VATIS Update Non-conventional Energy . Jul-Aug 2011

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New and Renewable Energy Jul-Aug 2011

ISSN: 0971-5630

VATIS Update New and Renewable Energy (formerly Non Conventional Energy)* is published 4 times a year to keep the readers up to date of most of the relevant and latest technological developments and events in the field of New and Renewable Energy. The Update is tailored to policy-makers, industries and technology transfer intermediaries.

* This update has been renamed as 'VATIS Update: New and Renewable Energy' from Jan-Mar 2015 onwards.

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Renewable energy continues to grow

According to the REN21 Renewables 2011 Global Status Report, the renewable energy sector continues to perform well despite economic recession, incentive cuts and low natural gas prices. In 2010, renewable energy accounted for close to 20 per cent of the global electricity production and supplied an around 16 per cent of global final energy consumption. Renewable capacity now accounts for about a quarter of the total global power generating capacity. Including all hydropower (estimated 30 GW added in 2010), renewable energy accounted for approximately half of the total added power generating capacity in 2010. In 2010, existing solar water and space heating capacity increased by an estimated 25 GWth, or about 16 per cent.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) production and markets more than doubled in comparison with 2009 due to government incentive programmes and the continued fall in PV module prices. Germany alone installed more PV in 2010 than the entire world added in 2009. PV markets in Japan and the United States almost doubled relative to 2009. Wind power added the most new capacity (followed by hydropower and solar PV) globally, but for the first time ever, Europe added more PV than wind capacity.

Renewable energy policies continued to be the main driver behind renewable energy growth. By early 2011, at least 119 nations had some type of policy target or renewable support policy at the national level, more than doubling from 55 countries in early 2005. More than half of these countries are in the developing world. Of all the policies employed by governments, feed-in tariffs remain the most common. In 2010, investment reached a record US$211 billion in renewables – 31 per cent over the US$160 billion invested in 2009. Money invested in renewable energy companies and in utility-scale generation and biofuel projects increased to US$143 billion, with developing countries surpassing developed economies for the first time.

First national FiT for solar power in China

National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s energy regulator, has announced the public the first nation-wide feed-in tariff (FiT) incentive programme for solar power. The new circular on NDRC FiT provides for the following schemes to encourage the development of solar photovoltaic power generation projects in China:
  • An FiT of Y1.15 (US$0.18) per kWh for projects approved for construction by NDRC prior to 1 July 2011, complete construction and commence production of electricity prior to 31 December 2011, and have not yet been verified by the NDRC in respect of its on-grid power tariff; 
  • An FIT of Y1 (US$0.15) per kWh for projects approved for construction by the NDRC after 1 July 2011 or are approved for construction by the NDRC prior to 1 July 2011 but have not commenced production of electricity as of 31 December 2011 [exceptions being projects of this category but located in Tibet, where an FiT of Y1.15 (US$0.18) per kWh will apply]; and 
  • NDRC has the right to make adjustments to the FiT going forward, based on factors such as investment cost changes, technology development, and so on.

It is expected that the FiT incentive programme will effectively help improve competition in the industry, as it provides for reasonable room for profit to developers with relatively advanced technologies. Additionally, the new NDRC FiT circular specifically states that solar power projects selected through the auction process shall not enjoy a grid power price higher than the FiT.

Eximbank of the Republic of Korea to support green energy

The Export-Import Bank (Eximbank) of the Republic of Korea has announced that it will boost financial support for overseas green energy projects. It plans to widen its trade financing for overseas green energy projects, such as solar and wind power, to 54 trillion won (US$50.6 billion) by 2020 from the current 3.8 trillion won (US$3.6 billion), says a statement from the state-run trade bank. Eximbank has also promised to expand its financial support for overseas resource development to 21 trillion won (US$19.7 billion) by 2020 from the current 3.6 trillion won (US$3.4 billion). The percentage of trade financing of renewable energy and resource development projects is tipped to reach 50 per cent out of the total 150 trillion won (US$140.7 billion) outlay that the bank seeks to achieve until 2020.

Administration of FiT for renewable energy in the Philippines

In the Philippines, the National Renewable Energy Board (NREB) is considering tapping a government financial institution to administer the feed-in tariff (FiT) fund, instead of the privately held National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP). Mr. Pedro Maniego Jr., Chairman of NREB, stated that the FiT-All Fund could be considered a public fund as it would consist of the payments to be made by electricity consumers for the use of renewable energy facilities. Payments to developers will also come from this fund. “Thus, it would be prudent if the fund was administered by a government entity according to law,” Mr. Maniego said.

NREB is at present awaiting the recommendation of the technical working group as to which state-run body can rightfully administer the fund. Those being eyed include the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp., Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines. Under the FiT rules issued by the Energy Regulatory Commission, the collections of all the payments made for the use of clean energy will go to an NGCP-administered fund from which payments to renewable energy developers will be drawn.

Malaysia to levy 1 per cent more for renewable energy

Malaysia is looking at an additional 1 per cent levy to cover cost associated with the feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme for renewable energy. This new levy is on top of the 1 per cent levy to be charged from 1 September 2011, stated Mr. Badaruddin Mahyuddin, Deputy Secretary General at the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry (KeTTHA). While the 1 per cent levy on consumers using above 300 kWh per month is for the renewable energy fund, an additional 1 per cent levy on the same group of consumers is proposed to help fund solar energy, states Mr. Badaruddin.

The government had earlier announced an average electricity tariff hike of 7.12 per cent from this June. The increase comprised a 5.12 per cent hike to reflect the upward revision of natural gas price to the power sector and a 2 per cent rise in base tariff for Tenaga Nasional Bhd to recover partly from the higher of cost of power supply since June 2006.

Indonesia’s renewable energy master plan

According to Indonesia’s economic acceleration and expansion master plan for 2011-2015, the country will require Rp 134.6 trillion (US$15.7 billion) in investment to develop renewable energy resources for the coming 15 years, the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry has revealed. The funds will be allocated to five regions: Sumatra, Sulawesi, Java, Papua-Maluku and Bali-Nusa Tenggara. Renewable Energy and Conservation Director-General Mr. Kardaya Warnika explained that the government is seeking to increase renewable energy utilization by the citizens, by endorsing innovations such as solar-powered street lights. The Ministry also encourages shopping centres and malls to produce their own electricity by installing solar panels on their roof tops. The government is also promoting biofuel development utilizing coconut husk and jatropha.

