One of the great efficiency opportunities for the next century is based on the convergence of information and energy flows. The notion of a 'smart grid' is a more reliable and efficient energy web based on the integration of software, sensors and energy storage.
And for those homes with 'Smart Meters' or Smart Devices, solutions are coming online quickly. Google has now thrown its hat into the ring around the basic idea: 'if you can measure it, you can improve it'. The Google Power Meter is a software tool integrated into smart meters that helps consumers better understand how they use energy in order to reduce their costs and consumption. Google is a big name, in an expanding space of 'smart energy' startups, like Sentilla and REGEN, who are trying to build demand in the residential market.
Related Smart Grid posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
an architectural and automotive glass manufacturer, recently
unveiled a new prototype glass product that could provide some big
energy gains when integrated into the homebuilding process. The
windows of your house may soon actually supply energy via
passive solar gains instead of leak it.
The vacuum-insulated glass (VIG) panel consists of two glass
panes, one of which is covered in low-e coating.
When vacuum sealed together, the panel effectively eliminates both
convection and conduction of heat. The most impressive aspect of
the product is its potential level of insulation (or R-value). The
higher the R-value, the better the insulation. Most low-e glass
comes in between R-2 and R-4, but this revolutionary glass promises
a whopping R-12 to R-15 rating – the equivalent insulation of your
home’s exterior walls.
Because they are investing in the future design of catalysts!
And their strategy is to innovate at the nanoscale.
The Beginning of Nano
Physicist Richard Feynman is often credited with launching the
‘nanoscale’ era of engineering with his famous lecture ‘Plenty of
Room at the Bottom’ at Caltech in 1959. Feynman
described our future ability to manipulate individual atoms and
eventually create complex mechanical structures made of the
Fifty years after Feynman’s lecture, researchers and startups
are making significant progress in designing nanoscale structured
materials that will have an enormous impact on all aspects of the
energy industry from production, to storage to end use
What is disruptive about catalysts?
Simply put, catalysts help us get more output with less energy
input. Catalysts speed up the reaction of photo-, chemical and
electrochemical changes in everything from batteries, fuel cells,
and solar cells, to the refining of coal, gasoline, diesel, and
natural gas, and the production of hydrogen and biofuels. Catalysts
also help to reduce the energy required to create plastics,
biomaterials, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer.
The rules of the energy industry game are being re-written by
companies designing synthetic metal and carbon-based catalysts that
change our notions of what is possible in the years ahead. Other
companies are attempting to harness, or mimic, naturally occurring
bio-catalysts that gracefully manipulate energy in all living
things from algae/bacteria to plants to human beings.
Catalysts are the silent work horses of our modern world but you
seldom, if ever, hear or see the word mentioned in mainstream
conversations about energy. Yet they hold the key to unlocking
human potential without draining the planet’s resources. Catalysts
can help realize the vision of a world powered by cheap, abundant,
clean energy. (Continued)
Congratulations to best selling futurist and Future Blogger contributor Jack Uldrich who finished second in his bid for the Minnesota Independent Party nomination for U.S. Senate. Given his late entry into a 7 competitor field that included winner Dean Barkley, who served a short stint in the U.S. Senate as Paul Wellstone’s replacement in 2002, it was a very admirable effort. Barkley was also the endorsee of former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, whose gubernatorial campaign he successfully managed in 1998. Jack easily finished ahead of the Independent party’s endorsed candidate and the rest of the field on his way to capturing 12.4 percent of the vote.
I caught up with Jack today to get his quick take on the role of foresight in the political process.
JH: What kind of response did you get as a futurist running for office?
JU: It didn’t help or hurt. I actually changed the description of what I do to ‘Business Technology Forecaster” to make it more accessible. People’s perceptions of futurists are sometimes more pie-in-the-sky than pragmatic, though in the long run, the impact of accelerating change will necessitate that we all become futurists.
JH: What role do you think foresight should play in politics?
JU: It’s absolutely critical. Look at all the big issues: energy, the economy, climate change, healthcare, social security – they’re all being dramatically impacted by accelerating technological change. Take energy for example – there are so many technologies that will be available sooner than people think that you can’t have a rational conversation without factoring these in. Social Security is another big issue. We have a 10 trillion dollar debt, but a 70 trillion dollar commitment to prepare for in the future. Given the life extension technologies on the horizon, even this number will rise significantly.
JH: How will the impact of foresight in politics evolve over the next four years?
JU: Washington needs to begin addressing these issues now. If they don’t, these issues will be hoisted upon them very quickly. Like an 800lb brick.
JH: How do you feel now coming off the campaign?
