Biofuel Perennial Crops Could Use Less Water

A new research report from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) finds that perennial crops grown on marginal land for biofuel use could use comparable water to that of corn. The report looked at how these crops could affect the balance of water between rainfall inputs, evaporation losses, and movement of soil water to the groundwater. The report cites that in humid climates such as the U.S. Midwest, evaporation returns more than half of the annual precipitation to the atmosphere, with the remainder available to recharge groundwater and maintain stream flow and lake levels.

The study, led by GLBRC scientist and Michigan State University professor of ecosystem ecology Stephen Hamilton, is a multi-year effort to compare the water use of conventional corn crops to the perennial cropping systems of switchgrass, miscanthus, native grasses, restored prairies, and hybrid poplar trees, feedstocks currently under review for use as biofuel crops.

Michigan State University; (R) Stephen Hamilton, professor of ecosystem ecology at Michigan State University and GLBRC researcher. Photo by John W. Poole, NPR.

Michigan State University; (R) Stephen Hamilton, professor of ecosystem ecology at Michigan State University and GLBRC researcher. Photo by John W. Poole, NPR.

“When we established the different cropping systems in 2008,” said Hamilton, “we installed soil-water sensors at various depths through the root zone. We’ve been continuously monitoring the soil water content ever since.”

To measure the rate of evapotranspiration occurring within each cropping system, soil-water sensors are used. Evapotranspiration refers to the sum total of water lost while the plant is growing, either from evaporation through the plant stem itself (a process called “transpiration”), or from water evaporated off of the plant’s leaves or the ground. By measuring the amount of precipitation that has fallen against actual soil water content, Hamilton said it’s possible to quantify the water lost to evapotranspiration while each crop is growing.

In a finding that contrasts sharply with earlier modeling studies that found particularly high perennial water use in areas with high water tables, the report finds that the perennial system’s evapotranspiration did not differ greatly from corn. Hamilton’s study, however, took place in Michigan’s temperate humid climate and on the kind of well-drained soil characteristic of marginal farming land.

Hamilton and his team also measured the water use efficiency (WUE) of each crop, calculating which plants grew the most biomass with the least amount of evapotranspiration. Miscanthus had the highest WUE, then corn, followed by poplar, native grasses, and prairie.

Wave Energy Prize Entrants Move Forward

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) wave energy competition is moving toward the next phase with 92 teams. The Wave Energy Prize is a design-build-test competition encouraging the development of better innovations for wave energy conversion (WEC) devices that will double energy capture. When this is achieved, costs will be reduced making wave energy more competitive with established energy technologies.

The 91 American teams and one team from Denmark official will now begin working to double the energy captured from ocean waves and win a prize purse totaling more than $2 million.

“We’re extremely pleased with both the quantity of teams and the diversity of participants reflecting broad expertise from so many established companies in the ocean energy space, universities, anWave Energy Prize logod newcomers to the industry,” said Julie Zona, Wave Energy Prize administrator. “The composition of the participating teams truly demonstrates one of the benefits of a prize challenge, which is to encourage the inclusion of new perspectives. We’re very hopeful that the diverse backgrounds of these teams will help lead to the Prize’s goal of achieving game-changing performance enhancements to wave energy technologies.”

Team names and background information on the official registered teams can be found on the Wave Energy Prize website.

Kyocera Dedicates Floating Mega Solar Plants

1.7MW floating solar power plant at Nishihira Pond 1Kyocera Corporation and Century Tokyo Leasing Corporation’s joint venture Kyocera TCL Solar has completed construction of two floating mega-solar power plants at Nishihira Pond and Higashihira Pond in Kato City, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. The plants will generate an estimated 3,300 megawatt hours (MWh) per year.

The solar modules are 255-watt Kyocera modules with 11,256 used in total for the project that began in September 2014 and was officially completed in March 2015. The electricity generated will be sold to the local utility, The Kansai Electric Power Company through Japan’s feed-in tariff system.