Viet Nam prioritizes renewable energy development

Viet Nam will strive to increase the proportion of electricity generated from renewable energy resources to 4.5 per cent by 2020 and 6 per cent by 2030, according to the national plan on developing electricity in the 2011-2020 period. The plan was recently approved by the Prime Minister. Viet Nam will increase the total capacity of wind-derived power to 1,000 MW by 2020 and 6,200 MW by 2030, that is, from roughly 0 per cent now to 0.7 per cent by 2020 and 2.4 per cent by 2030. The country also plans to increase the total capacity of hydroelectricity from the current 9,200 MW to 17,400 MW in 2020. Viet Nam will produce and import 194-210 billion kWh of electricity in 2015, 330-362 billion kWh in 2020 and 695-834 billion kWh in 2030.

The plan envisages that all communes and 98.6 per cent of the rural households will have electricity by 2015. In the 2011-2015 period, Viet Nam will expand its national grid to supply electricity to 500,000 rural households and provide electricity generated from renewable sources to 377,000 other families. From 2016 to 2020, an additional 200,000 rural households will have access to the national grid and 231,000 other families have electricity generated from renewable sources. The combined capacity of all power plants in 2020 is estimated at about 75,000 MW, of which 5.6 per cent will be from renewable energy.

India’s solar policy targets 22 GW by 2022

India’s first national solar policy is targeting 22 GW of installed solar capacity by 2022, of which 20 GW will be grid-connected. A three-phase strategy has been mapped out by the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (NSM) to achieve the target, according to Rabobank’s report entitled When will the clouds clear over India’s solar power sector? The grid-connected solar power will be equally divided between solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP). Phase I will run from January 2010 to March 2013, in two batches, to install 1.3 GW of solar power. Phase II will start from April 2013 and will look to install 3.7 GW by March 2017. Phase III will be the longest and largest in terms of capacity, with 17 GW of solar power scheduled to be installed between April 2017 and March 2022.

Rabobank’s report highlights the efforts of the Indian government to ensure the target is achieved. One of the first moves was to offer a 25-year feed-in tariff (FiT) for solar developers during Phase I, to provide them with the security of a stable cash flow. The NSM provides vast financing opportunities with the capital expenditure expected to reach Rs 147 billion (US$2.81 billion) over the three years for grid-connected projects, according to the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC). Policy weaknesses and a lack of clear planning afflict Phases II and III, says the report. A weak power purchase agreement (PPA) pricing could also hamper the progress of the Indian solar initiative, the report states.

Pakistan building 1,000 MW wind farms

Pakistan is preparing to approve a Norwegian company’s plan to build a 150 MW wind farm, the first part of a US$1 billion plan to boost by a third the announced capacity for clean energy power plants. Mr. Joar Viken, CEO of the wind farm company NBT, revealed plans to garner finance for the project from one of three Chinese turbine makers that NBT is discussing with for supplying machinery for the Pakistan facility. Pakistan has about 1,000 MW of wind power plants at various stages of planning and construction.

It is estimated that the Gharo-Keti Bandar corridor alone could produce from 40,000 MW and 50,000 MW of electricity, says Ms. Miriam Katz of Environmental Peace Review who has studied and written about alternative energy potential in South Asia. Other major wind energy projects in the country include the 150 MW farm of AES Corporation, the United States, the 56 MW farm of Zorlu Enerji Electrik Uretim, Turkey, and the 50 MW farm of Pakistan’s FFC Energy. Pakistan plans to generate at least 5 per cent of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2030, according to Pakistan Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB).

IFC supports wind power projects in Sri Lanka

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, is investing US$3.8 million in Sri Lanka’s SENOK Group to help the company diversify its portfolio to include wind power projects to boost the generation of renewable energy and increase the country’s power sources. Under the project, SENOK will fast track two 10 MW wind plants in Sri Lanka’s Kalpitiya region though its two companies – SENOK Wind Energy (Pvt.) Ltd. and SENOK Wind Resource (Pvt.) Ltd. This project also will help establish a benchmark for similar renewable energy projects in the future.

SENOK’s wind power project fits in with Sri Lanka’s “National Energy Policies and Strategies” to utilize non-conventional renewable energy sources to produce 10 per cent of the country’s electricity requirement by 2015. The company will build the wind power plants in two phases, with the first phase expected to be completed in December 2011. Both wind farms will supply energy to the national grid. SENOK had pioneered wind power production in Sri Lanka with the commissioning of the first wind power project of the country in 2010 – a 10 MW facility located in Kalpitiya, one of the three regions with excellent wind resources.

ADB funds PV plant in Bangladesh

Bangladesh will soon have a 5 MW solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant built with financial help from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) at Kaptai in the south-eastern hill district of Rangamati. The new funding came off the back of a speech by the President of ADB, Mr. Haruhiko Kuroda, calling on Asian nations to boost the use of renewable energy and to improve energy efficiency to avert an impending energy crisis. Earlier, Bangladesh and ADB had signed a grant agreement of US$ 3.3 million to fund a project to provide renewable energy in rural areas that have no access to electricity.

Thailand mandates use of B4 biodiesel

The use of B4 biodiesel, a mixture of 4 per cent biodiesel with high-speed diesel, has been mandated in Thailand from 1 July to 30 September 2011. B4 biodiesel will replace B3 biodiesel, a blend of 3 per cent biodiesel with the high-speed diesel, as part of the Thai government’s effort to increase alternative energy consumption. B5 biodiesel, with 5 per cent biodiesel, is also available in Thailand as an optional fuel. The mandatory use of B4 will help increase crude palm oil consumption by 10,000 tonnes/month.


Solar energy, almost anywhere

Researchers in the United States report to have developed a flexible and very thin solar energy technology that can create a working solar cell printed on paper. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers state that the technology could allow the solar industry to move away from large, expensive installations and closer to the possibility of easily generated renewable electricity almost anywhere. They say that vaporous inks made from common elements – rather than expensive, toxic components like tellurium normally utilized in solar cells – can create cells on plain, untreated paper, such as tissue paper, tracing paper or even newsprint. The paper can be shaped and folded, but it would still generate electricity when unfolded, and the cells have proven to be long lasting. Current commercial solar options require glass and heavy support structures, while paper cells could be taped to a wall, attached to laptops or made into window shades or clothing and even laminated to withstand harsh weather.

High-efficiency solar panels made cheaper

Suntech Power, China, has developed a new process for producing silicon wafers for solar cells that could cut the cost of solar power by 10-20 per cent. The new Suntech solar panel incorporates cells made using a new silicon-wafer casting process. The cells are half monocrystalline and half multicrystalline. Highly efficient solar cells employ wafers consisting of a single silicon crystal. When made using the new casting process, these monocrystalline wafers of high quality cost about the same as multicrystalline wafers of lower quality, or potentially half as much as monocrystalline wafers made by conventional processes.

