U of Wyoming Gets $4.25 Mil for Wind Research

windfarm1The University of Wyoming receives $4.25 million for the federal government for wind energy research. This school news release says the three-year, Department of Energy-EPSCoR grant will fund wind farm modeling, transmission grid monitoring and the economics derived from wind-generated power.

The grant will support 12 researchers from those five UW departments as well as researchers from Montana Tech. Researchers from other academic institutions, Cornell University and Western Ontario University, and four national government labs — the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden and Boulder, Colo.; Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.; and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. — are expected to be involved in the work.

naughton“The grant will be used to look at barriers for penetration of renewables into the electrical grid,” says Jonathan Naughton, a UW professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of UW’s Wind Energy Research Center. Naughton is the principal investigator of the grant. “Our focus is on wind. Obviously, for Wyoming, that’s most prevalent. This is work relevant to the state’s economy.”

Potential impacts of the project include: improved location placement of wind farms; better control and efficiency of wind farm generation; more reliable integration of wind generation with the power grid; and a better understanding of the economic benefits of wind farms and grid optimization.

The release goes on to say rthe project will focus on three interdependent areas: 1. Development of and optimization of wind plant performance, 2. Development of a measurement-based transmission grid modeling capability, and 3. Development of fully integrated economic models for more diverse and variable energy generation and transmission scenarios.

Researchers Discover Cellulose Making Enzyme Structure

Researchers from Purdue University have discovered the structure of the enzyme that makes cellulose. They believe this finding could lead to easier ways of breaking down plant materials to make biofuels and other products and materials. In addition the researchers say the findings provide a more detailed glimpse of the complicated process by which cellulose is produced. Cellulose is the foundation of the plant cell wall and can be converted to bioproducts such as biofuels and biochemicals. The research findings were published in The Plant Cell.

“Despite the abundance of cellulose, the nitty-gritty of how it is made is still a mystery,” said Nicholas Carpita, professor of plant biology. “Now we’re getting down to the molecular structure of the individual enzyme proteins that synthesize cellulose.”

carpita-n14Carpita explains that cellulose is composed of several dozen strands of glucose sugars linked together in a cablelike structure and condensed into a crystal. The rigidity of cellulose allows plants to stand upright and lends wood its strength. “Pound for pound, cellulose is stronger than steel,” said Carpita.

A large protein complex synthesizes cellulose at the surface of the plant cell. The basic unit of this complex is an enzyme known as cellulose synthase. The protein complex contains up to 36 of these enzymes, each of which has a region known as the catalytic domain, the site where single sugars are added to an ever-lengthening strand of glucose that will be fixed in the plant cell wall as one of the strands in the cellulose “cable.”

Carpita and a team of researchers used X-ray scattering to show that cellulose synthase is an elongated molecule with two regions – the catalytic domain and a smaller region that couples with another cellulose synthase enzyme to form a dimer, two molecules that are stuck together. These dimers are the fundamental building blocks of the much larger protein complex that produces cellulose.

“Determining the shape of cellulose synthase and how it fits together into the protein complex represents a significant advance in understanding how these plant enzymes work,” Carpita said. Continue reading

Schott, Algatech Ink Research Deal for Biodiesel Feedstock

durantubes1An international glass maker and a biotechnology company specializing in algae production have signed a deal that could improve cultivation of the biodiesel feedstock algae. Schott AG and Algatechnologies Ltd. (Algatech), studied new DURAN® glass tubes that significantly improved cultivation efficiency in the yields of Algatech’s AstaPure® natural astaxanthin and plan to present their findings at the Algae Biomass Summit, at the end of this month in San Diego, Calif.

Algatech sought to optimize cultivation of AstaPure, a premium natural antioxidant known as astaxanthin, as part of its goal to double production capacity. SCHOTT partnered with Algatech in 2013 to produce 16 kilometers—nearly 10 miles—of thin-walled DURAN glass tubes for testing in Algatech’s photobioreactor (PBR) production systems at its array in Israel.

