has long been considered one of the most forward looking technology visionaries in Silicon Valley. He is also one of many Silicon Valley investors becoming very interested (and invested) in the convergence of biosciences and the energy industry. Jurveston sits on the board of Craig Venter’s new company Synthetic Genomics which hopes to tap the power of synthetic biology for energy production.
In this 6 minute ZDNET presentation clip from AlwaysOn GoingGreen conference held on September 10-12th, 2008, Jurvetson explains the implications of accelerating changes in biology, genetics, and synthetic biology to the future of energy.
Accelerating changes in biology and cleantech
The future of biology is likely to converge with other industries like energy within the next 10-20 years.
Bio energy is very complicated subject with enormous potential to change how we produce biofuels, hydrogen and bio-material feedstocks. But it is also in its early ‘hype’ stages of development and we need framers who can eloquently describe how these changes in biology and genetics might someday change energy.
Fortunately for us – Steve Jurveston is one of those visionaries who can explain this convergence of biosciences and energy.
How might storing electricity in the form of solid hydrogen change the future landscape of energy? We believe it could change the performance of mobile power, lower the cost of renewable energy production, and change the nature of refueling your car by ‘swapping out’ boxes of fuel.
Hydrogen & Electricity = ‘Hydricity’
Electricity powers the future. Look beyond the transportation sector of liquid fuels, and most devices and machines run on electrons. Today, we understand the important role of electricity in our world, and tomorrow we might understand its sister companion – hydrogen.
Hydrogen might be the most misunderstood and misrepresented piece of the future energy landscape. Devotees often overstate it as the savior of Planet Earth, and staunch critics underestimate its short term challenges for longer term potential in energy systems and materials science.
A ‘Hydrogen economy’ is an economy driven by electricity. The hydrogen is merely a way of storing electron power via chemical bonds of hydrogen. So hydrogen and electricity are one in the same thing. Ballard Power Founder Geoffrey Ballad has coined the phrase ‘hydricity’ to help people understand the balance of these electrons carriers.
Fuel cells capture energy released when coated membranes strip apart those hydrogen-hydrogen bonds and merge it with oxygen to get water. This is a much more efficient (and cleaner) process when compared to blowing up carbon-hydrogen bonds via combustion. But it is also harder and more expensive (at least today!).
Advances in Hydrogen Storage
The two challenges for hydrogen are production and storage. For now we’ll focus on an emerging platform for high density, low cost and safe storage systems based on ‘solid’ hydrogen.
News from Argonne National Laboratory on ‘crystal sponges’
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow interviews Barack Obama (on 10/31/08) who highlights near term demands (and opportunities) for ‘Smart Grid’ investments needed to bring the US infrastructure into 21st Century.
‘Big Grid’ could replace ‘Big Oil’ as a major story for 2009, as it becomes clear that the regulatory frameworks of our electricity utilities are not designed to support growth of utility scale wind and solar, micro-distributed power generation, and energy storage. All these things are disruptive!
Most energy analysts see solar energy (via thermal, traditional photovoltaics and thin film) at the beginning of its commercial growth curve. Yet there is still much that we do not know about the fundamentals of solar energy conversions that can produce electricity, heat, hydrogen and synthetic fuels. Developing a 21st century roadmap for the future of solar energy requires us to first recognize the need for funding basic research in science and then explore the disruptive potential of breakthroughs in applied engineering.
Funding basic and applied research in Solar Photoconversion
The US Department of Energy’s Center for Revolutionary Solar Photoconversion is launching 12 novel solar research projects totaling more than $1.1 million in its inaugural round of research and development funding.
CRSP, the newest research center of the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, is dedicated to the basic and applied research necessary to create revolutionary new solar energy technologies as well as education and training opportunities.
According to NREL Senior Research Fellow and CRSP Scientific Director Arthur Nozik, the 12 CRSP projects “represent the leading edge of research into both new ways to generate electricity and liquid and gaseous fuels directly from the sun and improving our approaches toward these goals.”
The 12 selected solar projects are:
- Integrated Electrical and Optical Characterization of Silicon Thin Films – NREL and CSM, $99,818
- Redox-Tunable Polymers for OPV active layers – NREL and CSU, $100,000
- Group IV Nanowire Photovoltaics – Colorado School of Mines, $100,000
- InVitro Evolution of RNA-Inorganic Catalysts for the Conversion of CO2 to Alcohols – CU, $100,000
Could coal emerge as the biggest energy story of 2009? We think so!