Making high-quality monocrystalline wafers ordinarily involves heating silicon to over 1,400°C (higher than its melting point) and then dipping a seed crystal into the melt. An ingot from which the wafers will be cut is formed by gradually pulling the seed up as the silicon crystallizes around it. This not only takes one to two days, but also consumes lot of energy as the pool of silicon must be kept hot throughout. Suntech’s new technology is based on a hybrid wafer manufacturing process that is reported to combine the high efficiency of monocrystalline wafers with the cost-effectiveness and reliability of polycrystalline wafers.

Production-ready cell breaks solar record

German solar module manufacturer Schott has demonstrated 20.2 per cent efficiency in a solar cell compatible with mass production. “We screen-printed a silver grid on the front and aluminium on the back side. Usually you only get 18-18.5 per cent like this,” states Dr. Axel Metz, Director of solar development at Schott.

Two developments made the efficiency possible. One is a selective emitter, developed with the Schmid Group in Germany, which involves altering the cell’s junction characteristics by locally varying phosphorus doping. Doping is high under the place where silver electrode lines will later be deposited and lower in the open areas of the cell. The other development is passivated rear-side contact (PERC), which Schott had announced last year. The result is what is said to be the world’s first 156 × 156 mm screen-printed solar cell with 20.2 per cent efficiency.

Solar cell printed on paper

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and the University of Melbourne have jointly developed printable, flexible solar cells that could decrease the cost of renewable energy. The cells are created with inks that contain semiconducting nanocrystals, known as quantum dots, that could be printed in a continuous process, suggesting the technology can be scaled up for high-volume production. The ink used to make the cells can be printed on flexible plastic or metal foil and then dried to form a thin film. Though this process can lead to defects, depositing multiple layers of the ink ensures that these can be filled in to produce a densely packed, uniform solar cell film.

The quantum dots are based on the compound cadmium telluride, which is a semiconducting material used in making second-generation thin-film solar cells, usually by processing at high temperatures in a gas chamber. Compared with the conventional cadmium telluride thin-film solar cells, the new nanocrystal ink-based cells use about 10 per cent of the same material. Besides solar cells, the core technology can be used to fabricate a range of other printed electronic devices, such as light emitting diodes (LEDs), lasers and transistors. The new nanocrystal solar cells are one of several third-generation solar cell technologies being developed by CSIRO. Other projects include solar cells based on polymer semiconductors and dye-sensitized solar cells.

Cheaper plastic solar cells and electronics

Scientists at Singapore’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), have created a new polymer with high charge mobility and high power conversion efficiency for application in both plastic electronics and organic solar cells. The new polymer’s high charge mobility of 0.2 cm2/V.s is same as the value achieved by commercially available semiconducting materials, while its solar power conversion efficiency is a high 6.3 per cent, compared with the 2.2 per cent for polymers of the same class, which use thiophene and benzothiadiazole as the building blocks.

The polymer can be easily used in roll-to-roll printing technique, similar to newspaper printing, which makes large-scale manufacture of printed electronics and organic solar cells possible quickly and cheaply. The material could also possibly be employed in designing new devices where both power harnessing and electronics are needed in a single component – such as, for example, chemical sensors based on organic thin-film transistors and powered by organic solar cells.

Recycling photons raises solar cell energy output

Alta Devices, the United States, has developed a photovoltaic cell that reaches record-breaking efficiency, which the company claims could make solar energy competitive with fossil fuels. The thin-film gallium-arsenide (GaAs) cell is reported to convert 27.6 per cent of the sunlight striking the cell into electricity, under standardized conditions. This betters the previous record of 26.4 per cent for a solar cell with a single p-n junction. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) independently confirmed the efficiency using a laboratory-made solar cell, states Alta Devices.

The key to achieving the record was photon recycling. When the photons in sunlight are absorbed in a photovoltaic material, they kick electrons into the conduction band and leave behind holes. The electrons that pass out of the cell can be used as electricity, but many of them are lost in the semiconductor when they recombine with a hole to produce a new photon or waste heat. By carefully growing a high-quality single GaAs crystal, Alta managed to ensure that more than 99 per cent of the recombinations would result in new photons. Those photons then create a new electron-hole pair and give the electron one more chance to be captured as electricity. Alta also improved the reflectivity of the metal contacts on the back of the solar cell, so that any photon that exits the cell would be sent back for possible reabsorption. The theoretical maximum conversion efficiency for a solar cell with a single junction is 33.5 per cent.

The material cost was reduced by using epitaxial lift-off process developed by Mr. Eli Yablonovitch, an engineering professor at University of California, Berkeley, and a co-founder of Alta. Technicians started with a GaAs wafer as a seed layer and grew a thin-film photovoltaic device structure on top of that. They peeled off the thin film, attached it to a metal backing and processed it into a solar cell. The process leaves the original wafer, which can be reused for making solar cells.

Cost-reducing concepts for solar cell metallization

ETAlab®, the new solar cell laboratory at Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems – ISE, Germany, has developed High-efficiency solar cells (21.4 per cent efficiency at 2 × 2 cm²) with long-term stable copper metallization. With advanced processes for the metallization of solar cells, improvements in both solar cell efficiency and lower production costs have been achieved. The technology of producing solar cell contacts 100 per cent from low-cost materials has been achieved. Expensive silver has been replaced mostly by copper, and industrially feasible galvanic processes were used. The 21.4 per cent solar cell efficiency achieved is comparable with values from solar cells using a highly efficient titanium/palladium/silver contact system, which must be created using comparatively expensive vacuum processes.

To achieve high solar cell efficiency values, the front contacts must conduct the electricity created as loss-free as possible, while covering as little cell surface area as possible. From a technological point of view, only materials with the highest conductivity, such as copper and silver, can be the candidates. Galvanic processes, which are economical and have high rates of deposition, can be employed to deposit copper onto the silicon substrate. However, the challenge of solar cell metallization with copper lies in the creation of a homogenous and qualitatively high-value layer between the silicon substrate and copper. This prevents diffusion of copper into the semiconductor. Effective prevention of copper diffusion is decisive in order to ensure the loss-free operation of the solar cell. The researchers also used nickel as additional barrier to diffusion and to create an electrical contact to the silicon. Like copper, nickel too can be deposited easily onto the solar cell at low cost.

With the process knowledge built up at Fraunhofer ISE, the ETAlab researchers are working on migrating the technology to large solar cell formats. Contact: Mr. Jonas Bartsch, Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems – ISE, Heidenhofstraße 2, 79110 Freiburg, Germany. Tel: +49 (761) 4588 5561.

