the company guarantees electricity, gas and fertilizer outputs with any kind of feedstock.

“NEO’s anaerobic digestion plants will recycle food waste generated by supermarkets, food processors, restaurants and other institutions and divert that waste away from landfills and incineration facilities,” said Robert Nicholson, president of NEO Energy. “Our plants produce a high-quality organic-based fertilizer while reducing greenhouse gases, preserving landfill capacity and producing renewable energy. Our first plants will also be available to those businesses that will need to comply with the 2014 commercial food waste disposal ban in Massachusetts and the recently enacted law in Rhode Island requiring that food residuals produced by large waste generators be recycled starting in 2016.

City of Columbus Dedicates CNG Station

Columbus, Ohio is now home to its second compressed natural gas (CNG) station. The station was made possible in part from funds provided by Clean Fuels Ohio (CFO). CFO provides technical support for transportation professionals, advocates for sustainable transportation energy policies and serves as a resource clearinghouse for fleets, policy makers and the public.

“We have been so fortunate to assist a wide range of businesses and individuals in exploring the advantages of alternative fuels,” said CFO Executive Director Sam Spofforth. “We help each organization to look at the variety of options available to them, and, when available, help them get the grant funding they need to get their projects off the ground.”

sidebar4One way CFO does this is through the organization’s Driving Force Fleet Advisors which provide assessment and planning, project development assistance, funding strategies, monitoring, follow-up and training to fleet managers. Fleets can also gain certification and public recognition for their efforts through CFO’s Ohio Green Fleets.

When the City of Columbus began its move to alternative fuel vehicles, there was little infrastructure in the state for compressed natural gas (CNG) explained Kelly Reagan, the city fleet administrator. “Mayor (Michael) Coleman made the commitment that we would build our own fueling infrastructure to support this alternative vehicle program.”

The city now operates two public access fast-fill CNG stations, with two additional stations planned, which will be open to the public. In addition, the city operates two electric vehicle charging stations that are also open to the public. “Clean Fuels Ohio gave us the opportunity to start down this road,” said Mayor Coleman. “They provided the resources we needed to start this program. They helped us get underway.”

In the case of Dillon Transport, partnering with a customer, Owens Corning, provided a pathway to a multi- state project. “Our work with Clean Fuels Ohio resulted in an attractive funding package that appealed to our customer,” explained Dillion Transport Vice President Charles Musgrove. The company has converted 17 Ohio trucks to natural gas, and fuels through an expanding network of public stations in Ohio. The company has a similar operation with the customer in Florida. In addition, Dillon Transport is increasing its use of CNG vehicles nationwide.

Ultimately, the cost of fossil fuels and a concern for sustainability have motivated many fleets to make the commitment to alternative fuel vehicles. “Companies began really needing to find answers, once it was obvious that fuel prices were going to remain high,” added Spofforth. “Companies want to do the right thing – but they don’t quite know how to put the pieces together, get funding and make the choices they need to make. We’ve been able to help many varied fleets look at those options and make the decisions that lead them to sustainability.”

In 2011 and 2013, the City of Columbus was named the #1 Government Green Fleet in North America, and continues to be a role model for fleets considering transitioning to alternative fuels.

Renewable Energy Provides 56% of Electrical Generation

According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects, solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and hydropower provided 55.7% (1,965 MW of the 3,529 MW total installed) of new installed U.S. electrical generating capacity during the first half of 2014.

  • Solar provided 32.1% (1,131 MW)
  • Wind provided 19.8% (699 MW)
  • Biomass provided 2.5% (87 MW)
  • Geothermal provided 0.9% (32 MW)
  • Hydropower provided 0.5% (16 MW)
  • Most of the balance (1,555 MW – 44.1%) of the new generating capacity was provided by natural gas while no new coal or nuclear power capacity was reported

solar installationAccording to the SUN DAY Campaign, the dominant role being played by renewables in providing new electrical generating capacity in 2014 is continuing a trend now several years in the making. Over the past 30 months (i.e., since January 1, 2012), renewable energy sources have accounted for almost half (48.0%) or 22,774 MW of the 47,446 MW of new electrical generating capacity.

