New CESA Clean Energy Report Available

The Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) has released a new report, “Clean Energy Champions: The Importance of State Programs and Policies“. The report provides a comprehensive look at the ways in which states are supporting clean energy as well as offers suggestions on how to further encourage growth.

The report includes 31 case studies form 22 states covering various clean energy programs including Renewable Portfolio Standards, renewable energy tax credits, rebates and other less known programs used to develop the clean energy industry.

CESA Clean Energy Champions Report“Over the past decade and a half, states across the country have implemented innovative policies that have achieved significant, measurable results,” said Warren Leon, executive director of CESA. “This report clearly outlines how renewable energy production has far surpassed expectations and created a thriving clean energy sector. We must sustain this momentum by supporting various initiatives at the state level, working in tandem with federal agencies, and advancing clean energy with continued bipartisan support.”

In examining the state’s role in clean energy development over the past 15 years, the report identifies seven lessons to consider for the continued growth of clean energy into the future. Those lessons cover the following:

  • The significance of state experimentation and the ways states can continue to innovate to move the clean energy sector forward;
  • The need for the states to strengthen their existing consumer protection role regarding clean energy technologies;
  • The approach states should take when modifying distributed generation policies;
  • The value of continuing to address clean energy policy in a non-partisan manner;
  • The specific research analysis the federal government should undertake to assist the states;
  • The role of federal tax incentives in leveraging state initiatives for clean energy market growth; and
  • The importance of structuring EPA’s Clean Power Plan in ways that support existing state clean energy initiatives.

In addition, the report found four key areas where state activity has made significant progress to overcome market barriers: developing the clean energy supply;
overcoming barriers by building the infrastructure for clean energy growth; building a vibrant clean energy industry; and protecting and including consumers.

FPL and FIU to Build Solar Power Center

Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) and Florida International University (FIU) have solidified a partnership to build a commercial-scale distributed solar power facility that will both generate electricity for FPL’s 4.8 million customers and serve as an innovative research operation.

Artist's conceptual rendering of the 1.6-megawatt solar installation FPL plans to install at Florida International University in 2015. The solar-powered parking canopies will also create about 600 shaded parking spaces in the parking lot of FIU's Engineering Center. (PRNewsFoto/Florida Power & Light Company)

Artist’s conceptual rendering of the 1.6-megawatt solar installation FPL plans to install at Florida International University in 2015. The solar-powered parking canopies will also create about 600 shaded parking spaces in the parking lot of FIU’s Engineering Center. (PRNewsFoto/Florida Power & Light Company)

The project includes the installation of more than 5,700 solar panels on 23 canopy-like structures that will be built this summer in the parking lot of the university’s Engineering Center. Using data from the 1.6 MW solar array, faculty and students from FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing will study the effects of distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) generation on the electric grid in real-life South Florida conditions.

“This innovative solar project builds on FIU’s relationship with FPL, one that provides our students with unparalleled and unique training opportunities,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “Through this project, our engineering students will make a direct contribution to the growth of solar energy in our state, while gaining invaluable experience working side by side with professionals from one of the most forward-thinking utilities in the nation.”

Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL noted, “FPL is proud to be a leader in advancing solar energy in smart ways, making sure to keep costs low and reliability high for our customers. As the economics of solar continue to improve, we look forward to harnessing more and more energy from the sun. Our partnership with FIU is designed to help us manage solar power’s interaction with the greater electric grid as part of our commitment to reliably deliver affordable clean energy for all of our customers.”

FIU students have already begun gathering information to be used in their research, including historical weather data and energy production and usage patterns. The research will take Florida’s unique weather conditions into consideration and help determine the types of technology that may be needed to ensure the grid’s reliability is not negatively affected by fluctuations in solar PV production due to clouds, thunderstorms and other variables.

Report: Farmers Can Grow Food, Fuel

According to research conducted by Russ Gesch, a plant physiologist with the USDA Soil Conversation Research Lab in Morris, Minnesota, farmers can successfully and sustainably grow food and fuel. Gesch specifically looked at growing Camelina sativa with soybeans in the Midwest. Gesch’s study was recently published in Agronomy Journal.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.14.32 AMCamelina is a member of the mustard family and research shows is well suited as a cover crop in the Midwest. “Finding any annual crop that will survive the [Midwest] winters is pretty difficult,” said Gesch, “but winter camelina does that and it has a short enough growing season to allow farmers to grow a second crop after it during the summer.”

Soils also need to retain enough rainwater for multiple crops in one growing season. Gesch and his colleagues measured water use of two systems of dual-cropping using camelina and soybean. They compared it with a more typical soybean field at the Swan Lake Research Farm near Morris, MN.