Turning plants into powerhouses

According to a study by Mr. Arthur J. Nozik and Ms. Maria Ghirardi, two scientists at the United States Department of Energy (DOE), multi-junction tandem solar cells initially developed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have proved to be an important strategy to understand how to boost the efficiency of corn, grasses, algae and other plants that use photosynthesis to produce stored solar energy. The annually averaged efficiency of photovoltaic electrolysis based on silicon semiconductors to produce fuel in the form of hydrogen is about 10 per cent, while a plant’s yearly averaged efficiency utilizing photosynthesis to form biomass for fuel is about 1-2 per cent.

Mr. Nozik, Senior Research Fellow, and Mr. Mark Hanna, Senior Scientist, had demonstrated how a multi-junction, tandem solar cell for water splitting to produce hydrogen can provide higher efficiency – above 40 per cent – by using multiple semiconductors and/or special photoactive organic molecules with different band gaps arranged in a tandem structure. The coupling of different materials with different gaps means photons can be absorbed and converted to energy over a wider range of the solar spectrum.

“In photovoltaics, we know that to increase power conversion efficiency you have to have different band gaps (colours) in a tandem arrangement, so they can more efficiently use different regions of the solar spectrum,” Mr. Nozik said. If band gaps are the same, they would compete with each other to absorb the same photon energies without enhancing solar conversion efficiency. Photosynthesis does use two gaps based on chlorophyll molecules to provide enough energy to drive the photosynthesis reaction. But both gaps have the same energy value, which means they don’t help each other to produce energy over a wider stretch of the spectrum of sunlight and enhance conversion efficiency. Furthermore, most plants do use the full intensity of sunlight but divert some of it to protect the plant from damage. Whereas photovoltaics use the second material to gain that photoconversion edge, plants do not.

One of NREL’s recent works was to help make it clear how the efficiency of photosynthesis may be improved by re-engineering the structure of plants through modern synthetic biology and genetic manipulation based on the principles of high-efficiency photovoltaic cells. In synthetic biology, plants can be built from scratch, starting with amino acid building blocks, allowing the formation of optimum biological band gaps. The newly engineered plants would be darker, incorporating some floral pigments that would be able to absorb photons in the red and infrared regions of the solar spectrum. As plants store more solar energy efficiently, they potentially could play a greater role as alternative renewable fuel sources.


Green machine for storing wind power beneath the waves

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the United States, have developed a method of storing energy generated by offshore wind turbines. Dubbed the Ocean Renewable Energy System (ORES), the system is based on an underwater pumped hydraulic system. Hollow concrete spheres sit on the sea floor, tethered to floating wind turbines. During highly windy times, excess wind power is used to drive water out of the spheres. When the winds settle, or demand is simply too high for the turbines to keep up with, water flows back into the spheres, driving a turbine to generate electricity. A power cable or vent line connects the sphere to the wind turbine and is coupled to other spheres if a single turbine is attached to more than one sphere.

The storage costs associated with ORES are comparable with those of compressed air energy storage (CAES), another form of stored wind energy for land-based wind farms. But CAES designs sometimes call for natural gas to heat the air used to drive turbines when the wind is not blowing. By contrast, ORES requires no fossil fuels to function. The researchers say that the spheres could find an alternative use storing oil from underwater wellheads when manned platforms need to be evacuated during a hurricane, allowing uninterrupted oil production.

New generation of wind turbines

The wind turbine industry has witnessed a trend towards larger-capacity turbines with longer blades and larger rotor diameters. With technology advances, the trend continues to be towards a new global generation of still larger machines. In Germany, REpower Systems AG has introduced its 3.2M114, a 3.2 MW turbine with 143 m hub height and 114 m rotor, and optimized for low-wind locations.

India-based Suzlon, the world’s fifth largest global wind power company, has also launched a low-wind version of an existing platform with its new S9X suite of wind turbines. The upgrade is built around doubly-fed induction generator-based technology. New blade designs with rotor diameters of 95 m (S95) and 97 m (S97) offer power production from moderate to low wind speeds, and tower heights of 90 m or 100 m are available for the 2 MW machines. Serial manufacture of the S95 turbine is tipped to start in the second quarter of the 2011-2012 financial year, followed by the S97 in the last quarter.

Alstom, headquartered in France, has unveiled an upgrade to its existing 3 MW ECO 100 platform to specifically address low-wind speed sites with ECO 11X, an IEC Class III-A turbine with a large rotor diameter (115-125 m). The turbine will be offered for delivery beginning in 2013. Earlier, the company had announced a partnership with French generator-producer Converteam in a move that brings the latter’s direct-drive permanent magnet generator to Alstom’s under-development 6 MW offshore wind turbine, for which LM Wind Power, Denmark, is developing the longest wind turbine blade ever produced.

Tougher and lighter wind turbine blade

In the United States, a researcher at Case Western Reserve University has built a prototype blade that is much lighter, eight times tougher and more durable than currently used blades. Dr. Marcio Loos, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering works, worked with his colleagues in the University and researchers from Bayer MaterialScience and Molded Fiber Glass Co. to compare the properties of new materials with the current standards used in blade manufacturing. Using a small commercial blade as a template, Dr. Loos fabricated a 29 inch blade that is substantially lighter, more rigid and tougher. Lighter, stiffer blades enable maximum energy and production.

“Results of mechanical testing for the carbon nanotube-reinforced polyurethane show that this material outperforms the currently used resins for wind blades applications,” said Dr. Ica Manas-Zloczower, Professor of macromolecular science and engineering and Associate Dean in the Case School of Engineering. In a comparison of reinforcing materials, researchers found that carbon nanotubes are lighter per unit of volume than carbon fibre and aluminium, and had more than five times the tensile strength of carbon fibre and more than 60 times that of aluminium. Fatigue testing has shown the reinforced polyurethane composite lasts about eight times longer than epoxy reinforced with fibreglass. The new material is also around eight times tougher in delamination fracture tests. The performance in each test was even better on comparison with fibreglass-reinforced vinyl ester, another material used for blades. The new composite has also shown fracture growth rates at a fraction of the rates shown by traditional epoxy and vinyl ester composites.

Wind turbines pass official LVRT testing

China Ming Yang Wind Power Group Ltd., a leading wind turbine manufacturer in China, reported that its MY1.5Se wind turbine generator (WTG) has passed low-voltage ride through (LVRT) performance tests successfully, and has received the certification test report. The report was issued by the Wind Power Grid Connection Research and Evaluation Centre at the China Electric Power Research Institute (CEPRI), a subsidiary institution of the State Grid Corp. of China (SGCC) and a multi-disciplinary research institute in China’s electric power sector.

