“This facility has state-of-the-art printing capabilities that are ready for full operation, with the future potential to produce over a gigawatt of flexible plastic solar modules per year,” commented Howard Berke, executive chairman and co-founder of Konarka. “Our technical leadership and innovation in flexible thin film solar, along with this facility’s capabilities of producing in excess of 10 million square meters of material per year, will allow us to produce Power Plastic for indoor, portable, outdoor and building integrated applications.”
Konarka has long been considered a leading start up in the solar field, but this Gigawatt production capacity helps to cement its position among a growing base of thin film competitors. Analysts have been fond of describing ‘spectacular growth’ ahead for thin film solar, but near term expansion is not likely to be as easy as paper forecasts as the solar industry confronts fundamental challenges including rising costs of raw materials. Rising costs aside, the solar industry is expected to grow from a market volume of 5.6 GW in 2008 to 79.5 GW in 2015. And if thin film companies like Konarka can continue to open large scale MW and GW capacity plants they should certainly expect bright days ahead.
In recent years advocates of plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles have argued ‘the infrastructure for electric cars exists. We only need to plug in our cars at night while nobody is using the electricity.’ This was the source of their disdain for the other electron energy carrier hydrogen. Why waste time on building something new, when it already exists?
It turns out that this observation of our electricity grid was only a snapshot of reality, not the description of a future-ready system for supporting electric vehicles. The world’s electric grids are not ready to support commercial vehicle fleets. And now auto makers like Renault are leading efforts to rally utility grid operators, energy storage companies and entrepreneurs to prepare for the electrification of the global auto fleet.
France’s EDF & Renault creating the future
Business Week is reporting on a pledge by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Paris Auto Show to dedicate 400 million euros ($549 million) in state support for the development of electric and hybrid cars.
The funds are likely to be packaged with a major agreement between Renault and France’s utility EDF to jointly develop the infrastructure needed to recharge electric vehicles, allowing Renault to deliver vehicles in 2011. (The French government owns 85 percent of EDF and 15 percent of Renault.)
GDF is already the owner of the world’s biggest corporate fleet of electric vehicles and has an obvious stake in developing a “smart” charging stations.
Meanwhile Business Week confirms that Renault-Nissan is to establish infrastructure in Israel, Denmark, Portugal, the U.S. state of Tennessee and the Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, with production plans for electric cars from 2011.
Are electric recharge stations the best path?
Futurist Jamais Cascio has been quoted as saying ‘The road to hell is paved with short-term distractions.” And as someone who has followed the hype cycle of transportation propulsion systems I wonder if a strategy based solely on batteries and electricity could be that? A short-term distraction.
The future of vehicle fueling infrastructure might actually be more complicated than just plugging in. Why should we hedge our bets with powering electric vehicles around other electrons carrier systems like fuel cells and capacitors? (Continue)
Horizon Fuel Cell’s future is based on an elegant idea – water powered electric devices. Their HydroPak portable generator units are designed for early markets around military, medical, telecommunication, building management, and industrial customers.
Fuel cells are basically advanced refillable batteries that convert chemical energy into electrical energy. The technology is taking longer than expected to commercialize, but they are coming.
Horizon uses a hydrogen rich chemical hydride (NaBH4) to power the device. This fuel was developed by Millennium Cell which formed a strategic partnership in an equity swap with Horizon last year.
The water is only part of the reaction to release the chemical energy. Water is less a fuel, than it is a reactant. So the product’s appeal uses a bit of trick marketing!!
‘Water’ powered sounds better than ‘chemical hydride’ powered!
Thin-film- solar startup XsunX, Inc. is moving forward on building out
its 25 megawatt thin film photovoltaic (TFPV) solar module
manufacturing plant in Oregon. A recent company press release describes the companies efforts to align material resources with low cost manufacturing process for its 90,000 square foot facility. The company expects to begin commercial production in early 2009.
Last week we reported on the opening of the first 1 Gigawatt capacity thin film solar plant operated by Konarka. (Konarka image shown) XsunX now appears to be on track to add to real production capacity for the thin film solar market.
Energy forecasters believe that growth of thin film solar could soon surge around its advantages over traditional glass-based solar panels.
While thin film’s performance (by energy conversion efficiency) is lower than traditional solar panels, it has a cost advantages per-watt because of its lower materials and manufacturing ‘roll to roll’ costs. Thin film can also be integrated into more products and building materials, and sold over retail shelves at Home Depot, Walmart and Tesco.
If XsunX and Konarka (Image) stay on course, soon solar panels will be produced on the same types of ‘reels’ that spit out newspapers using inkjet printing processes.
Barack Obama's energy platform included goals for renewable energy, higher automoative gas mileage standards, support for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and targets for energy efficiency of homes...and that's just to start. With the recent announcement of Nobel laureate and now former head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Steven Chu as Energy Secretary, Obama's administration can be the catalyst that makes alternative energy markets viable.
Will the Obama administration be successful in making the energy changes he promised in the election?
We might be closer to reframing the public conversation about the future of the auto industry.
The real problem for the auto industry is its manufacturing footprint, not its carbon footprint.
Of course we must build more efficient vehicles.
But the industry's problems have nothing to with small cars vs big cars, or fuel efficiency.
The real problem is the manufacturing intensity of building mechanical engines, and their inability to produce multiple chassis on one factory floor. The other problem is that they build new cars then have them sit on dealership lots until someone buys it.
Yes, we must reduce the eco-impact of vehicles, but to get there we must recognize that the real revolution is changing how we build cars, not how we fuel them. Need more evidence?