1.7MW floating solar power plant at Nishihira Pond 2According to Kyocera TCL Solar, there are several benefits of the floating mega solar power plants:

  1. Floating solar power generating systems typically generate more electricity than ground-mount and rooftop systems due to the cooling effect of the water.
  2. They reduce reservoir water evaporation and algae growth by shading the water.
  3. Floating platforms are 100% recyclable, utilizing high-density polyethylene, which can withstand ultraviolet rays and resists corrosion.
  4. The floating platforms are designed and engineered to withstand extreme physical stress, including typhoon conditions.

CH2M Hill Involved In Seawater Bioenergy Facility

A pilot-scale bioenergy facility that will use seawater irrigated desert land to produce both bioenergy and food in the water is under development in Masdar City. The Integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (ISEAS) involves a complete seawater agricultural system that will serve as a research and development facility for Masdar Institute (MI) of Science and Technology and the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC). The project is expected to be operational in late summer.

Dr. Alejandro Ríos, Director, Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium, noted, “This project has potential for groundbreaking innovation, particularly considering the unique conditions in Abu Dhabi’s environment. CH2M HILL has assembled a world-class team of engineers to tackle this very interesting challenge, and we at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology are confident that the engineering expertise that has gone into the design of the pilot facility will enable such innovation.”

Growing_sustainable_sbrc_enCH2M HILL was commissioned last year to provide technical support and to design a sophisticated pilot-scale facility of the ISEAS on designated land in Masdar City. CH2M HILL said they worked closely during the design phase with MI and SBRC to refine the technical aspects of the new facility, with the intention of an innovative sustainable system that will serve as a research and development facility for MI and SBRC.

A significant aspect of the new pilot-scale facility is the use of seawater to produce water stock to grow seafood, mainly fish and shrimp, (aquaculture) for human consumption and Salicornia plants for fuel and byproduct production. The plants thrive in arid, desert conditions and do not require fresh water or arable land to grow. The effluent is diverted into cultivated mangroves that are used for water treatment and biomass production, removing nutrients and providing valuable carbon storage.

“CH2M HILL is proud of our involvement with this notable pilot research project and of our successful partnership with MI and the SBRC. The project team has not only created an innovative biofuel project to address challenges of energy and water security, but is also playing an essential role in supporting the advancement of sustainable biofuel research in the UAE,” said Neil Reynolds, CH2M HILL’s regional managing irector for Middle East, North Africa and India (MENAI).

Pioneering Solar-Powered H2O Desalination Plant

misc logosAbengoa has been selected by Advanced Water Technology (AWT) to jointly develop a large-scale desalination plant powered by solar energy. The plant will be located in Saudi Arabia and the according to AWT, when complete will the first and largest of its kind in the world. It will produce 60,000 m3 of water each day to supply Al Khafji City in North Eastern Saudi Arabia, ensuring a constant water supply throughout the year.

According to Abengoa, the photovoltaic plant will be capable of supplying the power required by the desalination process, significantly reducing the operational costs. It will also have a system to optimize power consumption and a pre-treatment phase to reduce the high level of salinity and the oils and fats that are present in the region’s seawater.

The Al Khafji desalination plant will ensure the stable supply of drinking water, contributing to the country’s socio-economic development. As in other cities in Saudi Arabia, water is a scarce resource. Abengoa and AWT will supply the local population with water needs in a sustainable and reliable way.

Wave Energy Costs Favorable

According to a new analysis published in the journal Renewable Energy, large-scale wave energy systems developed in the Pacific Northwest should be comparatively steady, dependable and able to be integrated into the overall energy grid at competitive costs to other forms of renewable energy including wind power. The study finds that wave energy has less variability than some other energy sources and that by balancing wave energy production over a large geographic area variability can be further reduced.

Variability of renewable energy production from sources such as solar or wind have been a concern and often require back-up energy sources leading to extra costs. Wave energy may be a more reliable and ultimately less expense option when the technology is future developed.

Ocean Sentinel“Whenever any new form of energy is added, a challenge is to integrate it into the system along with the other sources,” said Ted Brekken, an associate professor and renewable energy expert in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University.