The company also confirms that its wind turbines are capable of fulfilling LVRT requirements that specify the WTG’s ability to react properly to sudden grid voltage fluctuations and to remain connected to the grid under these abnormal conditions. The MY1.5Se WTG has successfully passed symmetric and asymmetric testing under different voltage fluctuation and electrical system fault conditions at CEPRI. Contact: China Ming Yang Wind Power Group Ltd., Mingyang Industrial Park, 22 Huoju Road, Torch High-tech Industrial Development Zone, Zhongshan Guangdong Province, China. Tel: +86 (760) 2813 8666; Fax: +86 (760) 2813 8667; E-mail:; Website:

Siemens puts wind turbine in operation

The Energy Division of Siemens AG, Germany, has installed the first prototype of its next-generation offshore wind turbine in Høvsøre, Denmark, and has begun its first trial operation. The new SWT-6.0-120 wind turbine, with a power rating of 6 MW and a rotor diameter of 120 m, uses the innovative Siemens direct-drive and proven rotor technology. The nacelle and rotor assembly of the SWT-6.0-120 together weigh less than 350 tonnes – a new low-weight standard for large offshore machines. SWT-6.0-120 is the third direct-drive wind turbine developed by Siemens. The company is thoroughly testing and validating the performance of the new wind turbine before the product is officially launched for sale. The low weight of the SWT-6.0-120 wind turbine will contribute to a significant reduction in the costs of the turbine as well as that of the tower and the support structures.

SWT-6.0-120 makes use of several technologies that are well-proven in offshore applications of the market-leading Siemens 3.6 MW turbine. The first series of the 6 MW wind turbine will feature the proven B58 blade used in SWT-3.6-120. It will also employ IntegralBlade® design for blades manufactured without glue joints. It features the Siemens advanced diagnostics systems to reduce customer risk and to enable maximum reliability and availability. A helicopter-hoisting platform integrated in the nacelle rear and allows easy and safe access for service technicians.

Stealth wind turbines

Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas has reported the successful testing of a new ‘stealth’ wind turbine in Scotland. This new turbine technology could see large areas of land near airports and military installations previously deemed unsuitable for wind turbine use – because turbine blades reflect radar signals and thus interfere with radar operation – being opened for wind power installations. The new Vestas wind turbine’s blades are coated with materials originally developed for stealth bombers and as such have vastly diminished interference with radar. Vestas places this reduction at a level of 99 per cent or 20 db compared with standard turbines. Crucially, such modifications do not affect the performance or appearance of the turbines.

This development is a critical step forward towards the commercialization of stealth turbines and holds potential to open a significant number of wind power locations. However, no timescale has yet been given for the commercial availability of this technology, but Vestas has stated that this technology will not significantly increase the price of its turbines. It has been estimated that radar-related issues are blocking around 20 GW worth of planned turbines worldwide.


Tidal stream energy from low-speed tides

The Clearwater Project in the Netherlands will use tidal stream turbines to generate tidal stream energy from the Eastern Scheldt barrier. Tidal stream energy is a highly sustainable and environment-friendly form of renewable energy. Above all it is a proven technology. The key feature of the Clearwater Project is that it will generate energy from low tidal velocities and consistent currents, something that was not possible in an efficient and cost-effective manner till now. Normally, tidal turbines are used in areas with strong tidal currents.

The Clearwater Project combines a leading technology from Atlantis Resources Corp., based in the United Kingdom, with the specialized engineering skills, experience and know-how of the Dutch companies Ballast Nedam, Delta Energy, IHC Merwede and Royal Haskoning. The initiative is estimated to harness 50 per cent of the total economically exploitable free stream energy in the Netherlands. The breakthrough technology also opens up the potential for tidal stream energy around the world in sites with similar conditions. Contact: Ms. Margie Alders, Marketing & Communications, Royal Haskoning, P.O. Box 151, 6500 AD Nijmegen, Barbarossastraat 35, 6522 DK Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Tel: +31 (24) 3284 393; E-mail:

New wave and tidal turbine concept for affordable energy

Dependable, affordable energy from tidal streams and ocean currents could soon be a reality, with scale models of Evopod demonstrating the viability of the oceans as an energy source. Evopod developed by Ocean Flow Energy, the United Kingdom, is an innovative, semi-submerged, floating, tethered tidal energy capture device. It uses an effective but simple mooring system that allows the free-floating device to maintain optimum positioning in relation to the tidal stream. Installed individually or as a tidal farm, the device offers clean, green energy. Evopod overcomes the key concerns linked with tidal stream turbine installations. As a floating tethered device, it makes minimal disturbance on sensitive seabed ecosystems and its single turbine rotates at such low speeds (10-20 rpm) that they are unlikely to be a threat to marine wildlife. In addition, Evopod’s novel mooring solution employs a tight envelope to reduce the size of the exclusion zone for shipping. A seabed region of 1 km2 can have enough Evopods to meet the energy needs of up to 40,000 homes, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 110,000 t/y, if used to replace coal-derived power.

The grid connectivity of Evopod technology was demonstrated in March 2011 employing a 1:10th scale unit in Northern Ireland. The Evopod has a fixed pitch turbine driving a permanent magnet generator through a gearbox. Contact: Oceanflow Energy, 12 Yeoman Street, North Shields, Tyne & Wear, NE29 6NL, United Kingdom. Tel: +44 (191) 296 6339; E-mail:

Penguin captures energy from waves

The Penguin, a wave power device from the Finnish company Wello Oy, will be undergoing various tests at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) located in Orkney Islands, the United Kingdom. The 500 kW wave power prototype weighs 1,600 tonnes, is 30 m long, 9 m tall and has a draft of around 7 m. Around 2 m of the wave power device will be visible above the surface. The Penguin wave power device captures rotational energy generated by the moving of its asymmetrically shaped hull, which moves with each passing wave. The motion is used to accelerate and maintain the revolutions of a spinning flywheel housed inside the hull, which drives an electric generator. The outer structure of the device is made of tough, recyclable materials, while all operational parts are placed inside its protective cover.

The deployment programme for the Penguin will be managed by a team of Orkney-based companies led by the consultancy firms Aquatera and Orcades Marine Management Consultants. According to an Aquatera spokesperson, the Penguin wave power device is planned to have a capacity between 0.5 MW and 1 MW, and that it is intended for deployment in complete fleets of several units, to achieve the desired energy production capacity.