Fiat exchanges Access for Equity Fiat is negotiating a 35% stake in Chrysler in exchange for access to its small vehicle manufacturing capacity and revival of its European brands in the US.
But we should not be confused. The future is not 'small cars', but leaner manufacturing.
Does Chrysler need small vehicles to meet current market demand? Probably.
But the real takeaway is Chrysler's inabilty to build different types of vehicles (small or large) without major retooling investments.
So the company exchanges access to manufacturing for equity.
The future is modular manufacturing
The future is a factory floor that can build multiple chassis using modular electric motors and energy storage devices (batteries, fuel cells and capacitors).
What we don't know about the fundamental science of energy systems might actually help us! The problem is that most people assume we already know everything, and that we are running out of solution sets. In fact, we are only at the beginning of a new era of understanding nanoscale (molecular) energy systems engineering.
MIT Chemistry Professor Dan Nocera's lecture Whales to Wood, Wood to Coal/Oil to What's Next? describes what we do not understand about solar energy conversion (photosynthesis) and effective energy storage in nature's form of chemical bonds. His focus is to uncover the science of nature's recipe for storing energy: Light + Water = Fuel.
The Future of Energy will be based on our ability to elegantly control the interactions of light, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and metals. And for all our engineering prowress of extracting and blowing up ancient bio-energy reserves (coal/oil), there is still so much to learn about basic energy systems from Mother Nature.
Laying Down Algae Shells for Solar Panels Researchers from Oregon State University and Portland State University have developed a new way to make “dye-sensitized” solar cells using a 'bottom up' biological assembly processes over traditional silicon chemical engineering.
The teams are working with a type of solar cell that generates energy when 'photons bounce around like they were in a pinball machine, striking these dyes and producing electricity.'
Rather than build the solar cells using traditional technqiues, the team is tapping the outer shells of single-celled algae, known as diatoms, to improve the electrical output. (Diatoms are believed to be the ancient bio-source of petroleum.)
The team placed the algae on a transparent conductive glass surface, and then (removed) the living organic material, leaving behind the tiny skeletons of the diatoms to form a template that is integrated with nanoparticles of titanium dioxide to complete the solar cell design.
Biology's Nanostructured Shells & Bouncing Photons? “Conventional thin-film, photo-synthesizing dyes also take photons from sunlight and transfer it to titanium dioxide, creating electricity,” said Greg Rorrer, an OSU professor of chemical engineering “But in this system the photons bounce around more inside the pores of the diatom shell, making it more efficient.”
The research team is still not clear how the process works, but 'the tiny holes in diatom shells appear to increase the interaction between photons and the dye to promote the conversion of light to electricity... potentially with a triple output of electricity.'
According to the team, this is the 'first reported study of using a living organism to controllably fabricate semiconductor TiO2 nanostructures by a bottom-up self-assembly process.' So, chalk up another early win for advanced bio-energy manufacturing strategies!
Researchers from Northeastern University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have improved the efficiency of clustered nanotubes used in solar cells to produce hydrogen by splitting water molecules.
By layering potassium on the surface of the nanotubes made of titanium dioxide and carbon, the photocatalyst can split hydrogen gas from water using ‘about one-third the electrical energy to produce the same amount of hydrogen as an equivalent array of potassium-free nanotubes.’
Rethinking the Possibilities at the Nanoscale Energy is about manipulating the interactions of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, metals, biological enzymes and sunlight.
When we design core enabling energy systems (e.g. catalysts, membranes, cathodes/anodes, et al) at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter) we find performance that is fundamentally different from the same systems designed at the 'microscale' (millionth of a meter).
Because smaller is better when it comes to manipulating molecules and light, the research teams used ‘tightly packed arrays of titania nanotubes’ with carbon that ‘helps titania absorb light in the visible spectrum.’ Arranging catalysts in the form of nanoscale-sized tubes increases the surface area of the catalyst which in turn increases the reactive area for splitting oxygen and hydrogen.
The key word for the cleantech (or alternative energy) world is momentum.
Market conditions change, as do consumer attitudes and expectations. If alternative energy concepts fail to live up to their hype, public support could fade along with political will and policies that enable growth.
Cleantech startups are trying to reach people who are asking ‘What can I do to accelerate changes in energy?’
The formula is relatively straight forward. Consumers buy things so they need to be low cost and easy to use. And moving beyond criticisms of trying to buy or consume ourselves into a greener planet, start ups have to evolve around one of two categories products and services to survive. Today we’ll look briefly at products in home and local power generation.
Local power generation is an area that should see solid growth in the years ahead. Producing 10-20% of our own electricity needs could go a long way in reducing emissions and demand on our electrical grid.
Small scale wind and solar systems are ideal for homes, schools, factories and office buildings looking to reduce their demand on the energy grid.
The smart money on electric vehicles might be placed on companies building two-wheeled vehicles, not four.
Electric motorcycles and scooters could be cheaper to manufacture given their size and design simplicity. And they are perfect for emerging economies where two-wheeled vehicles are much more common than full sized cars.
A number of well known motorcycle brands like Honda have electric two-wheeled models in development, but this could be a category for new brands to emerge and carve our their niche around early adopters.
ZeroX Motorcycles (Santa Cruz, CA) has announced that its 2008 Zero X electric motorcycle has sold out and the company is hoping to generate a lot of buzz at the Alt Car Expo in Santa Cruz – September 26-27th.
The Zero X Electric Motorcycle is targeted at the early adopter market for dirt bikes, but if their core electric propulsion system and lithium-ion battery is solid and flexible enough, it might find a much bigger market abroad in Asia on street bikes.
Two-wheeled electric chassis might have the price point and performance to surprise us!