JU: I’m glad to have gone through the process, learned a lot and am very thankful to my supporters. I’m disappointed to not have the chance to face-off against Al Franken and Norm Coleman, as I feel that I could have elevated the conversation in a number of critical ways.
We have ‘Big Oil’, so why not ‘Big Biopower’? (And what does it mean for the solar and wind industry?)
Enter Adage (Chadds Ford, PA) a new joint venture biomass development company formed by nuclear energy vendor AREVA (Bethesda, MD) and electrical utility giant Duke Energy, N.C).
ADAGE will be focused on enabling green biopower energy solutions for the US electricity market tapping waste organic materials like wood chips.
BioPower via Waste to Energy?
Bio energy means many things. While most people think of biofuels from corn, this first generation ‘food crop’ source is not the future of bioenergy. (Don’t get distracted by corn ethanol, bio energy potential is vast!)
Real bio energy growth is likely to come from a combination of plant, algae/bacteria and organic waste sources. A leading ‘non-food’ crop resource is Jatropha, but biofuels can also use enzyme supported systems (cellulosic ethanol) or applying chemistry to create hydrogen rich fuels from waste streams.
Bio energy also uses the higher conversion efficiencies of carbon-eating algae to produce biodiesel, and hydrogen-breathing bacteria for electricity.
Organic material supplies would come from regional industrial suppliers with excess wood wastes and ‘forestry operations within about a 50-mile radius around the biomass power plant.‘
So Adage will develop projects in regions with well established industries that can deliver steady streams of organic waste. [And it is important to note that waste to energy strategies have an obvious limitation based on amount of waste available.)
‘Combustion() based BioPower, but Carbon Neutral‘
Today, electricity is produced by burning things. The energy released from burning off carbon-hydrogen bonds leads to steam that spins turbines to produce electricity. Adage’s form of ‘waste to energy’ is in essence – carbon neutral.
Adage will be burning (I am verifying this claim. See comment section) organic material (trees / plant material) resulting in CO2 emissions, but that carbon is recaptured by trees and plant life. (Assuming more trees, crops and plant life are replaced!)
It might sound sketchy, but the burning of biomass waste is much better than releasing the massive amount of energy of coal that have been locked away in ground deposits for millions of years. So it is a step forward!
Despite its carbon neutral approach, Big BioPower might be a hard pill to swallow for eco-purists which favors non combustion power generation of solar and wind. The prospect of ‘Big BioPower’ could bring an unexpected twist for solar and wind producers looking to tap ‘renewable energy’ credits for state utilities.
More on Big Biopower’s opportunities and challenges ahead for solar and wind
What if we could print low cost solar panels on pieces of plastic and integrate this energy collecting material into buildings, infrastructure and product casings?
This is the future of thin film solar.
While traditional (rigid silicon substrate) solar panels are a relatively mature platform, we have not yet hit our stride in advancing the efficiencies of thin film solar.
Thin-film, or organic solar is attractive because it is low cost, flexible and can be integrated into existing materials and products. These systems can also be designed to tap broader sections of the light spectrum. Relatively low efficiencies mean that thin film solar will never be capable of providing a majority of our energy needs, but it is certainly part of a broader strategy of new distributed power generation.
Before we start asking when we might see thin film on the shelves at Home Depot or integrated into familiar product designs, the first step is to understand why thin film is different from traditional solar.
The following five video clips help to describe the future potential of thin film solar.
Nanosolar (Palo Alto-San Jose, CA) has long been considered a leading innovator in the field of organic photovoltaics or thin film solar.
In recent years forward-looking architects and designers have been pushing out the leading edge of advanced energy systems for built environments. Along the way they have created a new marketplace for integrated energy solutions with lower costs and improved performance. Their efforts have been supported by the growing list of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings.
On Tuesday, Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, NC, became the first hotel to be awarded the LEED Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED is the USGBC’s rating system for designing and constructing the world’s greenest, most energy efficient, and high performing buildings.
Opened in late 2007, the Proximity (videos) was designed to use 40% less energy and 30% less water than comparable hotels. It along with the adjacent Print Works Bistro are the first hotel and first restaurant to obtain the USGBC’s top level certification.
“When we started the design process four years ago, I would have never believed that we could use 41% less energy and 33% less water without one iota of compromise in comfort or luxury and with minimal additional construction costs,” says Dennis Quaintance, the CEO and CDO (Chief Design Officer) of builder Quaintance-Weaver “It just goes to show what a determined team can accomplish if they use common sense and get a little bit of help from the sun.”
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.
Researchers from Northwestern University have developed a new class of ‘honeycomb’ gas separation materials to purify hydrogen rich mixtures like methane (natural gas) for generating electricity via fuel cells.