A plate-frame flow-through microfluidic fuel cell stack

Scientists from Cornell University, the United States, and University of Victoria, Canada, have developed a plate-frame microfluidic fuel cell architecture with flow-through, porous electrodes. The architecture combines the advantages of microfluidic fuel cells with those of plate-frame proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells and enables vertical stacking with little dead volume. In addition to the new plate-frame architecture, microfabrication techniques have been used to create a new high-performance electrode. Laser ablation of a polymer precursor followed by a pyrolysis process was used to create a thin, low-cost microporous electrode that provides for more rapid reactant transport.

The researchers have demonstrated a 140 per cent increase in power density compared with commercial carbon fibre paper. Peak current and power densities of 15.7 mA/cm2 and 5.8 mW/cm2 have been reported. Contact: Mr. Sean Moore/Mr. David Erickson, Sibley School of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, NY 14853-7501, United States of America.

New method to produce methanol from carbon dioxide

Methanol, which is used to power direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs), is commonly produced by reacting coal or natural gas-derived syngas at high temperature and pressure in the presence of heterogeneous copper-zinc oxide catalysts. A team of researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, believe that they have discovered a way to produce methanol in a more sustainable manner – homogeneous catalytic hydrogenation of carbon dioxide-derived carbonate, formate and carbamate intermediates. The catalysed hydrogenation of carbon dioxide to methanol is a well known process but the severe conditions necessary for it and low yields have hindered the process in the past. The new method, the researchers claim, would bypass these issues.

Fuel cell cleans water as it generates electricity

Mr. Yanbiao Liu and colleagues at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China have succeeded in building a device capable of both cleaning wastewater and producing electricity from it. Using light as energy source, the team created a photocatalytic fuel cell that uses a titanium dioxide nanotube-array anode and a platinum-based cathode. The light energy degrades the organic material in the wastewater and, in the process, generates electrons that pass through the cathode converting it into electricity.

Performance of iron-based catalysts improved

Having pioneered the development of the first high-performance iron-based catalyst for fuel cells, another major advance was achieved recently by researchers at Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), Canada. They developed and improved a new iron-based catalyst that is capable of generating even more electric power in fuel cells for transportation applications. Earlier, only platinum-based catalysts could produce similar performance. The promising research findings from the team of Prof. Jean-Pol Dodelet at INRS Energy, Materials and Telecommunications Centre bolster the prospects of iron-based catalysts replacing platinum-based ones in the electrochemical reduction of oxygen, one of the two reactions required to activate a fuel cell. Platinum is rare and very costly, while iron is the second most abundant metal on earth and is inexpensive.

Prof. Dodelet and INRS scientists are now focusing on the improvement of the long-term stability (at least 5,000 h) of these promising new catalysts. “The next step is the most important because it will automatically lead to a high-value commercial product, not only for car manufacturers but also for all industrial sectors that use electric power generators or manufacture their components,” explained Prof. Dodelet.

World’s first tri-generation fuel cell

The world’s first tri-generation fuel cell and hydrogen energy station was commissioned in Fountain Valley, California, the United States. The fuel cell is a combined heat, hydrogen and electricity generating system, making it a tri-generation system. Biogas from the municipal wastewater treatment plant feeds the fuel cell, which then generates hydrogen. That hydrogen is sent to a hydrogen fuelling station that is open to the public and can support 25-50 fuel cell electric vehicle fill-ups per day. The fuel cell also produces 250 kW of electricity, which will partially power the wastewater treatment plant. Using hydrogen produced on-site solves infrastructure problems that are holding back the technology, and should accelerate its adoption as a renewable fuel.

The Fountain Valley fuel cell system could offer a pathway to low-cost hydrogen while demonstrating the versatility of fuel cells’ ability to use multiple feedstocks. Fuel cells can run on biogas or natural gas to produce electricity and fuel for light-duty vehicles such as forklifts or as back-up power in applications such as cell phone towers. The project was developed as a partnership between the Department of Energy, California Air Resources Board, the Orange County Sanitation District and private industry. The project is managed by Air Products; Other partners include FuelCell Energy Inc. and the National Fuel Cell Research Centre at the University of California, Irvine.

NASA develops liquid methanol fuel cell

In the United States, scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have developed technology for direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC), which uses liquid methanol to produce electricity without additional processing. The fuel cell, developed in partnership with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, uses liquid methanol, an alcohol compound usually known as wood alcohol or methyl alcohol, to produce electricity. The by-products of the fuel cell are only pure water and carbon dioxide – no pollutants are emitted. The 300 W prototype of the DMFC developed for future commercial and defence applications is undergoing tests.

“This fuel cell may well become the power source of choice for energy-efficient, non-polluting military and consumer applications,” stated Mr. Gerald Halpert, former Supervisor of Electromechanical Technologies Group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. DMFCs have a number of advantages over the current fuel cell systems in terms of design simplicity and energy density. One of the biggest advantages is that current systems rely on hydrogen, which is difficult to transport and store compared with methanol. The research group plans to working closely with the fuel cell industry to further develop this technology to meet future market needs.

Fuel cell technology advance reported

Creating catalysts that are efficient and long-lasting is a big barrier to taking fuel cell technology from the laboratory bench to the assembly line. Platinum has been the choice for a catalyst, but it has two major downsides: it is expensive, and it breaks down over time in fuel-cell reactions. Now in the United States, scientists at Brown University and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory report a promising advance. They have created a unique core-and-shell nanoparticle that uses far less platinum yet works more efficiently and lasts longer than commercially available pure-platinum catalysts at the cathode end of fuel cells.

The researchers led by Brown University’s chemistry professor Dr. Shouheng Sun and graduate student Mr. Vismadeb Mazumder created a 5 nm palladium core and enclosed it in a shell of iron and platinum. The trick, Mr. Mazumder said, was in moulding a shell that would retain its shape and require the smallest amount of platinum to pull off an efficient reaction. The team created the iron-platinum shell by decomposing iron pentacarbonyl and then reducing platinum acetylacetonate. The result was a shell that utilizes only 30 per cent platinum, although the researchers say they would be able to make thinner shells and use even less platinum. The team made iron-platinum shells that varied in width from 1 nm to 3 nm and found the 1 nm shells performed best. In laboratory tests, the nanoparticles generated 12 times more current than commercially available pure platinum catalysts at the same catalyst weight. The output remained consistent during 10,000 cycles – 10 times longer than commercially available platinum models.