Researchers planted camelina at the end of September. From there growing methods differed. In double-cropping, soybean enters the field after the camelina harvest in June or July. Relay-cropping, however, overlaps the crops’ time. Soybeans grow between rows of camelina in April or May before the camelina plants mature and flower. Camelina is being used today to produce aviation biofuels.

Researchers found multiple benefits of Relay-cropping – the technique actually used less water than double-cropping the two plants. Camelina plants have shallow roots and a short growing season, which means they don’t use much water. “Other cover crops, like rye, use a lot more water than does camelina,” said Gesch. Continue reading

Wash. State Researchers Make Biofuels from Fungus

Researchers at Washington State University are making a biofuel for jets from a common black fungus found in decaying leaves, soil and rotting fruit. This news release from the school says they hope to have a viable aviation biofuel in the next five years.

washstfungusbiofuel1The researchers used Aspergillus carbonarius ITEM 5010 to create hydrocarbons, the chief component of petroleum, similar to those in aviation fuels.

Led by Birgitte Ahring, director and Battelle distinguished professor of the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory at WSU Tri-cities, the researchers published their work in the April edition of Fungal Biology.

The fungus produced the most hydrocarbons on a diet of oatmeal but also created them by eating wheat straw or the non-edible leftovers from corn production.

Fungi have been of interest for about a decade within biofuels production as the key producer of enzymes necessary for converting biomass to sugars. Some researchers further showed that fungi could create hydrocarbons, but the research was limited to a specific fungus living within a specific tree in the rainforest, and the actual hydrocarbon concentrations were not reported.

Ahring’s group has previously been successful in using standard Aspergillus fungi to produce enzymes and other useful products, which have been patented and are under commercialization, so they decided to look into A. carbonarius ITEM 5010’s potential for biofuels.

The researchers got help from Kenneth Bruno, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who developed a method essential for the genetic manipulation of A. carbonarius. The research received funding from the Danish Council for Strategic Research under the program for Energy and Environment.

Students Present Wood to Biofuels Design

Students at Washington State University have developed facility site designs for a potential liquid depot to process wood from slash piles in the Pacific Northwest. The liquid sugar can be used to produce chemical products including biofuels. Designs and findings were presented in a webinar. The students work together on real-world projects while attending the Integrated Design Experience (IDX) course that includes undergraduate and Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 3.40.17 PMgraduate students from a variety of majors at WSU and the University of Idaho.

The students are working with the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA), a WSU-led organization determining the feasibility and sustainability of using forest residuals to produce biojet fuel and other products. The Presenters described the process of turning forest residuals into liquid sugar, transportation logistics and how wastewater will be treated. A techno-economic analysis for the conversion process was also included.

The location for the sugar depot was identified as highly optimal based on a ranking of Northwest U.S. facility sites completed by IDX last semester.

“These students perform critical data gathering and analyses for the NARA project and for stakeholders,” said Karl Olsen, one of three IDX instructors and part of NARA’s education team. “Their work will be incorporated into a final supply chain analysis for the Idaho-Washington-Oregon-Montana region in 2016.”

New Report Highlights Bioenergy’s Sustainability

SCOPEA new report shows the positive relationship between bioenergy and sustainability. The research from the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) and developed under the aegis of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) is based on more than 2,000 references and major studies taking a comprehensive look at the current bioenergy landscape, technologies and practices.

Considering an extensive evaluation of current bioenergy resources status, systems and markets, potential sustainable expansion and wider adoption of this renewable resource the authors highlight recommendations for policy and deployment of bioenergy options: liquid biofuels, bioelectricity, biogas, heat, bio-based chemicals.

This assessment is a collective effort with contributions from more than 130 experts from 24 countries, encompassing scientific studies ranging from land use and feedstocks, to technologies, impacts, benefits and policy.

The authors considered how bioenergy expansion and its impacts perform on energy, food, environmental and climate security, sustainable development and the innovation nexus in both developed and developing regions. The report also highlights numbers, solutions, gaps in knowledge and suggests the science needed to maximize bioenergy benefits.

The panel discussion with the release of the report included experts from academia, industry and NGOs presenting and discussing the current status and trends in biomass production and its possible implications for policy, communication and innovation strategies for a sustainable future.

Study Shows Ethanol’s Positive Economic Impact

neethanolboardA new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shows Nebraska’s ethanol production capacity growth over the last 20 years is tenfold. This news release from the Nebraska Ethanol Board says the “Economic Impacts of the Ethanol Industry in Nebraska” also reveals ethanol in the state is producing 2,077 million gallons per year with 1,301 full-time employees at 24 facilities, and with the green fuel and dried distillers grain with solubles (DDGS) from the ethanol production, it is putting $4 billion to more than $6.6 billion into the economy.