Traditional methods of gas separation use selective membranes that grab molecules by size. But Northwestern's Professor Mercouri G. Kanatzidis and Gerasimos S. Armatas are using a method of polarization. As the gas mixture of (carbon dioxide and hydrogen) travels through the inner walls of the ‘mesopourous’ membrane, the carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules are slowed down and pulled towards the wall as the hydrogen molecules pass through the holes.
One type of membrane consisting of heavy elements germanium, lead and tellurium showed to be approximately four times more selective at separating hydrogen than traditional methods using lighter elements such as silicon, oxygen and carbon. The process is reported to work at “convenient temperature range” -- between zero degrees Celsius and room temperature.
“We are taking advantage of what we call ‘soft’ atoms, which form the membrane’s walls,” said Kanatzidis. “These soft-wall atoms like to interact with other soft molecules passing by, slowing them down as they pass through the membrane. Hydrogen, the smallest element, is a ‘hard’ molecule. It zips right through while softer molecules, like carbon dioxide and methane take more time.”
With fuel prices rising with no end in sight, both consumers and
automobile companies have become more and more concerned with
fuel-consumption. While drivers attempt to cut down their gasoline
usage, automobile companies are researching and producing more
fuel-efficient cars, some to come out as early as next year.
Solutions range from hybrids, fuel-efficient engines, pure
electric, plug-ins, solar panels, and hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Even with all these seemingly promising solutions, will we have
fuel efficient cars available for consumers at an affordable price
To help us imagine just what the market has in store for us over
the next 5 years here’s a timeline based on the self-reported
release dates of various major auto manufacturers (visual
first, followed by extensive text):
- Released by General Motors late 2008, early 2009, is the
Saturn Vue 2-Mode hybrid. Touted as the world’s most
fuel-efficient V-6 SUV, the Vue 2-Mode
hybrid has up to a 50% fuel economy increase for urban driving and
an overall 30% increase through the use technology such as
low-speed, electric only propulsion and regenerative breaking. It
will be classified as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.
- In February, Shelby SuperCars will be releasing the
Ultimate Aero EV, which will be the world’s fastest electric
car. SSC is known for the EV’s
predecessor, the Ultimate Aero, the world’s fastest gas-powered
car. The Ultimate Aero EV will have twin 500 hp electric motors
powered by a battery. Other details regarding its production have
not been disclosed.
- Sometime in the Spring, the next generation of Toyota
Prius will be released, equipped with solar panels that will
provide a portion of the energy to run the air-conditioning unit.
Toyota is planning on bringing 450,000 of these solar-power capable
vehicles to the market.
- Audi will be bringing out their 2009
A2, a compact, fuel-efficient car that manages to feature more
cabin space than Minis. The A2 will have 1.2 to 1.8 liter engines,
as well as diesels and will have a lowered amount of CO2 emissions, due to the European CAFE regulations.
Imagine stepping into a local car dealership in 2020.
Does that new car look familiar by today’s standards? Or has it evolved in shape and style?
What powers that car of the near future in 2020?
Hybrids, plug-ins, electric motors, diesel engines, ethanol blends, biodiesel, synthetic fuels, veggie power, air power, natural gas, solar, batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, or the flux capacitor?
There are many ideas out there that could re-shape the auto industry in the next decade, but none is more important than how we power our vehicles.
If you are confused by the mixed messages you see in the media – welcome to our Futurist’s Guide to the Cars of 2020(Part 1- Powering the Car)
Q: What powers my new car in 2020?
We have two basic choices – liquid fuels or electrons.
Internal Combustion Engines (I.C.E.) use liquid fuels such as gasoline, next generation biofuels (bio-gasoline or biodiesel equivalents) or synthetic fuels. By 2020 most combustion engine vehicles are likely to accommodate a wide range of liquid fuels- but we expect that gasoline will retain its market position.
Electric motors use electrons fed by batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors. Despite the mis-representation in most media reports, there is no fundamental difference between ‘electric’ cars and ‘hydrogen fuel cell’ vehicles – both use streams of electrons to power high performance electric motors. The phrase ‘electrification’ of the transportation sector includes electricity from batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.
“If we can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” – Abraham Lincoln.
Grand Challenges can be defined as fundamental problems in need of solutions. An Energy Grand Challenge is indeed what its name implies – a competition to be challenged and won in regard to energy use, sustainability, cost, and efficiency.
Multiple teams enter as candidates to reach the goal, whether it is a certain level of fuel efficiency, carbon dioxide removal, or future energy solutions. The winner receives a prize, usually in the form of a generously large sum of money. But the Challenge’s impact, however, is not only on the team that wins the grand prize, but the technology that springs from the research, which can expand its positive influence to affect the world.