SCHOTT reduced the wall thickness of the special DURAN tubes while maintaining their strength and stability. The thinner walls facilitate higher volume and increased sun exposure of the microalgae. The use of DURAN tubes resulted in an increase in algae production efficiency and higher yields of AstaPure astaxanthin.

“From energy to medicine, cosmetics to nutraceuticals, many different industries rely on algae,” said Raz Rashelbach, R&D manager at Algatech. “The success of the thin-walled DURAN tubing has helped increase the AstaPure production efficiency on a small scale that can now be replicated on a much larger scale.”

“Further testing and development of new products in partnership with Algatech will allow us to continue finding new ways and methods to improve algae production,” added Nikolaos Katsikis, Director, Business Development at SCHOTT Tubing.

The agreement signed is expected to expand the two companies’ joint cooperation on new microalgae-based products.

Impact of Ethanol Mandates on Fuel Prices Nill

Professors Sebastien Pouliot and Bruce A. Babcock with Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) have released a new paper, “Impact of Ethanol Mandates on Fuel Prices When Ethanol and Gasoline are Imperfect Substitutes“. The authors note papers that consider the two transportation fuels “equal” have been of limited use in informing current policy debates because the short-to-medium-run reality is one of sets restrictions on how ethanol can be consumed in the U.S.

Mandate Impacts on GasThe authors’ objective of the paper was to improve understanding of how these restrictions change the findings of existing studies. The paper estimated the impacts of higher ethanol mandates using a open-economy, partial equilibrium model of gasoline, ethanol and blending whereby motorists buy one of two fuels: E10, which is a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline, or E85 which is a high ethanol blend. The model is calibrated to recent data to provide current estimates.

Mandate Impacts on EthanolThe authors find that the effects of increasing ethanol mandates that are physically feasible to meet on the price of E10 are close to zero. In other words, White House fears of higher RIN prices due to higher gas prices are unfounded. The report also shows the impact of the size of the corn harvest on E10 prices is much larger than the effects of mandates. However, increased mandates can have a large effect on the price of E85 if the mandates are increased to levels that approach consumption capacity. These findings show that concerns about the consumer price of fuel do not justify a reduction ethanol mandates under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The 2014 RFS rule is currently under review with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Report: Solar Costs Continue to Decline

According to a new study from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the average cost of going solar in the U.S. is continuing to decline. The findings were applauded by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Vote Solar.

“In just a few years, American ingenuity and smart policy have made solar a true success story. These price declines mean that solar power is now an affordable option for families, Tracking the Sun VIIschools, businesses and utilities alike,” said Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar. “The result is that solar and its many grid, economic and environmental benefits are shining in communities across the country.”

The seventh edition of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Tracking the Sun, an annual report on solar photovoltaic (PV) costs in the U.S., examined more than 300,000 PV systems installed between 1998 and 2013 and preliminary data from the first half of 2014.

“This report highlights yet another reason why solar energy has become such a remarkable American success story. Today, solar provides 143,000 good-paying jobs nationwide, pumps nearly $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy and is helping to significantly reduce pollution,” said SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch. “There are now more than half a million American homes, businesses and schools with installed solar, and this is good news for freedom of energy choice as well as for our environment.”

Key findings include:

  • Installed prices continued their significant decline in 2013, falling year-over-year by 12 to 15 percent depending on system size.
  • Data for systems installed in a number of the largest state markets – Arizona, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York – during the first six months of 2014 found that the median installed price of systems installed in the first half of 2014 fell by an additional 5-12 percent, depending on system size, over 2013.
    Solar installed costs declined even as PV module pricing remained relatively steady, indicating success in efforts targeting non-module soft costs – which include marketing and customer acquisition, system design, installation labor, and the various costs associated with permitting and inspections.
  • Cash incentives provided through state and utility PV incentive programs (i.e., rebates and performance-based incentives) have fallen by 85 to 95 percent since their peak a decade ago.

The National Lab notes that these findings mark the fourth consecutive year of major cost reductions for the U.S. solar industry. Today, solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States, employing 143,000 Americans, pumping $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy and helping to reduce pollution.

