The Art Center of Pasadena has released video highlights from its recent Summit: Expanding the Vision of Sustainable Mobility held in March 2009. There are a number of energy related videos to share, but we'll start with one that gets the blood pumping!
Former Assistant Secretary in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Andy Karsner, is a fresh voice on long held but widely suppressed ideas that promote a holistic policy strategy towards transportation, energy and urban design.
I'm impressed with Andy's ability to communicate! Of course, Karsner shares a few perspectives that I might challenge. Namely, looking back at the past with a critical lens. The problem was not our failure to build vehicles that get more miles per gallon, it's the entire supply chain and manufacturing footprint of the internal combustion engine. A Detroit version of the Prius would not have helped GM or Chrysler's flawed 'new car' sale business model.
And, I agree with Karsner that our 'big plans' (e.g. FreedomCAR) were destined to fail. What we needed was an event - the Fall of 2008.
The recent collapse of the auto industry was just what the doctor ordered- a well-timed crisis to force the accelerated death of a century old mobility platform. Tweaking the combustion engine around hybrids or flex fuels was never the solution. Sometimes the future needs a crisis, not a plan!
Andy Karsner passionately describes the beginning of this transition from mechanical engines to electric drive trains powered by the integration of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors. He is someone who can frame this vision and rally the troops. And I agree it is time to push the acceleration button! Watch this Video!!
“Our lights may be on, but systemically, the risks associated with relying on an often overtaxed grid grow in size, scale and complexity every day.”
What if our greatest energy dependency challenge was not related to the global flow of oil, but the one way flow of electricity coming from distant power plants to our wall sockets?
The world runs on electricity. Demand for electron power in emerging economies is often 3-4 times greater than demand for oil. Because the old model of the electricity grid does not seem adequate in meeting the new demands of the 21st century, many energy pundits argue that access to electricity is the world’s biggest strategic energy issue.
Realizing the ‘Smart Grid’ Vision
The conversation about electricity infrastructure is likely to change very soon as governments and the private sector build out the vision of a smarter, electricity web that is infinitely more reliable, robust and profitable.
‘The electric industry is poised to make the transformation from a centralized, producer-controlled network to one that is less centralized and more consumer-interactive. The move to a smarter grid promises to change the industry’s entire business model and its relationship with all stakeholders, involving and affecting utilities, regulators, energy service providers, technology and automation vendors and all consumers of electric power.‘
A Smart Grid means many things. At The Energy Roadmap.com we believe that the most disruptive elements are software,sensors & storage. The good news is that these three systems might finally be reaching a tipping point in cost and performance that allows us to turn the ‘smart grid’ vision into a reality. While this US DOE Guide might not be the definitive guide to the future of smart grid systems, it is certainly a step forward in helping to spread the meme and outline the fundamentals!
The Financial Times has obtained a draft copy of the International Energy Agency annual World Energy Outlook. The Paris-based IEA is a highly regarded information agency on the global energy sector. The report, which will be officially released next month, states that the world’s largest oil fields have a natural annual rate of output decline is 9.1 per cent. This suggests that the world will struggle to add capacity against such a steep decline. [We will not know IEA’s official figures until November 12th, but the issue of new capacity growth should not be dismissed.]
Peak Production, not Supply
Peak oil relates to extraction, production and new capacity, not total supplies. Even though oil is a finite resource, we are not ‘running out of oil’ – especially around non-conventional hydrocarbon resources. The real concern relates to our ability to increase production to meet growing global demand. The real question is how much can we ‘add’ in new capacity, at what cost and how quickly.
The central element of this story from the IEA, and a key concept to peak oil production, is the ‘rate of decline’ of existing oil field output. The Financial Time reports from the IEA draft “…as they (oil fields) mature it is the single most important determinant of the amount of new capacity that will need to be built globally to meet demand”.
Who is going to add new capacity?
The big question is – where will the oil come from? Forget about claims of ‘known or proven reserves’, there is plenty of oil in the ground. We must ask ourselves which countries and companies can bring massive amounts of oil online at a reasonable cost. This is where things look more uncertain.
