Bloomberg is reporting that Toyota plans to sell a 'limited' line of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to consumers by 2015 or maybe sooner.
Toyota's fuel cell integration strategy (along with Honda, Kia and GM) suggests that the auto industry is looking ahead towards next generation electric drive vehicles that go beyond battery platforms.
Fuel cells vs Batteries? Or both? A very profound transition is happening in our world. The 'electrification of the auto industry' has started, but it will take decades to complete.
The tricky part? 'Electric' refers to the motor.
What delivers electrons to those electric motors is more open to debate.
The popular assumption today is that batteries will power the future of cars. But the reality is more sobering. Energy storage solutions that are appropriate for the auto industry are not likely to emerge from anything that exists on the commercial market today.
Cars are not iPods, and the cost of building 'plug in' station infrastructure is likely to be prohibitive, if not totally inconvenient to consumers. Fuel cells and capacitors offer superior cost / size and performance advantages. And more convenient infrastructure options such as rapid refill or 'swap out' boxes (e.g. solid hydrogen).
While eco-bloggers are excited over batteries, the long view is more cloudy. Automakers are hedging their bets on energy storage solutions, and it appears the the 'hype' phase of battery powered cars might be short lived.
Related posts on the Auto Industry at The Energy Roadmap.com
Sony made recent headlines when it offered the first real commercial OLED (organic light emitting diode) commercial display product. The 11" wide screen is a 3 mm thick, and it only represents the beginning. Now the company is going to a thinner, flexible platform.
CEO Howard Stringer recently demonstrated a foldable display screen that is 0.2 mm thick. Sony is not holding back on its vision of future content consumption on displays that will be flexible, transparent and able to be read in sunlight.
Meanwhile, researchers around the world continue to advance the field of carbon-based or 'organic' electronics beyond thin film solar, OLEDs, fuel cells and batteries. IBM believes we might see 'spray on' solar within five year!
Chris Martenson has created a series of videos called The Crash Course 'to provide you with a baseline understanding of the economy so that you can better appreciate the risks that we all face.'
Martenson shows how important it is for us to understand the enormous implications of exponential growth, debt-deficits, wealth creation, asset bubbles and demographic shifts, resource production plateaus, hedonic models, fuzzy numbers of GDP, et al.
Martenson is not necessarily trying to sell a vision of inevitable collapse. Rather he makes a strong case to highlight the observable fundamental flaws in our current economic behavior and models, and the dire consequences of what might happen if we do nothing to change our course.
This is a must watch set of videos for thinking about the future.
European researchers at Fraunhofer ISE have achieved another record efficiency of 41.1% in the conversion of sunlight into electricity using a ‘multi-junction’ class of solar cells.
The cells are made out of gallium-based materials suited for the solar spectrum that reaches the surface of the Earth. The team managed to increase the regions of the material that are electrically active to attain the high efficiencies.
Prof. Eicke R. Weber, Director of Fraunhofer ISE emphasizes, “This is an especially good example of how the control of crystal defects in semiconductors can lead to a breakthrough in technology.”
Fraunhofer ISE is working with Azur Space and Concentrix Solar GmbH to commercialize their technology. “The high efficiencies of our solar cells are the most effective way to reduce the electricity generation costs for concentrating PV systems,” says Dr. Andreas Bett, Department Head at Fraunhofer ISE. “We want that photovoltaics becomes competitive with conventional methods of electricity production as soon as possible. With our new efficiency results, we have moved a big step further towards achieving this goal!”
The closer the human mind gets to understanding and controlling quantum behavior of light and molecules, the more likely we are to enable an era of cheap abundant energy.
Now, thanks to work by a research team led by University of Toronto's Greg Scholes and Elisabetta Collini, we are a step closer to understanding (and controlling) how light moves along long carbon-based molecular chains to create an electrical charge.
Organic Electronics - Thin Film solar & OLEDs Their research could lead to advances in the emerging field of 'organic' electronics (carbon based electronics) that support thin film solar cells and batteries, and flexible transparent OLED display screens.