Pico Solar & Solar Home Systems to Top $2.1B

According to Navigant Research global market share for miniature solar photovoltaic systems, including pico solar and solar home systems, will grow from $538 million in 2014 to more than $2.1 billion in 2024. These systems are moving rapidly from specialized niches for solar enthusiasts and early adopters into the mainstream. They are particularly well suited for applications in the developing world where the provide lighting, cell phone charging and power for small direct current (DC) appliances in areas where the grid is unreliable or nonexistent.

Pico Solar System“Although the majority of solar consumer product activity is, for now, in developing regions of the world, similar products are also emerging in the developed world in the form of solar PV generators and kits,” said Dexter Gauntlett, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “NRG’s recent acquisition of Goal Zero exemplifies the growing interest in the sector among major corporations, with more acquisitions and strategic partnerships likely to follow.”

According to the report, in the developing world pico solar systems are providing new alternatives for people who previously had no choice but to pay high prices for low-quality and polluting fuel-based lighting, such as kerosene lamps. In addition to providing inadequate illumination, kerosene lamps pose significant health risks. The spread of pico solar systems gives these communities access to compact, clean, and affordable off-grid lighting and other electric devices.

The report, “Solar Photovoltaic Consumer Products”, analyzes the emerging global market for solar PV consumer products. It focuses on pico solar products and solar home systems, but also analyzes growth opportunities and key players for solar PV generators and kits. The report examines the distinct market issues for each product type in both developed and developing countries, including drivers and barriers, business models, and pricing trends.

Taiwan School Uses Microwaves to Make Biodiesel

ncku1A university in Taiwan is turning waste cooking oils into biodiesel using microwaves and strontium oxide (SrO) as catalyst. National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in southern Taiwan is using the talents of Prof. (Emeritus) Aharon Gedanken from the Department of Chemistry at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel, in the process.

With the system designed by the team, a machine has been built by a company in Taiwan.

“The machine is made in Taiwan and working very well comparing it with similar ones I have at home,” according to Gedanken

The converting machine has been set up in the department and ready to yield more biofuel in the coming months, according to MSE Distinguished Professor Jiunn-Der Liao who has invited Gedanken to cooperate with NCKU faculty conducting the research.

Prof. Liao said that with Gedanken’s help we are going to set up a converting station at An-nan campus and hopefully we will collect more waste cooked oil for the demonstration.

The experimental process cranks out 3 liters per hour, and the researchers hope to have companies in Taiwan apply the know-how to their biodiesel operations.

Wave Energy Research Progressing

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced the funding of up to $4 million for continued wave energy technological research and monitoring efforts. Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC) faculty will also share in another $3.25 million grant to iWave Energy Researchmprove “water power” technologies that convert the energy of waves, tides, rivers and ocean currents into electricity.

The project team is comprised of NNMREC with support from Oregon State University and University of Washington will be expanded to add the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The partnership will also enable researchers to learn more about the energy potential of large, flowing rivers.

“We’re extremely excited about the opportunity to add Alaska Fairbanks to our program,” said Belinda Batten, director of NNMREC and a professor in the OSU College of Engineering. “Alaska has an enormous energy resource, both in its coastal waves, tidal currents and powerful rivers. Partnering with Alaska Fairbanks will allow us to expand the scope of our energy research and tap into additional expertise, to more quickly move wave, tidal, and river energy closer to commercial use.”

The new funding will allow NNMREC to develop an improved system for real-time wave forecasting; create robotic devices to support operations and maintenance; design arrays that improve the performance of marine energy conversion devices; improve subsea power transmission systems; and standardize approaches for wildlife monitoring. Federal officials said the overall goal is to reduce the technical, economic and environmental barriers to deployment of new marine energy conversion devices.

“Oregon State University has been a world leader in developing wave energy technology and it’s great that the Department of Energy has recognized this fact in awarding this grant,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, who helped obtain the new federal support for these programs. Along with its university partners in Washington and Alaska, this funding will help ensure that the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center remains an important national center for ocean energy development not just for the Northwest, but for the entire country.”