If calendar year 2011 is also factored in, then renewables have accounted for approximately 45% of all new electrical generating capacity over the past 3 1/2 years. In fact, since January 1, 2011 renewables have provided more new electrical generating capacity than natural gas (31,345 MW vs. 29,176 MW) and nearly four times that from coal (8,235 MW)

Renewable energy sources now account for 16.28% of total installed U.S. operating generating capacity: water – 8.57%, wind – 5.26%, biomass – 1.37%, solar – 0.75%, and geothermal steam – 0.33%. This is up from 14.76% two years earlier (i.e., June 30, 2012) and is now more than nuclear (9.24%) and oil (4.03%) combined.

“A new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is projecting that renewable energy sources will account for only 24% of new capacity additions between now and 2040,” Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign, noted. “However, the latest FERC data coupled with that published during the past several years indicate that EIA’s numbers are once again low-balling the likely share – and probably dominant share – of renewables in the nation’s future energy mix.”

Wind Energy Faces Challenges

According to a new paper, “Challenges for Wind Energy’s Future,” although a negligible player in electricity generation, wind energy comes at an exorbitant taxpayer expense. In addition, the report finds that the wind industry faces several likely “insurmountable” challenges to becoming a dependable part of America’s energy portfolio.

Author Merrill Matthews, Ph.D., discusses in the paper that while wind itself may be free, the IPI Ideas Challenges for Wind Energyprice to harness it as a source of renewable energy is not. Matthews reports that wind energy accounted for only 4 percent of total U.S. electricity generation in 2013, but cost taxpayers a what he calls a staggering $2 billion—a vastly disproportionate tax subsidy as compared to other energy producing industries.

Matthews says it was admitted even by investor Warren Buffett that the wind energy industry would not exist without tax breaks, and the market for it has only been sustained because of government mandates.

  • In addition to its expense, writes Matthews, wind energy’s other key challenges include:
  • It’s unreliable and may not be available during peak usage;
  • It’s shown to be environmentally harmful, for example causing half a million annual bird deaths; and
  • It’s losing favor as a priority with the public.

“The quest for an economy driven by a clean, abundant and affordable renewable energy remains an unfulfilled dream—though not for a lack of lobbying, a supportive media, and lots of government money,” writes Matthews. “Wind energy’s marginal success has come at a huge taxpayer and ratepayer cost. The public’s willingness to continue to pour billions of dollars into wind energy, through higher taxes or rates, appears to be coming to a close.”

Cali Can Broaden Hydrogen Fueling Network

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have published a study that found a number of existing gas stations in California can safely store and dispense hydrogen. This, the researchers suggest, a broader network of hydrogen fueling stations may be within reach.

The report examined 70 commercial gasoline stations throughout California and sought to determine which, if any, could integrate hydrogen fuel, based on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) hydrogen technologies code published in 2011. The report found that 14 of the 70 gas stations considered in the study could readily accept hydrogen fuel and that 17 more possibly could accept hydrogen with property expansions. Sandia Daniel DedrickUnder previous NFPA code requirements from 2005, none of the existing gasoline stations could readily accept hydrogen. The current code, known as NFPA 2, provides fundamental safeguards for the generation, installation, storage, piping, use and handling of hydrogen in compressed gas or cryogenic (low temperature) liquid form.

Sandia Hydrogen Program Manager Daniel Dedrick said the development of meaningful, science-based fire codes and determinations such as those found in the report will help accelerate the deployment of hydrogen systems. “This work shows that we can reduce uncertainty and avoid overly conservative restrictions to commercial hydrogen fuel installations by focusing on scientific, risk-informed approaches. It turns out that the number of fueling stations able to carry hydrogen can be quantified.” Dedrick added, “We now know that we can build more hydrogen fueling stations if we examine the safety issues within a sound, technical framework that focuses on the real behaviors of hydrogen.”