“By producing wave energy from a range of different sites, possibly with different types of technology, and taking advantage of the comparative consistency of the wave resource itself, it appears that wave energy integration should be easier than that of wind energy,” he continued. “The reserve, or backup generation, necessary for wave energy integration should be minimal.”

Today, wave energy is not being commercially produced in the Pacific Northwest, but the researchers expert its future potential is significant, and costs should come down as technologies improve and more systems are developed.  In addition, the study suggested, that its short-term generation capacity can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy over a time scale ranging from minutes to hours, and with some accuracy even seasonally or annually.

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.

EWEA to New Commissioner: Rein in Energy Future

Alenka Bratusek has been named Vice President- and Commissioner-designate for Energy Union and Miguel Arias Canete has been named as European Commissioner-designate for Energy and Climate Action. In response to the news, the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) is calling on the new commissioner to take the reigns of the Europe’s energy future.

ewea-logo“We look forward to working with Vice President Bratusek and Commissioner Canete on building a new treaty-busting energy union in Europe, which is underpinned by renewables,” said EWEA Chief Executive Officer Thomas Becker. “For a true single energy market to flourish in Europe, energy policy must become the domain of EU lawmakers and should not be shackled to 28 diverging ministries, regulators and agencies at national level.”

Becker said added, “The announcement of Vice President-designate Bratusek, with responsibility for energy union, shows a commitment by the Juncker presidency to make strides toward a single electricity market that places renewable energies, such as wind power, at the heart of European energy security.”

Parliamentary hearings for the new College of Commissioners are expected to commence on the week beginning Monday September 29, 2014.

Food, Water Security Focus of Water for Food Event

The role of data in wWFF_cvent_banner_670px_nogates2ater and food security will be explored in the upcoming Water for Food Global Conference taking place in Seattle, Washington October 19-22, 2014.

Global food demand is growing. With a changing climate and increased competition for scarce water resources, people are now faced with the complex challenge of needing to double agricultural production by 2050 with less water than is used today. A topic of interest is how to use the tremendous amount of data we now have—from technology ranging from remote sensing to smart mobile devices—to effectively address this problem.

Water for food logoHosted by the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska in association with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “Harnessing the Data Revolution: Ensuring Water and Food Security from Field to Global Scales,” will bring together international experts in the fields of science, technology, policy and practice to discuss potential solutions to achieve a more water and food secure world. The conference will focus specifically on how data can improve the productivity and sustainability of small and large farmers.

Don’t miss your chance to be part of this important discussion. The early registration discount ends September 18, 2014. For more details, visit waterforfood.nebraska.edu/wff2014/.

Texas A&M Students Help African Villages with Solar

Three senior Mechanical Engineering students at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Bryan Hunt, Cody Collins, and Andrew Schippers recently returned from Hanga, Tanzania where they brainstormed ideas for several renewable resource projects including the use of solar energy foTexas AM students in Africar refrigeration, lighting, Internet and improving hydroelectric power. Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering Michael Cornachione is assisting the students with their projects.

“The idea behind using renewable energy is that it will provide electrical power without the community having to put any money into it once it is installed,” said Hunt. “Basically, we can install the renewable resource and walk away. In rural Africa, being able to provide someone with enough solar power to run a small light, a small fridge, or a small electric stove can make a real impact.”

Texas AM Africa ProjectBoth Hunt and Collins spent their time meeting with villagers and getting an up-close look at their energy needs. Schippers, who was not able travel, supported the team from campus by continuing to research other renewable resource and funding options.

“We realized quickly that it was going to be hard to secure funding to just go and collect data without having a specific project,” said Hunt. “Cody and I decided that we just did not want to pass up this opportunity.”

The next step for the team will be to put their ideas into action by selecting the best project to implement, creating a proposal, applying for grants, and finally, building, and testing their project. As of now, all three students are planning to return to Hanga by August 2015 to install their selected project.

“Many of the villagers do not have clean water, electricity, and cook with charcoal or wood,” said Cornachione. “The final project the students choose to build will have a direct impact on the welfare of the Hanga community by providing new energy resources and clean water in remote sections of the village. If this first project is successful, it can then be duplicated in other villages.”