Significant progress has been made in how to process, permit and monitor wave energy technology as it emerges from the laboratory to ocean test sites, and ultimately to commercial use. Wave energy’s sustainable generating potential equates to about 10 percent of global energy needs.

New Tool Helps Biodiesel Producers Evaluate Catalysts

swricfb1A new tool installed at a research institution in Texas will help biodiesel producers and refiners of other fuels evaluate better the catalysts they use. This news release from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) says the custom-designed circulating fluidized bed (CFB) helps turn biological feedstocks and heavy crude oils into refined fuel samples that clients can assess for quality and profitability, more quickly than previously used systems, cranking out samples of about a half liter per hour.

The 15 foot tall, 150 square foot CFB is in operation and available to respond to the current push for biofuels, which require catalyst-aided processing of raw materials, or feedstock, derived from biological materials such as algae, corn or wood, or from refinery products such as heavy crude oil. Clients can use a CFB to evaluate new catalysts and determine how plant-derived, bio feedstocks and bio oils can be efficiently integrated into refineries.

The CFB system converts biomass, material derived from plants or wood, to organic liquids using fast pyrolysis, a thermal conversion of organic material in the absence of oxygen. It also can emulate a fluidized catalytic cracking (FCC) unit, a refinery process to convert complex hydrogen molecules to simpler molecules, to convert lower-valued feedstock to higher-value products such as gasoline or diesel. For example, fluidized cataltyic cracking is commonly used in producing gasoline from crude oil.

SwRI’s new circulating fluidized bed is flexible in operation to test both fast pyrolysis processes for biomass-to-biofuels conversion technologies and FCC refinery unit operations.

“In the U.S., a pilot-sized CFB such as ours is unique since conventional FCC testing equipment is smaller and produces very small quantities of material for testing,” said Eloy Flores, an assistant manager in the Fuels and Energy Development Section in SwRI’s Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division. “We can produce enough material for fuel specification or standardized testing. In addition, we are capable of high riser velocities associated with biomass fast pyrolysis.”

Part of what SwRI does is certify biofuels for on-road use through emissions testing.

US Solar Nears 16GW of Installed Capacity

According to a new report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the U.S. installed 1,133 MW of solar photovoltaics (PV) in the second quarter of this year. Q2 2014 U.S. Solar Market Insight report finds that more than half-million homes and business are now generating solar energy and they account for nearly half of all solar PV installation in the quarter. The residential market has seen the most consistent growth of any segment for years and its momentum shows no signs of slowing down.

Across the U.S., cumulative PV and concentrating solar power (CSP) operating capacity has exceeded 15.9 gigawatts, enough to power more than 3.2 million homes.

pv_map_by_state“Solar continues to soar, providing more and more homes, businesses, schools and government entities across the United States with clean, reliable and affordable electricity,” said SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch. “Today, the solar industry employs 143,000 Americans and pumps nearly $15 billion a year into our economy. This remarkable growth is due in large part to smart and effective public policies, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), net energy metering (NEM) and renewable portfolio standards (RPS). By any measure, these policies are paying huge dividends for both the U.S. economy and the environment, and they should be maintained, if not expanded, given their tremendous success, as well as their importance to America’s future.”

Showing continued strength, the utility PV segment made up 55 percent of U.S. solar installations in the second quarter of the year. It has accounted for more than half of national PV installations for the fifth straight quarter. In just two years, the utility segment has quadrupled its cumulative size, growing from 1,784 megawatts in the first half of 2012 to 7,308 megawatts today.

Shayle Kann, Senior Vice President of GTM Research added, “Solar continues to be a primary source of new electric generation capacity in the U.S.” said “With new sources of capital being unlocked, design and engineering innovations reducing system prices, and sales channels rapidly diversifying, the solar market is quickly gaining steam to drive significant growth for the next few years.”

GTM Research and SEIA forecast 6.5 gigawatts of PV will be installed in the United States by the end of this year, up 36 percent over 2013.