New way to store and extract hydrogen

In the United States, University of Southern California (USC) scientists have developed a robust, efficient method of using hydrogen as a fuel source. While hydrogen makes a great fuel, it can only be stored in high pressure or cryogenic tanks. Another solution is to store it in a safe chemical form that allows easy extraction when needed. USC’s Mr. Travis Williams and his team found a way to release hydrogen from an innocuous chemical material – a nitrogen-boron complex, ammonia borane – that can be stored as a stable solid. The team then developed a catalyst system to secure release of enough hydrogen from its storage in ammonia borane to make it usable as a fuel source. The system is air stable and re-usable, unlike other boron and metal hydride systems for hydrogen storage. It is sufficiently lightweight and efficient to have potential fuel applications ranging from motor-driven cycles to small aircraft.

Novel alloy could produce hydrogen fuel from sunlight

In the United States, scientists from University of Kentucky (UK) and University of Louisville (UL) have found that an inexpensive semiconductor material can be “tweaked” to generate hydrogen from water using sunlight. The research was led by Prof. Madhu Menon and Prof. R. Michael Sheetz at the UK Centre for Computational Sciences, and Prof. Mahendra Sunkara and graduate student Mr. Chandrashekhar Pendyala at the UL Conn Centre for Renewable Energy Research. Using theoretical computations, the research team demonstrated that an alloy formed by a 2 per cent substitution of antimony (Sb) in gallium nitride (GaN) has electrical properties that enable solar light energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, a process called photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting. When the alloy immersed in water is exposed to sunlight, the hydrogen-oxygen chemical bond in water molecules is broken, and the hydrogen can be collected. GaN-Sb alloy is the first simple, easy-to-produce material to be considered a candidate for PEC water splitting. The alloy functions as a catalyst in the PEC reaction, and may be reused indefinitely.

A novel hydrogen storage material

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the United States, have a new way to safely store hydrogen in future fuel cell-powered cars – magnesium grains with molecular-scale “veins” of iron permeating like capillary networks. The iron veins may transform magnesium from a promising candidate for hydrogen storage into a real-world winner. According to NIST materials scientist Mr. Leo Bendersky, the combination of lightweight magnesium laced with iron could rapidly absorb – and just as importantly, rapidly release – sufficient hydrogen so that grains made from the two metals could form the fuel tank for hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.

Powder grains made of iron-doped magnesium can get saturated with hydrogen within 60 seconds at just 150°C and fairly low pressure, both key factors for vehicle safety, says Mr. Bendersky. Pure magnesium grains are reasonably effective at absorbing hydrogen gas, but need unacceptably high temperature and pressure to store enough hydrogen to power a car to travel the minimum distance needed between fill-ups. A practical material would need to hold at least 6 per cent of its own weight in hydrogen gas and be able to be charged safely with hydrogen in the same amount of time as required to fill a car with petroleum. Using a new measurement technique that uses infrared light, the NIST team studied what would happen if the magnesium were evaporated and mixed with small quantities of other metals to form fine-scale mixtures. They found that iron forms channels within the grains as passageways for rapid hydrogen transport. The magnesium-iron grains could hold up to 7 per cent hydrogen by weight, Mr. Bendersky claims.

New catalyst to enable large-scale hydrogen production

An international group of scientists have found an “ultra-efficient” way to make hydrogen from renewable raw materials. The discovery was made by a team of researchers from Hungary, Finland, Sweden, Taiwan Province of China and the United States, led by Mr. Krisztian Kordas of Bio4Energy, based in Sweden. The research team decided to make the production of hydrogen more efficient, to achieve a greater output per unit of feedstock. Using titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanofibres, they developed a series of new catalysts, each of which were tested using a mixture of ethanol and water exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. A comparison made with similar catalytic processes relying on TiO2 as a semiconductor revealed that this doubled or even tripled the efficiency of photocatalysis-driven generation of hydrogen from water, reports Mr. Kordas.


Rapid production of fuels and chemicals

In a biotechnological innovation, engineering researchers from Rice University, the United States, have unveiled a new method for rapidly converting simple glucose into biofuels and petrochemical substitutes. The team reversed one of the most efficient of all metabolic pathways, the beta oxidation cycle, to engineer bacteria that produce biofuel at a breakneck pace. On a cell-per-cell basis, the bacteria produced butanol, a biofuel substitute for petroleum, about 10 times faster than any previously reported organism. “That is really not even a fair comparison because the other organisms used an expensive, enriched feedstock, and we used the cheapest thing you can imagine, just glucose and mineral salts,” said Mr. Ramon Gonzalez, Associate Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice and lead co-author of the study. “We call these ‘drop-in’ fuels and chemicals, because their structure and properties are very similar, sometimes identical, to petroleum-based products,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

Butanol is a relatively short molecule, with a backbone of just four carbon atoms. Molecules that have longer carbon chains are even more troublesome for biotech producers to make, particularly molecules with chains of 10 or more carbon atoms. Mr. Gonzalez said that is partly because researchers have focused on ramping up the natural metabolic processes that cells use to build long-chain fatty acids. Along with students, Mr. Gonzalez worked on a completely different approach. Rather than going with the process nature uses to build fatty acids, they reversed the process that it uses to break them apart. “It is definitely unconventional, but it makes sense because the routes that nature has selected to build fatty acids are very inefficient compared with the reversal of the route it uses to break them apart,” Mr. Gonzalez said. The beta oxidation is one of the most fundamental process in biology. Species ranging from single-celled bacteria to human beings use beta oxidation to break down fatty acids and generate energy. Mr. Gonzalez’s team reversed the beta oxidation cycle by selectively manipulating about a dozen genes in the bacteria Escherichia coli. The team also showed that selective manipulations of particular genes could be used to produce fatty acids of particular lengths, including long-chain molecules like stearic acid and palmitic acid, which have chains with more than a dozen carbon atoms.

Bioethanol gel biofuel for kitchen use

The bioethanol gel developed by Consumer’s Choice Ltd., Kenya, is an alternative biofuel aimed at reducing Kenya’s reliance on imported petroleum. The bioethanol gel is made from molasses derived from sugarcane. Mr. Mohamed Kadhi, Business Development Manager of Consumer’s Choice, noted, “During the sugar extraction process, molasses is derived as one of the by-products. The molasses is used to develop technical alcohol, which is the chief ingredient of the bioethanol gel.” What then happens is that the technical alcohol is exported to Tanzania, where Moto Poa Ltd., a biofuel company with which Consumer’s Choice has a partnership, blends the alcohol with additives to enhance its physical and chemical composition for increased efficiency. The result is a viscous yellow liquid that burns slowly with a high heat output. The high viscosity of the gel minimizes the danger of accidental spillage. The final product is then shipped back to Kenya ready for packaging and distribution. The bioethanol burns in specialized stoves that emit heat similar in temperature to the heat output of liquefied petroleum gas cookers.