Coal is likely to become President elect Barack Obama’s first great energy policy challenge- as evidenced by the coal industry’s ‘Congratulations’ ad on CNN.com
Why coal? Big Story for 2009: Problems with ‘Big Grid’
As prices at the pump drop in response to the global economic slowdown, we can (sadly) anticipate less media and public attention to the long term challenges of oil. Fortunately we have a problem of equal magnitude- an aging, some say failing, electric utility grid run by large enterprises who are already rethinking their changing role in the next century.
There is a short list of big issues for ‘Big Grid’ – building a 21st Century ‘Smart Grid’ around software and storage, integrating utility scale renewables (solar, wind, biomass waste), addressing regulatory challenges of carbon emissions, and working with private sector entrepreneurs who are advancing technologies that could disrupt long-held pricing structures and operating principles of our antiquated grid.
Today, we cannot talk about the future of utility grid energy or global energy and climate issues without confronting the challenges of coal. ‘Clean Coal’ refers to various methods of capturing energy from coal while reducing the amount of pollutants. Critics argue that coal can never been ‘clean’, while supporters of ‘cleaner’ coal argue that we must develop cost effective strategies that can reduce the impact of coal being burned in the US, China and around the world.
University of South Florida researchers have developed the tiniest solar cells ever built. The solar cells provide power to the team’s microeletromechanical system (MEMS) used to detect chemicals in lakes. The sensing device includes 20 tiny solar cells each about a quarter the size of a lowercase “o” in a standard 12-point font. [Sample MEMS image shown is NOT actual device]
Why is it important to the future of energy?
In the future we will need ways to power tiny sensors that detect changes in the world based on light, chemicals, temperature, noise, motion, et al. Micro power systems integrated into sensors are a foundation piece to ‘smart infrastructure’ used in applications ranging from energy, to security and environmental detection systems. Sensors embedded into everyday objects, as well as natural and built environments are likely to change the world in the next 50 years, as much as microprocessors changed our lives over the last 50 years.
The assembled device is also important for the future of ‘organic’ (carbon-based) solar cells that differ from traditional ‘silicon’ solar panels printed on glass substrates. Organic solar cells can be suspended in liquids and assembled using low cost ‘ink jet’ printers and, in theory, ‘printed’ on any surface. So we can imagine turning a rooftop or parking lots surface into a light collecting material.
What to watch: An Energy Roadmap for Micro power and Sensors
This fabrication could be significant for micro (millionth of meter) and nanoscale (billionth of meter) energy systems powered by light. The technique might also accelerate development of organic solar cells. But there will be competition from other viable power sources, with better energy densities, including nanoscale designed batteries, fuel cells and piezoelectric devices that convert motion into electrical pulses.
While US activists prepare for a battle against the notion of ‘clean coal’, China’s coal industry continues to boom. A recent MITreportestimates that China’s power sector has been expanding at a rate roughly equivalent to three to four new coal-fired, 500 megawatt plants coming on line every week.
The real danger is not just the carbon emissions, but the wrong assumptions and perception that incremental solutions, protests, or stricter carbon regulations can somehow shift China’s current direction. Why worry?
The gap continues to widen between what activists want to happen with the global coal industry, versus the reality of coal’s expanding role as the world’s fastest growing source of energy.
Worse, is the misguided hope that cheap solar (which is coming 2015-2025!) can magically counter the existing growth trend lines for coal. Most of that solar power generation will just go to satisfy new demand, not take away from coal’s market share and prime access to national energy grids. If there is a viable solution for this reality, it must be algae or advanced bioenergy solutions that can scale and eat the emissions from the combustion of coal. We need carbon solutions, not just alternatives to coal.
The People’s Daily Online reports that geologists have confirmed a massive 23 billion ton coal reserve deposit in the country’s Turfan Basin. ‘The coal mine occupies an area of over 300 square kilometers with a thickness of 169.69 meters, and a coal bearing ratio of 29%’. This is the second major reserve confirmed in the last six months.
