Penn State University understands that the future of cleantech and the 'new energy economy' comes down to advancing the fundmantals of chemistry, biology and materials science.
The University has become a powerhouse for cleantech research and its scientists are pushing the limits of performance around next generation solar cells, fuel cells and cleaner hydrocarbons.
Now researchers have made a breakthrough related to the breadown of ligin that can be used to lower the cost of cellulosic based biofuels, and change the feedstock industry.
Rethinking the breakdown of Ligin
Lignin is a key piece of cellular walls in woody plant material. Breaking it down to access the energy of chemical bonds in the plant material is one of the great barriers to cost effective cellulosic biofuels.
"There is lots of energy-rich cellulose locked away in wood," said John Carlson, professor of molecular genetics, Penn State. "But separating this energy from the wood to make ethanol is a costly process requiring high amounts of heat and caustic chemicals. Moreover, fungal enzymes that attack lignin are not yet widely available, still in the development stage, and not very efficient in breaking up lignin."
Bean gene + Poplar Tree + Enzyme
Researchers inserted a gene from beans into a poplar tree that inserts a protein between two lignin molecules when the lignin polymer is created.
"Now we have a lignin polymer with a protein stuck in between," explained Carlson "When that occurs, it creates a type of lignin that is not much different in terms of strength than normal lignin, but we can break open the lignin polymer by using enzymes that attack proteins rather than enzymes that attack lignin."
These enzymes that attack proteins are already used widely in the laundry detergent industry and are commercially readily available, added Carlson. The genetic modification does not appear to weaken the plants or the crop production.
The easy to breakdown ligin variation may also have major implications for agriculture and livestock industries:
December 24 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: Beyond Rating: 7 Hot
Let's think beyond simply trying to find new ways to produce more energy, and focus on ways of storing energy. Why? Because this expands ways for us to produce more energy! Confused?
Solar and wind alone are a hard sell to utility providers because of intermittent production when the sun isn't shining or wind doesn't blow. Add utility scale storage to solar and wind farms, and you have a more valuable proposition.
Battery powered cars sound great, but not if we have to plug in our vehicles every 50 or 100 miles. Or what about a new iPhone with a battery that cannot last the entire day.
We have written dozens of posts on energy storage and believe it deserves much more attention from the media and policy leaders. 2009 could be a turning point for awareness around the importance of enabling next generation batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
List of 20+ Energy Breakthroughs in Batteries, Fuel cells, and Capacitors
December 23 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: 2018 Rating: 3
Could a box full of electrons change the energy industry?
Texas-based stealth energy storage company EEStor is making news again on the blogosphere now that it has received a patent for its ground breaking capacitor that might find use in electric vehicles, utility grids or high performance portable devices.
Why is this important for the auto industry?
The key to accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles is to advance energy storage devices. Batteries and fuel cells hold electricity using chemical storage, while capacitors store energy as a charge between two plates.
Designing a low cost, high performance capacitor has been a challenge for energy innovators. But EEStor believes its material platform of barium-titanate ceramic powder (94%) mixed with PET plastic could be the right combination.
The EEStor patent reveals a 281 pound storage device with more than 30,000 plates that can hold 52 kWh of electrical energy.
The company has an agreement with electric vehicle maker Zenn and Lockheed for military applications, but has intentionally kept a low profile. Its effort to remain under the radar of media attention, has in turn created a lot of energy blogger hype.
Batteries, fuel cells and capacitors - Not one device rules them all!
December 22 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: 2010 Rating: 3
Biofuels Digest has released its list of of 'Hottest' Biofuel companies based on research or production achievements in 2008. The analyst panel votes were weighted by industry and region 'to ensure a fair and broad representation of companies and technologies.'
"Innovation in renewable energy is gaining speed," said Jim Lane, editor and publisher of Biofuels Digest. "A slew of advanced bioenergy systems are coming to market from some of the brightest biologists, chemists, agronomists and engineers in the world. These companies are the hottest of the hot."
Top Ten includes:
2. Sapphire Energy
3. Virent Energy Systems
5. Range Fuels
7. Amyris Biotechnologies
9. DuPont Danisco
Other notables include: Novozymes (#14), Qteros (#15), Synthetic Genomics (#19), LS9 (#25),
Related posts on the future of bioenergy on The Energy Roadmap.com
December 22 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: Beyond Rating: 1
To reach a point where our global economy can rely on solar driven energy production, we need to continue making major breakthroughs in fundamantal science.
We still know relatively little about the fundamentals of photosynthesis and how we might replicate the process in materials used to turn energy from the sun into 'clean electrons and molecules'.
Sunlight can be used to capture photons for heat (solar thermal), electricity (photovoltaics) or direct hydrogen production. We are looking at ways of capturing solar energy in silicon and carbon based materials, and also using molecular machines inside of algae and bacteria. We must also find a way to store solar energy efficiently and at a low cost.
List of 11 Solar Energy Breakthroughs in 2008
December 22 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: Beyond Rating: 2
2008 was a big year for science breakthroughs on next generation bioenergy solutions. And that is a good thing for the future of energy.