Richard Heinberg writes with the Energy Bulletin: “This (9% decline) is a stunning figure. Considering regular crude oil only, this means that 6.825 million barrels a day of new production capacity must come on line each year just to keep up with the aggregate natural decline rate in existing oilfields. That’s a new Saudi Arabia every 18 months.”
Instead of pushing Automakers to incrementally improve miles per gallon, we should empower companies like General Motors and Michelin to transform how cars are built and make liquid fuels like oil irrelevant.
Let's start by reinventing the wheel.
Michelin is now pushing its Active Wheel concept that can simplify how vehicles are built and reduce the manufacturing overhead for auto companies: 'no more engine under the front or rear, no more traditional suspension system, and no more gearbox or transmission shaft...all essential components have been integrated into the wheel itself'
Let's start by reinventing the wheel.
There are a few specialty engineering firms that have built high performance wheel based electric motors, but Michelin has the potential to bring ‘scaling’ to this disruptive technology.The company has integrated the system into the new Venturi Volage which premieres at the 2008 Paris Motor Show. There is also the new WILL built through a partnership involving Heuliez, Michelin and Orange.
Change the Wheel, Reinvent the Factory Floor A New (more effective) Message: Greener cars = Leaner cars
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:
1. Coskata 2. Sapphire Energy 3. Virent Energy Systems 4. POET 5. Range Fuels 6. Solazyme 7. Amyris Biotechnologies 8. Mascoma 9. DuPont Danisco 10. UOP
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!
"Whether you think you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right." - Henry Ford
The worst thing we can do when thinking about the future of energy is to look at possible solutions and simply extrapolate today's technologies and scientific assumptions forward about what 'is' or 'isn't possible'.
There is still a lot we do not know about the basics of energy systems dealing with photons, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, enzymes and metals. Our current first phase efforts to design nanoscale materials used in energy production, conversion and storage are certain to yield systems that will change how we live in the world in the decades ahead.
Remember, only a century ago, coal and wood were king, magical 'electric' light intimidated the general public, only a few could see the potential of oil, rockets and nuclear science were beyond our imagination, and the vision of a tens of millions of 'horseless carriages' reshaping the urban landscape was a ridiculous proposition.
So what seemingly novel ideas could shape the next century?
Corn is not the future of biofuels. It is a political distraction, and researchers are moving beyond crops for fuel.
We are moving quickly into an era of next generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol derived from waste materials, and algae fuels derived from carbon emission feedstocks.
Cellulosic ethanol is a particular challenge given the slow rate of speed associated with the breaking down sugar-rich materials (e.g. agricultural waste like corn cobs). To develop faster, lower cost systems we must first understand how these proteins (enzymes called cellulases) do their magic of breaking down complex cellulose bonds into simple pieces of sugar.
Supercomputers open up new knowledge Researchers at the San Diego Supercomputing Center (SDSC) are creating virtual molecules that might mimic how enyzmes 'dance' above a cellulose chain before it rips up a single sugar molecule feeding it into its 'molecular conveyor belt' to 'unzip' the bonds into basic sugars that can be fermented into a liquid fuel.
Why supercomputers? Few things in the world are as complicated as understanding the shape and movement (folding) of proteins, or the breaking down of strong cellulose walls. Supercomputer simulations help us decode the secrets of molecular movement!
Scientists at Penn State University and Virginia Commonwealth University have discovered a way to produce hydrogen using aluminum nanoparticles (billionth of a meter) that react with water molecules to split oygen and hydrogen bonds.
What does that mean?
The physical arrangment and exposure of the alumninum atoms determines its ability to split certain chemical bonds by binding oxygen and releasing hydrogen.
Three of the tested aluminum clusters produced hydrogen from water at room temperature.
This ground-breaking work is important because it confirms the belief held by catalysis researchers that nanoparticle 'geometries, not just electronic properties', effect the reaction performance of catalytic materials.
Hydrogen Production at Room Temperature (& Confusion of Hype vs Hope)
The companies have committed $45 million in funding and assets to progress the development of one of the nation's first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facilities, located in Highlands County, Florida.