Sandia’s hydrogen safety, codes and standards program is a diverse portfolio of activities funded by the Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office to provide the technical basis for developing and revising safety codes and standards for hydrogen infrastructure, including the NFPA 2 code. This work is aligned with Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure Research and Station Technology (H2FIRST), a new project established by the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

ACORE Study: Evolving Business Models for Renewable Energy

A new study has been released, “Evolving Business Models for Renewable Energy,” from the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). With aid from several members, the report explores key issues and provides recommendations related to evolving utility and other business models for renewable energy. The report was produced in conjunction with ACORE’s Power Generation and Infrastructure Initiative.

“From potential storage benefits of electric vehicles, to recommendations on ideal scenarios for integration of distributed renewable assets, ACORE and its members are tackling the cutting edge issues facing our electricity sector today,” said co-author and CEO of American Clean Energy, Steve Morgan.

ACORE Evolving Biz Models for Renewable Energy.jogThe report details how distributed generation, smart grids, and microgrids are changing traditional utility business models, suggests outcomes for the successful integration of renewable energy at scale, and spotlights ways in which emerging energy sources such as concentrated solar power (CSP) and electric vehicles (EVs) are changing the way utilities look at generation, integration and storage.

“Our Power Generation and Infrastructure Initiative has always focused on solutions over politics,” said ACORE CEO Michael Brower, “and by convening our members who are developers, legal experts, sector analysts and financiers to review the business landscape, we guarantee a highly credible, critical and realistic view to help craft solutions for a cleaner, more reliable power sector future.”

Sections of the report include “Renewable Energy Drivers of Change,” “Overview of Actions from the Utility Perspective,” as well as “Distributed Energy: Understanding and Mitigating Commercial and Regulatory Risks”. These chapters are designed to build on the organization’s efforts to create bridges between the utility industry and renewable energy industry.

ACORE’s Power Generation & Infrastructure lead James Hewett called this focus “essential” noting, “The utility sector is well aware of the disruptive nature of distributed renewable energy. ACORE is focused on making this disruption an opportunity for utilities, not a threat. Frankly, it’s essential to the success of all.”

UC Riverside Named an Energy Frontier Research Center

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz has announced $100 million in new funding for 32 new Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs). The EFRCs are designed to accerlerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to build a new 21st century energy economy in the U.S. One of the new research centers will live at University of California- Riverside (UC Riverside). “Spins and Heat in Nanoscale Electronic Systems” (SHINES) will receive $12 million over four years from DOE. The lead researcher is UC Riverside Professor of Physics Jing Shi, who will work with researchers from seven universities. SHINES is one of 10 new projects announced, along with 22 other projects receiving new funding based on achievements to date.

“Today we are mobilizing some of our most talented scientists to join forces and pursue the discoveries and breakthroughs that will lay the foundation for our nation’s energy future,” Secretary Moniz said. “The funding we’re announcing today will help fuel innovation.” He said the intent of the Energy Frontier Research Centers is to make fundamental advances in solar energy, electrical energy storage, carbon capture and sequestration, materials and chemistry by design, biosciences, and extreme environments.

UC Riverside Professor Jing Shi“I am happy to hear the news,” said Shi, the UCR physics professor who has put together an interdisciplinary team of researchers from UC Riverside, UCLA, Johns Hopkins, Arizona State University, University of Texas, Austin and Colorado State University, Fort Collins. “I’m looking forward to seeing the scientific advances that they come up with,” said Michael Pazzani, UC Riverside’s Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development. “This is exactly the kind of scientific leadership that UC Riverside has been encouraging and supporting This project will lay the groundwork for energy technology for the nation.”

SHINES will investigate several aspects of basic research: new ultrathin films, nanostructured composites, high resolution imaging, the transport of electrical signals, heat and light. “All of it will be studied, modeled and simulated in order to help the nation’s ability to advance in the way we use energy,” said Shi, the lead researcher.