The group has focused on 'conjugated polymers' as a promising candidate for building efficient organic solar cells. These long chains repeat the same molecule patterns and can be maniuplated to mimic the properties of traditional silicon based semiconductors.
When these materials absorb light, the energy moves along the molecular chain ('polymer') ending in an electrical charge.
"One of the biggest obstacles to organic solar cells is that it is difficult to control what happens after light is absorbed: whether the desired property is transmitting energy, storing information or emitting light," Collini explained. "Our experiment suggests it is possible to achieve control using quantum effects, even under relatively normal conditions."
Humans being creating Quantum-mechanical mechanisms
We have heard from a number of readers asking about the future of geothermal energy. So here is a solid '101' primer video lecture (short lecture, extended Q&A) by MIT Professor James Tester. Tester was Chair of a panel study report on the Future of Enhanced Geothermal Energy [PDF] released in 2007.
Related Geothermal posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
Advanced energy storage and portable power solutions continue to grab attention from energy investors.
Massachusetts-based startup up Boston Power has announced a $55 milllion Series D funding round to scale manufacturing, sales, marketing for its Sonata Lithium-ion batteries. This infusion of cash follows an announcement in December that Boston Power would supply HP with batteries for a coming line of laptops.
Boston Power's solutions are most relevant to supporting the continued growth of high performance portable electronics. But the company expects to be involved in first generation electric vehicles powered by batteries. Its branding effort has been to promote itself as a 'cleantech' company with high standards for its sustainability practices and partnerships with Asian manufacturers.
The Evolution of Energy Storage - Batteries, Fuel cells & Capacitors
We should be paying closer attention to California-based QuantumSphere and its approach to the future of energy.
QuantumSphere understands the disruptive potential in performance of materials when you design catalysts at the nanoscale.
The company is designing systems that change how we look at energy storage (e.g. batteries/fuel cells) and energy intensive processes like desalination.
Next Step - Water Desalination QuantumSphere has made headlines for its nano-structured catalysts used in lithium ion batteries, and also for its low cost hydrogen electrolysis process.
Now QuantumSphere has announced a filed patent for a more energy efficient method of desalination that uses organic solutions to separate water from salt water or polluted water. The 'forward osmosis' process is less energy intensive than current commercial methods.
Bloggers agree that this might be the worst viral software product video ever to hit the web. But maybe that was Microsoft's plan - generate buzz with cheesy singing and acting to feature its new song-writing software program Song Smith.
Augmenting Creativity Microsoft is using its Research and Live Labs divisions to extend the applications of software beyond business environments. Song Smith is not the end game. It is the beginning of a new age of software that augments real-time creativity using complex algorithms and databases of things like sound, rhythm, color, texture, design, et al. Microsoft has also released Kodu a software program that teaches children how to visually program new games.
Forget about Microsoft's future operating systems. What is their vision of software for learning and creativity as we enter a Post PC era of touch and voice interfaces, plus networked objects with sensors and microcontrollers?
Microsoft's founding vision was 'a PC on every desk'.
Is their new vision 'software (or algorithms) driving every creative act'?
FueCellMarkets is reporting on a $30 million Phase II contract to expand testing of Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) coal syngas power generation. This type of stationary fuel cell converts coal derived gas via electrochemical processes to produce electricity and heat. The result of this scalable non-combustion method is higher efficiency and signficantly lower carbon emissions.
Advancing Global Carbon Solutions Coal is not going away anytime soon. In fact, its global market share is growing as the primary source of energy for electricity generation.
Cheaper solar and wind does not, by default, mean less coal in a world economy expected to double energy production in the decades ahead. Coal is already embedded into global power grids, and it is not going to disappear overnight.
If we expect to address carbon emissions, we have to do more than develop alternatives. We need scalable carbon solutions that move us beyond the age of combustion conversion and harmful release of emissions.
While coal will never be 'clean', there are cleaner ways of converting it that result in significantly less carbon emissions. We have written extensively about algae, but fuel cells offer another path forward.
Fuel Cells, Coal Gas, & a Post Combustion Era of Energy Conversion