That’s only the beginning! China does not appear to be limiting its reliance to coal on its own domestic supplies. Last week Reuters reported that China’s largest coal miner Shenhua Energy Co Ltd paid $187.4 million for a coal exploration license in Australia.
By the fall of 2008, every major automanufacturer from GM to Nissan to Tata--and a few startups such as Tesla and Aptera--had announced production model plans for all manner of electric vehicles, from all electrc vehicles, to plug-in hybrid electrics, to fuel cell vehicles, with deliveries to consumers starting in 2010. 2008 could well be known as the nail in the coffin for the bulky combustion engine which has plagued the auto industry with its manufacturing and design liabilities, and association with volatile oil markets.
How quickly might the world re-tool the global auto industry to build new vehicle chassis based on electric motors and advanced energy storage systems?
Continue Reading other Top Energy Stories from 2008
The Solar industry is growing up and going global. Now materials giant Dow Corning is investing $3 billion into basic materials for traditional photovoltaics and thin film solar.
The Chemistry side of Solar The full potential of solar energy depends on our ability to make big advances in materials science.
How quickly solar can grow depends on our ability to design nanoscale structures that maximize the conversion of photons into electricity, photons into heat, or photons into hydrogen. And how many utilities and consumers take the leap!
So when we see 'Big Chemistry' companies get involved in the solar industry materials market, that should be a signal of growth (and growth pains) ahead!
Dow goes Greenby Being Black Dow Corning Corporation has announced several billion dollars of investment to provide critical materials to the fast-growing solar technology industry for both glass based solar and carbon based thin film.
Dow Corning and its Hemlock Semiconductor joint venture will begin manufacturing high purity monosilane, a key specialty gas used to manufacture thin-film solar cells and liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Combined with the new $1.2 billion build up at a Clarksville, Tennesee facility and the $1 billion expanded monosilane plant in Hemlock, Michigan operations may add up to 34,000 metric tons of polysilicon capacity for the fast-growing solar industry. Construction of both the Michigan expansion and the new Tennessee site will begin immediately.
2009 might turn out to be a great year to be a startup involved in 'smart' energy solutions that tap the power of software, sensors, microcontrollers and storage systems.
Energy bloggers are all talking about 2009 as the 'Year of the Smart Grid', and energy analysts expect to see major public-private investments over the next two years in efficiency and energy management.
We have written about visions of a 'smart' planet being promoted by companies like IBM, Honeywell and Johnson Controls. But now we have the first major '09 investment in start up Sentilla, which has raised $7.5 million to deliver solutions for commercial and industrial facilities.
It might be premature to call Sentilla a 'smart energy' startup since its vision is much broader than electricity. It's future growth is based on a vision of an 'embedded object' world often described as 'Pervasive' or 'Ubiquitious' computing. In this future every object has built in awareness, intelligence and networked capabilities (e.g. Zigbee). Sentilla's offerings span energy managment, safety and security, and logistics/asset managment. But in 2009, selling themselves as a 'smart energy' company might be the best route!
Thin film solar is a low cost alternative to traditional glass based solar panels. 'Thin film' photovoltaic cells can be inkjet printed onto plastic sheets via a 'roll to roll' machine. These long plastic sheets can then be integrated into building materials like commercial and residential rooftops.
Startups are now scaling up production volumes, but the first phase of commercial growth for thin film depends on strategic partnerships with rooftop materials and construction companies.
ECD Ovonics transforming 'Rust Belt' to a 'Green Belt' Thin-film solar is a new energy technology platform that can be produced at low cost in many regions around the world. American energy visionaries imagine transforming the industrial Midwest 'Rust Belt' into a manufacturing hub for new cleantech materials.
Now Michigan-based ECD Ovonics has signed a contract with Carlisle Construction Materials to provide its Uni-Solar thin film for use in commercial roofing systems. The agreement is good news for Michigan economic developers. ECD is the world's leading producer of thin film solar, and has had previous partnerships with Italian steel and metal materials company Marcegaglia which expects to introduce the low cost, durable thin film solar metal roofing products to the market in 2010.
The Takeaway's Host John Hockenberry interviews the CEO of Sentilla and explores the huge opportunity around the convergence of energy and information. The era of 'smarter energy' systems is likely to be more efficient and profitable because it taps the integration of software, sensors and energy storage.