Seaweed turned into biofuel in half the time

In the United States, University of Illinois scientists have engineered a new strain of yeast that converts seaweed into biofuel in half the time it took just months ago. “That is a process that is important outside the Corn Belt,” said Mr. Yong-Su Jin, an Assistant Professor of microbial genomics and a faculty member in the Institute for Genomic Biology. “The key is the strain’s ability to ferment cellobiose and galactose simultaneously, which makes the process much more efficient,” Mr. Jin said. “Red seaweed, hydrolysed for its fermentable sugars, yields glucose and galactose. But yeast prefers glucose and won’t consume galactose until all glucose is gone, which adds considerable time to the process,” he said.

The new method hydrolyses cellulose into cellobiose, a dimeric form of glucose, and then exploits a newly engineered Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain capable of fermenting cellobiose and galactose simultaneously. The team introduced a new sugar transporter and enzyme that breaks down cellobiose at the intracellular level. The result is a yeast that consumes cellobiose and galactose in equal amounts at the same time, cutting the production time of biofuel from marine biomass in half.

Mr. Jin compared the previous process to a person taking first a bite of a cheeseburger, then a bite of pickle. The process that uses the new strain places the pickle in the cheeseburger sandwich so that both foods are consumed at the same time. Co-fermenting the two sugars also makes for a healthier yeast cell. “It is a faster, superior process. Our view is that this discovery greatly enhances the economic viability of marine biofuels and gives us a better product,” Mr. Jin explained. The research team included scientists from the University of California at Berkeley.

Feasibility of second-generation ethanol

The production of ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, from lignocellulosic materials such as wood residues, waste paper, used cardboard and straw cannot yet be achieved at the same efficiency and cost as from corn starch. A comparison of costs has concluded that using lignocellulose materials is unlikely to be competitive with starch until 2020 at the earliest. The study, led by Mr. Jamie Stephen from the Department of Wood Science at the University of British Columbia, Canada, identifies many opportunities for reducing the costs and improving income within the lignocellulose-to-ethanol process, and provides insight into the priority areas that must be addressed in coming years.

The last 15 years has seen a massive growth of first-generation ethanol processes that utilize enzymes and bacteria to turn the starch and sugars in corn and sugarcane into ethanol. But corn and sugarcane are also important components of the human food web, so using them for ethanol production has the potential to affect the availability and the price of these basic commodities. On the other hand, lignocellulose materials are often hard to dispose of, but they are rich in sugars that can be fermented into ethanol following appropriate processing. Lignocellulose is the most abundant polymer on Earth and using it for fuel production does not compete directly with food supplies, as it cannot be digested by humans,” says the Mr. Stephen. The race is thus on to commercialize this second-generation ethanol.

Mr. Stephen argues that the cost of building large-scale ethanol production facilities is likely to be more for second-generation ethanol when compared with first-generation technologies. One reason is that sources of lignocellulose may require significant and expensive pre-treatment. Researchers and companies have to concentrate on reducing the cost of pre-treatment and increasing the output of the digester to reduce the process costs, says Mr. Stephen. Another reason for higher costs is that lignocellulose is made of many kinds of sugar, whereas corn starch consists only of pure glucose. Corn starch can be reduced to glucose using low-cost amylase enzymes, while pre-treated lignocellulose requires a cocktail of cellulase enzymes. Providing these enzymes is one of the major costs of the whole process. Furthermore, around 12 times more cellulase than amylase protein is required to generate the same amount of ethanol from woody biomass. The cost of using cellulase enzymes is still much higher than for amylase-based processes. Lastly, while the input to sugarcane- and corn starch-based systems is fairly constant, the feedstocks that go into lignocellulose systems are much more variable. For maximum efficiency, each type of biomass has to be processed under different conditions, which introduces another challenge to ethanol production. Overall, Mr. Stephen believes that there is a considerable way to go before second-generation ethanol production can be commercialized.

Breakthrough reported in biofuel processing

Renmatix, a bioindustrial start-up copmany in the United States, has announced a new process that it says allows it to produce cellulosic sugars – from which some types of biofuel are derived – more cheaply than ever before. Renmatix says its industrial-scale process breaks down cellulose through a process named “supercritical hydrolysis”, which uses water at high temperatures and pressures to quickly solubilize cellulose from sources such as wood. The process doesn’t require enzymes or chemicals, and can break down non-food biomass in seconds, as opposed to days.

Supercritical hydrolysis is a process that has been employed in the pharmaceutical and food and beverage industries (coffee decaffeination, for example), but in the bioindustry has never yielded adequate sugar from biomass to pursue at commercial scale. The company says the process will produce much of its own process energy and use no significant consumables, although water consumption will be very high in the process. Renmatrix is operating a 3 tonne pilot plant; a commercial plant will need a big leap from it.


Harnessing Variable Renewables: A Guide to the Balancing Challenge

Power systems must be actively managed to maintain a steady balance between supply and demand. This is already a complex task as demand varies continually. But what happens when supply becomes more variable and less certain, as with some renewable sources of electricity like wind and solar photovoltaic that fluctuate with the weather? To what extent can the resources that help power systems cope with the challenge of variability in demand also be applied to variability of supply? How large are these resources? What share of electricity supply from variable renewables can they make possible? Written for decision makers, this guidebook sheds light on all such aspects related to managing power systems with large shares of variable renewables. It presents a new, step-wise approach developed by the International Energy Agency to assess the flexibility of power systems.

Contact: International Energy Agency, 9, rue de la Federation, 75739 Paris Cedex 15, France. Tel: +33 (1) 4057 6500; Fax: +33 (1) 4057 6509; E-mail:

Co-Generation and Renewables: Solutions for a Low-Carbon Energy Future

Secure, reliable, affordable and clean energy supplies are fundamental to economic and social stability and development. Energy and environmental decision makers are faced with major challenges that require urgent action to ensure a more sustainable future. Efficient use of energy sources and cleaner primary energy sources can help achieve this goal. Combined heat and power (also called co-generation) is a cost-effective, proven and energy-efficient solution for delivering electricity and heat. Renewable sources provide clean and secure fuels for producing electricity and heat. This report documents, for the first time, some of the little-known complementary aspects of the two technologies. It also re-emphasizes the stand-alone benefits of each technology. Thus, decision makers can utilize the report for credible information on co-generation, renewables and the possible synergies between the two. The publication also provides answers to policy makers’ questions about the potential energy and environmental benefits of an increased policy commitment to co-generation and renewables.

Contact: International Energy Agency, 9, rue de la Federation, 75739 Paris Cedex 15, France. Tel: +33 (1) 4057 6500; Fax: +33 (1) 4057 6509; E-mail:


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