Yes, it will take years to scale up cellulosic (and algae) energy systems, but the pace of breakthroughs and production focused investments remains one of the most compelling stories emerging in the energy sector.
The Real Transition: Growing Energy by Closing the Carbon Loop The law of conservation of energy states that energy may neither be created nor destroyed. But the real question for those exploring the futures of energy is: Will our economy continue to be based on energy that is 'borrowed and wasted' or 'created and recycled'?
We shifted from an Agricultural to Industrial society, by tapping 'stored energy' locked up in the chemical carbon-hydrogen bonds of coal, oil and natural gas. And this system is shamefully inefficient at every level from electric power generation to the mechanical engines that power our transportation sector.
If the Industrial Age was based on a high value energy 'input', low value energy 'output' (waste), the 21st century could be shaped by our efforts to close the loop of chemical energy cycles using biology (chemistry, et al) to return to a high value energy product from that waste.
The agreement is an early indicator of a new category for the energy sector based on a simple, but disruptive alternative to 'plugging in' - Refillable Packets sold over retail shelves that offer a real cost and performance alternative to the grid.
The Disruptive Power of High Density Storage Electron Economy via 'Streams vs Packets' In the years ahead, we could see the emergence of a new form of 'packet' based energy distribution that could undercut the grid's last mile, and the notion of 'plugging in' objects to a wall socket connected to a 'stream' of electricity.
The future of electricity depends on chemical storage. Batteries require us to 'plug in' and recharge. Fuel cells keep the 'fuel' (e.g. hydrogen/methanol) and oxidant separate offering a 'refill' platform. One is a storage device dependent on the wall socket, the other is its own 'power plant' that requires businesses to supply 'fuel' rather than direct access to the grid.
Instead of massive market populations around the world waiting for the electrical grid to arrive via a wall socket, why not sell them power packs next to bars of soap at the retail level. Imagine disposable batteries on steroids.
It is a simple but disruptive idea to the notion of end point grid access. What if Walmart could sell you a 20-pack of energy cartridges to fuel all of your home appliances and gadgets? Or electric vehicles (via solid hydrogen bricks)?
Why push for energy Packets? Learn from 'Streams' of Water vs 'Packets' of Bottled Water
The Obama Administration is following through on a major campaign promise: funding basic energy science.
Do you want Hope? (Or maybe long term optimism!)
Stop looking for 'short term' solutions and quick fixes to global energy challenges. We need disruptive breakthroughs that enable new energy systems and business models.
Start with basic science.
A Good Day for Energy Science Today, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science announced that it will invest $777 million in Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) over the next five years as we attempt to 'accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to build a new 21st-century energy economy'. The 46 new multi-million-dollar EFRCs [PDF list] will be established at universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms across the United States with partnerships extending around the globe.
The EFRCs will focus on a wide range of projects (PDF) 'ranging from solar energy and electricity storage to materials sciences, biofuels, advanced nuclear systems, and carbon capture and sequestration' and will engage 'nearly 700 senior investigators and employ, on a full- or part-time basis, over 1,100 postdoctoral associates, graduate students, undergraduate students, and technical staff.'
Getting Serious about CleanTech Industries Building a Bridge to Molecules: A Nano-Bio Energy Age The 'Cleantech' Industry vision promoted by entrepreneurs, activists and political leaders is not likely to be based on technologies and energy systems that exist today. (Translation: We are at the beginning of this new era of energy. And it is not likely to be an extension of the past or present!)
How do you create cleantech industries?
Be the economy that launches the Industrial Age of Nanoscale Molecular Engineering.
Learn how to manipulate carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, light, enzymes and metals at the nanoscale (1 billionth of a meter)- and you have the new 21st century drivers of economic growth.
Nanoscale materials science and Bio energy sciences are growing into giant new industry sectors that will dwarf today's major industry sectors. Science is the foundation for real green collar jobs of the future.
Smart Money - Right Time, Right Ideas, Right Teams Funding Basic Science not Mystery Science- Nano is no Joke!