“The quantifiable economic impact of ethanol production on the Nebraska economy is clear,” said Paul Kenney, chairman of the Nebraska Ethanol Board. “But we should also understand the enormous savings in health and environmental costs associated with displacing toxic petroleum products with cleaner burning biofuels like ethanol. Choosing ethanol fuels brings additional cost savings in terms of our health.”

Nebraska’s large ethanol production results in 96 percent (1.805 billion gallons) being shipped out of state and makes Nebraska one of the largest exporters of bioenergy. In addition, 58 percent of DDGS produced in 2014 were shipped out of state. These out-of-state shipments result in a net positive for the state and represent a direct economic impact by bringing new money into the state economy.

The study noted that Nebraska’s ethanol industry could be affected by emerging trends and at least four are worth watching – the recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2), the extraction of corn oil, and world export markets for both ethanol and DDGS.

Many of these upcoming trends will be discussed later this week during the annual Ethanol 2015: Emerging Issues Forum in Omaha April 16-17.

Researchers Build Biomass for Batteries

uhouston1Researchers at the University of Houston have discovered a polymer made from biomass that could end up being a key ingredient in a new organic material battery. This article from the school says the discovery promises a low-cost, environmentally friendly energy source.

The discovery relies upon a “conjugated redox polymer” design with a naphthalene-bithiophene polymer, which has traditionally been used for applications including transistors and solar cells. With the use of lithium ions as dopant, researchers found it offered significant electronic conductivity and remained stable and reversible through thousands of cycles of charging and discharging energy.

The breakthrough, described in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and featured as ACS Editors’ Choice for open access, addresses a decades-long challenge for electron-transport conducting polymers, said Yan Yao, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering and lead author of the paper.

Researchers have long recognized the promise of functional organic polymers, but until now have not been successful in developing an efficient electron-transport conducting polymer to pair with the established hole-transporting polymers. The lithium-doped naphthalene-bithiophene polymer proved both to exhibit significant electronic conductivity and to be stable through 3,000 cycles of charging and discharging energy, Yao said.

The researchers say the discovery opens the door for cheaper alternatives to traditional inorganic-based energy devices, including lithium batteries, and could make for cheaper electric cars one day.

Texas Researchers Develop New Yeast for Biodiesel

texasyeast1Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a new strain of yeast that will make biodiesel production more efficient. This news release from the school says the scientists used a combination of metabolic engineering and directed evolution to develop the yeast which will help make the biofuel more economically competitive with conventional fuels.

Hal Alper, associate professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, and his team have engineered a special type of yeast cell, Yarrowia lipolytica, and significantly enhanced its ability to convert simple sugars into oils and fats, known as lipids, that can then be used in place of petroleum-derived products. Alper’s discovery aligns with the U.S. Department of Energy’s efforts to develop renewable and cost-competitive biofuels from nonfood biomass materials.

“Our re-engineered strain serves as a stepping stone toward sustainable and renewable production of fuels such as biodiesel,” Alper said. “Moreover, this work contributes to the overall goal of reaching energy independence.”

Previously, the Alper team successfully combined genetically engineered yeast cells with ordinary table sugar to produce what Alper described as “a renewable version of sweet crude,” the premium form of petroleum. Building upon this approach, the team used a combination of evolutionary engineering strategies to create the new, mutant strain of Yarrowia that produces 1.6 times as many lipids as their previous strain in a shorter time, reaching levels of 40 grams per liter, a concentration that could make yeast cells a viable platform in the creation of biofuels. The strain’s high lipid yield makes it one of the most efficient organisms for turning sugar into lipids. In addition, the resulting cells produced these lipids at a rate that was more than 2.5 times as fast as the previous strain.

The development is expected to also help in the production of biochemicals.

Lund U Trying to Produce Solar Fuel

Several researchers have come a step closer to producing solar fuel using artificial photosynthesis. The Lund University team has successfully tracked the electrons’ rapid transit through a light-converting molecule. The goal of the study is to discover a way to make fuel from water using sunlight, similar to photosynthesis. Researchers around the world are attempting to borrow ideas from photosynthesis in order to find a way to produce solar fuel artificially.

Our study shows how it is possible to construct a molecule in which the conversion of light to chemical energy happens so fast that no energy is lost as heat. This means that all the energy in the light is stored in a molecule as chemical energy,” said Villy Sundström, professor of Chemical Physics at Lund University.

Lund University Solar Fuel researchToday solar energy is harnessed in solar cells and solar thermal collectors. Solar cells convert solar energy to electricity and solar thermal collectors convert solar energy to heat. However, producing solar fuel, for example in the form of hydrogen gas or methanol, requires entirely different technology. The idea is that solar light can be used to extract electrons from water and use them to convert light energy to energy rich molecules, which are the constituent of the solar fuel.

“A device that can do this – a solar fuel cell – is a complicated machine with light-collecting molecules and catalysts,” said Sundström. Continue reading