The modern economy runs on ancient bioenergy. Coal is ancient biomass, oil is likely ancient microbes.
So why not tap the power of biology to ‘grow energy’ resources.
Forget about corn ethanol, the future taps the power of microorganisms not plants.
Next generation solutions such as algae and bacteria ‘eat’ carbon to produce biofuels, or use sunlight to produce hydrogen. Looking beyond 2015, we can imagine real breakthroughs in the field of Synthetic Biology that could change how we look at energy and carbon solutions.
List of Bioenergy Science Breakthroughs in 2008
MIT researchers are working with a Portuguese group to design a pilot-scale device that will capture significantly more of the energy in ocean waves than existing systems. The pilot plant will generate 750 kilowatts, roughly enough to power 750 homes.
Professor Chiang Mei and his colleagues have developed model simulations that can predict wave forces and guide design decisions to convert the captured mechanical energy to electrical energy.
"Given the future of conventional energy sources, we need lots of research on all kinds of alternative energy," Mei says. "Right now, wind energy and solar energy are in the spotlight because they've been developed for a longer time. With wave energy, the potential is large, but the engineering science is relatively young. We need to do more research."
Related posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
The vision of 'Green Chemisty' is to create the basic components used in making materials, energy, food and pharmaceuticals using sustainable practices, often without the use of petroleum based feedstocks.
Rice University researchers have bio-engineered Ecoli to produce large amounts of a key component used in the development of bio-based and biodegradable polymers.
Raw (starch) materials provider Roquette Frères has licensed a bio-process from Rice University to use genetically engineered Ecoli that produce large quantities of succinic acid used in plastics, textiles, drugs and solvents and as a food additive.
The high volume process is competitive with petroleum based processes, and actually 'carbon negative' as it consumes carbon during the fermenation process.
Roquette Frères is not a household brand, but could go a long way in realizing a scalable way to produce bio-based succinic acid from renewable resources via “green” chemistry.
Roquette will develop a demonstration plant in France by the end of 2009 with the capacity to produce several hundred metric tons of succinic acid per year. After successful demonstration of the technology, the company expects to begin large-scale production by 2011.
American Industrial leaders might be ready to reinvest in the country's industrial capacity to innovate and manufacture components needed to reinvent the energy and auto industries.
The keys to electric vehicles are electric motors, energy storage systems (batteries, fuel cells and capacitors) and drive by wire systems.
The US has now formed a new coalition to pursue the biggest prize: Energy Storage!
Pride or Profits?
US playing catch up with Asian
What if electric cars didn't bring America and Europe 'energy independence'? The public relations failure of trading 'foreign oil for foreign batteries', has motivated US business leaders to form a coalition to seek federal funding for securing a domestic battery industry.
The Chicago-baesd National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture will include 14 companies and the US DOE's Argonne National Laboratory. 'The Alliance' will be modeled around Sematech which helped the U.S. semiconductor indutsry play catch up to Asian manufacturers in the late 1980s
The founding members of the Alliance include 3M, Johnson Controls, ActaCell, All Cell Technologies, Altair Nanotechnologies, Dontech Global, EaglePicher Corporation, EnerSys, Envia Systems, FMC, MicroSun Technologies, Mobius Power, SiLyte, Superior Graphite, and Townsend Advanced Energy.
Short term vs Long view of 'Electric'
We have been writing for several months about the globalization of electric vehicle industry, and Asia's early lead in the first energy storage device lithium ion batteries.
We have also suggest that the 'car is not an iPod', and that 'pluggin in' battery systems are not the default future of electric vehicles. It is not certain that batteries can solve the energy storage problem.
Ask a lawyer or engineer if there is something wrong with this plug in picture!
Instead, next generation vehicles will integrate batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, and capacitors. But industry leaders, politicians and the public seem only ready to take one step at a time, and for now talk is focused on first generation storage of batteries. So we will crawl instead of leap into the future.
Related posts on the future of electric vehicles
December 19 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: 2014 Rating: 1
Nuclear power has not stopped being controversial in the US, but global industry leaders still see America as a market for growth in electricity generation.
There are enormous challenges ahead for revitalizing support for nuclear power, but if the US does restart its nuclear power program, it will not do it alone. And it's possible that pressure could be strongest from companies based outside the US. Aside from flat public support, there is a notable lack of human engineering talent in the US.
France invests in US power generation market
Now we have a new player in the nuclear industry. France's utility giant EdF has outbid Warren Buffet's MidAmerican Energy to buy Baltimore-based Constellation Energy which has a nuclear power generation heavy portfolio. EDF will invest $1 billion in Constellation, and up to $2 billion for non-nuclaer power plant investments.
Buffet did not walk away empty handed from his earlier effort to buy Constellation, and has doubled his money in less than a year as he retains a 9% stake and $593 million in cash.
This is a significant investment by France's EDF in the US power generation market, and could be a milestone in the new battle for public support for nuclear power.
[It should be noted that, aside from all the legacy controversy issues, nuclear energy is NOT a substitute for oil or liquid fuels. Nuclear plants produce electricity and we cannot fill combustion engines with electrons. So the argument that nuclear energy provides for 'energy independence' falls flat.]